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Newsline - December 10, 1996


CHECHEN LEADERSHIP SPLIT OVER ELECTIONS?
The chairman of Chechnya's Central Electoral Commission, Mumadi Saidaev, told ITAR-TASS on 9 December that the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for 27 January might have to be postponed unless all Russian troops are withdrawn from Chechen territory by that date. Also on 9 December, Chechen parliament speaker Amin Osmaev said in Grozny that it free and fair elections are impossible in Chechnya at the moment. Osmaev characterized the present Chechen coalition government as "a coalition of separatist field commanders who will manipulate elections to support their policy of secession from Russia," and claimed that the majority of the Chechen population is against secession and "does not have the slightest idea of what sovereignty is and where it can lead Chechnya." Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 9 December, Aleksandr Kazakov, deputy head of the Russian presidential administration, said that the elections could be postponed "without detriment to the Chechen people," ITAR-TASS reported. -- Liz Fuller

ADMINISTRATION CLAIMS VICTORY IN REGIONAL ELECTIONS . . .
The presidential administration continued to explain away its losses in the gubernatorial elections, following the defeat of several more incumbents on 8 December. First Deputy Chief of Staff Aleksandr Kazakov said that only newly-elected Bryansk Governor Yurii Lodkin was an actual representative of the opposition, while the other five elected governors are "normal, sensible people with solid managerial experience." He claimed that there has always been some dissatisfaction with the federal government but that more "emotion" might be added to the relationship now. Izvestiya claimed that the score is now 22-8 in favor of the administration since 1 September. All-Russia Coordinating Council leader Sergei Filatov blamed the administration losses on the poor economic conditions. -- Robert Orttung

. . . AND SO DOES OPPOSITION.
The pro-Communist Sovetskaya Rossiya on 10 December scoffed at Kazakov's claims, asking why the administration changes its attitude toward the opposition candidates as soon as they are elected. According to the paper's (incomplete) count, the score is 14-13 in favor of the opposition. Spiritual Heritage leader Aleksei Podberezkin claimed that the elections would change the face of the Federation Council. -- Robert Orttung

STOLICHNYI BANK HEAD TO BECOME "REAL BOSS" AT ORT?
Since Russian Public TV (ORT) replaced Ostankino as Russia's Channel 1 broadcaster in April 1995, the chairman of the ORT board, Aleksandr Yakovlev, has been a mere figurehead. Boris Berezovskii, whose LogoVAZ empire owned 8% of ORT shares, wielded the most influence at the network, even though formally he was deputy chairman of the ORT board. Now that Berezovskii has resigned his ORT post (see OMRI Daily Digest, 9 December 1996), it appears that Stolichnyi Bank Chairman Aleksandr Smolenskii will take his place as the network's unofficial "real boss," Moskovskii komsomolets reported on 10 December. Although he has not previously been active concerning ORT's affairs, Smolenskii was chosen to head a new consortium of commercial banks called ORT-KB. Those banks combined now hold 38% of the shares in the 51% state-owned network. -- Laura Belin

INGUSH GOVERNMENT SACKED.
Ingush President Ruslan Aushev dismissed his government on 9 December for bad economic management, ORT and Russian TV (RTR) reported. Additionally, Aushev claims to have information that several government members were involved in corruption, according to RTR. Valerii Fateev, the first deputy prime minister of Ingushetiya and former executive head of Smolensk Oblast, is reportedly behind the dismissal and is said to be the most probable candidate to head the new government, according to Segodnya on 10 December. The health, education, justice, and interior ministers are likely to retain their positions in the new government. -- Anna Paretskaya in Moscow

RUTSKOI LOWERS BREAD PRICES IN KURSK.
Bread prices in Kursk Oblast are now among the lowest in Russia after Governor Aleksandr Rutskoi brought down prices by about 70-100 rubles per loaf, RIA-Novosti and NTV reported on 9 December. A loaf of bread in Kursk will now cost between 1,500 and 1,800 rubles ($0.27 to $0.33); the national average is 3,222 rubles. A representative of the gubernatorial administration said bakeries had reduced their own production costs and some trade surcharges were lowered by 5%, making the oblast-wide price decrease possible. Bread prices in Kursk may be reduced further after 1 January 1997 if certain prerequisites are met, including decreased electricity tariffs and lower transportation costs for flour and bread. After his election in October, Rutskoi pledged to implement a social and economic program to improve living conditions in the oblast. -- Laura Belin

MUSLIM UNION OF RUSSIA SEEKS BETTER RELATIONS WITH AUTHORITIES.
The congress of the Muslim Union of Russia which concluded on 7 December called for an improvement in Muslim relations with the authorities and countering increasingly anti-Muslim feeling in Russian society, Kommersant-Daily reported on 10 December. The congress voted to seek greater unity among Russia's estimated 20 million Muslims. It will also seek state support for increasing public broadcasting about Islam and including mullahs in the military along with Orthodox priests. The Muslim Union has one deputy in the State Duma, Nadyrshakh Khachilaev. -- Robert Orttung

SACKED POLICE OFFICER TO BECOME ADVISER TO FEDERATION COUNCIL CHAIRMAN.
Interior Ministry Maj.-Gen. Vladimir Rushailo is to become an adviser to Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 December. Until recently, Rushailo headed the Moscow Regional Administration for Organized Crime (RUOP). In October, he was transferred to the post of deputy head of the Main Administration for Organized Crime (GUOP) but refused to accept the job and was fired (see OMRI Daily Digest, 23 October 1996). In his new post, Rushailo is likely to be responsible for legal issues. -- Penny Morvant

NATO FOREIGN MINISTERS REASSURE MOSCOW.
U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, in Brussels for a meeting of NATO foreign ministers on 10 December, said that "NATO has no intention, no plan, and no need to station nuclear weapons on the territory of any new members," Reuters reported. In an 8 December interview with Welt am Sonntag, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said that to reassure Russia, NATO should propose creating a 17- member security consultative committee, on which Russia would sit as an equal with the 16 NATO members. It remains unclear exactly what powers the council would have, and whether Moscow would have a veto over certain issues. Kommersant-daily on 7 December criticized Russian Foreign Ministry officials for thus far rejecting such proposals as insufficient, arguing that they might be Moscow's last chance to bargain seriously over the enlargement issue. -- Scott Parrish

SOLANA: "RUSSIA IS A PARTNER, NOT A THREAT TO US."
That was the title of an interview with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana that ran in the government newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta on 10 December. Solana said that since 1991, "Russia has always been regarded by us as a partner rather than a threat," and stressed the importance of developing "global frameworks for relations between NATO and Russia in parallel" to NATO's "external adaptation," by which he meant the admission of new members. The accompanying newspaper commentary complained that Solana "avoided answering the question" of what concrete measures would be taken to allay Russia's concerns over NATO expansion. -- Peter Rutland

MORE REACTIONS TO ALBRIGHT APPOINTMENT.
Vladimir Lukin, head of the Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, said that the new nominee for U.S. secretary of state, Madeleine Albright, will be "an active and energetic supporter" of NATO expansion and will strengthen U.S. ties with Ukraine and Azerbaijan, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 December. Lukin, a former Russian ambassador to Washington, conceded that Albright is an "energetic and persistent diplomat," while Pravda-5 on 7 December dubbed her the "Steel Lady," a successor to "Iron Lady" Margaret Thatcher. -- Peter Rutland

POTANIN ARRIVES IN KEMEROVO.
First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin arrived in Kemerovo Oblast on 10 December at the start of a two-day visit to look into the problems of the region's coal industry, ITAR-TASS reported. In a jibe at Potanin, who used to head the powerful Oneksimbank, Kemerovo Oblast Governor Mikhail Kislyuk argued on 9 December that Russia is facing the threat of a "comprador bourgeois revolution" driven by commercial banking circles acting contrary to Russia's national interests, ORT reported. The number of Kuzbass miners taking part in the national strike that began on 3 December has reportedly fallen following the dispatch of 430 billion rubles to the area for social benefits. According to the miners' union Rosugleprofsoyuz, 300,000 miners from 129 underground mines and 15 strip mines across the country were on strike as of 9 December. The coal company Rosugol said 113,000 miners were on strike at 98 mines and 10 open-cast pits. -- Penny Morvant

NEW FEES TO BE INTRODUCED ON RUSSIAN BORDER.
President Yeltsin signed amendments on 29 November to the law "On the state border of the Russian Federation" that introduce a special fee for crossing the border, Izvestiya reported on 10 December. According to the new law, every person crossing the border in both directions, Russians and foreigners, will pay approximately $10 per person. Vehicles and cargo are also subject to a fee. The amendments, designed to provide the Federal Border Guard Service with additional sources of funding, allot it with a number of new duties, ranging from the right to prolong foreigners' visas to investigation functions. Since the Duma and the Federation Council already approved the amendments on 4 October and 14 November respectively, it will go into effect as soon as it is published. --
Nikolai Iakoubovski

LAW TO COMBAT MONEY-LAUNDERING.
The government and the Communist faction of the State Duma have prepared a draft law on preventing money-laundering, Kommersant-Daily reported on 10 December. The law stipulates that banks, real estate agencies, shops, and other such enterprises, will be required to report all transactions in excess of 500 minimum salaries (currently 38 million rubles, or about $7,000) to tax authorities. If a transaction exceeds 1,000 minimum salaries, customers will have to fill in a special form stating the source of their income. If organizations fail to report to tax authorities, their personnel could be punished by a two-year imprisonment. The draft drew criticism from the business community and the media, who complained that it violates human rights and will hamper the formation of the middle class. In fact, even in the U.S. all banks have to report cash deposits in excess of $10,000. -- Natalia Gurushina



RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CALLS FOR COMPROMISE ON NAGORNO-KARABAKH.
Yevgenii Primakov said after a meeting in Moscow with his Armenian counterpart, Aleksandr Arzumanyan, that Russia is interested in a peaceful resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 December. He added that a compromise solution should recognize "Nagorno-Karabakh's right to self-determination and self-government while preserving Azerbaijan's territorial integrity." Addressing the 24 November presidential election in the disputed enclave, Primakov reiterated the official Russian position that such votes should not be held until "a mechanism for settling the conflict is worked out," while Arzumanyan said the election did not hamper the peace process. The two ministers pledged to "develop fraternal and friendly relations," ITAR-TASS reported. -- Emil Danielyan

THREE ABKHAZ SOLDIERS KILLED.
Three Abkhaz troops were killed and two wounded on 8 December when their vehicles were fired on near the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 December, quoting Abkhaz security chief Astamur Tarba. Tarba blamed the attack on the Georgian security services. Georgia has denied the charges. In a 2 December letter to UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Konstantin Ozgan accused the UN of "a one-sided approach" to resolving the Abkhaz conflict and the Georgian leadership of "subversion and terror," according to Iprinda on 3 December. Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka met with Abkhaz presidential representative Anri Djergenia recently and proposed that Abkhazia be incorporated into the Russian-Belarus sphere of integration, Pravda-5 reported on 10 December. -- Liz Fuller

TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER ARRIVES IN KUNDUZ.
United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri flew to Kunduz on 9 December, arriving one day late for a scheduled meeting with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, international press reported. Details on Nuri's delay are conflicting, with some reports claiming that Taliban aircraft forced the plane down at Shindan then transferred it to Kandahar, while others claiming that the plane had technical difficulties and requested a landing for repairs. One thing is certain, Nuri did meet with Taliban leader Mullah Mohammed Omar. -- Bruce Pannier

KAZAKSTANI PRESIDENT IN INDIA.
Nursultan Nazarbayev arrived in New Delhi on 9 December to discuss bilateral relations and the situation in Afghanistan with his Indian counterpart, Shankar Dayal Sharma, Russian and Western agencies reported. Nazarbayev said he is seeking "the speediest resolution" to the Afghan conflict and welcomed "the active and constructive role played by India." Agreements on import taxes, investment protection, and cultural relations were signed and cooperation in non-military nuclear research was discussed. -- Bruce Pannier



UKRAINIAN METROPOLITAN CALLS FOR UNITY OF THE ORTHODOX CHURCH.
The leader of the independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Filaret, called for unification of the country's splintered Orthodox church, RFE/RL reported on 9 December. Filaret said a united Orthodox church must be created in Ukraine to mark the anniversary of Christ's birth in 2000. He also announced plans to meet for the first time with the leader of Ukraine's Russian-based church, Patriarch Volodymyr Sabodan. The Independent Ukrainian Orthodox Church was formed in 1992, after Filaret broke away from the Russian Orthodox Church, which has been traditionally dominant in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Orthodox Church enjoyed the support of Ukrainian nationalists and former President Leonid Kravchuk. About 35 million of Ukraine's 52 million people are estimated to be Orthodox. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

UKRAINE DENIES SELLING ARMS TO LIBYA.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yurii Serheyev denied there was any truth to a 9 December Washington Times story that accused Ukraine of selling SS-21 SCUD-B missiles to Libya, AFP reported. The story claimed to be based on a top-secret CIA document, and outlined two deals: a $510 million shipment of SS-21 missiles; and a second deal for providing maintenance and parts for Libyan submarines and other vessels. Serheyev said the charges were an effort to discredit Ukraine in front of the U.S. and internationally. Another deputy foreign minister, Kostyantyn Hrishchenko, described the report as "madness." He added that the newspaper had published similar reports on the eve of important disarmament and arms control conferences. -- Ustina Markus

BELARUSIAN OPPOSITION LEADER DETAINED.
One of the main organizers of the unauthorized rally on 8 December in Minsk, Social Democrat leader Nikalai Statkevich, was arrested with 10 people, NTV reported on 9 December. The detainees are still being kept at a police station and it is not clear when they may be released, as the court session to consider their case has been postponed for a few days. It is suspected that Statkevich's arrest was politically motivated, since, under Belarusian law, the maximum punishment for disturbing public order in the city is a fine. Meanwhile, protests against the recent referendum's results are to continue today in the Belarusian capital. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

NEW BELARUSIAN DEPUTIES WILL NOT BE CONFIRMED.
The Central Electoral Commission decided not to confirm new deputies elected during the 24 November parliamentary by-elections, Belarusian television reported on 5 December. The decision was made in accordance with the new constitution which provides for a smaller parliament. Four new deputies had been elected, and more could have been expected to win seats in runoff elections. -- Ustina Markus

LATVIA'S FOR THE FATHERLAND AND FREEDOM UNION 3RD CONGRESS.
The 3rd Congress of the For the Fatherland and Freedom (TB) union on 8 December in Riga reelected Maris Grinblats as chairman, BNS reported the next day. Grinblats stressed that the TB should remain in the government coalition in order to ensure at least partial implementation of its program. The congress affirmed plans to cooperate more closely with other rightist parties such as the Latvian National Conservative Party and Christian Democrats Union to form a unitary national conservative union for the next parliament elections. Prime Minister Andris Skele thanked the five TB ministers for their work in his government, but criticized the TB deputies who had opposed amendments to the land ownership and local elections laws. -- Saulius Girnius

LITHUANIAN PREMIER SATISFIED WITH HIS TENURE.
Outgoing Premier Mindaugas Stankevicius said on 9 December that the new Lithuanian government will find a better situation than the one he faced when he assumed office last March, Radio Lithuania reported. He expressed particular satisfaction that the 1996 rate of inflation will not be 25% as he had foreseen but only 14%, and that the country's GDP growth will accelerate from 3% in 1995 to 4% in 1996. He called the 1996 budget unrealistic due to various tax exemptions causing a 300 million litai ($75 million) budget deficit. He also confirmed that he will probably give up his Seimas seat that he had won as the second person on the Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party list. -- Saulius Girnius

MEDIA POPULARITY IN POLAND.
Polish Public TV's Channel 1 is the most popular channel in Poland with 81.5% of viewers, private Polsat is second with 68.4% of viewers, and Public TV Channel 2 third with 64.4%, according to a survey by the Estymator Institute, as reported by Rzeczpospolita on 10 December. Polish Radio 1 is the most popular radio program -- with 31.5% of listeners. Gazeta Wyborcza leads among the dailies with 14% of the readership, although its market share is diminishing, Warsaw Super Express is second with 10%, Rzeczpospolita third with 5%. Pani Domu (The Lady of the House) is the most popular weekly with 14%, Poradnik Domowy (House Advisor) leads among monthlies with nearly 14%, Claudia is next with 12%. The survey was conducted from September to November on a representative sample of 5,842 Poles aged from 15 to 80 years. -- Jakub Karpinski

CZECH-GERMAN DECLARATION PUBLISHED.
Czech and German media published the text of the long awaited Czech-German declaration on 9 December. Czech Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec admitted that the published text is basically identical to the one that was to be officially released in the second half of December. In the declaration, both sides express regrets over past mutual injustices. The Czech Republic regrets "injustices that were caused by post-war expulsions and forced resettlement of Sudeten Germans." Some three million Sudeten Germans were expelled from Czechoslovakia after World War II. Both sides agree to set up a common fund to finance projects of "common interest," and that they will not "burden their relations with political and legal questions arising from the past." Representatives of Sudeten Germans have already criticized the declaration as bypassing their interests. Official regrets over the expulsion are certain to galvanize Czech radicals into action . -- Jiri Pehe

SLOVAK JUDGES ASSOCIATION EXPRESSES CONCERN.
The Association of Slovak Judges expressed concern about anonymous letters addressed to Milan Cic, the Chair of the Slovak Constitutional Court, press agencies reported on 9 December. The association considers the death threats to Cic an attack against the court as a whole and a means of political intimidation. -- Anna Siskova

SLOVAKS THINK GOVERNMENT IS NOT LEADING

COUNTRY TOWARD NATO.
According to the latest Focus agency poll, about 54% of Slovaks believe that the government's current policies are not conducive to membership in European structures, CTK reported on 9 November. About 26% of those polled thought the contrary and 19.8% did not know. People with higher education were more critical of the government. Those who were convinced that the current government is steering Slovakia toward the EU and NATO with its policies are mainly supporters of Premier Vladimir Meciar's Movement for Democratic Slovakia. -- Anna Siskova

NEW HUNGARIAN WELFARE MINISTER NOMINATED.
Prime Minister Gyula Horn on 9 December nominated Mihaly Kokeny to be welfare minister, Hungarian media reported. Kokeny's predecessor, Gyorgy Szabo, resigned in November saying that funds allocated in the draft 1997 budget fell 11 billion forints ($67 million) short of what was needed to maintain the country's ailing health service. Kokeny, a high-ranking welfare ministry official, said he would accept the current 1997 health spending plans and expressed hope that the long overdue act on health care and social insurance will soon be passed. -- Zsofia Szilagyi




SERBIAN OPPOSITION VOWS BOYCOTT.
Zoran Djindjic, head of the Democratic Party (DS) and one of the leaders of the opposition Zajedno coalition, told Radio B92 on 9 December that Zajedno will boycott the opening session of the federal parliament, slated for today. This is the latest opposition move to pressure the regime of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to recognize the opposition victories in the 17 November runoff municipal elections. For his part, Djindjic did not rule out the possibility of negotiating an end to the mass political protests, but added that Milosevic would have to acknowledge the opposition victories as a precondition to any talks. -- Stan Markotich

DEMONSTRATIONS CONTINUE IN SERBIA.
In the streets of Serbia's major urban centers, mass demonstrations against Milosevic and demands for a recognition of opposition victories in municipal balloting continue unabated. Rallies in Belgrade are entering a fourth week. On 9 December, demonstrators in the capital also vented against the arrests and beatings of peaceful protesters. Dejan Bulatovic, a student demonstrator aged 21, who on 6 December carried an effigy of Milosevic dressed in a prison uniform, was reportedly beaten and tortured following his arrest. He has been unable to see a lawyer. Meanwhile, international reports also note that industrial workers, known for their opposition to Milosevic, have not formally sided with the opposition in great numbers. -- Stan Markotich

BRCKO ARBITRATION POSTPONED.
Internationally mediated binding arbitration to decide the fate of the strategic north Bosnian town of Brcko, scheduled for 14 December, has been postponed for two months. Carl Bildt's office announced on 9 December that the Serb side had requested the delay and that the Muslims agreed to it, Oslobodjenje noted, but the exact circumstances remain unclear. Brcko lies astride the narrow supply corridor linking the eastern and western parts of the Republika Srpska, and the future of this area was the only territorial issue not settled in the Dayton agreement just over a year ago. On 1 December the Serbs announced they were leaving the talks because the American mediator had made decisions without consulting them. The following day the U.S. State Department said that the talks will go ahead with or without the Serbs. -- Patrick Moore

NEW EVICTIONS OF MUSLIMS IN MOSTAR.
The latest in more than 70 evictions of Serbs and Muslims from the Croat-held part of Mostar was carried out on 9 December, only hours after NATO warned Bosnian Croat army units to stop them, AFP reported. After a victim recognized one of the assailants as a member of the Second HVO (Croatian Defense Council) Brigade, that particular unit of the Bosnian Croat army admitted carrying out evictions of Muslims from western Mostar, AFP reported on 6 December. On 9 December, the NATO-led Implementation Force warned the HVO of "unspecified military consequences" if its soldiers are found continuing evictions. -- Daria Sito Sucic

BOSNIAN MUSLIM RULING PARTY NAMES CANDIDATES FOR COUNCIL OF MINISTERS.
The Party of Democratic Action (SDA) on 9 December nominated three candidates for posts in the Council of Ministers, the newly-formed power-sharing central government, Oslobodjenje reported the next day. Former Premier Haris Silajdzic of the Party for Bosnia-Herzegovina has been nominated as co-chairman of the Council. Bosnia's Serb entity is supposed to name the other co-chair. The SDA also nominated Hasan Muratovic, the outgoing republican premier, as minister of foreign trade and economic relations, and Husein Zivalj as deputy foreign minister. Bosnian Croat leaders should appoint the minister for foreign affairs and the Serbs should name the minister for civil affairs and communications. -- Daria Sito Sucic

CLEAR RESPONSE TO CROATIA'S TUDJMAN.
There have been extensive reactions at home and abroad to President Franjo Tudjman's 7 December speech in which he blasted a host of "enemies of Croatia" ranging from the weekly Feral Tribune to George Soros to the BBC (see OMRI Daily Digest, 9 December 1996). Novi List on 10 December carried many comments likening Tudjman to a bad communist propagandist who seeks power at all costs. The speech had been intended to unite Tudjman's governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) behind him, but some critics charge that it will only undermine the HDZ itself. Soros, for his part, told the Feral Tribune that his "Open Society only supports the development of a democratic society in Croatia. We help education, publishing, media, art, culture, health, legal and economic reforms. Does that make me a bad guy?" -- Patrick Moore

ILLNESS OF ETHNIC ALBANIAN CHILDREN IN MACEDONIA CAUSED BY STRESS?
World Health Organization (WHO) officials said on 6 December that a mysterious illness that afflicted more than 1,000 ethnic Albanian children in Macedonia's Tetovo district was probably caused by psychological factors, RFE/RL and international media reported. The schoolchildren, aged 11-17, complained of abdominal pains, headaches, and breathing difficulties in late September and early October. Most of them were hospitalized for 2-3 days before recovering. Some ethnic Albanians claimed the children had been poisoned by ethnic Macedonians. The WHO said the evidence collected by an WHO team during a three-week trip to Macedonia suggested the illness was not caused by poisoning, infection, or environmental pollution but by "psychologically induced events linked to stress and anxiety." The team indicated tensions between ethnic groups and school conditions as the main factors. -- Stefan Krause

NEW ROMANIAN CABINET ANNOUNCED.
Designated Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea announced his proposed cabinet and its governing program on 9 December, Romanian media reported. The new government comprises 27 ministers and state secretaries, all but one representing the three parties that form the governing coalition. The minister of Labor and Social Protection, Alexandru Athanasiu, is an independent. Most cabinet posts (18) went to the Democratic Convention of Romania, including three out of the four highest level ministerial posts: finance, reform and industry and trade. The Social Democratic Union holds 6 posts, including foreign affairs, while the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania has the Ministry of Tourism and the Office for National Minorities. Parliamentary committee hearings of cabinet members should start today. -- Zsolt Mato

POLITICAL REALIGNMENT IN MOLDOVA.
Political blocs were set up on 7 December in support of President-elect Petru Lucinschi and outgoing President Mircea Snegur, respectively, BASA-press reported on 9 December. The pro-Lucinschi social and political movement "For a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova" includes the Party of Social Progress, the Social Democratic Party, the Party of Economic Rebirth, the Socialist Action Party, and a series of youth and students' organizations. Parties that had joined the Pro-Snegur Civic Movement during the electoral campaign launched the idea of forming a permanent umbrella organization under the name of Democratic Convention of Moldova (CDM). No deadline was set for the formation of the CDM, which was described as an "expression of the united opposition." Meanwhile, the Central Electoral Commission released the official results of the 1 December presidential runoff. Lucinschi beat Snegur by 54.02% to 45.98%. -- Dan Ionescu

BULGARIA APPROACHING HYPERINFLATION?
Prime Minister Zhan Videnov announced on 9 December that his government and the Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) can fend off hyperinflation for three more weeks, Pari and Standart reported. According to Videnov, BNB cannot intervene in the financial market anymore, since it needs to preserve its foreign currency reserves when the envisaged currency board is introduced. The same day, the U.S. dollar was trading for 560-600 leva, 90 more than the previous day. The dollar should trade for no more than 300-350 leva once the currency board is in place, Videnov commented. Many Bulgarians have stopped driving their cars, since they can't afford the steadily rising fuel, tax, and insurance costs. The leva's all-time low also prompted many shop-owners to close their shops to recalculate prices. -- Maria Koinova

BULGARIAN MAIN OPPOSITION GROUP POSTPONES KEY DECISIONS.
The 9 December extraordinary meeting of the National Coordinating Council of the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) failed to resolve any of the issues that topped the agenda of the biggest opposition force over the past weeks, Pari reported. The meeting took no decision on the controversial idea to transform the SDS from an alliance of 15 political parties and movements into a single party. It also took no decision on the date of the next National Conference, which should decide on the proposed merger. The council meeting also failed to decide whether the SDS will ask for a vote of no confidence for Zhan Videnov's government. -- Stefan Krause

ALBANIA AND ITALY AGREE TO FIGHT ORGANIZED CRIME.
Italian Interior Minister Giorgio Napolitano and his Albanian counterpart Halit Shamata signed a police cooperation agreement on 9 November in Tirana. The agreement provides for joint efforts in fighting organized crime, such as drug trafficking and illegal immigration, Reuters reported. Italy will provide more technical assistance to the Albanian police. Napolitano said Italy was ready to cooperate more on legal immigration of Albanians, adding that "Italy does not have a closed-door policy." Napolitano further pointed out that "Albanians may come legally ... but not in an unlimited number and not in an uncontrolled manner." Hundreds of immigrants enter Italy illegally each year from Albania . The Italian government sent troops last year to Puglia to stop the influx of illegal immigrants. Napolitano also met with President Sali Berisha and Prime Minister Alexander Meksi. -- Fabian Schmidt

ALBANIA AND MONTENEGRO REOPEN RAILWAY LINE.
Albania and Montenegro have restored their rail link, severed in 1992 following the international embargo on the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, international agencies reported. The line between Shkoder and Podgorica is Albania's only rail link with the international railway network. Albania had blamed Montenegro for delaying the reopening after the end of international sanctions in early 1996. The line was opened in August 1986 but can be used only for the transport of goods, because Albania has not joined the European Association of Railway Passenger Transport. In other news, Albania was reinstated into FIFA on 3 December. -- Fabian Schmidt






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