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TURKMENISTAN TO END BARTER PAYMENTS TO UKRAINIAN CONTRACTORS. Acting Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov announced on January 22 that Turkmenistan will pay Ukrainian contractors in hard currency, ending a long-standing barter arrangement whereby those enterprises were paid in the form of gas supplies, ITAR-TASS reported. The Ukrainian contractors are engaged in large-scale construction projects in Turkmenistan. RG
BELARUS'S UPPER HOUSE FILLS VACANCIES ON CENTRAL ELECTION COMMISSION. The Council of the Republic on January 22 unanimously approved the reappointment of Lidziya Yarmoshyna as chairwoman of the Central Election Commission and elected six new commission members, Belapan reported. Under the Belarusian Constitution, six of the 12 members of the Central Election Commission are elected by the upper house and the remaining six, including the commission's head, are appointed by the president. "I cannot say that I would perform better because this would be an indirect admission that I did not perform very well before," Yarmoshyna said before the Council of the Republic on January 22. Yarmoshyna, a member of the commission since 1992, has been chairing it since 1996. In December 2004, following a deeply flawed constitutional referendum and parliamentary elections in October, the EU imposed a travel ban on Yarmoshyna. In November 2006, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka acknowledged that the authorities falsified the presidential election in March 2006. Lukashenka claimed that the authorities stole the vote from him in order to make the official results look more "European" (see "RFE/RL Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova Report," November 28, 2006). JM
EU READY TO TALK WITH UKRAINE ON 'ENHANCED AGREEMENT.' EU foreign ministers on January 22 approved a mandate for talks with Ukraine on a new cooperation agreement including a possible free-trade deal, Reuters and dpa reported. Poland and other supporters of Ukraine's EU membership bid wanted the mandate to include a mention of Ukraine's "European aspirations," but this formulation was opposed by other EU members. "Through this agreement, the EU aims to build an increasingly close relationship with Ukraine, aimed at gradual economic integration and deepening of political cooperation," the EU foreign ministers said in a statement. "A new enhanced agreement shall not prejudge any possible future developments in EU-Ukraine relations," the statement adds. JM
CRIMEAN TATARS RALLY OVER LAND DISTRIBUTION. Some 4,000 Crimean Tatars gathered on a central square in Simferopol on January 22 to protest a recent bill introducing harsher criminal responsibility for land squatting and what they see as the government's discrimination against Tatars in land-rights disputes on the peninsula, Interfax-Ukraine and dpa reported. In December, the Verkhovna Rada passed a bill that, if enforced, would reportedly drive thousands of Crimean Tatars out of temporary homes and give undisputed title to the most valuable land in Crimea to non-Tatar persons or firms. Since 1989, some 260,000 Crimean Tatars or their descendents resettled to Crimea from their forced exile to Central Asia in May 1944. Land distribution has since long become a burning issue in relations between Slavic inhabitants of the Crimean Peninsula and the resettlers. JM