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DEFENSE EFFORTS TO MERGE TRIALS OF YUKOS AND MENATEP HEADS STILL ALIVE. A Moscow district court decided on 19 May to delay the hearing of the case against Platon Lebedev, the head of Menatep, the financial arm of Yukos (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April and 14 May 2004) until the beginning of the trial of former Yukos CEO Mikhail Khodorkovskii on 28 May, "Izvestiya" and other Russian media reported. The question of merging the trials is expected to be decided on 28 May after the completion of preliminary hearings in Khodorkovskii's case. According to Lebedev's lawyer Yelena Lvova, the defense wants to merge the two trials because they relate to linked financial entities and because if the trials are combined, Khodorkovskii and Lebedev will be not compelled to testify against each other, Radio Mayak reported on 19 May. VY

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SKEPTICAL ABOUT IMMEDIATE BENEFITS OF SES. Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who arrived in Yalta on 23 May to attend a summit of the Single Economic Space (SES) comprising Belarus, Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine, told journalists that Belarus is unlikely to receive any additional advantages in relations with the other three countries at the current stage of the SES's development, Belapan reported. "[Belarus] has advanced further than the others in relations with our major partner, the Russian Federation, and the economic measures that we are taking now in the framework of the four are behind the level that exists between Belarus and Russia," Lukashenka added. Later the same day Lukashenka met for the first time in more than seven months with Russian President Vladimir Putin. "We have many positive changes but also many controversial issues that cannot be settled at once," Putin told journalists after the meeting. Apparently neither leader mentioned the unresolved issue of Gazprom's gas deliveries to Belarus. "Are you short of gas?" ITAR-TASS quoted Lukashenka as saying in response to a journalist's question about the gas controversy. "We have enough." JM

COMMUNIST LAWMAKER ACCUSES WESTERN FUNDS OF SPONSORING UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION. Communist Party legislator Valeriy Mishura told the Verkhovna Rada on 21 May that Western organizations and funds -- primarily in the United States and Germany -- finance nongovernmental organizations (NGO) in Ukraine in an effort to interfere in the country's political situation and help Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko win the upcoming presidential elections, UNIAN reported. "The president of Ukraine, his administration, [and] the Interior Ministry should inform the international community about the actual situation in the country and resolutely resist attempts by foreign embassies and organizations to meddle in our domestic affairs, dictate humiliating conditions, and influence decision making via organizations sponsored from abroad," Mishura said. Another Communist Party lawmaker, Yuriy Solomatin, proposed that the government ban all Ukrainian NGOs whose operations are supported by foreign grants. JM

UKRAINIAN JOURNALIST ARRESTED ON SUSPICION OF POSSESSING EXPLOSIVES. Journalist Kostyantyn Sydorenko, who monitored the controversial mayoral election in Mukacheve on 18 April (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 28 April 2004), has been arrested on suspicion of possessing explosives, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website ( reported on 22 May. Sydorenko was reportedly told to visit the Mukacheve police station to retrieve a video camera that was stolen from him a few days earlier. "However, on his way to the police station, policemen detained Sydorenko, knocking him down on to the road. Suddenly a package in which the policemen found, quite by chance, three explosive devices [that] appeared out of the blue beside Sydorenko," the website reported, quoting a press release by the press service of Our Ukraine's local headquarters in Mukacheve. Sydorenko has reportedly rejected the accusations, saying he was not carrying anything on his way to the police station. JM

EX-U.S. PRESIDENT BUSH MEETS WITH UKRAINIAN OFFICIALS, OPPOSITION LEADERS. Former U.S. President George Bush, who arrived in Ukraine on a private trip last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 May 2004), met on 21 May with President Leonid Kuchma, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, and three opposition leaders -- Viktor Yushchenko, Oleksandr Moroz, and Yuliya Tymoshenko, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. Bush reportedly said Ukraine seems "more confident [and] more dynamic" than when he visited it in 1991, several months before the breakup of the Soviet Union. Bush thanked Ukraine for sending a peacekeeping contingent to Iraq and urged Kyiv to ensure free and fair presidential elections this fall. Speaking to students of Taras Shevchenko National University in Kyiv, Bush denied allegations that in 1991 he called on Ukraine to remain in the Soviet Union. "I only called on the Ukrainian and the [USSR] authorities not to make mistakes and give the people an opportunity to choose how to decide on their future," ICTV Television quoted Bush as saying. JM