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Belarus Rues U.S. Move

MINSK - Belarus said Thursday that it regretted U.S. President George W. Bush's decision to sign a law that slaps economic sanctions on the ex-Soviet republic, calling it an 'unfriendly step.

The U.S. Belarus Democracy Act calls for the promotion of democracy in this nation of 10 million by supplying aid to nongovernment organizations, helping to establish an independent media and forbidding U.S. federal agencies from rendering any financial aid to Belarus. Bush signed it into law Wednesday.

The recent activity of the U.S. administration has made it all the more clear that the aim is to aggravate relations with Belarus, said Andrei Savinykh, spokesman for the Foreign Ministry.

He said the act was reminiscent of the confrontational Cold War approach. "It's an openly unfriendly step that cannot give rise to anything but deep regrets," Savinykh said.

But Savinykh said that the act primarily had a "declarative character" and Minsk wasn't overly concerned about any economic fallout.

Belarus' authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko has repeatedly lashed out at the West for attempting to meddle in his country's affairs.

Anti-West rhetoric played a major role in last Sunday's referendum, which gave Lukashenko the right to run for president indefinitely.

The referendum has been widely criticized by independent pollsters and neighboring states in Eastern Europe as fraudulent, and it has sparked nightly street protests by students against the 10-year rule of the man branded Europe's last dictator.

(The St. Petersburg Times 22.x.04)

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