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Belarus: Opposition Leaders Seek International Support And Elections

  • Julia Guechakov

Prague, 4 March 1999 (RFE/RL) - Belarus opposition leaders said today they hope plans to hold an alternative presidential election will draw international attention and force authorities to hold fully democratic general elections. The opposition leaders, engaged in a longstanding constitutional dispute with the government, spoke during a visit to RFE/RL headquarters in Prague today. Under a controversial 1996 referendum, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka secured a mandate to remain in office until 2001 instead of this year as originally scheduled.

The opposition refuses to recognize the referendum and has called an alternative presidential election on May 16. The authorities have warned that attempts to hold the poll will be seen as a plot to seize power. Several opposition election organizers were detained last month.

Gennadii Karpenko, deputy speaker of the previous Belarusian parliament dismissed by Lukashenka, said if Belarusian authorities block the holding of the alternative presidential election, the opposition will call on European governments to withdraw their recognition of the Lukashenka government after his previously established mandate expires.

Karpenko also said Belarusian authorities are responding to international criticism of a recent crackdown on the opposition by even tougher measures against opposition members.

The chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Knut Vollebaek, said yesterday he is "deeply concerned" about last week's detention of opposition politicians in Belarus. Vollebaek said Belarus has an obligation, as an OSCE participating state, to respect democratic principles such as freedom of assembly. The OSCE has offered to mediate in the dispute between the government and opposition politicians.