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UKRAINIAN DEFENSE MINISTER RESIGNS AMID CRITICISM. Defense Minister Volodymyr Shkidchenko tendered his resignation on 20 June at a government meeting devoted to the results of an inspection of military units in Crimea, Ukrainian news agencies reported, quoting the presidential press service. President Leonid Kuchma, who chaired the meeting, criticized the top brass for pursuing "slow [and] chaotic" army reform without a "clear program." "We have one of the largest armies in Europe," Kuchma said, "but at the same time it is one of the least efficient armies, as it turns out." JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SUBMITS NEW CONSTITUTIONAL-REFORM BILL. Following up on his public pledge the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 June 2003), President Kuchma submitted a modified version of his constitutional-reform bill to the Verkhovna Rada on 20 June, Ukrainian media reported. The new bill retains his previous proposal that the president, parliamentarians, and local deputies be elected for five-year terms in elections held in the same calendar year. Ukrainian media highlighted a provision in the bill stating that the Verkhovna Rada must approve a date for the first such elections within two months of the reforms' passage. According to some Ukrainian observers, the provision is a clear indication that Kuchma is seeking to outwit the opposition and prolong his term in power beyond 2004. While constitutional amendments require 300 votes for passage, the approval of a bill setting the date for the next presidential elections would require just 231 votes -- well within the reach of the pro-Kuchma parliamentary majority. JM
...AND THE ORTHODOX. Bosnian Presidency President Borislav Paravac, who is an ethnic Serb, told Pope John Paul II in Banja Luka on 22 June that the people of Bosnia are "building a community of free and equal peoples" despite their sufferings during the recent war, RFE/RL's South Slavic and Albanian Languages Service reported. But some 4,000 Bosnian Serb police were on duty during the pope's stay, having detained several prominent Serbian extremists shortly before his arrival. Police quickly took down posters reading "Pope go home." Deutsche Welle commented that "Vatican experts agree that this was one of the coolest welcomes" the pope has received anywhere. No officials of the Serbian Orthodox Church welcomed him, although he sent a message to Patriarch Pavle. Since the onset of his papacy in 1978, the Polish-born pontiff has stressed the reconciliation of eastern and western Christians as "two lungs breathing in the same body." In 1979, one of his first foreign trips as pope took him to Istanbul to meet Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios I. But except for the Romanian Orthodox Church, many of the Orthodox have regarded him with suspicion, giving him a chilly welcome on his visits in recent years to Greece and Ukraine. PM