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TWENTY-TWO COMPETITORS TO COLLECT SIGNATURES IN BELARUS'S PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN. The Central Election Commission on 19 June registered the campaign groups of 22 aspirants seeking to run in the 9 September presidential elections, Belarusian media reported. Last week, 25 people filed applications with the commission to register their campaign groups (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 19 June 2001). Each of the 22 aspirants, in order to be registered as a presidential candidate, must collect no less than 100,000 signatures in his/her support between 20 June and 21 July. JM

TWO FORMER BELARUSIAN INVESTIGATORS REPORTEDLY OBTAIN ASYLUM IN U.S. Belarusian human rights activist Aleh Volchak told journalists on 18 June that former investigators Dzmitry Petrushkevich and Aleh Sluchak have been granted political asylum in the U.S., Belapan reported. Last week, Petrushkevich and Sluchak accused top Belarusian officials of organizing a death squad and killing some 30 people, including Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar, opponents of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 12 June 2001). "We do know of Mr. Petrushkevich and Mr. Sluchak's revelations. We think that these statements give further urgency to the need to clear up the fate of the disappeared and to bring those responsible to justice," U.S. State Department spokesman Richard Boucher said on 19 June. Boucher did not comment on Petrushkevich's and Sluchak's whereabouts. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PROMISES TO IMPROVE BUSINESS CLIMATE. Leonid Kuchma promised on 19 June to promote radical tax reform, reduce inflation, and strengthen the banking system in order to improve the country's business climate, Interfax reported. Speaking to the Foreign Investment Advisory Council, Kuchma said the government's main priorities for improving the investment climate will also include macroeconomic stabilization, transparent privatization, and intensification of land reform. Kuchma invited the EU and Russia to take part in the privatization of Ukraine's gastransporting system. "Let us sit at a negotiation table as soon as tomorrow and start resolving this issue," Kuchma said, stressing that the privatization of Ukraine's gas pipelines should be a "trilateral process." JM

EU PRESIDENT URGES UKRAINE TO RESPECT DEMOCRATIC STANDARDS. Swedish Prime Minister Goeran Persson, who simultaneously presides over the EU, said in Kyiv on 20 June that Ukraine will have to guarantee press freedoms and other democratic standards if it wants closer ties with the West, AP reported. "We want to have growing cooperation and partnership with Ukraine," Persson noted, adding that the EU wants to stimulate its potential future members -- Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia -- to deepen cooperation with Ukraine. JM

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES 'STATUS LAW.' The parliament on 19 June passed by a sweeping majority of 92 percent the "Status Law" that will provide benefits to ethnic Hungarians in Ukraine, Romania, Yugoslavia, Croatia, Slovenia, and Slovakia. According to the law, which will go into effect on 1 January 2002, ethnic Hungarians will have the right to work in Hungary for three months each year, and will be given social, health, transportation, and education benefits. Persons who wish to receive those benefits need to apply for a certificate proving their Hungarian origin, which will be issued by a Hungarian authority and will be based on recommendations by ethnic Hungarian organizations in those countries. According to government officials, the law intends to prevent mass immigration by some 3 million ethnic Hungarians once Hungary joins the EU. Hungarian Foreign Minister Janos Martonyi said that, contrary to concerns expressed by Slovak and Romanian officials, the law will promote regional stability and cooperation, Hungarian media reported. MSZ

ROMANIA PROTESTS UKRAINIAN DRILLING IN BLACK SEA. The Foreign Ministry on 19 June protested against an announcement by Ukraine that it intends to start drilling in search of oil in the vicinity of Serpents' Island in the Black Sea, Romanian Radio reported. The ministry drew attention to the fact that, when signing the bilateral treaty between them in May 1997, both sides agreed to refrain from exploiting mineral resources in the disputed area around the island until the dispute is solved via negotiations. MS