The United States on Thursday defended Belarusian protesters and said it supported international efforts to examine the recent contested election, which gave President Alexander Lukashenko his sixth term in office.
“The United States has been inspired by the display of peaceful expression of the Belarusian people seeking to determine their own future,” said Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in a written statement. “We stand by our long-term commitment to support Belarus’ sovereignty and territorial integrity, as well as the aspirations of the Belarusian people to choose their leaders and to choose their own path, free from external intervention.”
Lukashenko, who has been in office for 26 years, said he won the August 9 election with 80% of the vote. Opposition candidate Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya reportedly won just 10%. The election, however, has been dogged by reports that it was rigged. The U.S., European Union and others have refused to accept the results.
“The United States supports free and fair elections that reflect the will of the Belarusian people as a matter of principle,” said Pompeo. “The August 9 elections did not meet that standard.”
The European Union said Wednesday that it would sanction Belarusian officials it identifies as involved in vote-rigging and violence against protesters.
Belarusian security forces have arrested nearly 7,000 protesters in a violent crackdown on the massive demonstrations sparked by the election. There have been widespread reports of police brutality against those detained.
Protesters told BBC News that they had been thrown to the ground, placed in overcrowded cells, forced to sign statements they didn’t understand and beaten black and blue with batons. They also said both men and women had been threatened with rape.
Pompeo said the U.S. stood behind international investigations into the election and its aftermath.
“We support international efforts to independently look into Belarus’ electoral irregularities, the human rights abuses surrounding the election, and the crackdown that has followed,” he said.
Tsikhanouskaya allies formed a Coordination Council this week to call for a new election and oversee a peaceful transition of power.
Prosecutor General Alexander Konyuk announced in a video statement that investigators were opening a probe into "calls for actions aimed at undermining national security," according to the French news agency AFP. The charge bears a maximum penalty of five years in jail.
Hundreds of state TV employees joined a strike Tuesday to call for Lukashenko’s resignation. Lukashenko told factory workers Monday that the country would collapse if he stepped down.