Lukashenko to pick and choose EU ambassadors


Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko said yesterday (5 April) that he will "screen" EU ambassadors individually before allowing them to return the country, the AFP reported. They had withdrawn from the country to punish Minsk's human rights record.

The EU withdrew its ambassadors in February, marking a new low in relations between Belarus and the 27-member bloc, which have been worsening since long-ruling President Alexander Lukashenko's disputed victory in a December 2010 election.

Lukashenko's domestic opponents have called on the EU nations' ambassadors to return because their situation worsened after he, in reprisal, banned his harshest critics from leaving the country.

"I have to agree with the foreign minister that we are going to examine each country and each ambassador individually," Lukashenko was quoted as saying.

Belarus Teleradio Company quoted Lukashenko as saying that "nobody" expelled the diplomats, therefore they took a political step which at that time did harm to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Belarus.

"Now we will see how they will come back to Belarus," Lukashenko reportedly said.

According to Russia's RIA Novosti, Lukashenko said: "We will build our policy with regard to the return of European ambassadors to Belarus on a business-like basis."

He also reportedly said Belarus will not seek Russian help in building its relations with the EU countries.

The Belarus website Naviny quoted a source who said previously on Lukashenko's statements that the EU's ambassadors would return en bloc to Belarus the week after the Easter break.

It remains unclear what the "screening" of the ambassadors returning back to their posts could imply. The European Commission said it would not comment, only reminding that the ambassadors of the EU countries left Belarus in sign of solidarity with the Ambassador of Poland and of the EU, whom the authorities requested to go back to their capitals to convey the message of  Minsk. At that time, it was also agreed that the diplomats would return in a coordinated way.

President Alexander Lukashenko, in power in the nation of 10 million since 1994, has tolerated little dissent, cracking down on public protests and imprisoning opposition leaders.

His re-election for a fourth term in December 2010 sparked mass street protests by the opposition, which led to the arrest of several candidates who had run against him.

Earlier this month, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said it would not replace its representative in Belarus when the current one leaves in April.

Belarus is still seeking a fresh IMF loan to refinance the $3.6 billion (€2.75 billion) it must repay to the Fund in 2012-2014, though such financing is very unlikely to be granted because of the lack of market reforms and the worsening political climate.

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