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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Washington Tracking Lukashenko's Money

MINSK -- The U.S. government has gathered information on bank accounts belonging to Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko and senior officials of his administration, the U.S. ambassador to the country said Thursday.

Speaking in an interview with Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty, Ambassador George Krol said the data were being gathered in accordance with the Belarus Democracy Act, a law passed by U.S. Congress in October giving the State Department new authority to impose sanctions on Lukashenko and his government. He did not say in what countries the bank accounts were held.

"As long as there is no democratic society here, as long as the Belarussian authorities maintain their hostile attitude to democracy, this act will guide the U.S. administration and require it to do all it can to support the development of democracy in Belarus," Krol said in the interview, which was conducted in Belarussian and English.

The act also calls for the promotion of democracy in Belarus by supplying aid to nongovernmental organizations, helping to establish independent media and forbidding U.S. federal agencies from giving financial aid to the country.

Krol voiced concern about what he described as the deteriorating rights situation in Belarus and said Washington was closely following the fate of political prisoners.

In a statement released Thursday, the U.S. Embassy in Minsk also condemned the authorities for using force against opposition protesters who took to the streets of Minsk last week.

"The United States calls on Belarussian authorities to use dialogue, not violence and repression, and to respect the rights of its citizens," the statement said.

Lukashenko and other top Belarussian officials were earlier barred from traveling to the United States and the European Union.

Lukashenko has maintained Soviet-style centralized controls over the economy and kept most enterprises in state hands.

On Thursday, he told a government session that inefficient private companies can be forcibly nationalized, and he cited the example of a formerly state-owned bike factory in Minsk that he said had been privatized at a low price and had recently asked for state support.

"They must put all their stock on the table and return the 100 percent control to the government -- only then can we lend them some money," Lukashenko said.

He added that managers of companies that receive state subsidies must face criminal responsibility if they fail to meet economic targets.