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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Chernomyrdin Lauds New Belarus Charter

MINSK, Belarus -- Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin sent a congratulatory telegram to Belarus president Alexander Lukashenko on Thursday, praising Lukashenko's personal contribution to constitutional reform in Belarus.

The telegram came as Lukashenko prepared to sign into law a new constitution granting him vast powers in the former Soviet republic. The new charter has stabilized the social and political situation, Chernomyrdin wrote, according to Interfax.

On Sunday the Belarussian president, who has been locked in a long power struggle with opposition in parliament, won a landslide victory in a controversial weekend referendum that approved the constitutional changes and extended his term until the year 2001.

Critics have said the referendum was unfair and undemocratic. But it helped Lukashenko in splitting the opposition and luring many lawmakers into a new parliament across town from the old one.

The new legislature has halted parliamentary impeachment efforts against Lukashenko and passed a bill terminating the powers of the Supreme Soviet, the previous parliament.

On Thursday, opposition legislators were allowed into their building in downtown Minsk, but guards barred journalists and visitors from entering. The lawmakers said the guards belonged to Lukashenko's security service.

They said the new legislature also has decided to redecorate their main meeting hall, the Oval Room.

"It's likely a ruse for ousting the lawmakers who are defending the law and constitution from their workplace,'' said opposition legislator Anatoly Lebedko.

The capital was quiet Thursday, and the fragmented opposition appeared to be at a loss as it tried to figure out what course to take against the president.

President Boris Yeltsin's press service said there was no reason to doubt the referendum's validity, but noted that Moscow expected Belarus to settle its political crisis "in the spirit'' of the compromise between the president and the opposition that had been hammered out in an all-night session last week by a Russian delegation led by Chernomyrdin. Lukashenko has made a closer economic and political union with Russia his principal goal.

Lukashenko, a former Soviet state farm director who now has the power to appoint many lawmakers and judges, planned a Thursday night ceremony to sign the new constitution.