Belarus says give "assets" away to US needy

MINSK (Reuters) - Belarus's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday dismissed as meaningless Washington's imposition of a freeze on its assets in the United States and suggested the "mythical funds" be sent to families in need.

President George W. Bush ordered the sanctions in response to what the United States and the European Union denounce as Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko's fraudulent re-election in March.

The sanctions, adding to a visa ban imposed a month ago, target Lukashenko and top officials of his government, barred from gaining access to assets in the United States. U.S. companies and individuals cannot conduct transactions with them.

"This decision pursues an old aim -- spreading false information about our country and discrediting its leadership," ministry spokesman Andrei Popov told Reuters.

"We propose that the United States send the mythical funds to which they are referring to needy U.S. citizens."

Western states accuse Lukashenko of hounding the opposition, closing down media and rigging elections since the mid-1990s.

The March election, in which Lukashenko was credited with 83 percent of the vote to six for his nearest rival, sparked unprecedented protests up to 10,000-strong.

Tolerated by police for four days, the protests were eventually dispersed and more than 600 activists sent to prison for up to 15 days for public order offences. Opposition leaders were handed similar sentences after subsequent protests.

Bush's order on Monday applied to Lukashenko and nine other officials, including the justice minister, the head of Belarussian state television, the interior minister and the president's national security adviser.

Belarus has already imposed retaliatory measures in response to the Western visa ban against Lukashenko and more than 30 officials, without providing any list of those affected.