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Thursday, July 9, 1998 Published at 13:38 GMT 14:38 UK

World: Europe

EU to restrict Belarus officials

Diplomatic residences in Minsk are under threat from the authorities

The BBC Europe correspondent David Eades reports on the latest development in the row between foreign governments and Belarus:

Since several European ambassadors were unceremoniously ordered out of their residences in Minsk last month, the European Union has felt obliged to respond.

The added insult of being issued an ultimatum to clear out the furnishings from the buildings will have added to the anger, even though the Tuesday deadline was later withdrawn.

Officials in Brussels say the one clear step at this stage is to stop senior representatives from Belarus from travelling in and around the European Union, hence a ban on visas for them.

A spokesman for the Austrian government, which currently holds the six-month EU presidency, said the ban had the unanimous support of the member states.

Already, the ambassadors from Germany, France, Britain, Italy and Greece have been recalled from the capital after they were evicted, as was the American ambassador.

The motive behind those evictions is believed to be the simple desire of President Lukashenko to use the properties for himself.

Since he extended his own powers in a referendum in 1996, the European Union has gradually withdrawn its support, both financial and political.

Development projects worth around $75m have been frozen, support for joining the Council of Europe withdrawn.

The visa ban marks one more gesture of disapproval for Belarus, and while its impact is clearly limited, the signal is plain enough - that under President Lukashenko, Belarus is being pushed further away from the valuable assistance the international community can offer it.

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