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BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT HINTS AT PAY RAISE FOR CIVIL SERVANTS. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said on 21 January that Belarusian civil servants should have "normal pay, which should not be miserable," Belapan reported, quoting the presidential press service. Lukashenka said Belarusian bureaucrats are currently paid one-tenth or less of what their Russian or Ukrainian counterparts make. This is being done, the president added, despite the fact that Belarus "has been developing at the highest pace among the former Soviet Union countries." Lukashenka said Belarusian officials are paid the equivalent of $150 per month on the average. He said low salaries have recently prompted many administrators to leave for the private sector. JM

OUR UKRAINE LEADER DISCUSSES POLITICAL REFORM WITH PRESIDENT. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma met with Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko on 21 January to discuss the ongoing constitutional reform in the country, Interfax reported. According to the presidential press service, the meeting took place at opposition leader Yushchenko's initiative. "The meeting proceeded in a constructive spirit," the Our Ukraine press service quoted Yushchenko as saying. "The next presidential election will be held in October 2004. It will be direct and nationwide. The president said this during our meeting." Yushchenko also said he thinks that Kuchma will not run for a third term in 2004. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT BLASTS COUNCIL OF EUROPE FOR 'INTERFERENCE.' President Kuchma told Interfax that he rejects Yushchenko's initiative to create a special commission in Ukraine to assist the Monitoring Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) in studying the country's hotly debated constitutional reform, the agency reported on 22 January. Two PACE monitors recently visited Ukraine, warning Kyiv against pushing the constitutional reform at any cost and calling for a compromise between the pro-presidential forces and the opposition (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 January 2004). "We don't need sermons on the benefits of democracy," Kuchma said. "We are grateful for advice from more experienced democracies; however, we also know very well the difference between advice and interference in our internal affairs. I am not so sure that those who visit us with mandates from the Council of Europe know the difference between the two." JM

FORMER LOCAL UKRAINIAN OFFICIALS REPORTEDLY SEEKING POLITICAL ASYLUM IN U.S.. Two former deputy mayors of the town of Mukachevo in Transcarpathian Oblast are reportedly complaining of political persecution and asking U.S. authorities to give them political asylum, Interfax reported on 21 January. According to the Our Ukraine press service, Zoltan Lendel and Oleksandr Halay handed their requests for asylum, addressed to U.S. President George W. Bush, to a U.S. Embassy officer in Mukachevo on 21 January. The town is currently witnessing a standoff between supporters of Our Ukraine and the Social Democratic Party-united (SDPU-o) over a June local election (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 13 January 2004). Our Ukraine candidate Vasyl Petyovka won a disputed mayoral election in Mukachevo in June. His closest rival, Ernest Nuser, who was supported by the SDPU-o, demanded that the ballot be annulled. President Kuchma appointed Myroslav Opachko acting mayor in Mukachevo in December. The town's electoral commission has scheduled a new vote for 18 April. JM

MINISTER PRESENTS POLAND'S 2004 FOREIGN-POLICY PRIORITIES. Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told the Sejm on 21 January that Poland's foreign policy in 2004 will be determined by the country's membership of the European Union and military involvement in the stabilization process in Iraq, PAP reported. Speaking about efforts to agree on an EU constitution, Cimoszewicz said Poland favors inclusion of a reference to Christian traditions in the preamble, introducing a group model for the EU Presidency, elimination of elements that would weaken the role of NATO, and preservation of the Treaty of Nice's voting system within the European Council. Cimoszewicz said Poland expects that its alliance with the United States will favor development of mutual economic cooperation and U.S. investment into Poland. He assured lawmakers that Poland will continue to advocate Ukraine's integration with NATO and the EU. Cimoszewicz stressed that in its policy vis-a-vis Belarus, Poland will strive to consolidate Belarus's sovereignty and position in international relations and support structures of civil society in that country. JM