Belarus president Aleksandr Lukashenko is pleased with the results of his three-day official visit to France, he told a news conference on returning to Minsk. French president Jacques Chirac made possible Lukashenko’s first-ever official visit to a major country other than Russia. The two presidents signed an agreement on "mutual understanding and friendship" and discussed French credits to and business contracts with Belarus. Lukashenko claimed that "Chirac welcomed the incipient integration processes within the CIS"; that the French president "sees no threat to Belarus sovereignty from the recently formed Russia-Belarus Community;" and that Chirac "realizes that [Lukashenko’s] international image has been distorted." According to Lukashenko, French businessmen "lament the disintegration of that huge unified market which the USSR constituted" and evidenced "nostalgia for those times" in their talks with him. Lukashenko noted the significance of the timing of his French visit coinciding with his preparations for calling a constitutional referendum. (Interfax, July 15)
Lukashenko told factory workers at meeting yesterday that he will soon propose constitutional amendments to limit the powers of parliament and of the constitutional court, and will then call a referendum to approve the amendments. He will also summon a Congress of the People of Belarus to support the amendments and his overall policies, Lukashenko said. (Interfax, July 16) The parliament and the court have resisted Lukashenko’s attempts to institute personal rule and have also slowed down his drive for a merger of Belarus with Russia.
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