Raab expels two Belarusian diplomats in ‘clear message’ to Lukashenko

Leader thought to be responding to report lauded by UK as proof of Belarus corruption

Sam Hancock
Tuesday 10 November 2020 16:15
Brexit briefing: How long until the end of the transition period?

The UK has expelled two Belarusian diplomats today, in what Dominic Raab has called a “clear message" to Alexander Lukashenko.

Mr Raab, UK foreign secretary, made the call after Mr Lukashenko evicted two British diplomats from Belarus yesterday.

Belarus’ decision to expel the two UK officials was denounced as “wholly unjustified” by Mr Raab. He criticised Mr Lukashenko, leader of the eastern European country, for not allowing British officials to “legitimately observe protests”. Mass demonstrations have dogged the nation since Mr Lukashenko declared himself the winner of a presidential election back in August, which has since been widely disputed.

“The expulsion of 2 UK diplomats from Belarus for legitimately observing protests is wholly unjustified. Lukashenko can't hide the oppression of his own people," Mr Raab tweeted.

“The only way forward is free & fair elections & accountability for those responsible for violence against demonstrators,” he added.

Mr Raab later released an official statement, which was posted on the gov.uk website, which said: “As independent reports show, this is part of a concerted campaign of harassment aimed at activists, media and now diplomats.

“Instead of trying to bully those shining a light on his repression, Mr Lukashenko must agree to free and fair elections and enable those responsible for violence against demonstrators to be held to account.”

The foreign secretary is referring to an independent report, carried out by the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE), which was published last week. It found that the election Mr Lukashenko claims to have won was “falsified”; it also exposed the extent of human rights violations committed by Mr Lukashenko, according to the Foreign Office.

After its publication, Mr Raab made a statement in which he called for a second “free and fair” election to end Mr Lukashenko’s “fraud” and reverse “the despicable actions taken by Lukashenko's regime to suppress the Belarusian people”.

Mr Lukashenko’s removal of the two unnamed British diplomats is thought to be a response to the claims made by Mr Raab. Belarus declared the two officials persona non grata yesterday, pointing to alleged “destructive activity”, according to Russian news agency RIA.

Defence secretary Ben Wallace also criticised the move: “The expulsion of the UK defence attaché based on fabricated and misleading accusations is a flagrant attempt to divert attention from the growing oppression to free speech and freedoms inside Belarus by the Lukashenko regime.”

Belarus has been plagued by protests, calling for the end of Mr Lukashenko’s leadership, for months. On Sunday, thousands attempted to conduct another in the centre of the country’s capital, Minsk, but were met by police cordons and armoured vehicles. 

More than 500 people were subsequently arrested, human rights activists who were present told local media.

The UK has already rolled out sanctions against Mr Lukashenko and his allies following the election and their brutal response to protests. It remains to be seen how this latest blow will impact relations between Belarus and the UK moving forwards.  

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