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ukraine-related news stories from RFE

AZERBAIJANI DEFENSE MINISTER DENIES BUYING KOLCHUGA RADAR FROM UKRAINE. Azerbaijan's Defense Ministry issued a statement on 5 February denying that Baku purchased one or more Kolchuga air-defense systems from Ukraine and sold them to Iraq, Turan reported on 6 February, quoting the independent Russian-language daily "Ekho." Speaking at a press conference in Kyiv on 4 February, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said that prior to the collapse of the USSR, Ukraine produced 76 Kolchugas, some of which were provided to Germany, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Belarus, and the Russian Federation, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website reported. LF

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR END TO FREE ECONOMIC ZONES. President Leonid Kuchma said at a meeting with the State Customs Service leadership on 5 February that "it is necessary to put an end to the [free economic] zones [and] liquidate them completely," UNIAN reported. "[These zones] have become semi-criminal zones, and this refers not only to the Donetsk zone," Kuchma noted in a reference to the eastern coal-mining center that is home to some of the country's mightiest oligarchs. "You pull the meat that Europe doesn't want to eat into these zones and sell it there without [paying] taxes," the president said, singling out customs officers, law enforcement officers, and the Ukrainian Security Service (SBU). Ukraine's 11 free economic zones, which offer tax and customs benefits, have failed to attract foreign investors or boost economic development, Kuchma said. The closure of free economic zones in Ukraine is among the International Monetary Fund's demands on the country. JM

UKRAINE'S MINIMUM-WAGE HIKE WILL REQUIRE ADDITIONAL $2 BILLION. Parliamentary Budget Committee head Petro Poroshenko told journalists on 5 February that the country needs to find an additional 10.6 billion hryvnyas ($2 billion) if it wants to comply with an increase in the minimum wage that was passed by the Verkhovna Rada in December, UNIAN reported. According to that law, the minimum monthly wage should equal 185 hryvnyas in January-June and 237 hryvnyas in the second half of 2003. Poroshenko said the 2003 budget assumed a minimum wage of 165 hryvnyas throughout the year. He added that the Budget Committee will have to draft a "new budget" for 2003 if parliament fails to find a legislative solution. JM