Clinton condemns Belarus crackdown, meets activists

(Reuters) - U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton on Thursday condemned the Belarussian government's recent crackdown on political opponents and warned that Washington was watching the situation closely.

Clinton made the remarks in a meeting with Belarussian and Belarussian-American human rights activists.

"The secretary condemned the conduct of Belarus's presidential election and crackdown on political leaders and activists, civil society representatives and journalists," State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said in a statement.

"The secretary told the activists that we are watching the government's actions closely and considering our response to those actions," Crowley said. "The United States will continue its support for and engagement with the people of Belarus."

Five former Belarussian presidential candidates and 14 other opposition activists are being detained over protests against the outcome of the December presidential vote and may face charges of "organizing mass disorder."

Belarussian riot police used batons to disperse a crowd of up to 10,000 demonstrators in the capital Minsk after the reelection of President Alexander Lukashenko to a fourth term. Many were beaten, and more than 600 activists, journalists and other Belarussians were arrested in the crackdown.

Lukashenko, 56, who has ruled Belarus with an iron fist since 1994, was declared the winner of the election with nearly 80 percent of the vote. The opposition said the vote was rigged, and international monitors criticized it as flawed.

The United States and the European Union have issued two joint statements condemning the violence and calling for the immediate release of all who are detained.

In her meeting with the activists, Clinton again called for the release of all detainees "and urged an end to repressive acts against the opposition, the media and civil society," the State Department spokesman said.

(Reporting by JoAnne Allen; Editing by Paul Simao)


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