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MELNYCHENKO TO BE ARRESTED IF HE APPEARS IN UKRAINE. Deputy Prosecutor-General Oleksiy Bahanets said on 24 January that former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko will be arrested if he returns to Ukraine from his asylum in the U.S. to participate in the parliamentary election campaign, Interfax reported. Melnychenko was proposed as a candidate on the Socialist Party's election list. Bahanets noted that prosecutors are conducting a criminal investigation against Melnychenko, who is charged with abusing his office when he served as President Leonid Kuchma's security officer, and with divulging state secrets. Bahanets added that if Melnychenko is elected to the Verkhovna Rada, the Prosecutor-General's Office will appeal to the parliament to strip him of his legislative immunity. JM

IRAQ OPENS EMBASSY IN UKRAINE. An Iraqi embassy was opened in Kyiv on 24 January in response to the opening of the Ukrainian Embassy in Baghdad last year, Ukrainian media reported. According to 1+1 Television, the opening ceremony was ignored by prominent Ukrainian politicians, whereas the Ukrainian government was represented by Foreign Ministry deputy secretary Volodymyr Yelchenko. Yelchenko said the current Ukrainian-Iraqi cooperation does not contradict international laws and U.N. sanctions imposed for Iraq's 1990 invasion of Kuwait. Ukraine and Iraq have not yet exchanged ambassadors. JM

UKRAINE TO DISCUSS TRADE SANCTIONS WITH U.S. OFFICIALS. Deputy Prime Minister Vasyl Rohovyy and Finance Minister Ihor Yushko are to hold consultations on the U.S. trade sanctions against Ukraine with U.S. officials during the World Economic Forum in New York next week, AP reported on 24 January. Foreign Minister Anatoliy Zlenko told Interfax the same day that Kyiv is currently "clarifying" the reaction of the U.S. side to Ukraine's law against CD piracy that was passed earlier this month. The U.S. trade sanctions over what the U.S. sees as Ukraine's inadequate measures to curb CD piracy took effect earlier this week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 January 2002). JM

UKRAINE POSTS 34 PERCENT RISE IN FARM PRODUCE EXPORTS IN 2001. Agriculture Ministry official Serhiy Ryzhuk told journalists on 24 January that Ukraine exported $1.8 billion worth of farm produce in 2001, a 34 percent rise compared to 2000. Ryzhuk added that farm produce accounted for 12 percent of Ukraine's total exports last year. JM

MOODY'S RAISES RATING OF UKRAINE'S FINANCIAL CREDIBILITY. The rating agency Moody's on 24 January upgraded Ukraine's foreign currency ceiling for bonds and bank deposits, citing a sharp improvement in the country's macroeconomic indicators over the past two years, the "Financial Times" reported. Moody's raised the country's rating for bonds by two notches from Caa1 to B2 and the ceiling for bank deposits by one notch from Caa1 to B3. The move reflects the country's strong exports, tighter budgetary policies, reduction in some arrears, and growth in foreign exchange reserves. JM

POLISH PARLIAMENT FAILS TO ADDRESS LIFTING LEPPER'S IMMUNITY... The Sejm on 24 January failed to discuss a motion to strip former deputy speaker Andrzej Lepper of his parliamentary immunity because of the "indisposition" of deputy Witold Firak from the Democratic Left Alliance, who was to be the reporter of the motion, Polish media reported. "I got the impression that he [Firak] had abused alcohol," Sejm speaker Marek Borowski told Polish Television after he went to Firak's hotel room to investigate what happened. Earlier the same day, lawmakers from Lepper's Self-Defense impeded the discussion on Lepper's immunity by blocking the parliamentary rostrum. The Sejm is expected to vote on Lepper on 25 January. Prosecutor-General Barbara Piwnik requested that the Sejm lift Lepper's immunity for his public slandering of five prominent politicians, including Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz and Defense Minister Jerzy Szmajdzinski (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 4 and 11 December 2001). JM

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MEETS OUTGOING RUSSIAN TRANSDNIESTER COMMANDER. On 24 January, President Voronin told the outgoing commander of the Russian contingent in the Transdniester, General Valerii Yevnevich, that the separatists' attempt to prevent the evacuation of the Russian arsenal (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 January 2002) was "a gross and inadmissible interference" that can lead to "serious consequences not only for Russia, but for all of Central Europe," RFE/RL's Chisinau bureau reported. Voronin also said he "does not rule out" the participation of Transdniester officials in the envisaged joint customs control checkpoints on the border with Ukraine, "provided that Moldovan single customs space is respected and that foreign observers participate as well." He reiterated that negotiations with the separatists "can only be resumed at expert level." MS

Moldova's Communist government on 22 January temporarily suspended the activity of the country's main opposition party for inciting public demonstrations protesting official measures to boost the status of the Russian language.

Moldovan Justice Minister Ion Morei said the decision to hand down a one-month suspension on the activities of the Popular Christian Democratic Party (PPCD) was made because the protests were called illegally.

Under the suspension, the PPCD cannot access its bank accounts or publish newspapers, nor can it organize street protests. Morei also warned that if the antigovernment demonstrations -- which have been held daily in the capital Chisinau for the past two weeks -- continue, the party may be permanently banned.

In addition, Morei said on 23 January that "every protest that is organized and takes place in a manner violating the law on public meetings will result in the verification of the political forces involved, and those parties which violate the law or their own regulations will be suspended."

The PPCD-organized demonstrations began on 9 January to protest what the party is calling the "re-Russification of Moldova" -- a trend they say is illustrated by the government's decision to make Russianlanguage classes compulsory in the country's schools as of this year.

The measure has stirred protest in Moldova's pro-Romanian circles, with critics accusing the government of Communist President Vladimir Voronin of trying to bring Moldova back into Russia's sphere of influence.

Moldova was part of Romania before World War II, and some 65 percent of its 4.5 million citizens speak what is locally called Moldovan, but is virtually identical to Romanian. Russian-speakers are mainly concentrated in larger cities and in Moldova's breakaway Transdniester region near the border with Ukraine.

Moldova is Europe's poorest country, with an average monthly salary of just $30. Voronin brought in the country's first post-Soviet Communist government last year on pledges to bring Moldova closer to Russia and restore living standards to Soviet-era levels.

Communists currently control more than two-thirds of the Moldovan parliament's 101 seats, while the pro-Romanian PPCD has only 11 seats. But despite its limited leverage in parliament, the PPCD has vowed to mobilize the public in fighting efforts by Voronin's government to reRussify the country.

PPCD leaders say they are not intimidated by the Communists' decision and will continue the demonstrations. PPCD Deputy Chairman Vlad Cubreacov told protesters on 23 January that despite the one-month suspension, the party still feels free to express its opinions openly. "Our actions and our demands are based within a legal framework," he said. "What we are asking for is absolutely legitimate. Our action is a European one, and will always be based on the same [European] principles."

The party's one-month suspension has sparked harsh criticism abroad, with international bodies and neighboring Romania accusing Moldova's Communist leadership of openly violating democratic principles.

OSCE Parliamentary Assembly President Adrian Severin, speaking on 23 January at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg, said: "We have acknowledged with great concern the deterioration of the political dialogue in Moldova, as well as the everincreasing number of measures taken by the country's leadership that might decouple the country from European value structures and institutions. Democracy does not mean the right of the majority to rule according to its tastes, but the obligation to pursue a political dialogue that could integrate the minority's opinions and aspirations with the majority's programs."

The European People's Party, which groups European Christian Democrats and their allies and holds a third of the European Parliament's mandates, has also expressed its concern regarding the suspension.

PPCD Deputy Chairman Cubreacov said on 23 January that European People's Party President Wilfried Martens warned in an open letter that the suspension of the Moldovan opposition party is an "antidemocratic act" and that Moldova is becoming a "European pariah" and "a second Belarus."

Romania leveled sharp criticism of its own. Romanian President Ion Iliescu and Prime Minister Adrian Nastase both said that by suspending Moldova's main opposition party, the Communist authorities are "skidding away" from European democratic values and violating human rights. Nastase, using unusually harsh words, added that Moldova's Communist rulers are engaging in what he called "totalitarian behavior."

The Romanian delegation at the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly submitted a resolution on 23 January calling on Moldovan authorities to cancel their decision to make Russian a mandatory subject in the country's schools.

Meanwhile, Severin the same day attempted to cool down the dispute, saying: "I call on all parties concerned [in Moldova] to have a reasonable attitude that should demonstrate, at the same time, respect and understanding for all communities' aspirations to preserve their identity, as well as the freedom of all citizens to make their cultural choice and to determine their own future within a pluralistic, free, and open society."

But neither side seems prepared to make concessions. Communist education officials announced on 24 January that more than 90 percent of Moldova's schools have already made Russian a mandatory subject. Most of the remaining 10 percent are schools in Chisinau.

Meanwhile, the protests continue in the capital, and opposition officials say almost 60,000 people have already signed a petition against obligatory Russian-language study.

In the latest sign of growing antagonism between the PPCD and the Communists, PPCD Deputy Chairman Cubreacov was banned on 24 January from addressing the parliament to read out a question addressed to PPCD Chairman Iurie Rusu about Justice Minister Morei's alleged implication in several assassinations.

Communist speaker Eugenia Ostapciuc refused to let Cubreacov take the floor, telling him to "get out and read it to the protest demonstrators."