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Belarus expels French ambassador amid accusations of snub against Lukashenko

·2-min read

France's ambassador has been ordered out of Belarus and has already left the country, although no direct reason have been given by the authorities in Minsk.

The French embassy has confirmed that ambassador Nicolas de Lacoste left Belarus on Sunday, after the authorities in Minsk demanded he leave by Monday, 18 October.

I remains unclear, however, say why the Belarusian authorities told him to leave.

According to reports in the Belarusian media, ambassador De Lacoste was expelled because he never met President Alexander Lukashenko to give him copies of his credentials.

The French embassy says he gave them to Belarusian Foreign Minister Vladimir Makei.

Lukashenko reportedly took that as a snub.

Tensions with Western powers

A spokesperson for the Embassy in Minsk stated that ambassador Nicolas de Lacoste left Belarus on Sunday.

"He said goodbye to the staff of the embassy and recorded a video message to the Belarusian people," the spokesperson said, which is due to appear on the embassy's website this morning.

France, like other EU countries, has not recognised Lukashenko claim to a sixth presidential term in disputed elections in August of last year.

The European Union and the United States have imposed waves of sanctions on the Belarusian strongman's regime over a post-vote crackdown on dissent in Belarus after the country erupted in historic protests against his rule.

But the 67-year-old leader, who has accused Western governments of having instigated the protests in the hope of fomenting a revolution, has so far withstood the penalties with the backing of ally and creditor Moscow.

Diplomat's departure is just the latest expulsion

Meanwhile, Minsk has cut ties with other Western envoys in recent months.

In March, it expelled the entire staff of Latvia's embassy, including the ambassador, after Latvian authorities used a Belarusian opposition flag at an ice hockey championship.

By August, Minsk revoked the consent for the appointment of the US ambassador -- career diplomat Julie Fisher, who in December had been confirmed as the first US envoy to the ex-Soviet country since 2008.

President Lukashenko has since cracked down on demonstrations against his rule, with the authorities jailing hundreds of protesters and closing dozens of independent media outlets and NGOs.

All of the country's top opposition leaders are either in prison or have fled the country.

Last month a court in Belarus sentenced one of the country's most prominent opposition figures, Maria Kolesnikova, to 11 years in prison.

She is the only major leader of last year's rallies -- which at times drew tens of thousands of people -- still in the country.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who the opposition and Western governments say was the true winner of the presidential election, is in exile in neighbouring Lithuania.

In the year since the vote, she has rallied world leaders, calling for the international community to force fresh elections in Belarus.

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