U.S. says Belarus will get improved relations only by subscribing to democratic principles

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON: The United States rebuffed efforts by Belarus for improved relations and said Tuesday that U.S. sanctions will be continued and strengthened unless President Alexander Lukashenko's government accepts democratic standards.

In a statement, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack criticized the Lukashenko for increased intimidation of Belarusians, mentioning especially the secret trial of former opposition lawmaker Andrei Klimov.

Klimov's wife said last week in Minsk she had learned her husband had been convicted Aug. 1 and sentenced to two years in prison "for insulting the president and calling for revolution." McCormack said Klimov was accused of publishing material on the Internet criticizing the Lukashenko government.

The U.S. spokesman also spoke of mass arrests of peaceful demonstrators, of performers and the audience of a play and citizens trying to participate in the commemoration of a medieval battle.

"The Lukashenko regime has expressed its desire for improved relations with the United States and other democratic nations," McCormack said. "As long as the Belarusian authorities are not ready to abide by democratic norms, the United States will continue to maintain and strengthen sanctions on those responsible."

He said the Belarusian government should release all the prisoners.