‘Never lose hope,’ expelled French envoy tells Belarusians

World

PARIS (AP) — France says its ambassador to Belarus has been ordered out of the country amid growing tensions between Belarusian leader Alexander Lukashenko and the West.

Ambassador Nicolas de Lacoste’s departure on Sunday was due to the “unilateral decision” of Belarusian authorities, the French Foreign Ministry said. De Lacoste bade a farewell in a message posted Monday on YouTube urging Belarusians to “never lose hope.”

Local media say the move to kick the ambassador out was linked to the refusal by France and other European Union countries to recognize Lukashenko’s re-election in August 2020, after an election marred by fraud and a violent police crackdown on post-election protesters. De Lacoste had also met with Belarusian opposition figures.

The Belarusian Foreign Ministry said the ambassador’s emergency departure was connected with his unwillingness to present his credentials to Lukashenko.

“The head of the French diplomatic mission did not express readiness to complete the procedure for assuming office as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to the Republic of Belarus, which is stipulated by international law and generally recognized practice,” said Anatoly Glaz, press secretary for the Belarusian Foreign Ministry.

France’s Foreign Ministry explained that de Lacoste did not present his credentials to Lukashenko because it was “in line with the common European position of not recognizing the legitimacy of the outcome of the August 2020 presidential election.”

Lukashenko claimed victory but the election was marred by widespread voter fraud and considered a sham by opposition supporters and Western governments. In months of subsequent protests, more than 35,000 people were arrested and thousands beaten by police, and the EU slapped sanctions on Belarus in response.

The French ambassador arrived in the Belarusian capital of Minsk after the controversial election. In December, he handed copies of his credentials to the Belarusian foreign minister but did not want to meet with Lukashenko.

De Lacoste met with representatives of civil society and politicians in Belarus, including activists from the opposition “Tell the Truth” movement, which was shut down by the authorities. On Saturday, he also met with Belarus’ first post-Soviet leader, Stanislav Shushkevich, who has sharply criticized the current government.

France said it has taken proportionate measures regarding Belarusian diplomats in France. Belarusian Ambassador to France Igor Fisenko was recalled to Minsk for consultations, the Belarusian Foreign Ministry said.

Lukashenko on Monday revived accusations that the West is trying to overthrow him and meddle in Belarus’ internal affairs.

In his parting message to Belarusians, de Lacoste described his time in the country as “difficult but unforgettable,” and said France “will remain at your side.”

Belarusian opposition figure and former diplomat Pavel Latushko urged de Lacoste to join other Lukashenko critics in neighboring Lithuania, where the U.S. ambassador to Belarus is currently based.

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Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv, Ukraine contributed.

Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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