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Wednesday, July 8, 1998 Published at 16:07 GMT 17:07 UK

World: Europe

Deadline for Belarus diplomats passes

President Lukashenko...has no qualms about upsetting the West

The government in Belarus has reportedly withdrawn a deadline for foreign ambassadors to leave their diplomatic quarters in the capital, Minsk.

Jim Dingley of London University interviewed on BBC World Service: "President Lukashenko needs international friends"
Belarus had ordered an ultimatum on Wednesday for all diplomats to leave their residences and take their furniture with them.

Although the deadline has now passed, the Belarussian foreign minstry insists that the diplomats must still remove their furnishings to allow repairs to the residences to be carried out.

The dispute began when Belarus first ordered foreign diplomats to leave their quarters.

A furious row broke out between President Alexander Lukashenko and various foreign governments, including the US, Britain, Japan and Germany.

Earlier, the Belarussian authorities threatened to dispose of any property left in diplomatic missions.

'Ultimate act of rudeness'

US State Department spokesman James Rubin said: "This is the ultimate act of rudeness. We are guests there and the Vienna Convention codifies what is essentially the oldest tradition in history between nations and peoples."

[ image: Minsk has changed little since Soviet times]
Minsk has changed little since Soviet times
Mr Rubin said Mr Lukashenko was "acting like an authoritarian dictator" by insisting the ambassadors give up their residences.

Mr Lukashenko annexed the Drazdy compound, which is close to the presidential palace, last month.

The president's office claimed urgent plumbing repairs needed to be carried out under the diplomats' homes.

Distrust of the West

Western diplomatic sources said the move broke the Vienna Convention on diplomatic relations and suggested the move was based on paranoia and a distrust of the West which harks back to the Soviet era.

On June 22, the five European Union countries with a diplomatic presence in Minsk withdrew their ambassadors in protest at being refused access to their residences. They were joined by their US and Japanese counterparts.

The row escalated when the Belarussian ambassadors in Washington, London and the four other EU countries involved were sent home.

Visa restrictions possible

In Vienna, an Austrian foreign ministry spokesman said the European Union might retaliate by placing visa restrictions on Belarussian nationals.

A spokesman for the Belarussian embassy in London said their ambassador, Vladimir Schatnyy, was in Minsk for talks about the situation.

He said talks between Belarus and the countries involved would be arranged soon and he hoped the result would be "positive".

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