U.S. moves on Belarus leader

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON The United States moved Monday to clamp down financially on Belarus's authoritarian president and other government officials.

The Treasury Department added President Aleksandr Lukashenko to its list of specially designated nationals, meaning that any assets belonging to Lukashenko found in the United States must be blocked and Americans are forbidden from doing business with him.

Lukashenko, who has been in power since 1994, is often branded by Western countries as "Europe's last dictator." He won a third term in March 19 elections that were deemed fraudulent by Western governments.

After the election, the White House said it would enact targeted travel restrictions and financial sanctions against Lukashenko. U.S. officials said Lukashenko's victory resulted from election fraud and human rights abuses.

In February, the Bush administration linked Lukashenko's government to the murders of an opposition businessman and an independent journalist.

Other Belarus government officials also added to the United States' blocking list include the minister of justice; the national security adviser; the minister of internal affairs, chief of the Belarusian KGB; chief of the central commission for elections and national referendums; and the head of Belarussian State Television and Radio.

A spokeswoman at the Belarus Embassy said there would be no immediate comment.

Last month Lukashenko said his government would appeal to international courts against travel bans imposed against him and other officials by the United States and the European Union.

Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, hailed the decision but said it came three years too late. "We knew who Lukashenko was, we knew he murdered his political opponents," he said. "These measures needed to be taken before the election."