EU to impose sanctions on Belarussian leader

Agence France-Presse, with a report from AP and Reuters

BRUSSELS -- European Union leaders agreed yesterday to impose sanctions on Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko over last weekend's widely condemned elections and the arrest of protesters overnight.

Stepping up pressure on Belarus, which they called "a sad exception" to democracy in Europe, the leaders said they would widen restrictions beyond the six visa bans now in place on Belarussian officials.

Polish Foreign Minister Stefan Meller said the measures would come into effect about April 10 and could involve more than a dozen people.

The move came hours after Belarus quashed an unprecedented protest against Mr. Lukashenko, smashing a tent camp in Minsk and arresting hundreds of young activists.

More travel bans are likely but assets could be also frozen.

The United States joined the Europeans yesterday in imposing sanctions on Belarus.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said Washington would act in unison with the European Union in applying targeted travel restrictions and financial sanctions against Mr. Lukashenko and others.

In Belarus, trials began yesterday for opposition supporters detained in the overnight raid. The independent human-rights organization Viasna (Spring), which sent monitors around to Minsk courts, said that as many as 274 sentences were handed out yesterday.

The number of accused and the location of their trials remained hazy because no official information has been issued on how many people were arrested in the raid.

In Paris, an international media watchdog said yesterday that police in Belarus have arrested 22 reporters since the beginning of this week, in what it called an unprecedented crackdown on journalistic freedom.

A Canadian freelance journalist was among those arrested, the Canadian government said yesterday in Ottawa.

La Presse in Montreal identified the journalist as Frederic Lavoie, and said he was arrested in the police raid on the protesters' camp.

The British consulate in Minsk, which represents Canadian interests in the former Soviet country, quickly engaged Belarus officials and contacted the reporter to offer him assistance, a Canadian official said.