© AFP/ Victor DrachevBelarussian plain-clothes policemen detain an activist in central Minsk on July 20, 2011
The United States has imposed additional economic sanctions against Belarus, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland told a daily press briefing on Thursday.

"Today, the United States imposed additional economic sanctions against four major Belarusian state-owned enterprises," Nuland said. "The sanctions are a response to the continued incarceration of political prisoners, the crackdown on political activists, journalists, and civil society representatives."

"These new sanctions augment the travel restrictions, asset freezes, and sanctions announced on January 31st and these measures target those responsible for the repression in Belarus following the December 19th presidential elections. They are not designed to harm the people of Belarus," she said.

"And we reiterate our call for the government of Belarus to release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally," the spokeswoman said.

© AFP/ Alexei GromovBelarussian plain-clothes policemen detain an activist in central Minsk on July 13, 2011
The State Department said the four enterprises, namely the Belshina tire factory, the Grodno Azot fertilizer producer, the Grodno Khimvolokno fiber manufacturer and the Naftan refinery, are owned or controlled by petrochemical conglomerate Belneftekhim, which had previously come under U.S. sanctions.

Meanwhile, Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has granted pardons to nine out of several dozen people convicted of taking part in mass anti-government protests last December, the presidential press service said in a statement on Thursday.

Police beat and arrested hundreds of demonstrators who attempted to storm the government headquarters in protest against Lukashenko's re-election. The United States and the European Union condemned the crackdown and imposed sanctions against Lukashenko, who has ruled the former Soviet republic since 1994.

In March, Human Rights Watch released a report detailing hundreds of cases of torture and inhumane treatment of jailed protesters.