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...AS DEPUTY SAYS BILL WILL MAKE IT HARDER FOR OBSERVERS TO MONITOR VOTING PROCESS. In an interview with "Novaya gazeta," No. 32, independent State Duma Deputy Vladimir Ryzhkov said that the bill is "authoritarian and anti-democratic." According to Ryzhkov, the bill "takes into account the experience of [Ukraine's] Orange Revolution and makes election observers' access to polling stations more difficult." JAC
TURKMEN PRESIDENT'S STATEMENTS AT CIS SUMMIT IN MOSCOW RAISE EYEBROWS. Russian press accounts of the informal CIS leaders' summit in Moscow on 8-9 May indicated that Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov drew notice with his unrestrained behavior and off-the-cuff remarks. Quoting anonymous members of the Ukrainian delegation, "Kommersant-Daily" reported on 11 May that at the 8 May CIS summit, Niyazov derided the selection of former Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma as CIS chairman two years ago. Niyazov reportedly said, "Then again, he had elections coming up. Well, where is he now with his elections?" Niyazov also ridiculed the prospect of cooperation in the natural-gas sphere with Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbaev, saying, "Who should I cooperate with? With him?" Addressing Nazarbaev directly, Niyazov reportedly continued, "All of your facilities, your whole infrastructure is from the last century. I'm better off looking for other markets and other partners." The report indicated that Nazarbaev maintained a diplomatic silence in the face of his Turkmen colleague's remarks. Meanwhile, "Vremya novostei" reported on 11 May that Niyazov violated protocol at a photo opportunity with Russian President Vladimir Putin on 9 May, attempting to stretch a one-minute session into a longer conversation. The report noted that Niyazov was denied a one-on-one meeting with the Russian president during his stay in Moscow. DK
BELARUSIAN ORGANIZATION SLAMS TRIAL OF MINORITY ACTIVISTS IN POLAND. The Minsk-based World Association of Belarusians (ZBS) has condemned criminal proceedings against 11 publishers and journalists of the Belarusian-language weekly "Niva" in Bialystok, northeastern Poland, as "discriminatory actions of the Polish authorities against the Belarusian minority in Poland," Belapan reported on 11 May. "It is disturbing that the Polish authorities replicate the practice that exists today in Belarus under the authoritarian regime of Alyaksandr Lukashenka and is oriented toward the Russification of Belarusian society and discrimination against Belarusian culture and education," the ZBS said in a statement. Last year Polish prosecutors charged the "Niva" publishers and journalists with the misuse of state-budget money and inaccurate bookkeeping (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 15 December 2004). Belarusian activists in Poland believe the charges are part of an official clampdown on the Belarusian minority in that country. In a preliminary hearing in a regional court in Bialystok on 11 May, seven of the accused publishers and journalists refused to plead guilty; two others did the same earlier this year. The other two defendants were singled out for a separate trial. JM
UKRAINIAN INTERIOR MINISTER CLAIMS TO HAVE CLEANSED HIS WORKPLACE. Yuriy Lutsenko said in Kyiv on 11 May that he has successfully fulfilled the president's instructions on decriminalizing and depoliticizing the Interior Ministry, Ukrainian news agencies reported. "I can guarantee that the Interior Ministry has no other politician commanding us but the president, and there is no other party but the law," Lutsenko said at an Interior Ministry conference summing up the first 100 days of its work. Lutsenko said the ministry has replaced virtually all chiefs of its regional directorates, initiated 253 criminal cases against policemen (37 percent of them against senior officers), and 83 policemen have already been convicted. "During the first 100 days of our work, 19,000 economic crimes have been solved, including 1,700 in the privatization sector and 1,900 in the fuel and energy sector. Criminal prosecution has been launched against 171 government officials," he added. JM
UKRAINIAN COURT PUNISHES FOUR FOR ELECTION FALSIFICATION. A district court in Zaporizhzhya Oblast has sentenced four people to two years of corrective labor each, finding them guilty of illegal voting during the presidential election in 2004, Interfax reported on 11 May. "They repeatedly cast forged absentee ballots. On average, each of them voted from two to five times. Of course, they did that for a reward, albeit a small one," a prosecutor from Zaporizhzhya Oblast said. The verdict means that the four convicts will continue working in their current jobs but will have to pay 20 percent of their monthly wages to the state budget for the next two years. JM