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...AS FOUR OF FIVE CANDIDATES TAKE PART IN TELEVISED DEBATE. Four of the five presidential candidates took part in a debate on national television aired by Khabar on 17 November. The participants were Tuyakbai, from the opposition bloc For a Just Kazakhstan; Alikhan Baimenov, from the opposition party Ak Zhol; Erasyl Abylkasymov, from the Communist People's Party of Kazakhstan; and environmentalist Mels Eleusizov. Incumbent President Nursultan Nazarbaev, who was on an official visit to Ukraine, did not take part. Tuyakbai charged that under Nazarbaev poverty and unemployment are increasing as a result of "theft, corruption, injustice, and the arbitrariness of those who are in the governmental system." Tuyakbai also called for an investigation into allegations that Nazarbaev received bribes to arrange oil contracts through American consultant James Giffen -- who is currently awaiting trial in the United States -- in what has been dubbed Kazakhgate. DK

UKRAINE TO LAUNCH 2006 PARLIAMENTARY CAMPAIGN ON 26 NOVEMBER. The Central Election Commission on 18 November decided that the election campaign for the 26 March 2006 parliamentary election will begin on 26 November, Ukrainian media reported. Under a constitutional-reform law of December 2004 and a parliamentary-election law adopted in July 2005, Ukrainians will elect a 450-seat Verkhovna Rada in March for a five-year term under a fully proportional, party-list system and with a 3 percent voting threshold required for parliamentary representation. In 2002, the Ukrainian legislature was elected for a four-year term under a mixed electoral system (225 deputies were elected from party lists and 225 from one-seat constituencies). The voting threshold for parties in 2002 was 4 percent. JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT URGES GOVERNMENT TO STOP MEDIA CHECKS DURING ELECTION CAMPAIGN. The Verkhovna Rada on 17 November adopted a resolution urging the government to stop carrying out inspections of media outlets from 1 December to the conclusion of the 2006 parliamentary election campaign, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Legislators also approved amendments to the parliamentary election law, which barred the media from editorializing about political forces during the campaign and empowered the Central Election Commission to close down or suspend any media outlet found in violation of this provision. Under the adopted changes, the ground rules were loosened and only a court was given the right to shut down media outlets for non-compliance. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WARNS AGAINST ISOLATING BELARUS. Ukrainian President Viktor Yuschenko has urged caution against the isolation of Belarus in the international arena, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 16 November. Yushchenko was addressing a meeting of politicians and businesspeople in Paris on 15 November, during his two-day official visit to France. "Belarus should not be left in isolation, we need to have contacts and to render help to Belarus on the way to democracy," Yushchenko said. "Europe will be making a mistake if it encloses Belarus in a cocoon," he added. On 16 November in Minsk, Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko and his Belarusian counterpart Leonid Maltsau signed a cooperation plan for 2006 between the Belarusian and Ukrainian armed forces. JM