Minsk, 24 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - Belarus election officials say voter turnout in the country's controversial referendum reached 55 percent, making the poll valid. Earlier today, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed a decree making the results of the vote legally binding.
The decree comes two days after a Russian-mediated compromise, which would have left referendum results non-binding, collapsed. The referendum, if passed, would give Lukashenka sweeping powers, such as the power to dissolve parliament and appoint judges to the constitutional court as well as lengthen his term of office. Lukashenka's parliamentary opponents call the referendum illegal, and say it will turn Lukashenka into a dictator.
Some 2,500 people demonstrated in front of the parliament building in Minsk today and called for Lukashenka's impeachment. They also claimed the referendum has been rigged. Some demonstrators displayed a copy of a sample ballot which they said had been distributed to Minsk residents' mailboxes showing how to vote for Lukashenka on the seven questions on the ballot.
Lukashenka told reporters today that all arguments with parliament "will vanish" after the referendum. Earlier, he told Belarusians on television that their vote today was a choice between "parliamentary chaos" or "presidential discipline."
Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin today expressed "deep regret" at the failure of his mediation efforts, and he blamed both Lukashenka and some parliamentarians for their inability to compromise.