The United States has condemned the “harassment” and expulsion of two British diplomats from Belarus this week amid a deterioration in relations between Minsk and Western capitals over a disputed presidential election and authoritarian leader Alyaksandr Lukashenka's violent crackdown on postelection protests.
“This arbitrary and unjustified act by Belarusian authorities is only the latest attempt to hide the daily harassment and repression everyday Belarusians, including activists and members of the media, continue to face in their fight for democracy,” State Department spokesman Cale Brown said in a statement on November 11.
Brown also reiterated Washington’s call for Belarusian authorities to “cease their crackdown and heed the demands of the Belarusian people for free and fair elections under independent observation.”
The statement comes a day after Britain announced it had expelled two Belarusian diplomats following Minsk's “unjustified expulsion" of two U.K. diplomats. Belarus said it had expelled the pair on November 9 after they had engaged in "destructive" activities.
Lukashenka, who has ruled Belarus for 26 years, has faced almost daily protests calling for his resignation since a presidential election on August 9 that the opposition says was rigged and that the West has refused to accept.
Thousands of people have been arrested since authorities declared Lukashenka the landslide winner of the vote. Most of the country's opposition leaders have been arrested or forced to leave the country.
Lukashenka has called the protesters and members of the opposition Western "puppets."
In response to the crackdown and “falsification” of the presidential vote, the United States, Britain, and the European Union have imposed sanctions on dozens of Belarusian officials, including Lukashenka.
U.S. Condemns 'Arbitrary' Expulsion Of U.K. Diplomats From Belarus