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Belarus: Yeltsin, Duma Reviewing Draft Accord

Moscow, 31 March 1997 (RFE/RL) - The Russian State Duma is reportedly reviewing a draft accord on forming a union between Russia and Belarus.

Itar-Tass reports that Duma Speaker Gennady Seleznyov today asked legislators to study the document carefully before it is submitted for ratification later this week. The agency quotes deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin as saying the treaty is likely to be ratified this Friday.

Aman Tuleyev, Russian Minister for Relations with the Commonwealth of Independent States, said today that under the accord Russians and Belarusians will have joint citizenship. But he stressed that a supranational upper council overseeing integration will have only limited powers. He added that the two republics will not share the same currency.

Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka are due to sign the integration agreement in Moscow on Wednesday. Earlier today, Yeltsin's foreign affairs adviser Dmitry Ryurikov told Tass that the Yeltsin had approved the document. However, later the agency quoted Kremlin spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky as saying Yeltsin was still reviewing the draft.

The Kremlin has been working on forming a so-called community with Belarus under a deal signed by Yeltsin and Lukashenka last April.

Russian liberal leaders expressed concern yesterday that Yeltsin is moving toward integration too quickly and is failing to consult the Russian people properly.

Yegor Gaidar, a leading liberal and a former acting prime minister, told Russian television he supported closer integration with Belarus but not in the way it is being carried out. He said the least that should have been done was to publish the document, consider it calmly and not rush into signing it.

Russian liberals have also cast doubt on Lukashenka's commitment to human rights and media freedoms, and have expressed concern the integration process might one day allow him to come to power in Moscow.

Supporters and opponents of Lukashenka clashed briefly with Moscow police outside the Belarusian embassy yesterday. Russia's NTV says supporters of the hardline Belarusian leader gathered in front of the embassy shortly before an anti-Lukashenka rally was due to take place there. Fearing clashes between the two groups, police moved in and dispersed the crowd.

Later, about 30 journalists gathered at the embassy to protest what they say is a clampdown on news coverage in the former Soviet republic.

Police said the journalists' rally in Moscow had not been authorized and therefore dispersed the demonstrators. Tass reported that police had detained a few picketers, including Oleg Panfilov and Maria Simonova, members of the free press group the Glasnost Fund. Our correspondent reports that it is expected both will be tried today in Moscow for organizing the unsanctioned rally.