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EU ambassadors to return to Belarus
by Matt Falloon
Reuters Translate This Article
25 April 2012
LONDON (Reuters) - European Union nations are sending ambassadors back to Belarus, Britain said on Wednesday, as relations between Minsk and the 27-nation bloc improve following a diplomatic spat over the former Soviet republic's treatment of political dissidents.
EU states withdrew their envoys from Minsk in February in a solidarity gesture after Belarus told representatives from Brussels and Warsaw to pack their bags and get out.
Earlier, the bloc had tightened trade sanctions against companies and business owners with links to President Alexander Lukashenko, in power since 1994, in response to deteriorating conditions being endured by opposition politicians.
'All EU ambassadors are returning to Minsk, including our own ambassador,' a spokesman for Britain's Foreign and Commonwealth Office told Reuters, without giving exact details of when all the diplomats would return.
The bloc ordered their envoys home on February 28 as Lukashenko's government intensified its crackdown on the opposition following his re-election for a fourth term in December 2010.
Last month, Belarus told EU ambassadors not to bother returning—marking its increasing isolation from Europe's mainstream and a new low in ties with the West. The United States have not had an ambassador in Minsk since 2008.
Lukashenko has tolerated little dissent since coming to power, cracking down on public protests and throwing political opponents behind bars. Mass street protests after the 2010 election, which Western observers said was fraudulent, resulted in the arrest of several opposition candidates.
The EU has condemned Belarus, a landlocked nation of about 10 million people, as the last European country to use the death penalty and has also imposed a visa ban on Lukashenko.
But earlier this month, Lukashenko pardoned a key political prisoner and his former rival in the race for presidency, Andrei Sannikov, a move long urged by the EU.
Poland, Lithuania and Sweden also sent their representatives back to Minsk on Wednesday.
'Other ambassadors will return over the next hours and days,' Poland's Foreign Ministry spokesman Marcin Bosacki said.
The cooling of relations has pushed Minsk closer to Russia despite their long-running row over natural gas supplies, and many in Moscow view Belarus as a buffer from NATO members.
(Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Agata Nalecz in Warsaw, and Olzhas Auyezov in Kiev; Editing by Maria Golovnina)
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