U.S., EU urge Belarus to release protesters

08:43, December 24, 2010      

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The United States and the European Union (EU) on Thursday called for the immediate release of the presidential candidates and over 600 demonstrators reportedly taken into custody in the wake of the presidential elections in Belarus.

"We strongly condemn all violence, especially the disproportionate use of force against presidential candidates, political activists, representatives of civil society and journalists," U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton said in a joint statement. "Taken together, the elections and their aftermath represent an unfortunate step backwards in the development of democratic governance and respect for human rights in Belarus."

International observers had voiced different views on Belarus' Sunday presidential election, with the majority saying the vote was legitimate, free and democratic.

Belarus' Central Election Commission announced on Monday that incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko won another five-year term by having 79.67 percent of the vote.

Kasym-Zhomart Tokayev, deputy head of the OSCE observing mission, told reporters that "the people of Belarus made their choice and the international community must respect it." However, the OSCE observing mission said the polls were flawed.

Several thousand Belarusians rallied on Sunday evening in downtown Minsk to protest the election after the polls were closed. The crowds were dispersed later and some protesters were arrested by riot police.

"The European Union and the United States recognize the serious problems with the electoral process and the vote count as reported by the OSCE election observation mission and urge the Government of Belarus to meet its commitments to the OSCE to substantially reform the electoral process," the joint statement said. "The Government of Belarus should take the steps necessary to create political space for political activists, civil society representatives and independent journalists."

It added that "respect for democracy and human rights remain central to improving Belarus' relations with the United States and the European Union. Without substantial progress in these areas, relations will not improve."

In late October, the European Council extended by another year the visa sanctions on Belarusian officials, including President Lukashenko, saying it regretted the lack of progress in Belarus regarding law supremacy, human rights, freedom of speech and associations.

The sanctions have been imposed since 2006 in response to what Europeans called rigged elections by Lukashenko.

Accusing Belarus of posing a "continuing unusual and extraordinary threat" to U.S. security, President Barack Obama declared in early June an extension of sanctions on Belarus for an additional year.

Belarus-U.S. relations have cooled following the election of Lukashenko in 1994. The United States accused Belarus of being undemocratic, while Belarus charged Washington with interfering in its internal affairs.

Source: Xinhua

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