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PROSECUTOR INVESTIGATING RYBKIN CASE. The Prosecutor-General's Office has launched a criminal investigation into presidential candidate Ivan Rybkin's claim that he was drugged and held against his will in Kyiv earlier this month, Russian media reported on 20 February (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 17 February 2004). Rybkin's campaign manager, Ksenia Ponomareva, told Interfax that she was questioned on 20 February by prosecutors for four hours in connection with the case. Speaking from London, Rybkin told Interfax that he told investigators that he would be happy to talk to them in London. Ponomareva said earlier that she thinks the Central Election Commission (TsIK) might try to exclude Rybkin from the ballot "through the courts," "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 20 February. JAC

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DENIES HE ORDERED SPYING ON OPPOSITION. German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder promised Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Berlin on 20 February that the German government will support Ukraine's efforts to be recognized by the EU as a market economy, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Kuchma repeated his former pledge that he will not run in this year's presidential election or appoint a successor. "I'm not a tsar like they had in the Russian Empire, and I am not handing my authority over to a successor," he told journalists. Kuchma denied accusations by former Ukrainian intelligence officer Valeriy Kravchenko that he ordered Ukraine's special services to spy on Ukrainian opposition activists abroad (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 February 2004). Kuchma said his country does not need to spy on opposition figures abroad because anything they say can be read in the press, dpa reported. JM

UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LEADER CALLS ON EU TO ASSIST IN HOLDING FAIR ELECTIONS. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko on 21 February appealed to the European Union to render Ukraine assistance in conducting transparent and honest presidential elections in 2004, Interfax reported. "[Ukraine's ruling] regime is afraid of only one thing -- the West's reaction to what is taking place in the country," Yushchenko said at the international "Ukraine in Europe and the World" conference in Kyiv. "[The regime] does not react to anything else. There is no freedom any longer, Radio Liberty is being closed, the key opposition channels have already been closed," Yushchenko noted, adding that constitutional reform in Ukraine was initiated with the single purpose of allowing the current authorities to remain in power. JM

THOUSANDS PROTEST ALLEGED TAX INTIMIDATION IN UKRAINIAN CITY. The regional office of the State Tax Administration in Ternopil, western Ukraine, was picketed by 10,000 people protesting what they say is "tax repression" against businesses associated with lawmakers from the Our Ukraine opposition bloc, UNIAN reported, quoting the press service of the Ukrainian Popular Party, a component of Our Ukraine. The rally reportedly demanded that "fabricated criminal cases" against Ternopil-based businesses associated with Popular Party parliamentarians Yaroslav Dzhodzhyk and Oleh Humenyuk be closed and that a team of tax officers, who were dispatched to Ternopil from Kyiv, be recalled. JM

TIRASPOL REJECTS NEW PLAN FOR MOLDOVA'S FEDERALIZATION... The official separatist Olivia-Press agency said in a 20 February commentary that the plan for federalization worked out by the three mediators of the Transdniester conflict (Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE) at their 26-27 January meeting in Sofia does not take the region's interests into account, Flux reported. The agency said the plan is "inferior" to the Russian plan commonly known as "the Kozak memorandum." It said that unlike the memorandum, the new plan does not grant Transdniester the status of a state entity, the separatist region instead being referred to as a "federation subject." The new plan, Olivia-Press noted, makes no mention of separate state symbols for Transdniester or of the status of the Russian language in the envisaged federation. Tiraspol also objects to the fact that the mediators' plan includes a reference to an international peacekeeping contingent and takes this to mean that the mediators intend to accept NATO Secretary-General Jaap de Hoop Scheffer's proposal for a peacekeeping mission under the aegis of the OSCE. Meanwhile, Transdniester Supreme Soviet Chairman Grigorii Marakutsa told journalists in Moscow on 21 February that Russian forces must remain in Transdniester until the conflict is resolved, ITAR-TASS reported. MS