France's ambassador to Belarus has left the country after the authorities in Minsk demanded he leave by Monday, the French embassy has said, without specifying the motive.
According to reports in the Belarusian media, ambassador Nicolas de Lacoste never met President Alexander Lukashenko to give him copies of his credentials.
France, like other EU countries, has not recognised the Belarusian strongman's claim to a sixth presidential term in disputed elections in August last year.
"The Belarusian foreign ministry demanded that the ambassador leave before October 18," an embassy spokeswoman told AFP Sunday.
"Ambassador Nicolas de Lacoste left Belarus today," the spokeswoman added. "He said goodbye to the staff of the embassy and recorded a video message to the Belarusian people, which will appear tomorrow morning on the embassy's website."
The European Union has imposed waves of sanctions on Lukashenko's regime over a post-vote crackdown on dissent in Belarus after the country erupted in historic protests against his rule.
Lukashenko has since put down the demonstrations, with authorities jailing hundreds of protesters and closing dozens of independent media outlets and NGOs.
All of the country's top opposition leaders are either in prison or have fled the country.
Calls for tougher sanctions
European leaders have also accused Lukashenko's regime of flying undocumented migrants into Poland and the Baltic states in an attempt to blackmail the 27-member bloc.
Latvia's Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics called on Monday for more economic sanctions on Belarus to increase pressure on Lukashenko.
Rinkevics said sanctioning Belarus's national airline Belavia was one measure that he hoped would be discussed by EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg. Austria and the EU's top diplomat immediately voiced support.
"We need to introduce stricter sanctions ... It means to put so-called tourism companies that are organising flights (under sanctions), I also believe that we need to sanction Belavia fully, so that it cannot receive any kind of support," Rinkevics said.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)