WASHINGTON (AFP) - US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton condemned Belarus for its handling of the presidential election and crackdown on activists and political leaders.
The comments came after the top US diplomat met human rights activists from Belarus in a further signal of its opposition to the crackdown in Minsk.
"The secretary condemned the conduct of Belarus's presidential election and crackdown on political leaders and activists, civil society representatives and journalists," a statement from her office said.
"She stressed her concern for detainees and for their family members, noting the US embassy in Minsk's efforts to remain in close contact with them."
The statement noted that Washington and the European Union have issued two joint statements condemning the violence and calling for the immediate release of all who are detained.
"The secretary repeated this appeal and also urged an end to repressive acts against the opposition, the media and civil society," the statement said.
Clinton also "told the activists that we are watching the government's actions closely and considering our response to those actions."
Earlier, State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Clinton "shares their concerns over the recent presidential elections, as well as the government's disproportionate use of force following those elections."
Belarus is holding hundreds of opposition supporters arrested in a mass protest against the December 19 elections won by President Alexander Lukashenko.
The United States and the European Union on Tuesday both slammed Belarus for ordering the closure of the OSCE office in Minsk, and urged it to release all those protesting the elections.
Belarus on Friday ordered the closure of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) office in Minsk, in an apparent response to the transatlantic security group's stinging criticism of its presidential polls.
OSCE monitors issued a damning report on the polls that listed a litany of vote count violations, saying its observers assessed the tally "as bad and very bad" in almost half of all observed polling stations.
Toner said Clinton's meeting with the Belarussian activists was designed to send a message to the authorities in Minsk and he hoped the high-profile meeting here "would not put them at risk" when they return to their country.
"What we're trying to send here is a signal. We're trying to show our engagement. We are concerned about the situation in Belarus, and we're going to stay engaged on this issue."