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TENSIONS MOUNT IN CRIMEA OVER BAN ON HRACH'S ELECTION BID... Addressing a crowd of more than 1,000 supporters in Simferopol on 27 February, Crimean speaker and local Communist Party leader Leonid Hrach suggested that he will appeal to Crimean residents to boycott the 31 March legislative election if he is not reinstated as a candidate for a seat in the Crimean legislature, Interfax reported. "The election in Crimea will take place only if Hrach and his bloc participate in it as candidates," he said. Hrach was banned from running by a court decision (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 February 2002). Hrach did not rule out the possibility of holding a referendum in Crimea to accede to the Russian Federation. "If Kiev and its vassals continue what they are doing by bringing unprecedented political and legal pressure to bear on us, we will reserve the right, in particular, to speak of a referendum," Hrach said. Moreover, Hrach announced that he intends to run in the presidential election in 2004. "Let them fear me," he told the rally in Simferopol. JM

..WHILE RUSSIAN POLITICIANS APPEAL TO KUCHMA TO 'RESTORE JUSTICE'... A group of prominent Russian politicians -- Sergei Shoigu, Yurii Luzhkov, Gennadii Zyuganov, Boris Nemtsov, and Gennadii Raikov -- have appealed to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to "restore justice" with regard to Hrach by giving him the opportunity to take part in the upcoming election, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 February. "The removal from the electoral campaign under invented pretexts of Leonid Hrach, the chairman of the Supreme Council of the Republic [of Crimea], is evidence of the activation of the forces that intend to undermine the relations between Ukraine and Russia," the agency quoted from the appeal. UNIAN quoted presidential administration chief Volodymyr Lytvyn as saying that statements of "some Russian politicians" regarding the ban on Hrach's election bid "are coming close to interference in Ukraine's internal affairs." JM

..AND HRACH'S OPPONENTS COMPLAIN OF HIS 'REVENGE.' Transparent Government Civic Committee head Andriy Senchenko on 27 February said the decision of the Election Commission of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea to cancel the registration of 30 candidates from his group and the Kunitsyn Team (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 February 2002) is Hrach's "revenge" for the court decision annulling his election bid, UNIAN reported. Former Crimean Premier Serhiy Kunitsyn, who leads the election bloc bearing his name, expressed a similar view by saying that Crimea's Election Commission is being "controlled" by Hrach. "What is going on in Crimea is an attempt to exert pressure on and to blackmail the Ukrainian political authorities. Can you imagine a governor banished from the race somewhere in Russia threatening with a referendum to join Ukraine or some other country?" New Channel Television quoted Kunitsyn as saying. JM

EIGHT UKRAINIAN PARTIES TO WIN PARLIAMENTARY SEATS, ACCORDING TO POLL OF 30,000. A poll conducted by the Center of Political Analysis and Consulting (associated with the "Politychna dumka" magazine) from 5-22 February among 30,000 voters in one-third of Ukraine's election districts found that eight parties and blocs would be able to overcome the 4 percent voting threshold to qualify for parliamentary representation, Interfax reported on 27 February. If the elections had been held at the time the poll was taken, Our Ukraine would have obtained 16.3 percent of the vote, the Communist Party 13.7 percent, the Yuliya Tymoshenko bloc 7.7 percent, the Greens 5.1 percent, Women for the Future 4.4 percent, the Socialist Party 4.3 percent, the Social Democratic Party (United) 4.2 percent, and For a United Ukraine 3.6 percent. The report did not cite the margin of error in the poll. JM

ROMANIAN PREMIER DENIES ANY INTENTION TO INTERFERE IN MOLDOVA... Premier Nastase said in The Hague on 27 February that Romania "never intended to interfere in Moldova's internal problems," Romanian radio and Flux reported. He reiterated that Bucharest does not want to "create the impression that Romanian and Russian interests confront each other in Chisinau." The Romanian reaction, Nastase explained, "has not been against the Russian language, but against certain tendencies to reduce the significance and importance of the Romanian language" in Moldova. Nastase added that he does not rule out that "some [Russian] radical groups" in Moldova are attempting to change the country's "identity," and create for it "a new role" in the "buffer zone" between Russia and the rest of Europe that Moldova shares with Belarus and Ukraine. MS