US ‘deeply concerned’ over election in Belarus

The Trump administration and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle are expressing deep concern over the presidential election in Belarus, where security forces are responding with violent force and mass detention against peaceful protesters demonstrating against the results.

White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany on Monday told reporters that the administration is “deeply concerned” about an election process “marred” by restrictions and intimidation against candidates, the blocking of independent election observers, “and the detention of peaceful protesters and journalists.”

“We urge the Belarusian government to respect the right to peaceably assemble and to refrain from the use of force,” she said.

Protests have occurred in the capital city Minsk and surrounding cities and villages since Sunday night against election results awarding victory to presidential incumbent Alexander Lukashenko, who has ruled the country for 26 years and is often described as “Europe’s last dictator.”

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Monday said the elections were “not free and fair” and urged the Belarusian government to respect the rights of peaceful protesters and condemned the use of internet shutdowns in an attempt to prevent citizens from gathering.

“We urge the Belarusian government to respect the rights of all Belarusians to participate in peaceful assembly, refrain from use of force, and release those wrongfully detained,” Pompeo said in a statement. “We strongly condemn ongoing violence against protesters and the detention of opposition supporters, as well as the use of internet shutdowns to hinder the ability of the Belarusian people to share information about the election and the demonstrations.”

The Democratic chairman and Republican ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee issued a joint statement Monday calling the election “rigged from the start” and putting their support behind protesters.

“We stand with those who are bravely risking their safety to push for a free and democratic nation and call on President Alexander Lukashenko to end these senseless acts of violence,” Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Michael McCaul (R-Texas) said in a statement. “Belarus’ sovereignty and independence can only be strengthened if its government fully embraces the democratic principles that its people have flooded into the streets to demand.”

Opposition candidates and protesters are rejecting election results that awarded Lukashenko an overwhelming victory with approximately 80 percent of the vote.

Human rights groups have decried the excessive use of force by authorities against peaceful protesters, alleging at least one person killed, which the government denies, and dozens wounded amid the protests.

About 1,000 people were detained in Minsk and 3,000 nationwide on Sunday, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty reported, and dozens more were arrested on Monday, when security forces reportedly used stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas to disperse demonstrators.

The European Union on Monday also denounced the use of violence against protesters and called for the immediate release of all those detained.

Tags Alexander Lukashenko Belarus Eliot Engel Michael McCaul Mike Pompeo

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