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Belarus advised the United States ambassador to leave the capital, Minsk,
Belarus advised the United States ambassador to leave the capital, Minsk, and recalled its ambassador from Washington for consultations, the Foreign Ministry said on Friday.

The ministry said the move was made over sanctions Washington imposed last year against the former Soviet republic.

"Belarus earlier said that retaliatory measures with regard to the United States would be strict and one of the steps is to recall the Belarusian Ambassador to the United States Mikhail Khvostov for consultations," the ministry said.

"At the same time the government of Belarus strongly recommends U.S. Ambassador to Belarus Karen Stewart leave the country for the same purpose," the ministry added.

In mid-November last year, the U.S. introduced sanctions against Belarus's national petrochemical company Belneftekhim and froze the assets of its U.S. subsidiary, which Belarus said breached a bilateral trade deal, designed to give better access for Belarusian goods and services, as well as the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty (NPT).

Alexander Lukashenko the controversial Belarusian leader, dubbed "Europe's last dictator" by Washington, pledged last year to react swiftly in the economic sphere and threatened Stewart with expulsion.

"She [the ambassador] would be the first to be kicked out. She attends opposition hangouts and says economic sanctions could be introduced against Belarus, heating up the situation. Let the American ambassador deal with her own problems, otherwise she may have to leave her post in Belarus ahead of time," Lukashenko said.

The president said the U.S. sanctions were caused by Belarus starting work in Venezuela. In December, a joint Belarusian-Venezuelan oil production company was opened there, with plans to produce about 7 million tons (51.45 million bbl) of oil annually, 40% will go to Belarus and 60% to Venezuela.

The U.S. and the European Union have accused the Belarusian leader 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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