by Katie Naylor
The US State Department has announced new sanctions on Belarus in response to its presidential election in December. It says they are due to President Alexander Lukashenko's excessive use of force against protesters. The government jailed hundreds of activists during the election.
In December's election five opposition candidates were charged. Continuous raids were launched on political parties, civil society organizations and the media. The office of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Minsk was also closed and the presidential vote was seen as flawed.
US State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said a general license for trade would be revoked. The license had allowed US persons to make transactions with Belarus's largest chemical and petroleum conglomerate, Belneftekhim. A list of travel bans on Belarusian officials is also being expanded.
Crowley said restrictions will be enforced that will stop the entry of certain individuals and members of their families into the US. He said those responsible for policies or actions in the December 19 crackdown would be punished. The US also intends to impose sanctions on individuals and groups.
Crowley explained that the US was working with the EU and other leaders to take action against Belarus. He said the US welcomed travel sanctions imposed by the European Union's Foreign Affairs Council. It shows a commitment to supporting civil society, he added.
Relations between the US and Belarus had improved after Lukashenko was elected in 1994. However, the US now accuses the country of being undemocratic. Belarus has responded to these accusations by claiming Washington is interfering with its internal affairs.