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‘Legitimately observing protests’: London reacts strongly as two UK diplomats kicked out of Belarus for ‘destructive’ activities

‘Legitimately observing protests’: London reacts strongly as two UK diplomats kicked out of Belarus for ‘destructive’ activities
Britain has condemned the Belarusian authorities after two of its diplomats were expelled from the country for “actions incompatible with diplomatic status.' They are accused of meeting with the opposition and visiting protests.

London maintains that the two officials were kicked out for “legitimately observing protests,” and there are no grounds for their expulsion.

On Tuesday morning, the Belarusian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that British defense attaché Timothy Wight-Boycott and Deputy Mission Head Lisa Thumwood had each been declared ‘persona non grata’ on November 8.

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“The Belarusian side took the decision solely because of the confirmed destructive nature of the said persons’ activities,” said Anatoly Glaz, the spokesman for the ministry said, adding: “This decision in no way closes the doors for dialogue with our British colleagues.”

According to Glaz, the diplomats had repeatedly met with representatives of opposition and human rights organizations, and had received warnings to stop, which were ultimately ignored.
In response, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab attacked the expulsions as “wholly unjustified,” explaining that the two had been removed for “legitimately observing protests.”

“As independent reports show, this is part of a concerted campaign of harassment aimed at activists, media and now diplomats.” the statement on the official UK government website reads. “[Belarusian President] Lukashenko must agree to free and fair elections and enable those responsible for violence against demonstrators to be held to account.”

As is diplomatic custom, London reciprocated by expelling two Belarusian diplomats from the UK.

Protests have been taking place in Belarus since August 9, after the country's presidential election was won by incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko. According to the official results, 80.1 percent of voters voted for the long-time president, with just 10.12 percent voting for his most prominent opposition, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya. After the closing of the polling stations, demonstrations began against the alleged falsification of results, with the opposition claiming that the vote was rigged. In the weeks since, protests have become less frequent, but still attract thousands of participants every weekend.

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