UKRAINIAN PREMIER KILLS PREVIOUS CABINET'S DRAFT LAWS. Viktor Yushchenko has withdrawn 161 draft laws submitted to the parliament by the former cabinet of Valeriy Pustovoytenko, Interfax reported on 5 January. Cabinet secretary Viktor Lysytskyy said the "lion's share" of the bills will not be changed in any essential way since Yushchenko will follow "the strategy of reforms" that was defined by President Leonid Kuchma in October 1994. "The point is to accelerate, deepen, and strengthen some reform parameters, to implement in a more consistent way what was determined several years ago," Lysytskyy noted. JM

COUNCIL OF EUROPE PRAISES UKRAINE FOR MOVE TO ABOLISH DEATH PENALTY. The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly on 5 January hailed the Ukrainian Constitutional Court's ruling that the death penalty is unconstitutional (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 January 2000). "The a welcome step forward in the honoring of Ukraine's obligations and commitments as a member-state of the Council of Europe," the council's president, Lord Russell Johnston, said in a statement. He also praised Ukraine's recent adoption of new laws on political parties and its ratification of the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages. JM

ANOTHER UKRAINIAN RUKH PARTY REGISTERS. The Justice Ministry has registered the Ukrainian Popular Rukh, a party consisting of Yuriy Kostenko's faction in the original Rukh, Interfax reported on 5 January. It is the 90th political party registered in Ukraine. According to its activists, the party has 20,300 members in all regions of the country. The other Rukh faction, led by Hennadiy Udovenko, is registered under the name of the Popular Rukh of Ukraine. JM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT MEETS ARAFAT. Emil Constantinescu on 5 January met in Bethlehem with Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat and invited him to visit Romania, an RFE/RL correspondent in Jerusalem reported. They agreed to set up a commission to examine ways of increasing cooperation. Constantinescu on the same day concluded the official part of his visit to Israel by meeting with a group of local businessmen. He then traveled to Jericho with Orthodox Patriarch Teoctist, where they both laid the ceremonial first stone of a Romanian religious establishment on a piece of land that Arafat personally set aside for that purpose. Constantinescu and Teoctist are participating in a unique 6-7 January gathering of representatives from 14 Orthodox churches to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of Christianity. Also in attendance are the presidents of Belarus, Greece, Georgia, Moldova, and Ukraine, as well as former Russian President Boris Yeltsin. MS

BELARUS. Criminal charges against prominent civil rights lawyer Vera Stremkovskaya were dropped for lack of evidence. She was sued for libel by Anatoly Smolentsev, chief investigator in a corruption case against Stremkovskaya's client, collective farm director Vasily Starovoitov. The investigator claimed Stremkovskaya defamed him in a court hearing by asking what had happened to 40 bottles of French cognac confiscated during a search of Starovoitov's house. KYRGYZSTAN. On 3 January a Bishkek court rejected an appeal by the opposition Ar-Namys (Conscience) Party against a ruling by the Central Electoral Commission (CEC) that the party does not qualify to nominate candidates for the party-list seats in the 20 February election to the lower chamber, RFE/RL's Bishkek bureau reported. The Justice Ministry had advised the CEC not to register the party, arguing that the law requires parties to be registered at least one year in advance of an election. Ar-Namys was registered in August 1999. Ar-Namys countered that the law was based on the 1991 Law on Public Associations, and that the Law on Political Parties adopted in 1999 does not impose any comparable restrictions on election participation. LITHUANIA. On 1 January, the Vilnius-based Baltic Wave Radio began broadcasting in Belarusian and will soon provide eight hours of air time a day, combining original programming with broadcasts from Radio Liberty in Prague, Radio Polonia in Warsaw, Lithuanian Radio in Vilnius, and Radio Racja in Bialystok. Baltic Waves is an independent radio funded by Western NGOs to offer uncensored news in Belarusian. The Minsk regime has repeatedly expressed its opposition to the venture. TAJIKISTAN. Three men were sentenced to death at year's end for crimes including terrorism, murder, and arms smuggling, Amnesty International reports. According to AI's sources, two additional men have also been sentenced to death. Apparently most of the men are followers of the outlawed opposition leader Makhmud Khudoyberdiyev, and they are being tried for involvement in political violence in November 1998, with the intent to seize power. AI, which objects to capital punishment regardless of the crime, says that Tajik authorities handed down at least 15 death sentences in 1999 and executed two people, but the real number "may be much higher." TURKMENISTAN. In December, Turkmen authorities arrested two Baptist ministers and their wives, then put them on planes bound for Kyiv, according to the religious news service Compass Direct. One of the couples, Vladimir and Olga Chernov, had residency in the country since 1993. Yet they were refused permission to go home and collect their possessions. YUGOSLAVIA. Reporters Sans Frontieres protested the fines totalling the equivalent of $70,000 imposed on Publisher and Chief Editor Vukasin Obradovic of the independent daily "Novine Vranjske" in southern Serbia. The paper published a Helsinki Committee on Human Rights report on ethnic Albanians who fled Serbia during the NATO bombing. According to the Yugoslav army, which filed the complaint, the report "incited religious and racial hatred." RSF noted that the fines may lead to the daily's closure and "represent a form of censorship."