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EU REPORTEDLY IMPOSES TRAVEL BAN ON TWO BELARUSIAN OFFICIALS. The European Union has agreed to ban two senior Belarusian officials from its territory as part of sanctions against Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's government for staging what it calls flawed elections and a referendum on 17 October (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 20 and 26 October 2004), Reuters reported on 7 December. The agency quoted an anonymous EU diplomat as saying that these officials in question are Central Election Commission Chairwoman Lidziya Yarmoshyna and Yury Padabed, chief of the OMON riot police who broke up opposition protests following the 17 October polls. EU foreign ministers agreed in November on sanctions against Belarusian officials involving travel bans on officials and freezing contacts at ministerial level between member states and Minsk (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 November 2004). JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES BILLS TO OVERCOME POLITICAL CRISIS... The Verkhovna Rada on 8 December voted by 402-21, with 19 abstentions, to adopt simultaneously a constitutional-reform bill to limit the president's powers in favor of the prime minister and the parliament, as well as amendments to the presidential election law to eliminate election abuse and fraud, Ukrainian media reported. The vote is a breakthrough compromise between all major political forces in Ukraine and paves the way for a 26 December rerun of the invalidated 21 November presidential runoff. The adopted legislative package, which also includes a bill of constitutional amendments to Ukraine's self-government system, was immediately signed by President Leonid Kuchma, who arrived in the session hall a few minutes before the vote. Kuchma told lawmakers that shortly before coming to the parliament he signed a decree dismissing of Prosecutor-General Hennadiy Vasilyev, a move demanded by the People's Power coalition supporting opposition candidate Viktor Yushchenko's presidential bid. JM
KUCHMA SENDS YANUKOVYCH ON LEAVE. President Kuchma on 7 December signed a decree allowing Premier Viktor Yanukovych to go on leave to campaign for the rerun presidential election on 26 December, Ukrainian media reported. This effectively defies the Verkhovna Rada's vote of no confidence in Yanukovych's cabinet on 1 December (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 December 2004). Kuchma also appointed First Deputy Premier Mykola Azarov as acting head of the cabinet. Yanukovych has reportedly left Kyiv for his native region of Donbas to meet with voters there. JM
RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CRITICIZES WESTERN INFLUENCE ON UKRAINE... Sergei
At the council session, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell challenged Lavrov, saying that he "categorically disagrees" with him and that OSCE regulations are in place to defend fundamental freedoms, democracy, and the rule of law, Western news agencies reported on 7 December. Powell expressed concern at political developments in Russia that are "affecting the freedom of the press and the rule of law" and especially the lack of independent television channels in Russia, AP reported. Powell also denied that the United States is attempting to influence Ukraine, and he stressed that the Ukrainian people deserve fair elections, Reuters reported. "We are not competing or fighting over these places. We are not asking them to choose between the East and the West," Powell said. VY.
RUSSIAN SPIN DOCTORS LEAVE UKRAINE. A team of Russian public-relations consultants and campaign strategists that worked on the presidential campaign of Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych is returning to Russia as their services are reportedly no longer desired, "Trud" reported on 8 December. "We welcome advice, but all major decisions will be made by Viktor Yanukovych and his team," Yanukovych campaign manager Taras Chernovil said, according to strana.ru on 7 December. Gleb Pavlovskii and Marat Gelman headed the team. Meanwhile, Political Research Institute Director Sergei Markov, who also advised Yanukovych's presidential campaign, said that the Russian consultants are not to blame for the loss of Russian prestige in Ukraine, TV-Tsentr reported on 6 December. "Russian spin doctors remain among the best in the world," he said. "We were there to prepare an election, not a revolution." VY
IS AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION UNDER SURVEILLANCE? The "Azadlig" article criticizing President Aliyev was the subject of an impassioned parliamentary debate on 7 December in which deputies accused Ali Kerimli, chairman of the progressive wing of the divided Azerbaijan Popular Front Party (AHChP), of "every imaginable sin," zerkalo.az reported the following day. "Azadlig" was originally founded as the AHChP paper. In the course of that debate, one unnamed deputy criticized deputy speaker Ziyafet Askerov for alleging that Kerimli is receiving funding from an Ukrainian opposition group to finance a "velvet revolution" in Azerbaijan (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 December 2004). Alesqerov responded that his accusation was based on intelligence surveillance reports. The online daily pointed out that such surveillance constitutes a violation of both the constitution of the Azerbaijan Republic and existing legislation on political parties. Kerimli for his part told zerkalo.az that "we have known for a long time whether or not they were following us and whether or not our telephones are tapped. We're not stupid enough to hold any important conversation over the telephone." LF