U.S. Blocks Assets of Belarus President Linked to Journalist Slay

WASHINGTON The United States moved Monday to clamp down financially on Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko as well as other government officials.

The Treasury Department added Lukashenko to its list of specially designated nationals, meaning that any assets belonging to Lukashenko found in the U.S. 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 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 a pro-democracy 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 the Belarusian State Television and Radio Co.

"These sanctions, imposed in coordination with targeted financial sanctions adopted by the European Union indicate the international community's intention to hold to account those responsible for abuses in Belarus," the White House said in a statement explaining the move.

It said the United States will continue to gather and review information regarding possible additional targets.

The department did not elaborate on its action.

There was no comment from the government in Minsk on the action.

Last month Lukashenko said thath is government would appeal to international courts, including the European Court of Human Rights, against travel bans imposed against him and other officials by the U.S. and the European Union.

"What are the grounds for these restrictions? Is there some international court ruling that Belarusian officials are criminals? No, this is crystal clear," he said adding that not a single minister had been involved in the election campaign.

Ariel Cohen, a senior research fellow who specializes in Russia and Eastern Europe at the Heritage Foundation, a 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."

Rep. Chris Smith, who heads a committee on European security, said the Treasury action sends "a clear signal to those like Lukashenko and his cronies who have brazenly violated human rights and democratic principles they will not find a safe haven here in the U.S. for their dubious financial assets."

He said he would introduce legislation this weak to expand sanctions already taken by the U.S. and the EU against Belarus.