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NGO BILL PASSES FIRST READING IN DUMA BY WIDE MARGIN. The State Duma on 23 November overwhelmingly passed in the first reading a controversial bill restricting the activities of foreign and domestic human-rights organizations and charities, Russian and international news agencies reported. The bill, which passed 370-18, requires all nongovernmental organizations operating in Russia to re-register and increases state supervision of them. An NGO can be refused registration if its goals, tasks, or activities violate the Russian Constitution, promote extremism, or aid money laundering, RIA-Novosti reported. "We must toughen control over the activities of certain organizations, including some foreign NGOs," said Vladimir Pligin, chairman of the Duma's Committee on Constitutional Legislation and State Development. The legislation also bars representative offices of foreign NGOs from working in Russia and restricts domestic organizations' ability to accept foreign cash or employ non-Russian workers. The bill, widely seen as a response to alleged NGO activities in support of Ukraine's Orange Revolution and Georgia's Rose Revolution, has been broadly criticized by rights activists (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 June and 18 November 2005). The bill had 15 sponsors, including members of Unified Russia, the Liberal Democratic Party, the Communist Party, and Motherland, gazeta.ru reported on 23 November. BW
RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER POSTPONES TRIP TO UKRAINE. Prime Minister Fradkov postponed a planned visit to Ukraine on 23 November, reportedly because Moscow and Kyiv could not reach agreement about payments for gas, ITAR-TASS reported. Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko told the television news program "Vremya" on 22 November that the visit was postponed due to a failure "to achieve specific accords on forms of cooperation in the gas sector." Ukraine currently buys Russian gas at a heavily discounted price in barter arrangements, but Russia is seeking to change the arrangement to monetary payments. Despite the postponed visit, Fradkov will meet with Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov in Moscow during a session of the council of the heads of Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) governments on 25 November. BW
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR ORANGE-REVOLUTION UNITY... President Viktor Yushchenko on 22 November called on his supporters not to give up hope for the 2004 Orange Revolution that installed him in power and to back his efforts to implement revolutionary ideals, Ukrainian and international media reported. Yushchenko spoke for nearly an hour to a crowd of 100,000 that gathered on Kyiv's Independence Square to celebrate the first anniversary of the Orange Revolution. Commenting on the sacking of Prime Minister Yuliya Tymoshenko's cabinet in September, Yushchenko said that "private ambitions" were behind the accusations of corruption that triggered the sacking and a subsequent split in the Orange Revolution coalition. Yushchenko concluded his speech with a call on the forces that backed his presidential bid to reunite and win the 2006 parliamentary elections. "I swear to each of you -- I am ready to do everything I can for our unity," Yushchenko pledged. His speech was sporadically interrupted by shouts "Yulya," an informal form of "Yuliya," from the crowd. JM
...AS DOES SACKED PRIME MINISTER. Speaking from Kyiv's Independence Square rostrum on 22 November, Tymoshenko made an ardent appeal to Orange Revolution adherents to pool their efforts and win the 2006 parliamentary elections, Ukrainian and international media reported. "I am certain that just as we supported Viktor Yushchenko in the presidential election, we must now unite to elect a prime minister who will embody everything we fought for," Tymoshenko said during her 20-minute address. "I want to dismiss all the rumors that it is Tymoshenko versus Yushchenko.... This cannot be so, because this is the president that you and I helped bring to power. We did it together." According to Tymoshenko, the constitutional reform that will take effect next year is to "practically strip the Ukrainian president of powers and give extraordinary powers to the prime minister and the people who will form a parliamentary majority." Touching upon her dismissal from the post of prime minister, Tymoshenko said without expounding further that it was a "temporary" win for the "clans." JM
BLOOD TESTS REPORTEDLY CONFIRM THAT UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WAS POISONED WITH DIOXIN. Presidential spokeswoman Iryna Herashchenko told journalists on 22 November that President Yushchenko's family has been notified that recent tests of Yushchenko's blood samples confirmed the presence of dioxin in his body, Interfax-Ukraine reported. "According to preliminary information, the results the forensic medical examination received on 9 November 2005 show the presence of dioxin in Yushchenko's body. All official statements will be made by investigators and the Prosecutor-General's Office," Herashchenko said. "The tests showed that the dioxin concentration in Yushchenko's blood exceeds the natural amount by 1,000 times," Herashchenko added, according to ITAR-TASS. Earlier this month Yushchenko submitted samples of his blood for tests by domestic and foreign specialists to pursue the criminal case into his alleged poisoning during last year's presidential election campaign. JM