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    Clinton, Ashton call on Belarus to release political prisoners

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    U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has called on Belarus to the release and rehabilitate political prisoners in a joint statement issued on Sunday.

     U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton has called on Belarus to release and rehabilitate political prisoners in a joint statement issued on Sunday.

    "We reiterate our call for all political prisoners to be immediately released and rehabilitated," said the statement, which came two days after the European Union imposed sanctions on two Belarusian officials involved in prosecuting human rights activist Ales Belyatsky.

    Clinton and Ashton called for the release of Belyatsky, who was jailed for 4-1/2 years for tax evasion in November, as well as presidential candidates Andrei Sannikau and Mikalai Statkevich.

    "Over the past 12 months, the Belarusian authorities have imprisoned peaceful demonstrators, suppressed non-violent protests, and worked to silence independent voices," the statement added.

    Clinton and Ashton voiced concern about "credible reports of degrading and inhumane treatment of political prisoners" caught up in the crackdown by the government of President Alexander Lukashenko.

    "We also express grave concern over new laws that will further restrict citizens' fundamental freedoms of assembly, association and expression and that target support to civil society," said the statement.

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