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U.S. Warns Belarus of Deepening Isolation

RIA Novosti

16:51 29/02/2012 WASHINGTON, February 29 (RIA Novosti) - The Unites States has expressed “deep regret” over the Belarusian authorities’ decision to expel two European Union diplomats in retaliation for new EU sanctions imposed on Belarusian officials over alleged human rights violations.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry advised on Tuesday that the head of the EU delegation to Belarus, Ambassador Maira Mora, and Polish Ambassador Leszek Szerepka “leave for their capitals for consultations to inform their leadership of Belarus’ firm position that pressure and sanctions are unacceptable.” Minsk also recalled its ambassadors from Warsaw and Brussels.

Mora said she would leave Belarus later on Wednesday, while other European diplomats will leave the country “in the near future.”

“These actions, like the expulsion of the US ambassador to Belarus in 2008 and the closure of the OSCE office in Minsk in March 2011, are only deepening Belarus' self-isolation,” U.S. State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement.

Following the Belarusian statement, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton announced on Tuesday that all EU members will recall their ambassadors to Minsk.

"In expression of solidarity and unity, it was agreed that the ambassadors of the EU member states in Minsk will all be withdrawn for consultations to their capitals," Ashton said through her spokeswoman Maja Kocijancic. "All EU member states will also summon Belarusian ambassadors to their foreign ministries."

The diplomatic scandal broke out after the EU announced that it had blacklisted another 21 Belarusian officials over their alleged involvement in the ongoing crackdown on the country’s opposition. More than 200 people were already on the blacklist, including President Alexander Lukashenko, two of his sons, and most of the country's top leadership. They have been banned from entering the EU and their European assets have been frozen.

Toner said in his statement “the United States stands with our partners and joins them in calling on Belarus to end its repression of civil society and the democratic opposition.”

While announcing the decision to expel the diplomats, Belarusian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Savinykh warned that “other measures to defend our interests will also be taken” should Western powers continue putting pressure on Minsk.

He also threatened to ban entry to the country for those EU officials who contributed to the introduction of the new sanctions.

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