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Lithuania Expelling Two Belarusian Diplomats Amid Uproar Over Plane Arrests

By RFE/RL's Belarus Service May 28, 2021

Lithuania says it is expelling two Belarusian diplomats accused of conducting activities "incompatible with their diplomatic status" amid international outrage over Belarus's forced landing of a Vilnius-bound passenger flight in Minsk and the detention of a dissident journalist.

The two members of staff at the Belarusian Embassy in Vilnius were given seven days to leave the country, the Foreign Ministry said in a statement on May 28.

Foreign Minister Gabrielius Landsbergis said the decision was also "an expression of solidarity" with Latvia, which saw its entire embassy staff expelled from Belarus.

Minsk's move was in response to Latvian authorities earlier this week removing the Belarusian flag from a display at the hockey world championships in Riga and replacing it with a flag used by the Belarusian opposition movement.

A Belarusian fighter jet intercepted a Ryanair flight on its way to the Lithuanian capital from Athens on May 23 and forced it to land in Minsk. Journalist and opposition activist Raman Pratasevich was arrested along with his girlfriend, Sofia Sapega, who was traveling with him.

The European Union is discussing possible economic sanctions against Belarus in response to the diversion of the plane and the arrests.

Authoritarian ruler Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his allies have been under Western sanctions over a brutal crackdown on mass protests that followed his disputed reelection to a sixth term in August 2020.

In its statement, the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said it had informed a representative of the Belarusian Embassy in Vilnius of the decision to expel the two diplomats, and protested the "ongoing repression of civil society and independent media" in Belarus.

The ministry demanded the immediate release of Pratasevich, Sapega, and "other political prisoners and illegally detained persons."

Source: https://www.rferl.org/a/lithuania- expelling-two-belarusian-diplomats-amid-uproar-over- plane-arrests/31278685.html

Copyright (c) 2021. RFE/RL, Inc. Reprinted with the permission of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, 1201 Connecticut Ave., N.W. Washington DC 20036.

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