Bush condemns Belarus government actions against protestors

US President George W Bush Friday condemned the early morning breakup of Belarus demonstrations by security forces in Minsk, and urged the international community to join in the condemnations.

Bush said the world should demand "that Belarusian authorities respect the rights of their own citizens to express themselves peacefully." Dozens of masked police in black uniforms entered October square early Friday morning and broke up a five-day demonstration, carting away about 200 individuals who had staged a final sit-down strike. No force was used in the removal.

The protestors charge that last Sunday's elections were manipulated to keep authoritarian Belarusian leader Aleksandr Lukashenko as president, a sentiment shared by much of the international community. "I appreciate those who labour in the shadows to return freedom to Belarus, and our nation's thoughts are with those who have been harassed, detained, imprisoned or beaten for their efforts," Bush said in a statement.

Earlier Friday, the US State Department announced it would join the European Union in placing sanctions on Belarusian officials, including Lukashenko, for rigging the elections and for human rights abuses. Travel and financial sanctions would be imposed, it said.

Bush mentioned Belarus' past strivings for independence, when Belarus nationalists declared their independence on March 25, 1918, from Russia just weeks after Russia had been granted the territory in one of World War I's peace settlements - the Treaty of Brest- Litovsk.

"I send greetings to those working to return freedom to Belarus and observing the 88th anniversary of the first effort to establish an independent Belarus," Bush said. In fact, Russia continues to set the tone for Belarus, with Russian President Vladimir Putin backing Lukashenko's win.