White House Wants New Elections in Belarus

The Bush administration on Monday called for new elections in Belarus after independent observers said the re-election of hard-line incumbent Alexander Lukashenko was a farce.

A series of punitive measures will be discussed with the European Union, the State Department said. These could include widespread limits on financial assistance to the Minsk government.

The administration already has peppered hard-line Belarus with restrictions on travel to the United States of individuals suspected of human rights abuses and barred meetings between high-level U.S. and Belarus officials.

President Bush's spokesman, Scott McClellan, said "the United States does not accept the results of the election," which the White House said was the result of election fraud and human rights abuses.

Flying with President Bush to a speech in Cleveland, McClellan said the election was flawed by "a climate of fear."

"We applaud democrats in Belarus for their courage and peaceful stand to reclaim their freedom," McClellan said. "We support their call for a new election."

Lukashenko has ruled Belarus, a nation of 10 million, since 1994, quashing opposition groups and independent media, leading Western nations to dub him "Europe's last dictator" and treat him as a pariah.

Last month, the Bush administration accused Lukashenko's government of involvement in the murders of a pro-democracy businessman and an independent journalist.

To underscore U.S. disapproval of the ex-Soviet republic's behavior, Bush and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley met with the victims' widows, Svyatlana Zavadskaya and Irina Krasovskaya.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack, meanwhile, noted that the 55-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe had found the election was characterized by a disregard for human rights, of freedom of assembly, association and expression, as well as by a climate of intimidation and insecurity and a highly problematic vote count.

McCormack called for the immediate release of people detained during the campaign and said, without elaboration, that "the United States is preparing to take serious, appropriate measures against those officials responsible for election fraud and other human rights abuses."

The U.S. official said the administration would coordinate with the European Union on a plan of action.