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Belarus: Lukashenka Refuses To Attend Russian Meeting To Defuse Crisis

Minsk, 20 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has refused to attend a key meeting with Belarus and Russian top officials aimed at defusing the political crisis in Minsk. In another development, a spokesman for the Belarus Constitutional Court, Oleg Moskalev, says the court will review on Friday the Parliament's request to initiate impeachment procedures against Lukashenka.

Lukashenka's spokesman Mikhail Podgainy, head of information at the presidential administration, told Western news agencies that Lukashenka "has decided not to attend the meeting (because) he is very busy." The spokesman did not elaborate.

Concerned about political tension growing in Belarus, Russian President Boris Yeltsin had tried to mediate a compromise between Belarus' hard-line president and the Parliament, seeking to impeach him.

Russian officials had invited Lukashenka to meet Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Belarus parliamentary Speaker Semyon Sharetsky and the speakers of both houses of the Russian Parliament. The meeting was expected to take place in the Russian city of Smolensk, near the Belarus border.

Russia's Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov has already left Moscow for Smolensk. Itar-Tass quoted him as saying before his departure that "the meeting would take place even if Lukashenka will refuse to attend it." Sharetsky left Minsk for Smolensk earlier today.

In an attempt to ease tension, Yeltsin -- still recovering after his quintuple heart bypass operation -- today spoke by telephone with both Lukashenka and Sharetsky.

No details of his conversation with Lukashenka have been released. Belarus' deputy parliamentary speaker Vasily Novikov told Reuters news agency that Sharetsky had assured Yeltsin that deputies would drop threats to impeach Lukashenka if he canceled the Sunday referendum aimed at increasing his powers.