Belarus strips press credentials for foreign journalists

Belarus strips press credentials for foreign journalists
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Belarus has revoked the press credentials of numerous foreign journalists ahead of expected protests over the results of the country's presidential election held earlier this month.

The journalists were from a variety of international news outlets, including The Associated Press, Reuters, French wire service Agence France-Presse (AFP), the BBC and Radio Liberty.

The U.S. Embassy in Minsk condemned the move cracking down on foreign journalists and other efforts targeting free speech, urging the Belarusian government to "demonstrate restraint."

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"We stand with the Belarusian people in their aspirations for a democratic, prosperous future and support their call for the government of Belarus to carry out democratic reforms and respect human rights," it said.

Protests have been a constant scene in the Eastern European country since Aug. 9, when long-serving Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko claimed he won reelection with more than 80 percent of the vote.

Approximately 7,000 people have been arrested during the protests, and at least three people have died in the unrest.

Lukashenko's opposition, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, has not accepted the results of the election and has been the driving force behind the large-scale demonstrations that have taken place in recent weeks.

Tikhanovskaya has fled to neighboring Lithuania, which is a part of the European Union, unlike Belarus.

"If true, it is another sign that this regime is morally bankrupt and the only way it will attempt to cling onto power is by fear and intimidation," she said in a statement Saturday following reports of a crackdown on foreign journalists.

"This tactic will not work. Belarusian people are not afraid any more. We will win. The darkest hour is always before the dawn," she added.

Government spokesman Anatoly Glaz said the decision was based off a recommendation from the Belarus's counter-terrorism unit, AFP reported.

BBC confirmed and condemned the action that affected two of its journalists.

"Two BBC journalists working for the BBC Russian service in Minsk have had their press accreditation revoked, with immediate effect," the British network said. "We believe it is vital for the people of Belarus to have access to impartial, independent information about events in their country. BBC Russian, which reaches more than five million people a week, has been a major source of news for people in Belarus and Russia during the post-election unrest."

It added, "We condemn in the strongest possible terms this stifling of independent journalism. We call upon the Belarusian authorities to revoke this decision and allow our journalists to continue doing their jobs."