US imposes sanctions on Belarus officials

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Monday imposed targeted financial sanctions on Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko and top officials of his government in response to what Washington called a fraudulent presidential election in March.

President George W. Bush issued an executive order outlining the sanctions, which came a month after the United States imposed a travel ban on Belarus officials after the re-election of Lukashenko in a ballot Western governments denounced as rigged.

White House spokesman Tony Snow said the order, effective immediately, prohibits U.S. companies and individuals from engaging in any transactions with those cited.

"These persons will not be able to access any assets that they might have in the United States, and U.S. financial institutions, wherever located, will not be able to provide any financial services to them," Snow said.

The order applied to Lukashenko and nine other people, including the justice minister, the head of Belarus state television, the internal affairs minister and the president's national security adviser.

As a reason for the move, Snow cited the "fraudulent presidential election in March 2006, repression of post-election demonstrations, and continued detention of activists and opposition supporters, including former presidential candidate Alexander Kozulin."

Bush referred to Belarus in a speech on Monday to the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy's graduating class in Kings Point, New York, saying he wanted to see freedom extended to Belarus, "where we support the reformers seeking to erase the stain of dictatorship from Europe."