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Belarus/Russia: Presidents Sign Union Treaty

Moscow, 2 April 1997 (RFE/RL) - Russian and Belarusian Presidents Boris Yeltsin and Alyaksandr Lukashenka today signed a brief document which will form the basis of a union between the two countries.

The contents of the document were not immediately known but it was expected to differ from the original draft, which was met with criticism by Russian liberals.

The two presidents also initialed a more detailed charter of the union, to be put to public debate.

The decision to sign only a short accord and not the original more bulky draft appears to reflect a compromise, reached in last minute talks earlier today between Yeltsin and Lukashenka at the Kremlin.

Opening today's session of the Russia-Belarus Supreme Council, which preceded the signing ceremony, Yeltsin said the union between Russia and Belarus will bring economic benefits to both countries, but that integration in the financial and budgetary areas will not be rushed.

Yeltsin said the union will be on the principle of "one state, one vote" and would not create a single state, but both nations would retain their sovereignty. Yeltsin also said the union budget would be used only to finance joint economic programs.

Yeltsin said Russian state television and radio would broadcast reports of the public debate on the charter of the union for two hours twice a week.

Itar-tass said security forces and police later prevented a clash between supporters and opponents of the Russian-Belarusian union. The pickets, about 70, had gathered near the Russian parliament building.