The United States is calling for new elections in Belarus, saying Sunday's vote was seriously flawed and held in a climate of fear. The U.S. is warning of further sanctions against the Belarus government of President Alexander Lukashenko.
The United States has joined international observers and human rights groups in harsh criticism of Sunday's elections in Belarus, where, according to official results, long-time President Alexander Lukashenko won an overwhelming victory for a third term in office.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan said the United States cannot accept the outcome of the balloting. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack echoed those words, and warned the Belarus authorities against a crackdown on the opposition.
"We call on the regime in Belarus to release immediately those detained during the campaign," said Scott McClellan. "The international community will continue to scrutinize the action of the Belarusian authorities, and we caution them not to harm, threaten or detain those exercising their political rights in the coming days and beyond."
International monitors say the political campaign and voting were marred by intimidation, fraud and human rights violations. The Council of Europe and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe said the election was neither free nor fair.
Official results showed President Lukashenko with over 82 percent of the vote and opposition candidate Alexander Milinkevich with six percent. Milinkevich refuses to accept that outcome, and called for new elections.
Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in Minsk in peaceful demonstrations, amid a heavy presence of riot police and security forces.
Europe and the United States are now talking of diplomatic and financial action against the Minsk government. State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said Washington will work with European allies on possibly tightening already existing sanctions.
"We already do have in place some sanctions on individuals, as well as the regime, that include travel restrictions, limits on direct financial assistance to the government and limits on high-level meetings," said Sean McCormack. "I would expect it would be in that vein that we would take a look at any additional measures."
President Lukashenko has ruled Belarus in an iron-fisted manner reminiscent of the old Soviet Union since 1994. He dismissed any opposition as an attempt by outside enemies to topple him.
While President Lukashenko has long been harshly criticized by reformers and in the West for his autocratic rule, he has been a close ally of neighboring Russia. And, many people in Belarus also support him, saying his rule has brought stability, security and at least small economic improvements.