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US gets tough on Belarus after referendum

US gets tough on Belarus after referendum
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Now it is official. Final results have been announced following a controversial referendum in Belarus. Electoral authorities in the former Soviet Republic say more than 79 percent of people backed president Alexander Lukashenko’s plan to stay in power. It means the constitution can be changed allowing the hardline leader to run for a third term in office. The vote has been strongly criticised by Western monitors who say it fell far short of international standards.

Lukashenko has been dubbed “Europe’s last dictator” by Washington where the US president has signed a bill renewing American assistance for groups supporting democracy and human rights in Belarus. “The act reinforces US support for Belarusians who are fighting for fundamental freedoms,” said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher.

“The legislation expresses the sense of Congress that we should increase sanctions on the Belarusian authorities. It authorises increased support for civil society and promotion of democracy and independent media.” In Belarus, the vote was followed by protests. Activists chanted “Shame.” They clashed with the police. Opposition groups have suffered crackdowns throughout Alexander Lukashenko’s decade in office.

They failed to win a single parliamentary seat in elections held alongside the referendum and accuse the authorities of widespread fraud.