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Newsline - September 20, 1996


YELTSIN ISSUES DECREE ON POWER TRANSFER.
President Boris Yeltsin on 19 September signed a decree outlining the procedure for transferring power to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin while he undergoes heart surgery, ITAR-TASS reported. Chernomyrdin will control Russia's nuclear weapons during Yeltsin's incapacitation. Yeltsin must sign another decree defining when the handover will actually take place. Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said the decree sought to remove all questions about the power transfer. Yeltsin's doctors, including American Michael DeBakey, will determine the details of the operation on 25 September. -- Robert Orttung

YELTSIN CHANGES COMPOSITION OF THE SECURITY COUNCIL.
Yeltsin replaced former Finance Minister Vladimir Panskov with Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits and removed Valerii Manilov from the position of deputy secretary of the Security Council on 19 September. Panskov lost his position in the government more than a month ago and the delay in removing him from the Security Council shows that the president is paying little attention to the body, Kommersant-Daily noted on 20 September. Although the council should convene once a month, it has not met in the last three months. Manilov had prepared all the Security Council meetings for the last 2-1/2 years and had extensive contacts with all the key players. Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, whose power draws from his popularity rather than from inside connections, decided that he no longer needs Manilov. -- Robert Orttung

YELTSIN APPOINTS PAIN AS ADVISOR.
Yeltsin named Presidential Council member Emil Pain as his advisor on Chechnya, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 19 September. Pain told Ekho Moskvy that he did not know what he was supposed to do in his new position. Pain had worked in Chernomyrdin's commission for resolving the Chechen conflict which was disbanded after Lebed criticized it as ineffective. Pain's 19 September Rossiiskie vesti article was much less laudatory of Lebed's treaties than the rest of the media has been (see OMRI Daily Digest 19 September 1996). -- Robert Orttung

CHECHEN DEVELOPMENTS.
Chechen rebels killed the head of Shelkovskii Raion, Anatolii Storozhenko, who had opposed the separatists, Ekho Moskvy reported on 19 September. While the situation in Grozny remains relatively calm, the Russian military continued to warn of possible "large-scale provocations." Acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev may visit Moscow on 23 September for talks with Lebed and Chernomyrdin, NTV reported. The federal authorities announced in Moscow that the warrant for the arrest of Lebed's negotiating partner, Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Mashkadov, is still valid, Radio Rossii reported. The warrant would presumably prevent Maskhadov from traveling to France to address the Council of Europe. Duma Legislation Committee Chairman Anatolii Lukyanov said that a continuing investigation is ridiculous since Maskhadov is on TV every day. -- Robert Orttung

ABDULATIPOV: DUMA SHOULD PASS LAW ON CHECHNYA.
State Duma deputy Ramazan Abdulatipov, who heads the Russian Regions faction, said the Duma should pass a law on the transition period and deferred status of the Chechen Republic, ITAR-TASS and Radio Rossii reported on 19 September. Abdulatipov said he supported the agreement recently signed by Lebed and Maskhadov, under which discussion of Chechnya's status was deferred for five years, but worried about the absence of "political mechanisms that could ensure the implementation of this procedure." The Duma is unlikely to approve such a law, since leading figures in the Communist Party (which, with its allies, has a working majority in the lower house) have spoken out against the Lebed-Maskhadov agreement. -- Laura Belin

JOURNALISTS TO BE HELD RESPONSIBLE FOR FALSE INFORMATION.
The President's Judicial Chamber on Information Disputes ruled that journalists and editors are responsible for disseminating false information, even if an article contains disclaimers such as "it is rumored," "it is said," or "according to unverified information," ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September. The case was brought by a journalist in Vladimir who was sued for libel, even though her article had been published with a disclaimer saying that the writer "bore no responsibility for the authenticity of the report." The judges ruled that journalists are obliged to check the authenticity of facts reported, and said persons are entitled to sue for libel even in the case of a journalist's "honest mistake." However, journalists are protected from libel suits brought on the basis of direct quotations or reports by official state bodies cited in their articles. -- Laura Belin

DEMOCRATS CAN'T AGREE ON CANDIDATE IN STAVROPOL.
With gubernatorial elections in Stavropol Krai set for 27 October, local activists in the "democratic" camp cannot agree on a common candidate, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 September. In late August the All-Russian Coordinating Council on the regional elections endorsed the incumbent governor, Petr Marchenko, who is supported by the pro-government Our Home Is Russia movement. However, local branches of some parties represented on the council refused to back Marchenko and instead support Aleksandr Korobeinikov, head of the Stavropol Center for Innovations and Economic Technologies. Pro-reform parties currently face similar dilemmas in other regions, such as Krasnodar and Altai Krai; local democrats object to the style of rule of unpopular incumbents, yet cannot agree on whether more palatable candidates would be able to defeat strong Communist-backed challengers. -- Laura Belin

COMMUNISTS PUSHING LAW ON MEDICAL COMMISSION.
With Yeltsin still hospitalized for heart problems, Duma Legislation Committee Chairman and Communist Party member Anatolii Lukyanov announced on 19 September that a draft law on creating a medical commission to evaluate the health of high officials has been fully completed and should be passed by the Duma "no matter what," Kommersant-Daily reported the next day. A similar law failed to clear the lower house last year, but it is now likely to be approved given the new balance of forces in the Duma since the December 1995 parliamentary elections. Article 92 of the Constitution stipulates that the president must cede power to the prime minister if he becomes "persistently unable" to fulfill his duties, but there is currently no procedure for evaluating the president's abilities. The Duma is still on summer recess; sessions are scheduled to resume on 2 October. -- Laura Belin

MORE COMMUNIST ARCHIVES DECLASSIFIED.
A special commission for the declassification of documents of the Central Committee of the All-Union Communist Party (Bolsheviks) and its post-Stalin successor the CPSU announced on 19 September its decision to allow access to a variety of documents, including those related to censorship and the development of nuclear weapons and strategic forces. According to ITAR-TASS, 1,300 transcripts of Central Committee meetings from 1920 to 1991 will be declassified. A small portion of the documents on weapons will remain secret as will several documents related to Soviet-German relations and the 1961 Berlin crisis. The commission is to decide on the declassification of 6,000 more documents by the end of the year, including about 3,000 Central Committee and Politburo files, 1,000 from the Comintern, and 1,500 personal files of Soviet leaders. -- Penny Morvant

MILITARY PROTESTS LACK OF FUNDING.
About 500 defense workers picketed the government building in Moscow on 19 September to demand 6.1 trillion rubles ($1.2 billion) in overdue wages, RTR reported. Krasnaya zvezda put the number of demonstrators as high as 1,500. Rallies were also held in the Far East (see OMRI Daily Digest, 19 September), and nuclear submarine repair workers attached to the Northern Fleet held a one-day strike. Nezavisimaya gazeta on 19 September noted that the army has fared particularly badly in the disbursal of government funds recently. It estimated the total government debt to the military at about 30 trillion rubles. The paper warned that morale is deteriorating rapidly, and opposition to the president and government is growing. -- Penny Morvant

NEW JOB FOR SOSKOVETS.
Oleg Soskovets, who was fired from his post as first deputy prime minister on 20 June, will take up the job of president of the Association of Financial Industrial Groups (AFPG), Kommersant-Daily reported on 20 September. Soskovets was formally appointed president of the AFPG when it was formed at the beginning of 1996. It claims to represent 30 industrial holding companies and 60 banks, with a total of 450,000 employees. Vladimir Potanin, who replaced Soskovets in the government, was formerly the head of Oneksimbank and of the financial-industrial group Interros. -- Peter Rutland

LUKOIL AND ARCO FORM JOINT VENTURE.
Russia's oil giant LUKoil and the U.S. Atlantic Richfield Company (ARCO) signed on 19 September a document finalizing their March agreement to set up a joint venture, ITAR-TASS and Kommersant-Daily reported. LUKoil and ARCO's stakes in the Lukarco venture will be 54% and 46%, respectively. Lukarco plans to invest $5 billion in Russia over the next 10 years. Some $4.5 billion will be provided by ARCO, which holds a 8% stake in LUKoil, as a low-interest loan. The loan will not be guaranteed by the government or secured against LUKoil's assets. Projects will include the construction of a pipeline from the Tengiz oil field in Kazakstan to Russia's Novorossiisk, and the development of off-shore fields in the Caspian. -- Natalia Gurushina

GOVERNMENT WILL REDEEM CONSUMER GOODS CREDITS.
The government reiterated its intention to repay the consumer goods bonds issued in 1990-1991 worth some 20 trillion rubles ($3.7 billion), ORT and Kommersant-Daily reported on 19-20 September. The 1997 budget earmarks 5.3 trillion rubles for this purpose. In the Soviet era workers were given (or purchased) chits guaranteeing them the right to buy a certain product (such as a car) in a number of years. After 1991 manufacturers stopped honoring the chits. The repayment program will not only please bond holders: it will also allow the government to subsidize certain industrial firms (such as the Moskvich auto plant) by paying cash advances for the goods. -- Natalia Gurushina



ARMENIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION UPDATE.
According to a poll published on 19 September in Express-Khronika, 57.3% of respondents said they will vote in the 22 September presidential election for united opposition candidate Vazgen Manukyan. Incumbent President Levon Ter-Petrossyan would take 33.7% of the vote, Communist Party candidate Sergei Badalyan 8.2%, and Scientific-Industrial Civic Union leader Ashot Manucharyan 0.7%. Ter-Petrossyan 's campaign fund had raised 168 million drams ($ 410,450) by 17 September, according to a representative of the fund, Noyan Tapan reported on 18 September. Some 44 million drams ($107,500) have already been spent. -- Elin Suleymanov

JOINT RUSSO-ARMENIAN MILITARY EXERCISE UNDER WAY.
Russian and Armenian forces began joint tactical exercises on 19 September, Russian and Western media reported. The exercises involve troops, warplanes and armored vehicles and are taking place near the Turkish border in Armavir. The exercises were originally to be held from 23-27 September but were pulled forward to effectively coincide with the Armenian presidential election. Last March the two sides undertook similar exercises for the first time. -- Lowell Bezanis

KAZAKSTAN ROUNDUP.
Kazakstan has a newly established main intelligence directorate within the country's Ministry of Defense, Karavan-Blitz reported on 19 September. The department was established by a special decree of Defense Minister Alibek Kasymov and will be manned by five of the country's 45 generals. In other news, some 200 businessmen attended a conference in Almaty sponsored by the Islamic Development Bank, RFE/RL reported on 19 September. It was announced that the IDB will open an office in Kazakstan and provide the country with special credits for railroad construction. -- Lowell Bezanis and Merhat Sharipzhan

DETAINED KAZAKSTANI JOURNALIST WINS COMPENSATION.
A suit brought by Batyrkhan Darimbet, RFE/RL stringer in Kazakstan, against the city of Almaty police department ended on 18 September, RFE/RL reported the same day. The court agreed that Darimbet's human rights and professional dignity were violated when he was detained in early July en route to a press conference for visiting Chinese President Jiang Zemin. The presiding judge awarded 10,000 tenge (around $150) to Darimbet, far less than the 6 million tenge he demanded. Two activists associated respectively with the Azat and Jeltoksan nationalist parties were also detained at the same police station where Darimbet was held, evidently to prevent them too from attending the press conference. -- Lowell Bezanis and Merhat Sharipzhan

STABILITY RETURNS TO EASTERN TAJIKISTAN.
Secretary of the Tajik Security Council Amirkul Azimov told a press conference on 19 September that the ceasefire in the Karetegin Valley is holding, ITAR-TASS reported. A protocol signed by representatives from the Tajik government and opposition on 15-16 September ended fighting in the area which began in late August. Both sides agreed to take down their check points in the Jirgatal and Tajikabad areas and allow interior and security agencies to renew their work there and to reopen the Dushanbe-Jirgatal highway. Further south, an accord was signed on 18 September in the border town of Ishkashim between the commander of the Russian border troops, Lt.-Gen. Pavel Tarasenko, and the commander of Afghanistan's 6th Army Corps., Col.-Gen. Najmuddin, to establish a 25-kilometer buffer zone in Afghanistan's Shungan province, a move aimed at stemming Tajik opposition infiltration from Afghanistan. -- Bruce Pannier



NATO PLANNING "SUPER-PFP" FOR THOSE NOT ACCEPTED AS MEMBERS.
NATO is developing a "super" Partnership for Peace (PfP) program for countries that are not invited to join the alliance in the first wave of expansion, Reuters reported on 19 September. The new "PfP Plus" would aim to boost non-members' military cooperation and political contacts with NATO. U.S. Ambassador to Finland Derek Shearer estimated that 15 to 20 of the current 27 participants in the PfP, including Russia, could join the new group. -- Doug Clarke

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT MEETS RUSSIAN COMMUNIST LEADER.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka met with Russian Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov on 19 September, Russian and international agencies reported the following day. Zyuganov, in Minsk at the invitation of the Belarusian parliament, offered to mediate in the power dispute between parliament and president. He called upon both sides to withdraw their competing draft constitutions from the upcoming referendum, and he voiced concern that the CIA was engaged in subversive activities against Belarus. In other news, ITAR-TASS reported Lukashenka awarded Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov the honorary Belarusian medal of Frantsys Skaryna for his part in strengthening Russian-Belarusian ties. -- Ustina Markus

UKRAINIAN RADIO PROGRAM UPSETS BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT.
Ukraine's prosecutor general filed a case against the nationalist radio program Zhurnal UNSO because it insulted the Belarusian president, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 September. Serhii Kolomyets, a member of the radical nationalist group Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian Self Defense Organization (UNA-UNSO), said Belarusian President Lukashenka called his Ukrainian counterpart demanding an explanation for the show's portrayal of him and insisting that the journalists who insulted him be penalized. Ukraine's security service explained that journalists have the right to freedom of speech in Ukraine. The recent sentencing of seven Ukrainians who are allegedly members of UNA-UNSO to 1230 months in jail in Belarus for their part in anti-Lukashenka demonstrations has made Lukashenka the target of criticism by the organization. -- Ustina Markus

UKRAINIAN FOREIGN NEWS.
Ukraine's parliament refused for the second time to ratify an international agreement on free skies, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 September. Sixteen of the 25 countries that signed the agreement are NATO states, and as neither Russia nor Belarus is party to the treaty, parliament argued that allowing NATO members to freely fly across Ukraine would jeopardize the country's neutral status. The same day, U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma agreed to create an intergovernmental commission for enhancing cooperation between their countries. The commission will have committees for foreign policy, security, trade and investment, and economic cooperation. Ukraine is the third largest recipient of U.S. aid, with $330 million in aid and $675 million in credits this year. -- Ustina Markus

ESTONIA'S ALIENS NOT EAGER TO VOTE IN ELECTIONS.
Although only Estonian citizens can vote in parliamentary elections, non-citizens can vote in local elections if they meet certain criteria: they must be 18 or older, have applied for a residence permit, have lived in their respective territory for at least five years, and have registered by 10 September. For the local elections on 20 October, 70,696 non-citizens (less than half of those eligible) registered to vote, BNS reported on 19 September. Most registered in Tallinn and the surrounding Harjumaa region (34,912) and the northeast Ida-Virumaa region (31,563). Not one non-citizen was registered in nearly half of the 255 local self-government territories. Non-citizens will be allowed to register until 18 October if they have a good reason for missing the deadline. -- Saulius Girnius

LITHUANIA TO HOLD REFERENDUM ALONG WITH PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS.
The Seimas on 19 September voted 62 to 25 with 14 abstentions to hold a referendum on amending the constitution at the time of the parliamentary elections on 20 October, Radio Lithuania reported. The proposed amendments would reduce the number of Seimas deputies from 141 to 111; fix the date of regular parliamentary elections as the second Sunday in April every fourth year; and guarantee that at least half of the national budget be spent on social care, medicine, education, science, culture, and other social needs. Social Democratic Party Deputy Chairman Rimantas Dagys said that the governing Democratic Labor Party is calling the referendum to attract more votes and thus ensure that it passes the 5% barrier needed to get into the Seimas. -- Saulius Girnius

SWEDISH PREMIER, LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT IN POLAND.
Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson arrived in Poland for a two-day visit on 19 September. He met with his Polish counterpart Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz. Persson said Sweden fully backs Poland's goal of joining the EU by 2000, a date recently mentioned by French President Jacques Chirac, and added that Sweden, with its recent experience in negotiating with the EU, could help Poland. Also on 19 September, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Lithuanian President Algirdas Brasauskas met in Gdynia and signed a declaration that Lithuania and Poland will support each other in the processes of integration into the EU and NATO. They agreed to hold regular consultations. -- Jakub Karpinski

CZECH BANKING DEVELOPMENTS CAUSE POLITICAL SNIPING . . .
Parliament Chairman and opposition leader Milos Zeman said on 19 September that Finance Minister Ivan Kocarnik bears "political and professional responsibility" for the loss of 2 billion crowns that the Czech Customs Administration incurred in the recent collapse of Kreditni banka, Czech media reported. Zeman's Social Democrats have demanded that Kocarnik be removed from his post; however, Kocarnik's Civic Democratic Party expressed support for the finance minister on 19 September. Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus also expressed support for National Bank Governor Josef Tosovsky amid speculations that Tosovsky may be dismissed from his post. Also on 19 September, Klaus met with the directors of the four largest banks in the country, declaring after the meeting that the government and major financial institutions are ready "to develop [the banking sector] without turbulences similar to the recent ones." -- Jiri Pehe

. . . BUT BANKING SECTOR REPORTEDLY IN GOOD SHAPE.
The parliament budget committee's chairman, Josef Wagner of the opposition CSSD, said the committee had concluded from a recent report by National Bank Governor Josef Tosovsky that the Czech banking sector is now stabilized, Czech media reported on 19 September. The four largest banks--Komercni banka, Ceska sporitelna, Ceskoslovenska obchodni banka, and Investicni a postovni banka--have a market value of 110 billion crowns ($4.1 billion), while in 1990 they had a negative value. The four banks represent over 70% of the banking sector. Twelve out of the country's 60 banks have collapsed in the past two years. -- Jiri Pehe

CZECH PREMIER'S PARTY SECOND IN POLLS--FOR THE FIRST TIME.
An opinion poll conducted by the Center for Empirical Studies, whose results were carried by TV Nova on 19 September, shows Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS) close second behind the Social Democrats (CSSD). This is the first time that the ODS has been surpassed by the CSSD, or any other party, since its establishment in 1991. The ODS won the June 1996 elections with some 29% but was unable to form a majority government. Klaus currently heads a minority government supported by 99 coalition deputies in the 200-seat legislature. In the poll, the CSSD received the support of 26.3% respondents, while the ODS received 26.2%. The Communists received 9.7%, followed by the Civic Democratic Alliance with 8.2% and the Christian Democrats with 7.4%. -- Jiri Pehe

FORMER HUNGARIAN INDUSTRY MINISTER NAMED IN OIL SCANDAL.
Imre Dunai, who resigned as Hungary's minister of industry and trade last month, has been implicated in a report by the parliamentary commission looking into the "Oilgate" scandal involving Russian oil imports, Hungarian dailies reported on 20 September. The report concludes that Dunai was involved in oil transactions that were "incompatible with his post." The report apparently enjoys the support of the Free Democratic Party (SZDSZ), even though the party is in the governing coalition. This support could increase tensions between the SZDSZ and the senior coalition partner, the Social Democratic Party. -- Ben Slay



ROW BUILDING UP OVER BOSNIAN PRESIDENCY . . .
The three-man collective presidency has yet to meet, but already differences have emerged among Muslims, Serbs, and Croats that reflect the differences in the agendas of the three leading parties. On the issue of where that body will meet, the Serb Momcilo Krajisnik said he fears for his safety in Sarajevo and offered Pale as an alternative, which is unacceptable to the Muslims and Croats. The Muslims earlier rejected a Serb proposal for a meeting place on the demarcation line, which the Muslims said would only underscore the division rather than the unity of Bosnia-Herzegovina. A second point involves the length of the Muslim Alija Izetbegovic's term as chairman. The Muslims say it should last two years, while Krajisnik wants each man to have eight months in the office. The Croat Kresimir Zubak, a lawyer, argues that the matter is not clear and will have to be discussed. A third issue is Izetbegovic's demand that Krajisnik, whose party supports a greater Serbia, take a loyalty oath to Bosnia-Herzegovina. Zubak met separately with each of the other two men on 19 September to prepare the groundwork for a joint meeting. -- Patrick Moore

. . . AND HURDLES REMAIN REGARDING THE ELECTIONS.
The elections must be certified by the OSCE in order to be valid, but Izetbegovic's party and some NGOs have charged that the vote in the Republika Srpska was not fair and democratic. OSCE election monitor Edward van Thijn suggested that the OSCE hold off on certification--scheduled for next week--until the Serbs bring their constitution into line with the Bosnian one set down in the Dayton agreement. Ten days after the elections are certified, the UN Security Council is expected to lift sanctions against Belgrade and Pale. Meanwhile, unofficial returns show that the three nationalist parties are sweeping the remaining five categories of offices voted on in the 14 September election, Onasa and Oslobodjenje reported. -- Patrick Moore

SOLANA: NATO MUST REMAIN "ENGAGED" IN BOSNIA.
NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said on 19 September that the international community, including NATO, must remain engaged in Bosnia after the departure of the IFOR peacekeeping force in December, AFP reported. Solana told the International Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS) there may have to be a continued military presence in Bosnia, albeit smaller and for a strictly limited term. UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros-Ghali that same day also warned the international community against an early disengagement from Bosnia. But U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry warned that sending U.S. troops into Bosnia again next year would "pose a very substantial problem," AFP reported on 19 September. -- Daria Sito Sucic

CROATIA WANTS ELECTIONS IN EASTERN SLAVONIA ON 15 DECEMBER.
The Croatian National Defense and Security Council (VONS) on 18 September decided that local elections in eastern Slavonia, the last Serb-held area, should be held on 15 December, the Croatian Foreign Press Bureau reported the next day. Zagreb wants the UN troops to leave Croatia on 15 January, when their mandate expires, and to have the area returned to its control. But rebel Serbs want the UN mandate to be extended, and they are supported by UN Secretary General Boutros-Ghali. Meanwhile, the Croatian Social Liberal Party (HSLS) filed a complaint with Croatia's Constitutional Court, demanding that the security council be abolished as it is an unconstitutional body exceeding the powers of both the government and parliament, Slobodna Dalmacija reported on 20 September. -- Daria Sito Sucic

IFOR COMMANDER DEMANDS SACKING OF SERB POLICE CHIEF.
Adm. Joseph Lopez, NATO's top commander for Bosnia, asked Biljana Plavsic, the Republika Srpska's acting president, to immediately remove a Bosnian Serb police chief who threatened NATO troops, Oslobodjenje reported on 20 September. If the Serbs do not comply by noon on 20 September, "IFOR will take remedial action to remove this threat to our troops," Lopez's spokesman Capt. Mark Van Dyke said according to AFP. The incident occurred when Simo Drljaca, the police chief in Prijedor, was asked by a patrol of Czech IFOR troops to hand over a sub-machine gun found in his car, but he cocked and pointed the weapon at the troops. More Serb police armed arrived in reinforcements and surrounded the Czechs. Both sides fired into the air; no injuries were reported. Lopez insisted that Drljaca be replaced and the weapons be turned over to IFOR for destruction. -- Daria Sito Sucic

THE POLITICS OF THE SERBIAN STRIKE.
The strike of Kragujevac arms and auto workers continues amid intensifying politicization. Nasa Borba on 20 September reported that the leadership of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO) has denied allegations published in the pro-government press that it fomented the strike action. In a less-than-subtle reference to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, the SPO said that the workers "know who the real protest organizer is. ...[Workers] have been thrown on the streets by the same crooks who have bank accounts in Cyprus, and by the hunger that those crooks have to be held accountable for." -- Stan Markotich

SLOVENES TO VOTE ON ELECTORAL REFORM.
The Slovenian legislature has voted, honoring a decision by the Constitutional Court, that a referendum be held on electoral reform on 8 December, STA reported on 19 September. The referendum and its results will not interfere with the country's national elections on 10 November. Slovenia is divided into eight districts, and winning candidates are apportioned seats from party lists. In December, Slovenes will be asked to choose from three electoral options, which include the possibility of increasing the number of districts and implementing a first-past-the-post system of directly electing candidates. In other news, Reuters on 19 September reported that Slovenia and the EU have signed an interim trade accord that will define relations until the signing of a treaty "promising" Slovenia EU membership. -- Stan Markotich

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY LAUNCHES "POLITICAL OFFER."
The ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania on 18 and 19 September launched a new political platform ahead of presidential and general elections scheduled for 3 November, Radio Bucharest reported. The platform consists of 21 separate programs for boosting political, social, and economic reforms. It includes measures designed to improve social protection, health conditions, and education; to combat unemployment and corruption; and to speed up Romania's integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures. President Ion Iliescu, who attended the launching ceremony on 18 September, said that his own electoral platform was closely connected to that of the PDSR. -- Dan Ionescu

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT "SHOCKED" BY ROMANIAN ANTI-GAY LAWS.
The Strasbourg-based European Parliament (EP) on 19 September expressed "shock" over proposed changes in the Romanian penal code that make homosexual relations punishable by up to three years in jail, Radio Bucharest and Western agencies reported. In a resolution condemning the 10 September decision by Romania's Chamber of Deputies, the EP urged President Iliescu to intervene to prevent the penal code changes and asked the Romanian government to "abide by its commitment" to the Council of Europe to eliminate "repression of homosexuality." A spokesman for Iliescu said on the same day that the president "does not agree with those parliamentarians who voted for articles in the penal code that do not harmonize with European legislation." -- Dan Ionescu

GERMANY AND MACEDONIA SIGN MILITARY AGREEMENT.
German State Secretary in the Defense Ministry Bernd Wilz and Macedonian Defense Minister Blagoj Handziski signed a military cooperation agreement in Skopje on 19 September, Nova Makedonija reported. The deal provides for German training of Macedonian officers. Handziski expressed the determination of Macedonia to quickly fulfill the conditions for full-fledged NATO membership. Skopje has signed similar treaties with six other countries. Wilz said that Germany has a strong interest in the development of democratization and human rights in Macedonia. -- Fabian Schmidt

BULGARIA'S UN ENVOY BLASTS HIS GOVERNMENT.
Slavi Pashovsky, who has a record of falling out with the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) government by accusing it of trying to restore communism, is again in hot water with Sofia authorities. On 20 September Pashovsky sent an open letter to his government protesting its decision to bar him from attending the current UN General Assembly, international media reported. Pashovsky complained the government wants "only people presenting their views" to be appointed. "We remained silent for too long, and you went too far," he said. The BBC noted on 20 September that it is "unprecedented" for a UN envoy to attack his own government in a public press conference. -- Maria Koinova

BULGARIA'S STATE-OWNED BANKS FOR SALE.
All state-owned banks except Bulbank are to be offered for privatization, the Bank Consolidation Company's (BKK) decided on 18 September, Trud reported the next day. The government is thus no longer obligated to retain a 51% controlling interest in the institutions. BKK is already reportedly looking for long-term investors with a strategic business outlook. Biochim Bank is slated to start cooperation with the Dutch AMRO, while the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development is rumored to be interested in buying the United Bulgarian Bank. Meanwhile, South Korea's Daewoo has aimed its sights at Balkanbank and the Dutch ING Bank has a long-standing cooperation with the Post Bank, reported Duma. -- Maria Koinova

GREEK-ALBANIAN UPDATE.
Albanian Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi on 18 September met Kostandin Prevedourakis, the newly appointed Greek ambassador to Albania, ATSH reported. Meksi hailed the improvement of mutual relations. Prevedourakis assured Meksi of Greece's good will to further promote cooperation in various fields. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]
Compiled by Steve Kettle and Susan Caskie











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