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Newsline - February 21, 1996


RUSSIAN FORCES TAKE NOVOGROZNENSKII.
Russian federal troops succeeded in taking the east Chechen village of Novogroznenskii on 20 February after a five day battle in which up to 200 Chechen militants were killed, Western agencies reported. Most of the Chechen contingent managed to escape through Russian lines before the final onslaught which left many buildings in flames. Also on 20 February, unidentified Chechen gunmen attacked the Grozny oil refinery, setting ablaze a storage tank containing 3,000 metric tons of fuel, according to Reuters. In Moscow, Russian President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree transforming the Federal Authorities in Chechnya into the office of the Russian Government's Representative in Chechnya, and appointing Nikolai Fedosov as Russian plenipotentiary there, Russian Television reported. -- Liz Fuller

YELTSIN ENDORSED BY FEDOROV...
The failure of Russia's democratic camp to agree on a common presidential candidate has moved Forward, Russia! leader Boris Fedorov to endorse President Boris Yeltsin's reelection bid, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 February. Although he opposes the government's economic policies, Fedorov said "it is better to stay in the same place than to go backwards." He added that if Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, the current front-runner in the race, is elected, Russia will face several years of "dangerous experiments." Leaving his options open, however, Fedorov confirmed that Forward, Russia! will continue collecting signatures to place Fedorov himself on the ballot, as was decided at a 17 February conference of the movement, Ekspress-khronika reported. -- Laura Belin

...AND LAKHOVA.
On 20 February, Women of Russia leader Yekaterina Lakhova also endorsed Yeltsin's candidacy, calling Zyuganov's campaign promises "populism" and "empty words," Russian media reported. Lakhova was a presidential adviser on women's and family issues from August 1992 until January 1994, when Yeltsin appointed her to head the Presidential Commission on Women, Family and Children, a post she still holds. She helped found Women of Russia in October 1993. During 1994 and 1995, her Duma faction sometimes voted with the Communists in parliament, but often supported the government on key issues, such as the budget. Although the movement just missed the 5% threshold in the December Duma elections, Lakhova was elected in a single-member district. -- Laura Belin

KOHL OPENLY ENDORSES YELTSIN.
Disregarding criticism that he has tied German policy too closely to President Boris Yeltsin, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl told journalists on 20 February that Yeltsin is the "best president for Russia," Russian and Western agencies reported. Kohl also rejected as "idiotic" suggestions that the West should cut aid to Russia, saying Russia's internal political situation would "certainly take a turn for the worse" in the absence of Western support. Earlier, a spokesman for the opposition German Social Democratic Party (SPD) had likened Kohl's support of Yeltsin to "playing Russian roulette" with Russo-German relations since Yeltsin may not win a second term. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov told ITAR-TASS the same day that Kohl's visit was deliberately designed to help Yeltsin's re-election bid, a view Kohl has publicly denied. -- Scott Parrish

YELTSIN BLAMES PREVIOUS PARLIAMENT FOR VIOLATING FEDERALISM PRINCIPLES.
In a letter to Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, President Boris Yeltsin denounced the previous Russian parliament for violating federalist principles in its legislative practice, Russian agencies reported on 20 February. Some of the federal laws passed by the parliament adressed issues which, according to the constitution, fall under exclusive jurisdiction of regional or local authorities. The letter asked Federation Council members, who are federation subjects' leaders, to adhere to the principles of power separation between center and regions and avoid adopting laws which exceed the limits of federal jurisdiction. -- Anna Paretskaya

COURT NARROWS DEFINITION OF PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY.
In response to an enquiry from President Boris Yeltsin about the constitutionality of various legal provisions on the status of deputies, the Constitutional Court ruled that a member of the Federal Assembly is only immune to prosecution if the legal violation in question is directly related to his or her duties as a deputy, ITAR-TASS and Ekho Moskvy reported on 20 February. Thus, deputies can be sued for all other criminal and administrative offenses. In November 1994, MMM investment fund head Sergei Mavrodi escaped prosecution for tax fraud by winning a seat in the Duma in a by-election. -- Penny Morvant

SWISS FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW.
On 20 February, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with his Swiss counterpart, Flavio Cotti, Russian agencies reported. Switzerland holds the rotating chairmanship of the OSCE for 1996, and in this capacity Cotti discussed with Primakov the Chechen, Georgian-Abkhazian and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts, as well as the Russian minority in Estonia, according to ITAR-TASS. Cotti later told journalists that he had expressed "concern" to Primakov over the continued military operations in Chechnya, but noted Primakov had admitted that a military solution to the Chechen conflict was "unrealistic." He also said Russia and the OSCE would more closely coordinate their efforts to settle the Georgian-Abkhazian and Nagorno-Karabakh conflicts. and expressed "understanding" for Russian concerns about the status of the ethnic Russian minority in Estonia. -- Scott Parrish

RUSSIAN GOVERNMENT COMMISSION DISCUSSES CIS POLICY.
The Russian Governmental Committee on CIS Affairs met in Moscow on 20 February under the chairmanship of Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Bolshakov, ITAR-TASS reported. The committee discussed plans for implementing the CIS strategy outlined in a September 1995 presidential decree (see OMRI Daily Digest, 18 September 1995). The meeting also heard a report on Russian military cooperation with the other CIS states from Deputy Chief of the Russian General Staff, Col.-Gen. Vladimir Zhurbenko, who reported that the CIS states owe the Russian Defense Ministry $6.7 million, mostly for training their officers at Russian military academies. Despite these debts, the committee endorsed Zhurbenko's proposal that funds to finance the training of up to 1,000 cadets from the CIS be earmarked in the 1997 Russian federal budget, citing the Commonwealth's strategic importance. -- Scott Parrish

UN SECURITY COUNCIL DEMANDS RELEASE OF RUSSIAN PILOTS.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Karasin told journalists on 20 February of the UN Security Council's demand for the "immediate and unconditional" release of seven Russian airmen held captive by the Afghan Taliban movement, Russian agencies reported. The airmen have been held in Kandahar for over six months, since their IL-76 transport was forced down last August (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 August 1995) Hopes that they would be released during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, when amnesties are traditionally granted in many Muslim countries, have not materialized. Although the Taliban agreed in principle to free the pilots, they have refused to set an exact date for their release, reneging on an earlier promise to release them on 30 December 1995. -- Scott Parrish

RUSSIA STILL WARY OVER NATO EXPANSION.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Karasin told journalists on 20 February that Russia was "concerned" about recent suggestions by U.S. Assistant Secretary of Defense John White that American forces might remain in Hungary longer than the one year IFOR mandate. Karasin said White's suggestion, later described by the Pentagon as a misstatement, caused Russian officials to wonder about the implications of NATO building an infrastructure in Hungary to support IFOR troops in Bosnia. Karasin said Russia feared that NATO was pushing forward with the "actual intensification" of expansion, even though Western leaders have recently assured Russia that the alliance will not expand during 1996. Karasin reiterated the Russian view that any discussion of NATO expansion was "destructive" and provoked "distrust and suspicion." -- Scott Parrish

ATTACK ON MOSKOVSKII KOMSOMOLETS JOURNALIST FOILED.
Two men broke into the home of Moskovskii komsomolets journalist Aleksandr Minkin on 20 February, Russian and Western agencies reported. The unidentified assailants, armed with steel bars, fled after Minkin's family woke up and called for help. This was the second attack on Minkin in the past year. Last September, he suffered a broken nose after being beaten up near his home. In October 1994 another journalist for the muck-raking Moskovskii komsomolets, Dmitrii Kholodov, was killed by a booby-trapped briefcase. -- Penny Morvant

ALCOHOL IN THE CIS.
Delegates to the fourth congress of the International League of Sobriety and Health, which opened in Moscow on 20 February, described alcoholism as a serious obstacle to the implementation of socioeconomic reforms, Russian agencies reported. According to data presented at the conference, Belarus has the highest per capita consumption of alcohol in the CIS--7 liters--and Tajikistan the lowest (O.8 liters). Russia was in second place, with 6.8 liters; other reports, however, have put annual Russian consumption at a much higher level of 15 liters. Delegates noted that relative spending on alcohol in the CIS has fallen over the past four years, as prices for alcohol have not risen as fast as those for other goods. In Russia, the Economics Ministry has set minimum prices for strong alcoholic beverages, effective 12 March, in an attempt to protect the market from low-quality, particularly illicit and contraband products. -- Penny Morvant

MOSCOW METRO WORKERS PICKET GOVERNMENT BUILDING.
About 50 Moscow metro building workers picketed the Russian government building on 20 February to demand the payment of back wages and federal financing for the Metrostroi company, Ekspress-Khronika reported. The metro workers had sent an open letter to President Yeltsin on 16 February expressing their "indignation" at underfunding, noting that they have received nothing from the 2.3 trillion rubles earmarked for the metro from the federal budget and an additional 1.3 trillion in promised government investment, ITAR-TASS reported. According to the workers, the lack of funding has paralyzed the construction of new lines and halted work to replace rolling stock and escalators as well as delaying wages. -- Penny Morvant

TRUD ON WAGE ARREARS.
Instead of their wages, hundreds of thousands of Russian workers are receiving documents certifying that they are employed but that their employer is currently unable to pay them, Trud reported on 20 February. These certificates can then be presented to officials at municipal housing offices, pre-schools and other organizations that require the regular payment of fees. According to Goskomstat, the wage debt in the Russian economy on 20 January equaled 20.4 trillion rubles ($4.25 billion), ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February. -- Penny Morvant

OIL COMPANIES ANNOUNCE A 25% PRICE RISE FROM 1 MARCH.
Russia's leading oil companies announced that they will increase the price of crude oil by 25% starting 1 March, Russian media reported on 20 February. The companies claim that the rationale for this move is provided by the government's November 1995 decision to reappraise the industry's assets, increasing their value by an average of 140-160%. The resulting larger depreciation outlays, they say, will boost production costs from 209,000 rubles to 344,000 rubles per ton, and push the average price of one ton of crude above 400,000 rubles ($84). -- Natalia Gurushina



REGIONAL GOVERNMENT CHANGES IN TAJIKISTAN.
Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov continues to reshuffle administrative positions in the wake of this month's crises, western and Russian sources noted. According to ITAR-TASS on 19 February, the Chairman of the Tursun Zade regional government, Murodali Tabarov, has been relieved of his duties "at his own request," and replaced by Sadullo Mirzoyev, who is a current member of the Tajik parliament. Tajik Radio also reported, as noted by the BBC, that the new head of the Pyandj district, which is located along the Tajik-Afghan border, will be Chillakhon Isoyev. In the past two weeks, Rakhmonov has replaced 6 government advisors, including the prime minister, as well as the chairman of the Leninabad region, before these most recent changes which involve the very regions where fighting has taken place. -- Roger Kangas

KAZAKHSTANI DEFENSE MINISTER STRESSES TRILATERAL COOPERATION.
In an interview with Nezavisimaya gazeta on 10 February, Kazakhstan's defense minister Alibek Kasymov said that trilateral cooperation between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, based on common defense interests and common defense space is yet another step toward attaining military integration. He said he does not see the CIS collective security treaty as a kind of counterbalance to alliances such as NATO or ASEAN. Kasymov also denied any "ethnic problem" in the country's army which he claimed is almost equally composed of Russians and Kazakhs, though there is a greater number of Kazakhs among privates and non-commissioned officers. Finally, he added that two Russian divisions -- heavy bombers and missiles -- have already withdrawn from Kazakhstan and the remaining units will be withdrawn later this year. -- Bhavna Dave

UN TO ADVISE CENTRAL ASIAN PEACEKEEPING FORCE.
The United Nations plans to send advisors to Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Uzbekistan to advise the three countries on the formation of a previously agreed upon joint peacekeeping battalion under UN auspices, the Uzbek paper Narodnoe slovo reported on 20 February, as cited by the BBC. The paper published a letter from UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to the presidents of the three Central Asian states in which he thanked them for their decision to establish a joint peacekeeping battalion and announced that he would shortly be sending two senior officials to provide their governments with "essential technical advice." -- Doug Clarke



AUSTRIA RELEASES SLOVAK PRESIDENT'S SON.
A Vienna court on 20 February rejected a German request for the extradition of Michal Kovac Jr., who was abducted to Austria last August and jailed on fraud charges based on a warrant issued by a Munich prosecutor, Slovak and international media reported. The court ruled that Kovac Jr. was brought to Austria illegally and that his human rights had been violated. It said testimony indicated that the Slovak Information Service was involved in the abduction, noting that Slovakia had neither asked Austria for Kovac Jr.'s return nor protested against the kidnapping. The Slovak Foreign Ministry said the court's statements were "a grave defamation of a sovereign state." President Kovac welcomed the decision, saying "Austrian justice, in this case, showed the world that it is important to respect human rights everywhere." Kovac Jr. is expected to return to Slovakia on 23 February. -- Sharon Fisher

UKRAINIAN UPDATE.
President Leonid Kuchma arrived in Washington for a three-day visit on 20 February, international agencies reported. One of his priorities is to solicit more financial aid, particularly for reforming Ukraine's energy sector. State Department spokesperson Nicholas Burns, referring to recent reports that Ukraine has been selling Antonov cargo planes to drug traffickers in Columbia, said the subject will be raised during the visit. Meanwhile, a Ukrainian delegation headed by Defense Minister Valerii Shmarov arrived in Moscow on 21 February, ITAR-TASS reported. Talks are to focus on military cooperation, joint arms production, disarmament, and cooperation in guarding military production facilities. -- Ustina Markus

BELARUSIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS BANK APPOINTMENT.
The Belarusian parliament has rejected President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's decree appointing Tamara Vinnikau as head of the National Bank of Belarus, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported on 20 February. It explained its move by saying the appointment violates the constitution, which stipulates that the president nominates the bank head but the parliament must make the appointment. Former acting bank head Mykolai Kuzmich was reconfirmed as acting bank chairman. This is the first serious clash Lukashenka has had with the new parliament, and it is unlikely to be settled easily since he has said he wants the bank subordinated to the president. Recently, in what was seen to be a conciliatory move vis-a-vis Lukashenka, parliamentary speaker Syamyon Sharetsky asked the Constitutional Court not to examine several decrees issued by the president. -- Ustina Markus

ESTONIA OPTS OUT OF EUROPEAN DEATH PENALTY BAN.
The Estonian government on 20 February submitted the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms to the parliament for ratification, BNS reported. Ratification is a condition for gaining EU membership. But the government did not submit Protocol 6, which calls for the abolition of capital punishment. Estonian political parties have been reluctant to approve the ban since opinion polls indicate that the overwhelming majority of Estonians support retaining the death penalty. There have been no executions in Estonia since it gained independence in 1991, even though courts have sentenced nine people to death during that period. -- Saulius Girnius

LITHUANIAN FORMER PREMIER RESIGNS AS PARTY CHAIRMAN.
Adolfas Slezevicius told the Democratic Labor Party (LDDP) Presidium on 19 February that he was resigning as party chairman, Radio Lithuania reported. He said he made this decision in order to prevent the party from splitting into factions. He added that he would continue to be a loyal party member. The LDDP council will meet on 2 March to approve an extraordinary congress to elect a new leadership. Slezevicius said he has informed President Algirdas Brazauskas that he will refuse an offer to become Lithuania's ambassador to the UK. He commented that "I do not think I could represent the interests of the state after I was said to be unable to lead the government." -- Saulius Girnius

OFFICIAL RESULTS OF OWNERSHIP REFERENDUM IN POLAND.
Turnout in the Polish ownership referendum on 18 February fell well short of the required 50%, meaning that the vote will be non-binding. Only 32.4% of the 28 million eligible voters participated, the State Electoral Commission said on 20 February. Of those, 94.5% approved the proposal to distribute among the population assets that remain in state hands. Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz on 20 February said the government will take the result into account even if the referendum is invalid. -- Jakub Karpinski

NEW APPOINTMENTS IN POLISH PARLIAMENT, TV.
Marek Mazurkiewicz on 20 February was elected chairman of the parliamentary commission drafting the new Polish constitution. Mazurkiewicz is a deputy from the ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), like the commission's two former chairmen: Aleksander Kwasniewski, who was elected president in November, and Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, appointed premier on 1 February. Last week, Marek Borowski, a member of the SLD and former chief of the office of the Council of Ministers, replaced Cimoszewicz as deputy Sejm speaker. Meanwhile, the Polish Public TV Board on 20 February elected 29-year-old Tomasz Siemoniak as the new director of the Polish TV's Channel 1, the most popular TV channel in Poland. -- Jakub Karpinski

ROMA PROTEST AT START OF PICKPOCKETS' TRIAL IN PRAGUE.
Some 50 Roma demonstrated outside a Prague courthouse on 20 February to protest the start of a trial of 24 Roma accused of membership in organized groups of pickpockets, Czech media reported. The protesters claimed that the accused Roma were victims of racism and had been unjustly charged. If convicted, they face up to eight years in jail. Police registered almost 7,000 cases of pickpocketing in Prague last year, with victims being robbed of a total of some 50 million koruny (almost $2 million), Mlada fronta Dnes reported. -- Steve Kettle

SLOVAKIA REJECTS POLISH PRESIDENT'S STATEMENTS.
Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman Juraj Matejovsky on 20 February criticized Alexander Kwasniewski for saying during a recent visit to Budapest that Slovakia will gain EU membership later than the other Visegrad countries because of its domestic political situation, Slovak media reported. According to Matejovsky, Kwasniewski said Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic could become EU members at the same time. "Slovakia does not consider the process of integration into EU structures as a race," Matejovsky stressed, noting that his country "does not...publicly evaluate difficulties its neighboring countries are experiencing in the transformation process." Kwasniewski is scheduled to meet with his Slovak counterpart, Michal Kovac, on 1 March in the High Tatra mountains. -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARY, AUSTRIA OUTLINE PLAN FOR ECONOMIC ZONE.
Hungarian and Austrian local government officials have outlined plans for creating an economic cooperation zone to include three west Hungarian counties and three Austrian provinces, Magyar Hirlap reported on 21 February. The zone would cover the Hungarian counties of Gyor-Sopron- Moson, Vas, and Zala as well as the Austrian states of Burgenland, Steiermark, and Niederosterreich. Negotiations were chaired by Georg Katz, leader of the local World Trade Center in Schwechat, Austria. Hungarian ambassador to Austria Sandor Peisch said the main areas of cooperation would be infrastructure, environmental protection, and industrial development. He added that west Hungarian counties will be able to benefit from the EU's generous support for Burgenland. -- Zsofia Szilagyi



SARAJEVO SERBS STAYING PUT?
CNN on 21 February reported less than full success for the Pale leadership's forced exodus of Serbs from the five Sarajevo suburbs slated to pass to government control. Despite assurances from Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic that the Serbs could stay put and statements by the mayor of Ilidza that the Pale leadership was trying "to make 80,000 people homeless," Pale launched a three-day forced migration on 20 February. Nasa Borba said the deadline will be extended to 19 March "because of snowstorms." The leaders, who coined the term "ethnic cleansing," were trying to consolidate their hold on territories by moving their own people from their homes in Sarajevo to the conquered regions. Reuters said the committee formed by Pale to organize the enterprise had ordered people to leave but that it failed to provide adequate transportation and left "hundreds of panicky Serbs" stuck without vehicles in a snowstorm and protesting outside the offices of the mayor of Vogosca. -- Patrick Moore

MOSTAR REUNIFICATION UNDER WAY.
U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher on 20 February said that "the news this morning is good from Mostar. The city has been reunited." AFP added that he was referring to the setting up of a joint police force, despite some scuffles. The move follows a compromise reached in Rome on 18 February whereby the Croats won a demand on setting up only a small central district and the Muslims obtained their wish for immediate freedom of movement. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic, however, said he is not satisfied with the pace of the reunification and that he fears more delays down the road. The Sarajevo daily Vecernje novine on 21 February quoted Croatian Interior Minister Ivan Jarnjak as stressing the importance of freedom of movement. -- Patrick Moore

BOSNIAN SERB BOYCOTT TO CONTINUE.
Maj.-Gen. Zdravko Tolimir, deputy Bosnian Serb army commander, said on 20 February that his forces will continue to boycott contacts with IFOR until two of his officers held in The Hague on war crimes charges are released, SRNA and international media reported. Tolimar was speaking after a meeting in Pale with Lt.-Gen. Sir Michael Walker, commander of IFOR ground forces. Tolimar said he had failed to attend the meeting with his IFOR, Croatian, and Muslim counterparts on 19 February aboard the U.S. aircraft carrier George Washington because of bad weather and insufficient notice. -- Michael Mihalka

BOSNIANS DEPORT THREE IRANIANS.
The Bosnian government on 20 February deported three Iranians detained last week following a raid of a suspected terrorist safe house, international media reported. A U.S. State Department spokesman warned that the continued presence of "foreign fighters" in Bosnia threatened further U.S. military aid. He cited IFOR estimates that up to 300 fighters remain in the country. Meanwhile, Bosnian Croat police detained nine unarmed Iranians in central Bosnia and asked IFOR to take them into custody. A Bosnian Croat official said the Iranians were not mujahedeen, but the Bosnian government had failed to inform the Bosnian Croat authorities of the Iranians' itinerary. Hina quoted the Iranians as saying they were in Bosnia to perform in concerts. -- Michael Mihalka

INSUFFICIENT AID FOR BOSNIA.
The EU on 20 February said the reconstruction effort in Bosnia is threatened by donors' failure to deliver on their pledges of aid. Although more than $700 million was promised for vital reconstruction work in the first three months of 1996, only $62.5 million has arrived so far. Reportedly, that entire sum comes from the EU. The U.S., Japan, the Islamic countries, and the World Bank have so far not lived up to their promises, international media reported. Meanwhile, U.S. President Bill Clinton said he would ask Congress for $820 million in aid for Bosnia. -- Michael Mihalka

RUMP YUGOSLAVIA RESTORES TIES WITH VATICAN.
Tanjug on 20 February reported that Belgrade has restored full diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Dojcilo Maslovarica was named rump Yugoslav ambassador to the Vatican, a post that has been vacant for some three years. The announcement marks a decisive change in Belgrade's perception of the Vatican, which during the wars in the former Yugoslavia was vilified by Belgrade as one of the world centers of anti-Serb conspiracy. -- Stan Markotich

BELGRADE PROPOSES AMNESTY.
The federal government of the rump Yugoslavia has proposed legislation granting an amnesty to all fighting-age men who avoided military service during the wars throughout the former Yugoslavia, Nasa Borba on 21 February reports. The amnesty legislation has to be approved by the federal parliament. Some estimates suggest that up to 200,000 people from the rump Yugoslavia opted not to fight in the regional wars. -- Stan Markotich

KRAJINA UPDATE.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia will begin hearings on the case of Krajina Serb leader Milan Martic, who has been indicted for war crimes because of a rocket attack on Zagreb, Nasa Borba reported on 21 February. The Hague-based court has also received documents from the Bosnian government charging rump Yugoslavia with genocide. Novi list wrote that some 14,000 Krajina Serbs have appealed to Croatia to be allowed to go home. Some 2,000 applications have already been approved. The organized return of Croats who fled western Slavonia during the Serbian occupation has begun and is slated to end by early May. -- Patrick Moore

NEW UNPREDEP COMMANDER NAMED.
Swedish Brig.-Gen. Bo Lennart Wranker on 20 February was named commander of the UN Preventive Deployment Force in Macedonia, AFP reported the same day. He will begin his duties on 1 March. The same day, Wranker was received by Macedonian Defense Minister Blagoj Handziski, who briefed him on the country's defense system, Nova Makedonija reported. -- Stefan Krause

LABOR PROTESTS IN ROMANIA.
Tens of thousands of workers in Bucharest and other Romanian towns on 20 February took part in demonstrations and other protest actions to demand job protection and state support for ailing companies, local and international media reported on the same day. The Democratic Convention of Romania introduced in the parliament a motion against the government of Nicolae Vacaroiu claiming the cabinet has shown an "irresponsible lack of interest" in ensuring energy resources. The motion has to be debated within six days but is not a no-confidence vote. The energy crisis has forced many companies to temporarily lay off workers with partial pay. Workers in Romania's arms industry in five towns protested against receiving reduced wages due to the crisis faced by this sector. The industry has lost many of its foreign customers in recent years. -- Michael Shafir

ROMANIAN COURT FREES FORMER BANK BOSS SUSPECTED OF FRAUD.
Marcel Ivan, former head of the Credit Bank who was re-arrested after serving a one-year sentence, has been freed by a Bucharest court, Romanian TV and Reuters on 20 February reported. Ivan's lawyer told Reuters that the court decided his arrest was "inappropriate" due to "lack of evidence to sustain the suspicions of fraud and forgery." The Prosecutor-General's office can appeal against the ruling within three days. -- Michael Shafir

TWO BULGARIAN JOURNALISTS ARRESTED.
Dimitar Shtirkov and Valentin Hadzhiev, correspondents for Trud and 24 chasa in the town of Smolyan, have been arrested and charged with libel, Pari reported on 21 February. Regional Prosecutor Slavcho Kardzhev ordered their arrest after they reported that the Devin district prosecutor was dismissed from the Smolyan police force because of corruption. The Interior Ministry said he was dismissed for damaging the police's prestige rather than for corruption. Bulgarian newspapers and journalists' organizations of all political stripes strongly condemned the arrests. Stefan Prodev, editor-in-chief of the Bulgarian Socialist Party's daily Duma, called the arrests a "scandal...impairing the freedom of the journalistic profession." Under Bulgarian law, arrests are allowed only if a suspect tries to escape. -- Stefan Krause

ALBANIAN JOURNALISTS DEMAND TO MEET PRESIDENT.
The Albanian Association of Professional Journalists on 20 February organized a meeting with the chief editors of the 14 newspapers threatened with closure following Finance Minister Dylber Vrioni's order that the publishing house Demokracia stop printing those publications. The journalists demanded a meeting with President Sali Berisha, pointing out that Vrioni should take the matter to court if he suspects the publications of tax evasion. A government spokesman has denied that Vrioni gave such an order, but both international agencies and Koha Jone on 21 February maintain the contrary is true. Vrioni demands that the papers retroactively pay a 15% turnover tax from the day of registration. -- Fabian Schmidt

GREEK-TURKISH UPDATE.
Inal Batu, Turkish deputy undersecretary responsible for Greek-Turkish affairs, told the Greek media on 20 February he was "happy" the crisis over the disputed Aegean islet of Imia/Kardak has abated. He linked its escalation to a breach in the "silent diplomacy" practiced by both sides before the mayor of Kalymnos hoisted the Greek flag on the islet. Noting that both Turkey and Greece do not want to take the case to the International Court of Justice, he proposed that a legal experts committee be established to help resolve the dispute. Meanwhile, Athens has protested to Turkey over the holding of a camel wrestling match in the ancient city of Ephesus last month, the BBC reported on 21 February. Greece considers Ephesus to be part of Hellenic civilization and has at times protested what it regards as the inappropriate use of such historical sites. -- Lowell Bezanis

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Roger Kangas and Jan Cleave




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