Minsk, 21 July 1999 (RFE/RL) - The Belarusian political opposition is expected to rally today against the two-year extension of the term of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Lukashenka's original five-year term ended yesterday. The two-year extension was approved in a 1996 referendum vote that has been condemned as flawed and unconstitutional by Belarusian democratic activists, Western governments, and European institutions. Lukashenka has dismissed the criticism, saying yesterday that his rule would "continue to be legitimate for a long time."
He was backed by the Russian Foreign Ministry, which said there was "no doubt of the legitimacy" of Lukashenka staying in power. The human rights group Amnesty International appealed to Belarusian authorities to refrain from violence in dispersing opposition protests. Lukashenka has warned his government would respond to any rallies with "the most rigorous and adequate but legal measures."