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Clinton Demands Belarus Free Political Prisoners

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Secretary of State Hillary Clinton demanded on Tuesday that Belarus release political prisoners or continue to face economic sanctions and travel bans on members of the government of President Alexander Lukashenko.

"We recognize that this has been a brutally difficult year for the people of Belarus," Clinton told seven Belarusian activists she met in neighboring Lithuania, on the sidelines of a meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.

"We know that every day there's a new arrest or a new restrictive law or further harassment against civil society and the media," she said. "We continue to demand the unconditional release of all political prisoners."

Clinton said that by U.S. count there are still about 50 people in prison or under some form of restricted release.

Belarus authorities cracked down on opposition activists after mass street rallies erupted against Lukashenko last year, following his re-election for a fourth term after a vote criticized by his opponents as rigged.

Two opposition leaders are still in jail for their part in those protests.

In a speech after the meeting, Clinton said it was necessary "to make it unequivocally clear to the Lukashenko government that their behavior is unacceptable and they have to begin to reflect and respect the aspirations of the people of Belarus".

"It is absolutely inconceivable that in Europe today, that in December 2011, the Lukashenko regime is behaving as it is behaving," she added.

"We will continue, along with our partners in the European union and other democracies, to take actions against the Lukashenko regime, including sanctions and travel bans."