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RUSSIA MOVING AHEAD ON ELECTRONIC VOTING. Central Election Commission (TsIK) Chairman Aleksandr Veshnyakov told journalists on 8 April that Russia might introduce paperless voting before the 2007 parliamentary elections, ITAR-TASS reported. Veshnyakov said that electronic-voting technologies are being developed in Russia and will be ready for testing by the end of this year. At the same time, the TsIK is drafting legislation that would enable authorities to introduce the new technologies if the tests are successful. In an interview in "Moskovskii komsomolets" on 7 April, Veshnyakov said that the government is analyzing recent events in Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan in order "to learn from others' mistakes and in no event to allow such a thing to happen in our state." RC

BELARUSIAN SOCIAL DEMOCRATS ELECT NEW LEADER. A conference of Belarusian social democrats on 10 April created the Belarusian Social Democratic Party (Hramada) by merging two opposition parties, the Belarusian Social Democratic Assembly (BSDH) and the Belarusian Social Democratic Party-Popular Assembly (BSDP-NH), Belapan reported. The conference elected Alyaksandr Kazulin, former rector of Belarusian State University, as the new party's chairman. "I'm firmly determined to change the situation in Belarus for the better," Kazulin pledged. Kazulin, who has stepped into the political arena only recently, is widely regarded as a possible contender for the post of president in 2006 (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 11 March 2005). Shortly before the conference, 36 delegates of the BSDH dismissed their leader, Stanislau Shushkevich, and decided to dissolve the BSDH and join the new party that was founded on the basis of the BSDP-NH. Shushkevich has reportedly protested the merger, arguing that the decision was taken against the BSDH statute. The 10 April conference was held in the open air in the village of Sennitsa in Minsk Oblast in front of a local cultural center. The delegates were not let inside the building despite having already paid rent for the space. JM

PROTESTS CONTINUE OVER ARREST OF UKRAINIAN REGIONAL POLITICIAN. Some 500 people, mainly from Donetsk, held a rally in Kyiv on 9 April protesting the arrest of Donetsk Oblast Council head Borys Kolesnykov, who was detained on 7 April on charges of extortion (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2005), Ukrainian media reported. The following day, Kolesnykov's supporters pitched a tent camp in a Kyiv park. A similar camp was set up last week in Donetsk. A district court in Kyiv ruled on 8 April that Kolesnykov be kept in custody for investigation for two months. Former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych said on 8 April that the arrest of Kolesnykov constitutes a "punishment for dissent" and is politically motivated. "If the witch hunting organized by the authorities is not stopped in proper time, Ukraine may find itself on the brink of another revolution," Yanukovych said in a statement publicized on 11 April. JM

UKRAINIAN SPEAKER COMPLAINS OF SURVEILLANCE. Verkhovna Rada speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn told journalists in Kyiv on 8 April that he possesses evidence that he is being shadowed and his telephones are being bugged, Ukrainian media reported. "What country are we living in if such things are allowed with regard to the Verkhovna Rada chairman?" Lytvyn said. "What's happening, I mean the bugging, is a political outrage, because some want to prove their innocence and avoid responsibility for what they have done," he added without elaborating. JM

UKRAINIAN SOCIALISTS DECIDE TO RUN INDEPENDENTLY IN 2006 ELECTIONS. The Socialist Party of Ukraine (SPU) on 9 April decided that it will take part in the parliamentary elections in 2006 on its own without seeking political coalitions, Interfax reported. "We need 70-75 mandates in the [450-seat] Verkhovna Rada as a minimum," SPU leader Oleksandr Moroz commented. "This translates approximately into 12-15 percent support [that our party needs to obtain] in the elections." JM

OFFICIALS HOLD TALKS ON TRANSDNIESTER CUSTOMS DISPUTE. Officials met in Tiraspol on 9 April to settle a dispute over unauthorized Transdniester customs and border controls near Dorotcaia, a Moldova-controlled village in the secessionist region, BASA reported the same day. The talks included representatives from Russia, Ukraine, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). "It is premature to speak about a breakthrough," Moldova's Integration Minister Vasili Sova said. Sova added that he and Valery Litskai, the Transdniester "foreign minister," had agreed earlier to replace a customs post near Dorotcaia with a task force of peacekeepers and a mixed group of Moldovan police and Transdniester militia. Transdniester officials' habit of setting up customs and border posts near villages that have remained loyal to Moldova has been a point of contention between Chisinau and Tiraspol since 1998. BW

EU ENVOY ARRIVES IN MOLDOVA. Adrian Jacobovits , the European Union's Special Representative for Moldova, arrived in Chisinau on 11 April for his first official working visit and with the Transdniester conflict high on his agenda, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. European Union (EU) foreign policy and security chief Javier Solana said Jakobovits' appointment confirms the EU's interest in its closest neighbors, ITAR-TASS reported. Jacobovits' main task, Solana said, will be to assist Moldova's leadership in reaching a settlement to the Transdniester conflict. Moldova's president has requested that the EU, the United States, and Romania engage in talks over the disputed region (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 April 2005). The negotiations have previously included only Moldova, Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE. BW