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UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT VISITS UZBEKISTAN. Leonid Kuchma paid a one-day working visit to Tashkent on 10-11 April, Russian media reported. It was his fourth visit to the Uzbek capital. Kuchma met with his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov to discuss the situation in Afghanistan and the possibilities for cooperation in rebuilding that country's infrastructure, cooperation in the fight against international terrorism and drug trafficking, unspecified aspects of bilateral relations, and the proposed CIS free-trade zone. LF
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT MAKES CASE FOR CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGES... President Leonid Kuchma delivered his annual address to the Verkhovna Rada on 15 April, in which he reiterated his argument for political change. In his speech, which was broadcast live on Ukrainian radio, Kuchma stressed the need to transform Ukraine into a parliamentary-presidential republic, as proposed in a draft bill he submitted to the parliament last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 March 2003). In particular, the president said parliament should be given the constitutional power to form a coalition government, while the president needs the power to dissolve parliament, parliamentary seats should be allocated on a proportional basis, and nationwide referendums should be legally binding under a constitutional provision. Touching on his proposal to introduce a bicameral legislature, Kuchma said he does not rule out such a step being taken only after the implementation of administrative territorial reform in 2006-10. Regarding his other political-reform proposals, Kuchma stressed that they should be introduced before the end of 2004 to allow for "a formula in which the new president stands for a new political system." JM
...PROPOSES 'ROUNDTABLE' ON POLITICAL REFORM... Kuchma told lawmakers on 15 April that, except for certain assessments on the conscience of the authors, he was "pleasantly surprised by the generally constructive" memorandum on political reform signed the previous day by the leaders of Our Ukraine, the Communist Party, the Socialist Party, and the Yuliya Tymoshenko Bloc (see "RFE/RL Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine Report," 15 April 2003), according to the Ukrainian radio broadcast. He suggested that a roundtable on political reform be held to include representatives of parliamentary caucuses, the government, and the president. Our Ukraine leader Viktor Yushchenko commented later the same day that Kuchma's proposal of the roundtable might "give a start to the process of harmonizing different visions" of political reform and provide a chance to form an appropriate working group, Interfax reported. JM
...CALLS FOR 'STRUCTURAL-INNOVATIVE ECONOMIC RENEWAL'... Also in his 15 April address to the Verkhovna Rada, Kuchma reminded lawmakers that Ukraine saw stable and high economic growth in 2000-02 of nearly 7 percent per year, on average. "In essence, this is the highest growth in Europe. The first three months of this year have confirmed that those processes are well grounded," he said. However, Kuchma warned against paying "too little attention to the current shortcomings," adding, "Economic growth over the past three years has been based on extensive development and has been achieved through the use of industrial capacities that were built mainly in previous years." The Ukrainian president therefore called for "a major adjustment of economic policy" that, in his opinion, should focus on "the use of a mechanism for a structural-innovative economic renewal." JM
...AND RECAPS FOREIGN-POLICY PRORITIES. Kuchma told the Verkhovna Rada on 15 April that, in the area of foreign policy, "Ukraine will be going ahead with its entry into the EU to the extent that Europe will be entering Ukraine." "European standards of political culture, social and labor relations, the very way of living and thinking" must first become "part and parcel" of everyday life for Ukrainians, he added. Kuchma expressed hope that Ukraine might enter the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2004. He noted that his chairmanship of the Commonwealth of Independent States is an opportunity to increase Ukrainian influence in creating a free-trade zone in the post-Soviet area. Kuchma stressed that Ukraine should develop a "constructing dialogue" with the United States aimed at "consolidating the principles of strategic partnership and removing barriers to bilateral cooperation." Touching on the Iraq conflict, Kuchma said Ukraine could not remain indifferent. He added that sending a Ukrainian anti-nuclear, -biological, and -chemical (NBC) battalion to Kuwait was "a sign of our civilized nature and our commitment to universal values, although it was a difficult choice for each of us." JM