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UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL RIVALS CONFIDENT OF VICTORY IN RUNOFF. Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's campaign staff has expressed confidence that Yanukovych will win the runoff on 21 November by a 3-4 percent margin despite his defeat by opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko in the first round of voting on 31 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 November 2004), Ukrainian media reported on 10 November. Yanukovych's campaign manager, Serhiy Tihipko, said he accepts the first-round results despite what he described as numerous examples of illegal voting in favor of Yushchenko in western Ukraine by voters for relatives who are working abroad. Meanwhile, Yushchenko's staff predicted that Yushchenko will win the runoff by a similar 3-4 percent margin. Yushchenko, too, has accepted the first-round results, although he charged that authorities rigged the ballot to improve Yanukovych's tally. "I'm thankful that in the first round, despite the government's brutal behavior toward voters, we have, together, with your help, achieved a victory," an RFE/RL correspondent quoted Yushchenko as saying after the announcement of official election results on 10 November. JM
UKRAINIAN PREMIER CURRIES FAVOR WITH CIVIL SERVANTS, LAW ENFORCEMENT. Prime Minister Yanukovych has signed a resolution increasing the average salaries of civil servants, prosecutors, and judges by 28 percent as of November, the "Ukrayinska pravda" website (www2.pravda.com.ua) reported on 11 November. In addition, speaking to a gathering of police inspectors in Kyiv on 11 November, Yanukovych pledged that the government will enhance their accrual of retirement benefits by granting 1 1/2 years toward their eligibility for benefits for every year they serve, UNIAN reported. Meanwhile, lawmaker Petro Poroshenko, who heads the parliamentary Budget Committee, said the state treasury's cash reserves have shrunk to 7 billion hryvnyas ($1.3 billion) from some 15-18 billion hryvnyas at the beginning of September due to generous government increases in pensions ahead of the presidential election (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2004). JM
OUTGOING UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT UNVEILS FOUNDATION FOR POLITICAL RETIREMENT. Outgoing President Leonid Kuchma made a presentation in Kyiv on 11 November of a foundation he set up to occupy himself after he completes his second presidential term by early January, Interfax reported. Kuchma revealed that his charitable fund, called "Ukraine," will work to consolidate civil society and defend rights and liberties. Kuchma also presented his new book, titled "Following One's Own Way: Thoughts about Economic Reforms in Ukraine." It is Kuchma's fourth book in four years. Commenting on the official results of the 31 October presidential ballot, Kuchma said they testify that Ukraine is a democratic state. "Only under such circumstances [as a democratic state] was it possible to ripen such a powerful opposition force [as Yushchenko's Power of the People election coalition]," Kuchma added. JM
UKRAINIAN PREMIER PUBLISHES ELECTION AD IN OPPOSITION-LINKED NEWSPAPER. The 12 November issue of the daily "Silski visti" published advertisements for Yanukovych's presidential campaign on its first and second pages, the Obkom website (w1.obkom.net.ua) reported. "Silski visti" Editor in Chief Vasyl Hruzin told Obkom that the Yanukovych materials were published as paid advertising, adding that the client also paid for an extra print run of 400,000 copies of the issue in addition to the daily's 600,000 regular copies. "Silski visti" targets primarily rural readers in Ukraine and is associated with the opposition Socialist Party led by Oleksandr Moroz. Moroz, who won 5.81 percent of the vote in 31 October presidential balloting, has urged his adherents to vote for Yushchenko in the runoff (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 November 2004). JM
ROMANIAN HOLOCAUST COMMISSION PRESENTS REPORT. The International Commission on the Holocaust in Romania, chaired by Nobel Peace Prize winner Elie Wiesel, presented its final report to Romanian President Ion Iliescu in a special ceremony at the presidential palace on 11 November, Mediafax reported. The 400-page report details the history of the Holocaust in Romania as well as the commission's conclusions and recommendations on how the government can foster Holocaust awareness, remembrance, and education in Romania. The commission concluded that the Holocaust in Romania had deep roots in a century-long history of widespread anti-Semitism among the country's political and cultural elite. Between 280,000 and 380,000 Romanian and Ukrainian Jews were murdered or died at the hands of Romanian authorities, it estimated, while more than 25,000 Romanian Roma were also deported during the Holocaust and over 11,000 of them perished. Speaking at the event, Iliescu said Romania assumes responsibility for atrocities during World War II, adding that the report represents only the beginning of a long process aimed at changing general perceptions and fighting anti-Semitism, extremism, and xenophobia. (RFE/RL analyst Michael Shafir and Romania-Moldova Service member William Totok served on Wiesel's commission.) ZsM
VARNA TALKS ON TRANSDNIESTER END WITHOUT DECISIONS. William Hill, head of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission to Moldova, told an RFE/RL correspondent in Chisinau on 10 November that the 8 and 9 November talks in the Bulgarian city of Varna on the Transdniester issue ended without any decisions. He added that mediators signed a short common declaration that states that the meeting took place and listed the subjects discussed. According to Flux, Moldovan Reintegration Minister Vasilii Sova, Transdniestrian chief negotiator Valerii Litskai, Hill, former Bulgarian President Petar Stoianov, and Russian and Ukrainian representatives attended the meeting. ZsM
On 4-5 November, a wave of panic, fueled apparently by false rumors, swept over the region around the Balakovo Nuclear Power Plant in Saratov Oblast, Russian media reported. The panic reached the cities of Saratov, Samara, Mari-El, Ulyanovsk, Tolyatti, and Penza, as well as many towns and villages in the region, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 10 November. At least 10 cases of iodine poisoning were registered, as panicked locals tried to protect themselves from the effects of radiation.As late as 10 November, official media in the effected cities were working to dispel the panic and reassure the public. "Mariiskaya pravda" in Mari-El reported on 10 November that unknown people were still calling around the city warning that a radioactive cloud was approaching and the people should be taking iodine.
Balakovo is a massive plant, generating 28 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity each year. Its four reactors provide one-quarter of the energy needs of the Volga Federal District and supply electricity to the Urals and the North Caucasus as well. It generates one-fifth of all of Russia's nuclear power and the construction of two additional reactors at the plant is scheduled for the next five or 10 years, according to "Kommersant-Daily" on 6 November.
Therefore, the appearance on 4 November of a website supposedly created by "independent journalists" that reported that "four workers have died and 18 others have received burns of various degrees" in an accident on the night of 3-4 November and that "the situation is critical" was enough to start something of a chain reaction of rumor. However, media reports from throughout the region indicate that anonymous telephone callers posing as Emergency Situations Ministry workers were calling schools and enterprises and "warning" them of the danger.
"People were terrified and thought it was the end of the world," Anna Vinogradova, head of a Saratov NGO, told "Kommersant-Daily" on 6 November. "The entire city went mad." The panic only abated late on 5 November when presidential envoy to the Volga Federal District Sergei Kirienko was shown on local television touring all four Balakovo reactors.
The chain reaction did not end there, however. On 10 November, the Voronezh-based news agency Moe reported that someone in that city was spreading nearly identical rumors of an accident at the Novovornezhskaya Nuclear Power Plant. The Voronezh Oblast administration was compelled to issue a statement condemning the copycat rumormongers and assuring the public that all was normal at the plant.
Prosecutors quickly opened a criminal investigation into the matter and pledged to find the source of the rumors. But the scare set off another chain reaction, as officials and analysts sought to place the blame for the incident. Konstantin Bandorin, deputy chairman of the Saratov Oblast Public Chamber, told a roundtable in Perm on 10 November that the panic is a clear example of "informational terrorism," RosBalt reported. "I hope that the media that spread incorrect information will be held criminally liable," Bandorin said.
The government daily "Rossiiskaya gazeta" and other state media led the clamor of accusations against the media. On 9 November, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" quoted Saratov Oblast Search and Rescue Service head Oleg Mostar as charging bluntly, "This hysteria was fueled by the media." "Some radio stations, without having any official information, broadcast reports of a radioactive cloud moving over the city," he said. The daily also reported that some media outlets were offering speculation on how long it would take the radioactive cloud to reach Samara.
Federal Atomic Energy Agency spokesman Nikolai Shingarev told ITAR-TASS on 9 November that the media "should have more responsibly handled the spread of information that can cause panic among the population and should have made sure 100 percent that it was professionally correct and corresponding to reality."
Shingarev further noted that the media "continued to report false information" even after official statements explained that there was no emergency, indicating the low level of public confidence in such government assurances. The K&M news agency titled its 9 November analysis of the events "a chain reaction of no confidence in the authorities," noting that officials were slow to issue statements, that the statements were formulaic and not reassuring, and that the public -- recalling Chornobyl and other cases -- is inclined to disregard such statements in any case. As recently as September, the government and state-controlled federal media admitted that official statements intentionally downplayed the number of hostages taken at a school in Beslan, North Ossetia, in order to avoid setting off panic and ethnic conflict in the region.
Some local officials also blamed environmentalists for sowing panic. The press center of the Balakovo plant on 10 November issued a statement saying that "some representatives of the 'greens' made their contribution to fuelling the panic by irresponsibly advising the public to take iodine." The statement continued by charging that after prosecutors opened their investigation, environmentalists began "taking steps to escape responsibility."
Commentator Aleksandr Yemelyanenkov, in a 9 November commentary in "Rossiiskaya gazeta," pinned the blame primarily on local officials, who suffer from the "old illness" of clamming up when the going gets tough. He argued that the initial announcements on 4 November demonstrated "formulaic wording and an obvious desire to allay fears" and that they were followed up by silence even as the rumors gained intensity. "How are [journalists] supposed to obtain official comments if the press services refuse to say anything or merely parrot the same phrases and if officials themselves lack detailed information about what has happened and avoid contacts with the media?" he wrote.
Moreover, Yemelyanenkov emphasized the general lack of public confidence in the truthfulness of government statements. "People have long since lost confidence in local bosses, who are accustomed to keeping malfunctions secret," he wrote.
On 10 November, the NGO Ekozashchita sent an open letter to the Federal Atomic Energy Agency arguing that only impartial, independent monitoring of nuclear power plants can prevent similar disinformation episodes, arguing that the authorities -- and especially nuclear-sector officials -- "do not have the trust of the people," grani.ru reported. However, the overall trend in Russia and around the world since the launching of the war on international terrorism has been toward increased secrecy and decreased public access to information about potential targets such as nuclear power plants.
So how can this type of "information terrorism" be thwarted in Russia? Well, the Saratov branch of the All-Russia State Television and Radio Company (VGTRK) reported on 10 November that there was little panic in the town of Balakovo itself both because local media "quickly provided objective information" and because "most local residents have their own Geiger counters."