Belarus expels French ambassador–embassy
MOSCOW — France’s ambassador to Belarus has left the country after the authorities in Minsk demanded he leave by Monday, the embassy said.
The spokeswoman who made the announcement did not say why the Belarusian authorities told him to leave.
But according to reports in the Belarusian media, the ambassador Nicolas de Lacoste was expelled because he never met President Alexander Lukashenko to give him copies of his credentials.
Instead he gave them to Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei, according to the French embassy. Lukashenko, according to reports in the Belarus media, took that as a snub.
“The Belarusian foreign ministry demanded that the ambassador leave before October 18,” the embassy spokeswoman told AFP.
“Ambassador Nicolas de Lacoste left Belarus today,” she added.
“He said goodbye to the staff of the embassy and recorded a video message to the Belarusian people, which will appear tomorrow morning on the embassy’s website.”
France, like other EU countries, has not recognized Lukashenko claim to a sixth presidential term in disputed elections in August last year.
The European Union and the United States have imposed waves of sanctions on the Belarusian strongman’s regime over a post-vote crackdown on dissent in Belarus after the country erupted in historic protests against his rule.
But the 67-year-old leader, who has accused Western governments of having instigated the protests in the hope of fomenting a revolution, has so far withstood the penalties with the backing of ally and creditor Moscow.
Latest envoy expulsion
Minsk has cut ties with other Western envoys in recent months.
In March, it expelled the entire staff of Latvia’s embassy, including the ambassador, after Latvian authorities used a Belarusian opposition flag at an ice hockey championship.
And in August, Minsk revoked the consent for the appointment of the US ambassador — career diplomat Julie Fisher, who in December had been confirmed as the first US envoy to the ex-Soviet country since 2008.
Lukashenko has since put down the demonstrations against his rule, the authorities jailing hundreds of protesters and closing dozens of independent media outlets and NGOs.
All of the country’s top opposition leaders are either in prison or have fled the country.
Last month a court in Belarus sentenced one of the country’s most prominent opposition figures, Maria Kolesnikova, to 11 years in prison.
She is the only major leader of last year’s rallies — which at times drew tens of thousands of people — still in the country.
Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who the opposition and Western governments say was the true winner of the presidential election, is in exile in neighboring Lithuania.
In the year since the vote, she has rallied world leaders, calling for the international community to force fresh elections in Belarus.
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