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Belarus: OSCE Chief In Minsk To Convey Concern And Meet Officials

Vienna, 27 November 1996 (RFE/RL) - The Secretary General of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Giancarlo Aragona, is in Minsk to discuss the situation in Belarus following the presidential referendum on Sunday. Officials at OSCE headquarters in Vienna tell RFE/RL that Aragona will "convey OSCE's continuing concern" about the constitutional crisis. The officials said Aragona, previously a top official in Italy's foreign ministry, will meet Parlimentary leaders, representatives of the Constitutional Court and government officials.

They said he will "assess the current situation in the country and explore possibilities for OSCE assistance."

The Secretary General's visit comes in advance of next week's summit in Lisbon of the leaders of the OSCE states. An OSCE spokesman said Belarus President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is expected to attend the summit. The spokesman told RFE/RL that the Belarus situation would be considered in private discussions at the summit, but could not say whether it would be mentioned in the summit final document.

The new Belarus constitution took effect today, three days after President Lukashenka overwhelmingly won a referendum altering the document to vastly increase his powers and extend his term.

But the vote and the result have been widely disputed and criticized.

Earlier today, a Council of Europe delegation in the Belarus capital appealed to Lukashenka to respect the Parliament and the rule of law. Delegation chairman Tadeusz Iwinski said Lukashenka's constitution "falls short of minimum democratic standards."

Iwinski also said the delegation supported the democratically-elected Parliament, which now numbers about 60 members, after supporters of Lukashenka walked out yesterday and formed a rival body. Both organs convened today and Lukashenka's opponents voiced fears they would soon be evicted by force from the Supreme Soviet, the home of the duly-elected Parliament.