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UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT IN STALEMATE OVER CONSTITUTIONAL REFORM. Speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn conceded on 13 January that the Verkhovna Rada is caught in an intractable "parliamentary crisis" as opposition deputies blockaded the rostrum to prevent a plenary session the same day, RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service reported. "We have an absolutely obvious parliamentary crisis," Lytvyn said. "What is taking place today in parliament is a tragedy for Ukraine." Three opposition caucuses -- Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc -- are demanding that Lytvyn call a repeat vote on the so-called Medvedchuk-Symonenko constitutional-reform bill, which was preliminarily approved on 24 December in a controversial show-of-hands vote after opposition deputies broke the electronic voting system the previous day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 December 2003). In particular, Our Ukraine, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc object to a clause stipulating the election of the president in 2006 by parliament instead of through direct elections. The opposition believes such a constitutional amendment should be subject to approval in a referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 January 2004). JM
UKRAINIAN POPULATION CONTINUES TO SHRINK. The State Statistics Committee reported on 13 January that there were 47.66 million people living in Ukraine on 1 December, which was 321,600 fewer than on 1 January 2003, Interfax reported. According to the last national census, held in December 2001, the country had 48.44 million residents. The previous census, which was held in the Ukrainian SSR in 1989, found that there were 51.45 million people living in Ukraine. JM
RUSSIAN EMBASSY IN CHISINAU DENIES WITHDRAWAL PROCESS HALTED BY TIRASPOL AUTHORITIES. The Russian Embassy in Chisinau on 13 January denied media reports that the separatist authorities in Tiraspol have again halted the process of evacuating Russian military equipment, Flux reported. A spokesman for the embassy said the withdrawal was merely "interrupted" during the Orthodox Christmas season, because authorization for the transition of train freights through Ukraine could not be obtained during that period. Separatist leader Igor Smirnov last month threatened to halt again the withdrawal process (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 December 2003). MS