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KYIV BANS REFERENDUM ON RUSSIAN LANGUAGE IN CRIMEA. Ukraine's Central Election Commission (TsVK) has banned a referendum on giving Russian the status of a second state language in Crimea, Interfax-Ukraine reported on March 7. The Crimean Supreme Council on February 22 decided to hold the consultative referendum on the peninsula on March 26, together with parliamentary and local elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," February 22, 2006). TsVK Chairman Yaroslav Davydovych told journalists on March 7 that referendum commissions cannot work at the same locations as the parliamentary and local election commissions during the March 26 vote. In particular, Davydovych stressed that the law bans members of local election commissions from simultaneously performing the duties of members of referendum commissions. The Crimean legislature recommended in February that the commissions for the March 26 parliamentary and local elections simultaneously serve as the referendum commissions. JM

KYIV, TIRASPOL REPORTEDLY AGREE TO CONSIDER CUSTOMS CONTROVERSY. Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Igor Smirnov, leader of Moldova's breakaway region of Transdniester, agreed in a telephone conversation on March 7 to set up commissions in both Kyiv and Tiraspol to study the recent situation on the Transdniestrian stretch of the Ukrainian-Moldovan border, Interfax reported, quoting Smirnov. "I gathered from the conversation that the Ukrainian president has not been sufficiently informed by his subordinates about what is actually taking place. I explained [to him] that the 1997 memorandum [on principles in relations between Moldova and Transdniester] is the basic document that gives Transdniester the right to pursue foreign economic activities on its own," Smirnov told journalists in Tiraspol on March 7. Ukraine last week introduced new customs rules requiring that all shipments from Transdniester to Ukraine clear Moldovan customs and have a Moldovan stamp. The move has reportedly halted virtually all exports from Transdniester. Tiraspol is accusing Kyiv of imposing an economic blockade on Transdniester in order to make the region more pliant in talks on the settlement of its conflict with Moldova. JM

TRANSDNIESTER LEADER SAYS TALKS POINTLESS DUE TO NEW CUSTOMS RULES. Transdniester leader Igor Smirnov said on March 7 that further talks with Moldova are pointless, Reuters reported the same day. Smirnov was responding to new customs regulations implemented by Ukraine and Moldova designed to curb smuggling through the breakaway province (see "RFE/RL Newsline," March 6 and 7, 2006). "Given the conditions of economic blockade and pressure on [Transdniester], the talks no longer make any sense," Smirnov said in remarks reported by Russian media. "[Transdniester] is always ready for talks on the basis of equal rights. Not under pressure," he added. (For more on this issue, see item above.) BW