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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Belarus Opposition Protests Unification

MINSK, Belarus -- Dozens of angry opposition activists rallied Tuesday in front of the Russian Embassy in the Belarussian capital to protest Moscow's calls for a union between the two neighboring former Soviet republics.

"Hands off Belarus" and "Belarus will be in Europe" read some of their signs. Others reminded Russia of its humiliating intervention in breakaway Chechnya.

On Monday, the Kremlin said Russian President Boris Yeltsin had sent a letter to Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko proposing that each country hold a referendum on eventual unification.

Yeltsin's plan calls for a joint budget, currency and tax system, for merging fuel and energy systems, and synchronizing economic reforms.

Lukashenko, an authoritarian who rues the collapse of the Soviet Union, told reporters Monday that he was "glad and happy" about the idea.

Also on Monday, Lukashenko inaugurated the Council of the Republic, the upper house of a new assembly packed with his supporters, created after he secured victory in a November referendum on expanding his powers. The old parliament, many of whose members opposed him, was dissolved.

"You have nothing to be ashamed of. You are not pretenders. You are elected by the people," Lukashenko told the chamber.

"The most dreadful thing before was legislation which did not work in our poor country. Your job is to check laws passed by the lower house to ensure they do work."

In the French city of Strasbourg, the Council of Europe suspended Belarus's special guest status, saying the new legislature had no democratic legitimacy.

Leni Fischer, president of the parliamentary assembly of the council, which oversees human rights in Europe, pronounced Belarus's new constitution illegal and falling short of minimum democratic standards. Belarus remains the only country outside former Yugoslavia yet to be admitted to the council.

Lukashenko expressed pleasure at an announcement in Moscow that Yeltsin, bedridden with pneumonia, wanted to speed up efforts at union. He has long complained that a pact creating a "community" signed last April has made little progress.

"If Boris Niklolayevich is ready, you know my position -- I have long been ready," he told reporters. "This is our baby, mine and the Russian president's. And I think we should promote this process, and implement it."

Lukashenko brushes aside accusations that he runs rough-shod over elementary freedoms in his country of 10 million. Last month, he bluntly told leaders attending a summit of the 54-nation Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe not to meddle in the affairs of his former Soviet republic sandwiched between Russia and Poland.

Belarus's new 64-member upper house is made up of officials elected to generally conservative local councils plus a number of members appointed by Lukashenko.

"You can see we have professionals here and not the whining bunch we had before," Lukashenko said.

The new lower chamber, the House of Representatives, has already begun its sessions and has all but completed debate on the budget with little dissent.

Support for the opposition appears limited in Belarus, where many view a union with Russia as an answer to the country' post-Soviet economic woes.

During Tuesday's protest, police detained Levon Borshchevsky, acting chairman of the nationalist Popular Front who led the unauthorized protest. He was released after about two hours, front activists said.

Police also attempted to detain another opposition nationalist, but the crowd of up to 70 protesters protected him, shouting: "Junta! Fascists!"

Vyacheslav Sivchik, a front leader said, "Moscow will always remain Moscow. An empire, even when it's falling apart, exercises imperial policy."

(AP, Reuters)zovsky, for his part, claims that the Moscow authorities and NTV conspired to implicate him in Listyev's murder. Immediately after the murder, Berezovsky was questioned by the Moscow police and that fact was reported on NTV.

The videotape was reportedly made in the offices of then-presidential security chief Alexander Korzhakov. Korzhakov has claimed that in 1993, Berezovsky asked him to kill Gusinsky -- a claim Berezovsky has since denied.

Lesnevskaya told RTR Russian Television's "Zerkalo" program Saturday that the tape was made in the heat of the emotion surrounding Listyev's death

The "Itogi" program speculated that Shakhrai was named deputy chief of staff to check Chubais' growing power.

"I have a hunch that maybe Yeltsin wants to have someone in reserve in the administration, if at some critical moment he has to sack Chubais," said Piontkowsky.