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BELARUS DECIDES LUKASHENKO'S FATE
MINSK, October 17 (RIA Novosti) - A happy peasant woman with a sickle, an order-bearing veteran, a marching army formation - all these Belarussians at numerous posters on the streets of the republic's capital vote "for" the issue put to the referendum by President Alexander Lukashenko.
"Vote for," call the front pages of the leading state newspapers, and TV adverts. Both Belarussian TV channels are state-owned.
Belarussians are to answer on October 17 whether they are ready to give up the provision of the Constitution which restricts the term of office of the president by two five-year terms, which will open for Lukashenko who has headed the country for 10 years the possibility to participate in the elections again.
Simultaneously with the referendum, elections of Belarussian parliament's House of Representatives deputies are taking place.
"You are voting not only for me, Alexander Lukashenko, but for the clear future of the country, for certainty and stability in Belarussian society, for the future of your children and grandchildren," reads the address by Mr. Lukashenko to citizens on the eve of the referendum.
The two-million Minsk looks calm - several hundreds gathered for an opposition rally a week ago. Many Belarussians say they see no alternative to Lukashenko and more appreciate the social guarantees preserved since Soviet times that the "freedoms" the infringement upon which the opposition and the West blame Lukashenko for.
Wages for public sector workers and pensions were raised by 50% on the eve of referendum.
Belarus, which has preserved state control over the economy and given up state enterprises privatization, which provoked criticism of Western experts and discontent of Russian investors, has demonstrated an impressive growth of gross indices for several years.
By the data of the Statistics Ministry, from the year start the Belarussian GDP growth exceeded 10%, while the inflation reduced to 9%, which experts explain by the advantages of the open Russian market and beneficial tariffs on Russian energy resources.
"The people's opinion, and not the conclusions and demands of overseas and West European 'democracy advocates' give me forces, strengthen my will in everyday work to strengthen the Fatherland," Mr. Lukashenko said as addressing the nation.
The West has already called the referendum "undemocratic," and the U.S. even threatened with economic sanctions. Russia said the referendum was Belarus's internal affair.
On Saturday, the capital's main square, Oktyabrskaya, saw some ten young activists of the opposition in crape bands form a chain and unfold a state newspaper which called to vote for, just as all previous days.
"If Lukashenko gets the right to rule for a lifetime, this is the end of our hopes for a European Belarus," a guy explained in Belarussian.