U.S. slaps sanctions on Belarus over human rights abuses, erosion of democracy

FILE PHOTO: Belarus President Alexander Lukashenko attends the Roundtable Summit Phase One Sessions of Belt and Road Forum at the International Conference Center in Yanqi Lake on May 15, 2017 in Beijing, China. REUTERS/Lintao Zhang/Pool

WASHINGTON (Reuters) -The United States on Monday imposed sanctions on more than a dozen Belarusian individuals and entities, the U.S. Treasury Department said, joining Britain, Canada and the European Union in applying pressure for human rights abuses and the erosion of democracy.

Belarus plunged into crisis last year when street protests erupted over what demonstrators said was a rigged presidential election.

Veteran leader Alexander Lukashenko has so far ridden out the storm with a crackdown. His grounding last month of a commercial airliner and arrest of a dissident blogger on board drew Western outrage.

The U.S. Treasury Department in a statement said it blacklisted 16 people and five entities in response to the Lukashenko government's "escalating violence and repression, including its reckless forced diversion of a commercial Ryanair flight and arrest of journalist Raman Pratasevich."

"The United States and its partners will not tolerate continued attacks on democracy and the ceaseless repression of independent voices in Belarus," Andrea Gacki, director of the Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control, said in the statement.

Monday's action targeted close associates of Lukashenko, the Treasury said, including his press secretary and the chairperson of the Council of the Republic of the National Assembly, the Belarusian Parliament’s upper house.

Also blacklisted were individuals and entities the Treasury accused of playing a role in the crackdown on peaceful protesters following the August presidential election.

Those hit with sanctions include: the State Security Committee of the Republic of Belarus, the Internal Troops of the Ministry of Internal Affairs of the Republic of Belarus and the Main Directorate for Combating Organized Crime and Corruption of the MVD of the Republic of Belarus.

Mikalai Karpiankou, Belarus’ deputy minister of internal affairs and the current commander of the internal troops, was also hit with sanctions, as was prosecutor general Andrei Ivanavich Shved.

(Reporting by Daphne Psaledakis; Editing by Howard Goller)

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