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Newsline - December 2, 1996

The State Duma leadership decided on 29 November not to hold a no-confidence vote on Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's government or initiate impeachment proceedings against President Boris Yeltsin, Kommersant-Daily reported on 30 November. The lower house did not even succeed in adopting a resolution on the matter. The legitimacy of the votes was called into question when it was announced that 42 Communist deputies did not have their voting cards with them. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov charged that Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais has set up his own government in the Kremlin which must be removed. -- Robert Orttung

After blasting the Yeltsin administration as a dangerous oligarchic clan system that is pushing the country toward fascism, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii called for all "democratic" groups to unite at a 30 November party congress, NTV reported. He also said Yabloko would be gradually transformed from a "movement" into a political party. Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev attended the congress and expressed his support for Yabloko. Sergei Belyaev, the leader of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia Duma faction, also attended the meeting and noted that his bloc could find some common ground with Yabloko, but that the two groups have differing opinions on the authorities currently in power. During the 1995 Duma campaign, Yavlinskii rejected all attempts by other groups to ally with him. He also failed to form a "third-force" alliance with Aleksandr Lebed during the 1996 presidential campaign. -- Robert Orttung

President Yeltsin on 29 November rejected a Duma bill that would have made it easier to amend the constitution, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill stipulated that if the members of the Russian Federation do not act on a proposed amendment within six months, they are assumed to be in support of it. Constitutional amendments require the support of two-thirds of all members of the Duma, three-fourths of the Federation Council, and two-thirds of all legislatures in the 89 republics and regions. -- Robert Orttung

President Yeltsin dismissed Army Gen. Vladimir Semenov from his position as commander of the Ground Forces on 30 November. The order accused Semenov of "activities incompatible with his post," which "discredit the honor and dignity of a serviceman." According to AFP, Semenov termed his sacking "completely unexpected," adding that no "convincing" charges of misconduct or corruption had been leveled against him by the Defense Ministry. A Ground Forces spokesman expressed "astonishment" at the justification for Semenov's dismissal. -- Scott Parrish

LUKoil-Garant, a pension fund and subsidiary of the Russian oil company LUKoil, is set to buy a 20% stake in the daily newspaper Izvestiya, Segodnya reported on 28 November. According to the fund's general manager, Mikhail Berezhnoi, LUKoil-Garant plans to invest a considerable sum of money into the newspaper, Kommersant-Daily reported the next day. According to an unnamed source, the company has already bought 20% of Izvestiya's shares from Dialog-bank and another 5% from foreign shareholders. A LUKoil company representative has reportedly joined the newspaper's editorial board. -- Anna Paretskaya in Moscow

The Chechen leadership on 30 November failed to agree on a single candidate for the republic's presidential election scheduled for 27 January 1997, ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 30 November, Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin told ITAR-TASS that Moscow will invite observers from the Council of Europe and the OSCE to monitor the election. In an interview published in a Grozny newspaper and summarized by ITAR-TASS on 1 December, former Russian parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov also advocated OSCE monitoring, but declined to say whether he would run as a presidential candidate. Meanwhile, a Russian presidential spokesman told ITAR-TASS on 29 November that the withdrawal of Russian troops from the republic will be completed by 20 January 1997, but the commander of Russian Interior Ministry forces in Chechnya, Col.-Gen. Anatolii Shkirko, said on 30 November that no deadline has been set. -- Liz Fuller

An Amur Oblast court ruled on 28 November to annul the run-off results of the oblast's gubernatorial election, citing massive forgery, Russian media reported. On 22 September, incumbent Yurii Lyashko lost the second round to the chairman of the regional legislature, opposition candidate Anatolii Belonogov, by 189 votes. The investigation conducted by the regional Procurator's Office found that many voters' signatures were falsified. Lyashko will stay in the office until a new election scheduled for 27 March 1997, the same day as the oblast legislative elections. A similar case is being heard in Rostov Oblast, where the opposition claims that the 29 September gubernatorial poll results were forged by incumbent Vladimir Chub, who received 62% of the vote to the opposition candidate Leonid Ivanchenko's 20%. -- Anna Paretskaya in Moscow

The incumbent governors of Samara, Ivanovo, and Kamchatka oblasts were re-elected on 1 December, according to preliminary results released by Radio Rossii and Russian Public TV (ORT) the next day. Konstantin Titov of Samara won re-election with about 60% of the vote, twice as much as his rival, regional Communist Party leader Valentin Romanov. Vladislav Tikhomirov of Ivanovo Oblast finished first with about 50% of the vote. Vladimir Biryukov, the incumbent in Kamchatka Oblast, defeated Boris Oleinikov by a margin of about 60% in the gubernatorial run-off. The incumbent in Nenets Autonomous Okrug, Vladimir Khabarov, won more than 40% of the vote, and will face his opponent in a second round. -- Anna Paretskaya in Moscow

The chairman of the regional legislature in Altai Krai, opposition candidate Aleksandr Surikov, defeated incumbent Lev Korshunov in a run-off vote, Russian media reported. Surikov scored about 49% of the vote, while Korshunov received 46%, about the same level of support they received in the first round. The former chairman of the Murmansk Oblast Soviet, Yurii Yevdokimov, defeated incumbent Yevgenii Komarov by a margin of 4%. Yevdokimov, who was supported by Aleksandr Lebed's Honor and Motherland movement, won about 12% less than Komarov in the first round two weeks ago. -- Anna Paretskaya in Moscow

On the eve of the OSCE summit in Lisbon, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who will head the Russian delegation in Lisbon, said on his departure, "we are categorically opposed to NATO's eastward enlargement," and called for bolstering the role of the OSCE instead. In a 28 November article in Nezavisimaya gazeta, Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, generally a moderate on the expansion issue, blasted NATO for refusing to sign a charter with Moscow before accepting new members. He threatened that if the alliance expands, Russia will consider changing its military doctrine, seeking new allies, withdrawing from the 1990 CFE arms control agreement, targeting nuclear weapons on Eastern Europe, and denouncing START I and START II. The threats are probably aimed at securing concessions in return for Moscow's eventual acquiescence to NATO enlargement. -- Scott Parrish

Indian Defense Ministry officials and representatives of Rosvoruzhenie signed a contract on 30 November under which India will purchase a number of SU-30MK multi-purpose fighters, Russian and Western agencies reported. Neither side would reveal the number of planes involved, or the exact value of the contract, although Rosvoruzhenie spokesman Valerii Pogrebnikov said the contract is worth more than $1 billion, and Moscow has not denied earlier reports that the deal calls for the delivery of 8 SU-30MK planes initially, and up to 40 later. -- Scott Parrish

A delegation led by Col.-Gen. Fedor Ladygin, head of the Main Intelligence Directorate (GRU) of the Russian General Staff, arrived in Havana on 28 November to participate in ceremonies marking the 40th anniversary of the Cuban Revolutionary Armed Forces, according to ITAR-TASS. Izvestiya, however, reported on 30 November that Ladygin's main mission is to discuss the continued operation of the Russian electronic eavesdropping facility at Lourdes, near Havana, for which Russia reportedly pays Cuba about $200 million annually. -- Scott Parrish

Speaking at an Interior Ministry meeting at on 29 November, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin praised the police for managing "to prevent the total criminalization of Russian society" and to halt "the plundering of the national wealth, of natural resources, and the penetration into the national economy of 'dirty,' criminal money." He said, nevertheless, that the shadow economy accounts for 20%-50% of all economic activity in the country. Chernomyrdin admitted that the government owes the ministry 1.5 trillion rubles ($280 million) and hopes to pay it by the end of the year. The 1997 budget will allocate 30 trillion rubles to the ministry. -- Peter Rutland

The government has approved the Central Bank of Russia's (TsB) blueprint for monetary and credit policy in 1997, Segodnya reported on 29 November. The blueprint envisages a 22%-30% annual increase in money supply. From January through October 1996, cash emission in Russia totaled 17.7 trillion rubles ($3.5 billion), compared to 31.2 trillion rubles over the same period in 1995, Segodnya reported on 28 November. TsB Chairman Sergei Dubinin said that the economy can withstand such an increase next year without boosting yearly inflation to more than the 12% envisioned in the 1997 draft budget. On 29 November, the TsB announced the fifth cut in its refinancing rate this year--from 60% to 48%, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Natalia Gurushina

On 29 November, First Deputy Economics Minister Yakov Urinson announced that the excise tax on oil will be cut from 70,000 to 55,000 rubles per metric ton in 1997, ITAR-TASS reported. Urinson said that energy companies account for 65% of budget revenue, and are taxed more heavily than their Western counterparts. Economics Minister Yevgenii Yasin told a government meeting on 28 November that the Russian economy will continue to stagnate unless it adopts a new industrial policy, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported. Yasin said the government should give the space, nuclear, and power sectors investments, subsidies, and export credits to help them compete on world markets, and use import tariffs to protect domestic auto, engineering, and light industrial manufacturers. Such recommendations are sharply at odds with the government's current policies. -- Peter Rutland

The Armenian parliament on 29 November approved the government program of recently appointed Prime Minister Armen Sarkisyan, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Speaking at a session of parliament, which is overwhelmingly dominated by deputies loyal to President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, Sarkisyan said a "qualitative improvement" of economic reforms will be his government's top priority. He also pledged more state support for education, science, and culture. -- Emil Danielyan

Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov began a two-day state visit to Uzbekistan on 27 November, and signed a number of economic and cultural agreements designed to improve relations which have been overall cool, Western and Russian news agencies reported. Niyazov and his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, also discussed the situations in Tajikistan and Afghanistan. On 21 November, Uzbekistan opened an embassy in Ashgabat. -- Lowell Bezanis

President Islam Karimov hinted that importers bringing "high quality" goods into Uzbekistan would enjoy a greater degree of convertibility from January 1997. Karimov went on to say joint ventures engaged in "civilized business with Uzbekistan will not suffer any material losses." His remarks, broadcast on Uzbek Radio on 27 November and monitored by the BBC, suggest the government is attempting to step back from regulations introduced in late October that effectively forbid foreign currency transactions and limit currency conversion to a handful of large firms operating in Uzbekistan. Diplomats, traders, and international lending institutions have all registered their displeasure with the new regulations. In other news, Uzbek Radio on 26 November announced the minimum monthly wage in Uzbekistan would rise to 600 som, approximately $12 at the official exchange rate but about $5 on the black market. -- Lowell Bezanis

The city of Garm in central Tajikistan is the latest to fall to forces of the Tajik opposition, Russian and Western media reported. Opposition fighters began attacking Garm on 1 December, killing at least seven government soldiers and by nightfall were holding some 100-150 government employees and soldiers in a local mosque. Government aircraft and helicopters responded by bombing the city. Fighting continued into the next morning. The fall of Garm leaves the opposition in control of a fork in a strategic highway leading both southeast and northeast. Supplies must now be airlifted to government forces in Tajikabad and CIS border guards in Khorog, Kalai-Khumb, and Ishkashim. -- Bruce Pannier

Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed a new constitution in a ceremony on 28 November, international agencies reported. No diplomats from European embassies accepted Lukashenka's invitation to attend the ceremony. A day earlier, NTV reported that the text of the constitution appeared in the country's largest newspapers, Sovetskaya Belorussiya and Narodnaya hazeta. According to the new basic law, it comes into effect from the day of its publication. On 28 November, police only allowed "old" parliamentary deputies into the parliament to pick up their personal belongings. The rump old legislature said its government phone lines had been cut, and the official excuse for their barring was that their rooms needed "redecoration." The same day, the new House of Representatives opened its first extraordinary session and dissolved the old legislature. Anatol Malfeyeu was elected speaker of the new lower house of the legislature, and Uladzimir Konoplyau was elected deputy speaker. On 29 November, Lukashenka signed a bill terminating the authority of the old parliament. -- Ustina Markus

President Jorge Sampaio of Portugal refused to meet with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka before the opening of the OSCE summit in Lisbon, AFP reported on 1 December. The refusal was officially attributed to a lack of time in the Portuguese president's schedule; however, observers noted that the position of the president was in line with that of the European Union and most western countries, which criticized the way in which the recent referendum in Belarus was held. OSCE Chairman Flavio Cotti sought to hold a special meeting on the situation in Belarus, but was blocked by Russia. Russia, meanwhile, recognized the referendum as constitutional, noting that stability in Belarus is a critical precondition for further integration of the two countries. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

Ukraine shut down reactor No. 1 at the Chornobyl nuclear power station on 30 November, international agencies reported. Despite earlier pledges to permanently close the 19-year old reactor, Ukrainian officials say it is being closed temporarily for maintenance and repair and could be restarted if the winter is harsh. According to an agreement with the G-7, the whole plant must be closed by 2000 in return for $3 billion in aid. The closure leaves only reactor No. 3 operating. Ukraine suffers from severe energy shortages and has repeatedly threatened to go back on its promise to close Chornobyl if it does not receive the international aid promised from the G-7 in October. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

After Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksander Kuzmuk failed to reach an agreement in Moscow with his Russian counterpart Igor Rodionov over the basing of the Black Sea Fleet, President Leonid Kuchma proposed that the division of the fleet be halted and a treaty on friendship and cooperation between Russia and Ukraine be signed, Russian Public Television and AFP reported on 30 November. Kuchma said the treaty would address a strategic partnership between Russia and Ukraine in the Black Sea zone, and it is within this framework that the basing issue can be resolved. He said without the treaty the two sides were operating in an atmosphere of suspicion in which it was impossible to resolve problems. Other issues were settled more successfully during the Moscow talks. Ekho Moskvy reported that Russia agreed to compensate Ukraine for 25 strategic bombers (ten TU-160s and 15 TU-95MSs) to the tune of $320-350 million. The sum will be deducted from Ukraine's energy debt to Russia. The defense ministers also signed an agreement on cooperation between their ministries. -- Ustina Markus

President Lennart Meri on 1 December approved the new government formed by Prime Minister Tiit Vahi, ETA reported. Vahi named replacements for the six ministers who resigned when the Reform Party left the ruling coalition. He decided not to form a coalition with the Center Party and the government will be supported by only 41 members of the 101-member parliament. The Estonian ambassador to the U.S., Toomas Ilves, was appointed Foreign Minister on 28 November. The other five new appointments are: Interior Minister Riivo Sinijarv, Social Minister Tiiu Aro, Education Minister Rein Loik, Economy Minister Jaak Leimann, and Transport and Communications Minister Raivo Vare. -- Saulius Girnius

The Seimas on 28 November voted 95-5 with 20 abstentions to approve the nomination of Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) [TS(LK)] board Chairman Gediminas Vagnorius as prime minister, Radio Lithuania reported. The next day President Algirdas Brazauskas charged Vagnorius with forming a new cabinet and to present his program to the Seimas within 15 days. Vagnorius proposed a cabinet that would have 11 ministers from the TS(LK), three from its coalition partner, the Christian Democratic Party, and the vice president of the Confederation of Industrialists, Vincas Bobilius. Vagnorius also offered two minister posts to the Center Union, whose council on 1 December decided not to object the offers. -- Saulius Girnius

A Sejm commission has decided that all state officials, from deputy governor to the president, parliamentary deputies, judges, prosecutors, and candidates for those posts will be screened to determine if they cooperated with the communist-era secret service, Polish media reported on 30 November. The persons under lustration will be asked to declare in writing whether they were a secret service functionary or collaborated with one before 1990. The commission members of the opposition parties outvoted the PSL's coalition partner Democratic Left Alliance's proposal that lustration be conducted ex officio on the basis of information by the defense minister or internal affairs minister on whether their archives contain documents proving someone's collaboration with the secret service. The declarations will be made public. According to the opposition draft, the declarations will be verified by a special commission of judges. -- Beata Pasek

Czech coalition parties were unable on 29 November to agree on whom to nominate as chairman of the recently elected upper chamber of the Czech Parliament, Czech media reported. Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS) nominated Irena Ondrova, who is deputy mayor of the town of Zlin. The Christian Democratic Union nominated former Czech Prime Minister Petr Pithart. The ODS, however, said it is opposed to Pithart, arguing he had failed in his post as prime minister. President Vaclav Havel on 1 December expressed support for Pithart, describing him as "a thoughtful, understanding, and educated person." Defending Pithart's credentials, Havel noted that Pithart was the prime minister in very difficult times. The opposition Social Democrats and the Communists said they would support Pithart's candidacy. -- Jiri Pehe

Vladimir Meciar on 28 November said Slovakia's entrance into NATO and the EU should be decided by a referendum, Slovak media reported. Slovakia does not want to join European structures as a beggar but as a equal partner, he stressed. There is a stream of Slovak intellectuals who prefer Slovakia's neutrality or later integration into NATO, Meciar said, adding that a referendum on NATO membership would ideally be held in May 1997. In other news, the republican council of the ruling Movement for Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) issued a statement on 30 November warning of radicalization on the political scene. "The situation was caused by some opposition parties, who by their unprofessional and unreasonable attacks raise uncertainty and chaos in society and in the parliament," the party claimed. HZDS Deputy Chairman Sergej Kozlik stressed his party's will to cooperate with other political parties but said that the happiness and prosperity of the Slovak nation must be in the parties' common interest. -- Anna Siskova

Prime Minister Gyula Horn on 27 November announced that Agriculture Minister Laszlo Lakos will be replaced on 15 December, Reuters reported. "A leadership change at the ministry has become necessary in light of the need for a national agricultural program that would meet European Union requirements," a statement said. Lakos is the 11th minister to depart from Horn's coalition government since its formation in May 1994. Horn on 28 November nominated Frigyes Nagy to succeed Lakos. Nagy, a 57 year-old agriculture engineer, is a parliamentary deputy representing Horn's Socialist Party and vice president of the European Integration Committee. In other news, Horn on 29 November fired four top police officials as a result of the gang-related violence that has swept through Budapest. -- Sharon Fisher

Belgrade police authorities issued a statement on 1 December promising to "hold responsible" organizers of ongoing mass public demonstrations, triggered after the regime nullified victories by the opposition Zajedno movement during 17 November runoff municipal elections. The police say they have been more than tolerant in the face of unlawful behavior, and are now prepared to crack down on what they claim are "serious breaches of the law," Tanjug reported. For their part, Zajedno leaders have gone on record saying that police have already harassed and arrested protest organizers. The Serbian regime continues to manipulate press coverage of the protests, and independent media are coming under pressure to conform with the government line, with the most recent target of regime interference being the recently founded daily Blic. Independent Radio B 92, for its part, has had its frequencies jammed. -- Stan Markotich

Zajedno opposition leaders say they will continue with peaceful, Serbia-wide mass demonstrations against Serbian authorities and have promised to peacefully take over local institutions on 2 December in the urban areas where Zajedno originally won elections. The only thing that can prevent a full-scale boycott of the republican and local legislatures, say Zajedno leaders, is a ruling by the Serbian parliament nullifying third round results that overturned the 17 November results. Parliament is slated to meet 3 December. In related news, the BBC on 30 November reported that police authorities physically abused two student protesters during an "interrogation" session. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic has been roundly criticized by the international community for his tampering with the results of the local elections. -- Stan Markotich

The OSCE's chief election monitor for Bosnia-Herzegovina, Ambassador Robert Frowick, announced on 1 December that the Bosnian Serbs have agreed to accept the OSCE's monitoring of the local elections slated for 1997, VOA reported. This removes the last major obstacle to the OSCE's organizing of the vote, which the Muslims and Croats have already accepted. An adviser to President Alija Izetbegovic said, however, that continued Muslim support will depend on the exact nature of the new election rules, AFP noted. The Muslim leaders fear that the Serbs will again try to abuse a controversial clause in the previous election rules that enables people to cast their votes for areas in which they claim they will eventually live. The new regulations contain this option, but will require the voter to prove a "connection" to the place, such as a home, business, or blood relative. -- Patrick Moore

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia announced on 29 November that it has sentenced Drazen Erdemovic to ten years in prison, the BBC and Oslobodjenje reported. Erdemovic is an ethnic Croat whose underworld activities eventually led him to the Bosnian Serb side and participation in a massacre of 1,200 Muslims after the fall of Srebrenica in 1995. The court said it was lenient because Erdemovic, who had turned himself in, showed remorse and had been cooperative. His testimony revealed a massacre that had not been reported before and that is now under investigation. It is the first sentence for war crimes since the Nuremberg and Tokyo trials at the end of World War II. -- Patrick Moore

The civilian leadership of the Republika Srpska has achieved two of its main goals in its confrontation with the military establishment based at Han Pijesak. On 28 November, the cashiered commander and indicted war criminal Gen. Ratko Mladic agreed to step down. On 1 December, his deputy, Gen. Milan Gvero, did likewise, AFP reported. Neither man went quietly, however. Mladic warned the government that it must do something about the poor morale and state of preparedness in the army, claiming that his intelligence reports show that "the Muslims" will renew fighting later in 1997. Gvero lambasted the civilians, arguing that they "believe that the services of the officers and generals who fought the war are useless and harmful." -- Patrick Moore

The Croatian parliament (Sabor) on 29 November adopted a controversial 1997 budget, international and local media reported. The budget, which totals 35.42 billion kunas ($6.4 billion), allots increases of up to 50% to government offices, while education, science and the judiciary get up to 10% more. The majority of deputies from the ruling Croatian Democratic Community outvoted the opposition in passing the budget. Vlado Gotovac of the opposition Social-liberals criticized the government for spending too much at a time when a tight budget is needed. In other news, the head of Croatia's supreme court, Krunoslav Olujic, who was sacked amid allegations of pedophilia (see the OMRI Daily Digest, 27 November 1996), said his dismissal was "purely political" and "a public lynching," Novi List reported on 30 November. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The UN Security Council on 27 November approved a six-month extension of the UN Preventive Deployment Force in Macedonia, Reuters reported. The mandate was extended until 31 May, but UNPREDEP's strength will be reduced from a current 1,100 to 800 troops and monitors by 30 April. Russia abstained from the vote, saying the current extension should be the last one. In other news, the second round of local elections took place on 1 December. Macedonian media put the turnout at around 60%. First official results are not expected until late on 2 December. -- Stefan Krause

Emil Constantinescu was sworn in as Romania's new president on 29 November, Romanian media reported. The same day he held talks with leaders of all political formations represented in parliament: the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, the Social Democratic Union (USD), the Greater Romania Party, and the Party of Romanian National Unity. Afterwards, Constantinescu officially designated Victor Ciorbea, the CDR mayor of Bucharest, to form the new government. Constantinescu stressed that he wanted a "solid government . . . one for four years and not just for several months, as some people would like." Two days earlier, USD leader Petre Roman, who was Romania's premier from 1990 to 1991, and Ion Diaconescu, chairman of the National Peasant Party -- Christian Democratic, were elected chairmen of the Senate and the Chamber of Deputies, respectively. -- Dan Ionescu

Parliament Speaker Petru Lucinschi was elected Moldova's president in a runoff on 1 December, Moldovan and Western agencies reported. According to preliminary data, Lucinschi's led with 53.14% of the vote, over incumbent President Mircea Snegur with 46.86%. Lucinschi, 56, who was the highest ranking ethnic Moldovan in the hierarchy of the defunct Communist Party of the Soviet Union (he was Central Committee secretary), was backed by leftist forces, including the ruling Agrarian Democratic Party, the socialists, the Communists' Party of Moldova and the Edinstvo-Unitate movement. He is generally seen as pro-Russian; during the electoral campaign, he repeatedly advocated closer ties with the Commonwealth of Independent States and Russia. In a first statement, Lucinschi said that his "victory [was] one for the people ... who want a change for the better." -- Dan Ionescu

Zhelyu Zhelev expressed serious concerns in a 27 November letter to IMF Managing Director Michael Camdessus about whether a political consensus for the introduction of a currency board in Bulgaria can be reached, international and national media reported. He said opposition support for the board may help the current Socialist government but noted that a board would be discredited if supported only by the Socialists in parliament. The cabinet issued a statement labeling Zhelev's letter as misleading and causing great damage to Bulgaria's relationship with international institutions. Meanwhile, European Bank for Reconstruction and Development Regional Director Olivier Descamps said on 29 November that the bank will no longer participate in state-sponsored projects in Bulgaria because of questionable support by the IMF and the World Bank and the slow development of the reform program. However, loans would still be made to support private-sector projects. -- Maria Koinova

A Tirana court headed by Judge Andi Celiku on 27 November sentenced eight Communist Party officials to long prison terms. They were found guilty of the "large-scale deportation of people, violations of the Albanian constitution and of international conventions," AFP reported. Shkoder party Secretary Enver Halili and former secret police officer Mehdi Bushati were tried in absentia and were both sentenced to 22 years in prison. Others sentenced include local party chairmen and secret police officers Raqi Iftica (17 years), Marash Kola (16 years), and Hysen Shehu (4 years). Others tried in absentia included Qemal Bregasi (18 years), Lahedin Bardhi (18 years), and Jorgaq Mihali (16 years). -- Fabian Schmidt