Updated at 17:39,28-11-2020

UK expels Belarus diplomats in tit-for-tat move

The Guardian

UK expels Belarus diplomats in tit-for-tat move
Police detain a protester during an opposition rally in Minsk on Sunday. Photograph: AP
Foreign Office retaliates after expulsion of British diplomats following protests in Minsk

Britain has expelled two Belarusian diplomats in response to the removal of two UK envoys from the former Soviet bloc country, the foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, has said.

The move came after the British diplomats, including a defence attache, were ordered home from the capital, Minsk.

The British diplomats were expelled on Monday after Belarus objected to their observation of street protests in Minsk on Sunday. Raab said the expulsions ran counter to diplomatic norms since the two diplomats had been carrying out legitimate duties.

The Belarusian ambassador, Maxim Yermalovich, was summoned to the Foreign Office on Tuesday afternoon to be informed of the decision. The UK said its decision was appropriate and proportionate.

Britain has already imposed sanctions on the Belarusian president, Alexander Lukashenko, following his disputed re-election in August. Opponents called for a re-run of the poll amid widespread claims of vote-rigging and a brutal crackdown on demonstrators by the authorities.

In its statement, the UK Foreign Office said: “During the summons, the UK government reiterated that the only way forward is for fresh elections to be held and for those responsible for violence against demonstrators to be held to account”.

“We have sent a clear message today to Lukashenko’s regime that their unjustified expulsion of British diplomats has consequences. The UK will continue to hold the Belarusian authorities to account for the rigged election in August and their ongoing use of violence to suppress the Belarusian people.”

The UK has already responded robustly to the torture and mistreatment of hundreds of peaceful protesters in custody by imposing landmark sanctions on Lukashenko and senior figures in the Belarusian government under the UK’s new human rights sanctions regime.