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Belarus: President Lukashenka Gets A Challenger

By Bohdan Andrusyshyn

Minsk, 7 December 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Former prime minister of Belarus Mikhail Chyhir announced Saturday (Dec. 5) he will be a candidate in the next presidential elections, whenever they take place.

The announcement caught many observers off guard.

Chyhir resigned as prime minister two years ago after publicly clashing with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his policies. Since then, he has remained aloof from politics and has rarely spoken to journalists.

Our correspondent says Chyhir could pose serious competition. Chyhir never espoused nationalistic views, but never attacked those who did.

He backs integration with Russia but unlike Lukashenka he does not view the West as an adversary.

Chyhir may appeal to voters as one who headed the government at a time of relatively low inflation and no food shortages.

According to the constitution of 1994, Lukashenka's term in office expires eight months from now. A constitutional referendum two years ago extended that term until the year 2001. But the Belarus opposition and some foreign countries maintain that the 1996 referendum was illegitimate, as it was conducted with gross violations of voting procedure.