Independent news sites blocked in authoritarian Belarus

Several independent news websites have been blocked in the former Soviet republic of Belarus, where the government exerts close control of news media.

There was no official word on who was responsible for the blockages that began Sunday, but a statement from the private news agency BelaPAN said "the decision to block IP addresses can be made only by the authorities." Three of BelaPAN's websites were blocked, along with the Internet newspaper Solidarnost and the website of the human rights organization Khartiya-97.

Last week, the Belarusian parliament passed legislation declaring Internet sites as mass media and therefore subject to closure by the government. The law takes effect next year, before presidential elections set for November.

Authoritarian President Alexander Lukashenko, in office since 1994, has been called Europe's last dictator.