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Yearbook 1996

Belarus. According to, President Aljaksandr Lukashenka's disagreement with Belarus's parliament and opposition culminated in a disputed referendum in November. When the president announced at the beginning of the year that his country would go into union with the Russian Federation, it aroused concern and wonder. Tens of thousands of people marched through Minsk on protest trains, while Kazakhstan, already in customs union with the Russian Federation and Belarus, questioned the purpose of the new union. That did not prevent Lukashenka, together with President Boris Yeltsin, to sign the April 2 union agreement in Moscow. Both sides emphasized that the Union was not a fusion, but merely a deep integration.

1996 Belarus

In Minsk, however, the protests against the Union and the president's intrinsic stubbornness continued. On April 26, the 10th anniversary of the Chernobyl accident, 50,000 people defied the demonstration ban. New mass actions in the following weeks were met with heavy-handed by the police, and several members of the nationalist Belarussian front were arrested. People's Front leader Zenon Poznjak and his spokesman fled to the United States during the summer and received political asylum there.

After the opposition accused the president of imposing dictatorship, Lukashenka, who, despite the protests and severely restricted press and freedom of expression, received support both in the countryside and in Moscow, said he wanted to allow the people to vote on a changed constitution, including extended term of office and greatly increased power for the President at Parliament's expense. In the November 24 referendum, 70% of voters said yes to the proposals, which gave Lukashenka broad powers to enforce changes at his own discretion. The European Security Organization, the OSCE, refused to accept the vote, citing the president's stern control of the media and election apparatus. But he went ahead, dissolved the old parliament and installed a new lower house with just over a hundred hand-picked members.

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