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MEETING MARKS PROGRESS ON CIS SINGLE ECONOMIC SPACE. Members of the high-level working group for the CIS Single Economic Space (SES) announced in Astana on 3 April that the agreements necessary for the new body will be ready by the end of the year, Khabar news agency reported the same day. The announcement came after Kazakh President Nazarbaev met with the heads of delegations from Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine, the four countries that will make up the proposed economic space. The delegation heads also announced that over the next 1 1/2 months their countries' respective parliaments will ratify the Yalta agreements that provide the legal basis for the creation of the SES. The presidents of Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine decided at a summit in Yalta in September to form the SES. A significant number of legislative hurdles remain before the SES can become a reality. DK

'CIVIC FORUM' IN KYIV ENDORSES CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS... More than 3,000 representatives of Ukrainian civic organizations gathered for an "all-Ukrainian civic forum" in Kyiv on 2 April to express support for the government-backed constitutional reforms being debated in the Ukrainian legislature, Interfax and UNIAN reported. Participants in the forum called on Ukrainian lawmakers to pass as soon as possible the constitutional-reform bill that was preliminarily approved in December. "We are sure that [the constitutional reform] will to a large extent boost the prospects of the socioeconomic development of our state, the establishment of civic society, the observance of human rights, and Ukraine's role and place in the European community," the forum said in a special resolution. The forum was formally organized by the Union of Ukrainian Lawyers. JM

...AS OPPOSITION LAWMAKERS QUESTION FORUM'S MOTIVES. "[Such forums] are convened by the authorities, therefore they are not representative and do not reflect the interests of the citizens," UNIAN quoted lawmaker Ivan Zayets of the opposition Our Ukraine as saying on 1 April. "The authorities are following a tested path to create the impression that their initiatives are supported by the people." The same day, Our Ukraine lawmaker Mykola Tomenko quoted a March poll showing that just 44 percent of Ukrainians are familiar with the constitutional-reform bill currently under debate in the legislature. According to the same poll, 58 percent of Ukrainians believe constitutional reforms should be carried out by the president who emerges from this year's election. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT PUSHES FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REFORMS... President Leonid Kuchma told a forum debating the ongoing constitutional reforms in Kyiv on 2 April that the amendments are aimed at implementing a "radical dismantling of the nomenklatura [and] administrative-and-command-system regime" in Ukraine, Ukrainian media reported. Kuchma praised the proposed reforms by saying that they will strengthen the economy and separate "the authorities and business as much as possible." Kuchma criticized opposition to the reforms as "horrifyingly irrational and irresponsible," saying in apparent allusion to Viktor Yushchenko's Our Ukraine and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc that some opposition groups are centered around "offended former prime ministers, deputy prime ministers, ministers, and their business entourage." Kuchma pledged to "end without any hesitation" all possible attempts to destabilize the situation in Ukraine in connection with the planned constitutional amendments. JM

...AND SIGNS BILL ON PROPORTIONAL PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS. President Kuchma also told the constitutional-reform forum on 2 April that he has signed into law a bill mandating a fully proportional system of parliamentary elections, Ukrainian media reported. The adoption of this bill was a sine qua non for the Communist Party and the Socialist Party to support the constitutional-reform bill along with the pro-government forces. "I signed the law on proportional elections today," Kuchma said. "But parliamentary deputies have plenty of time to improve this law before the 2006 election campaign." Kuchma said he previously opposed the idea of proportional elections, but added that the situation has changed since the time when Ukraine "did not really have any parties except the one we had inherited from the old times." JM