NOT EVERYONE IS AMUSED BY PUTIN'S ROYAL AUDIENCE. Human rights groups have condemned the Russian president-elect's scheduled visit to the U.K. early next week, saying that Britain should not host Putin as long as Russia is facing international criticism over its campaign in Chechnya. Putin's trip to the U.K., sandwiched between short visits to Minsk and Kyiv, is his first tour abroad as president-elect. Last month, British Premier Tony Blair became the first Western leader to meet with Putin in the latter's capacity as acting head of state (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 March 2000). During his two-day visit to the U.K., Putin will have a 30-minute audience with Queen Elizabeth II at Windsor Castle. JC

UKRAINIAN OFFICIALS MAKE CONFLICTING APPEALS OVER REFERENDUM. Parliamentary speaker Ivan Plyushch has appealed to Ukrainians to take part in the 16 April referendum, Interfax reported on 12 April. According to Plyushch, there is "nothing new" in the four referendum questions. Ukrainians, he said, "must not make a tragedy" of the plebiscite. Meanwhile, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko has called for a boycott of the referendum. "If the issues of the referendum are implemented, the parliament will lose its independence," Symonenko told Reuters on 12 April. A poll held by the Academy of Pedagogical Sciences in early April found that 76.5 percent of Ukrainians know about the referendum and when it will take place, 17.6 percent have heard about it but do not know its date, while 5.9 percent are totally unaware of it. The poll said 63.8 percent of Ukrainians will take part in the referendum and approve all four questions. JM

BRITAIN PLEDGES MILLIONS FOR CHORNOBYL REPAIRS. British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said in Kyiv on 12 April that Britain will allocate 10.5 million pounds ($16.8 million) to strengthen the concrete and steel sarcophagus covering the damaged reactor of the Chornobyl power plant, Interfax reported. Cook took President Leonid Kuchma's side in the controversy between Kyiv and the Council of Europe over the 16 April referendum. "As far as the referendum is concerned, it is a matter for the Ukrainian people to decide," Cook noted. During his meeting with Premier Viktor Yushchenko, Cook said Great Britain is ready to assist Ukraine in implementing economic reforms. "I have learned with joy about the first successful results of Ukrainian reforms, which were reflected in high economic growth rates in the first quarter," Interfax quoted Cook as saying. JM

UKRAINE REPORTS ECONOMIC GROWTH. The State Statistics Committee on 12 April reported that the country's GDP in January-March grew by 5.6 percent, compared with the same period last year. Industrial production increased by 9.7 percent, while it registered a 2.5 percent slump in the same period last year. JM