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PRIVATE TV CHANNEL OFF THE AIR IN PARTS OF EASTERN UKRAINE. A dozen political parties in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast issued a statement on 5 August protesting the removal of television programs by the privately owned 5 Channel from the distribution networks of two regional cable television operators, UNIAN reported. The statement says the 4 August replacement of 5 Channel with the Russian television channel Mir is a deliberate attempt by local authorities to "restrict the legitimate rights of Dnipropetrovsk viewers during the [presidential] election campaign." 5 Channel reported on 4 August that its programs have also been removed from cable distribution networks in Simferopol and Donetsk. The station's owner is Petro Poroshenko, a legislator with the opposition Our Ukraine bloc and a political ally of presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko. JM

26 CANDIDATES RUNNING FOR UKRAINIAN PRESIDENCY. The Central Election Commission (TsVK) on 5 August registered Mykola Rohozhynskyy and Mykola Hrabar as presidential candidates for the 31 October ballot, bringing the total number of registered hopefuls to 26, Ukrainian media reported. "This is the final figure," TsVK Serhiy Kyvalov told journalists. "We did not expect that there would be 26 candidates, but this is no obstacle to us." Kyvalov said a preliminary estimate of state election expenditures was based on 20 candidates competing, and must be revised. "[The registration of such a number of candidates] is by no means the case where we can say, 'the more the better,'" President Leonid Kuchma said in an interview with "Fakty i kommentarii" on 6 August. JM

KYIV HAILS ABOLITION OF VAT ON RUSSIAN OIL, GAS EXPORTS. Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Mykola Azarov on 5 August welcomed the Russia Duma's decision the same day to cancel the value-added tax (VAT) on oil and gas exports to CIS countries as of 1 January, Interfax and ITAR-TASS reported. "This is an extremely positive decision which undoubtedly will give an additional impetus to Ukrainian-Russian trade and economic relations," Azarov said. "This is a real implementation of the principles underlying the creation of a Single Economic Space [of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus, and Kazakhstan]." Azarov said that as of January 2005, VAT on Russian oil and gas exports will be collected according to the country-of-destination principle, which could lead to a reduction in prices of oil products in Ukraine. JM

...BUT LIFTS RAIL BLOCKADE. Separatist leader Igor Smirnov announced on 5 August that his administration has decided to lift the blockade on rail links between Transdniester and Moldova, and Transdniester and Ukraine and Russia, Flux, Infotag, and ITAR-TASS reported. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma urged that the blockade be lifted during telephone conversations earlier the same day with Smirnov and Moldovan Prime Minister Vasile Tarlev. Smirnov said he decided to lift the blockade after Kyiv agreed to allow Transdniester exports to transit Ukrainian territory without Moldovan export certificates, which Chisinau has stopped issuing as part of the sanctions it imposed on 1 August, Infotag reported. "I am grateful to Ukraine for its decision to allow Transdniester to sell its goods abroad marked as 'Made in Transdniester' and without any Moldovan attributes," Infotag quoted Smirnov as saying. MS

SMIRNOV SAYS TRANSDNIESTER ON ITS WAY TO 'INDEPENDENT, SOVEREIGN STATE.' Separatist leader Igor Smirnov said in Tiraspol on 5 August that Transdniester "is marching on the road to setting up an independent, sovereign state," Flux reported. Smirnov called on Russia to increase its peacekeeping force in the region and said that although Tiraspol considers Ukraine a "strategic partner," Kyiv must "clearly define where its interests lie" in the conflict. Tiraspol has not ruled out the prospect of future negotiations with Chisinau, he said, because "one way or another, Transdniester must establish normal relations with its neighbor," Infotag reported. But Smirnov added that "we must have solid guarantees that Chisinau would abandon the idea of an [economic] blockade and other destructive acts against Transdniester." Smirnov also said he would be satisfied with a conflict settlement signed by Russia and Ukraine. "We do not need Voronin's signature, because we do not trust the Chisinau gentleman anymore," Infotag quoted him as saying. MS