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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Probe Yields Partial Results in Kiev

A beheaded body found in a forest near Kiev in November was most likely that of missing opposition journalist Georgy Gongadze whose disappearance has sparked a major political scandal in Ukraine, the country's chief prosecutor said Wednesday.

Prosecutor General Mykhailo Potebenko also said experts could not determine whether audio tapes — purportedly of Ukraine-ian President Leo-nid Kuchma discussing ways to silence Gongadze — were authentic.

As Potebenko reported to parliament about the investigation, thousands demonstrated across Ukraine for and against the embattled president.

"We must protect Ukraine's constitution and president from slander spread by destructive forces," a Lutsk rally organizer, Ivan Sidor, said in comments cited by Interfax. Several hundred people rallied near parliament in Kiev, where they confronted presidential supporters with shouts of "Shame!" and "Down with Kuchma!"

Gongadze, 31, a critic of the government and high-level corruption, disappeared Sept. 16 in Kiev.

A former Kuchma bodyguard, Major Mykola Melnichenko, has claimed from a hiding place abroad that he secretly taped Kuchma and other top officials discussing steps to silence Gongadze. In the recording, later presented to parliament by opposition leader Oleksandr Moroz, a man who sounds like Kuchma talks about Gongadze; it is unclear if he is ordering any action or simply venting anger. Kuchma and others have strongly denied Melnichenko's allegations.

Potebenko's office announced a search for Melnichenko last week, saying he's suspected of slander and forgery.

Potebenko told parliament Wednesday it was impossible to confirm whether the audio tapes were authentic, since they contained "editing, removals or insertions of separate fragments, words and sounds, and were of low quality."

Turning to the body, the chief prosecutor said DNA tests showed a 99.6 percent probability that Gongadze's mother was the mother of the dead man.

A day before Potebenko's presentation in parliament, the United States called on Ukraine to conduct a "speedy and transparent" investigation into Gongadze's disappearance.

"Ukrainian interests will be best served by a speedy and transparent investigation of this matter," Ambassador Steven Sestanovich, a special adviser to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright with responsibility for former Soviet states, told a news conference in Washington on Tuesday.

Interfax reported that a delegation from the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe was set to arrive in Ukraine on Wednesday to meet with parliamentary investigators in the Gongadze case. (AP, Reuters)