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OPPOSITION CANDIDATE HOLDS 5 PERCENT LEAD OVER PREMIER IN UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL RACE. The Democratic Initiatives fund and the SOCIS center found in a poll conducted from 19-29 August that in the first round of presidential elections 29 percent of Ukrainians plan to vote for opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko, while 24 percent intend to back Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych. Should these candidates compete in a run-off, 38 percent of respondents said they will vote for Yushchenko and 34 percent for Yanukovych. According to the poll, Communist Party head Petro Symonenko is supported by 7 percent of the poll's respondents, while Socialist Party leader Oleksandr Moroz and Progressive Socialist Party leader Natalya Vitrenko are backed by 6 percent and 2 percent, respectively. None of the remaining 21 candidates was backed by more than 1 percent of respondents. JM

MARGINAL PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE BLASTS RIVAL ON UKRAINIAN STATE TV. Presidential candidate Oleksandr Bazylyuk on 1 September was the first candidate to take advantage of free campaign airtime on the state-run UT-1 television channel. Each presidential contender has the right to address viewers three times for 10 minutes each. Bazylyuk leads the Slavic Party of Ukraine and chairs the Congress of Russian Organizations of Ukraine. His election support in polls is below 1 percent. Bazylyuk, who spoke Russian, harshly criticized presidential candidate Yushchenko, claiming that the latter intends "to destroy Ukraine as a Slavic state." "We know how enemies of Ukraine have prepared Yushchenko to become the president of Ukraine," Bazylyuk said. "Vote for an independent president for Ukraine," Bazylyuk appealed to viewers. According to Ukrainian observers, a dozen of the 26 registered presidential contenders can be categorized as "technical candidates," whose major goal is to attack Yushchenko in the campaign to impair his presidential chances. JM

UKRAINIAN GOVERNMENT RAISES MINIMUM WAGE. Prime Minister Yanukovych's cabinet has increased the minimum monthly wage from 205 hryvnyas to 237 hryvnyas ($46) as of 1 September, Ukrainian Television reported on 1 September. The decision applies to all companies, whether privately or government-owned. In January, the minimum monthly wage is to increase to 262 hryvnyas. JM

ROMANIAN SENATE CALLS ON UKRAINE TO HALT CANAL PROJECT. The Senate in a 1 September declaration called on the parliaments of Council of Europe member countries, the EU, and NATO to work to halt Ukraine's construction of a controversial deep-water shipping canal in the Danube Delta, Romanian media reported. Senators expressed their "profound regret" and "firm disapproval" of the 26 August inauguration of the project (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 August 2004). Meanwhile, Romanian Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana the same day expressed his surprise at an AFP report according to which Russian Ambassador to Ukraine Viktor Chernomyrdin on 1 September said that Russia supports the project. "Ukraine does what it should do and is right [in doing so]," Interfax quoted Chernomyrdin as saying. He added that the canal will bring economic benefits not only to Ukraine, but also to Russia and other countries. ZsM

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT ADDRESSES REGIONAL RELATIONS... Speaking at an annual meeting of Romanian ambassadors on 1 September in Bucharest, President Iliescu said relations with some of Romania's neighbors are still marked by "difficult, delicate problems" that require level-headed attempts to resolve them, Mediafax reported. He said relations with Moldova are still "special" despite some Moldovan declarations that he alleged were part of "an anti-Romanian, irrational campaign" that serves no one. Iliescu also said he hopes Romania and Hungary are jointly able to handle problems generated by extremist or nationalist forces on both sides. He added that Romania seeks a positive partnership with Ukraine as well, in spite of the current problems in bilateral relations. ZsM

TRANSDNIESTER SCHOOLS CONFLICT CONTINUES. Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova said on 1 September that schools closed down by Transdniestrian authorities in Tiraspol and Rybnitsa remained closed for the start of the school year the same day, Flux reported. Three schools in Tighina were opened, but two of them were cut off from electricity and water supplies. A Russian Foreign Ministry release posted on its website on 1 September suggested that during a visit to Chisinau and Tiraspol on 30 and 31 August by Russian special envoy Igor Savolski, the parties found a solution to the conflict and that Transdniestrian authorities were to register schools established by Moldovan education authorities. According to Flux, Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Markian Lubkivski asked in Kyiv on 31 August for a reopening of the schools, threatening "economic restrictions" against Transdniester if officials failed to comply. Transdniestrian authorities have closed six of the eight schools in Transdniester that teach Moldovan (Romanian) in the Latin script in recent months, after refusing to register them. ZsM