Belarus is pushing Sweden to shutter its embassy in Minsk by the end of the month, the latest in a string of diplomatic salvos between the two countries.
Last week Belarus turned down extending accreditation for the Swedish ambassador, stating that “his activities were aimed not at the strengthening of relations between Belarus and Sweden, but on their erosion.”
Sweden said Ambassador Stefan Eriksson had been ejected for reasons involving human rights, long a sore spot between Belarus -- whose president is viewed by many as Europe's last dictator -- and other European countries. In return, Sweden expelled Belarusian diplomats and declared that Belarus' proposed new ambassador was not welcome.
The move left the Belarus Embassy in Stockholm with just two junior diplomats who weren’t qualified to run the mission on their own, the Belarus Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Wednesday. Belarus has recalled its entire embassy staff and informed Sweden that its diplomats would lose their status by Aug. 30.
Restored relations are “only possible if the Swedish side, through dialogue with Belarus, reverts to observing the internationally recognized principles of mutual respect, sovereign equality of the states, and promotion of friendly relations,” the Belarus Foreign Ministry said in a statement.
The act once again aggravated Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt, who said that President Alexander Lukashenko had showed “his fear of human rights reaching new heights.”
Belarus has been slammed as one of the most repressive countries in Europe by human rights groups, who lament that demonstrators have been jailed for such simple forms of protest as wordlessly clapping. Lukashenko was not allowed to attend the London Olympics as the European Union has banned him from traveling to its member nations because rights abuses.
Though Belarus did not bring it up, the spat comes after a recent stunt pulled by members of a Swedish ad agency who dropped teddy bears with free speech slogans from a plane over the capital. Belarus state media reported that the country has asked Sweden and Lithuania to help investigate "the violation of the Belarusian air border."
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A staff member adjusts a Swedish flag on the Swedish Embassy in the center of Minsk, Belarus, on Wednesday. Credit: Tatyana Zenkovich / European Pressphoto Agency