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DUMA APPROVES ELECTION LAW CHANGES. The State Duma on 6 July approved legislation in the third and final reading amending 13 existing election-related statutes, Russian media reported. Among other things, the changes raise the threshold for obtaining Duma seats from 5 percent to 7 percent, prohibit political parties from forming electoral blocs, institute nationwide election days on the second Tuesdays of March and October, require Duma deputies to remain in the faction of the party that nominated them, and allow election officials to strike a political party from the ballot if 10 percent of its signatures are declared invalid (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June 2005). Kremlin officials and their parliamentary supporters have praised the changes as strengthening Russia's political party system and forcing candidates to stick to their campaign platforms. Opponents have charged that the new system will make it impossible for opposition parties to win representation in parliament. Andrei Piontkovskii, director of the Center for Strategic Studies in Moscow, attributed the election reforms to the "deep shock the Kremlin experienced observing the elections in Ukraine," which seemed to demonstrate that "money, television, and administrative resources" are no longer sufficient to obtain desired election outcomes, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 4 July. LB

BELARUSIAN COURT FINES POLISH MINORITY JOURNALISTS. A district court in Hrodna on 6 July imposed fines of $2,400 and $250 on Andrzej Poczobut and Igor Bancer, respectively, for their participation in an unsanctioned picket earlier the same day in the city in protest against the takeover of the Polish minority weekly "Glos znad Niemna" by the authorities, Belapan reported. Poczobut is editor of the Polish-language periodical "Magazyn Polski," while Bancer worked for "Glos znad Niemna" before the authorities refused to print the weekly in May and subsequently published several fake issues (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 22 June 2005). Andrzej Pisalnik, editor of "Glos znad Niemna"; Inesa Todryk, his colleague from the weekly; and Ivan Roman of the Belarusian weekly "Salidarnasts" are to stand trial on 8 July on the same charges as Poczobut and Bancer. JM

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO DEFEND HIS REGIME AGAINST 'PAID COLUMNS.' Lukashenka said in a three-hour interview with Russian's TV Tsentr network on 2 July that Belarus will not see any "color revolution" under his rule, Belapan reported. "I am a committed man and a man of principle, and therefore I'll defend my power, fearing nothing. I will not flee the country. The opposition is aware of this, and that is why there will be no revolution," Lukashenka said. The Belarusian leader noted, however, that four "paid columns" are being formed in Poland, Ukraine, the Baltic countries, and Russia in addition to the fifth column in existence in Belarus. "This is being prepared for Russia as well, but, for the time being, [mainly] for Belarus, where they want to play the main scenario and show that even if there are no grounds [for a revolution], so-called freedom and democracy can triumph here as well," Lukashenka said. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES WTO-ORIENTED BILLS AMID FISTICUFFS. The Verkhovna Rada on 6 July passed seven of the 14 bills that the government believes necessary for the country in order to join the World Trade Organization (WTO), RFE/RL's Ukrainian Service and Ukrainian news agencies reported. The votes took place against a background of sirens sounded by Communist Party deputies and sporadic scuffles between them and pro-government lawmakers. The government wants the legislature to pass all WTO-related bills before the summer recess in order to be able to join the WTO at the organization's summit in Hong Kong in December. The adopted bills include one on establishing criminal liability for illegal circulation of compact discs as well as equipment and raw materials for their production, which brings the country's legislation in line with the WTO's multi-lateral agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights. "It's a pity that there is no understanding of what the nation and the state are losing from this empty polemic," President Viktor Yushchenko bemoaned the tumultuous votes in the parliament on 6 July. The Verkhovna Rada plunged into turmoil once again on 7 July, while discussing changes to a budget law. JM

UKRAINIAN LAWMAKER ACCUSES TOP SECURITY OFFICIAL OF MONEY LAUNDERING, SMUGGLING. Socialist Party lawmaker Mykola Melnyk said in the Verkhovna Rada on 5 July that National Defense and Security Council Secretary Petro Poroshenko is a mastermind of an "all-Ukrainian process of laundering shadow-economy money linked to value-added tax" and of "contraband operations," Interfax Ukraine reported. Poroshenko's press service commented on 7 July that Melnyk's statement was based on materials gathered by the Interior Ministry, the Security Service, and the State Tax Administration in 2002-04 "under an agreement with the then President Leonid Kuchma for discrediting opposition representatives." The press service added that Poroshenko will sue Melnyk for libel. Earlier this week, former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko passed to Ukrainian media a secret tape containing an alleged conversation of June 2000, in which Poroshenko discussed with Kuchma how to get rid of Yuliya Tymoshenko from the government of Prime Minister Viktor Yushchenko. JM

MOLDOVAN DELEGATION QUITS OSCE FORUM OVER TRANSDNIESTER RESOLUTION. The Moldovan delegation to a session of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Washington on 1-5 July staged a walkout on 5 July in protest against an adopted resolution on the Transdniester conflict settlement, Moldovan news agencies reported. The walkout reportedly followed the rejection of all amendments that the Moldovan delegation proposed for the resolution, which was drafted by Finnish lawmaker Kimmo Kiljunen and OSCE representative in Moldova William Hill. The resolution calls on Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine to return to serious negotiations on Transdniester and backs Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko's initiative to create an international peacekeeping force for Transdniester under the OSCE aegis. The resolution also calls on Chisinau and Tiraspol to take measures that would help restore at least a "minimal level" of mutual trust necessary for further negotiations. The Moldovan delegation reportedly demanded that the Tiraspol administration be referred to in the resolution as "separatist" and "criminal." JM

WASHINGTON SAID TO HAVE FORCED CHISINAU TO SELL AIRCRAFT IN 1997. Former Moldovan President Petru Lucinschi said at a trial of former Moldovan Defense Minister Valeriu Pasat on 4 July that the United States pressed Moldova into selling its warplanes cheaply to Washington and dismissed charges that Pasat defrauded the state, Reuters reported. Pasat is currently standing trial on charges of selling too cheaply 21 MiG-29 jet fighters to the United States in 1997 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 June 2005). Lucinschi told journalists that Moldova had received an offer of $93 million for the planes, but had to yield to Washington's bid. "We did receive an offer from a South Korean firm ready to pay $93 million, but the Americans told us the planes would end up in Iran," he noted. Washington offered to buy the fighters as part of a plan to make arms stocks in the former Soviet Union safe (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 7 July 2005). JM