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UKRAINE'S SECURITY CHIEF DENIES ALLEGATIONS OF ILLEGAL ARMS TRADE. Yevhen Marchuk, the head of Ukraine's National Security and Defense Council (RNBO), told ICTV television on 18 December that the recent series of reports in "Kievskii Telegraf" accusing him of illegal arms dealing is an act of provocation. According to the newspaper, Marchuk allegedly sold everything from small arms to tanks and jet aircraft to international buyers while heading Ukraine's Security Service from 1992-1995. The newspaper also alleged that Marchuk cooperated with Ukrainian citizen Leonid Minin, who is currently on trial in Italy on smuggling charges, in selling weapons stolen from Ukrainian army warehouses to underworld customers in Sierra Leone, Angola, Serbia, and Afghanistan. Marchuk told ICTV that the incriminating reports were disseminated by media companies controlled by oligarchic lawmaker Andriy Derkach, the son of former Security Service chief and Marchuk's rival Leonid Derkach. According to Marchuk, the Derkachs are now worried by an ongoing RNBO probe into corruption in strategic industries. JM

OUR UKRAINE BLOC DENIES YUSHCHENKO'S INVOLVEMENT IN TAPE SCANDAL. Our Ukraine, the election bloc led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko, has issued a statement to deny Yushchenko's involvement in the release last year of secret audio recordings implicating President Leonid Kuchma in the killing of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze and a number of other illegal activities, UNIAN reported on 19 December. The statement was made in response to the allusion made by President Kuchma at a news conference the previous day that Yushchenko might have been behind the tape scandal, as he was the only person who was in a position to benefit from Kuchma's resignation. "[If the president] had had a nervous breakdown and resigned, [then Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko would have become the acting president]. Taking into account the situation and resources then, who would have won [early presidential elections]?" Interfax quoted Kuchma as saying on 18 December. JM

CRIMEA TO HOLD LEGISLATIVE ELECTION ON 31 MARCH 2002. Crimea's Supreme Council decided on 19 December to hold an election for the peninsula's autonomous legislature on 31 March 2002, the same day as elections for the Ukrainian parliament, Interfax reported. The Supreme Council also approved 15 people nominated by Crimean speaker Leonid Hrach for the Election Commission of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea. The approval of the commission, like many other issues debated in the Crimean legislature, took place amid intense controversies and conflicts between lawmakers, UNIAN reported. Crimea's 100 legislators will be elected under a majority system stipulated by an election law dating back to 1998. JM