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Lukashenko Defies Impeachment Move

November 19, 1996

MINSK, Belarus (AP) _ Defying a parliament move to impeach him, Belarus’ authoritarian president vowed Tuesday not to give up power and to muster support for an expansion of his already sweeping powers.

Lawmakers signed petitions Monday to impeach President Alexander Lukashenko after his prime minister resigned to protest a constitutional referendum Lukashenko has called to greatly expand his authority.

But Lukashenko told a rally of thousands of supporters Tuesday that he would not step down. ``I will not give up the reins of power,″ he told the crowd in Borisov, 40 miles from the capital of Minsk.

Lukashenko, a former state-farm director openly nostalgic for Soviet times, has pushed for a union with neighboring Russia. Opposition leaders see his moves as undermining Belarus’ post-Soviet independence.

If approved, his referendum on Sunday would extend his term until 2001 and give him the right to disband parliament and appoint judges, election officials, some legislators and most members of the Constitutional Court.

Fearing Lukashenko might disband parliament, scores of deputies holed up there overnight, and by late Tuesday still were waiting for Lukashenko to agree to a meeting. They denied his accusation that they were stockpiling gasoline and planned to burn the building.

Communist lawmaker Sergei Kalyakin scoffed at Lukashenko, saying the president’s informants mistook thermoses of tea for gas.

The Constitutional Court first must approve parliament’s motion to impeach Lukashenko before lawmakers can vote on it. Reaching out for support Tuesday, Lukashenko met with the head of the court and with more than 80 lawmakers who support him.

He agreed to hear the opposition’s arguments in a meeting Wednesday with parliament speaker Semyon Sharetsky.

The opposition lawmakers want Lukashenko to cancel the referendum and work with parliament on compromise amendments to the constitution. Lukashenko repeatedly has refused.

The growing conflict has alarmed Belarus’ neighbors.

Boris Yeltsin’s spokesman said Tuesday that the Russian president was deeply concerned about the crisis. Yeltsin ``hopes common sense and a search for political compromise will overcome political confrontation and ambition,″ spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembsky said.

In Ukraine, the parliament called on both sides to take ``balanced constitutional actions for the sake of preserving democracy, peace and security in the region.″

The Polish parliament passed a resolution supporting the Belarusian lawmakers and warning that the conflict threatens the whole region. The Lithuanian parliament has offered to mediate.

International human rights groups also were alarmed at Lukashenko’s actions.

On Sunday, truncheon-wielding police waded into a protest rally, injuring about 10 people. On Tuesday, Belarus’ state-run TV and radio imposed censorship, warning Russian broadcasters that their transmissions would be censored.

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