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Lukashenko sets date for controversial referendum, prompting protest

Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko has scheduled a controversial constitutional referendum for February 27, although critics slammed the vote as likely to be rigged.

Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko has scheduled a controversial constitutional referendum for February 27, although critics slammed the vote as likely to be rigged.

Lukashenko signed a decree on Thursday setting the date for the referendum when voters are to decide whether to accept or reject the new constitution, the government said.

Critics, including opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, called on the European Union, the US, Britain and the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) not to recognize the referendum that they described as illegal in a letter. They also demanded new sanctions be imposed on Lukashenko’s regime.

Alongside his extensive powers, Lukashenko also seeks to give the All-Belarusian People’s Assembly almost unlimited powers. He is also expected to appoint himself its chairman, a move that would give him legal immunity.

Lukashenko faces accusations of murder, torture and other serious crimes against humanity following a bloody crackdown on peaceful protests unleashed after he claimed to have won elections seen as rigged. He is not recognized as president by the EU.

He is also widely believed to have orchestrated a migration crisis in Europe, deliberately bringing people from war-torn regions to borders in retaliation for sanctions.

Tikhanovskaya said that a vote would be impossible given the level of repression in Belarus and the lack of an independent media.

Lukashenko has also closed down several non-governmental organizations and jailed hundreds of dissidents.

The opposition called on the public to destroy their ballot papers.

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