Accessibility links

Newsline - February 16, 1996


YELTSIN FIRES HEAD OF CHANNEL 2.
President Boris Yeltsin sacked Oleg Poptsov as chairman of Russian TV, which broadcasts nationwide on Channel 2, Russian and Western media reported on 15 February. He appointed Eduard Sagalaev, currently head of the TV-6 network, to replace Poptsov. Russian commentators warned that Yeltsin is tightening control over the media as he begins his reelection campaign. Although fully state-owned, Russian TV's news coverage is less consistently pro-presidential than 51% state-owned Russian Public TV (ORT), which broadcasts on Channel 1. Speaking in Yekaterinburg, Yeltsin said ORT presents the news "normally," while Channel 2 "lies." Poptsov, who was chairman of Russian TV since its creation in July 1990, first claimed that he was under pressure to resign because of his network's Chechnya coverage in January 1995. In a 15 February interview with Russian TV, Poptsov said he still supported Yeltsin's reelection bid. -- Laura Belin

REACTION TO YELTSIN RE-ELECTION ANNOUNCEMENT.
While President Boris Yeltsin portrayed himself in Yekaterinburg as the only alternative to a return of "the red wheel of communism," Yegor Gaidar and Sergei Kovalev insisted Yeltsin's candidacy will only help the Communists, Russian media reported on 15 February. However, Forward, Russia! leader Boris Fedorov said he will back Yeltsin if Russia's democrats cannot agree on a different candidate, according to Ekspress-khronika. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin repeated that he has no presidential aspirations. Former chief of staff Sergei Filatov, now one of the president's top campaign organizers, told NTV he is setting up an nationwide pro-Yeltsin association, which will publish its own newspaper during the campaign. Meanwhile, Yeltsin's wife Naina told RIA-Novosti that she is still concerned about her husband's health, although she described his current condition as "normal." -- Laura Belin

YELTSIN PLEDGES ACTION ON WAGE ARREARS.
Speaking in Yekaterinburg on 15 February, Yeltsin promised that "from March on, there will be no problem with wage arrears." He castigated directors who pay themselves 30 million rubles ($6,300) a month, "while at the same time the working class do not get their wages for two months." Wage arrears are tied to the problems of tax arrears and inter-enterprise debt, which now stand at approximately 13.4 trillion, 30 trillion and 50 trillion rubles, respectively. The first meeting of the new government commission on payments arrears, chaired by First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Kadannikov, met on 14 February, Kommersant-Daily reported the next day. Kadannikov said he is searching for a "macroeconomic" solution, while his predecessor Anatolii Chubais targeted individual debtor firms. -- Peter Rutland

BACKGROUND ON NEW HEAD OF RUSSIAN TV.
Eduard Sagalaev's appointment as chairman of Russian TV marks an about-face for a television pioneer who has spent the last few years developing a private network. During the Gorbachev era, Sagalaev helped create the groundbreaking Ostankino programs "Vzglyad" (Viewpoint) and "Dvenadtsatyi etazh" (The Twelfth Floor). He formed a partnership with American media magnate Ted Turner in 1992 and founded the independent Moscow city channel TV-6 the following year. TV-6 reaches about 70 million viewers in European Russia, but does not yet produce its own news programs. In August 1995, Sagalaev was chosen to lead the new National Association of Television Broadcasters, which was founded to advance the independent media and push for the privatization of broadcasting facilities. Sagalaev also heads the Confederation of Journalists' Unions. -- Laura Belin

MOST RUSSIANS PREFER LOCAL MEDIA.
More than half of Russians watch only local television and read only local or regional newspapers, according to recent poll by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VCIOM) reported by ITAR-TASS on 15 February. VCIOM director Yurii Levada said the study proves that Russia "cannot be equated with Moscow," since the independence of the regions is increasing. -- Laura Belin

FORMER TOP PROCURATOR UNDER INVESTIGATION.
Keen to show that he is cracking down on corruption, President Yeltsin said on 15 February that criminal charges have been brought against Aleksei Ilyushenko, acting procurator-general from February 1994 to October 1995, Russian and Western agencies reported. Ilyushenko has been accused of abuse of office and bribe-taking. Criminal proceeding have also been instituted against a former governor of Vologda Oblast and Yevgenii Bychkov, chairman of the Russian Committee on Precious Metals, who is a key figure in talks with South Africa's diamond giant De Beers. Yeltsin said that 1,200 senior officials have been convicted since he signed decrees on combating corruption. -- Penny Morvant

DUMA PASSES BILL ON DETENTION OF SUSPECTS.
The Duma passed a bill in the first reading on 14 February reducing the period in which suspects can be held in custody without indictment to 10 days, the BBC reported citing Interfax. At present, under a June 1994 presidential decree on measures to combat organized crime, suspects can be held for 30 days before charges are brought. That decree has been severely criticized for contravening the constitution and violating human rights. -- Penny Morvant

RUSSIA'S MUSLIMS DISCUSS WAR IN CHECHNYA . . .
The Union of Muslims of Russia has proposed that the leaders of all the country's Muslim regions convoke a meeting to discuss the settlement of the conflict in Chechnya, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 15 February. Dudaev representative Aslan Maskhadov is expected to attend the meeting. The union's leaders stressed that the meeting is aimed at persuading President Yeltsin to find a peaceful solution to the conflict, adding that if the war continues, they will call on Russia's 20 million Muslims to vote against Yeltsin in the presidential election. -- Anna Paretskaya

. . . TATARSTAN PRESIDENT HAS PLAN TO END THE CONFLICT.
Mintimer Shaimiev, the president of Tatarstan, has his own ideas on how to end the war in Chechnya, Izvestiya reported on 16 February. Shaimiev proposed all-party negotiations, the establishment of an international monitoring group, and the introduction of an amnesty for all involved, including Dudaev. He also advocated holding new elections in Chechnya, in which Dudaev would be allowed to participate. -- Anna Paretskaya

RUSSIAN IFOR COMMANDER DISMISSED.
Maj.-Gen. Nikolai Statskov, commander of the Russian contingent in the NATO-led Bosnian peace implementation force (IFOR), has been recalled to Moscow, NTV reported on 15 February. Statskov, deputy commander of Russia's Airborne Forces, was criticized last December for meeting with Bosnian Serb General Ratko Mladic, an indicted war criminal (see OMRI Daily Digest, 27 December 1995). NTV speculated that Statskov was dismissed at the request of NATO Commander General George Joulwan, who recently visited Moscow. The station defended Statskov's decision to meet with Mladic, however, saying it had allowed the Russian peacekeeping brigade to be successfully deployed in Serb-held territory. The commander of the Airborne Forces, Col.-Gen. Yevgenii Podkolzin, later denied that Statskov's recall had political significance, attributing it to the normal rotation of personnel. -- Scott Parrish

PRIMAKOV CALLS FOR SUSPENSION OF SANCTIONS AGAINST BOSNIAN SERBS.
Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov called on 15 February for the international Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia to discuss suspending UN economic sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs, Russian and Western agencies reported. In a phone conversation with his U.S. counterpart Warren Christopher, Primakov described the suspension of the sanctions as "important and urgent" and insisted that "all obstacles" to this measure have now been removed. Russia and the U.S. disagree over whether the Bosnian Serbs have met the conditions specified in the Dayton Accords for suspension of the sanctions, blocking action on the issue by the UN Security Council (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 February 1996) . The issue will likely be addressed at the Rome summit on Bosnia, now scheduled for 17-18 February. -- Scott Parrish

DEFENSE MINISTRY BUDGET.
Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said his ministry asked for 71 trillion rubles ($15 billion) for 1996, but was only granted 41 trillion ($8.6 billion), Russian Television reported on 15 February. He was speaking to a meeting of Defense Ministry civilian trade unions near Moscow. He added that 15 trillion of this year's spending will go to paying off 1995 debts. Meanwhile, the residents of the village Bolshoi Kamen in Primorsk Krai dismantled two old diesel submarines and sold them for scrap, in order to pay the local garrison's wages, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 February. -- Peter Rutland

GROMOV: CASUALTIES IN CHECHNYA WORSE THAN AFGHANISTAN.
Col.-Gen. Boris Gromov, former commander of the Soviet 40th Army in Afghanistan, told a 14 February Moscow news conference that the Russian army has suffered more serious losses in Chechnya than the Soviet army did in Afghanistan. Gromov was clearly referring to the casualty rate, not total losses. He said 13,833 servicemen had been killed and some 50,000 wounded during the involvement in Afghanistan. The worst year was 1984, when 2,227 soldiers were killed. According to Gromov, the Russian army suffered losses similar to the 1984 death toll in the first four months of 1995. Gromov contended that Defense Minister Grachev failed to take account of the "Afghan lessons" when planning operations in Chechnya, blaming the mistake on "Grachev's loyalty to one person rather than the army." -- Doug Clarke

RUSSIA AND FRANCE SIGN ECONOMIC ACCORDS.
French Prime Minister Alain Juppe and his Russian counterpart Viktor Chernomyrdin signed five economic agreements following the first meeting of a Franco-Russian Economic Commission on 15 February, ITAR-TASS reported. The deals included a $500 million line of credit for the oil industry, and $300 million for aerospace, agribusiness, and other projects. Juppe later said France supports Russia's pending application for a $9 billion IMF extended facility loan. He also endorsed transforming the G-7 into the G-8 by admitting Russia, a change Russian leaders have long advocated. In 1995, Franco-Russian trade totaled only $2.4 billion, or 2% of Russian foreign trade. -- Scott Parrish and Natalia Gurushina

URGENT NEED FOR LAND CODE.
Nikolai Komov, the head of the Russian Committee on Land Allocation and Use, argued that a Land Code is urgently needed to codify land holdings and enable taxes and revenue to be raised from landholders. Passage of a land code has been blocked in the Duma by opponents of private land ownership. Speaking on Radio Mayak on 15 February, Komov suggested that 13 trillion rubles ($2.7 billion) a year could be raised by taxing the nation's 55 million individual and 400,000 enterprise landholders. Meanwhile, several citizens are appealing to the Constitutional Court over the Moscow city tax on non-resident apartment owners. Under a September 1994 local law, Russians who buy a Moscow flat must pay a tax of 500 times the monthly minimum wage (about $6,000), and foreigners 5,000 times (about $60,000) per apartment, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 15 February. -- Peter Rutland

TAX REVENUES BELOW TARGET.
Vladimir Gusev, the head of the Tax Inspectorate, said that the federal budget raised only 15 trillion rubles ($3.2 billion) per month in 1995 instead of the planned 20 trillion, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 February. Only 14 trillion were gathered in January 1996, yet the tax target for 1996 is 246 trillion rubles, 60% higher than 1995. Gusev said that a "legal vacuum" means that 1 trillion rubles of tax money owed by firms is tied up in commercial banks. In related news, Finansovye izvestiya reported on 16 February that on 31 January all federal and municipal agencies have been ordered to switch their accounts from commercial banks to the Central Bank or Savings Bank (Sberbank), unless the latter authorize another bank to act as their agent. -- Peter Rutland



ECONOMIC DECLINE IN TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA.
Finansovye izvestiya, citing the CIS Intergovernmental Statistics Committee, reported on 15 February that in 1995 Azerbaijan's GDP declined by 17.2%, Tajikistan's by 12.4%, Kazakhstan's by 8.9%, and Kyrgyzstan's by 6.2%. The continuing deterioration of Azerbaijan's economy is probably connected with the war in Chechnya, as a result of which Russia closed the border between Azerbaijan and Dagestan. -- Lowell Bezanis

ONE DAY OF PEACE IN TAVIL-DARA.
Government and opposition forces agreed to cease hostilities on 15 February in order to hand over the bodies of government troops killed there since fighting broke out on 31 January, Reuters reported. A joint team from the UN and the International Red Cross monitored the delivery of 92 bodies. Western sources estimate that the actual number of dead on the government side is several times higher, but heavy snow is hampering the search for casualties in Tavil-Dara. -- Bruce Pannier

MINERS IN SOUTHERN KAZAKHSTAN CONTINUE HUNGER STRIKE.
The wives and mothers of the 25 miners who are on an indefinite hunger strike in the mining town of Kentau in southern Kazakhstan have threatened to join the coal workers if the 15-month wage arrears are not paid immediately, a representative of the Independent Trade Union of Kazakhstan told Western media on 16 February. He added that electricity and hot water supplies have been cut off for months in most of the miners' houses. As yet, the Kazakhstani government has taken no steps to meet the miners' demands. -- Bhavna Dave

PROBLEMS BETWEEN BISHKEK AND ANKARA.
According to Zaman on 15 February, relations between Turkey and Kyrgyzstan are under strain after Turkey froze $40 million in Eximbank credits to Bishkek. Other bilateral problems noted include the failure of Kyrgyzstan (and other Central Asian states) to contribute to the establishment of a joint Turkish-Central Asian Bank and to send 100 experts for training in Turkey. Articles treating problems between what Ankara terms "brother republics" are rare in the Turkish press; Zaman is probably sounding the alarm bell in the hope that Ankara will take steps to keep Bishkek happy. -- Lowell Bezanis



UKRAINE, FRANCE SIGN MILITARY COOPERATION AGREEMENT.
The defense ministers of Ukraine and France, Valerii Shmarov and Charles Millon, have signed two bilateral military cooperation agreements during the latter's two-day visit to Kiev, Ukrainian and international agencies reported on 15 February. The agreements provide for joint military exercises, exchange of expertise on military training, and cooperation in military technology. Ukraine and France have already begun to cooperate in peacekeeping in the former Yugoslavia. Millon said France was "satisfied" that some 600 Ukrainian military personnel were serving in the French-monitored sector in Bosnia. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

MILITARY LEADERS PROPOSE REFORM OF UKRAINIAN ARMED FORCES.
More than 700 generals and officers have signed an open letter proposing that Ukraine's armed forces be reformed, Ukrainian TV and ITAR-TASS reported on 15 February. They suggest that the number of troops be reduced over the next 15 years, saying a smaller, more mobile defense force would be more feasible financially. They also claimed their plan has won the approval of specialists and government officials. Ukrainian Defense Minister told reporters on 15 February that Kiev will proceed with a plan to cut the country's armed forces from 470,000 to 350,000 over the next four years. Meanwhile, President Leonid Kuchma on 12 February fired Anatolii Lopata, the army's chief of staff, for proposing a larger force. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

UKRAINIAN PREMIER SAYS IMF MAY AGREE TO LARGER DEFICIT.
Yevhen Marchuk told Ukrainian TV on 15 February that he is confident the IMF will accept a larger deficit in the country's 1996 draft budget. He said he believes the IMF will agree to a deficit of 6.4% of GDP rather than 6%, as agreed previously. This would pave the way for granting Ukraine the fourth tranche of a $1.5 billion standby loan. The IMF delayed the installment, worth $700 million, because of Kiev's failure to approve this year's budget and make debt payments for energy imports. Marchuk said some 37 trillion karbovantsi of the new deficit would be covered by National Bank credits, which he called "undesirable, but unavoidable." He stressed that the parliament needs to adopt the budget by 6 April, when the IMF board is scheduled to decide whether to release the funds. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

SEJM APPROVES NEW POLISH GOVERNMENT.
The Sejm on 15 February approved Wlodziemirz Cimoszewicz's cabinet by a vote of 273 to 87 with 28 abstentions, Polish media reported. Cimoszewicz succeeded Jozef Oleksy, who resigned in January after military prosecutors launched an investigation into allegations that he had spied for Moscow. Cimoszewicz said after the vote he was confident his government would remain in office until next year's parliamentary elections. -- Jakub Karpinski

LATVIAN-ESTONIAN SEA BORDER TALKS.
Latvian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins has said it may be necessary to refer Latvia's maritime border dispute with Estonia to an international court or to arbitration, BNS reported on 15 February. Negotiations with Estonia on 13 February in Stockholm reportedly made little progress in settling the dispute. Latvia, rejecting Estonia's claim that the area around the Ruhnu and Kihnu islands is part of its economic zone, has proposed that the two states divide up the Gulf of Riga equally. In December, Estonian warships forcibly expelled Latvian fishing boats that entered the disputed area. The next round of talks on the sea border are likely to take place in late March. -- Saulius Girnius

LITHUANIAN PREMIER APPROVED.
The Seimas on 15 February approved the appointment of Mindaugas Stankevicius as prime minister by a vote of 70 to six with two abstentions, BNS reported. The major opposition parties did not participate in the vote, saying that although they were opposed to the formation of another Democratic Labor Party government, they would not hinder the appointment of Stankevicius. Stankevicius has 15 days to name a government, which must be approved by President Algirdas Brazauskas, and to present his program to the Seimas. It is unclear whether the opposition will try to force early parliamentary elections. -- Saulius Girnius

CZECH PARLIAMENT PASSES MONEY LAUNDERING LAW.
By an almost unanimous vote, the Czech parliament on 15 February adopted a law designed to restrict money laundering. Under its terms, banks and other financial institutions will have to report the details of people making transactions of more than 500,000 koruny ($18,500) and unspecified "unusual transactions" to the Finance Ministry, Czech media reported. The law was three years in the making. Meanwhile, the country's mass privatization program, now officially completed, has repeatedly been described as providing a perfect cover for laundering "dirty money." -- Steve Kettle

CZECH STEEL GIANT FACES BANKRUPTCY.
The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs on 15 February began bankruptcy proceedings against the leading Czech steel producer, Poldi Ocel, for not paying employees' social security payments totaling 170 million koruny ($6.3 million), Czech media reported. The move followed the breakdown of a government-endorsed rescue plan whereby engineering giant Skoda Plzen would have taken over the hugely indebted steelworks. Vladimir Stehlik, Poldi Ocel's controversial majority owner, refused to relinquish control to Skoda. National Property Fund Chairman Roman Ceska said a suit will also be filed accusing Stehlik's firm Bohemia Art of improperly acquiring a majority stake in Poldi Ocel, which employs 6,500 workers and which during the communist era was a major supplier to the Comecon countries. -- Steve Kettle

SLOVAK PRESIDENT ACCUSES SECRET SERVICE OF SON'S KIDNAPPING.
Michal Kovac on 15 February for the first time publicly accused the Slovak Information Service (SIS) of kidnapping his son to Austria last August, Sme and international media reported. He told a news conference that Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar had spoken "untruths and half-truths" a day earlier when he said there was no evidence of SIS participation in the abduction. Kovac said SIS equipment and employees were involved in the kidnapping, adding: "I do not assume, however, that the prime minister knew about it." Kovac called on the director of the SIS, Meciar's ally Ivan Lexa, to resign, saying that the kidnapping could not have taken place without his involvement. -- Steve Kettle

HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER RECEIVED BY POPE.
Gyula Horn on 15 February had a private audience with John Paul II in the Vatican, international agencies reported. The two men talked about an expected papal visit to Hungary in June 1996, when Hungary celebrates the 1,100 anniversary of its founding. They also discussed a possible concordat between Hungary and the Roman Catholic Church. Horn the previous day met with outgoing Italian Prime Minister Lamberto Dini for talks on Hungarian membership in the EU. -- Jiri Pehe



HOLBROOKE SAYS BOSNIAN PEACE PROCESS FACES `MOST SERIOUS THREAT' TO DATE.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke said in Paris on 16 February that the Rome summit has been brought forward to this weekend because the peace process is facing its "most serious threat" so far. Holbrooke said "sloppiness" in the Dayton peace accord is mainly responsible for the current problems, as each side is interpreting it to its own advantage. Holbrooke added that the issue of war crimes, which prompted the Bosnian Serbs to boycott talks with the Bosnian government and international organizations, is "non-negotiable." Meanwhile, the international community's Carl Bildt included among the issues to be addressed at the summit the continued Bosnian Serb boycott, unfulfilled pledges from the international community to provide aid for reconstruction, and the scheduled elections, which are supposed to take place by September. -- Michael Mihalka

IFOR SEIZES `FOREIGN FIGHTERS.'
IFOR on 15 February detained 11 heavily armed individuals near Sarajevo who were carrying a significant number of weapons and munitions, international media reported. IFOR did not reveal the identity of the individuals, saying only they were not natives of Bosnia and that their presence appeared to violate provisions of the Dayton peace accords prohibiting the presence of "foreign forces." Some sources say that a few of the men were Iranians. Both IFOR and the Bosnian government have officially maintained that there are no "foreign fighters" in the country, but the U.S. has repeatedly complained to the Bosnian government that their continued presence threatens military aid. -- Michael Mihalka

PLAN FOR TRANSFER OF SERB-HELD SARAJEVO SUBURBS.
Michael Steiner, deputy to the international community's Carl Bildt, on 15 February presented a plan for the phased transfer of Serb-held Sarajevo suburbs to Bosnian government control, Hina and international media reported. A federal police force is to take over on 20 March and will reflect the composition of the national population based on the 1990 census. Serbian police officers who are not indicted for war crimes may serve in the force. Steiner added there was no longer any need to discuss the matter with Bosnian Serb authorities, who have boycotted meetings with international organizations. -- Michael Mihalka

SARAJEVO BUS TARGETED FROM "KNOWN LOCATIONS."
An IFOR spokesman has said that sniper shots aimed at a Sarajevo bus on 14 February can be traced to "the same location from which IFOR soldiers were fired at," Onasa reported the next day. Two people were injured in the 14 February shooting. Meanwhile, Onasa also reported that a spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees has said that the corridor linking downtown Sarajevo to Serb-populated Ilidza will be restored when authorities determine it to be safe. -- Stan Markotich

HOLBROOKE SAYS BOSNIAN SERB GENERAL MUST GO.
Reuters on 15 February quoted U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke as saying NATO will "demand compliance" with regard to the status of Bosnian Serb General and accused war criminal Ratko Mladic. Holbrooke said that by continuing to hold onto his post, Mladic is "defying the Dayton agreement." He also said that Mladic is likely to be a major topic of discussion at the Rome summit this weekend. -- Stan Markotich

CROATIAN POLICE ARRIVE IN MOSTAR.
Hina on 15 February reported that 101 police officers from Croatia have arrived in the Bosnian city of Mostar with the mandate to preserve peace and law and order. Josko Moric, Zagreb's deputy interior minister, said the officers will wear Croatian uniforms. He added that they will not police Muslim-held parts of the city and will not come under the command of EU police authorities. Croatia had promised at Dayton to send more than 100 police officers to Mostar. Meanwhile, Slobodna Dalmacija on 16 February reported that Mostar's Croatian and Muslim mayors are slated to meet in Sarajevo on 16-17 February for discussions aimed at restoring contacts and resolving outstanding differences. -- Stan Markotich

SERBIAN AUTHORITIES CLAMP DOWN ON INDEPENDENT TV.
Belgrade's only politically independent television station, Studio B, is the latest target in the government's campaign against independent media in the rump Yugoslavia, Nasa Borba reported on 16 February. A Belgrade court the previous day revoked the station's status as a private company. Reuters quoted Milorad Roganovic, general manager of Studio B TV, as saying "I don't know how you can have a private company for six years and then all of a sudden it doesn't exist. This is stupidity." The BBC on 16 February reported that the attempt to take over Studio B appears to be part of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's plan to control and manipulate information as rump Yugoslav general elections approach. -- Stan Markotich

ROMANIAN SENATE PASSES LAW ON POLITICAL PARTIES.
The Romanian Senate on 15 February approved the draft law on political parties, Radio Bucharest reported. Since the draft differs from one passed by the Chamber of Deputies, a mediation commission will now attempt to bridge differences between the two texts. The bill raises the minimum membership of political party from 2,500 to 10,000 members. The Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) faction walked out in protest and did not participate in the ballot. UDMR senator Gyorgy Frunda told the parliament before the vote that the draft infringes on both the right to free association and the international convention on the rights of national minorities, which Romania has signed. The UDMR has said it will appeal the bill at the Constitutional Court. -- Michael Shafir

GROWING LABOR UNREST IN ROMANIA.
Most of the 4,000 employees at a Romanian car plant co-owned by South Korea's industrial giant Daewoo have been on strike for more than a week, despite a court ruling that the protest action is illegal, Romanian and international media reported on 15 February. The strikers are demanding that their wages be indexed to the dollar. President Ion Iliescu, meeting with union leaders and management at the car plant, said the strike was endangering Korean investment in Romania. South Korea is Romania's largest foreign investor. Meanwhile, more than 5,000 steel workers in the town of Hunedoara protested for the third consecutive day against lay-offs caused by cuts of energy supplies at their plant. At a rally outside the city hall on 15 February, they threatened to launch an indefinite strike if energy supplies are not resumed. -- Matyas Szabo

MOLDOVAN FOREIGN MINISTER AT EU HEADQUARTERS.
Mihai Popov on 15 February held talks in Brussels with Hans van den Broek, the EU Commissioner for relations with Eastern Europe and the CIS, to review progress on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Moldova. Reuters quoted Popov as saying there were good chances that Russia's commitment to withdraw its troops from eastern Moldova will be carried out soon. He added, however, that the unstable political situation in Russia may complicate the withdrawal. Russia has pledged to remove troops from the breakaway Dniester region within six months to comply with one of the conditions for its recent successful application to join the CE. -- Matyas Szabo

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION ON PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS.
Leaders of the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), the People's Union (NS), and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom on 15 February held talks on selecting a joint candidate for upcoming presidential elections. Standart reported that SDS Chairman Ivan Kostov failed to persuade other party leaders to preliminary elections among the parties' members. Kostov said that incumbent President Zhelyu Zhelev can "on no account" be the SDS's candidate but he can be the candidate of the united opposition. But he added that the president will have to participate in the preliminaries. Kostov also said that the "necessary circumstances" for former Tsar Simeon's candidacy do not exist. Kontinent reported that the NS will set up a political council of all parties supporting Zhelev's candidacy. -- Stefan Krause

ALBANIAN MINE PRIVATIZATION TO GET UNDER WAY.
Albanian authorities on 15 February announced they will start the privatization of the country's mines in the coming weeks, international agencies reported the same day. Director of the National Privatization Center Niko Glozheni said smaller mines will be put up for auction in the first wave of privatization. Glozheni said that in 1995, 2,924 small and medium-sized state enterprises and 50 large ones were privatized. Albania is the world's third biggest chrome producing country. In other news, Albania and Germany signed an agreement whereby Germany will provide aid worth $13 million to help improve the water supply system in three Albanian towns. The agreement is the second stage of a project on which Germany has already spent about $5.8 million. Negotiations on a similar program in two other towns are currently under way. -- Stefan Krause

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT BACKS GREECE IN DISPUTE WITH TURKEY . . .
The European Parliament on 15 February passed a declaration backing Greece in its dispute with Turkey over the islet of Imia/Kardak, AFP reported the same day. The vote was 342 to 21 with 11 abstentions. The resolution condemned "Turkey's dangerous violation of Greek sovereignty" and voiced concern about "increased military tension in the Aegean." Meanwhile, a Greek Aegean Ministry official said Athens will continue with a resettlement program involving 10 islets, which was unveiled last July. Also on 15 February, the Greek government named Gen. Athanasios Tzoganis as new armed forces chief of staff. Tzoganis, until now chief of the air force, replaces Admiral Christos Limberis, who was fired on 8 February for his handling of the crisis. -- Stefan Krause

. . . WHILE TURKEY REJECTS LEGALITY OF RESOLUTION.
The Turkish Foreign Ministry, meanwhile, termed the European Parliament's resolution "devoid of any legal basis" and noted that the parliament is maintaining its "biased and far from constructive stance," Reuters reported on 15 February. The ministry the same day summoned a Greek envoy to demand that Greece withdraw a speedboat reportedly anchored off the Kardak/Imia islet in the Aegean. -- Lowell Bezanis

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Penny Morvant and Jan Cleave




XS
SM
MD
LG