A diplomatic row has erupted between Germany and Belarus after the President of the former Soviet republic made what appeared to be a homophobic slur against the German foreign minister.

In response to a comment by Germany about Belarus’ human rights record, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko quipped that it is better to be a dictator than gay – an apparent swipe at Germany’s openly homosexual foreign minister, Guido Westerwelle.

Last week, Westerwelle described Lukashenko as Europe's last dictator.”

Westerwelle blasted Lukashenko’s homophobia.

This statement condemns itself. I won't budge one millimeter from my commitment to human rights and democracy in Belarus after these comments, the foreign minister stated.

Westerwelle was backed by the Berlin government.

Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for Chancellor Angela Merkel, said in a statement that Lukashenko's remark shows very clearly the position that the Belarus president takes in relation to basic rights. It's interesting to find out this way that Mr. Lukashenko too now classes himself as a dictator.”

Seibert added: “That by the way is a view that the federal government reached some time ago and on which the Belarus president delivers proof almost daily.”

Lukashenko has earned the wrath of other European leaders after a violent crackdown on opponents following his disputed election victory in December 2010. Four political opponents were arrested in the affair.

The European Union (EU) has since blacklisted some top Belarusian officials in retaliation for Minsk’s human rights record. In response, Lukashenko recalled his ambassadors from the European Union headquarters in Brussels and also from Poland. EU states similar withdrew their envoys from Minsk.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) noted that dozens of others were also detained by Lukshenko n the wake of the 2010 elections.

“There continue to be allegations of serious psychological and physical abuse and due process rights violations of political prisoners who remain in custody,” HRW reported.

“Many are routinely denied meetings with their lawyers. They often do not receive correspondences and are prohibited from family visits. Some are repeatedly placed in solitary confinement or punishment cells without justification and some are denied medical care.”

However, according to reports, Lukashennko fears the imposition of EU economic sanctions on his country, which depend heavily on the oil industry.

Not surprisingly, Lukashenko has good relations with Russian leader Vladimir Putin. The Minks chief even congratulated Putin for his recent victory in Russian elections over the weekend.