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KUCHMA'S FORMER BODYGUARD THREATENS TO GIVE SECRET RECORDINGS TO WESTERN EXPERTS. Ukrainian legislator Oleksandr Zhyr told journalists on 25 July that former presidential bodyguard Mykola Melnychenko will pass the secret recordings he made in Ukrainian President Kuchma's office in 2000 to Western experts if Ukraine fails to organize an appropriate investigation into the "tape scandal," Interfax reported. Zhyr said he recently met with Melnychenko in the U.S., where Melnychenko told the legislator that he has not passed his original recordings to anybody, and therefore he is neither a traitor nor a defector. According to Zhyr, Melnychenko wants the authenticity of his recordings to be confirmed by a commission formed in Ukraine. Zhyr also suggested that Melnychenko has recordings implicating top Ukrainian officials in illegal trade in weapons. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 26 July)
UKRAINE AGREES TO MOTHER'S WISH NOT TO BURY GONGADZE. The Ukrainian government said on 27 July that it would not bury the decapitated body of journalist Heorhiy Gongadze until his mother agrees to do so, Reuters reported. Although independent DNA tests have shown a greater-than 99 percent chance that the body belongs to Gongadze, his mother Lesya Gongadze is not absolutely certain it is her son. The Prosecutor-General's Office had given a Kyiv morgue permission last month to bury the body. Deputy Health Minister Antoliy Kartysh said the ministry is prepared to help conduct a new DNA test with foreign experts to help convince Mrs. Gongadze that the corpse is indeed her son's. ("RFE/RL Newsline," 30 July)
The killing of popular TV journalist Georgi Sanaia has sparked a series of popular protests in Tbilisi, postponement of a session of the Georgian parliament, and even the delay of a planned visit by President Eduard Shevardnadze to Baku. Most Georgians are convinced that no one would dare to kill a prominent journalist for personal reasons and consider it a political assassination, while most law enforcement agencies emphasize personal motives for the murder.
All of Georgia was shocked at 9 p.m. on 26 July when the "Courier" news program of the independent TV station Rustavi-2 did not start its 9 p.m. broadcast. A few minutes later, viewers were shown the photograph of the show's popular commentator, Georgi Sanaia, along with the message: "Georgi Sanaia has been killed."
After word spread about Sanaia's murder on the evening of 26 July, people gathered near his house. Among the first to arrive were Zurab Zhvania, parliament chairman and Mikheil Saakashvili, the minister of justice. Some journalists and human rights activists gathered in front of the presidential residence to protest. As the protestors said, when a prominent journalist is killed, it is the government that is primarily responsible.
The next day, parliamentarians, journalists, and others gathered near the parliament building. A special session of parliament planned for noon on 27 July -- which was supposed to consider a new law on local self-government, election law amendments and setting up the office of prime minister -- ended after a minute of silence. Parliament Chairman Zurab Zhvania declared that the journalist's murder was "an assault not only on Georgi Sanaia, but on all journalists. I consider it to be an action against the free media." He asked parliament to honor Sanaia's memory with a minute of silence.
As a result of the public outcry over Sanaia's murder, President Shevardnadze postponed a planned visit to Baku. In the evening of 27 July, he invited U.S. Charge d'Affairs Philip Remler to a private meeting; it was decided that the FBI would be involved in the investigation of Sanaia's killing. The president assigned Prosecutor-General Gia Meparishvili to head a team of 15 to investigate the reporter's murder.
Fearing intense public reaction, officials -- especially those from law enforcement -- claim that Sanaia's killing was planned to give rise to public actions against President Shevardnadze. Soso Alavidze, the chief of Tbilisi police, thinks that certain forces want to make use of Sanaia's death.
The fears of Shevardnadze and his officials are not groundless. Sanaia's assassination and the intense public reaction reminded people of Shevardnadze's friend, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, and what happened after the murder of prominent journalist Heorhiy Gongadze (who has a Georgian name), who worked in Ukraine. The analogy is strengthened by Shevardnadze's request that the FBI be involved in the investigation.
"It is the fault of the state, not of a single person or a group, a state that does not punish kidnapping, assaults on foreigners, the assassination of a journalist," - this is the opinion of protesters who, on July 30, made a living chain stretching from the building of the Constitutional Court to the President's Chancellery along Tbilisi's main street, Rustaveli. The hour-long silent action was to show the authorities that society will not tolerate the terror in Georgia.
Opposition parliamentarian Georgi Targamadze rules out any possibility that personal motives are behind Sanaia's murder and is convinced that political reasons are.
In reaction to the murder, another parliamentarian, Koba Davitashvili, known for his critical attitude towards law enforcement agencies, said: "It is due to the syndrome of the lack of punishment that exists in the country. I don't want to raise the issue of responsibility of the law enforcers right away. Not because I cannot or I'm afraid, but because it would be incorrect now. Let us give them some time, though society has justified doubts and skepticism regarding their activities. Let us follow the law. Political murder is the most likely version. When a leading journalist is killed in his apartment with a gun with a silencer, it obviously cannot be a murder committed because of jealousy."
A third parliamentarian, David Gamkrelidze, said, "It is a good way out for a government in crisis and until the case is finished and they tell the whole truth, I can only regard this to be a political murder."
"Georgi is the first on the list of journalists who are to fall victims to political orders. We have strong reasons to think that the list will increase." This was the assessment of the "Droni" newspaper. Gia Iakobashvili, a journalist from the "Resonance" newspaper, said: "This murder is a test for Georgian society.... If people do not react, then everyone will think that it is possible to do anything...even leave Russian military bases for another 14 years."
According to an official statement made by Georgian journalists, "the murder of Georgi Sanaia is a logical consequence of the anarchy in our country. Beating, abusing, threatening, and persecuting journalists for their work has become a usual thing in Georgia in recent years. Unfortunately, none of the criminals has been punished. Moreover, the law enforcers cynically ignore and overlook the crimes in which they themselves are often involved." The journalists' statement claims that after 10 years of independence, Georgia is losing even the formal signs of democracy, and is turning into a provincial totalitarian state.
...DISCUSSES DEBT RESTRUCTURING WITH KUCHMA... Putin also met on 2 August with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to discuss the problem of restructuring Ukrainian debts to Russia. Putin told journalists that he and Kuchma decided "to solve the problem in such way that it will ease tightness in the Ukrainian budget." JAC
UKRAINE UPSET WITH MOSCOW'S CALL FOR MAKING RUSSIAN AN OFFICIAL LANGUAGE. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry criticized Russian Deputy Premier Viktor Khristenko for his call that Russian be made the second official language of Ukraine, AP reported. In a statement, the ministry called Khristenko's suggestion "unreasoned" and said such statements "do not assist in strengthening a climate of trust and mutual understanding" in bilateral relations. Khristenko said earlier this week in Moscow that making Russian an official language in Kyiv would be in the best interests of the two countries, and added that bilingualism is a "historical fact" in Ukraine. Ethnic Russians make up some 20 percent of Ukraine's population. PB
UKRAINIAN PREMIER TRUMPETS BENEFITS OF PIPELINE. Anatoliy Kinakh said on 2 August that Ukraine plays a key role in supplying Western Europe with energy, AP reported. Kinakh, in Budapest for a one-day visit, said that the planned pipeline running from the Black Sea port of Odesa will allow Ukraine to "take Caspian Sea oil and even Middle East oil...[and] be able to ship 40 million tons of petroleum a year through the pipeline. This will enhance Europe's energy security." The pipeline will stretch 667 kilometers from Odesa to the Ukrainian town of Brody. PB
UKRAINIAN WINE WITHOUT ANY GRAPES. Police have shut down a firm in Kyiv that is accused of selling millions of bottles of what appeared to be vintage wine that were instead filled with elderberry juice and food coloring, Interfax reported. The S-Gamma company is reported to have held a large share of Ukraine's wholesale wine market and police said it had a gross income of $1.3 million in the last year. PB
HUNGARY, UKRAINE TO STRENGTHEN TIES. "Hungary has a vested interest in deepening relations between Ukraine, NATO, and the EU," Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban told a Budapest press conference on 2 August following talks with his visiting Ukrainian counterpart Kinakh. Orban said Ukraine understands the aim of Hungary's Status Law and the two states are jointly seeking the best way of implementing it in Ukraine. The two prime ministers discussed joint measures for flood protection and also agreed to continue expert-level talks on lifting trade barriers. Orban said Hungary will not introduce tighter controls at the Ukrainian border while trying to gain accession to the EU. MSZ