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EU nations recalling ambassadors from Belarus as dispute escalates
MINSK, Belarus (AP) ' The European Union is recalling all member countries' ambassadors from Belarus after the authoritarian government there asked EU and Polish envoys to leave its soil due to a dispute over new sanctions.
EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton made the announcement late Tuesday, hours after the Belarusian foreign ministry said the EU and Polish ambassadors should leave. Belarus also said it was withdrawing its ambassadors to Poland and the EU.
There was no comment from Belarus on Ashton's announcement of a bloc-wide recall.
The moves came one day after the EU Council voted to add 21 names to a list of some 200 Belarusian officials prevented from traveling to EU countries because of human rights violations. The officials also face an assets freeze.
The EU sanctions target the authoritarian country's repression of political opposition, including frequent jailings.
They date back to the December 2010 presidential elections, in which more than 700 people ' including seven candidates ' were arrested in the wake of a massive protest against alleged vote fraud. Strongman President Alexander Lukashenko was declared the winner.
The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, decried Belarus' move on Tuesday, saying: "I consider it a hostile act."
"It is intolerable for us as Europeans to see human rights and citizens' rights in Belarus thus violated. This is the last dictatorship in Europe," German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle said.
Lukashenko has led Belarus since 1994, retaining Soviet-style controls over the economy and cracking down on opposition and independent media.
His predecessor, Stanislav Shushkevich, said Tuesday's moves appeared to signal a step-up in repression.
"Lukashenko needs confrontation with the EU in order to be unhindered in putting more political prisoners in jail," he told The Associated Press.