US: Belarusian demands to cut embassy staff to 5 "unprecedented"

Belarus' demand that the United States cut its staffing at the Minsk embassy to five diplomats is "unprecedented and unwarranted," the embassy said Thursday. The embassy released the statement a day after the top US diplomat still in Belarus, Charge d'Affaires Jonathan Moore, was summoned by the Foreign Ministry and ordered to give a list of the five diplomats that would remain at the Minsk embassy as of April 30. "Mr. Moore protested this news, and noted that there would be grave consequences as a result of this unprecedented and unwarranted step by the Belarusian authorities. He added that he would inform the US Department of State in Washington and would provide a reply to the Belarusian requirement in due course," the statement said. Relations between Minsk and Washington have spiraled downwards in recent months, sparked mainly by the US decision to impose sanctions on a state-controlled oil-processing and chemicals company, Belneftekhim. The sanctions are designed to punish the President Alexander Lukashenko's government for its heavy-handed treatment of critics and intolerance of dissent.