WASHINGTON D.C. (BNO NEWS) -- The United States and the European Union on Thursday called for the immediate release of opposition presidential candidates imprisoned after controversial elections in Belarus.
In a joint statement, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton condemned all violence and the disproportionate use of force against the demonstrators, activists, journalists and presidential candidates.
The U.S. and the EU also demanded the release of approximately 600 protesters who were taken into custody after violence erupted in Belarus following the presidential polls. The protests alleged fraud during the vote counting process which resulted in the re-election of current President Alexander Lukashenko with 79.7 percent of the votes.
"The European Union and the United States recognize the serious problems with the electoral process and the vote count as reported by the OSCE election observation mission and urge the Government of Belarus to meet its commitments to the OSCE to substantially reform the electoral process," the joint statement read.
Clinton and Ashton considered the controversial elections as a major step back in the development of a democratic government and respect for human rights in the former Soviet nation. The two leaders added that the Belarusian people deserved better.
The leaders also remarked that, unless Belarus significantly improves the respect for democracy and human rights, relations with both the U.S. and the EU will not improve. However, Clinton and Ashton assured that both sides will continue to support the people and civil society representatives of Belarus.
On Wednesday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said that there is a deep concern in the UN in regards to the events following the Belarus' presidential elections. Pillay remarked the use of force against demonstrators, abduction of opposition candidates and their supporters, detention of opposition activists and human rights defenders, and harassment of independent non-governmental organizations.
International observers earlier reported that Sunday's election failed to give Belarus the necessary new start. In addition, the electoral process was marred with inconsistencies, especially during vote count in which observers assessed almost half of the vote counts monitored as 'bad' or 'very bad'.
Belarusian authorities also arrested five opposition candidates. The presidential candidates were beaten by abductors thought to be security agents before they were taken to unknown detention facilities.