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BELARUS EXPECTS MORE ILLEGAL MIGRANTS. Officials of the Belarusian State Committee of Board Guard Troops told ITARTASS on 6 January that Minsk expects the flow of illegal migrants through Belarus to increase "considerably" in 2001. The committee's deputy head said that Poland's introduction of a visa regime for CIS and Asian countries is one of the major reasons for this. At the present time, officials said, there are 120,000 to 150,000 illegal migrants inside Belarus and additional groups of such migrants in adjoining Russian and Ukrainian regions. PG

BELARUS BANS SMOKING IN MEDICAL FACILITIES. Public Health Minister Igor Zelenkevich on 4 January banned smoking in all medical facilities in Belarus, ITAR-TASS reported. Health Ministry officials said that the country is living through "an epidemic of tobacco smoking," with nearly 50 percent of its population now smoking. They added that the ban is especially important because of the continuing impact of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster, and called the widespread smoking "another small Chernobyl." PG

UKRAINE'S DEPUTY PREMIER DENIES CHARGES. Deputy Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko on 6 January denied charges of forgery, smuggling, and tax evasion brought against her by the Ukrainian authorities on 5 January, agencies reported. Tymoshenko, who was a close associate of former prime minister Pavel Lazarenko who was convicted of moneylaundering by a Swiss court last year, and her husband, who has been arrested, are suspected of skimming millions of dollars from the country's energy complex. Tymoshenko told a news conference that "[a]ll the charges levelled at me by the prosecutors are simply a brutal falsification." She said that the the indictments against her and her husband were "orchestrated by criminal clans of oligarchs who de facto rule Ukraine." PG

FORMER KUCHMA BODYGUARD CHARGED. Ukrainian officials said on 6 January that they have begun criminal proceedings against Nikolai Melnichenko, a former presidential bodyguard who has accused President Leonid Kuchma with involvement in the disappearance of journalist Heorhy Gongadze. Melnichenko has produced tapes which he says show that the Ukrainian president and his aides discussed how to silence that independence journalist. The ensuring political crisis, now being called Kuchma-gate in Ukraine, has sparked protests in the streets and in the parliaments and calls for Kuchma to resign. PG

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS HEALTH CHECK ON UKRAINIAN PEACEKEEPERS IN KOSOVA. President Kuchma on 6 January told Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk to check on the health of Ukrainian peacekeeprs in Kosovo following reports that some KFOR troops had become ill, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Kuchma is scheduled to visit Kosova on 9 January. PG

UKRAINE REJECTS MOSCOW'S CRITICISM ON LANGUAGE POLICY. The Ukrainian Committee for Information Policy, Television and Radio Broadcasting on 5 January rejected complaints by the Russian Foreign Ministry about Kyiv's language policy, ITARTASS reported. The Russian statement said that Kyiv is trying to drive the Russian language out of the Ukrainian media. It said that the Russian statement was erroneous and unfounded. Moreover, the committee said that it proceeds "from the assumption that current problems in Ukrainian-Russian relations" in this and other spheres can be resolved by talks "without unnecessary emotions." PG

UKRAINE'S SLAV PARTY CRITICIZES LANGUAGE POLICY. The Slav Party of Ukraine has criticized efforts by the national orthodography commission to revise existing Ukrainian language rules, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 January. It issued a statement saying that "the Ukrainian language is being tailored to suit the taste of a foreign diaspora. Most emigrants who have left their homeland are natives of Western Ukraine, know as Galitsia, whose local dialect is infected with foreign borrowings." According to the party's leader, "the melodious Ukrainian language is being broken exclusively for its closeness to Russian." He added that he does not rule out the possibility that Kyiv's next step will be to replace the Cyrillic script with a Latin one. PG