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Council Of Europe: Assembly Suspends Belarus Indefinitely

Paris, 13 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly has indefinitely suspended Belarus' association with the organization because of what it considers President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's undemocratic referendum in November. The referendum gave Lukashenka nearly unlimited authority and extended his term in office until 2001. Assembly President Leni Fischer said today that the manner in which Lukashenka had appointed a new parliament after the referendum deprived the country of democratic legitimacy. She called the new constitution approved by the referendum "illegal."

Meeting in Paris this afternoon, the Parliamentary Assembly's 40-member Executive Board decided on the suspension of Belarus' four-and-half-year Special Guest status at the assembly, which allowed seven of the country's parliamentarians to take part in the body's work without voting rights.

Fischer, a German Christian Democrat, said that Belarus' new constitution "did not respect minimum democratic standards and violated the principles of the separation of powers and of the rule of law." She called the constitution a "step backwards," and said that it would weigh heavily not only on the people of Belarus but on all of Europe.

The Executive Board, chaired by Fischer, acts on behalf of the entire Assembly when it is not in session. The full Assembly is due next to meet at Council of Europe headquarters in Strasbourg in two weeks' time. Council officials told our correspondent that, after today's suspension, the plenary session is not expected formally to debate the situation in Belarus.

The 40-state Council of Europe, which promotes democracy and human rights on the continent, currently has 16 members from Central and Eastern Europe. Belarus applied for full membership almost four years ago.