Top U.S. and EU officials renew calls for "immediate release" of presidential candidates and more than 600 demonstrators jailed after disputed Belarus elections.
Alexander Lukashenko, the last dictator standing in Europe, continued his vice-like grip on power as his ruthless regime used force to quell post-election demonstrators in Belarus, arresting hundreds of them including five opposition candidates this week.
In a statement Thursday, the United States and the European Union chided Lukashenko, condemning "the disproportionate use of force against presidential candidates, political activists, representatives of civil society and journalists."
The joint statement by Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and European Union High Representative Catherine Ashton reiterated their call "for the immediate release of the presidential candidates and the over 600 demonstrators who have been taken into custody in the wake of the presidential elections in Belarus."
Citing a report by observers with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the statement highlighted "the serious problems with the electoral process and the vote count." Clinton and Ashton urged Belarus to "meet its commitments to the OSCE to substantially reform the electoral process."
"Respect for democracy and human rights remain central to improving Belarus's relations with the United States and the European Union," the statement said, cautioning there would be no improvement in relations "without substantial progress in these areas."
The statement hinted at recent attempts by Lukashenko to woo the Western powers and distancing Minsk from Moscow.
According to reports, President Lukashenko was re-elected to a fourth term with a staggering 75 percent and more of the vote.