Washington, 27 November 2002 (RFE/RL) -- The United States has imposed a travel ban on Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and seven other top officials in his government. State Department spokeswoman Lynn Cassel said yesterday the ban takes effect immediately.
She said the U.S. made the move because of what she called the "erosion of human rights and democratic principles in Belarus."
She also cited the expulsion last month from Minsk of the last remaining representative of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Last week, 14 of 15 European Union countries banned Lukashenka and seven top government officials from traveling to their countries.
They also made the move because of Minsk's poor human rights record and its expulsion of the OSCE. The EU ban applies to Lukashenka and Prime Minister Henadz Navitski, as well as the country's foreign, defense, justice, and interior ministers, the head of the secret police, and the head of the presidential administration.
Cassel did not name the officials the U.S. ban applies to other than Lukashenka.
On the other hand, Russian President Vladimir Putin is set today to meet Lukashenka in Moscow.The two leaders will discuss a proposed union between Belarus and Russia.
They are expected to talk about preparations for the union's constitution and trade. Russian gas deliveries to Belarus in 2003 are also on the agenda. Lukashenka has long supported such a union, but the idea has become a source of tension between the countries.
Lukashenka has refused Putin's proposal to either merge Belarus into Russia or opt for a loose European Union-style association.
Russia and Belarus agreed to form a loose union between their countries in 1997, but little progress has been made so far.