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INTELLECTUALS PROTEST 'ANTIHUMAN' FILM ON CATHOLICISM. A group of Belarusian intellectuals and scholars have protested the showing of the film "Soul Snatchers" on Belarusian TV last month, Belapan reported on 7 March. The group said the film "debases" the Catholic Church, "disgraces" the Belarusian people, and "stirs up interdenominational enmity" in Belarus. "The author tackles the subject without being familiar with either the history of the Catholic Church, or its soul-edifying activity," the group said in statement. President Lukashenka, who once defined his religious belief as that of an "Orthodox atheist," openly favors the presence of the Russian Orthodox Church in Belarus and strives to make Orthodoxy a "state religion" in exchange for moral support to his regime from the church hierarchy. According to some estimates, there may be some 1 million Roman Catholics in Belarus. (RFE/RL Poland, Belarus and Ukraine Report, 13 March)

PRESIDENT URGES KUCHMA NOT TO USE FORCE AGAINST PROTESTERS. Aleksander Kwasniewski told his visiting Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma in Kazimerz Dolny on 15 March that he should use not force, but dialogue, for resolving the current political unrest at home, PAP reported. Kuchma responded that he is ready for dialogue with the opposition, but only within the framework of the law and the constitution. Kuchma added: "When the so-called opposition wants to dictate the resignation of a president...protesting with sharp metal objects and Molotov cocktails in their hands -- how can we talk to such groups?" Polish Television reported that the Ukrainian president said he will not talk to "fascists" who provoke social disorder in Ukraine. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 16 March)


COMMUNISTS WANT SOVIET COMEBACK, OUSTER OF PRESIDENT, PREMIER... Some 3,000 Communists and hard-liners demonstrated at the Ukrainian parliamentary building on 15 March, demanding the ouster of President Leonid Kuchma, Premier Viktor Yushchenko, and a return to the old Soviet ways, AP reported. Yushchenko earned particular ire from the protesters, who stood patiently under pouring rain, chanted "Kuchma and Yushchenko to jail!" and lamented their lost Soviet-era savings, miserable pensions, low wages, and other social woes, the agency noted. Many Communists arrived from outlying regions such as Donetsk, Luhansk, Odesa, and Kharkiv. They were backed by hard-line groups including the Ukrainian Workers' Union and the AllUkrainian Union of Soviet Officers. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)

...AND STAGE ANTI-GOVERNMENT MARCH IN DONETSK. Some 3,000 mostly elderly people took part in a march organized by the Communist Party in Donetsk on 17 March, Reuters reported. Protesters demanded the resignation of President Kuchma and Prime Minister Yushchenko, as well as forging closer ties between Ukraine and Russia. Some 350 people participated in a similar rally in Dnipropetrovsk the same day, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko told a 17 March conference of lawmakers from Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia that only a union of those three countries will help Ukraine "overcome the misery which we find ourselves in and avoid new threats." ("RFE/RL Newsline," 19 March)

'UKRAINE WITHOUT KUCHMA' MOVEMENT IN KYIV FOCUSES ON PRESIDENT... Some 1,000 activists of the "Ukraine Without Kuchma" movement on 14 March picketed the parliamentary building and subsequently the Prosecutor-General's Office, the Interior Ministry, and the presidential administration building, demanding the dismissal of President Kuchma, Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, and Prosecutor-General Mykhaylo Potebenko, Interfax reported. Demonstrators collected a glassful of blood drawn from their fingers and deposited the glass outside the Interior Ministry, suggesting that Kuchma and Kravchenko have blood on their hands following the murder of independent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 15 March)

... AS LVIV STUDENTS DEMAND KUCHMA'S IMPRISONMENT, RELEASE OF PROTESTERS. Some 3,000 students marched in Lviv on 13 March, calling for the imprisonment of President Leonid Kuchma, the sacking of Interior Minister Yuriy Kravchenko, and the release of protesters arrested during the 9 March antipresidential rally in Kyiv, Interfax reported. The march took place without any reported violence. Last week, agencies reported that the Kyiv police arrested some 100 students, primarily from Lviv and other western Ukrainian cities, while they were gathering at a railway station to return home from the anti-Kuchma rally and the founding congress of the All- Ukrainian Public Resistance Committee "For the Truth!" ("RFE/RL Newsline," 14 March)

NEW GROUP TO PROMOTE RUSSIA-BELARUS-UKRAINE UNION. Russian Duma deputy (Unity) Sergei Apatenko, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament's Committee for CIS Affairs and Relations with Compatriots Abroad, said that his visit to Kyiv this week will lead to the formation of a new group of parliamentarians from the three Slavic countries to promote their union, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 March. More than 90 Ukrainian deputies are among its supporters, Apatenko said. PG

RUSSIANS ABROAD SEEN PROMOTING REINTEGRATION OF SOVIET SPACE. In an interview published in the 20 March "Nezavisimaya gazeta," Aleksandr Svistunov, the president of the Russian Movement of Ukraine, said that ethnic Russians living in the former Soviet republics can help promote Moscow's interests and the integration of those countries with Russia. He said Russian officials are beginning to understand and support the possibility, noting that "behind all the integration processes in the CIS, in Belarus, in Moldova, stands the Russian factor." He added that "I am certain that in the Caucasus, Ukraine, and Central Asia in the next five or six years they will also contribute to movements toward rapprochement with Russia." Svistunov concluded, "if earlier the power of Russia, to use the words of Lomonosov, grew by virtue of Siberia, now it will grow because of the diaspora." With regard to Ukraine, an article in "Segodnya" the same day suggested that the Ukrainian political crisis could ignite ethnic and regional tensions there, leading to the disintegration of the country. PG

A $3 BILL FOR THE CIS ANNIVERSARY? A commentary in "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 20 March suggested that the mints of Russia and other Commonwealth of Independent States countries should consider issuing a $3 bill on the 10th anniversary of the creation of the CIS. Pictured on the bill, the paper said, would be the three cosigners of the accords that spelled the end of the USSR and the formation of the CIS -- Russia's Boris Yeltsin, Ukraine's Leonid Kravchuk, and Belarus's Stanislav Shushkevich. PG

U.S. OFFICIALS URGE BELARUS TO RESPECT CIVIC RIGHTS. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State Jon Purnell and Greg Perett, head of the State Department office for Ukraine, Moldova, and Belarus, wrapped up their three-day trip to Minsk on 20 March. "The government of Belarus must take a number of concrete steps to bring it back into compliance with commitments each of the members of the Euro-Atlantic community has made concerning the civic and political rights of its citizens," AP quoted Purnell as saying. Purnell said he warned Belarusian authorities against taking any steps that would restrict the opposition's participation in this year's presidential elections. Purnell criticized President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's recent decree providing for state control over foreign donations to the nongovernmental sector (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 20 March 2001). JM

GERMAN EXPERTS SAY BODY IS NOT JOURNALIST'S. German genetic experts from Munich have said tissue and blood samples of a corpse found near Kyiv last fall does not belong to missing journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Ukrainian agencies reported on 20 March. The experts made their conclusion after testing three samples: a fragment of the corpse's tissue (provided by journalist Olena Prytula), a dry bloodstain that Gongadze accidentally left on a medical card in 1993, and a blood sample from Gongadze's mother. Oleksandr Lavrynovych, head of the parliamentary ad hoc commission for the Gongadze case, said the results of the German testing will be accepted by the commission, but added that he doubts whether the tissue sample taken to Germany for DNA tests actually came from the corpse found near Kyiv, which was officially recognized as Gongadze's following genetic tests in Russia. JM

NEW REGIONAL GROUP EMERGES IN UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT. A new deputy caucus called Ukraine's Regions (Rehiony Ukrayiny) has been registered in the parliament, Interfax reported on 21 March. The group is led by Donetsk Mayor Volodymyr Rybak and includes five former lawmakers from Revival of Regions, four from Labor Ukraine, and two from the Popular Democratic Party. Revival of Regions leader Oleksandr Volkov commented that the creation of the Ukraine's Regions group is the beginning of a "real breakup" of the pro-government majority. The current array of parliamentary forces is as follows: the Communist Party -- 112 lawmakers; the Social Democratic Party (United) -- 34; Fatherland -- 31; Rukh (Kostenko) -- 23; the Popular Democratic Party -- 18; the Greens -- 17; Rukh (Udovenko) -- 16; Left Center (Socialists) -- 16; ReformsCongress -- 15; Yabluko -- 14; Labor Ukraine -- 46; Revival of Regions -- 30; Solidarnist -- 24; and Ukraine's Regions -- 16. JM

UKRAINIAN PREMIER READY TO BACK CABINET CHANGES. Viktor Yushchenko on 20 March said he is ready to discuss cabinet replacements with parliamentary groups if new candidates turn out to be "more rational and constructive" than the current ministers, and if the reshuffle "cements" the pro-government parliamentary majority, Interfax reported. Meanwhile, lawmaker Yaroslav Kendzor from Rukh (Udovenko) told the parliament the same day that "vigorous preparations" are under way to oust Yushchenko's cabinet and install an "oligarchic-leftist regime" in Ukraine. Yuriy Kostenko, leader of another Rukh faction, warned that "the attempts of oligarchs and communists to start off the government's dismissal are a full-scale plan to destabilize Ukraine." JM

GAZPROM ACCUSES UKRAINE OF CONTINUING GAS THEFT. Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev on 20 March said Ukraine is still siphoning off Russian transit gas, the "Eastern Economist Daily" reported on 21 March. Vyakhirev noted that Ukraine has not yet paid for supplied gas, adding that Kyiv's gas debt to Russia now totals $2 billion. JM