Belarus: Dominic Raab hits out at President Lukashenko after two UK diplomats expelled

·2-min read

Belarus' decision to expel two UK diplomats has been criticised as "wholly unjustified" by Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

He also claimed that President Alexander Lukashenko cannot hide the oppression of his people, and has called for free and fair elections in the country.

Mr Raab tweeted: "The expulsion of two UK diplomats from Belarus for legitimately observing protests is wholly unjustified.

"(Belarusian leader) Lukashenko can't hide the oppression of his own people.

"The only way forward is free & fair elections & accountability for those responsible for violence against demonstrators."

Earlier, Belarus had declared the two diplomats persona non grata, citing alleged "destructive activity", according to Russian news agency RIA.

Protesters have been calling for authoritarian leader Mr Lukashenko to resign for months after he was re-elected in August for a sixth term in office.

The demonstrators claim the contested vote was rigged and they have been on the streets for 90 straight days, demanding he quits as his security forces carry out a violent crackdown.

Last week, an independent report found the election had been "falsified" and it had exposed the extent of human rights violations committed by Mr Lukashenko, according to the Foreign Office.

The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) report said authorities were responsible for "massive and systematic human rights violations in response to peaceful demonstrations and protests".

On Sunday, thousands of activists tried to enter the centre of the capital Minsk from several directions to protest.

But police cordoned off the area with armoured vehicles as riot officers prevented them from gathering in a single place.

More than 500 people were arrested, including model Olga Khizhinkova - a former Miss Belarus, according to human rights activists.

Since gaining power in 1994, Mr Lukashenko has suppressed the opposition and independent news media.

He has refused dialogue with opponents and claimed western countries have incited the protests.

After the election, his main challenger Svetlana Tsikhanouskaya, under pressure from officials, fled to neighbouring Lithuania.

She says she hopes US president-elect Joe Biden will put pressure on Mr Lukashenko.

"Joe Biden has spoken out more than once and taken a firm position of support for the Belarusian people," she said.

Ms Tsikhanouskaya has also urged protesters to continue their demonstrations.

"We have stood against lawlessness and violence for 90 days already. In these 90 days, Belarusians made the regime understand that they have lost legitimacy and authority," she said.