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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Belarus President Unveils New Draft Constitution

MINSK -- Belarus' autocratic president Friday unveiled a new constitution he wants voters to approve in a November referendum. The charter would expand his already considerable powers.


Interfax said the proposed constitution would extend President Alexander Lukashenko's term by two years and make him a senator-for-life once his presidential term ends.


The draft constitution provides for a new bicameral parliament in this former Soviet republic, and says the president would appoint one-third of the senators.


It would give him the power to dissolve parliament if it defies him by refusing twice to confirm his prime minister or by taking a no-confidence vote against him.


The president would also be able to call new local and parliamentary elections and issue decrees with the force of law.


According to Interfax, the draft constitution was sent to parliament Friday.


Lukashenko's relations with the current parliament have been steadily deteriorating. He has been pushing lawmakers to call a constitutional referendum Nov. 7 and threatening to disband parliament if it refuses. He also said he would cancel upcoming parliamentary runoff elections.


Since coming to power in 1994, Lukashenko has grown increasingly autocratic and hard-line.


He has cracked down on dissent, denounced the West and rued the Soviet collapse. He has forged closer ties to neighboring Russia and shown little enthusiasm for economic reforms.


Lukashenko has beefed up Belarus' security services, which answer directly to him. He responded to a string of opposition rallies this year with a wave of arrests.


The opposition in this country of 10 million people wedged between Russia and Poland is growing increasingly outspoken. Tensions are so high that he banned all public gatherings this month.


Two prominent opposition leaders -- Zenon Poznyak and Sergei Naumchik of the Belarussian Popular Front -- were granted political asylum by the U.S. government last week.


In a recent interview with The Associated Press, Lukashenko dismissed their action as a publicity stunt.


Lukashenko, who used to run a state farm, was elected in a landslide on a populist platform that promised Soviet-style economic stability to a nation reeling from post-Soviet economic woes.