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ORANGE-CLAD BELARUSIANS DEMONSTRATE OVER DISAPPEARANCES... Some 400 people formed a human chain on October Square in Minsk on 10 December to draw public attention to the disappearances of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's opponents -- politicians Yury Zakharanka and Viktar Hanchar, businessman Anatol Krasouski, and journalist Dzmitry Zavadski -- in 1999-2000, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. Most participants in the demonstration, which was organized by the United Civic Party and the youth movement Zubr, were wearing orange clothes to display solidarity with Ukraine's opposition forces. Following the demonstration, some 200 Zubr members walked to the nearby KGB headquarters and pasted portraits of the missing persons to its doors and walls. Police did not intervene. JM
DOCTORS SAY UKRAINIAN PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WAS POISONED WITH DIOXIN... Dr. Michael Zimpfer, head of the Rudolfinerhaus clinic in Vienna where Ukrainian opposition presidential candidate Yushchenko was treated for a mysterious illness that has disfigured him, told journalists on 11 December that Yushchenko is a victim of dioxin poisoning, Ukrainian and international media reported. "There is no doubt," Zimpfer said. "There were high concentrations of dioxin, most likely orally administered.... We detected blood levels [of dioxin] at least a thousandfold above tolerable levels." Zimpfer added that the dioxin poisoning was confirmed earlier that day by a laboratory in Amsterdam, which had analyzed Yushchenko's blood sample. "We suspect a cause triggered by a third party," Zimpfer commented on the cause of the poisoning. "It would be easy to administer [the poison] in a soup that contains cream." Zimpfer said it will take years for Yushchenko's body to rid itself of the dioxin, which is one on the strongest poisons known. JM
...AS YUSHCHENKO BLAMES AUTHORITIES FOR POISONING HIM. After returning from Vienna to Kyiv on 12 December, Yushchenko reiterated charges that Ukrainian authorities had poisoned him, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. "I am convinced that this [poisoning] is the work of those in power, absolutely convinced," Yushchenko said. "Time is now needed for the investigation. A lot of the circumstances are already known. I think if the Prosecutor-General's Office acts according to Ukraine's laws, both the country and the world will know soon who did this." The Ukrainian Prosecutor-General's Office -- which is headed by Svyatoslav Piskun, who was reinstated in the post by a court ruling last week (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 November 2004) -- has reportedly reopened the case of Yushchenko's poisoning. JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT NOMINATES NEW NATIONAL BANK GOVERNOR. Leonid Kuchma has proposed Volodymyr Stelmakh for the post of National Bank head for parliamentary approval, UNIAN reported on 13 November, quoting parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. Stelmakh served as National Bank governor in 2000-2002; he was replaced by Serhiy Tihipko, who resigned last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 November 2004). JM
UKRAINE TO SEE LESS ABSENTEE VOTING ON 26 DECEMBER. The Central Election Commission has ordered 188,000 absentee ballots be printed for a repeat of the 21 November presidential runoff between Yushchenko and Viktor Yanukovych, to be held on 26 December, Interfax reported on 13 December. The current number of absentee ballots is some eightfold less than the amount printed for the 21 November vote, which is a direct consequence of the amendments to the presidential law passed on 8 December aimed at eliminating election abuse and fraud (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 December 2004). JM
POLISH FOREIGN MINISTRY CRITICIZES STATE COMPANY FOR MINTING TRANSDNIESTER COINS. Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksander Checko criticized the Polish state mint company on 11 December for coining money for the separatist Transdniester region, AP reported. A shipment of 8 million coins made in Poland's state mint was halted on 25 November in Ukraine on its way to Tiraspol. MS
ANTI-OLIGARCH PROTESTERS PICKET KAZAKH INDUSTRIAL GROUP. About 60 people demonstrated at the head offices of the Eurasian Industrial Association (EIA) in Almaty on 10 December, Interfax-Kazakhstan reported. A spokesman for the protesters said that they are workers at EIA enterprises who are unhappy with poor social services and insufficient attention to workplace safety. Police dispersed the unsanctioned demonstration after an hour, detaining three protesters. In a 10 December press release, EIA accused the opposition parties Ak Zhol and Democratic Choice of Kazakhstan (DVK) of taking their cue from demonstrators in Ukraine in an attempt to destabilize Kazakh society. The press release stated, "If DVK, Ak Zhol, and their sponsors believe that they can use 'Ukrainian lessons' to shake Kazakh society and come to power, then let it be on their conscience." DK
SIGN OF THE TIMES. Two weeks ago, Natalya Dymytruk, an interpreter for the deaf on the Ukrainian television channel UT-1, launched a mini-uprising among her fellow journalists. During a morning news program, Dymytruk signed on 25 November that she was "disappointed to have to interpret lies," adding that viewers "might not see her in the future." Her colleagues at the station responded by demanding that television coverage of events in Ukraine be unmuzzled.
UT-1 was not alone in providing a selective view of the political drama that unfolded in Ukraine's cities after the disputed 21 November presidential election. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy on 5 December, Oleksandr Rodnyanskyy, a co-owner of the Ukrainian 1+1 TV channel, revealed that his channel had been skewing news coverage in order to survive. "[We did not provide] complete and objective information enabling the viewers to make their own conclusions," he said. "This was a matter of survival for 1+1 TV. The company went through many difficulties in the past. We had to fight a legal battle for our broadcasting license and other issues more than 10 times, and we realized that, in order to survive, we had to come to a compromise. Some of our journalists made their own choice."
In an interview with U.S. National Public Radio's "On the Media" on 3 December, one of those journalists, Fedir Sydoryk, who resigned from 1+1 TV, suggested that most Ukrainian journalists have not followed Dymytruk's example but are instead following the whims of their bosses. "The owners are just seeing where the wind is blowing, and they want to jump on the last car of the train, because if they don't, they'll be left behind," he said. "The journalists are only doing what the ownership is doing, and not the opposite." He explained, "People are just afraid for their jobs. They make good money on television.... The people who are still working at certain channels -- I don't consider them heroes. I consider them chameleons. You know, they change color according to the trees that they're sitting under."
In neighboring Russia, television journalists have not changed sides over the past weeks. If they made a conscious choice at all, then apparently it has been to support the stance toward the Ukrainian election adopted by Russian President Vladimir Putin. President Putin has made no secret of his support for Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, visiting Kyiv before the first round of the presidential election and being the first international leader to congratulate Yanukovych on his "victory" in the 21 November second round. Complementing his efforts, ORT and RTR provided close coverage of Prime Minister Yanukovych's campaign for presidential office. And since challenges have mounted to the election results, coverage of the events in Ukraine by Russian television has increasingly diverged -- in tone and emphasis, if not in substance -- from that provided by other Ukrainian and Western media outlets.
For example, ORT commentator Mikhail Leontev suggested on 23 November that it was Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's "constitutional duty" to introduce a state of emergency because "because Ukraine is split and because this is effectively a seizure of power." He continued: "One would like to believe [that] the Ukrainian authorities are ready to defend order and, basically, to defend Ukraine since Ukraine will cease to exist in a physical sense. It'll collapse. God forbid, I don't want to be a doomsayer, imagining civil war, but, you know, everything was fine in Iraq too to start with." The next day, RTR predicted -- incorrectly as it turned out -- that "support for candidate Viktor Yanukovych [in Kyiv] could turn out to be just as massive as the protest staged by [Viktor] Yushchenko's supporters."
Both ORT and RTR have paid special attention to level of organization of the Kyiv protests. An ORT correspondent commented on 23 November that "there has been careful organization and I don't think we can talk of a spontaneous action here. It's all been very well organized, of course." The previous day, an RTR report focused on the foreign groups that orchestrated the protests in Kyiv and were financed "through the so-called philanthropists, for example, the Soros Foundation." TV-Tsentr's "Postskriptum" program also noted the opposition's "tight, mostly hidden, connections with the U.S." According to a 4 December report, "by various accounts, the Americans started to prepare for this in 1999-2000.... The line of Washington was such that the election would only be democratic if [opposition presidential candidate Viktor] Yushchenko won."
In a broadcast on 2 December, ORT turned its attention to the suspicious "enthusiasm of Ukraine's Polish and Lithuanian brothers to act as mediators in the postelection conflict." ORT commentator Leontev recalls the events of the 13th and 14th century when parts of Ukraine were under Polish and Lithuanian rule. "The motives of the Poles to [act as mediators in] Ukraine is transparent from Ukrainian history. The Poles have always been very active in Ukraine and today especially so.... They want to appear as the Great Poland, and to do so is possible only on the bones of Ukraine," he opined. In this context, according to Leontev, Russia is merely defending Ukraine and providing assistance to President Kuchma, "the great balancer between Russia and the West."
ORT depicted the Ukrainian Supreme Court's 3 December decision to overturn the results of the second round and call for a repeat as a setback to Ukraine's democratic development. ORT host Vladimir Pozner led a discussion on 5 December that posed the question, "Will Ukrainian Supreme Court's decision overturning the results of the second round and calling for a third round enable the development of democracy in Ukraine, or is this a democratic joke?" The consensus of most of his guests was that the decision was both unjust and undemocratic.
In the meantime, some Ukrainians apparently noticed the spin some Russian media put on events there. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko announced on 30 November that "all foreign correspondents find working in Ukraine pretty difficult these days, but if you take the Russian newsmen, we've been getting alarming information about grave problems they've faced in recent days," he said. "There've been cases of disruption of live coverage," he claimed. "The situation is getting worse day by day, and it can't but alarm us.... The ministry expresses the hope that the Ukrainian authorities won't overlook unlawful acts against correspondents."
Of course, if Kuchma had introduced a state emergency as Leontev advised, then Russian journalists might have little to worry about. (Julie A. Corwin)