Washington - The United States rejected the Belarusian election that returned Aleksander Lukashenko to power and said the violent crackdown on protestors and free speech is a 'a clear step backwards' in relations between the two countries.
The White House said in a statement Monday that Lukashenko's re- election was not legitimate and condemned the arrests of dissidents, journalists and other presidential candidates.
'The United States strongly condemns the actions that the government of Belarus has taken to undermine the democratic process and use disproportionate force against political activists, civil society representatives and journalists,' the White House said, 'and we call for the immediate release of all presidential candidates and the hundreds of protestors who were detained.'
The White House also said there were indications that independent internet media were disrupted.
'The actions taken over the last 24 hours, however, are a clear step backwards on issues central to our relationship with Belarus,' the statement said.
The Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe has described Sunday's election as fraudulent, saying it was not free or fair. Seven of the nine candidates who ran against Lukashenko were in police custody Monday, the Belapan news agency reported.
Lukashenko, who has been described as 'Europe's last dictator,' has ruled the country for 16 years.