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Volume 543: debated on Thursday 26 April 2012

Since the mass protests against the conduct of the Belarusian presidential election on 19 December 2010, the Belarusian Government have tightened their authoritarian grip on the country. Hundreds of people have been punished for taking part in peaceful protests, with many human rights defenders, and opposition politicians and activists detained. As a result, the EU re-imposed sanctions against the Government of Belarus in January 2011, and expanded and extended the measures throughout 2011.

On 28 February 2012, the EU imposed further sanctions. On the same day, the Belarusian Government asked the Head of the EU delegation and the Polish ambassador in Minsk to return to their capitals for consultations. In response to this act, my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary approved the recall of Her Majesty’s ambassador to Minsk as part of a co-ordinated withdrawal by EU ambassadors.

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary chose to recall our ambassador to make it clear that Belarus’ treatment of the Polish ambassador and Head of the EU delegation was unacceptable. That point has now been made; both ambassadors were able to return to Belarus unhindered yesterday. Her Majesty’s Ambassador will therefore return to Minsk in short order, along with her colleagues from other EU member states. My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have instructed her to continue to press the Belarusian Government for the immediate release of all political prisoners without condition.