By Tom Balmforth
MOSCOW (Reuters) - A new draft constitution for Belarus, which President Alexander Lukashenko has touted as a solution to a political crisis but the opposition rejects as a sham, will be drawn up this year, Lukashenko said in an interview to be broadcast on Sunday.
Belarus has seen protests since an Aug. 9 presidential election which Lukashenko says he won but the opposition says was stolen. Thousands of protesters have been rounded up and nearly all opposition political figures have been driven into exile or jailed.
Though demonstrations have ebbed over the past five months, social media videos showed hundreds of protesters on Sunday carrying red and white opposition flags at small rallies in Minsk, chanting for Lukashenko to resign.
From early in the crisis, Lukashenko has promised unspecified constitutional reforms. At one point he even suggested he would step down once a new constitution is adopted. The opposition has consistently rejected the proposal as a stunt to keep him in power.
In excerpts from an interview with Russian television taped in December but not previously broadcast, RIA news agency quoted Lukashenko as saying he believed the new draft constitution would be finished by the end of 2021.
"And then the people will determine at a referendum if there should be a new constitution or not," he said. It was his firmest statement so far about the timing of the reform.
The date of the referendum would be announced when parliament convenes on Feb. 11-12, he was quoted as saying.
Exiled opposition leader Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya said a new election should be held this year, and a new constitution drawn up with no input from Lukashenko.
"A person who has lowered themselves to using terror against Belarusians has nothing to do with the main law of the country," she said in a social media statement. "He will continue to promote his manipulative (plan) to deceive us once again and to buy time for himself."
(Reporting by Tom Balmforth; Editing by Peter Graff)