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HUMAN RIGHTS GROUPS CALL ON PUTIN, KUCHMA TO CANCEL MEETING WITH LUKASHENKA... The International Helsinki Federation, the Belarusian Helsinki Committee, the Moscow Helsinki Group, and the Ukrainian Committee Helsinki 90 have called on Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to revoke their 27 July visit to the "Slavic Bazaar" festival in Vitsebsk in Belarus, where they are to meet with Belarusian President Lukashenka, Belapan reported on 18 July. The groups said in a statement that the meeting will be viewed by Belarusian voters "as a direct intervention in the presidential race, in support of the incumbent president." The statement added that Belarus's state-controlled media have already utilized the planned meeting for propaganda purposes. JM
UKRAINE'S SOCIALIST PARTY TO ALLY WITH FOUR OTHER GROUPS FOR ELECTIONS. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz on 18 July said his party will make an election alliance with the All-Ukrainian Party of Working People, the Social Democratic Party, the Party for the Protection of Farmers' Interests, and the Greens of the 21st Century Party, Interfax reported. Moroz added that the five-party bloc will be launched after the official inauguration of a parliamentary election campaign. Moroz expects that the bloc will win no less than 52 seats in the future parliament. President Kuchma said the same day that he positively assesses the creation of election blocs in Ukraine, but added that their election programs are virtually the same. "Without drinking a bottle of vodka, it's impossible to see in what way those programs differ from each other," Kuchma noted. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DENIES CONSENTING TO CRIMEAN PREMIER'S OUSTER. Kuchma on 18 July said he has not spoken recently with Crimean parliamentary speaker Leonid Hrach about the dismissal of Crimean Premier Serhiy Kunitsyn, and has not made any decisions or given any instructions in that regard, Interfax reported. Kunitsyn was voted out of his post by the Crimean parliament earlier that day after Hrach said that Kuchma consented to Kunitsyn's ouster. Kuchma did not say whether he will approve Kunitsyn's dismissal. JM
RUSSIAN, UKRAINIAN SECURITY CHIEFS TO EXPAND TIES. Russian Security Council Secretary Vladimir Rushailo said on 18 July after his talks with his visiting Ukrainian counterpart Evhen Marchuk that the two officials plan to expand cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that they have already "practically solved the border issue and the Black Sea Fleet problem." Marchuk for his part said that Ukraine has "not always" fulfilled its obligations to Russia and that he will work to improve its track record in that regard. One example of this new rapprochement was the announcement by Russian agencies on 18 July that Putin will take part in the celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the independence of Ukraine at the end of August. VY
ORTHODOX CHURCH NOTES DIFFERENCES WITH PUTIN ON POPE. Father Vsevolod Chaplin, the official representative of the Moscow Patriarchate, told Interfax on 18 July that the church has taken notice of the discrepancy between Putin's generally positive assessment of Pope John Paul II's visit to Ukraine and its own view that the visit was harmful. "Naturally, the president as a state actor has the right to such a point of view, and the church respects it" but does not share it, Chaplin added. PG