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Belarus: Diplomat Says Draft Constitution Not Final

Washington, 1 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- A Belarusian diplomat says a draft constitution proposed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka may be modified before a referendum planned for November 24.

Valentin Rybakov, First Secretary at the Embassy of Belarus in Washington, made the comment yesterday in a phone interview with RFE/RL.

Rybakov said it is his understanding the draft will be modified to reflect concerns raised both by governmental and non-governmental groups. Rybakov also said members of the opposition will be given access to radio and television before a referendum is held.

That comment came when Rybakov was asked about a statement this week by the U.S. State Department's Director of Ukrainian, Belarusian and Moldovan Affairs. Jack Segal told a hearing of the U.S. Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe that if a referendum is held on Lukashenka's draft without opposition leaders first receiving access to the media, the result would "not be credible". Segal accused Lukashenka of imposing "a virtual information blockade" through control of television and radio.

Lukashenka wants a November 24 referendum on his draft constitution, which would greatly expand presidential powers. Parliament has proposed an alternative, eliminating the presidency. Lukashenka has threatened to dissolve parliament if the vote on his draft is delayed.