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UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SACKS FOUR REGIONAL GOVERNORS. President Viktor Yushchenko has dismissed Vadym Chuprun, Eduard Zeynalov, Vasyl Tsushko, and Iryna Synyavska, the administration heads of the Donetsk, Kirivohrad, Odesa, and Zhytomyr oblasts, Ukrainian news agencies reported on May 3, quoting the presidential press service. Zeynalov and Tsushko were discharged because of their wish to switch to the Verkhovna Rada after winning parliamentary seats in the March 26 vote; Sinyavska was dismissed following her own request; no official reason has been given for Chuprun's sacking. JM
UKRAINE TO DIG 400-KILOMETER MOAT ON FRONTIER WITH RUSSIA. The State Border Service is planning to dig a 400-kilometer-long ditch on the Luhansk Oblast stretch of Ukraine's frontier with Russia in 2006, Interfax-Ukraine reported on May 3. The measure is intended to prevent contraband trade in the area. At present smugglers from Russia and Ukraine reportedly cross the border in motor vehicles at high speed, making it extremely difficult for border guards to stop and check them. JM
There are essentially two ideas among the Belarusian opposition about how to proceed after the presidential election in March, which led to the largest outburst of antigovernment protests in Belarus in the past decade. The younger generation of opposition activists wants former presidential candidate Alyaksandr Milinkevich, who has no party affiliation, to lead a broad movement focused on bringing about political change in Belarus. But some opposition parties appear wary of losing their political stature, and prefer to continue to make all strategic decisions pertaining to the opposition through a collective body or a national convention.
Despite the opposition's overwhelming loss to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's in Belarus's presidential election in March, the organization that represents the major opposition parties in Belarus saw room for optimism in the election result. The Political Council of Democratic Forces, which assisted Milinkevich in his bid to prevent Lukashenka from winning a third term in office, has assessed the opposition election campaign as satisfactory.
Official results had Milinkevich winning just 6 percent of the vote in the March 19 election, which monitors from the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe (OSCE) said failed to meet democratic standards. However, the Political Council has determined that Milinkevich actually achieved 20 percent support -- numbers that were confirmed last month by an independent postelection survey.
Those results, the Political Council believes, are strong enough for the entire democratic camp to build upon in posing a greater challenge to Lukashenka's authoritarian regime in the future. And here is where problems begin.
Last month, a group of younger and more radical opposition activists, who protested against the election result in a five-day tent camp on October Square in Minsk, proposed that Milinkevich lead a broad movement in Belarus with the aim of deposing Lukashenka. One of those activists is Ihar Lyalkou from the Belarusian Popular Front (BNF). The BNF proposed Milinkevich as a presidential candidate during an opposition convention in August 2005, which gave Milinkevich a narrow edge over Anatol Lyabedzka, leader of the United Civic Party (AHP). "The main thing we want today in the country and the democratic movement is to create the situation in which this movement could come to real power," Lyalkou said. "We have, both in the provinces and Minsk, teams of professionals who are ready even today to become Alyaksandr Milinkevich's closest aides in the leadership of the movement."
Lyalkou and his colleagues do not want to abolish the Political Council of Democratic Forces. But Lyalkou told RFE/RL that they want Milinkevich to be solely responsible for executive decisions in the new movement. "The movement should have the Political Council, composed of the leaders of political parties," he said. "The council should remain in order to define basic, strategic directions of the movement's activity. And there must be some executive body, which should be staffed not according to party quotas but according to exclusively professional qualities [of the staff]. This national committee should be formed by Mr. Milinkevich personally."
On April 26, during an opposition rally in Minsk to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Chornobyl disaster, Milinkevich announced the creation of a Movement for Freedom. Milinkevich predicted that the opposition, if united, could depose Lukashenka in the next two years through actions of civil disobedience.
But some are skeptical of the idea of making Milinkevich the primary voice of the opposition, including AHP deputy head Yaraslau Ramanchuk, who said that the "movement makes sense if it is built on the currently existing coalition and includes both [opposition candidate Alyaksandr] Kazulin's party [Social Democratic Party] and the youth that does not belong to any party or youth groups. I think this initiative is disastrous for Milinkevich as a politician."
Ramanchuk believes that the Political Council of Democratic Forces should continue to coordinate opposition actions in the future, with strategic political decisions being made at national conventions.
Ramanchuk told RFE/RL that the people who want Milinkevich to be a national opposition leader represent only one political party and do not speak for the majority of the demonstrators -- mostly young people with no party affiliation -- who came to October Square in March to protest the election. "The people who promote the movement led by Milinkevich belong to one group -- the BNF," he said "They have been, are, and will continue to be in politics and the BNF. What, are they essentially going to run this movement? Therefore, I don't want Alyaksandr Milinkevich's electoral potential to be lost because of such initiatives."
But Lyalkou argues that from now on Milinkevich should be promoted in Belarus as an icon of the anti-Lukashenka opposition. "The situation is such that for the first time in the past 12 years we have had a real, generally accepted -- both within our country and abroad -- leader who is an alternative to Lukashenka," he said. "Therefore, the starting conditions for a real change of the situation in the country are very good."
Judging by Ukraine's example, Lyalkou may be right. The opposition to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's regime began to score significant political successes only after Viktor Yushchenko united it under the banner of the Our Ukraine bloc in 2002 and became its clear leader. By the beginning of 2005, Yushchenko was president.