Bush Administration Accuses Belarus Of Selling Arms To Iran

Belarus has moved closer to international isolation after the White House submitted a largely classified report to the U.S. Congress accusing the country's President, Alexander Lukashenko, of illegally selling weapons to Iran.

The report, released on the eve of yesterday's election in Belarus - which it denounced as a sham - comes amid condemnation of a brutal crackdown on his opponents by Lukashenko, labelled Europe's last dictator.

Early exit polls yesterday gave Lukashenko more than 82.90 per cent of the vote and the main opposition candidate, Alexander Milinkevich, just 2.2 per cent.

U.S. officials said the report accuses Lukashenko, 51, of turning himself into "one of the richest men in the former Soviet Union" through arms sales to rogue regimes and African rebel outfits.

"We spelt out some of the concerns when it comes to Belarus," the White House spokesman, Scott McClellan, said, confirming the existence of the report on Saturday.

Western diplomats say that Belarus earns more than $1.966 billion annually in weapons sales, much of which goes into a secret fund that Lukashenko controls.

A U.S. official said the report alleges that the Belarusian government sold arms and components that could be used in weapons of mass destruction to Iran. It also claims military hardware was sold to Sudan.

The European Union signalled its intention to impose penalties should Sunday's election prove to be rigged.

Western diplomats said most of the cheating had already taken place, with students and opposition sympathizers being forced to vote earlier last week - a practice allowed under Belarusian law.

"They were made to vote before European observers arrived to monitor the poll," one diplomat said. "After they voted, their ballots will be checked and replaced with votes for Lukashenko. What we're seeing now is a charade of a free and fair election."

Lukashenko seems unmoved by the condemnation.

Last week his secret police, which has retained its Soviet-era KGB acronym, said that anyone taking part in a planned opposition protest at a square in central Minsk would be arrested as a terrorist, and could face the death penalty.

On Saturday every Belarusian with a mobile telephone was sent a text message that said: "Provocateurs are planning bloodshed in the square. Watch out for your life and health."

The warnings are in keeping with the twin pillars of Lukashenko's style of government: fear and disinformation.

Intellpuke: "If the allegations are true and Lukashenko is pocketing about a billion a year from illegal arms sales, it's no wonder he doesn't want fair elections. You can read this London Telegraph artocle in context here.