US senators condemn Belarus crackdown

WASHINGTON (AFP) US senators unveiled a symbolic resolution on Wednesday denouncing the re-election of Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko as "fraudulent" and urging him to free imprisoned opponents.

Independent Senator Joe Lieberman and Senator Dick Durbin, the chamber's number-two Democrat and a long-time Lukashenko critic, crafted the measure, which calls for tough new US and European sanctions on senior regime officials.

The non-binding resolution condemns Lukashenko's December 19 re-election as "illegitimate, fraudulent and not representative of the will or the aspirations of the voters in Belarus," and calls for a new vote that would be free and fair.

The measure "condemns the beating, arrest, fining and imprisonment of presidential candidates, opposition leaders and activists by Alexander Lukashenko's KGB," as well as his efforts to stifle freedom of expression.

It also presses Lukashenko "to immediately and unconditionally release all political prisoners in Belarus who were arrested in association with the December 19, 2010 election."

In January, the European Union and United States slapped a new raft of sanctions -- including a travel ban and asset freeze -- on Lukashenko and 157 associates after his brutal December 19 crackdown.

The ballot result gave Lukashenko -- dubbed Europe's last dictator by Washington -- a fourth term in office, extending his rule that stretches back to 1994.

The measure drafted by Durbin and Lieberman urges President Barack Obama's administration to resume direct support to the Belarus opposition and civil society, as well as independent media outlets, and expand the list of officials and entities targeted with sanctions.

It also urges the European Union to do the same while severing business ties with a Belarus state-owned oil and petrochemical firm, along with its subsidiaries, and to shut regime officials from high-level diplomatic talks.

And it calls on Russia to take similar steps against Lukashenko.

The measure also urges the International Ice Hockey Federation to suspend plans to hold a championship in Minsk until all political prisoners are released.


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