Poland and Lithuania recall diplomats from Belarus

WARSAW/VILNIUS (Reuters) - More than 30 diplomats were on their way back to Warsaw from Belarus on Friday, a Polish deputy foreign minister said, after Minsk asked Poland to scale back the number of staff at its embassy amid tensions over a crackdown on protests.

Lithuania, which had also been asked by Minsk to cut its diplomatic staff in the country, recalled five diplomats on Friday, the foreign ministry there said.

Belarus has accused its neighbours Poland and Lithuania of meddling in its affairs by hosting exiled opposition leaders and refusing to recognise Alexander Lukashenko’s victory in the Aug. 9 poll. His critics say the vote was rigged, which he denies.

Both countries had initially refused to comply with the demand to cut staffing but then recalled their ambassadors to Minsk for consultations in the hope of reducing the tension.

“The Belarusian authorities requested us to limit the number of our diplomatic personnel in Belarus. That means that more than 30 diplomats are leaving Belarus right now and coming back to Warsaw,” Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz told Reuters.

Lithuanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Rasa Jakilaitiene said the country had recalled five diplomats “in hope that the step is sufficient to keep the possibility of a dialogue”.

Belarus recalled its own ambassadors from Poland and Lithuania last Friday.

Eight other countries, including Romania, Germany and the Czech Republic have recalled their ambassadors to Belarus in solidarity with Poland and Lithuania.

Late on Friday, British foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the United Kingdom would recall its ambassador.

“The United Kingdom condemns Belarus’ decision to expel Polish & Lithuanian diplomats...In solidarity, we are temporarily recalling our Ambassador for consultations on the situation in Belarus.” Raab wrote on Twitter.

Reporting by Alan Charlish in Warsaw, Andrius Sytas in Vilnius, Aakriti Bhalla in Bengaluru; Editing by Alison Williams and David Gregorio