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    Belarus hands U.S. diplomat personae non gratae list

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    The Belarusian Foreign Ministry summoned on Wednesday the U.S. charge d'affaires in Minsk, Jonathan Moore, and handed him a list of U.S. diplomats considered personae non gratae by the former Soviet state.

    MINSK, April 30 (RIA Novosti) - The Belarusian Foreign Ministry summoned on Wednesday the U.S. charge d'affaires in Minsk, Jonathan Moore, and handed him a list of U.S. diplomats considered personae non gratae by the former Soviet state.

    The ministry said in a statement published on its website that the U.S. official had been summoned as Washington had failed to respond to a request made by Belarus last week for the U.S. to cut its embassy staff in Minsk to five by April 30.

    The ministry said that at the meeting Moore was informed that as of April 30 Belarus was reducing the number of its personnel in Washington to six, including the ambassador.

    "In connection with the U.S. refusal to follow recommendations from the Belarusian Foreign Ministry on the reduction of U.S. Embassy staff in Minsk, Jonathan Moore was handed a list of American diplomats considered personae non gratae and who must leave the territory of Belarus," the statement said.

    U.S. Ambassador Karen Stewart 'temporarily' left Belarus on March 12 after a request from Belarusian authorities. She has yet to return. Belarus also recalled its ambassador for consultations and demanded that the U.S. cut the number of embassy staff in Belarus by half. The U.S. agreed.

    Until recently, the U.S. employed 38 diplomats in Belarus, and Minsk had 18 diplomatic staff in Washington.

    Tensions between the two countries increased after Washington imposed sanctions last November against Belarus's state-controlled petrochemical company Belneftekhim and froze the assets of its U.S. subsidiary. American companies were also banned from dealing with the company.

    The U.S. and the European Union have accused Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko of clamping down on dissent, stifling the media and rigging elections. Lukashenko, who was re-elected to a third term in 2006, and other senior Belarusian officials have been blacklisted from entering the U.S. and EU.

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