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Belarus Tells US to Cut Embassy Staff, Rejects Ambassador

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FILE - A man walks past the U.S. Embassy in Minsk, Belarus, May 1, 2008.

The regime of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has responded to the latest round of U.S. sanctions by requesting Washington to reduce its embassy staff in Minsk to five people by September 1.

Belarusian Foreign Ministry's spokesman Anatol Hlaz said in an interview that was placed on the ministry's website on August 11 that Minsk also had revoked its consent to the appointment of Julie Fisher as the U.S. ambassador to Belarus.

"Taking into account that Belarus has lost trust in the current U.S. administration, we suspend cooperation in all new projects, grants, and programs coordinated by the U.S. government until such trust is back," Hlaz said, adding that Minsk reserved the right to introduce additional measures in the future.

FILE - Julie Fisher, U.S. ambassador-designate to Belarus, testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 9, 2021.
FILE - Julie Fisher, U.S. ambassador-designate to Belarus, testifies before a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, June 9, 2021.

Fisher, the first U.S. ambassador to Belarus since 2008, was confirmed by the Senate in December 2020 but has been unable to take up her post in Minsk because the Belarusian government has denied her a visa.

Hlaz's interview appeared after the United States, Britain and Canada announced new trade and financial sanctions on Belarus on August 9, the first anniversary of the presidential election that extended Lukashenka's decades-long rule and sparked an unprecedented wave of protests amid allegations the vote was rigged.

Lukashenko, in power since 1994, reacted to the protests by unleashing a brutal crackdown. More than 32,000 people have been detained, thousands beaten by police on the streets and in detention, with torture alleged in many cases. Opposition leaders have been locked up or forced to flee.

In an interview Tuesday with VOA’s Russian Service, Fisher said last year’s election that triggered the protests “really represented a turning point in our view for events in Belarus.”

“What we saw was the people of Belarus speak clearly in support of an option, an alternative to Lukashenko. And we saw the fraudulent nature of that election in a way that we have never seen before. The evidence of fraudulent counting, mishandling of ballots, the unwillingness to accept international observers — all of this created a dynamic in which the voice of the people in rejecting that fraudulent vote was particularly clear in 2020,” Fisher said.

In response, the United States, European Union, Canada, Britain and other countries have hit Lukashenko, his inner circle, and Belarusian firms with several rounds of sanctions, leaving Belarus's strongman internationally isolated, dependent more than ever on Russian support.

VOA’s Russian Service contributed to this report.

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