Belarus urges U.S. ambassador to leave

MINSK (Reuters) – Belarus, accused in the West of infringing fundamental rights, recalled its ambassador to the United States on Friday and urged the U.S. envoy to leave the ex-Soviet state.

The Foreign Ministry said in a statement that the moves had been taken after Washington imposed new sanctions on Belarus’s national oil products firm Belneftekhim.

“One of these steps is the recall of Belarus’s ambassador in Washington for consultations,” ministry spokesman Andrei Popov said. “At the same time and for the same purpose, Belarus urges the U.S. ambassador to leave our country.”

An official at the U.S. embassy in Minsk said diplomats had so far received no information from Belarussian authorities.

President Alexander Lukashenko, barred from both the United States and European Union, has sought improved relations with the West, particularly the European Union, after quarrelling with Russia last year over energy prices.

But he threatened to expel U.S. ambassador Karen Stewart late last year if new sanctions were imposed against his country of 10 million wedged between Russia and three EU states.

Both the United States and European Union have taken punitive measures against Belarus, including an entry bar on Lukashenko on the grounds that he rigged his 2006 re-election.

Washington last year imposed sanctions against Belneftekhim, prohibiting Americans from doing business with the refiner and freezing any assets it has under U.S. jurisdiction. Popov said new U.S. punitive measures had already been imposed.

“For a considerable time now, Belarus has taken a series of consistent moves to normalize relations with the EU and the United States,” he said.

“One of the participants in this process, the United States has introduced new restrictive measures.”

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