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UK expels Belarus diplomats in retaliatory move

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Britain’s Secretary of State for Foreign affairs Dominic Raab arrives in Downing Street, as the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, London, Britain, April 13, 2020. (Reuters)

Belarus declared two senior British diplomats “persona non grata,” a foreign ministry spokesman said on television Monday, citing the “destructive nature” of their activities.

Shortly after the move, Britain labelled the expulsions “totally unjustified” and accused de facto President Alexander Lukashenko of bullying those contesting his controversial re-election.

“Lukashenko must agree to free and fair elections and enable those responsible for violence against demonstrators to be held to account,” Raab said in response late Monday.

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Belarus has for months been gripped by unprecedented demonstrations, with tens of thousands taking to the streets on Sundays to protest against his continued rule.

The strongman ruler, who has been in power for more than two decades, claims to have won the August election which has been condemned internationally as neither free nor fair.

A spokesman for British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said the country’s ambassador had been summoned to the Foreign Office Tuesday to learn of the retaliatory expulsions.

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Belarus’s ONT television channel reported that the two British diplomats ousted had already left the country.

The channel named them as Lisa Thumwood, deputy head of the UK mission in Belarus, and defence attaché Timothy Wight-Boycott.

Citing law enforcement, the TV channel said the diplomats had been collecting information about Belarus’s protests and the political situation in general.

They have also repeatedly met with representatives of rights groups and non-governmental organisations, Belarus said.

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