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Belarus: U.S Says Belarus Vote Requires Freer Press

Washington, 31 October 1996 (RFE/RL) -- A U.S. diplomat says that if a referendum on constitutional change in Belarus is held without a freer press, it would "not be credible" and would violate human rights.

The comment was made in Washington yesterday by Jack Segal, the director of Ukrainian, Belarusian and Moldovan affairs at the U.S. State Department. He spoke at a hearing on Belarus organized by the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe.

Segal accused Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka of imposing "a virtual information blockade" through control of television and radio. He said guaranteeing opposition voices access to the media is "vital" and said the government has become increasingly intolerant of opposition views.

Segal said that Washington is not siding with either Lukashenka or with the Belarus Parliament in their dispute over competing proposals for constitutional change. But he said that Lukashenka's proposal would not protect the balance of power between branches of government or protect the rule of law.

Lukashenka wants a referendum on November 24 on his proposed constitution, which would greatly expand presidential powers. Parliament has proposed an alternative that would eliminate the presidency.

The country's constitutional court is expected to rule soon on the constitutionality of the president's proposed referendum. Earlier this week, Lukashenka warned that if the court does not allow the vote, he will dissolve parliament.