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...BUT SOME SCIENTISTS ARE CAUTIOUS. A spokeswoman for the Vektor State Virology and Biotechnology Center near Novosibirsk said on 11 January that a strain of bird flu found in Crimea is highly contagious for chickens but is less of a danger to people, RIA-Novosti reported. "This confirms the need to isolate poultry farms and cull domestic fowl on the affected territories, which the Ukrainian authorities have already done," she added. She noted that tests showed that people who had contact with diseased birds did not become sick, either because preventive measures were effective or because the sub-strain in question does not spread to humans. PM

FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS U.S. COMMENTS ON GAS ISSUE 'INAPPROPRIATE'... The Russian Foreign Ministry said on 11 January that Sergei Lavrov, who heads that body, told U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a telephone conversation that he does not accept some of her recent unspecified comments made at the time of the Russian-Ukrainian gas price negotiations, Interfax reported. He called her remarks "openly politicized and biased." The ministry previously rejected her comments (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 and 9 January 2006). PM

RUSSIAN PRESIDENT ARRIVES IN KAZAKHSTAN... Vladimir Putin arrived in Astana on 10 January, accompanied by former Russian President Boris Yeltsin, to attend the 11 January inauguration of President Nazarbaev, ITAR-TASS reported. Putin is expected to sign three bilateral agreements with his Kazakh host and is to hold a separate meeting with Afghan President Karzai while in Kazakhstan, according to Interfax. Putin is also expected to meet on 11 January with Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, in their first direct meeting since the recent gas dispute between their two countries. RG

BRUSSELS VOWS TO LAUNCH RADIO, TV BROADCASTS TO BELARUS BEFORE MARCH VOTE. European Commission spokeswoman Emma Udwin said in Brussels on 10 January that EU-funded radio and television broadcasts to Belarus will start before the parliamentary elections scheduled in that country for 19 March, RFE/RL's Brussels correspondent reported. "I can confirm it is definitely the case that there will be a decision on the successful candidate for the new contract for broadcasting into Belarus in January," Udwin said. "That will happen within the month of January, so we are just a week or two away from that now.... There will be specific TV and radio programs dedicated to the election [in Belarus], broadcast ahead of the election date." Last year the European Commission announced an international tender for organizing broadcasting to Belarus in 2006 and allocated 2 million euros ($2.5 million) for that purpose (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," 16 September 2005). JM

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT SACKS CABINET OVER GAS DEAL... The Verkhovna Rada on 10 January voted to dismiss the cabinet of Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov, Ukrainian media reported. The no-confidence motion was supported by 250 deputies, primarily from the parliamentary opposition caucuses of the Party of Regions led by former Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc, the Social Democratic Party-united, the Communist Party, and two groups supporting parliamentary speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. Lawmakers simultaneously asked the government to continue work until a new cabinet is formed. The parliament also adopted a resolution blaming Yekhanurov's cabinet for creating a threat to national security with last week's deal on gas supplies to Ukraine in 2006 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 January 2006). The votes took place after Yekhanurov's address to lawmakers, in which he defended the gas deal with Gazprom and a Swiss-based intermediary as beneficial for Ukraine. JM

...AS PRESIDENT PLEDGES TO RETAIN STABILITY. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko, who traveled to Astana on 10 January to attend the inauguration of Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, said the same day that the dismissal of Yekhanurov's cabinet was illegal and pledged to contest the move in the Constitutional Court, Ukrainian media reported. In a statement placed on his official website ( on 11 January, Yushchenko said the sacking of the government was an attempt at destabilizing the situation in Ukraine. "I declare that the government continues to exercise its powers. Social stability and prospects for the country's development will be secured," the statement reads. Yushchenko said the parliament is to blame for the fact that the country has no operational Constitutional Court at present. He also noted that the dismissal of the cabinet is one of the "initial consequences of the nonsystemic and ill-considered changes" to the Ukrainian Constitution adopted in December 2004. JM