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UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT CREATES PUBLIC BODY TO PROMOTE FAIR ELECTIONS. President Viktor Yushchenko has signed a decree establishing a Public Council under the President for Ensuring Honest Elections, the presidential press service's website (http://www.president.gov.ua) announced on 25 February. The council is chaired by National Academy of Sciences head Borys Paton. "As the president of Ukraine, I will make every effort to ensure democratic [parliamentary] elections," Yushchenko said in a national radio address on 25 February. "On 26 March the Ukrainian people will elect not a prime minister or a chancellor, but primarily a new parliamentary majority. I believe that it will be a democratic majority," he added. JM
UKRAINIAN MINISTER CALLS NATO REFERENDUM IDEA 'PROVOCATION.' Defense Minister Borys Tarasyuk has described the recent proposal to hold a referendum on Ukraine's NATO membership as a provocation, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 24 February. "Given the political forces proposing the referendum, it looks like an attempt to stage a full-scale nationwide provocation," Tarasyuk told a news conference in Chernihiv on 24 February. The referendum idea is being promoted, among other forces, by the Ukrainian Social Democratic Party-united led by Viktor Medvedchuk. Tarasyuk recalled that Medvedchuk, in his former capacity of the head of the presidential administration, signed many documents declaring Ukraine's commitment to Euro-Atlantic integration. "It looks like he has woken up and realized that it [NATO membership] allegedly does not meet the interests of the Ukrainian people," Tarasyuk added. "I view it as a provocation because people suggesting the referendum did nothing during their decade-long period in power to clearly explain to Ukrainian citizens what NATO and the EU mean." Opinion surveys routinely find that more than 50 percent of Ukrainians oppose potential NATO membership. JM
SUSPECTED ARMS TRAFFICKER EXTRADITED TO UKRAINE. Oleg Orlov, a Russian businessman suspected by Ukrainian prosecutors of illegal trade in weapons, was extradited from the Czech Republic to Ukraine on 25 February, Interfax-Ukraine reported. Orlov, 57, is accused of illicit sales in 1999 of a P14F radar to Eritrea and of Soviet-made Kh-55SM (also known as AS-15) cruise missiles to China. Orlov unsuccessfully applied for asylum in the Czech Republic in 2004 and was subsequently arrested at a Prague airport while trying to leave for the United Arab Emirates. JM