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OSCE OFFICIAL CRITICIZES DETERIORATION OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN BELARUS... Uta Zapf, the chairwoman of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly's Working Group on Belarus, said on 23 June that the state of democracy and human rights in Belarus has further deteriorated, Belapan reported. Zapf condemned the persecution of nongovernmental organizations and the independent media, particularly the recent expulsion of Ukrainian journalist Mikhail Padalyak, which she said has "contributed to a climate of fear and self-censorship" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004). Zapf also characterized as political propaganda two programs recently aired on Belarusian Television, "The Road to Nowhere" and "Political Pedophilia," which are critical of the opposition in Belarus. She added that there are reports that the station plans to broadcast a series of 20 similar programs. Zapf urged Belarusian authorities to release opposition politician Mikhail Marynich, whom she said was detained "on politically motivated grounds," and begin an independent investigation into the disappearances of four prominent Belarusians. AM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES CONSTITUTIONAL-REFORM BILL. The Verkhovna Rada voted 275-5 on 23 June to pass bill No. 4180, containing amendments to the constitution prepared by the parliamentary constitutional committee, Interfax reported. The opposition Our Ukraine and Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc parliamentary caucuses the same day blocked the rostrum and did not take part in the voting. The opposition considers bill No. 4180 to be the same piece of legislation as bill No. 4105, which is intended to shift presidential powers to the parliament and premier. The latter bill was rejected by the Verkhovna Rada in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 April 2004). Bill No. 4180 will now head to the Constitutional Court for consideration and will require 300 votes for approval upon its return to the parliamentary agenda in the fall. AM

CPJ CALLS FOR INVESTIGATION INTO KUCHMA'S POSSIBLE ROLE IN KILLING. The New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has urged the Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office to investigate recently published allegations that President Leonid Kuchma was involved in the slaying of Ukrainian journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 23 June. The allegations were made in an article published on 19 June by the British daily "The Independent" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 June 2004). "We urge the prosecution to pursue every lead in the case and to investigate fully allegations involving President Kuchma," CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said in a statement quoted by Interfax-Ukraine. The Prosecutor-General's Office on 21 June announced that its investigators are currently investigating a man, identified as "K.", who it says has confessed to carrying out the killing. "The timing of this announcement, combined with President Kuchma's repeated interference in the investigation into Gongadze's murder, raises deep suspicions," Cooper said. AM

ROMANIAN, UKRAINIAN DIPLOMATS DISCUSS CANAL PROJECT. Romanian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Bogdan Aurescu on 23 June spoke with Ukrainian Ambassador to Romania Teofil Bauer about the planned Bystraya Canal, according to an official communique released the same day. Aurescu repeated the Romanian side's request that Ukraine stop working on the Danube delta project until an impact study requested by international conventions on wildlife preservationis completed. Aurescu said Kyiv should also send Bucharest detailed technical information on the project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 May and 4 June 2004). In related news, the head of the Council of Europe's Natural Heritage and Biological Diversity Division, Eladio Fernandez-Galiano, is to visit the construction site in July to assess the project's impact on the area's bio-diversity. ZsM