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...AS UKRAINE OFFERS TO MEDIATE. Speaking in Kyiv on 23 August, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma offered to mediate between Georgia and Russia, explaining that the deterioration in relations between those two countries has placed Kyiv in "an extremely difficult situation," Interfax and Caucasus Press reported. Kuchma said he did not have complete details of the most recent events in the Pankisi Gorge, but added that any actions against Chechen militants there should be "strictly coordinated." LF

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WANTS COUNTRY TO BE PARLIAMENTARY-PRESIDENTIAL REPUBLIC... In a televised address to the nation to mark the 11th anniversary of Ukraine's independence on 24 August, President Leonid Kuchma said the country needs to move to a different political system -- a parliamentary-presidential republic. Kuchma said he has already ordered that a working group be set up to prepare a draft of political reform, and appealed to all political forces, including the opposition, to take part in this task. According to Kuchma, Ukraine may achieve this systemic shift by amending its constitution and giving the right to form a government to a parliamentary majority. Kuchma called on the Verkhovna Rada to create such a majority in order to form a coalition cabinet "in the near future," without waiting for relevant constitutional changes. JM

...CALLS FOR PROPORTIONAL ELECTION SYSTEM... Kuchma said the country's shift to a parliamentary-presidential republic would require changes to election legislation, UNIAN reported. "In other words, we need a proportional election system, but of a European type," Kuchma said. The president also noted that Ukraine urgently needs a reform of territorial administration. "Shifting to a parliamentary-presidential model and strengthening the role of local self-governments is what we call our 'European choice,'" he added. Last year, Kuchma repeatedly vetoed bills proposing to elect all or a majority of Ukraine's parliamentarians under a party-list proportional system. JM

...AND MAKES HIMSELF 'PERSONALLY RESPONSIBLE' FOR FOUR SOCIAL ISSUES... Kuchma said that as of now he will be "personally responsible" for tackling four major social problems in the country: combating poverty, making health care accessible for everyone, reforming the pension system, and securing high-quality education for everybody irrespective of income, UNIAN reported. JM

...AS OPPOSITION REACTS WITH DISTRUST. Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko told UNIAN that Kuchma's announcement of political reform is a populist step intended to weaken the opposition's political demands ahead of protests planned for next month. Oleksandr Turchynov from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc said Kuchma's reformist proposals are "insincere" and made "out of fear" of the upcoming opposition protests. Turchynov added that Kuchma's address lacked the main message -- an announcement of his resignation. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko said Kuchma's proposal to form a coalition government coincides with Our Ukraine's postulates, but added that "we read the notion of coalition in a different way" than the president. "I think Ukraine does not need a government formed by political forces that will be artificially herded into a parliamentary coalition," Yushchenko added. JM

OUR UKRAINE REPORTEDLY AGREES TO PARTICIPATE IN OPPOSITION PROTESTS. Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz, Yuliya Tymoshenko, Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, and Our Ukraine leader Yushchenko met on 23 August to discuss details of the opposition protest actions planned for next month, UNIAN reported. Moroz told the agency that Yushchenko agreed to take part in the upcoming protests in September. Meanwhile, Yushchenko's spokeswoman Iryna Herashchenko told journalists that Yushchenko submitted a draft political agreement to Moroz, Tymoshenko, and Symonenko during the meeting. JM

KYIV MARKS INDEPENDENCE DAY WITH MILITARY PARADE. Some 4,000 servicemen took part in a parade on Kyiv's main thoroughfare, Khreshchatyk, to mark the 11th anniversary of Ukraine's independence on 24 August, UNIAN reported. Meanwhile, the Our Ukraine website cited a recent poll by the Razumkov Center for Economic and Political Studies, according to which only 32.4 percent of respondents consider Ukraine a "really independent country" 11 years after its declaration of independence, while 56.3 percent are of the opposite opinion. Asked if they would support Ukraine's independence in a referendum today, 48.8 percent of respondents said "yes" and 33.9 percent answered "no." JM

NEW CHLORINE LEAK AT SPOLANA PROMPTS CZECH POLICE INVESTIGATION... Czech police have launched an investigation into repeated chlorine leaks at the Spolana chemical factory in Neratovice in the wake of flooding, CTK and international agencies reported on 25 August. Interior Minister Stanislav Gross said on Czech television that several hundred kilograms of highly poisonous chlorine gas was released into the air on 23 August and that the plant's management has lost the government's trust. Gross said that, in breach of an earlier agreement, the management had not announced the leak. He said new managers from Spolana's state-owned parent company, petrochemical conglomerate Unipetrol, have taken over. Jan Papez, head of the committee in charge with assessing flood damages, was quoted on the website of the daily "Pravo" on 25 August as saying the situation "threatened a large number of lives" and was comparable to a "mini-Chornobyl." The management of Unipetrol later announced it has ended cooperation with Papez because it disagrees with his statements on the situation at Spolana. Reportedly there has been no loss of life, but the gas burned trees and crops in surrounding areas. MS