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Belarus: Lukashenka Claims Victory; Plans To Quickly Restructure Parliament

Minsk, 25 November 1996 (RFE/RL) -- Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka today claimed a crushing victory in yesterday's referendum widening his powers and extending his term in office. He said he would quickly reshape the country's political institutions. Preliminary results from the Central Electoral Commission show that 70.5 percent of eligible voters endorsed Lukashenka's constitutional draft and only 7.9 percent favored an alternative parliamentary draft.

Speaking at a news conference in Minsk today, Lukashenka celebrated his overwhelming victory as an honest expression of the will of the Belarusian people to extend his term two years until 2001 and to give him authority to remodel Parliament into two chambers. He dismissed criticism from his political opponents that this amounts to setting up a dictatorship.

He said the referendum result should encourage Parliament and the Constitutional Court, with whom he has been feuding, to be more amenable to his political aims.

"After the vote, the situation changed in the country for the better, for stability," he said.

Lukashenka said he expects many deputies now to withdraw their signatures from an impeachment motion begun last week and for the Constitutional Court to stop considering it.

"I don't believe the Constitutional Court will ignore the will of the people," he said.

Lukashenka again promised he will not dissolve Parliament unilaterally. But he said that before Christmas he would use his new powers under the Constitution to transform it into a different body. Most members of the present Parliament (Supreme Soviet) would become members of the lower chamber (House of Representatives), with an upper chamber appointed by the President.

Lukashenka signed a decree yesterday stating that the vote will be binding, contradicting a Russian-mediated agreement reached last week.

On foreign affairs, Lukashenka said relations with Russia are a priority for Belarus, but also said Belarus will cooperate with the European Union and the Council of Europe.

"Belarus is a European country and should be a member of the European family," he said.