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FIRE KILLS 34 IN UKRAINIAN COALMINE. A fire killed 34 Ukrainian coalminers in the eastern Ukrainian city of Ukrainsk near Donetsk on 7 July. According to "The Independent" on 8 July, the fire started before dawn around a conveyor belt some 570 meters underground where 107 miners were working. Even in the early stages of the blaze, officials quoted by the daily said there was little hope of finding the miners alive. As rescuers tried to bring victims at the mine to the surface, a government commission led by Deputy Prime Minister Oleh Dubyna headed to the Donetsk coal-mining region to investigate the fire. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma sent condolences to the families of those who died. In a separate incident, Reuters cited Ukrainian media as reporting that a fire broke out on the night of 6-7 July at a coalmine further west, near Krivih Rih, in which 60 men were rescued. Ukraine's Labor Safety Committee reported that 116 miners were killed in industrial accidents in Ukraine from January-June this year. Some 300 miners were killed in mining accidents last year, according to Reuters. RK

PISKUN CHOSEN TO BE UKRAINE'S NEW PROSECUTOR-GENERAL. President Leonid Kuchma on 6 July signed a decree appointing Svyatoslav Piskun as Ukraine's new prosecutor-general, Interfax reported. The Ukrainian parliament overwhelming approved Piskun's candidacy on 4 July with 347 votes in favor, Ukrainian media reported. In addition to the pro-presidential For a United Ukraine election bloc, which unanimously voted for the Kuchma-proposed candidate, Piskun was supported by 73 members of the Our Ukraine faction led by Viktor Yushchenko, 60 Communist Party members, and 10 independent deputies. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc was the only faction that voted against Piskun. Piskun is a former lieutenant-general of the Tax Police and had served as deputy head of the Tax Administration since May 2002. The post of prosecutor-general became vacant in April 2002 when Mykhaylo Potebenko (Communist Party) was elected to parliament. During his meeting with parliamentarians prior to the vote, Piskun promised to solve the murder journalist Heorhiy Gongadze "in six months" and vowed to stamp out corruption in the country. RK

UKRAINE REBUFFED AT COPENHAGEN EU SUMMIT... The European Union reiterated on 4 July at the European Union summit in Copenhagen that it welcomes Ukraine's interest in joining the EU, but said more reforms are needed before it can join, AP reported. "There is a need for adjustment in Ukraine in relation to the European Union," said Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark, which currently holds the six-month rotating EU Presidency. Javier Solana, the EU's chief of foreign and security policy, also took part in the meeting. Through an interpreter, Ukrainian President Kuchma told reporters that "by 2011, we want to be ready to meet the standards." Fogh Rasmussen said the EU also supports Ukraine's desire to enter the World Trade Organization. "It is of interest for both of us," he said. "The best way to combat poverty is to stimulate economic prosperity." RK

...GETS SUPPORT IN RIGA ON NATO. Meanwhile, at a meeting of prime ministers of NATO-aspirant countries held in Riga on 5-6 July (see "Latvia" below), "The Declaration of Riga" was adopted. According to the summit's website (, the declaration stated: "We [the "Vilnius 10"] are proud that our reforms and commitment to democracy may serve as a guide for other nations in Europe and beyond who are seeking a closer partnership with Euro-Atlantic institutions. We are particularly delighted to welcome Ukraine as a guest at this summit. We have been impressed by Ukraine's decision to build closer ties with European structures and we look forward to our close cooperation in the future to advance this commendable goal." RK

'VILNIUS 10' PREMIERS MEET IN LATVIA. The prime ministers of the countries in the "Vilnius 10" group, which is composed of the nine NATO aspirant countries plus Croatia, held a two-day summit meeting in Riga on 5-6 July, BNS reported. For the nine official candidates -- Albania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- it was their last meeting before the NATO summit in Prague in November at which many of then expect to receive invitations to join the alliance. U.S. President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Tony Blair sent videotaped greetings to the meeting in which they spoke favorably about NATO expansion in Prague -- although they did not specifically mention any countries. U.S. Senate Republican Leader Trent Lott stressed at the meeting that the question of NATO expansion is not "whether" but "when." Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski suggested a new association of countries combining the Vilnius 10 and the three Visegrad countries, Poland, Hungary, and Czech Republic, which have already gained NATO membership. Zbigniew Brzezinski, former national security adviser to U.S. President Jimmy Carter who attended the Riga summit, spoke on 6 July about the possibility for future NATO expansion that could include Ukraine, as well as the need for more cooperation with Russia. SG

HUNGARIAN GOVERNMENT TO OFFER CONCESSIONS IN AMENDED STATUS LAW. State Secretary Andras Barsony said during a visit to Slovakia on 3 July that the new Socialist-led Hungarian government is prepared to amend the contentious Status Law, with the result going to a parliamentary vote in September, Czech news service CTK reported from Bratislava the same day. He said Prime Minister Medgyessy's government shuns a piecemeal approach to foreign objections to the Status Law, adding that bilateral agreements are not enough. "The current Hungarian government is not interested in concluding individual special agreements, because partnerships with neighboring countries are just as important," the agency quoted Barsony as saying after a meeting with Slovak State Secretary Jaroslav Chlebo. Barsony said a joint commission of experts will work toward a mutually acceptable agreement over the summer, CTK reported, noting that such talks are already slated to take place with Ukraine and Romania. The Status Law, passed last summer, has been criticized by the European Union and the Council of Europe, in addition to neighboring Romania, Ukraine, and Slovakia. AH