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West threatens more sanctions as Belarus hits opposition with tough sentences

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Andrei Sannikov, a former deputy foreign minister and runner-up in disputed December polls overwhelmingly won by Lukashenko, was one of 700 people, including seven presidential contenders, subsequently arrested and charged with organizing election night protests against alleged vote-rigging. His wife, independent journalist Irina Khalip, was finally freed from detention Monday after being sentenced to two years' probation for taking part in the rally. Four other presidential candidates, and scores of other opposition activists, remain on trial.

"The United States condemns the conviction of presidential candidate Andrei Sannikov and other democratic activists in Belarus," acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said Saturday. "We consider the five presidential candidates ... and other activists, who are being tried after being arrested as part of the crackdown related to the December 19 presidential elections, to be political prisoners."

The EU said in a statement that it would immediately "consider new restrictive measures [sanctions] in all areas of cooperation," in addition to those leveled against Belarus after the crackdown began in December.

Mr. Sannikov's mother-in-law, Lutsina Khalip, says she is stunned by the harshness of punishments meted out to him and her daughter. "They are trying to destroy our family – it's sheer vindictiveness," she said by telephone from Minsk Monday.

For the past five months, she says, two agents of the KGB security service have been stationed around the clock outside her tiny apartment, and all her movements have been scrutinized. At one point, authorities threatened to take the couple's 4-year-old son, Danil, away from her on grounds that she was not "competent" to care for him, but desisted after an international outcry.

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