Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Friday accused President Donald Trump of failing to speak about suppressing democratic protests in Belarus, a country he said is ruled by a “dictator”.
More than 12,000 people have been arrested and hundreds remain in jail since President Alexander Lukashenko was declared landslide winner in a presidential election on August 9 that denounced the opposition in the former Soviet state as manipulated.
In a statement emailed to Reuters, Biden advocated the demonstrators’ “peaceful expressions of freedom” and calls for new elections.
Biden, a former vice-president and chairman of the Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee who has had violent clashes with Russia over Eastern Europe, also insisted on the release of several named opposition leaders whom he called “political prisoners”.
“However, President Trump refuses to speak out against Lukashenka’s actions or offer his personal support for the democracy movement,” said Biden, using an alternative spelling of the Belarusian politician’s name.
Lukashenko was abruptly inaugurated on Wednesday in what Biden called a “mock ceremony”, the day US news was dominated by Trump’s refusal to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he lost his re-election bid against Biden on November 3 should.
“A president who hides in fear from his own citizens and refuses to accept the will of the people is a mark of a weak, illegitimate autocrat, not a strong leader,” Biden said in his statement.
Trump and Biden will meet for their first debate on Tuesday. The topics should be “Race and violence in our cities”, said the organizers.
The two have argued over whether mass demonstrations in the United States over police violence against blacks are largely peaceful or whether they must be confronted with militarized violence, with Trump calling himself the “Law and Order” president.
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A spokeswoman for Trump’s presidential campaign referred a request for comment to the White House, which did not immediately respond to Reuters.
Biden’s comments seem to show little sign of calm for Lukashenko, 66, who now relies on his security forces and his ally Russia to maintain his 26-year rule. He wiped off the conviction.
The United States, Britain and Canada are expected to soon impose sanctions on Belarusian individuals in what these governments view as rigged elections and violence against peaceful protesters, sources familiar with the matter told Reuters.
In his statement, Biden pledged to “defend our democratic values and stand with those who share them”, but did not explain the political steps his government would take against Belarus.