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Belarus: Lukashenka Endangering Membership In Council Of Europe

Prague, 19 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - Leaders of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly today expressed what they called their "deep concern" that the current constitutional crisis in Belarus could endanger the country's application for membership in the organization.

In a statement issued at Council headquarters in Strasbourg, the Parliamentary Assembly leaders criticize President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's conduct in seeking constitutional reform and organizing a referendum scheduled for Sunday in a bid to expand presidential powers.

They say his organization of the referendum is contrary to democratic standards and jeopardizes the future of democratic development in Belarus.

Assembly President Leni Fischer of Germany and the heads of the five major political groups represented in the body signed the statement. The Assembly is composed of national parliamentarians from all 40 Council member states, including 16 Central and East European nations.

The Assembly leaders underlined that the basic requirements for membership in the Council of Europe are pluralist democracy, rule of law and respect for human rights, including freedom for media.

Belarus applied for membership in the Council more than three years ago and currently has Special Guest status, which allows its parliamentarians to participate in the Assembly's work without voting rights.

The Assembly leaders urge Lukashenka to respect the decision of Belarus' Constitutional Court early this month that said that the results of the referendum could only be advisory and not mandatory.