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KAZAKH DEMOCRACY COMMISSION GETS DOWN TO WORK. A working group in Kazakhstan's National Commission on Issues of Democracy and Civil Society began drafting a political-reform program on 22 December, "Kazakhstan Today" reported. Gani Kasymov, leader of the Patriots' Party and head of the group, described the working group's aim as "gathering proposals from all political forces in Kazakhstan." Kazbek Kazkenov, a member of the ruling Otan party, said that two issues are crucial for political reform: the role and functions of the president as head of state, and the role of parliament. Kasymov noted that both the authorities and society need the commission in light of recent events in Ukraine. He said: "The main thing is not to allow so much tension. I'm convinced that Kazakh society couldn't weather such a standoff, since we are influenced by several negative factors, including the intersecting interests of major powers, territorial problems, and ethnic issues." DK

KYRGYZ OPPOSITION LEADER LOOKS AHEAD TO ELECTIONS. Kurmanbek Bakiev, head of the People's Movement of Kyrgyzstan, told the BBC in a 21 December interview that the 27 February parliamentary elections will be a crucial test. "If all segments of society are represented [in parliament], there won't be any destabilization in society," he said. "But if parliament is formed taking into account only the interests of the current authorities, then protests are inevitable, as is the case in Ukraine at present." President Askar Akaev recently warned of possible election-related destabilization (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 December 2004). Bakiev also said that the opposition group does not receive, or need, financial assistance from any foreign powers. "We have enough businessmen, including representatives of small and medium business, who sympathize with us and are ready to help us to the extent that they can," he said. Bakiev, who has already announced plans to run for president in October 2005, said that Akaev, who has said he will not run again, may yet attempt to stay on in power and groom his daughter as his successor. Bakiev warned, "Such a transfer, or rather, preservation of power, is fraught with serious consequences." DK

BELARUSIAN POLICE DETAIN OBSERVERS FOR UKRAINIAN VOTE. Police officers in Minsk on 22 December detained more than 60 Belarusian monitors for the Ukrainian presidential ballot scheduled for 26 December, RFE/RL's Belarus Service and Belapan reported. The monitors were detained during an instruction meeting at a hotel just hours before they were due to travel by train to Kyiv. "The policemen told us that they had a phone call saying that unidentified people were gathered here," human rights activist Ales Byalatski told RFE/RL. "We were taken to a police station for an identification process." The identification lasted beyond the train's departure for Kyiv, leaving the monitors stranded. "It's obvious that the motive behind this action was to prevent Belarusian observers from leaving for the Ukrainian election," Byalatski commented. The monitors reportedly were seeking to catch a bus to Kyiv to allow them to carry out their monitoring duties. JM

YUSHCHENKO CALLS ON UKRAINIANS TO VOTE IN NEW PRESIDENTIAL RUNOFF... Opposition presidential candidate Viktor Yushchenko called on Ukrainians during a rally of 80,000 people on Kyiv's Independence Square on 22 December to "defend their choice" in the 26 December repeat of the fraudulent late-November presidential runoff, Ukrainian and international news agencies reported. "Each vote will help maintain Ukraine's unity," Yushchenko said. "Each citizen must come out so that the result is totally convincing, so that there is no temptation to cheat or disrupt the ballot. I want to warn all of you -- the vote on 26 December will be no easy stroll. There are still forces prepared to disrupt it." Yushchenko called on Ukrainians to gather on Independence Square after the balloting and remain there "until victory." Yushchenko professed to being certain of his presidential victory and pledged to form a cabinet of "national trust" and adopt a five-year government program immediately after the election. JM

...AND SEES NO ROLE FOR HIS RIVAL IN FUTURE GOVERNMENT. Presidential candidate Yushchenko told Russian journalists in Kyiv on 22 December that if he is elected president in the 26 December vote, Prime Minister and presidential rival Viktor Yanukovych will "under no circumstances" be included into a new cabinet, Interfax reported. "If you have lost, you should go," Yushchenko added. Yushchenko did not rule out talks with his presidential rival regarding "the political work that could ensure mutual understanding and the formation of healthier relations." Answering a question about his dioxin poisoning, Yushchenko said the Prosecutor-General's Office should have no major problems in discovering who poisoned him. "It is not a complicated criminal case, because the [poisoning] is limited by a [short] interval of time," Yushchenko said. He said that on the day he is believed to have been poisoned, he ate twice, at two dinners. Yushchenko repeated his earlier suggestion that his poisoning was the authorities' attempt at political assassination. JM

UKRAINIAN SECURITY SERVICE DENIES IT POISONED YUSHCHENKO. The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) issued a statement saying it was in no way involved in the deterioration of presidential candidate Yushchenko's health, Interfax reported on 22 December. Media reports have suggested that Yushchenko, who is suffering from dioxin poisoning, might have ingested poison at SBU deputy head Volodymyr Satsyuk's dacha on 5 September, where he meet with Satsyuk and SBU chief Ihor Smeshko for dinner (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 15 December 2004). JM

YANUKOVYCH VILIFIES RIVAL'S SUPPORTERS AT CAMPAIGN RALLIES. Prime Minister and presidential candidate Viktor Yanukovych thanked his backers at a rally in Vinnytsya on 23 December for "not being traitors to their country," Interfax reported. He also addressed orange-clad Yushchenko supporters who were present at the rally: "The orange ones who are here have shown their true colors and demonstrated how to carry out orders and sell their land for foreign money," he charged. Speaking at a rally in Kirovohrad on 22 December, Yanukovych said: "I want you to know that those people who come out to vote for the 'orange coup' in this election are voting against the Ukrainian people. They are acting against those who should be the real owners of Ukrainian land." JM

MEDIATORS CONCERNED OVER INCIDENT IN BENDERY-TIGHINA. The three international mediators in the Transdniester conflict -- Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) -- expressed concern on 22 December over the growing tension between Chisinau and Tiraspol, Flux and ITAR-TASS reported. They urged the parts to "make additional efforts to ensure the region's security" and to refrain from "any unilateral action that could aggravate tension in the security zone." The appeal was issued after a 20 December incident in which a building in Bendery-Tighina that housed both Russian peacekeepers and the Moldovan police was set on fire. Bendery-Tighina is partly under the control of Tiraspol separatists. Moldovan and Transdniestrian leaders have each accused the other of starting the fire. MS

MOLDOVAN RAILWAY BEGINS RECONSTRUCTION TO BYPASS SEIZED STATION. Moldovan Railways has begun the reconstruction of a rail route that should allow it to bypass a station that was seized earlier this year by Transdniestrian separatists, Infotag reported on 22 December. The separatists subordinated the route between the Bendery-Tighina railway station and Ukraine to the newly created Transdniester Railways after wresting control of the facility in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 8 September and 21 October 2004). MS