Bush Admin. Accuses Belarus' Govt. of Involvement in Murders

The Bush administration on Monday accused Belarus' authoritarian government of involvement in the murders of a pro-democracy businessman and an independent journalist.

To underscore U.S. disapproval of the ex-Soviet republic's behavior, Bush and National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley met with the victims' widows, Svyatlana Zavadskaya and Irina Krasovskaya.

"Several international investigations have concluded that their husbands were murdered by authorities in Belarus because of their political activities, and the United States government shares that view," White House press secretary Scott McClellan said.

He said Bush expressed his condolences over the two men's deaths and "underscored his personal support for their efforts to seek justice for the disappeared and for all those who seek to return freedom to Belarus."

The White House meeting took place 20 days before the presidential election in Belarus. "It highlights our concern about the conduct of the government in Belarus leading up to the election, harassment of civil society and the political opposition, and the failure to seriously investigate the cases of the disappeared," McClellan said.

Alexander Lukashenko has ruled Belarus, a nation of 10 million, since 1994, quashing opposition groups and independent media, leading Western nations to dub him "Europe's last dictator" and treat him as a pariah.