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US Endorses Calls for Investigation into Death of Ukrainian Radio Station Director

The United States Friday endorsed calls in Ukraine for an investigation of the death of a Ukrainian radio station director who had been considering having his station carry programs of the U.S.-funded Radio Liberty. A State Department spokesman said there is reason for concern about the car-crash death of broadcaster Yuriy Chechyk, given the suspicious deaths of several Ukrainian journalists in recent years.

The State Department says the issue of the death of journalists in Ukraine under "suspicious circumstances," as well as repeated cases of the silencing of free media in that country, is a matter of "serious and ongoing" concern for the U.S. government.

It is endorsing a call by the chairman of the media committee of the Ukrainian parliament for an investigation of the death of Yuriy Chechyk, the director of Radio Yuta in the city of Poltava on Wednesday.

Police in the city east of the capital, Kiev, say Mr. Chechyk was killed when the car he was driving collided head-on with another vehicle.

The Associated Press said Mr. Chechyk had been enroute to Kiev to meet with officials of Radio Liberty's Ukrainian service, which has been struggling to find a local carrier for its broadcasts since a Kiev station dropped its programming last month.

Although Ukrainian authorities say the death was accidental, associates of Mr. Chechyk said they suspected foul play.

At a news briefing here, State Department spokesman Adam Ereli said the case merits an investigation. "We still don't know all the facts related to the death, and I would say it is a little early to speculate on what were the full circumstances," he said. "However, as I said earlier, clearly there is reason for concern based on the history of murder and disappearances of journalists in the Ukraine. I would also note that a number of prominent political figures in Ukraine including the chairman of the Ukrainian parliament's committee on the media, Mykola Tomenko, have called for a full investigation into this matter and the United States government supports this call."

Mr. Ereli said it was not the first time the United States had called for an investigation into such cases.

He cited the still-unsolved murder of Internet journalist Heorhiy Gongadze, who was found dead outside Kiev in 2000, and similar murder cases in 2001 and 2003 involving a television station manager and a newspaper editor.

The spokesman said the United States has long held that the government of Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has been "stifling the free press," and had expressed concern only Thursday about this week's closure of Radio Kontynent in Kiev, after it had said it would begin carrying Radio Liberty programs.

Mr. Ereli said there have also been cases of harassment, intimidation and violence against individual journalists, and "persistent reports" that Mr. Kuchma's administration issues press directives on how news events in the country are to be covered.

He said the U.S. ambassador in Kiev, John Herbst, raised U.S. concerns about the shutdown of Radio Kontynent with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Gryshchenko, and that a similar complaint had been lodged with Ukraine's embassy in Washington.