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Belarus: Council Of Europe Leader Calls For Respect For Democratic Practices

Strasbourg, 16 January 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Secretary General of the Council of Europe today called on Belarusian authorities to respect and implement the principles of parliamentary democracy, the rule of law and human rights.

In a statement issued at Council headquarters in Strasbourg, Secretary General Daniel Tarschys said the organization's Committee of Ministers -- its chief executive organ -- was prepared to continue to assist Belarus in developing and consolidating democratic reform in Belarus.

But Tarschys said that "much will depend on the cooperation of authorities" in the country. He specifically mentioned cooperation on Council programs aimed at promoting civil society and the functioning of free media in Belarus.

On Monday, the Council's Parliamentary Assembly indefinitely suspended Belarus' four-year-old Special Guest status with the body, which allowed its parliamentarians to participate in the Assembly's work without voting rights.

The Assembly's Executive Board cited as the reason for the suspension last November's referendum in the country, which gave President Alyaksandr Lukashenka nearly unlimited authority and extended his term in office until 2001. Assembly President Leni Fischer called the new constitution approved by the referendum "illegal" and "a step backwards" for Belarus.

Today's statement by Tarschys said that the Assembly had "preferred suspension to withdrawal of guest order to maintain contact (with the country) and support positive developments" there.

The 40-state Council of Europe promotes democratic values and human rights on the continent. It currently has 16 members from Central and Eastern Europe. Most of the Council's assistance to Belarus has consisted of providing legal advice and supporting independent media and democratic-minded non-governmental organizations.