Poland Recalls Ambassador to Belarus


MINSK - Poland recalled its ambassador to Belarus on Tuesday in a deepening dispute over an ethnic Polish organization in the neighboring country.

Tensions have periodically erupted between Minsk and Warsaw over Belarus' treatment of its large Polish minority, which numbers some 400,000 people in a country of 10 million.

Warsaw's latest protest came a day after police seized control of a building used by the Union of Poles in the town of Ivenets. Polish newspapers said Belarussian police, acting on a prosecutor's orders, used "brutal force" to empty the building.

"By recalling our ambassador for consultations, we want to send a strong political message," Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Piotr Paszkowski said.

The Belarus Foreign Ministry's press office said it was not ready to comment on the issue.

Paszkowski said Poland had not yet decided whether a previously planned visit to Warsaw this Friday by Belarus' foreign minister would go ahead.

The Gazeta Wyborcza daily quoted Foreign Minister Radoslaw Sikorski as saying he anticipated a "tough conversation" with his Belarussian counterpart.

The Belarus-based Union of Poles split five years ago into two factions, one loyal to authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko's government and the other critical of it.

The Ivenets branch refused to accept a decision by the union's pro-government leadership last month to dismiss the branch chief.

Long ostracized by the West for the suppression of dissent and a lack of democracy in Belarus, Lukashenko has begun to court the European Union with steps such as freeing political prisoners, apparently hoping to decrease his country's economic dependence on Russia.

Relations with Poland and other neighbors have generally improved in the past year, but Western governments stress that he must take stronger steps toward democracy.

"Poland is still interested in establishing new bilateral relations and also multilateral relations through the EU with Belarus, and we are still hopeful that this trend can be maintained," Paszkowski said in an interview.


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