U.S. reiterates call for Belarus to free jailed opposition activists

The United States has reiterated its call for the Belarusian authorities to release all opposition activists detained during protest demonstrations sparked by December's presidential elections.

"The United States remains gravely concerned over the continuing post-election crackdown by the Government of Belarus on civil society, independent media, and the political opposition," State Department spokesman Philip Crowley told journalists in Washington on Friday.

The elections in Belarus saw incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the country for more than 15 years, win a fourth term in office with almost 80 percent of the vote. More than 600 people were detained during large-scale protests that broke out in the capital, Minsk.

Most of the detainees have been charged with administrative offenses, but dozens of criminal cases have been initiated over the protests, including several against former presidential candidates.

Through its ongoing detentions, trials, and harsh prison sentences, the Belarusian government is creating new political prisoners, Crowley said.

"We urge the unconditional release of those detained in the crackdown without trials and the creation of space for the free expression of political views, the development of civil society, and the ability of citizens to expand their contact with open societies," the spokesman said.

The United States and European Union have imposed new travel and financial sanctions on Lukashenko and 157 other state and government officials in response to the "flawed" elections and the subsequent clampdown.

WASHINGTON, March 5 (RIA Novosti)


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