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EU pulls all diplomats from Belarus

The European Union and Belarus go head-to-head with diplomatic reprisals.

The European Union (EU) announced Tuesday that it had agreed to pull all its diplmats from Belarus, soon after the bloc passed a fresh round of sanctions targeting the country's poor rights record, reported the Associated Press

There was no immediate response from Belarus.

The announcement, which came late Tuesday, marks a rarely-seen move of diplomatic cooperation for the bloc as it looks to further isolate Belarus -- a skittish Russia ally -- and increase pressure on the country's stridently authoritarian leader President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet country for the last 17 years.

It came in response to Minsk's decision to pull its envoys from the EU and Poland as well as requests from Minsk that EU and Polish ambassadors leave amidst a growing stand-off over rights, said AP

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Belarus, which is flanked by Poland and Ukraine on the west and Russia on the east, is often referred to as the last dictatorship in Europe. 

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle hailed the EU decision as an expression of solidarity, saying, "the dictator [Lukashenko] fools himself when he thinks he can divide us,” reported Euronews.

Tensions between the EU and Belarus have been increasing since the outbreak of deadly riots following the disputed re-election of Lukashenko in December 2010. Over 700 people were arrested in the government's crackdown on dissent -- seven of them presidential candidates, according to AP

Tuesday's announcement came a day after the EU Council voted to block some 200 Belarusian officials from traveling to EU countries and freeze their assets over their human rights records, said AP

Opposition activity continues in Belarus despite a fierce government backlash, with Human Rights Watch issuing a report last spring calling for an end to "massive" crackdown.  

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/regions/europe/120229/eu-pulls-all-diplomats-belarus