US ‘with Sweden’ in Belarus diplomacy spat

The United States said Wednesday it "stands with Sweden" in its efforts to promote human rights in Belarus, amid a spat that led Minsk to expel all Swedish diplomats and close its Stockholm mission.

The US State Department said it was “deeply concerned” about the recent events, with spokesman Patrick Ventrell saying such actions “only serve to deepen Belarus’ self-isolation.”

“The United States stands with Sweden and our European partners in supporting the aspirations of the people of Belarus for a modern, democratic and prosperous future,” Ventrell said in a statement.

“We again call on Belarus to immediately release and rehabilitate all political prisoners, and to put an end to the repression of civil society and the democratic opposition.”

Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt last week said ambassador Stefan Eriksson, who took up the post in Minsk in 2008, was being expelled because of his pro-rights stance and meetings he had with the Belarus opposition.

Stockholm quickly retaliated, saying it would not welcome a new ambassador named by Minsk to replace the envoy who left the post several weeks ago, and withdrew residency permits for two Belarus diplomats.

On Wednesday, Minsk said in a statement it was “forced to take a decision to recall its diplomatic staff from Sweden and return its employees to Belarus,” stressing however it was not severing diplomatic ties with Stockholm.

It gave Stockholm until August 30th to remove all of its diplomats from the ex-Soviet state the United States once dubbed Europe’s last dictatorship.

The tit-for-tat came after Swedish PR firm Studio Total announced they had illegally flown a plane into Belarus in early July, dropping hundreds of teddy bears attached to parachutes and carrying signs calling for freedom of speech and human rights.

Belarus is under a raft of sanctions by the European Union over the plight of political prisoners in the country.

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