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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

U.S. Concerned over Swedish Envoy’s Expulsion from Belarus

RIA Novosti

06:15 09/08/2012 WASHINGTON, August 9 (RIA Novosti) - The United States has expressed deep concern over Minsk’s decision to force the Swedish ambassador to leave Belarus.

“The United States is deeply concerned about recent events in Belarus, including the decision of the Belarusian government to expel the Swedish ambassador and force Sweden to recall its entire diplomatic staff in Minsk,” State Department Acting Deputy Spokesperson Patrick Ventrell said in a statement.

“These actions, like the expulsion of the U.S. ambassador to Belarus in 2008, only serve to deepen Belarus’ self-isolation,” Ventrell said, adding: “The United States stands with Sweden and our European partners in supporting the aspirations of the people of Belarus for a modern, democratic and prosperous future.”

A diplomatic row between the two countries erupted last week, when Belarus refused to renew the accreditation of Sweden's ambassador, Stefan Eriksson. The move came just a few weeks after a Swedish light plane dropped hundreds of teddy bears bearing pro-democracy slogans over Belarus.

Commenting on the Minsk’s move, Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt wrote on his Twitter that Eriksson had been expelled from Belarus “for being too supportive of human rights.”

On Wednesday, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said it was withdrawing all of its embassy staff from Stockholm, and asked Sweden to pull its diplomats out of Minsk by August 30.

"The Belarusian side has been forced to make the decision to recall its embassy staff from Sweden and return all of the staff to Belarus," the ministry said in a statement, adding that the process was “already underway.”

Bildt wrote on his Twitter on Wednesday that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko’s “fear of human rights” was “reaching new heights.”

Lukashenko sacked a number of top officials over the teddy bear stunt, which took place on July 4.

In power since 1994, the Belarusian strongman has been accused by western governments of cracking down violently on dissent.

His re-election for a four term in 2010 was marred by allegations of vote-rigging.

In his statement, Ventrell called on Belarus to “immediately release and rehabilitate all political prisoners, and to put an end to the repression of civil society and the democratic opposition.”

The European Commission has pledged to take retaliatory measures against Belarus and called for an urgent meeting of EU ambassadors in Brussels to discuss the situation. Diplomatic sources say the meeting will take place on August 10.

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