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Newsline - November 27, 1996

Russian Regions faction leader Vladimir Medvedev called for canceling the Duma's special session set for 29 November, citing the Justice Ministry's conclusion that the accord signed by Chernomyrdin and Maskhadov is constitutional, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 November. Yabloko's Vladimir Lukin said there was no need for the session since it was merely an attempt by the opposition to patch up divisions that have recently appeared in its ranks, RIA Novosti reported. Liberal Democratic Party of Russian Duma Deputy Chairman Mikhail Gutseriev believes that the reaction of the communists and their allies has been "too emotional" since neither the troop withdrawal decree nor the accord say Chechnya is not part of Russia. Duma Deputy Chairman Sergei Baburin, of the People's Power faction, however, called on President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to resign. -- Robert Orttung

Speaking on Chechen television on 26 November, field commander Shamil Basaev announced his candidacy for the 27 January 1997 Chechen presidential elections, Russian and Western agencies reported. Basaev, who commanded the Chechen militants who perpetrated the hostage taking in the southern Russian town of Budennovsk in June 1995, said that in running for president he wished to demonstrate his ability "not only to fight but to build a peaceful life." Also on 26 November, thousands of Chechens congregated in Grozny to commemorate the second anniversary of the abortive attempt to overthrow the Dudaev leadership. Speaking in Moscow on 26 November, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov warned that Russia will oppose the plans of the Chechen leadership, as outlined by premier Aslan Maskhadov in an interview with a Saudi newspaper, to open embassies in Turkey and a number of Asian states, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Liz Fuller

Yeltsin may be boosting Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's power and prestige as a counterweight to Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 26 November. Traditionally, Yeltsin rules with a threesome or foursome of immediate subordinates, while reserving the role of arbiter for himself. With the removal of Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, only Chubais and Chernomyrdin are considered key players. Luzhkov's participation in the 21 November Consultative Council meeting is evidence of his rise. The mayor's strong political support base, aggressive tactics, and past differences with Chubais over privatization make him a logical balancer. -- Robert Orttung

Kuranty on 26 November published a photo of a document it claimed was a valid U.S. green card in the name of Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii. Berezovskii had an Israeli passport until recently, renouncing his citizenship after he was appointed to the Security Council. According to Komsomolskaya pravda on 27 November, documents purporting to show that Berezovskii has the right to reside in the U.S. have been distributed to various editorial offices. The paper noted that there is now a considerable market in kompromat, or compromising material. It claimed that the latest material on Berezovskii might be an attempt to divert attention away from the scandal over his Israeli citizenship rather than simply another attempt to discredit him. -- Penny Morvant

On an official visit to Paris, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin on 26 November harshly criticized the "obstinacy" of "certain forces" in the West, which want to achieve the goal of NATO expansion "at whatever cost, without concern for the legitimate national security concerns of Russia," AFP reported. Harking back to Soviet diplomatic tactics, which often attempted to exploit divisions within NATO, Chernomyrdin praised Paris's stance on enlargement as close to that of Moscow. He also alluded to Franco-American disputes over European security, saying that Europeans "should be able to decide their destiny without outside interference." Earlier, Chernomyrdin and his French counterpart Alain Juppe signed three agreements covering taxes, space exploration, and agriculture. -- Scott Parrish

Speaking after a 26 November Moscow meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Oleksander Kuzmuk, Defense Minister Igor Rodionov reiterated that Russia will not accept joint basing of the Ukrainian and Russian portions of the Black Sea Fleet in Sevastopol, Russian media reported. Rebuffing continuing claims to Sevastopol by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, however, Rodionov argued that Russia must "resign itself" to the "fact" that Crimea and Sevastopol belong to Ukraine. Kuzmuk insisted the Ukrainian navy would be based in Sevastopol, and predicted that further talks would resolve the dispute. Rodionov blamed the failure to achieve compromise on "third forces" in Russia, Ukraine and other countries which hope to torpedo Russo-Ukrainian cooperation. Despite the fleet disagreement, the two ministers signed a bilateral military cooperation plan for 1997, which includes measures strengthening joint air defense and communications. -- Scott Parrish

The Ministry of Atomic Energy on 26 November protested the decision by the U.S. Commerce Department blocking its plans to purchase American high-speed computers, NTV and ITAR-TASS reported (see OMRI Daily Digest, 26 November 1996). Ministry spokesman Grigorii Kaurov dismissed as "groundless" American concerns that the proposed computer sales would pose a risk of nuclear proliferation, saying that the ministry had intended to use the computers to improve the safety and security of the existing Russian nuclear stockpile. He complained that the decision showed that "mutual trust" had not been established between Washington and Moscow. -- Scott Parrish

Addressing a conference of 138 signatories of the 1972 Biological Weapons Convention, Russian delegation head Grigorii Berdennikov said that Russia adheres to all clauses of the convention, and has "never developed, produced, accumulated, or stored biological weapons," ITAR-TASS reported. He said Russia supports moves to strengthen enforcement of the treaty, but any new inspection regime must be inexpensive and non-discriminatory. Earlier, U.S. Arms Control and Disarmament Agency head John Holum said Washington suspects 12 countries, including Russia, Iraq, and China of having biological weapons programs. In 1992, President Yeltsin admitted that the Soviet Union had developed biological weapons in violation of the 1972 convention, but insisted that all such programs had been terminated. -- Scott Parrish

Nobel prize-winning author Alexander Solzhenitsyn published an article in the French daily Le Monde in which he painted a grim picture of present-day Russia, AFP reported on 26 November. The article was timed to coincide with Chernomyrdin's visit to Paris. Solzhenitsyn argues that the new Russian leadership is no better than the communists and stresses that "nothing resembling democracy currently exists in Russia." He states that the country is ruled by an oligarchy of 150 to 200 people, drawn from former members of the communist elite or the "new rich" who amassed instant fortunes through illegal means. Solzhenitsyn argues that the state operates without any accountability to society, while the press is under tight control. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski

In a letter to Chernomyrdin, Economy Minister Yevgenii Yasin warned that the government's economic policy "is dragging the country into the abyss of a long depression." The letter was published in Nezavisimaya gazeta on 26 November; independent confirmation of its authenticity is not available. Yasin writes that the slide in tax collections "is not due to the evil refusal to pay taxes by people who have money, but the contraction of the tax base as a consequence of the fall in production and worsening financial situation of enterprises." He called for a radical change in the government's course, but did not come up with much in the way of concrete policy proposals. -- Peter Rutland

Arkadii Volskii, president of the Russian Union of Industrialists and Entrepreneurs, told a national congress of the organization on 26 November that the money supply should be raised from 12% to 60% of GDP to stop the economic recession, ORT reported. He said that the emergency tax commission is not working because "it is avoiding the half-criminalized banks and fake financial companies, trading houses, and intermediaries," and cracking down on manufacturers while "protecting the field for the new Russians." Volskii said "the idea that there is a directors' bloc, or 'red directors' who want to drag the country into the past, has become a fairy tale." -- Peter Rutland

At a press conference on 26 November, Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits and Central Bank head Sergei Dubinin said the "inclined corridor" for the ruble will be continued through 1997 to ensure "stability and predictability" in the exchange rate, ITAR-TASS reported. The corridor will slide from 5,500-6,100 rubles per dollar on 1 January 1997 to 5,750-6,350 rubles on 31 December1997. The plan is to have the ruble slip against the dollar by no more than 1.1% per month, and hopefully at a rate below domestic price inflation. This would mean that the ruble will continue to slowly appreciate in real terms against the dollar, which is favorable to importers but not to exporters. On 27 November the official course was 5,503 rubles to the dollar. -- Peter Rutland

Russia's Foreign Economic Relations Minister Oleg Davydov and France's Finance Minister Jean Arthuis signed an agreement on repaying tsarist debts on 26 November, AFP reported. Russian state bonds in French hands will be redeemed over a four-year period by dividing $400 million by the number of claims. Over the last 10 years, Russia signed similar deals with the U.K., the U.S., Canada, and Switzerland. Arthuis said the deal should improve Russia's investment risk grade, lowering insurance premiums and boosting investment. Signing the deal means that French investors can now participate in Russia's eurobond trade. The agreement may also help Russia's application to join the Paris Club as a creditor (in light of debts owed to it by Third World nations). -- Natalia Gurushina

First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin has decided to initiate bankruptcy proceedings against the Togliatti auto manufacturer AvtoVAZ, ITAR-TASS and Kommersant-Daily reported on 26-27 November. Potanin said that company officials refused to cooperate with a government plan to sell 50% of the company's shares to a strategic investor. According to State Property Committee Chairman Alfred Kokh, AvtoVAZ's debts amount to 11 trillion rubles ($2 billion), of which 2.8 trillion rubles are owed in federal taxes. -- Natalia Gurushina

The UN Security Council, following a briefing by UN special envoy for Georgia Edouard Brunner and his deputy Liviu Bota, on 26 November issued a statement deploring the holding of "so-called parliamentary elections" in Abkhazia on 23 November, ITAR-TASS reported. The statement, however, expressed satisfaction at last week's meeting between Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Abkhaz Foreign Minister Konstantin Ozgan. In the polls, 30 deputies were elected, including 19 Abkhaz, four Russians, three Armenians, two Georgians, one Kabardian, and one Greek; runoffs will be held in five constituencies where turnout was below the required 50%. In Abkhazia, celebrations were held on 26 November to mark the first anniversary of the adoption of a new constitution. -- Liz Fuller

The Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry on 26 November issued a statement reiterating its condemnation of the 24 November presidential election in the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, ITAR-TASS reported. The statement said the election was an attempt "to annex a part of Azerbaijani territory occupied by Armenian troops," and blamed Armenia for initiating the "illegal act." Meanwhile, reelected Nagorno-Karabakh President Robert Kocharyan assessed his landslide victory (more than 85% of the vote) as support for his administration's policies, Noyan Tapan reported on 26 November. -- Emil Danielyan

Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev on 26 November issued a decree naming Artur Rasi-Zade as Azerbaijan's new prime minister, ITAR-TASS reported. Rasi-Zade had been acting prime minister since the resignation, ostensibly on health grounds, of Fuad Kuliev on 19 July. Rasi-Zade was born in Gyanje in 1935, trained as an oil engineer, and worked from 1957-1978 in the oil sector. He then worked as deputy chairman of Gosplan and from 1981-86 as head of the Machine-Building Department of the Azerbaijan CP Central Committee. He held the post of first deputy prime minister between 1988 and 1992, prior to the advent to power of the Azerbaijan Popular Front. -- Liz Fuller

The Kazakstani city of Shymkent experienced three days of protests against the shortage of electricity, gas and telephones services, RFE/RL reported on 26 November. Despite an agreement signed earlier in November with Uzbekistan to increase power supplies to southern Kazakstan, no visible results were seen by 24 November. RFE/RL reported youths broke car windows, elderly people blocked traffic, and thousands of people took to the streets. Authorities in the region turned on the city's electricity and natural gas supplies and as of 27 November reports indicate order has been restored. -- Bruce Pannier and Merhat Sharipzhan

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 26 November set up a new parliament, international agencies reported. Between 102 and 112 deputies met with Lukashenka and declared themselves the new lower house of the legislature. Under the new constitution, the lower house must have 110 members from the current 199-strong parliament. There will also be an upper house made up partly of the president's appointees. Meanwhile, Constitutional Court spokesman Oleh Maskalyou said that the court has ruled against the impeachment procedures started against Lukashenka. Its reason was that 12 of the 73 deputies who initiated the procedure have since withdrawn their support. Seventy signatures were required to launch the procedures. -- Ustina Markus and Sergei Solodovnikov

Meanwhile, parliamentary Speaker Syamyon Sharetsky met with 55 deputies in the current parliament, who accused Lukashenka of hand-picking members for the new legislature to replace the democratically elected ones. They also strongly condemned the referendum results, which, they stressed, are not due to come into force for 10 days. In a statement claiming the results are invalid, they pointed out four procedural violations: the inability to establish how many ballot papers were issued, because the president's administration had printed them; early voting, which began before the publication of the final drafts of the constitution; funding for the referendum from unknown sources rather than the Central Electoral Commission; and state control over the media, allowing a propaganda campaign in favor of Lukashenka's referendum to begin several months earlier. -- Ustina Markus

Leonid Kuchma met with Palestinian leader Yassar Arafat in Bethlehem on 26 November, international agencies reported. The two discussed the situation in the Palestinian territories and Ukrainian-Palestinian cooperation. Kuchma said Ukraine supported self-determination for the Palestinian people in their negotiations with Israel. Arafat announced that agreement had been reached on opening a Palestinian embassy
in Kyiv. It was the first time Arafat has received a foreign head of state in Bethlehem, which was transferred to Palestinian rule as part of the Israeli-Palestinian autonomy agreements. -- Ustina Markus

Members of the Donetsk Workers Committee have appealed to a judge in Zaporizhzhia to change the venue of the trial of committee head Mykhaylo Krylov, Ukrainian TV reported on 25 November. The trial began in Zaporizhzhia earlier this week. But coal miners want it to take place in Donetsk, where Krylov was charged with organizing illegal strikes in July protesting government wage arrears, because they do not believe he will get a fair trial in Zaporizhzhia. Krylov's public defenders from Donetsk have refused to continue to represent him because of the costs involved in traveling and staying in Zaporizhzhia. The miners told Judge Yurii Svitlychny that many defense witnesses cannot afford to participate in the trial because they have not been paid in months. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Presidents Lennart Meri (Estonia), Guntis Ulmanis (Latvia), and Algirdas Brazauskas (Lithuania) signed a joint declaration at their traditional biannual meeting in Riga on 26 November, BNS reported. The three leaders call for Baltic cooperation to be intensified and called on the EU to begin accession negotiations with the Baltic states not later than six months after its intergovernment conference. The presidents also reaffirmed their countries' wishes to join NATO as soon as possible, noting that the alliance's expansion would increase rather than decrease security in Europe. -- Saulius Girnius

The Progress Party on 26 November rejected Prime Minister Tiit Vahi's offer to join the government, BNS reported. Deputy Chairman Arvo Junti said that the party stood by its refusal to work in the same government as the Center Party, which its members had earlier left. Junti also added it was unfair that his party (with seven deputies) was offered only one minister's post, while the Center Party (with nine) was offered three. Even if the Center Party agrees to join the ruling coalition, Vahi will not have a majority in the parliament. -- Saulius Girnius

The Seimas on 26 November elected Andrius Kubilius and Arvydas Vidziunas of the Homeland Union, Feliksas Palubinskas of the Christian Democratic Party, and Romualdas Ozolas of the Center Union as deputy chairmen, Radio Lithuania reported. Jurgis Razma of the Homeland Union was elected
as chancellor. The Seimas also decided to increase the number of permanent committees from 11 to 12 by creating a separate health affairs committee. A fourth three-member caucus was created, raising the total number of caucuses to nine. The Seimas will hold a special session today at which President Algirdas Brazauskas is expected to nominate Gediminas Vagnorius as prime minister. -- Saulius Girnius

According to information received by the Polish Health Ministry, some state clinics will refuse to perform abortions when a woman is in a difficult social or financial situation, Polish media reported on 27 November. Under a recently amended law due to go into force next month, abortion is allowed in such cases (see OMRI Daily Digest, 21 November 1996). Heads of gynaecological-obstretics units at two public hospitals in Tarnow, southeastern Poland, have already publicly declared their refusal to perform abortions. Kazimierz Kapera, head of the Krakow province Health Department, has resigned from his post, saying the new law contravenes the doctors' code of ethics. Meanwhile, the Solidarity trade union has announced it will appeal the legislation to the Constitutional Tribunal. A recent poll conducted by the Public Opinion Research Center shows that 56% of respondents support the amendments to the abortion law while 33% are against. -- Beata Pasek

Vaclav Havel will undergo lung surgery next week, Czech media reported on 26 November. Ten days ago, he was diagnosed as having pneumonia but was allowed to stay at home. He was hospitalized yesterday because, according to a presidential spokesman, his condition was not improving. Havel's physician at Prague's Third Surgical Clinic told reporters on 26 November that it is necessary to operate on Havel in order to find out exactly what illness the president is suffering from. -- Jiri Pehe

Slovak National Theater (SND) Director-General Miroslav Fischer has fired the theater's ballet director, Emil Bartko, CTK reported on 27 November. Fischer accused Bartko of lowering the ballet company's professional standards, but observers believe Bartko's dismissal is another step in the ruling coalition's efforts to control the SND. Also on 26 November, opposition Christian Democratic Movement Chairman Jan Carnogursky won a case against SALUS, the publisher of the pro-government daily Slovenska Republika, TASR reported. The court has ordered SALUS to publish an apology in Slovenska Republika, pay 100,000 crowns ($3,226) in damages, and to cover all legal costs. Carnogursky filed the lawsuit after Slovenska Republika wrote in May that Carnogursky had taken his children to an international seminar in Slovakia and had not wanted to pay for their meals. Carnogursky won another case against the daily on 18 November. -- Sharon Fisher

The Supreme Court has upheld a lower court ruling nullifying the 17 November election results, which showed victories for the opposition Zajedno coalition, Reuters reported on 26 November. Zajedno, which had appealed in the first instance, said it was "not surprised that the Supreme Court is again in the service of the ruling party, but we are surprised that Milosevic's regime is causing new conflicts in this way." In related news, mass demonstrations continue in Belgrade, with opposition leaders vowing to continue the protests. Finally, polls opened in Belgrade on 27 November for the third round of municipal balloting, but voter turnout is reported low so far. Zajedno has called for the election to be boycotted and has demanded that the returns of the 17 November vote be "honored." -- Stan Markotich

A group of 45 reporters working for the pro-regime daily Politika have signed a letter of protest saying their management is deliberately censoring coverage of the mass demonstrations in Belgrade, Beta reported on 26 November. The letter says, "We are very worried about the unprofessional nature of the coverage of ongoing developments on Serbia's political stage. We are in favor of respecting the facts that are unfolding." So far, Politika has either avoided coverage of the ongoing developments or has portrayed the demonstrations as a threat to public safety--a line taken by all the state-controlled media. -- Stan Markotich

Chief Justice Krunoslav Olujic has been fired by disciplinary authorities on the government's recommendation, Vecernji list wrote on 27 November. He is accused of having had sex with minors and of using his position to protect the financial activities of friends, AFP said, quoting Croatian Television. Olujic, however, is an opponent of attempts by the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) to thwart the independence of the judiciary. His successor, Milan Vukovic, is a known HDZ hard-liner. Commenting on the charges, Olujic told the independent weekly Globus: "The police accuse me of having sexual relationships with minors, girls what is more, which is astonishing," alluding to rumors that he is gay. In other news, the opposition agreed to end its boycott of parliament now that the question of the impasse in Zagreb city government will be placed on the legislature's agenda, Novi List noted. -- Patrick Moore

President Biljana Plavsic and other leaders of the Serbian Democratic Party have asked the Ministries of Justice and Defense to "examine...the grounds for judicial action against the members of the army leadership, [which has been] committing acts against the constitution and the rule of the state in the Republika Srpska," AFP said on 26 November, quoting SRNA. Plavsic fired indicted war criminal Gen. Ratko Mladic and 80 of his backers on 9 November, but they refuse to go. She has spoken to Mladic's representatives but is unwilling to let him retain a major role in Bosnian Serb military affairs (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 26 November 1996). -- Patrick Moore

IFOR, the UNHCR, and the UN police announced the lifting of the two-week-old suspension of the right of refugees to go home to a sensitive area in northeast Bosnia, Oslobodjenje reported on 27 November. The international representatives had charged the Muslims with deliberately provoking the Serbs and breaking the rules for returning to homes that lie in territory held by another ethnic group. The Muslims said the Serbs were using Muslims' applications to go home in order to target empty Muslim homes for dynamiting. The international representatives now say that the rules for returning must be scrupulously observed. Also in Sarajevo, a group of mainly women refugees from Srebrenica blocked and jostled the car of the international community's Michael Steiner to protest the failure to carry out key points of the Dayton agreement. Steiner said that he is not to blame for the problems. -- Patrick Moore

Ion Iliescu, in a farewell press conference carried live by Radio Bucharest on 26 November, defended his Presidency's record, emphasizing that democratic institutions had taken root and that Romania made significant progress in foreign relations. He blamed the failures of the outgoing government of Nicolae Vacaroiu on an uncooperative opposition, and he challenged his successor, Emil Constantinescu, to make good on campaign pledges to accelerate reform while increasing living standards, saying the two were contradictory. Iliescu also said he regretted his poor relations with a press that had been in general hostile to him. Asked whether he would run again for president in the year 2000, Iliescu replied it was too early to say. -- Michael Shafir

Adrian Nastase, executive chairman of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), said the participation of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) in the new government coalition is likely to mean that government debates will not remain confidential that information will be leaked to the Hungarian government, Radio Bucharest reported on 26 November. Meanwhile, media reports suggest that the UDMR will have two ministers in Victor Ciorbea's government: one without portfolio in charge of the Department for National Minorities, the other head of the Ministry of Tourism. Negotiations on the line-up of the new cabinet are almost over, but an announcement will not be made until after President-elect Emil Constantinescu was been sworn in on 1 December, Premier-designate Victor Ciorbea said. -- Michael Shafir

Authorities in the breakaway Transdniester region have said that since the appointment of Donald Johnson as head of the OSCE mission, developments in the region have been negative and may affect cooperation within the Joint Control Commission, BASA-press reported on 26 November. The statement claims that OSCE members helped citizens in the Vasilievca and Dubasari districts to vote in the first Moldovan presidential run-off on 17 November by carrying ballot boxes to them. (The Tiraspol authorities had prohibited balloting on the region's territory but allowed voting for those willing to cross the Dniester.) The authorities said this was a "political provocation." They also accused members of the OSCE mission of "driving very fast" in the security zone and thus "endangering the safety of people." The OSCE mission said the statement "was not worth an answer." -- Michael Shafir

Stamen Stamenov is responsible for causing losses to Bulgaria worth several million dollars, Bulgarian media reported, quoting Edvin Sugarev, deputy chairman of the parliamentary commission against corruption. Sugarev announced the data after briefing Prosecutor-General Ivan Tatarchev and Interior Minister Nikolai Dobrev. He said that Stamenov signed "unfavorable" contracts with the Yugoslav Railroad Company between July 1994 and January 1995, when Stamenov was director-general of the Bulgarian State Railroad Company. Stamenov denied the allegations, telling Trud that " one of Bulgaria's tragedies is that we always suspect one other." -- Maria Koinova

Prime Minister Zhan Videnov has said the Bulgarian National Bank and the government will assume strict currency control over exchange offices, financial-broker houses, and the banking system, Trud reported on 27 November. There will also be stricter control over the import and export of hard currency as well as over bank transfers to and from abroad. The move is aimed at stopping hard currency smuggling and at strengthening the adherence to laws on buying and selling hard currency. Videnov, however, added that there will be no changes in the currency regime. Meanwhile, some 1.6 million of Bulgaria's population of 8.5 million are currently entangled in debts, according to the National Statistical Institute's latest survey. Some 80% of respondents now admit that their financial situation has deteriorated considerably , compared with 32% in April. -- Maria Koinova

Shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova, Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi, and several representatives of Kosovo's Albanian political parties arrived in Tirana on 26 November to discuss a joint policy, Deutsche Welle's Albanian-language service reported on 26 November. The meeting coincides with increasing reports of internal shadow-state conflicts over coordinating policy between the president, government, and legislature (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 26 November 1996). Rugova also met with Albanian President Sali Berisha, ATSH reported. Both stressed the importance of Kosovo's democratic institutions, such as the parliament. It remains unclear if the Kosovars' demand for independence from federal Yugoslavia was addressed. Albania's support for that demand has been half-hearted to date. Both called on the EU to open an information office in Pristina. Earlier this week, Berisha had met with the famous dissident and possible Kosovar presidential candidate Adem Demaci. -- Fabian Schmidt

Aleksander Grunasi, head of the Grunasi investment company, has disappeared with $13 million, Reuters reported on 26 November. Scores of people from Shkoder have filed legal charges against him, while the authorities have launched a criminal case. Grunasi had offered monthly interest rates of up to 10% a month. Eight suspects have been arrested. Hundreds of thousands of Albanians are estimated to have invested in pyramid schemes in the country, some of which offer monthly interest rates of up to 50%. Head of the local IMF mission Ranjid Teja warned that the growing number of pyramid schemes could endanger Albania's fragile economic recovery. The lek has increased in value against the dollar considerably since the summer, owing to Albanians in exile buying lek and investing. -- Fabian Schmidt