WASHINGTON, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Political violence in Belarus is an "unfortunate step backwards" in democratic development, the United States and European Union said in a joint statement.
Hundreds of citizens and political candidates were rounded up by police following demonstrations opposing the contested re-election of Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. Opposition candidate Vladimir Neklyaev was detained after being admitted to a hospital where he was being treated after having been beaten, allegedly by police.
The joint U.S.-EU statement called on authorities in Minsk to release detained presidential candidates and the more than 600 demonstrators taken into custody.
"Taken together, the elections and their aftermath represent an unfortunate step backwards in the development of democratic governance and respect for human rights in Belarus," the statement read. "The people of Belarus deserve better."
Washington last month said the elections gave Minsk an opportunity to prove it was committed to the democratic process. Official results announced Monday gave Lukashenko 79.7 percent of the vote.
The joint statement went on to say that without "substantial progress" in civil rights and democracy, bilateral relations wouldn't improve.
"The government of Belarus should take the steps necessary to create political space for political activists, civil society representatives, and independent journalists," the statement added.