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UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT NOT TO RESIGN OVER MISSING JOURNALIST CASE. Leonid Kuchma said on 21 February he will not step down because of the allegations of his complicity in the disappearance of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, Interfax reported. "I won't even talk on this topic," Kuchma said during a call-in interview with readers of the Kyiv-based "Fakty" newspaper. "I want to tell people: you need to believe in your country, you need to believe your president. I am looking in your eyes and I am ready to swear on the Bible and the Constitution that I have never, under no circumstances given an order to destroy a man," Kuchma said in the section of the interview that was broadcast the same day by the ICTV television channel. JM
UKRAINIAN PROSECUTOR-GENERAL IGNORES PARLIAMENT'S SUMMONS. Mykhaylo Potebenko on 21 February ignored a summons from the parliament to report on the crime situation in the country, including providing information on the investigation into the Gongadze case, Interfax reported. The previous day, Potebenko said Ukraine's ProsecutorGeneral' s Office is not answerable to the parliament. Some 100 protesters outside the parliament building demanded that Potebenko be dismissed, accusing him of dragging his feet in the investigation of Gongadze's disappearance. "[It is necessary] to release the people from such persons as Mr. Potebenko," Gongadze's mother told the parliament on 22 February, adding that "I am a reflection of the society that has been created by Mr. Potebenko and Mr. President." JM
SACKED UKRAINIAN DEPUTY PREMIER FACES MORE CHARGES. The Prosecutor-General's Office has charged Yuliya Tymoshenko, former deputy premier in Viktor Yushchenko's cabinet, with "hiding hard-currency earnings, organizing the hiding of hard-currency earnings, and large-scale theft of state assets," Interfax reported on 21 February. Previously Tymoshenko was charged with bribery, smuggling, tax evasion, and document forgery. Most of Tymoshenko's alleged crimes were said to have been committed in 1996-97 when she headed Unified Energy Systems. Deputy Prosecutor-General Mykola Obikhod said the new charges pertain to metal contracts that allowed the Unified Energy Systems to hide $181.53 million abroad in 1996-99, and to steal 14.11 million hryvni ($2.6 million) in VAT returns. JM
CRIMEAN LAWMAKERS SCUFFLE OVER BUDGET DEBATE. The prolonged confrontation between parliamentary adherents of Crimean Premier Serhiy Kunitsyn and Crimean parliament speaker Leonid Hrach triggered a scuffle on 21 February during the legislative debate on the autonomous republic's budget for this year, Interfax reported. Hrach said lawmakers need to make substantial changes in the budget draft in order to bring it in line with Ukrainian legislation. Kunitsyn, however, read a letter from Finance Minister Ihor Mityukov saying the draft fully conforms with Ukrainian legislation and the Crimean constitution. Lawmakers from both camps resorted to fisticuffs to resolve the controversy. JM