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BELARUSIAN PROSECUTORS INTERROGATE PROMINENT SOCIOLOGIST. Belarusian investigators on 1 December questioned Professor Aleh Manayeu, head of the Vilnius-based Independent Institute for Socioeconomic and Political Studies (NISEPI), in connection with his recent press articles about the popularity ratings of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and opposition presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, RFE/RL's Belarus Service reported. NISEPI was forced to move to Lithuania after Belarusian authorities closed down the polling agency in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 April 2005). NISEPI participated in conducting an independent exit poll during the October 2004 constitutional referendum, which suggested that Lukashenka actually lost the plebiscite and should not run for a third term in 2006 (see "RFE/RL Belarus and Ukraine Report," 26 October 2004). Last month the Belarusian government issued a directive requiring that all pollsters who plan to conduct surveys concerning national referendums, presidential and parliamentary elections, and the political situation in the country, and then make public their results through mass media, should apply for accreditation to a special panel under the Belarusian National Academy of Sciences (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 November 2005). "Someone in the top echelons of power is trying to do everything possible to prevent all poll results, apart from those obtained by government-controlled pollsters, from being published in the press," Manayeu told RFE/RL. JM

COMMUNITY OF DEMOCRATIC CHOICE RALLIES IN KYIV. Nearly 200 representatives from 23 countries gathered in Kyiv on 2 December to hold a political forum of the Community of Democratic Choice, an initiative launched by Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili in August, Ukrainian media reported. "Today's forum is set to inaugurate a new format of cooperation between countries of the Baltic Sea region, Eastern Europe, the Balkans, the Black Sea region, and the Caucasus. This format of interaction -- or, rather, permanent dialogue -- is based on common desire to transform our part of the European continent into an area of democracy, stability, and prosperity," Yushchenko said at the opening of the forum. "Our initiative is not directed against any third countries or institutions. On the contrary, I see the Community of Democratic Choice as open dialogue between friends, adherents of ideas for promoting democracy and the supremacy of law." In addition to Yushchenko and Saakashvili, the forum was attended by the presidents of Romania, Moldova, Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, Macedonia, and Slovenia. The 2 December political forum was preceded by a civic forum of the Community of Democratic Choice, which was held in Kyiv the previous day. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT DECIDES TO SEND 50 SERVICEMEN TO IRAQ. President Viktor Yushchenko on 1 December signed an order to send 50 servicemen to Iraq in 2006, Ukrainian media reported, citing the presidential press service. According to Ukrainian Defense Minister Anatoliy Hrytsenko, this group will consist of 30 army officers, 10 border guards, and 10 police officers, who will help Iraqi authorities implement projects to restore Iraq's infrastructure. Hrytsenko added that the group has nothing in common with the 1,600-member Ukrainian military contingent that is currently being withdrawn from Iraq. Ukraine is to conclude the pullout of its peacekeeping contingent from Iraq by the end of this year. JM

GEORGIAN PRESIDENT RULES OUT WITHDRAWAL FROM CIS. Speaking during a visit to Ukraine, Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili said on 1 December that he ruled out any suggestion of a Georgian withdrawal from the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), Caucasus Press reported. He explained that although he was closely following a recent discussion of the subject in the Georgian parliament, he added that "personally, I am against Georgia's withdrawal from the Commonwealth." But Saakashvili did stress that "the CIS should be reformed and, instead of adopting declarations that are forgotten in a couple of days, it should work out concrete and real matters," and added that "CIS countries should have freedom of action." RG