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CANDIDATE RYBKIN RECONSIDERS BID. Presidential candidate and former State Duma Speaker Ivan Rybkin told Ekho Moskvy on 11 February that he intends to take a week off to decide whether to continue his bid for the presidency. The election, in which President Putin is widely expected to win a second term, will be held on 14 March. Asked about his recent mysterious five-day trip to Kyiv (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 February 2004), Rybkin said that he left Moscow suddenly and without warning his family and associates in order to avoid being followed. However, at the same time, he insisted that the special services were aware of his whereabouts at all times, since he was checked by Ukrainian border guards and customs officials. Writing in "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 February, political commentator Andrei Kolesnikov speculates that, based on the disjointed and odd interview Rybkin gave to Ekho Moskvy, perhaps Rybkin is suffering from some kind of psychological illness. In an interview with RFE/RL on 11 February, Democratic Union leader and Duma Deputy Valeria Novodvorskaya had a different theory about what had happened to Rybkin during the five days he was missing. "To change the position of someone is easy enough if they have no dissident past, no desire to die for their beliefs," she said. She noted that Rybkin does not have a reputation as a libertine, and judging from his gaunt countenance and illogical speech at the airport, it did not appear that he had just gotten back from a fun trip. "They scared the living daylights out of him," she concluded. JAC

NEWSPAPER AGAIN ALLEGES UKRAINIAN INVOLVEMENT IN SALE OF NUCLEAR TECHNOLOGY TO AL-QAEDA. The London-based Arabic-language daily "Al-Hayat" on 11 February repeated its suggestion of 8 February that Ukrainian nationals were involved in the purported sale of tactical nuclear weapons, or "suitcase bombs," to members or operatives of the Al-Qaeda terrorist network (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 February 2004). The daily quoted "reliable sources in Islamabad" that said an unspecified Ukrainian nuclear scientist visited Kandahar in 1998 and mediated in the deal. "Al-Hayat" said the same sources believe that U.S. intelligence agents "learned about the affair and were able to immediately track the deal all the way to Ukraine." The "Al-Hayat" sources added, "The matter, however, remained secret, and its details were not revealed." The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry dismissed the initial "Al-Hayat" report and suggested it might sue the paper for libel. JM

THOUSANDS PROTEST LATVIAN EDUCATION REFORMS. An estimated 8,000 people staged a rally in front of the president's residence in Riga on 11 February to protest Latvia's recently passed school reforms, BNS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2004). The measures will require minority schools to teach a larger share of their curriculums in the Latvian language. The protesters, which BNS described as mostly students from Russian-language schools in Riga, Daugavpils, and Jelgava, as well as students from Ukrainian and Jewish schools, subsequently marched to the city's central square. The protest action passed peacefully, although three 13-year-old students were reportedly detained for holding posters bearing Nazi symbols, which are banned in Latvia. The Russian State Duma on 11 February approved a resolution calling for the imposition of economic and other sanctions against Latvia over its passage of the reforms, and Russian lawmakers are expected to discuss the issue further next week. SG