UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ACCEPTS PREMIER'S RESIGNATION. A spokesman for Leonid Kuchma told journalists on 2 July that the president has signed a decree accepting the resignation of Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko on health grounds. Lazarenko had announced earlier he was stepping down because of illness. He was temporarily relieved of his duties on 19 June and hospitalized. His deputy, Vasyl Durdynets, was named acting prime minister. The spokesman quoted Kuchma as saying that reforms will move faster in the country after the prime minister's resignation. Durdynets has been re-appointed acting prime minister, and Kuchma had decreed the cabinet should keep working until a successor to Lazarenko is named.

CZECH, UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTS WANT NATO TO REMAIN OPEN. Kuchma and his Czech counterpart, Vaclav Havel, said on 2 July that NATO's eastward expansion is a "natural process". The two signed a statement in Kyiv calling on NATO to remain "open to all interested countries which are ready for membership." At a joint news conference, Havel said that former Soviet republics are "fully within their rights to apply for membership and be accepted" into NATO. He specifically mentioned the Baltic States. Meanwhile, on 3 July, the presidents of Romania, Ukraine, and Moldova are scheduled to meet in the Ukrainian city of Izmail to discuss regional cooperation

FOUR CHILDREN DIE IN BUS CRASH IN BELARUS. Four children died and more that 60 others were injured on 2 July when a bus overturned at high speed in heavy rain near Kobrin, in southern Belarus, ITAR-TASS reported. The bus was taking children aged 7 to 14 from a region of Belarus affected by the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear accident to a health resort in Belgium. Police said three of the injured were in serious condition.

RUSSIAN COMMANDER IN TRANSDNIESTER OPPOSES UKRAINIAN PRESENCE. Lt.-Gen. Valerii Yevnevich told a visiting delegation from the European Parliament on 2 July that he is "categorically opposed" to deploying Ukrainian peacekeeping troops in the region, BASA-press and Infotag reported. Ukrainian peacekeepers are stipulated in the 8 May agreement between Chisinau and Tiraspol. Yevnevich said that if they are brought in, "Russian peacekeepers will have nothing more to do here." He added that the Ukrainians should have come in 1992 "instead of waiting till somebody pulls the chestnuts out of fire" for them. Yevnevich told the delegation that part of the Russian contingent's stockpiles will be sold and the earnings channeled to help Transdniester's economic development. Erika Mann, the head of the European Parliament's delegation, said the EU might participate in finding solutions to the conflict by monitoring the withdrawal of Russian armament.