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Newsline - December 14, 1995


CHERNOMYRDIN: GOVERNMENT WILL STAY REGARDLESS OF ELECTION OUTCOME.
At a press conference held to mark the three-year anniversary of his appointment as prime minister, Viktor Chernomyrdin said his government of "professionals" had made progress toward stabilizing the economy and would continue those policies regardless of the outcome of upcoming elections to the State Duma, Russian media reported on 13 December. He noted that under the constitution the president, not parliament, chooses the head of the cabinet, and a new government need only be appointed upon the election of a new president, not a new parliament. However, there may be a government reshuffle after the election. In January 1994, Yegor Gaidar, Boris Fedorov, and Ella Pamfilova left the cabinet following the disappointing performance of Russia's Choice in the December 1993 parliamentary elections. -- Laura Belin

BONNER BEGS SMALL DEMOCRATIC PARTIES TO DROP OUT.
Anxiety within Russia's "democratic camp" about their bleak electoral prospects continues to grow. The last day that opinion polls could be published before the elections was 13 December, and polls suggest that none of the democratic electoral blocs (except Yabloko) may make it over the 5% threshold. Former dissident Yelena Bonner, widow of Andrei Sakharov, appealed to four small democratic blocs to withdraw from the party-list ballot and support either Yabloko or Russia's Democratic Choice-United Democrats, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. So far none of the four bloc leaders, Irina Khakamada (Common Cause), Ella Pamfilova (Pamfilova-Gurov-V. Lysenko), Konstantin Borovoi (Party of Economic Freedom), and Gavriil Popov (Social-Democrats), have accepted Bonner's suggestion. -- Laura Belin

DIRTY TRICKS DEPARTMENT.
Russian Public TV reported on 13 December that a "dirty tricks" entrepreneur had approached an unnamed election candidate and offered his services--such as $1,500-7,000 to arrange a car accident or $5,000-15,000 for bombing a campaign office. Meanwhile, the Russian TV show "Podrobnosti" ran a video tape featuring Duma Deputy Igor Bratishchev, a university professor and one of the authors of the Communist Party economics program, in a police drunk tank in Rostov. The tape showed an officer trying to get a drunken and abusive Bratishchev to give his address so that he could be taken home. -- Peter Rutland

FIRST INITIATIVE GROUP FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS REGISTERED.
The Central Electoral Commission (TsIK) has registered the first initiative group for the 1996 presidential elections, which supports National Association of Russian Trade Unions Chairman Aleksandr Alekseev for the presidency, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 December. The association is a completely independent body that criticizes the government as well as reform-oriented parties and the Communists. The group can now start to collect the 1 million signatures required for the candidate's registration. TsIK Chairman Nikolai Ryabov said the group supporting former Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi would be considered next. Last month, the TsIK rejected the application documents it received from Vladimir Voronin, head of the TIBET Association of Investors (see OMRI Daily Digest, 1 December 1995). -- Anna Paretskaya

JOURNALIST KILLED IN CHECHNYA.
Shamkhan Kagirov, a journalist for the official government newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta and the local newspaper Vozrozhdenie, which supports the pro-Moscow Chechen government, was killed 40 km outside the Chechen capital Grozny on 12 December, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. He was the 13th journalist killed since the war in Chechnya began. The same day, unidentified individuals shot at the Russian Public TV (ORT) film crew near Grozny, injuring the cameraman. -- Anna Paretskaya

IRKUTSK LEGISLATURE EXTENDS ITS TERM.
The Irkutsk Oblast Legislative Assembly approved a two-year extension of its term by a vote of 31-10 on the grounds that current legislation on regional administration and local self-government is inadequate, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 December. The assembly's decision is in accordance with the 18 September presidential decree setting elections to regional legislatures for December 1997. The current assembly was elected to a two-year term in March 1994. -- Anna Paretskaya

CORRUPTION CHARGES AGAINST RUTSKOI OFFICIALLY DROPPED.
The Procurator's Office has officially dropped corruption charges against former Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi, Interfax reported on 13 December, citing sources within the procuracy. The case against Rutskoi, who now heads the Derzhava political movement, was closed due to the "absence of a crime." The affair began in the summer of 1993, when Rutskoi, then a leader of the parliamentary opposition to President Yeltsin, and allies of the president were trading corruption allegations. A presidential anti-corruption commission accused Rutskoi of diverting state funds to a Swiss bank account among other crimes, but the Moscow Procurator's Office dismissed the charges as groundless in January 1994, concluding that they had been trumped-up. Rutskoi told Interfax on 13 December that he hoped the procurator-general would investigate those who initiated the corruption accusations, which he called a "dirty political provocation." -- Penny Morvant

CHERNOMYRDIN LEAVES FOR PARIS.
Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin left for Paris on 14 December to attend the signing of the Dayton accord on Bosnia, ITAR-TASS reported. Before leaving for Paris, Chernomyrdin welcomed the release of two captured French pilots and expressed hope that Russo-French cooperation would continue. In a 13 December press conference, Chernomyrdin criticized recent statements by U.S. Ambassador to Russia Thomas Pickering about the ownership of the South Kurils, and said that Russia and Japan would resolve the problem on their own without any prompting from Pickering. (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 December 1995). -- Constantine Dmitriev

JAPANESE MINISTER MAKES GESTURE TOWARDS SOUTH KURILS.
According to a Japanese newspaper, the Japanese Minister for Post and Telegraph Issei Inoue announced his intention to introduce the Japanese domestic postal rates for all letters to the South Kurils, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 December. In response, a ministry official told ITAR-TASS that the minister actually meant to say that the new tariffs would be introduced after the return of the South Kurils. -- Constantine Dmitriev

RUSSIAN PLANES CRASH IN VIETNAM.
Three Russian Su-27 fighters returning home from an air show in Malaysia crashed in Vietnam, Russian and Western agencies reported on 13 December. The planes appear to have crashed into a mountain in bad weather while trying to land on 12 December, and their pilots are presumed dead. Russian and Vietnamese teams continue to search for the missing jets. The SU 27 is one of the world's most advanced fighter aircraft, worth some $20 million per plane. -- Constantine Dmitriev

RUSSIA DELIVERS ROCKET SYSTEM TO KUWAIT.
A Russian delegation is in Kuwait to turn over the "Smerch" ("Tornado") multiple rocket launcher systems that Kuwait purchased in 1994, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 December. Col. Gen. Nikolai Dimidyuk, the commander of artillery for the Ground Troops, said, "After Russia, Kuwait is the first country in the world to be armed with this state-of-the art, unique, and promising piece of military technology." The "Smerch," or BM-30 system, has 12 300-mm rockets mounted on a truck chassis. The Kuwaiti crews were trained in St. Petersburg to fire the missiles. -- Doug Clarke

NORWAY TO HELP WITH RUSSIAN NUCLEAR WASTE.
Norwegian Defense Minister Joergen Kosmo, on a state visit to Moscow, told his Russian counterpart, Pavel Grachev, that Norway wants to help Russia dispose of military nuclear waste, especially refuse from the nuclear-powered submarines laid up on the Kola Peninsula, Reuters reported on 13 December. Relations between Norway and Russia have been strained since Russian federal agents arrested members of a Norwegian environmental group which had been preparing a report on the Arctic region's nuclear waste. -- Doug Clarke

TEACHERS CALL TWO-DAY STRIKE.
At a press conference in Moscow on 13 December, leaders of the education workers' trade union announced a two-day national strike to be held on 14 and 15 December, Russian TV and Express-khronikha reported. As was the case during the one-day warning strike on 26 September, in which about 400,000 people participated, the teachers are demanding the payment of back wages and a salary increase. Union Chairman Vladimir Yakovlev said that there had been no real improvement in the position of teachers following the September protest and that wages are overdue in four-fifths of Russia's regions. He said that some of the extra funds released by the government have not reached schools. Yakovlev warned that if the latest protest has no effect, education workers will begin a one-week strike on 30 January 1996. -- Penny Morvant

PAYMENT OF PENSION ARREARS MAY SPARK INFLATION.
In the run-up to the election, the government has made an effort to pay off all pension arrears, which had risen to 17 trillion rubles ($3.7 billion), according to Moskovskii komsomolets on 14 December. President Yeltsin announced that part of the money would be raised through the sale of gold reserves, but Obshchaya gazeta reported on 7 December reported that no gold had actually been sold. It had merely been transferred to the Central Bank in return for loans, which is potentially inflationary. Meanwhile, the government is trying to blame continuing delays in pension payments on corruption in local pension funds. -- Peter Rutland

RUSSIAN BANKS SEEK ACCESS TO U.S.
During a recent trip to the U.S., Association of Russian Banks head Sergei Yegorov hired a public relations firm to combat the money-laundering image of Russian banks, Ekonomika i zhizn reported in issue no. 49. Only one bank (Vneshekonombank) is currently allowed to operate in the U.S. Yegorov said that U.S. regulators are concerned by the weakness of Russian Central Bank monitoring of commercial banks, and the fact that their capital reserves are below those mandated by the Basel convention. Since the beginning of the year, Russian commercial banks have transferred funds amounting to $7.2 billion out of Russia. -- Peter Rutland

RUSSIA PLANS TO SWAP FOREIGN DEBT FOR SHARES.
The acting head of the State Property Committee, Alfred Kokh, said Russia would like to swap part of its $130 billion foreign debt for shares in Russian companies, Reuters reported on 13 December. However, such a scheme is unlikely to be implemented before 1997, one problem being that the total market value of all Russian companies' equities at present is a mere $6-7 billion. -- Natalia Gurushina



MORE ON BBC CORRESPONDENT MURDERED IN TAJIKISTAN.
The reasons for the 12 December murder of BBC correspondent Muhiddin Olimpur remain unclear. Reports from Western agencies indicate Olimpur was shot several times near the state university of Tajikistan in Dushanbe. One Tajik official told ITAR-TASS the killing was "clearly" the work of political opponents of the regime, while a spokesman for the Tajik opposition, Ali Akbar Turajonzoda, told Interfax Olimpur "had no political enemies" and attributed the correspondent's death to bandits. However, the murderer did not steal Olimpur's documents or his gold ring, according to Western agencies. Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 13 December that Olimpur had belonged to a moderate wing of the opposition since 1990. Almost all sources describe Olimpur as a popular figure in Tajikistan and one of the few journalists who stayed in the country to cover events throughout the civil war. -- Bruce Pannier

BREAD PRICES TRIPLE IN TAJIKISTAN.
The price of bread and related products such as flour have tripled after prices were liberated on 11 December, according to a Tajik Radio report cited by the BBC on the same day. According to the report prices now "depend on the cost of transport, processing and sales." The increases come in the wake of an announcement in November that electricity use would be rationed to six hours a day per household until April. -- Bruce Pannier

COMPENSATION FOR VICTIMS OF INVESTMENT FRAUD IN KYRGYZSTAN.
President Askar Akayev has decreed that citizens who lost money in illegal investment schemes will be compensated with privatization coupons, according to a Kyrgyz Radio report monitored by the BBC. The government has been ordered to issue the coupons before 15 January 1996. Besides compensating those who were cheated in the investment deals, the coupons are seen as a way of improving non-state support for citizens, shareholders, and depositors in Kyrgyzstan. The timing could not be better as such schemes have especially affected people with low incomes. Kyrgyz Tuusu reported on 5 December that the minimum monthly salary in the republic is about $6.40 and the minimum monthly pension is about $6. -- Bruce Pannier



KOZHYN ON FOREIGN TROOPS IN UKRAINE.
Vice Admiral Borys Kozhyn, a deputy in Ukraine's parliament and former commander of Ukraine's navy, has said it is time for Ukraine to decide on the status of foreign troops on its territory and encode this in law, Ukrainian radio reported on 13 December. According to Kozhyn, the law should confirm how long foreign troops can serve on Ukrainian soil. He added that the time period should not exceed four years. In addition, he said, foreign troops should abide by Ukrainian law and the country deploying them in Ukraine should pay a fee of around 300 ECU per year for each soldier. Rent for land being used by the troops should be paid for at world prices, and any ecological or other damage caused by the troops should be fully covered by their country. The statement was made in reference to Russian Black Sea Fleet forces in Ukraine. -- Ustina Markus

ESTONIA TO PRIVATIZE AIRLINE.
The Estonian Privatization Agency on 13 December announced that it will accept bids for the state-owned Estonian Air until 25 January 1996, BNS reported. The state intends to retain a 34% share in the airline. The agency's general-director said that management was interested in a strategic partnership with a reputable air company that could provide know-how and additional investments. The airline currently has more than 400 employees and expects a turnover this year of almost 310 million kroons ($27 million), with an anticipated loss of 14.6 million kroons. -- Saulius Girnius

LATVIAN PRESIDENT IN GERMANY.
Guntis Ulmanis met with his German counterpart, Roman Herzog, in Berlin on 11 December, BNS reported. Herzog said that Germany supports Latvia's admission to the EU but was more restrained with regard to NATO membership, noting that relations between the Baltic states and Russia were "a highly important component of European stability." Ulmanis the next day held talks in Bonn with Economics Minister Gunter Rexrodt and Chancellor Helmut Kohl. Ulmanis noted that while Kohl did not give any concrete date for Latvia's possible admission to the EU, he said that the first decisions on EU enlargement would be probably made around the year 2000. -- Saulius Girnius

FORMER LATVIAN KGB CHIEF SENTENCED.
A Riga court on 13 December convicted Alfons Noviks of genocide and sentenced him to life imprisonment, Western agencies reported. The 87-year-old Noviks was charged with being one of the chief organizers of mass deportations, persecutions, and murders of thousands of Latvians from 1941 to 1949. During the 18-month trial, Noviks admitted that he had ordered deportations, but argued that he was not guilty of any crimes because he was fulfilling only Soviet laws. He has ten days to appeal the sentence. -- Saulius Girnius

DECLARATION BY POLISH, GERMAN BISHOPS.
Polish Primate Jozef Glemp and head of the German bishops conference Karl Lehman on 13 December signed a joint statement by Polish and German bishops -- some 30 years after the Polish Roman Catholic bishops sent a letter to their German counterparts. The bishops supported European unity, saying it should be based on dignity, respect for life, freedom, solidarity, and justice. They noted that "the wrong done to many Germans by Poles was a result of expulsions and a lost homeland." The bishops wrote "we forgive and we ask for forgiveness," repeating the 1965 formulation for which the Polish bishops were severely criticized by the communist authorities, Polish dailies reported on 14 December. -- Jakub Karpinski

CZECH GOVERNMENT WANTS COMMUNIST SECRET POLICE FILES DECLASSIFIED.
The Czech government on 14 December approved a draft law giving people almost complete access to files held on them by the communist StB secret police. Under previous proposals, the real names of StB agents involved in surveillance and the names of informants would be withheld. Around 60,000 people could inspect their files if the draft becomes law; another 60,000 files no longer exist, Mlada fronta Dnes noted. It added that the most recent opinion poll showed that less than one-third of respondents were interested in opening up the StB archives. Even if the government draft becomes law quickly, people will be unable to inspect their StB files until late next year at the earliest, seven years after the end of communist rule. -- Steve Kettle

CZECH CONVICTION STOPS SHORT OF RACIAL MOTIVATION.
A Brno court has sentenced a 21-year-old Czech to 12 years in prison for killing a Romani man earlier this year, international and Czech sources reported. Three other men were sentenced to 18 months. Mlada fronta Dnes called the verdict "absurd," saying it is not a statement against racism because the court did not find the murder to be racially motivated. CTK reported that the skinheads had had no prior acquaintance with the Romani family before breaking into their house and had been overheard in a restaurant announcing that they were off to "go at some Gypsies." The prosecutor is appealing. The trial has been the focus of intense debate about racism in the Czech Republic for several weeks. -- Alaina Lemon

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVES 1996 BUDGET.
The parliament on 13 December passed the state budget for 1996 by a vote of 81 to 47, Slovak media reported. The budget plans for revenues of 162.4 billion koruny ($5.6 billion) and expenditures of 189.4 billion koruny, GDP growth of 5-6%, and inflation of 6-7%. In an interview with Sme, Democratic Party Chairman Jan Langos criticized the government's "arrogance" for failing to meet the real needs of citizens, particularly in the areas of health and education. He also called attention to the 30 billion koruny of reserves, which can be used by the government as "political gifts." The budget of the Presidential Office was cut by 25% from the 1995 level as a result of the ongoing feud between the president and prime minister, while the budgets of the government office and the Slovak Information Service were increased by 176% and 47%, respectively. -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARY DEBATES NATO REFERENDUM.
The parliament's Constitutional Committee on 13 December ruled that the parliament is not obliged to approve a referendum on Hungary's NATO membership called for by more than 100,000 signatories, Hungarian media reported. The extraparliamentary communist Party of the Workers organized the signature drive, which, according to the constitution, should oblige the parliament to approve a referendum on the matter. The coalition parties have not supported the idea, saying it is too early for such a referendum. The committee said that it will regard the petition drive as an initiative expressing an opinion and that the parliament will decide on whether to approve a referendum. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

HUNGARY PRIVATIZES OIL, TELECOMMUNICATIONS COMPANIES.
The eight-day issuance of shares in MOL, the Hungarian Gas and Oil Company, on the Budapest Stock Exchange closed on 13 December with an oversubscription of 45 million forints ($0.3 million) for the 3.2 billion forint package, Hungarian newspapers reported. Domestic private investors accounted for more than 1.7 billion forints, while foreign private investors invested 1.5 billion forints. In other news, Vilaggazdasag reported on 14 December that, despite a week of intensive negotiations, no agreement has been reached on the sale of a majority stake in the telecommunications company Matav to its minority owner MagyarCom, a consortium of Deutsche Telekom and Ameritech. The report contradicts a Financial Times report on 13 December according to which the State Privatization and Holding Company struck a deal with MagyarCom on increasing the consortium's stake from 30.3% to 60-70%. -- Zsofia Szilagyi



LEADERS SIGN DAYTON AGREEMENT.
The presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia arrived in Paris to put their signatures to the complex treaty negotiated by American diplomats last month. Also present were the presidents of France and the U.S., as well as the heads of government of Germany, the U.K., Russia, and Spain. In total, some 50 countries and international organizations were represented at the 14 December ceremony. Earlier that morning, the foreign ministers of Bosnia, Croatia and rump Yugoslavia signed the annexes, which contain the real substance of the Dayton agreement. Kresimir Zubak signed for the Croat-Muslim federation and Nikola Koljevic for the Bosnian Serbs. -- Patrick Moore

KALASHNIKOVS GO OFF IN SARAJEVO TO CELEBRATE DAYTON AGREEMENT.
The BBC on 14 December noted that France was anxious to put on a good show to offset the fact that the settlement is primarily an American achievement. The International Herald Tribune added that the Gaullist government wanted to add a diplomatic coup of its own by obtaining mutual diplomatic recognition by Belgrade and Zagreb and by Belgrade and Sarajevo. The BBC reported that Croatia in particular, however, did not want to take any action that could be viewed as endorsing rump Yugoslavia's claim to be the single legal successor to the former Yugoslav federation. Meanwhile in Sarajevo, international media noted that the mood on 14 December was optimistic and that shots were fired in celebration. * Patrick Moore

DID FRENCH DO A DEAL TO FREE PILOTS?
There has been much speculation in recent weeks that French expressions of concern for Sarajevo's Serbs were linked to the issue of the two captured pilots. The Daily Telegraph wrote on 13 December that, in the wake of failed attempts to free the officers, "as the Bosnian peace talks wound up, Belgrade reminded France of its historical friendship with Serbs and asked for `a gesture.' Mr. [Jacques] Chirac responded by expressing concern that the peace pact did not protect the Sarajevo Serbs. In return, France expected its pilots' release. When this did not follow, Mr. Chirac asked Mr. [Slobodan] Milosevic for their return [by 11 December]." Gen. Jean-Philippe Douin then "flew to Belgrade to handle the negotiations [and] ended by drinking plum brandy with Gen. Ratko Mladic." -- Patrick Moore

PARIS DENIES STORY.
International media on 13 December said that the French defense and foreign ministers denied having made any concessions to obtain the two men's release. Nasa Borba on 14 December reported that Mladic wanted to keep the pilots in order to plea bargain with the Hague war crimes tribunal and gave them up only when Milosevic threatened to arrest him if he did not. -- Patrick Moore

UN SQUABBLE OVER EASTERN SLAVONIAN FORCE.
A squabble has broken out at the UN over who should police eastern Slavonia, Western agencies reported. UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali on 12 December recommended that 9,300 troops be sent to the region under the auspices of a multinational force to be attached to the UN NATO-led Implementation Force (IFOR), Hina reported. This proposal contradicts an earlier understanding with the Americans that the east Slavonian force remain a UN operation, and U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright convinced Boutros-Ghali to downgrade the "recommendation" to a "preference." After the original report was publicly released, Albright called it "misguided and counterproductive" for the secretary-general to try to avoid this operation "because of the risk of exacerbating a negative image of UN activities in the former Yugoslavia." Currently, 1,600 Belgian and Russian peacekeepers serve in eastern Slavonia. -- Michael Mihalka

RUGOVA SAYS KOSOVO WILL BE ON INTERNATIONAL AGENDA.
Following a meeting with German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel the president of the Kosovar shadow-state Ibrahim Rugova said that Kosovo will be on the international agenda once the Dayton peace agreement has been signed. He said he had been assured of support by Kinkel and previously by the U.S. government, Nasa Borba reported on 14 December. Kinkel, however, is quoted as saying that Bonn does not support Kosovo's breaking away from rump Yugoslavia. Nasa Borba added that Serbian Socialist Party deputy leader Goran Percevic met with the German parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee and that the Kosovo conflict was discussed at the meeting. -- Fabian Schmidt

SERBIAN PARTY BACKS NATO.
Nasa Borba on 13 December reported that New Democracy supports rump Yugoslavia's membership in NATO's Partnership for Peace program as a means of integrating the rump Yugoslavia into Western institutions. Since it was founded in 1990, it has been the only party in the rump Yugoslavia to have a consistent and "clear pro-European orientation." ND provides critical backing for the governing Socialist Party of Serbia in the Serbian republic's legislature, giving the SPS a de facto majority. A recent spate of remarks by ND member Dusan Mihajlovic stressing the party's support for PfP may be designed to support Milosevic's desire to reintegrate the rump Yugoslavia into the community of nations. -- Stan Markotich

ROMANIAN AIRLINER CRASHES IN ITALY.
A Romanian airliner crashed on 13 December near Verona, killing all 41 passengers and eight crew members on board, Romanian and international media reported. The Russian-built Antonov 24 plane caught fire shortly after it crashed about one km beyond the end of the runway at Villafranca airport. -- Matyas Szabo

ROMANIAN SPOKESMAN ON CONFLICT WITH UKRAINE.
A high official in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs told a press conference on 13 December that Romania and Ukraine are not discussing any territorial problems at present, nor is such a discussion on the agenda. Gabriel Gafita said the issue of "historical rights" can be approached in contexts other than that of the bilateral treaty between the two countries. He said the "discussion on Serpent Island has triggered some emotional reactions" and that Romania hoped these "would soon be overcome" now that the two countries' foreign ministers have agreed to work jointly to prepare a summit meeting between their premiers. -- Michael Shafir

MOLDOVAN STUDENT STRIKE COMMITTEE CONTESTS SUPREME COURT RULING.
Anatol Petrencu, leader of the Moldovan students' strike committee that organized street demonstrations earlier this year, told BASA-press on 12 December that the committee contests a recent ruling of the Supreme Court that the protests were illegal. The court outlawed the protests because they were held during working hours and blocked traffic on the main Chisinau streets and because some demonstrators were underage. A judge at the trial, Petre Raileanu, told BASA-press that the ruling was final and could not be appealed. -- Michael Shafir

BULGARIAN TRADE UNIONS CLASH WITH GOVERNMENT.
Representatives of the major trade unions on 13 December walked out of a meeting of the Council for Trilateral Cooperation, which consists of representatives of the government, employers, and trade unions, Demokratsiya reported the following day. Both Podkrepa and the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria (KNSB) disagreed with those parts of the state budget draft for 1996 dealing incomes policy, saying they do not see any chance to reach an agreement with the government on this question. The government wants to deduct 2% social insurance contribution from workers' wages; in the past, employers made all such contributions. The trade unions object to those plans, arguing they will lead to a fall in real incomes. -- Stefan Krause

NANO ALLOWED TO ATTEND HIS MOTHER'S FUNERAL.
Imprisoned Albanian Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano was released from jail for 24 hours on 13 December to attend the funeral of his mother, Reuters reported the same day. More than 2,500 people were present at the burial of Marije Nano, with the funeral reportedly turning into a show of support for her son. President Sali Berisha ordered Nano's release after a court had rejected his request. Nano was sentenced for misappropriating Italian aid funds and has three-and-a-half years left to serve, but his guilt is disputed and the Socialists say he is a political prisoner. Amnesty International and international parliamentary bodies have called for Nano's release. -- Fabian Schmidt

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES CUSTOMS UNION WITH TURKEY.
The European Parliament on 13 December approved the customs union accord between the EU and Turkey, international media reported. Some 343 deputies voted in favor of the agreement, 149 against, and 36 abstained. The agreement, which calls for the removal of tariffs on industrial products and other impediments to trade between the EU and Turkey, was signed last March following 20 years of negotiations. It becomes effective on 1 January 1996. The European Parliament initially appeared determined to reject or delay the deal on the grounds that Turkey's human rights record and progress toward democratization was insufficient. Its turnaround stems from the widespread belief that Turkey's pro-Western orientation needs to be shored up. The deal is accompanied by an aid package worth $1 billion to help protect Turkish producers. -- Lowell Bezanis and Stefan Krause

REACTIONS TO CUSTOMS UNION VOTE.
Greece expressed its reservations after the European Parliament's vote. Government spokesman Tilemachos Hytiris said Turkey will have to prove that it conforms to EU standards, and he called on the government in Ankara to improve its human rights record. None of the 24 Greek deputies in the European Parliament voted in favor of the agreement. The Cypriot government called on Turkey to withdraw its troops from northern Cyprus. Also on 13 December, some 1,000 Armenians, Cypriots, and Kurds demonstrated outside the EU offices in Athens to protest the customs union, chanting "Turkey's hands are washed in blood." -- Stefan Krause

[As of 1200 CET]


Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave




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