Minsk, 6 September 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Belarus' president Alyaksandr Lukashanka today asked parliament to set a date for a referendum on his proposed constitutional amendments. He threatens to disband parliament and set the date himself if lawmakers don't approve the referendum.
Many deputies have expressed their opposition to constitutional changes.
The amendments would extend Lukashenka's term to seven years, give him the right to disband parliament, and empower him to appoint judges, election officials and most members of the Constitutional Court. The changes would also empower Lukashenka to annul decisions by all local authorities, set election dates and decide when parliament can meet.
Addressing parliament today in Minsk, Lukashenka denied he was grabbing power.
"The president isn't getting extra powers. They are just being clarified," he said. But, when a deputy criticized the idea of extending his term, Lukashenka said he intended to "remain the president for 12 years."
Observers say the situation in Belarus has grown increasingly tense as Lukashenka has become more and more autocratic since coming to power in 1994 on populist slogans and promises of Soviet-style economic stability.
In his most recent attempt to silence critics, Lukashenka this week ordered the tax service to freeze the bank accounts of five leading independent newspapers and impose stiff fines on them.
And, a court in Minsk sentenced seven Ukrainians to prison on charges of disturbing the public order during an anti-government rally on April 26. The sentences range from one to two-and-a-half years. Ukraine's consul in Minsk, Mikhail Moskalenko, said the trial was unfair and he would appeal the verdict to Belarus' Supreme Court.