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EU-Belarus Ties Worsen As Both Recall Their Envoys

2/29/2012 5:20 AM ET

Relations between the European Union and Belarus worsened on Tuesday, with both the entities recalling each other's Ambassadors.

A series of tit-for-tat actions began with the European Council adding 21 persons responsible for the repression of civil society and the democratic opposition in Belarus to the list of those targeted by a travel ban and an asset-freeze. Also, the assets of three companies linked to the regime were frozen and exports to Belarus of arms and material for internal repression prohibited.

Belarusian authorities responded by asking the Head of the EU Delegation in Minsk and the Polish envoy to Belarus to leave the country.

After consulting with Polish Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski, European Union Foreign Policy Chief Catherine Ashton decided to recall the two Ambassadors for consultations.

At the same time, she called a meeting of Member-States Ambassadors (PSC) in Brussels to coordinate the bloc's response. Ashton said that "in an expression of solidarity and unity, it was agreed that the Ambassadors of the EU Member- States in Minsk will all be withdrawn for consultations to their capitals." All EU Member-States will also summon Belarusian envoys to their Foreign Ministries. "We will continue to follow the situation closely," she added.

The United States expressed deep regret over the Belarus government's decision. These actions, like the expulsion of the U.S. Ambassador to Belarus in 2008 and the closure of the OSCE office in Minsk in March 2011, are only deepening Belarus' self-isolation, State Department deputy spokesperson Mark C. Toner said in a statement.

"The United States stands with our partners and joins them in calling on Belarus to end its repression of civil society and the democratic opposition," the statement added.

The U.S. and EU continue to take actions against the Lukashenko regime, including sanctions and travel bans, in response to intensified crackdowns by the government on the civil society that challenged his re-election.

Aleksander Lukashenko, dubbed by the United States as "Europe's last dictator," was re-elected for a fourth term with a landslide majority in the December, 2010 Presidential elections.

by RTT Staff Writer

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