VILNIUS 's Alexander Lukashenko's decision to hold a referendum on changing the Belarusian constitution and allowing him to remain president for a third term was decried by Lithuanian officials.
Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis told the Baltic News Service that "such a step will not strengthen democratic processes in Belarus."
Gediminas Kirkilas, chairman of the Parliament's foreign affairs committee, called the decision "undemocratic and unlawful."
"This means that Lukashenko is trying to extend his autocratic rule," he said.
Vaclov Stankevic, chairman of the parliamentary commission on NATO affairs, said, "The worst scenario of events in Belarus has proven true. It is the worst variant for the international community and neighbor states, including Lithuania. The possibility increases that Belarus will remain outside Europe and democracy for long."
Lukashenko, 50, was elected president in 1994. In a 1996 referendum he expanded his powers and disbanded the legally elected Parliament. The West and domestic opposition said the referendum and parliamentary elections held after it, as well as the 2001 presidential elections in which Lukashenko won an overwhelming victory, were out of keeping with democratic requirements.
Since the Belarusian constitution only allows the president to hold two four-year terms, Lukashenko on Tuesday announced that he would hold a referendum on Oct. 17, parallel to parliamentary elections, to get a mandate to change the law.