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UKRAINIAN OPPOSITION LAWMAKERS DEFECT TO RULING COALITION. Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz announced on March 23 that five lawmakers from the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and six lawmakers from Our Ukraine have recently changed sides and joined the ruling majority of the Party of Regions, the Socialist Party, and the Communist Party, Ukrainian media reported. Meanwhile, the ruling coalition, which was until recently known as the "anticrisis coalition", announced the same day that it has renamed itself the national-unity coalition. In total, 256 deputies in the 450-seat Verkhovna Rada were registered for the session on March 23. The Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc and Our Ukraine have boycotted parliamentary sittings for the past two weeks, participating only in debates on some issues and in some votes. JM
UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPOINTS NEW HEALTH MINISTER... The Verkhovna Rada on March 23 dismissed Health Minister Yuriy Polyachenko and replaced him with his deputy, Yuriy Haydayev, Ukrainian news agencies reported. Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz told deputies that Polyachenko will assume the position of an "executive of a medical scientific center." Polyachenko was appointed health minister in August 2006 under a quota of cabinet jobs assigned to Our Ukraine. When Our Ukraine switched to the opposition to Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych's cabinet in October 2006, Polyachenko refused to tender his resignation. JM
...AND VOICES CONCERN OVER U.S. MISSILE-DEFENSE PLANS. The Verkhovna Rada on March 22 preliminarily approved a resolution expressing concerns over plans to deploy a proposed U.S. antimissile defense system in Poland and the Czech Republic, Ukrainian media reported. The draft resolution states that the implementation of these plans poses a threat to Ukraine's national security and the lives of millions of Ukrainian citizens, adding that "in the event of the use of antimissile weapons...[there is a] possibility of damage, with serious consequences for the population [and] important national economic facilities, including nuclear power plants in the country." The final wording of the resolution is to be approved next week. The adoption of the draft resolution followed a debate in which Deputy Defense Minister Leonid Polyakov argued that the U.S. missile-defense plans do not pose any threat to either Ukraine or Russia. JM