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GEORGIAN FOREIGN MINISTER TAKES ISSUE WITH SENIOR RUSSIAN OFFICIAL. Gela Bezhuashvili convened a press conference in Tbilisi on April 22 at which he rejected as unfounded criticisms of democracy in Georgia expressed by Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov in an April 19 interview with the "Financial Times," Interfax and Georgian media reported. In that interview, Ivanov referred sarcastically to Georgia and Ukraine as "beacons of democracy," where democracy is in fact "undermined" and the overall situation is "a total mess." Bezhuashvili in turn drew unfavorable comparisons between Georgia and Russia, pointing out that the Georgian police, unlike their Russian counterparts, do not extort money from immigrants, and that "journalists and members of the political opposition are not assassinated or poisoned in Georgia." LF

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION TO MARK CHORNOBYL ANNIVERSARY WITH MARCH IN MINSK. The Minsk City Executive Committee has given permission for the opposition to stage a march in Minsk on April 26 to commemorate the 21st anniversary of the explosion at the Chornobyl nuclear power plant, but changed its route, Belapan reported on March 20. The organizing committee for the "Chornobyl Way" march wanted it to start on Yakub Kolas Square at 6 p.m. and run on sidewalks along Independence Avenue to the square in front of the National Library, where a rally would begin at 8 p.m. The city authorities said the march should start on the square in front of the National Academy of Sciences and run on sidewalks along Surhanava Street to Peoples' Friendship Park on Bangalore Square, where a rally would be held between 8 p.m. and 10 p.m. "We said that we could not accept this decision of the Minsk City Executive Committee, which was made in violation of regulations, as the venue of the march was changed without the organizers' knowledge. We are considering the expediency of appealing this decision to court and will discuss the route of the march," Alyaksey Yanukevich, one of the march's organizers, told the agency. JM

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SIGNALS READINESS TO SUSPEND DECREE DISSOLVING PARLIAMENT. President Viktor Yushchenko told journalists in Kyiv on April 20 that he is ready to suspend his April 2 decree disbanding the Verkhovna Rada in exchange for a number of legislative amendments and reforms, Interfax-Ukraine reported. In particular, Yushchenko said lawmakers should adopt a law on the so-called imperative mandate that would prevent individual lawmakers from changing their party affiliations in parliament. Yushchenko said he would like lawmakers to amend the law on the Cabinet of Ministers in line with his suggestions and adopt a new law on the rules of procedure in the Verkhovna Rada. The president also reiterated his proposals to set up a special commission to amend the constitution and hold a referendum on constitutional changes. Meanwhile, the same day Yuliya Tymoshenko, head of the eponymous opposition bloc, called on Yushchenko to reappoint the Central Election Commission (TsVK) and urged voters to support the president in his determination to hold early parliamentary elections. "I would like us to appeal to the president of Ukraine to demand that the TsVK members, who are sabotaging the electoral process and pretending they are on sick leave today, and that this treacherous Central Election Commission be replaced, and that the president introduce new decent people there, who will serve Ukraine," Tymoshenko said at an opposition rally on European Square, which reportedly gathered some 20,000 supporters of the dissolution of the Verkhovna Rada. JM

BLACK SEA LEADERS PLAN MASSIVE RING ROAD... The leaders of 12 states agreed on April 19 to build a highway around the Black Sea, local and international reported the same day. The meeting brought together six states with a Black Sea coast -- Bulgaria, Georgia, Romania, Russia, Turkey, and Ukraine -- and six neighboring states: Albania, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Greece, Moldova, and Serbia. In the declaration concluding their meeting in Belgrade, the leaders of the Black Sea Economic Cooperation (BSEC) group said that "road construction and renovation is vital to build ties among EU, Black Sea, and Asian countries." The 4,700-kilometer road would be created by linking up existing roads. No date for completion was given, nor was an estimate of the cost quoted. The Turkish news agency Anatolia reported on April 19 that the BSEC's incoming president, Turkey, plans to institute reforms intended to make the organization more effective and to boost cooperation with other organizations. Collectively, the members of BSEC, which was established in 1992, are the world's second-largest producers of oil and natural gas after the Persian Gulf. AG

EU, RUSSIA DISCUSS TRANSDNIESTER SOLUTION. The EU's special representative to Moldova, Kalman Mizsei, on April 21 met with Russian officials in Moscow about Transdniester, amid speculation that Moldova is set to reach a controversial settlement with the breakaway region. The Moldovan news agency Basa, citing the Russian Foreign Ministry, said Mizsei discussed the possibility of a resumption of talks in the old 5+2 format, under which EU and U.S. observers were allowed to attend five-party talks between officials from Moldova, Transdniester, and mediators from Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE. Talks were suspended in February when Transdniestrian representatives refused to return, after a yearlong gap, to the negotiating table. Mizsei arrived in Moscow after earlier talks on Transdniester with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin and officials in Ukraine. The fresh flurry of diplomatic activity follows a report by the Jamestown Foundation on April 13 that Moldova's government is preparing to sign a document that will recognize Transdniester, guarantee the coexistence of a separate administration and assembly for the region, dissolve the Moldovan parliament and hold new elections with seats for representatives from Transdniester, guarantee Transdniester the position of deputy in each ministry, guarantee Moldova's permanent neutrality, and "tacitly" accept the continuing existence of Tiraspol's army and security services. In previous bilateral talks, Chisinau reportedly offered neutrality, substantial autonomy for Transdniester, and the legalization of Russian assets in Transdniester's economy, but refused to accept a federal state, a distinct role for Tiraspol in government, or the continued presence of Russian troops in Transdniester. Russia has failed to meet promises made in 1993 and 1999 to withdraw its troops. When he was elected in April 2001, President Vladimir Voronin was seen as a pro-Russian politician, but, since scotching a Russian plan, the Kozak Memorandum, for Transdniester in November 2003, he has followed a pro-Western course. The emergence of details of the plan, albeit unconfirmed, has prompted a reemergence of the old image of Voronin, with the "Jurnal de Chisinau" writing on April 20 that " Voronin is a stray Russian mole in Chisinau who, after he had been removed from Putin's lap for not signing the Kozak Memorandum, is desperately trying again to be in the good graces of the Kremlin." AG