Belarus was fully integrated with Russia until the Gorbachev reforms of the mid-1980s encouraged demands for greater freedom. On 25 Aug. 1991 Belarus declared its independence and in Dec. it became a founder member of the CIS. The Communists retained power in Belarus despite formidable opposition and it was not until a new constitution was adopted in March 1994 that the economic reformers began to influence events. Alexander Lukashenka was elected president in July 1994. By 1996, only 11% of state enterprises had been privatized and the government remains pro-Russian, striving for eventual unification with Russia within the Russia-Belarus Union. A referendum held over 9–24 Nov. 1996 extended the President’s term of office from three to five years and increased his powers to rule by decree. The last parliamentary elections were criticized by the OSCE for a lack of transparency.
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