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ARMENIA, UKRAINE PLAN TO EXPAND BILATERAL TRADE. Following a session in Yerevan on 20 February of the Armenian-Ukrainian inter-governmental economic cooperation commission, government delegations from the two countries finalized the text of a 10-year agreement outlining the main priorities for commercial ties, RFE/RL's Yerevan bureau reported. That agreement, which is to be signed during Armenian President Robert Kocharian's visit to Kyiv next week, provides for expanding bilateral trade from the 2000 level of $15.5 million to $38 million by 2003. Vladimir Novytskii, who heads Ukraine's State Committee on Industrial Policy, reaffirmed Kyiv's interest in participating in the construction of a pipeline to export gas from Iran to Armenia. He said that pipeline could be extended to Georgia and further westwards, thereby enabling Ukraine to purchase Iranian gas and minimize its present dependence on deliveries from Russia and Turkmenistan. LF

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VETOES PROPORTIONAL PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION LAW... Leonid Kuchma has vetoed the parliamentary election bill that provided for abolishing the current mixed voting and introducing a proportional party-list electoral system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 January 2001), Interfax reported on 20 February. According to the presidential press service, the bill does not conform with the constitution and a number of laws. The service added that the bill limits citizens' constitutional right to elect their representatives to the parliament by shifting a majority of election process prerogatives to political parties. There are currently 110 political parties registered in Ukraine. JM

...SUGGEST SPONSORS OF CURRENT POLITICAL UNREST. Kuchma suggested the same day that the current anti-presidential protests in Ukraine are financed with money from former Premier Pavlo Lazarenko and former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, Interfax reported. "Some grounds for this [conclusion] exist," Kuchma said. He added that "everything taking place [now in Ukraine] is based not on people's enthusiasm but on money." JM

OPPOSITION WANTS TALKS WITH KUCHMA ON HIS RESIGNATION. Anatoliy Matviyenko, a leader of the Forum for National Salvation, said on 20 February that the forum is ready for talks with Kuchma, but only about a "resignation formula" for the president, Interfax reported. A further condition stipulated by the forum for embarking on talks with Kuchma is the release of Yuliya Tymoshenko from jail. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS DEMAND PROBE INTO KUCHMA-PUTIN 'ENERGY MEMORANDUM.' The parliamentary caucus of the Ukrainian Popular Rukh (led by Yuriy Kostenko) has demanded an investigation into how the so-called "energy memorandum" was prepared and signed during Kuchma's recent talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Dnipropetrovsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 and 13 February 2001). The Rukh lawmakers believe the memorandum constitutes "Russia's attempt to completely seize the Ukrainian energy market through its powerful lobby in the highest circles of Ukrainian authorities, drive our country out of the European energy export market, and drag Ukraine into a union with Russia and Belarus," the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 21 February, quoting UNIAN. The Rukh notes that the energy deal is Ukraine's "most shameful capitulation to the northern neighbor in the last 10 years" (see also "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February 2001). JM

80 PERCENT OF IMMIGRANTS SAID TO BE ILLEGAL. Illegal immigrants now form as much as 80 percent of the total number of migrants into Russia, "Segodnya" reported on 16 February. Moreover, officials told the paper, the situation may get worse as employers seek to avoid the law and those who would enter legally from CIS countries must obtain a visa (a requirement added in October). Many of the illegals from Asia come via Kazakhstan, "Izvestiya" reported the same day, but many come through Ukraine as well. And the Interior Ministry estimates that the number of illegal Chinese immigrants in the Russian Far East is from 400,000 to 700,000, two to three times the number of Chinese living there legally. In its informal daily poll, "Segodnya" reported that 1,148 respondents would like to see the country's demographic crisis overcome through a stimulation of the birthrate, while only 235 want to attract more inmigration, as the government has suggested. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February)


PICKETERS DEMAND OUSTER OF POTEBENKO, RELEASE OF TYMOSHENKO. Some 1,000 people picketed the ProsecutorGeneral' s Office in Kyiv on 16 February, demanding the dismissal of Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko and the release of former Deputy Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko from jail, Interfax reported. The protesters accused Potebenko of delaying the investigation of the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, and of ordering Tymoshenko's arrest because of political motives. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February)

ANTI-PRESIDENTIAL OPPOSITION DEMANDS TYMOSHENKO'S RELEASE. The National Salvation Forum, an anti-presidential group formed from lawmakers and politicians last week, demanded on 14 February that the authorities release former Deputy Premier Yuliya Tymoshenko, who was arrested the previous day. The Forum said in a statement that the authorities, instead of arresting "criminals from the entourage of President Leonid Kuchma," have applied "the full power of their punitive-repressive system against a woman." The Forum noted that Tymoshenko was arrested to punish her for her opposition activities and for reforms in the energy and coal sectors. "The arrest of a sick woman who was not hiding from investigators...perfectly demonstrates that the people holding power in Ukraine are immoral and cynical, devoid of universal human values," the Forum said. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 February)