White House Joins in Sanctions Vs. Belarus

WASHINGTON (AP) - The United States joined European nations Friday in imposing sanctions on Belarus in retaliation for a crackdown on political protesters after an election that the White House said was fraudulent.

Washington will act in unison with the European Union in applying targeted travel restrictions and financial sanctions against President Alexander Lukashenko and others, the White House said.

``Our nation's thoughts are with those who have been harassed, detained, imprisoned or beaten for their efforts'' to return freedom to Belarus, the White House said in a presidential message.

White House press secretary Scott McClellan said the administration urges ``all members of the international community to demand that authorities in Belarus respect the rights of their own citizens to express themselves peacefully and to condemn any and all abuses.''

He said the United States strongly condemned actions by Belarus' security forces who seized and detained citizens demonstrating against the results of the presidential election.

``The United States calls on authorities in Belarus to release without delay the hundreds of citizens who have been detained not only in the past 24 hours but in recent days and weeks simply for expressing their political views,'' McClellan said.

Russia, which is close to the former Soviet republic, has taken a different tack, saying the media had distorted the severity of the police action.

A State Department spokesman, Adam Ereli, said, ``The Russians have obviously taken a position regarding the elections in Belarus I think that differs from ours.''

``Every country is obviously free to decide what it wants to do,'' Ereli said.