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UKRAINIAN PENSIONERS DEMAND PENSION HIKES. Some 1,000 mostly elderly people gathered outside the Verkhovna Rada building on 13 April for a rally organized by the Communist Party to demand higher pensions, UNIAN reported. The demonstrators also want the government to pull out the Ukrainian military contingent from Iraq and protested Ukraine's announced intention to join NATO. Meanwhile, the legislature was hearing a report by Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet on the situation of pensioners in Ukraine. Pension Fund head Borys Zaychuk told lawmakers that the average pension in Ukraine is currently 185 hryvnyas ($35), up from 135 hryvnyas in 2003. JM
UKRAINIAN JOURNALIST COMPLAINS OF BEATING IN COURTROOM. Journalist Volodymyr Boyko has claimed that he was beaten by two police officers in a courtroom in Donetsk during the hearing of a case against Mykhaylo Haladzhi, head of the Kyiv-based "Svoboda" newspaper's local office, Interfax reported. According to Boyko, the judge ordered him to leave the courtroom but he refused to do so, arguing that the trial was open and he was performing his journalistic duties by covering the trial for "Svoboda." The policemen allegedly manhandled Boyko, inflicting numerous injuries on him. JM
FIVE UKRAINIANS KIDNAPPED, RELEASED IN IRAQ. Unidentified Iraqi militants on 12 April kidnapped eight employees of the Russian company Interenergoservis in Baghdad, including five Ukrainian citizens, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 13 April, quoting the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry. The eight were released on 13 April, international media reported. Lieutenant General Valeriy Frolov, Ukraine's Land Forces deputy commander, told journalists that the captured Ukrainians had no relation whatsoever to the 1,600-strong Ukrainian military contingent in Iraq. JM
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT PREPARED TO MOVE TROOPS TO SAFER PLACE IN IRAQ... Georgi Parvanov and the chief of the general staff, General Nikola Kolev, told relatives of soldiers stationed in Karbala, Iraq, that preparations are under way to move the Bulgarian contingent to a safer location inside Iraq if the situation escalates in Karbala, "Sega" reported. About 40 relatives of soldiers presented more than 500 signatures demanding the withdrawal of Bulgarian troops from Iraq (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 and 9 April 2004). Some of the relatives demanded that Bulgaria's political leadership follow the example of Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and visit the troops in Iraq to raise the soldiers' motivation. In related news, a commentator for "The New York Times" of 11 April criticized the quality of the Bulgarian and Ukrainian coalition troops. "It is hard to accept the deaths of young men and women when all the world's other military powers, save Britain, have chosen to sit this one out. The ill-prepared troops who form the contributions of places like Ukraine and Bulgaria seem to need protection themselves," the commentator said. UB