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Russia, Belarus Sign Treaty

Moscow, April 2 (RFE/RL) - Russia and Belarus signed a treaty today linking their economies and political systems.

The treaty, establishing what is called the community of sovereign republics, was signed by Russian President Boris Yeltin and Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka at a ceremony in the Kremlin The agreement, while integrating the countries, stops short of forming a single state.

The union will be governed by a council made up of the countries presidents, prime ministers, and parliamentary leaders. Under the terms of the agreement, the two countries will eventually have a common constitution, budget and currency.

Today's signing will be followed by a transitional period of 18 months to two years, which could allow for a joint constitution to be drafted.

Both leaders have said other members of the commonwealth are welcome to join the union. Speaking before the signing, Yeltsin said "a historical movement has arrived in relations between the Russian Federation and Belarus." Lukashenka described the treaty as a "decisive step forward" in the integration process between former Soviet republics. He stressed the treaty would not undermine the sovereignty of the two countries or the CIS. Meanwhile, opponents of the treaty are planning further demonstrations in the Belarus capital Minsk today.