TURKMENISTAN, UKRAINE AGREE ON DEBT. Visiting Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma assured his Turkmen counterpart Saparmurat Niyazov in Ashgabat on 5 October that Kyiv will implement investment projects in Turkmenistan in payment of its 1999 debt for Turkmen natural gas, Interfax reported. He also invited Niyazov to visit Ukraine in May 2001. Also on 5 October, Ukrainian First Deputy Finance Minister Petro Hermanchuk and Turkmenistan's Central Bank chairman Seitbai Kandymov signed an agreement that sets Kyiv's state debt to Turkmenistan at $281 million. Negotiations on how that debt is to be repaid will resume after Niyazov's visit to Ukraine next year and after Kyiv reaches agreement with its Paris Club creditors. LF

CANDIDATES DENIED REGISTRATION SAY BELARUS HAS NO REAL CHOICE. A group of democratic candidates who had wanted to contest legislative seats on an independent ticket in the 15 October elections said they were denied registration for "far-fetched reasons," Belapan reported on 5 October. "The authorities have eliminated from the election campaign those candidates who could hamper the election of [government] proteges [and] have deprived the voters of the possibility to vote for change in the country, for the development of a market economy and democracy," the group said in a statement published in "Nasha volya." The group includes Children of Chornobyl Charitable Fund head Henadz Hrushavy, lawyer Hary Pahanyayla, human rights activist Aleh Volchak, and economist Leanid Zlotnikau. Meanwhile, presidential aide Syarhey Posakhau told the 4 October "Belorusskaya delovaya gazeta" that "most opposition candidates" have been registered and mentioned four names: Alyaksandr Fyaduta, Mikhail Chyhir, Mikalay Statkevich, and Uladzimir Navasyad. JM

UKRAINIAN POLICE TAKES 'UNPRECEDENTED' MEASURES TO FIND MISSING JOURNALIST. Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko told the parliament on 6 October that police are taking "unprecedented" measures in their search for opposition journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, who disappeared on 16 September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2000), Interfax reported. Kravchenko said the investigation of Gongadze's disappearance has taken on a "political character" and has attracted "international publicity." According to Kravchenko, Gongadze's publications in the Internet newsletter "Ukrayinska pravda," which have been critical of Kyiv, may have contributed to his disappearance. "For the first time in the history of crime detection, it was decided to allow the wife [of a disappeared person] to participate in investigative measures and to discuss their results," Kravchenko told the lawmakers. However, he did not report any significant progress in the investigation. JM

WARSAW WANTS TO BE CONSULTED BY BRUSSELS ON RUSSIAN GAS PIPELINE. Economy Minister Janusz Steinhoff said on 5 October that the EU should consult Poland on the routing of gas pipelines from Russia, PAP reported. Steinhoff was commenting on the EU's recently reported intention to finance a Russian project to build gas and oil pipelines linking that country with the EU in exchange for doubling gas supplies to Western Europe. "I am saddened by press reports on building a gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine," Steinhoff added. Russia asked Poland to agree to the construction of a gas pipeline that would cross Polish territory and bypass Ukraine, but Poland said it opposes the idea. "Poland is very interested in gas transit [from Russia]...but not at the expense of Ukraine," Steinhoff noted. JM


CPJ CONCERNED ABOUT JOURNALIST'S DISAPPEARANCE. In a 25 September letter to President Leonid Kuchma, the media watchdog group Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) expressed its deep concern about the recent disappearance of Heorhiy Gongadze, the 31-year-old editor of the news website "Ukrainska Pravda" ( CPJ noted that this event has alarmed the journalistic community in Ukraine and further eroded the Kuchma government's already limited credibility on press freedom issues. Gongadze, whose site has often featured critical articles about Ukrainian officials, disappeared in Kyiv on the evening of 16 September. Shortly after Gongadze disappeared, the deputy director of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, Mykola Dzhyha, announced that authorities were looking into three possible scenarios: that Gongadze planned his own abduction; that he was involved in an accident; or that the abduction was related to Gongadze's journalism. On 19 September, however, Dzhyha announced that the police have ruled out any political motive. Meanwhile, 60 local journalists expressed their concern about the case in a letter to Kuchma and the Ukrainian parliament on 19 September. (Committee to Protect Journalists, 26 September)

BOMB THREAT PREVENTS TELECONFERENCE BETWEEN EUROPEAN PARLIAMENTARIANS AND UKRAINIAN JOURNALISTS. Following the cancellation of a teleconference on freedom of expression in Ukraine between members of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg and Ukrainian journalists in Kyiv, the following statement was issued by Tytti Isohookana-Asunmaa (Finland), president of the assembly's sub-committee on the media: "The sub-committee on the Media of the Committee on Culture and Education tried to organize a teleconference with Ukrainian journalists. When it became clear the room where the journalists were to meet was empty, telephone contact was made with them. They explained that 30 minutes beforehand the building had been evacuated by the police on the pretext that a bomb had been placed there. Later, once the threat had passed, the police prevented journalists from re-entering the building. The journalists and the wife of missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze confirmed that they were working in difficult conditions and gave examples of violations of the liberty of the press. They asked the Council of Europe to increase pressure on Ukraine. The parliamentarians present expressed their surprise that there were still people in Kyiv who were powerful, unscrupulous, and crude enough to use an alleged bomb threat to prevent journalists from making their voices heard. The Committee on Culture and Education may convene in the near future to discuss this matter. The Ukrainian parliamentarians present reaffirmed their commitment to upholding the principles of the Council of Europe. Borys Oliynyk, head of the Ukrainian delegation, regretted the situation and the poor image which it gave of Ukraine to Council of Europe parliamentarians." (Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, 28 September)

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PROMISES TEACHERS MORE MONEY--NEXT YEAR... Leonid Kuchma said on 28 September that the government will raise salaries for all employees in the education sector in 2001 and wipe out all wage arrears to teachers by the end of that year, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported, citing UNIAN. There are some 500,000 teachers in Ukraine who make an average of 137 hryvnia ($25) per month. Social Policy and Labor Minister Ivan Sakhan said that other state employees will receive 25 percent wage hikes next year. He said it is the first time in three years that wages for those employees will be increased. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September)

...AS PREMIER PREDICTS PENSION INCREASE. Viktor Yushchenko said that some 800 million hryvnia ($147 million) will be allocated to increase pensions in 2001, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 28 September. Yushchenko said "the government plans to eliminate all current social debts to the population." He added that Ukraine will experience substantial economic growth next year and that the government's goal is to increase the percentage of the budget spent on social services from 41 percent to 46 percent. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 29 September)