April 30th, 2008 12:29 EST
10 Diplomats expelled from Belarus
Belarus, locked in a dispute with Western governments over its human rights record, has ordered the expulsion of 10 U.S. diplomats.
The Foreign Ministry called in the U.S. Deputy Chief of Mission Jonathan Moore, and presented him with the list of diplomats given 72 hours to depart.
In Washington, a State Department spokesman Sean McCormack called the Belarusian action unjust and unwarranted. He said the United States wants good relations with Belarus but will not sacrifice the principles of pushing for freedom of expression in that country. He said the Belarusian action leaves only four U.S. diplomats in Minsk.
The United States and the European Union have imposed wide-ranging travel and economic sanctions on Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko and other officials over his government's poor human rights record and electoral violations.
Earlier this month, Mr. Lukashenko said the United States must lift sanctions against the Belarusian state-owned oil and chemical company Belneftekhim to ease bilateral tensions
The Belarusian leader Monday rejected Western calls for the release of a prominent opposition figure sentenced to prison for protesting the conduct of the 2006 presidential elections.
Mr. Lukashenko called his 2006 presidential opponent, Alexander Kozulin, a "pathetic opposition figure." He said Western governments do not have the right to make further human rights demands on his administration.
Some information for this report was provided by Reuters.