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...ACCUSES ADJAR LEADER OF SEEKING TO RECRUIT MERCENARIES. President Saakashvili also told journalists on 24 March that he has information that Adjar State Council Chairman Aslan Abashidze is seeking to hire foreign mercenaries in Chechnya and Ukraine for use in the event of an armed standoff with the central Georgian government, Caucasus Press reported. Abashidze denied those allegations. In Kyiv, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry summoned Georgian Ambassador Grigol Katamadze on 25 March and demanded an explanation of Saakashvili's remarks, which it termed "inadmissible" in the light of Ukraine's efforts to help resolve the Abkhaz conflict, Caucasus Press reported. In a 25 March statement carried by Kavkaz-Tsentr and Chechen resistance forces spokesman Movladi Udugov likewise denied Saakashvili's "anti-Chechen" claim. Udugov alleged that the Russian leadership planned to invade Georgia in 2000 after subjugating Chechnya, and failed to do so only because Russian troops were fully occupied battling the Chechen resistance. The Georgians should therefore be grateful to the Chechens, Udugov reasoned. LF

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES FULLY PROPORTIONAL ELECTION BILL. The Verkhovna Rada voted 255 to four on 25 March to pass a bill prescribing parliamentary elections under a fully proportional party-list system, Ukrainian news media reported on 26 March. Other innovations in the parliamentary-election system include lowering the current 4 percent voting threshold for parliamentary representation to 3 percent, lengthening the election campaign from 90 to 120 days, increasing the amount of the deposit that a party must submit before an election from 255,000 ($48,000) to 512,500 Ukrainian hryvnyas, and mandating the use of transparent ballot boxes. If signed by the president, the bill will take effect on 1 October 2005. The Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko bloc caucuses did not participate in the vote. The adoption of a proportional election law is a sine qua non for Socialist Party and Communist Party support for the constitutional reforms that are being pushed by the pro-presidential camp in Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 23 March 2004). JM

U.S. OFFICIAL URGES UKRAINE TO HOLD DEMOCRATIC PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION. U.S. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage urged Ukrainian leaders in Kyiv on 25 March to ensure a democratic transfer of power in the presidential election due on 31 October, Ukrainian and foreign news agencies reported. Armitage met with President Leonid Kuchma, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, and Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko. "We would like to get back to a situation where we can have high-level dialogue again, but in order to do so we have to be convinced that there are free, fair, open, and democratic elections that are conducted free of intimidation," Armitage said in Kyiv. "I would like to pay tribute to the Ukrainian president for his brave decision regarding Iraq and thank him for great bravery of those Ukrainian servicemen who are working in Iraq," Interfax quoted Armitage as saying before his meeting with President Kuchma. JM