US condemns Belarus crackdown

WASHINGTON (AFP) The United States on Friday condemned Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko's government for its harsh crackdown against those contesting his re-election last year.

On Wednesday, Belarus handed jail terms of up to four years to three activists accused of rioting offenses for taking part in December 19 protests over the results of elections that gave Lukashenko a crushing victory.

Washington "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 said.

"Through its ongoing detentions, trials and harsh prison sentences, the 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," said the spokesman.

"For example, there were nine presidential candidates for office. Two of them are in jail. Seven of them have been charged under these draconian actions by the government of Belarus," he said. "They are simply unacceptable."

A total of 42 opponents have been sentenced to up to 15 years in prison for having taken part in the protests against the re-election of Lukashenko, who has been in power for 16 years, accusing him of fraud.

The United States and European Union boycotted the ceremony for his taking office and imposed sanctions on his government.


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