By THOMAS ADAMSON, Associated Press
PARIS (AP) – France says its ambassador to Belarus has been ordered out of the country amid growing tensions between Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko and the West.
The departure of Ambassador Nicolas de Lacoste on Sunday was due to the “unilateral decision” of the Belarusian authorities, said the French Foreign Ministry. De Lacoste said goodbye in a message posted on YouTube on Monday urging Belarusians to “never lose hope”.
Local media say the move to kick the ambassador is related to France and other European Union countries’ refusal to recognize Lukashenko’s re-election in August 2020 after an election was marred by fraud and post-election police violence against protesters. De Lacoste had also met with Belarusian oppositionists.
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said the ambassador’s emergency departure was related to his refusal to show Lukashenko his credentials.
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“The head of the French diplomatic mission has not agreed to complete the procedure required by international law and generally accepted practice to take office as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Belarus,” said Anatoly Glaz, press spokesman for the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The French Foreign Ministry said de Lacoste failed to present Lukashenko’s credentials because it was “in line with the common European position not to recognize the legitimacy of the August 2020 presidential election result”.
Lukashenko claimed victory, but the election was marred by widespread electoral fraud and viewed as a sham by opposition supporters and Western governments. In the months of protests that followed, more than 35,000 people were arrested and thousands beaten by police, prompting the EU to sanction Belarus.
The French ambassador arrived in the Belarusian capital Minsk after the controversial election. In December, he handed copies of his credentials to the Belarusian foreign minister, but did not want to meet with Lukashenko.
De Lacoste met with civil society representatives and politicians in Belarus, including activists from the opposition “Tell the Truth” movement, which the authorities have shut down. On Saturday he also met with the first post-Soviet head of state of Belarus, Stanislav Shushkevich, who sharply criticized the current government.
France said it had taken proportionate action against Belarusian diplomats in France. The Belarusian ambassador to France Igor Fisenko has been called back to Minsk for consultations, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said.
Lukashenko on Monday revived allegations that the West was trying to overthrow him and meddle in Belarusian internal affairs.
In his farewell message to the Belarusians, de Lacoste described his time in the country as “difficult but unforgettable” and said France would “stay by your side”.
The Belarusian opposition activist and former diplomat Pavel Latushko called on de Lacoste to join other Lukashenko critics in neighboring Lithuania, where the US ambassador to Belarus is currently based.
Yuras Karmanau in Kiev, Ukraine contributed to this.
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