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FREEDOM HOUSE SAYS BELARUS IS 'NOT FREE,' UKRAINE 'PARTLY FREE.' The New-York-based NGO Freedom House classified Belarus as "not free" and Ukraine as "partly free" in its annual survey of freedom and democracy around the world, released on 18 December. Belarus is the only country in Europe ranked in the "not free" category, which comprises 48 countries worldwide. "There are two of the 12 former Soviet countries [in which], despite the difficulties, there is some possibility of forward momentum," Freedom House analyst Adrian Karatnycky told RFE/RL. "One is, of course, Georgia. The second one, paradoxically, is Ukraine. If Ukraine goes through this [coming] year and this election cycle with a relatively clean process, it is possible that the trends toward authoritarianism could be averted and reversed." JM
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT ORDERS PROBE INTO FATAL BUS ACCIDENT. President Leonid Kuchma has decreed the creation of a special commission to investigate a bus accident in Crimea in which 17 people died, Ukrainian news agencies reported on 18 December. A bus carrying miners from Pavlovhrad in Dnipropetrovsk Oblast overturned and plummeted 10 meters down an embankment near Alushta in Crimea on 17 December, killing 17 passengers and injuring 19 others. Last week, another Ukrainian bus overturned on a highway in Khmelnytskyy Oblast, killing nine people and injuring 43 in an accident police blamed on poor road conditions. JM
NEW PLAN FOR TRANSDNIESTER SETTLEMENT ELABORATED IN MOLDOVA. A Chisinau-based non-governmental organization calling itself United European Moldova published a new plan for the settlement of the Transdniester conflict on 18 December, Flux reported. The organization is not officially registered as an NGO. The plan calls for dividing Moldova into six regions, each having its own legislature, executive powers and independent judiciary. The separatist Transdniester region and the Gagauz-Yeri Autonomous Republic would each form one of the six regions, according to the plan, which also stipulates Moldova would have no president. The country would be defined as "an independent, sovereign, democratic state" and a "parliamentary democracy." The six regions would have "equal rights," but the state would function on the basis of "unity of the national territory" and a single defense, customs and monetary system. The plan also stipulates that Moldova would be a neutral state that cannot join regional or global military alliances. According to the plan's authors, Moldova's state language would be "Moldovan-Romanian based on the Latin transcript," while Russian, Ukrainian, Bulgarian and Gagauz would be granted the status of "regional languages." MS