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Last Updated: Tuesday, 7 September, 2004, 20:09 GMT 21:09 UK
Belarus leader calls referendum
Alexander Lukashenko
Lukashenko has been in power for 10 years
Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko has announced a referendum to decide whether he can run for a third term in office in 2006.

The referendum will be held alongside parliamentary elections already scheduled for 17 October.

At present, the country's constitution limits him to two terms.

Belarus has become isolated under Mr Lukashenko, who has sought to maintain a Soviet-style state-controlled economy, since coming to power in 1994.

The Belarusian leader held a similar referendum in 1996 extending his first five-year term by two years, to 2001.

He was re-elected in 2001 for another five years, in a poll which was criticised as undemocratic by Western observers.

'No terrorism'

Mr Lukashenko made his announcement in a TV address to the nation.

"I promised you before that if I decide to run in the presidential elections of 2006, I will ask you for your advice and permission," he said. "This is what I am doing now."

He added that Belarus had made great progress under his leadership, dismissing his opponents as foreign stooges.

He appeared to compare his security record with that of neighbouring Russia, where several terrorist acts have taken place in recent weeks culminating in the school siege in Beslan.

"For these 10 years not a single Belarusian has become a victim of a terrorist act, and in the referendum you'll vote for the security of your country," he said.

Mr Lukashenko's rule has been characterised by the closure of opposition media outlets and the prosecution and disappearance of opposition politicians.

Some European politicians have described him as Europe's last dictator.

But correspondents say that in the absence of a strong opponent he remains popular, especially among the elderly and servicemen.


SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Belarus
01 Sep 04  |  Country profiles
President Lukashenko: in quotes
10 Jul 04  |  Europe
Profile: Alexander Lukashenko
10 Jul 04  |  Europe



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