US rejects Belarus election results

By Patricia Wilson

CLEVELAND (Reuters) - The United States rejects the results of the Belarus election and believes the campaign that re-elected President Alexander Lukashenko was conducted in a "climate of fear," the White House said on Monday.

"We support the call for a new election," said White House spokesman Scott McClellan.

The United States had complained bitterly about events in Belarus ahead of the election.

McClellan warned authorities in Belarus against "threatening or detaining those exercising their political rights in the coming days and beyond," a reference to protests that have been reported there.

"The United States does not accept the results of the election. The election campaign was conducted in a climate of fear. It included arrests and beatings and fraud," McClellan said.

Washington was ready to cooperate with the European Union to take action against those responsible for election fraud and human rights abuses in Belarus, he told reporters.

Both the United States and the EU have accused Lukashenko of abandoning democratic principles and engaging in human rights abuses. They threatened sanctions if the election was found to be fraudulent.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack noted that the U.S. support for opposition calls for a new election was rhetorical. Washington had not decided on any concrete ways that it might help the opposition force a new vote, he said.

Washington was also ready to impose further limited sanctions against Belarus, such as expanding a list of senior officials banned from visiting the United States, McCormack said.

A U.S. official, who requested anonymity, acknowledged the United States had little sway over Lukashenko.

"The truth is we have little leverage over him, because we have limited economic or diplomatic ties -- and for that matter nor does Europe," the official said. "So, it's really up to the Russians, who have close integration with Belarus. But they are not exactly looking like they are ready to smack Lukashenko upside the head."

(Additional reporting by Saul Hudson)