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U.S. Embassy protests expulsion of American diplomat

March 24, 1997

MINSK, Belarus (AP) _ The U.S. Embassy protested today over Belarus’ expulsion of an American diplomat who was accused of being a spy and of organizing an anti-government rally.

Serge Alexandrov, an ethnic Belarusian and first secretary of the U.S. Embassy, was preparing to leave Belarus today in compliance with the expulsion order.

Police detained the diplomat Sunday at an opposition rally in Minsk. State-run news quoted the Foreign Ministry as saying Alexandrov was an ``American spy″ who used his diplomatic post to help organize the protest.

``After confirmation of his diplomatic status, Alexandrov was freed,″ the ministry said. But his actions were beyond normal diplomatic activity, and ``Alexandrov has been declared persona non grata and requested to leave the country.″

The U.S. Embassy defended Alexandrov, saying he ``was in the process of performing his routine duties and in full conformity with his diplomatic status″ when he was detained.

The statement did not elaborate on what Alexandrov was doing at the rally. It is common, however, for U.S. diplomats to observe political events.

About 10,000 people rallied Sunday over the Soviet-style rule of President Alexander Lukashenko. Police used clubs and tear gas to keep the crowd from marching, but made no attempt to stop the rally itself.

Police detained about 300 people, according to Vyacheslav Sivchik, secretary of the opposition Belarusian Popular Front, which sponsored the rally.

The demonstration coincided with the 79th anniversary of the proclamation of Belarus’ short-lived Popular Republic.

``We are here not only to pay tribute to the historic event, but to express our support for the democratic and sovereign way of development,″ declared Semyon Sharetsky, a leader of the Popular Front and former speaker of the parliament.

Lukashenko, an admirer of the Soviet system, has been trying to forge a closer union with neighboring Russia. The authoritarian president’s policies have angered the nationalist opposition, which fears an end to post-Soviet independence.

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