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Belarus: Demonstrators Rally In Minsk As Deputies Meet

Minsk, 18 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - About 1,000 Belarusians rallied outside the parliament building in the capital Minsk today as deputies met in emergency session to discuss political tensions in the country. Those tensions worsened today following reports that Prime Minister Mikhail Chigir had offered to resign in protest over President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's plans to go ahead with a referendum next Sunday aimed at increasing his powers.

Reuters said the demonstrators chanted "impeachment" as police barred the entrance to the building. Busloads of other security forces kept a watchful eye on the protest. A similar protest outside the parliament yesterday ended in clashes with police.

Earlier today, the Belarus parliament's deputy speaker Hennady Karpenko told reporters that Chigir had told legislators he would resign unless Lukashenka agreed to carry out economic and political reforms, as well as cancel the referendum. Chigir has neither confirmed nor denied the reports.

Lukashenka downplayed the news that his prime minister intends to step down. Speaking in the town of Gomel today, he said: "It's never hard to find a bureaucrat -- even if the bureaucrat is prime minister."