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Newsline - February 19, 1996


RUSSIAN TV STAFF PROTEST POPTSOV'S SACKING.
At a 16 February meeting attended by 200 of the station's 3,000 employees, the staff of Russian TV rejected Yeltsin's criticisms of its work and asked him for a meeting to explain the decision to fire Russian TV Chairman Oleg Poptsov, requesting that the newly-appointed chairman, Eduard Sagalaev, not accept his position until the reasons for Poptsov's firing had been made clear, ITAR-TASS reported. Sagalaev, however, said that he would take the job because he could not "let the president down at this difficult time." Although Sagalaev had given initial approval to his nomination, he found out about it from an evening news broadcast and was not able to meet with Yeltsin, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and Deputy Prime Minister Vitalii Ignatenko (who handles the media) beforehand. Poptsov himself is not inclined to fight his dismissal and is planning to rest. -- Robert Orttung

YELTSIN CALLS FOR POSITIVE PORTRAYAL OF FACTORY.
After hearing Magnitogorsk factory director Vladimir Krivoshchapov complain about the media's coverage of the economy and his factory in a meeting on 16 February in Chelyabinsk, Yeltsin ordered Sagalaev to send a crew to Krivoshchapov's factory to do an upbeat report. Yeltsin characterized Sagalaev as "reliable, orderly, and famous." Ekho Moskvy reported rumors that the head of all news programs at Russian Public TV (ORT), Arkadii Evstafev, was about to be replaced in Yeltsin's continuing media shakeup. -- Robert Orttung

FILATOV CRITICIZES YELTSIN.
Former presidential chief of staff Sergei Filatov has prepared a letter to President Boris Yeltsin expressing concern over his recent practice of letting top government figures find out that they have been fired from the media rather than calling them directly, ITAR-TASS and Russian TV reported 18 February. He specifically referred to Yeltsin's handling of the recent dismissals of Russian TV Chairman Oleg Poptsov and First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais. Filatov, who now heads a committee supporting Yeltsin's candidacy for a second term, warned that "thoughtless" relations with his personnel could cost the president the support of those who have worked with him for many years. -- Robert Orttung

REGIONS TAKE MEASURES TO PREVENT WAGE ARREARS.
Stavropol Krai Governor Petr Marchenko has ruled that starting 17 February, directors of enterprises which are financed from the regional budget, will be immediately fired in cases of groundless delays of wage payments to employees, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the governor's order, officials from the region's executive bodies who are responsible for the actual distribution of budget resources will be also fired in case of payments arrears. Meanwhile, Primorsk Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko issued a decree saying that the payment of wages to officials of the Krai's administration will be suspended unless local public employees receive their long-overdue wages, Russian TV reported on 18 February. This decree was a reaction to the lengthy strikes by miners and energy industry workers throughout the region. -- Anna Paretskaya

JUPPE IN KAZAN.
French Prime Minister Alain Juppe completed his three-day visit to Russia on 16 February with a stop in Tartarstan, where he signed two economics deals worth 250 million francs ($50 million), Russian and Western agencies reported. One deal provides for the French firm SucDen to improve the sugar beet industry in Tatarstan, while the second calls for Thompson, a French electronics company, to upgrade the air control system at the Kazan airport. Following a meeting with Tatarstan President Mintimer Shaimiev, Juppe hailed cooperation between Tatarstan and the French oil company Total, which has already invested $10 million in the republic. He also announced plans for French firms to upgrade the Tartar phone system and said a joint venture to produce heavy civilian helicopters in the republic would be launched soon. -- Scott Parrish

DUMA DENOUNCES EXTRADITION OF BOSNIAN SERB OFFICERS.
The State Duma passed a resolution on 16 February condemning the recent extradition of Bosnian Serb General Djorje Djukic and Colonel Aleksa Krsmanovic to the custody of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia in the Hague, Russian agencies reported. The resolution argued that NATO's "encouragement" of the Bosnian government's "illegal" detention of the officers showed "a dangerous recurrence of double standards" in the Western approach to settling the conflict, and called for the officers' immediate release, demanding "objective" investigation and punishment of war criminals from all the warring parties in former Yugoslavia. Afterwards, Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Vladimir Lukin (Yabloko) threatened that if UN sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs are not suspended soon, the Duma will pass a law calling for Russia to unilaterally withdraw. (See OMRI Daily Digest, 13 and 16 February) -- Scott Parrish

NORTH KOREA BLASTS ITAR-TASS.
ITAR-TASS reported that Ivan Zakharchenko, its Pyongyang correspondent, was summoned to the North Korean Foreign Ministry on 16 February and criticized for his reporting of the recent incident involving a Korean gunman at the Russian Embassy there. (See OMRI Daily Digest, 14 & 15 February 1996). North Korean officials accused Zakharchenko of "slander" for reporting that Cho Men-kil, the gunman who forced his way into the Russian embassy, had requested political asylum. They asserted, contrary to earlier reports, that Men-kil had survived the incident, confessed to being "mentally ill," and had never asked for asylum. On the same day, a North Korean diplomat lodged similar complaints at ITAR-TASS headquarters in Moscow. The agency stuck to its guns, reporting that Russian diplomats who talked with Men-kil during the incident described him as "lucid" and confirmed that he had requested asylum. -- Scott Parrish

IRAN PROTESTS YELTSIN REMARKS.
Iranian Ambassador to Moscow Mehdi Safari on 16 February officially protested to the Russian Foreign Ministry against recent public accusations by President Yeltsin that training camps for Chechen fighters operate in Iran, Western agencies reported, citing Iranian sources. Yeltsin first made the accusations when he announced his presidential candidacy in Yekaterinburg on 15 February, (see OMRI Daily Digest, 15 February 1995), and then repeated them during a 16 February speech in Chelyabinsk. While Iran has expressed sympathy for the Chechen separatists, it has strongly denied any involvement in the conflict, calling it an internal Russian affair. -- Scott Parrish

MIKHAILOV COMMENTS STIR CONTROVERSY.
Remarks by Russian Minister of Nuclear Energy Viktor Mikhailov in a 16 February interview with the Washington Post have prompted criticism from the United States, Russian and Western media reported. According to the newspaper, an apparently intoxicated Mikhailov declared that Russia would preemptively attack any tactical nuclear weapons deployed in former Warsaw Pact countries that hope to join NATO. U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns condemned Mikhailov's comments as "highly irresponsible," and expressed the hope that Russian leaders "will never support this kind of statement." Polish and Czech leaders provoked harsh criticism from Moscow last fall when they announced their countries' willingness to accept nuclear deployments if accepted into NATO. (See OMRI Daily Digest 10 & 19 October 1995). -- Scott Parrish

UNEMPLOYMENT CONTINUES TO GROW.
The number of unemployed calculated using International Labor Organization methodology reached 6.14 million, or 8.4% of the work force, in January, up from 8.2% in December 1995, Radio Mayak reported on 17 February. According to the State Statistics Committee, another 4.5 million (about 6%) were working a short week or on compulsory unpaid, or only partially paid, leave in early January. The number of people officially registered as unemployed with the Federal Employment Service at the end of month equalled 2.4 million (3.3%). -- Penny Morvant

PENSIONS LAG BEHIND PRICES.
While prices rose by more than 700% in 1994-95, average pensions grew by 450% and the minimum pension by just 320%, Moskovskii komsomolets reported on 17 February citing a Social Security Ministry report. The percentage of pensioners living below the poverty line increased from 11.8% in 1959 to 18.5% in 1989 to 20.2% in 1995; according to AFP, the poverty line in January was 345,000 rubles ($72) a month. The average salary in January was 655,000 rubles ($137), up about 6% in real terms in comparison with a year earlier. President Yeltsin issued a decree in late January raising compensation payments for pensioners, but the government has opposed a Duma initiative to hike the minimum pension by 20%. -- Penny Morvant

ROOTS OF THE COALMINE CONFLICT.
On 3 February the coalminers suspended their strike having won a pledge of 10.4 trillion rubles ($2.2 billion) from the Russian government. However, an article in Ogonek no. 7 suggests that pouring cash into the industry will not ensure that the miners' wages will be paid. The newspaper argues that mine directors have created commercial companies to trade in coal, siphoning off the industry's profits. Such companies are responsible for up to 1 trillion of the 4 trillion ruble arrears customers owe the industry. Managers who challenge the "coal barons" risk the fate of the deputy director of Leninskugol, who was assassinated in December 1995, as was the director of the Belovskii plant in January. -- Peter Rutland

ENERGY PRODUCERS ALLOWED TO RAISE PRICES.
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has signed a decree lifting the price freeze which was imposed on energy producers (including electricity, natural gas and crude oil) in the last quarter of 1995, Radio Rossii reported on 15 February. Under the decree, producers will be allowed to increase prices according to indices set for each sector and derived from the general level of inflation. The decree also lowers the natural gas export duty from 5 ecu to 1 ecu per 1,000 cubic meters starting 1 April. -- Natalia Gurushina

MORE COMPANIES SUSPENDED PRODUCTION IN 1995.
The number of companies that had to suspend production at least once a month increased from 4,800 in 1994 to 5,700 in 1995, Russian agencies reported on 17 February. As a result, companies lost about 15% of their normal working hours, or 225 million man-days. The main reasons for the production stoppages were a lack of funds to purchase supplies (47% of cases) and the customers' inability to pay for delivered goods (41% of cases). -- Natalia Gurushina

CIS INTERPARLIAMENTARY ASSEMBLY ADVOCATES CLOSER INTEGRATION.
The seventh session of the CIS Interparliamentary Assembly met in St. Petersburg on 17 February outlined plans for greater cooperative efforts between the member states, ITAR-TASS reported. According to recently-elected Assembly chairman, Yegor Stroev, the organization should focus on enhancing political, economic, and humanitarian aid ties between the states. Issues raised at the meeting ranged from financial and economic agreements and joint stock companies to the defense industry. Both Russian President Boris Yeltsin and State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev stressed the need for the Assembly to become a viable forum for inter-CIS relations, with the latter noting that the newly-elected Duma will likely consider the coordination of legal codes among member states to be of utmost importance. -- Roger Kangas



LITTLE PROGRESS AS TAJIK TALKS CONCLUDE.
The fifth round of negotiations between the Tajik government and the opposition adjourned 16 February without extending the cease fire agreement, due to expire on 26 February, Russian and Western sources reported. Although the two sides have have agreed on extensions in the past, he government's proposal for a six month prolongation was rejected by the opposition, which desired only three months. However, a proposal to invite members from the opposition to a special session of the Tajik parliament in about three weeks. -- Bruce Pannier

`DEAL OF THE CENTURY" UPDATE
On 16 February, several agreements concerning the exploitation and transportation of Caspian Sea oil were signed. In them, the government of Azerbaijan transferred the power to deliver Azeri oil to its borders with Russia to the Azerbaijan International Oil Corportation (AIOC), Turan reported. The same day, Azerbaijan's state oil company, SOCAR, the AIOC and Russia's Transneft formally agreed on the terms of transporting 5 million tons of "early oil " annually, the agency noted. Russia agreed to provide security for the pipeline running across its territory to the port of Novorossiisk at a cost of $15.67 per ton. On 27 February, a final decision on the feasibility and financing of the Baku-Supsa "early oil" pipeline is expected. -- Lowell Bezanis

.....AND SHAH-DENIZ FIELD
The presidents of SOCAR and LUkoil signed a memorandum of understanding concerning LUkoil's participation in the Shah-Deniz Caspian Sea natural gas and oil deal, Turan reported. Although details of the deal have not been released, LUkoil is expected to receive between 20 and 30 percent of SOCAR's 40% stake in the project, according to Western media sources. The other 60% stake in the deal is held by British Petroleum, Statoil and Turkey's TPAO. The field in question is believed to contain 400 billion cubic meters of gas and some 200 million tons of gas condensate and oil. -- Lowell Bezanis



UKRAINIAN MINERS SUSPEND STRIKE.
Ukrainian miners on 16 February announced they were suspending their strike after the government agreed to hold talks with union leaders, international agencies reported. The miners are demanding that back wages be paid and government subsidies be granted to the industry. More than 200 of Ukraine's 227 mines initially went on strike, but by 16 February, the number had dropped to 25. Talks between union leaders and Deputy Prime Minister in charge of energy Vasil Yevtukhov are to begin on 19 February, but the miners have warned that they will resume the strike if no agreement is reached. Ukrainian TV on 17 February quoted President Leonid Kuchma as saying that the strike has caused considerable damage to Ukraine's economy and could have led to an "energy catastrophe." He added that laws should be passed holding strike leaders accountable for their actions. -- Ustina Markus

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES BUDGET.
Ukrainian lawmakers on 16 February passed the draft 1996 state budget on its first reading, Ukrainian Radio reported. Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz spoke in favor of the budget for the first time. The draft must incorporate deputies' criticisms within two weeks to gain the approval of the parliamentary budget commission. -- Ustina Markus

KYRGYZ FOREIGN MINISTER IN UKRAINE.
Roza Otumbayev arrived in Ukraine on 18 February for an official visit, Ukrainian TV reported. Otumbayev met with her Ukrainian counterpart, Hennadii Udovenko, President Leonid Kuchma and Prime Minister Yevhen Marchuk. Talks focused on economic relations, particularly future energy imports from Kyrgyzstan to Ukraine. Preparations were also made for an upcoming visit to Ukraine by Kyrgyz President Askar Akaev. -- Ustina Markus

ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVES NATIONAL DEFENSE POLICY.
Defense Minister Andrus Oovel on 16 February said that the draft defense policy paper approved by the government the previous day was not simply a "declarative act" but a document that will lay the foundation of Estonia's national defense and defense legislation, BNS reported. The defense forces will consist of the army, the paramilitary Defense League, and Interior Ministry forces, including the border guards. The primary defense goal is joining NATO and the Western European Union. Oovel said the parliament is likely to accept the draft, since suggestions by the various caucuses have been taken into account. -- Saulius Girnius

COUNCIL OF EUROPE SECRETARY-GENERAL IN LATVIA.
Daniel Tarschys on 16 February participated in the inauguration of a Council of Europe information and documentation center in Riga BNS reported. The previous day he met with President Guntis Ulmanis, Prime Minister Andris Skele, and parliamentary chairwoman Ilga Kreituse, to discuss the admission of Russia into the council. He stressed that Latvia had nothing to fear since Moscow would be subject to all the council's admission procedures and would not be able to "bully" the European human rights body. -- Saulius Girnius

PETITION FOR LATVIAN ALTERNATIVE CITIZENSHIP BILL FAILS.
For the Fatherland and Freedom union seems to failed in its bid to gather 131,004 signatures, or one-tenth of electorate, in support of a more restrictive citizenship law, BNS reported on 16 February. All signatures should have been collected by mid-February. The law, which would have introduced an annual naturalization quota of 0.1% of Latvia's citizens, was opposed by many international organizations. Unofficial results released by the Central Election Committee indicate that only 126,595 signatures were collected. -- Saulius Girnius

POLISH COAL MINERS SUSPEND STRIKE.
The Solidarity trade union representing striking Polish coal miners and President of the Nadwislanska coal company Henryk Stabla reached an agreement on 18 February, Polish media reported. Solidarity has dropped its demand that the company pay each miner an additional 600 zlotys for 1995 in return for wage hikes if productivity goals are met. The strike has been suspended until 20 February, when Stabla is expected to have reached agreements with other trade unions representing workers at the company. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

SLOVAK SECRET SERVICE DENIES ROLE IN ABDUCTION OF PRESIDENT'S SON.
The Slovak Information Service on 16 February denied that SIS agents participated in the kidnapping of Michal Kovac Jr. Responding to the president's accusations against the SIS the previous day (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 February), it claimed that the president accused the SIS "without submitting a single piece of concrete evidence." Interior Minister Ludovit Hudek, prosecutor general Michal Valo, and the government office also protested Kovac's accusations, Narodna obroda reported. In other news, Kovac on 15 February vetoed the law on the immorality and illegality of the communist regime, which was approved by the parliament on 2 February. -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARIAN FINANCE MINISTER RESIGNS.
Lajos Bokros on 18 February tendered his resignation after a tumultuous cabinet debate in which his proposal to levy a new, social insurance tax was rejected, Hungarian media reported the next day. Bokros, who has been under increasing attack since the announcement of a radical stabilization program last March, said the new tax was necessary to meet the IMF requirement that the 60 billion forint social insurance deficit be reduced by more than two-thirds. In his resignation letter, he noted that without government support, he could neither visualize nor guarantee the success and implementation of public spending reform. Top government officials have pledged to continue with the stabilization program, but the unexpected resignation of the internationally respected finance minister may jeopardize the country's prospects for OECD membership and for an impending IMF loan. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

POLISH PRESIDENT IN HUNGARY.
Aleksander Kwasniewski, on a two-day unofficial visit to Hungary, stressed that Poland and Hungary are not competing to gain admission into NATO and the EU, Hungarian media reported on 19 February. He added that his visit to Budapest was of symbolic significance and he praised developing relations between the two countries, Kwasniewski met with Hungarian President Arpad Goncz, and the two presidents told a joint news conference after their meeting that Poland and Hungary regard each other as partners in their efforts to join the EU and NATO. They also noted that "their strategic aims and interests are similar". With regard to Russian fears about NATO's eastward expansion, the Polish President suggested that a dialogue be opened with Russia after the June Russian elections. -- Zsofia Szilagyi



TWO-DAY BOSNIAN SUMMIT ENDS.
Foreign ministers of the Contact Group countries met in Rome on 17 and 18 February with the presidents of Bosnia, Croatia, and Serbia. Nasa Borba on 19 February reported that five documents were issued at the end of the meeting covering the reunification of Sarajevo, the reunification of Mostar, the Croat-Muslim federation, the implementation of the Dayton agreements, and the normalization of relations between Zagreb and Belgrade. The BBC added that the documents addressed the "practical contradictions" of bringing war criminals to justice and ensuring freedom of movement. The Serbian and Bosnian presidents will hold monthly meetings and set up a telephone hotline. The Croats and Muslims accepted a plan for Mostar that Deutsche Welle said was virtually the same as EU administrator Hans Koschnick's proposal, which the Croats have rejected. A joint police force will be set up on 20 February, and the EU's mandate for Mostar was extended by six months. -- Patrick Moore

MIXED EVALUATIONS OF BOSNIAN SUMMIT.
Outgoing U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke said he was pleased with the results of the Rome gathering, saying it served to smooth out the "bumps in the road" that had emerged and presented the Dayton process with its first serious crises, the BBC reported on 19 February. Leading Bosnian Serb politicians responded differently to the provisions dealing with the future of the Serbs in Sarajevo, and Nasa Borba noted that 800 Serbs left the suburb of Hadzici for Branunac in eastern Bosnia even as the summit was taking place. -- Patrick Moore

IFOR RELEASES SUSPECTED TERRORISTS.
IFOR on 16 February handed over to Bosnian government authorities 10 people detained in a raid on an alleged terrorist camp the same day, international media reported. Eight of the detainees were Bosnian and had documents identifying them as employees of the Bosnian Interior Ministry. The remaining two were Iranian nationals whom, according to the Iranian government, were on a humanitarian mission. Another Iranian national with a diplomat's passport was released after questioning. -- Michael Mihalka

IFOR GAINS ACCESS TO BOSNIAN SERB WEAPONS DEPOTS
Following the use of anti-tank aircraft and helicopter gunships in a show of force, IFOR gained access to two Bosnian Serb weapons depots on 17 February, international media reported. IFOR has twice been prevented from entering the depots, near Han Pijesak and Han Kram, in eastern Bosnia. Some 25 tanks and 13 armored fighting vehicles were discovered. Meanwhile, the Bosnian Serbs have pulled back 10 tanks from the 20-km exclusion zone separating the Bosnian entities. IFOR on 16 February said it will destroy all unreported weapon systems in the zone. -- Michael Mihalka

IFOR AT FULL STRENGTH.
IFOR has reached its full strength of 60,000 troops, according to U.S. General George Joulwan, NATO's supreme allied commander in Europe. International media quoted him as saying on 18 February that the movement of IFOR forces into Bosnia was "the biggest and most complex in Europe since World War II." Some 50,000 troops from 16 NATO states and 10,000 from 16 non-NATO states make up the force. Negotiations are still under way with Albania, Bulgaria and Bangladesh about contributing troops to IFOR. -- Michael Mihalka

UPDATE ON STUDIO B TAKEOVER BID IN BELGRADE.
Some 20 journalists working for independent Studio B Television were fired on 17 February for refusing to cooperate with a new editorial board appointed by the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia, Serbian media reported. This development came one day after a Belgrade court ruled that Studio B had been improperly constituted. Leaders of most major parties called press conferences on 16 February to criticize the SPS and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic said the latest bid to take over Studio B underscores Milosevic's fundamental lack of commitment to democracy, free speech, and freedom of the press. The government's action also prompted public protests in Belgrade on 16 February. -- Stan Markotich

KOSOVO TERRORIST GROUP CLAIMS RESPONSIBILITY FOR REFUGEE CAMP BOMBING.
A previously unknown terrorist group has claimed responsibility for the bombing of Serbian refugee camps in Kosovo on 11 February (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 February). The Kosovo Liberation Army sent a letter to Rilindja saying the attacks were only a "first warning" to the Serbs, whom it accused of wanting to "colonize" the province, AFP reported on 17 February. The group called on the international community to recognize the self-declared independence of the province. Meanwhile, an unidentified leader of the National Movement for the Liberation of Kosovo, told Gazeta Shqiptare on 18 February that the group is preparing for a guerrilla war. Neither of these groups are supported by the main political formations in the province. -- Fabian Schmidt

HOLBROOKE SAYS KOSOVO OF "HIGHEST IMPORTANCE."
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke has renewed the commitment to open a U.S. Information Agency office in Kosovo "in the very near future." Holbrooke stressed that there has been no "meeting with the Yugoslav leadership in which [he has] not discussed this issue." He added, however, that "I'm not going to go into the nature of the confidential diplomatic exchanges on issues like this because they don't serve the purpose," AFP reported on 18 February. -- Fabian Schmidt

GOVERNMENT PAPER SAYS TUDJMAN IS OUT OF TOUCH WITH POLITICAL REALITY.
Slobodna Dalmacija on 19 February reported that Vlado Gotovac has replaced Drazen Budisa as head of the Croatian Social and Liberal Party--the country's largest single opposition grouping--following the party's poor showing in last October's parliamentary elections. The Croatian opposition has failed to offer a serious presidential alternative to Franjo Tudjman and, above all, has been unable to present a united front against the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). It has nonetheless managed to win control of the city and county of Zagreb, although Tudjman has blocked its first candidate for mayor and now plans to veto the second one and thereby force new elections. News agencies on 18 February quoted the government-controlled daily Vjesnik as saying that HDZ party professionals expect their party to lose Zagreb by an even bigger margin in a fresh vote but have found Tudjman unwilling to listen. In its virtually unprecedented criticism of the chief executive, the paper suggested that the president was "out of touch with political reality." -- Patrick Moore

ANOTHER PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE IN ROMANIA.
The Socialist Party on 18 February chose chairman Tudor Mohora as its candidate in the fall presidential elections, Romanian TV announced on the same day. Incumbent President Ion Iliescu has not yet officially declared his intention to run again but is widely expected to do so. Among the other declared contenders are Chairman of the Democratic Convention of Romania Emil Constantinescu, Chairman of the Democratic Party--National Salvation Front, former Premier Petre Roman, leader of the extremist Greater Romania Party Corneliu Vadim Tudor, and Radu Campeanu, the leader of a group that split away from the National Liberal Party. Also on 18 February, former international tennis star Ilie Nastase was named the Party of Socialist Unity in Romania's candidate for mayor of Bucharest. Local elections will probably take place in May. -- Michael Shafir

UPDATE ON RUSSIAN TROOP WITHDRAWAL FROM MOLDOVA.
Valerii Yevnevich, commander of the operational group of Russian forces stationed in the breakaway Dniester region, has said the withdrawal of the troops is being hindered by Moldovan, Ukrainian and Dniester authorities, Romanian TV reported on 16 February, citing international agencies. According to Yevnevich, only two out of 19 rail convoys have left the region, since the Moldovan authorities have failed to provide rail cars. Chisinau says Moldova's share of the military equipment should be transported back to Moldova by the Russians, while Yevnevich claims the Moldovans should fetch it themselves. He also said there are problems with transit because Dniester custom officials are demanding a share of armaments in exchange for allowing the rail cars to transit the region. Ukrainian custom officials want "alcohol and $20 per rail-car." -- Matyas Szabo

BULGARIAN ETHNIC TURKS PROTEST ANNULMENT OF KARDZHALI ELECTIONS.
Some 6,000 ethnic Turks on 17 February demonstrated against the annulment of the local elections in Kardzhali, AFP reported the same day. The election of both the city council and Rasim Musa from the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS) as mayor was declared invalid on 5 February after the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) charged there had been irregularities. DPS Chairman Ahmet Dogan warned that "If this house catches fire, everything will burn down." He told demonstrators that pressure should be exerted on the government by all legal means. By-elections in Kardzhali have been called for May. In other news, Reuters reported that BSP parliamentary deputy and chairman of the parliament's Agriculture Committee Todor Todorov, who was found shot at his house on 5 February (see OMRI Daily Digest, 7 February 1996), died on 19 February without regaining consciousness. -- Stefan Krause

OIL THIEVES POLLUTE DRINKING WATER IN BULGARIAN TOWN.
Thieves who tried to siphon diesel oil from a pipeline in Varna on 16 February polluted the drinking water of the Black Sea town and eight surrounding villages, Bulgarian and Western media reported. The oil from the underground pipeline connecting Varna with the Neftohim oil refinery soaked into water supplies and leaked into a nearby river. Water tankers carried emergency supplies to Varna over the weekend. Neftohim spokeswoman Tatyana Hadzhieva said 60 similar thefts were registered last year. She added that Neftohim in 1995 invested 80 million ($1.1 million) leva for changing pipelines for environmental reasons and another 13 million leva ($175,000) to have Interior Ministry troops guard pipelines. Meanwhile, Bulgarian media on 19 February reported that the situation is "normalizing" itself but that drinking tap water is still forbidden. -- Stefan Krause

RUSSIAN DEPUTY FOREIGN MINISTER IN ALBANIA.
Sergei Krylov arrived for a two-day official visit to Tirana on 16 February, international agencies reported the same day. The two sides pledged to try to find a political settlement to the Kosovo conflict but could not agree about how to negotiate an end to the conflict. Russia rejected Albania's demand that Serbia's admission to international organizations be linked to solving the conflict in Kosovo. They also disagreed about whether Serbia should be forced to accept mediation by a third party. Krillov was received by President Sali Berisha. -- Fabian Schmidt

UPDATE ON GREEK-TURKISH DISPUTE OVER ISLET.
The European Commission on 16 February confirmed its "solidarity" with Greece in the dispute over the Imia/Kardak islet, Reuters reported. But at the same time, it stressed this did not mean it was taking a stand on the "legality of either the Turkish or Greek positions." Meanwhile Athens has called for an EU-Turkey ministerial meeting scheduled for 25 March to be postponed because it coincides with the Greek national holiday marking the beginning of the insurrection against the Ottoman Empire in 1821. -- Lowell Bezanis and Stefan Krause

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Bruce Kangasand Jan Cleave





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