- Published on Wednesday, 08 August 2012 19:37
- Written by BC-Stuff
EU to hold emergency meeting following the expulsion of Swedish diplomats to Minsk.
The EU has called an emergency meeting to consider how to respond to a decision by Belarus to expel all Swedish diplomats from Belarus.
According to an official of the European diplomatic service, Belarus will be the only subject on the agenda of the meeting on Friday (10 August), which will involve ambassadors of the EU's 27 member states in Brussels.
The meeting will come a week after Belarus said that it would not allow the Swedish ambassador, Stefan Eriksson, to remain in Minsk, arguing that he had played an orchestrating an alleged coup plot ahead of presidential elections in December 2010. Sweden's Foreign Minister Carl Bildt immediately dismissed the accusations, and Catherine Ashton, the EU's foreign policy chief, warned the regime of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka that the EU might take "appropriate measures".
Today (8 August), Belarus went further, saying that it has recalled all its diplomats from Stockholm, and telling Sweden to withdraw its staff from Minsk by 30 August.
Bildt responded, via Twitter, that Lukashenka's "fear of human rights [is] reaching new heights".
While the Belarusian authorities' allegations relate to 2010, the spat is widely seen as being connected to a pro-democracy stunt carried out last month by a Swedish public-relations firm.
A plane commissioned by the company, Studio Total, succeeded in flying into Belarusian airspace on 4 July, Belarus's Independence Day, and dropped around 800 teddy bears carrying pro-democracy messages into a largely Polish-populated town, Ivyanets, close to the capital, Minsk.
After weeks of official silence about the incident, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 31 July dismissed the commanders of his air force and border guards, the head of the secret police, and three members of his administration, including the defence minister. In addition, two Belarusians – a photojournalist, Anton Suryapin, and a businessman, Syarhey Basharymau – were arrested for alleged involvement in the stunt.
This is the second time this year that diplomats from the EU have been expelled from Minsk. In February, Belarus responded to new EU sanctions by telling the Polish ambassador and the EU's ambassador to leave Minsk. In response, all EU ambassadors were withdrawn. They returned in late April after Lukashenka pardoned and freed two jailed opposition figures.
Belarus has been subject to EU sanctions since 1996, two years after Lukashenka became president, though restrictions were temporarily suspended in 1999 and 2008. At present, over 200 individuals are barred from entering the EU and their assets have been frozen by EU banks. Twenty-nine companies linked with three businessmen closely associated with Lukashenka are subject to sanctions.
The sale to Belarus of arms and weapons that could be used for internal repression is also banned.
Some EU national officials have, however, continued to co-operate with Belarus's law enforcers until recently. On Monday (6 August), the German weekly Der Spiegel revealed that, according to German government documents, German police had given "instruction to Belarusian experts in the area of risk analysis" until late February 2011, weeks after the EU significantly expanded sanctions in response to a crackdown on hundreds of opponents of the regime.
Belarus will hold parliamentary elections on 23 September.