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Belarus: Opposition Issues 'Charter 97' Rights Statement

Minsk, 10 November 1997 (RFE/RL) - Opponents of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka pledged today to unite in a quest to defend human rights and fight for political freedom.

One hundred prominent Belarusians have signed a statement called Charter 97. Among them are Belarus' former leader Stanislav Shushkevich, ex-parliament speaker Semyon Sharetsky, author Vasyl Bykov and leaders of the Popular Front -- the leading opposition movement.

The charter said "dictatorship has emerged in the center of Europe," referring to Belarus, and called for joint public efforts to oppose Lukashenka's policies. The document, which was published in a Belarusian daily with an invitation for everyone to join, accused the government of violating fundamental human rights.

Its signatories told a news conference they would move to achieve their goals by peaceful means, such as street protests, in strict accordance with the law.

Lukashenko has been criticized by human rights groups for his crackdowns on political opponents and the media.