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Belarus: Russian Prime Minister To Mediate Political Crisis

Brest, 21 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka says Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will visit the Belarus capital Minsk tomorrow to act as a mediator in the conflict between the Parliament and the president. Lukashenka said Chernomyrdin would arrive in Minsk tomorrow afternoon. He called on representatives of Parliament and the Constitutional Court to attend a meeting with Chernomyrdin to resolve the political crisis.

Campaigning in Brest today, Lukashenka reiterated his belief that he would triumph in the November 24 referendum on a new constitution to expand his powers. He also said he would not cancel the poll under any circumstances.

The Belarus Constitutional Court has ruled that the referendum result should not be binding on the country. Accusing Lukashenka of breaking the law, Parliament has moved to start impeachment procedures against him. Today, a spokesman for the Constitutional Court announced the proceedings will be formally opened tomorrow.

Lukashenka told Interfax he intends to meet with Belarus Parliament Speaker Semyon Sharetsky when he returns to Minsk later this afternoon. He said Sharetsky and the leader of the communist faction in the parliament, Sergei Kalyakin, would inform him about the results of their discussions last night in Smolensk with the head of Russia's Federation Council, Yegor Stroyev, and the chairman of the Russian Duma, Gennady Seleznyov.

Sharetsky confirmed today in Parliament that he will meet Lukashenka later this afternoon. At a news conference earlier today, Kalyakin said the problem with the referendum on the Constitution should be resolved today. He said then the procedure of impeachment launched against Lukashenka would automatically come to an end.

Lukashenka arrived in Brest today to campaign for Sunday's referendum. Interfax reports he told thousands of supporters he was ready "to sacrifice everything" to ensure victory in the referendum.

"Under no circumstances will I hand power over to thugs and adventurers," Lukashenka told the rally, referring to his opponents.

Police stepped in to confiscate red-and-white Belarusian flags -- no longer used under Lukashenka -- waved by a handful of young demonstrators who shouted "impeachment." There was heavy security and some foreign television crews were prevented from filming the rally.

Earlier, in a bid to woo believers, Lukashenka visited the site of a new Russian Orthodox cathedral under construction on the outskirts of Brest and was hailed by a priest as "Vozhd" (supreme leader).

In Minsk,demonstrators hostile to the president gathered again today in front of the building that houses both the Parliament and the government. Some of them had camped out there for the night.