French Ambassador to Belarus Nicolas de Lacoste left Minsk after Belarusian authorities ordered his exit by Monday, French news agency AFP reported on Sunday, citing the French embassy in Minsk.
Lacoste had avoided presenting his credentials to President Alexander Lukashenko, 67, and instead presented them to the regime’s foreign minister, Vladimir Makei, an act that Lukashenko saw as a snub.
The French Embassy in Minsk also indicated on its website that Lacoste had met last Wednesday with representatives of the banned NGO Govorii Pravdu (Tell the Truth), including the group’s co-chair, Andrey Dmitriev, who had been a candidate for the presidential election last year.
“He said goodbye to the embassy staff and recorded a video message to the Belarusian people, which will appear on the embassy’s website tomorrow morning,” the embassy spokesperson told AFP. of France.
Belarusian media reported that Minsk had also recalled its ambassador to Paris, Igor Fesenko.
Europe’s “last dictator” tries to hang on to power
France and other EU countries did not recognize Lukashenko as the winner of the contested presidential election last August. His self-proclaimed victory sparked a wave of historic protests against his reign and his pursuit of a sixth term.
Since the disputed presidential election and unprecedented protests, his regime has presided over a crackdown on dissidents. NGOs and independent media have been shut down and most members of the opposition have fled abroad or been imprisoned.
Lukashenko has blamed the protests on Western countries and argues that it is an effort to foment a revolution.
The US and EU have imposed numerous sanctions against prominent regime figures and their families, as well as Belarusian state entities, but Lukashenko has so far managed to withstand the pressure in part thanks to the support. from Moscow.
Last month, Maria Kolesnikova, the last major leader of last year’s protests, was sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Her colleague Svitlana Tsikhanouskaya, who is in exile in neighboring Lithuania, has met with world leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel and US President Joe Biden, to campaign for the rights of Belarusians and a free Belarus.
ar / fb (AFP, Reuters)