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INVESTIGATION INTO FATAL PLANE CRASH NEARS COMPLETION... August 24 is an official day of mourning for the 170 people who died on August 22, when a Pulkovo Airlines flight from the Russian Black Sea resort of Anapa to St. Petersburg crashed near Donetsk in Ukraine, leaving no survivors, reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," August 23, 2006). The investigation at the site of the crash is nearly complete, and the authorities in Moscow hope to have information from the flight data recorder and voice recorder soon, Ekho Moskvy radio reported. PM

SWEDEN SAYS BALTIC PIPELINE INVITES DISASTER... Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson was quoted by Britain's "The Independent" on August 24 as arguing that it would be "foolhardy" to build the planned North European Gas Pipeline (NEGP) running from Vyborg to Greifswald, which is a major project of the Russian authorities and Gazprom. Persson argued that "when you build such a large pipeline on the bottom of the Baltic Sea, you stir up a lot of sediment at the bottom, where there are mines, poisons, and other things that have been dumped over decades. You risk setting off a major environmental disturbance on top of all the other environmental problems the Baltic Sea has." He also believes that the project would destroy the Swedish island of Gottland. Persson argued that the pipeline should be built on land, but did not address the shared desire of Russia and Germany that it should bypass the Baltic States, Poland, and Ukraine (see "RFE/RL Newsline," December 12, 2005, June 19 and 26, and July 14, 2006). PM

UKRAINE MARKS 15TH ANNIVERSARY OF INDEPENDENCE. President Viktor Yushchenko, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz, other high-ranking Ukrainian officials, and former President Leonid Kuchma attended a prayer service at the St. Sofia Cathedral in Kyiv on August 24 that inaugurated official functions to celebrate the 15th anniversary of Ukraine's independence. Speaking in front of the cathedral after the service, Yushchenko said, among other things, that "there will be no alternative to the Ukrainian language as the state and official-communication language [in Ukraine]." Yushchenko stressed that Ukrainian is "the language of our freedom." Due to the tragic crash of a Russian commercial airliner in Ukraine on August 22, the government resolved to postpone all festivities connected with the independence anniversary until August 26. On August 24, 1991, an extraordinary session of the Verkhovna Rada of the Ukrainian SSR proclaimed the Act of State Independence of Ukraine. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS NEW PROBE INTO CHORNOVIL'S DEATH. President Yushchenko said on August 23 that he has decreed that a new investigation be opened into the death of Ukrainian politician Vyacheslav Chornovil (1937-99), a Soviet-era dissident and an ardent advocate of Ukraine's independence, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Yushchenko was speaking during an unveiling ceremony for a monument to Chornovil in Kyiv. "I just want to say that the investigation of this murder is a matter of dignity and professional commitment for Ukraine's government and law-enforcement agencies," Yushchenko noted. Chornovil was killed in a car crash in Kyiv Oblast on March 26, 1999. A number of politicians characterized Chornovil's death as suspicious, but an investigation launched at the time concluded that the crash was indeed an accident. JM