KUCHMA SIGNS PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION BILL. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has signed the law on presidential elections. Kuchma had vetoed the legislation last month, but the parliament recently overrode his veto (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 March 1999). According to the new law, the presidential campaign will officially begin on 4 May. The nomination of candidates will start 10 days after that date and will last 30 days. Candidates can be proposed by political parties or by at least 500 voters. To be placed on the ballot, the nominees must be at least 35 years old , must have resided in Ukraine for the past 10 years, and must collect the signatures of at least 1 million of Ukraine's 35 million eligible voters. The vote will take place on 31 October. JM

UKRAINIAN INDUSTRIAL GIANTS TO UNDERGO RAPID PRIVATIZATION. The Ukrainian government has ordered that 12 industrial giants be prepared immediately for sale to private owners, AP reported on 22 March, citing the Ukrainian News agency. In particular, the government is offering a 53 percent stake in the Illich metallurgical plant, a 52 percent stake in the Odesa oil refinery, and a 29 percent stake in the Turboatom company, which manufactures nuclear power plant equipment. The offer is seen as the government's move to entice back foreign investors and raise revenues to pay off mounting debt obligations. JM

MORE THAN 90 PERCENT OF UKRAINIAN FARMS LOSS-MAKING. The State Statistics Committee has said that 12,600 Ukrainian farms, or 92 percent of their total number, reported losses last year totaling to 4.3 billion hryvni ($1.1 billion). According to the committee, an average farm spent 29 percent more on production costs than it received from the sale of its produce. Last year's agricultural output decreased by 8.3 percent, compared with 1997. JM

INTELLIGENCE OFFICERS ACQUITTED IN HUNGARY'S 'BIRCH TREE' TRIAL. A military court on 22 March acquitted several former intelligence officers accused of violating state secrets in connection with the so-called "Birch Tree Operation." The operation was launched in 1995 to gather information on corruption and organized crime in the Hungarian-Romanian-Ukrainian border region. Several Hungarian politicians were mentioned in agents' reports. Laszlo Foldi, the former deputy head of the secret services, was dismissed in 1996 for "spying on politicians." The court acquitted him of that charge, saying "it would have been wrong for an intelligence officer to turn a blind eye if a politician's name turned up." MSZ