US lawmakers urge 'firm' action on Belarus

WASHINGTON (AFP) - The United States and Europe must mount a "firm response" to the crackdown on opposition in Belarus following President Alexander Lukashenko's disputed reelection, US lawmakers urged Thursday.

"The campaign of repression in Minsk must be reversed, beginning with the immediate and unconditional release of imprisoned journalists and opposition activists," Democratic Senator Ben Cardin said in statement.

"The rapidly deteriorating situation in Belarus warrants a firm response from the United States, the European Union and others," added Cardin, who co-chairs the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, also known as the US Helsinki Commission.

Cardin did not offer details, but the statement noted that Washington and Brussels have been weighing tougher sanctions against Lukashenko over the crackdown following his controversial December 19 reelection.

Democratic Representative Alcee Hastings, Cardin's co-chair, accused Lukashenko of waging "a full frontal assault on free media and civil society" after the vote.

"The time has come for Lukashenka to reign in the KGB and security services, release prisoners, cease raids against independent media and democratic activists and pursue meaningful engagement with the OSCE," he added.

Washington has criticized Lukashenko's decision to close 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 the vote.


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