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Ukraine: Second Opposition Newspaper May Close

Kyiv, 3 February 1998 (RFE/RL) -- An arbitration court's multimillion-dollar libel judgment this week may force Vseukrainskiye Vedomosty, one of Ukraine's main opposition newspapers, to close. The action comes just a week after the government shut down another major opposition paper.

Vseukrainskiye Vedomosty's editor, Volodymyr Ruban, says that the $2-million judgment is likely to put his publication out of business, too. In his words: "No paper in Ukraine can pay this kind of money."

The newspaper is one of the most popular in Ukraine. It often criticizes the government, and it sympathizes with the opposition group Hromada led by former Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko. In September, the newspaper published a story about the efforts of an Italian soccer team to buy Ukrainian football forward Andriy Shevchenko from the Dynano Kyiv team. Three months later, Dynamo Kyiv President Hryhory Surkis sued, charging that the newspaper story was false.

Ruban denies that the story was wrong. He says the court's object was to, in his words, "block the work of the paper," during the approach to parliamentary elections in March. The newspaper's lawyer, Vyacheslav Ukhov, said this was the first time in Ukraine that a libel case was handled by an arbitration tribunal instead of an ordinary court. Ukhov said the court demanded immediate payment, effectively stopping publication The Associated Press reports that the Ukrainian Information Ministry suspended publication last week of the opposition daily, Pravda Ukrainy, saying its re-registration last summer as a joint stock company violated a law restricting foreign participation in joint media ventures.

Ukraine's constitution and a 1991 law provide for freedom of speech and the press, but the government exercises enough influence that many news organs concede that they practice self-censorship. The executive branch, through its Ministry of Press and Information, subsidizes some publications. Broadcast media principally are state owned.