Tuesday, June 9, 1998 Published at 23:01 GMT 00:01 UK
Embassy row creates a stink
Belarus' government is trying to evict 22 diplomats from Minsk
A row over moves by the government in Belarus to force foreign diplomats out of their official residences has escalated.
The government in Minsk is trying to evict some 22 ambassadors from their official residences to carry out maintenance work.
Five governments have officially protested, with France and neighbouring Lithuania saying they will recall their ambassadors for consultations if the authorities persist.
The United States says that by failing to protect embassy residences, Belarus is acting in contravention of international law.
The State Department spokesman, James Rubin, said that the government of Belarus had apparently chosen to precipitate a crisis in its relations with the United States and the 22 other countries also affected.
Without specifying what action will be taken, Washington has warned of retaliatory moves if its ambassador there is prevented from doing his official duties.
The American ambassador in Minsk, Daniel Spekhard, complained on Monday that workmen were trying to lock him and his family out of their house in a diplomatic compound.
A side entrance to the building was welded shut by a team preparing to carry out repairs to the sewerage and water systems in the district.
The Belarus foreign minister, Ivan Antonovich, said Washington was over-reacting.
He said there was no political motive - but the diplomatic complex in Minsk needed urgent repairs to ensure it did not end up awash in its own sewage.
Mr Spekhard and other ambassadors have rejected proposals that they move to temporary accommodation, saying that they have the right to remain at their official residences while any utility work continues.
Correspondents say some diplomats believe the evictions have more to do with the irritation of President Alexander Lukashenko at foreign criticism of his style of government and human rights record.