TAJIK, RUSSIAN MUFTIATS SIGN AGREEMENT. A delegation from Tajikistan's Muftiat met with representatives of Russia's Muftiat in Moscow on 15 February and signed an agreement on cooperation in several areas, ITAR-TASS reported. The agreement provides for regular conferences on spiritual matters, the opening of new medressahs and mosques, and regular meetings between delegations from the two countries. The Russian Muftiat has already concluded similar agreements with the Muslim spiritual boards in Belarus, Latvia, Ukraine, and Crimea. BP

KUCHMA VETOS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION BILL... Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has returned the law on presidential elections to the Supreme Council for revision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 January 1999), Ukrainian Television reported on 15 February. According to the president, many provisions of the bill do not conform with the constitution and other laws. He has proposed several amendments to the bill, including granting the right to nominate presidential candidates not only to political parties and groups of voters but also to public organizations. He also proposes shortening the presidential election campaign from the 180 days stipulated by the bill to 120 days. And he has suggested including a provision stipulating that voters can back only one presidential candidate with his/her signature. JM

...DENIES PERSECUTING LAZARENKO. Kuchma has rejected former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko's statement in "The New York Times" on 15 February that he is being politically persecuted in Ukraine, Ukrainian Television reported. Kuchma said that Lazarenko--who is charged with misappropriating state funds--can freely express his ideas, travel across Ukraine, and leave the country. According to Ukrainian Television, Lazarenko departed for Greece on 15 February. Later this week, the Supreme Council is scheduled to discuss lifting Lazarenko's parliamentary immunity in order to allow criminal proceedings against him. Lazarenko has announced his intention to run in the 1999 presidential elections. JM