Addressing a 6,000-strong, official Assembly of the Belarus People in Minsk on October 18 and 19, President Aleksandr Lukashenko unveiled a more confrontational version of his plan to seize absolute power. Lukashenko announced or implied that his constitutional draft would: institutionalize the hand-picked Assembly as a permanent representative forum, parallel to the parliament; empower the president to appoint state officials, including those of the judiciary branch, with the consent of only the legislative upper house, many of whose members will also be presidential appointees; give the upper chamber a name other than Senate "which is a foreign word, not reflecting Slavic traditions;" apportion quotas of seats for various social groups in both chambers of the future parliament, implying presidential preselection of the deputies; and give the president two additional, seven-year terms if the upcoming referendum approves his constitutional draft. While accepting the referendum date set by the parliament, November 24, Lukashenko and his forum demanded that parliament discard its own constitutional draft which is supposed to be submitted to the same referendum.
Lukashenko also claimed that it is his political opponents who are the "extremists" and who resist the "unification of the fraternal Belarusan and Russian peoples." He described as "political adventurists" those who signed the December 1991 Belaya Vezha "scrap of paper" dissolving the USSR, and said that they "will yet account for the damage they inflicted on our great people." Lukashenko also cemented his alliance with the Orthodox Church — sealed in Moscow with Patriarch Aleksy II — by having the Church head in Belarus, Metropolitan Filaret, address the Assembly and condemn "the imperfection of the present constitution which stipulates the equality of all denominations" at the alleged expense of the Orthodox. Lukashenko, in turn, urged his parliamentary opponents to repent to Filaret. The presidential Security Council secretary, Viktor Sheyman, accused "extremists" of preparing for armed struggle against the president. (Belaplan, Radio Minsk, Interfax, Itar-Tass, NTV, Western agencies, October 17 through 20)
Anti-Dictatorship Coalition Stands its Ground.