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Wednesday, June 10, 1998 Published at 11:26 GMT 12:26 UK

World: Europe

Belarus gives diplomats a week's notice to quit

Diplomats need to leave so that plumbing and sewerage systems can be fixed

Paul Anderson reports from Moscow on the row over the decision by Belarus to evict diplomats from their residences:

The authorities in Belarus have extended a deadline by which foreign diplomats should leave a residential district of the capital Minsk.

A row has erupted over the eviction notice, which affects more than 20 missions and which diplomats have said they will ignore.

The row over the eviction of a sizable chunk of the diplomatic corps in Minsk from a residential district is gathering steam.

The Belarusian authorities have said diplomats and their families from 22 missions need to leave their residences so that crumbling plumbing and sewerage systems can be repaired.

But President Alexander Lukashenko has a residence in the district and suspicions have been raised that the eviction may be for his benefit.

The Belarusians, now faced with a mass recall of ambassadors, have extended by a week the deadline by which they must leave their residences.

A foreign ministry spokesman said that to his knowledge no ambassador had been recalled yet, although there had been reports earlier quoting the German ambassador that some Western countries were recalling their ambassadors.

The diplomats have argued - so far to no avail - that under international treaties which Belarus signed their missions and residences are untouchable.

Earlier this week, the American ambassador arrived at his residence to find the gates welded shut. He and his Western colleagues have served notice to President Lukashenko that they will not give in in the face of what the American State Department spokesman James Ruben described as foolish and provocative behaviour.

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