WASHINGTON (AFP) – The United States on Thursday moved to freeze US assets of anyone considered a threat to the Lebanese government, saying the country’s sovereignty and democratic institutions "are increasingly under attack." President George W Bush included in the freeze order announced Thursday anyone pushing to reassert Syrian control in Lebanon. and anyone judged contributing to the breakdown of the rule of law in the country.

"The president signed this executive order because Lebanon’s sovereignty and democratic institutions are increasingly under attack," said US National Security Council spokesman Gordon Johndroe.Johndroe cited recent assaults by "extremist" armed groups on the Lebanese army, the June 13 assassination of Judge Walid Eido, and reports that Syria’s allies and proxies in Lebanon may be preparing an alternate government, as signs of the threat.

The executive order to freeze the assets, dated August 1, said that threats against Lebanese stability and moves to restore Syria’s former dominant influence in Lebanon would "contribute to political and economic instability in (Lebanon) and the region and constitute an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the United States."

The order called on the Treasury and State departments to determine which people or actors can be seen "undermining Lebanon’s democratic processes or institutions or contributing to the breakdown of the rule of law in Lebanon" or who are "supporting the reassertion of Syrian control or contributing to Syrian interference in Lebanon, or infringing upon or undermining Lebanese sovereignty."

The order, made under the US International Emergency Economic Powers Act, extends not only to people seen as threatening Lebanese stability but also to their spouses and dependant children.

It prohibits US citizens from doing business with those singled out by the order as threats to Lebanon, and says the international financial system will be informed of the identities of those designated individuals.

"We want to make a clear statement about those who are involved in trying to undermine the democratically elected government of Lebanon," said White House spokesman Tony Snow.

"We have made that clear before in terms of visas and now its also being applied to properties of those who are working against the interests and the survival of the democratic government of Prime Minister (Fouad) Siniora," Snow said.

In June Bush declared a ban on entry into the United States of anyone judged deliberately seeking to harm Lebanon’s sovereignty or its democratic institutions, or who contribute to the breakdown of the rule of law "including through the sponsorship of terrorism, politically motivated violence and intimidation, or the reassertion of Syrian control in Lebanon."