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Newsline - December 11, 1996


RODIONOV BECOMES FIRST CIVILIAN DEFENSE MINISTER . . .
Dispelling rumors that he might dismiss Igor Rodionov, President Boris Yeltsin instead issued a decree on 11 December retiring Rodionov from the military but leaving him in his ministerial post, Russian and Western agencies reported. Rodionov will be the country's first civilian defense minister since it became independent in 1991. Army Gen. Rodionov reached 60, the mandatory retirement age for Russian officers, on 1 December. Both sides of the political spectrum quickly criticized Yeltsin's decision. Duma member Sergei Mitrokhin (Yabloko) termed it "purely symbolic," while Duma Security Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin (KPRF) argued it would undermine discipline in the military. -- Scott Parrish

. . . WHILE CHUBAIS INVESTIGATES "SEMENOV AFFAIR."
Presidential press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 10 December that President Yeltsin has instructed Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais to "thoroughly study" the circumstances surrounding Rodionov's proposal to dismiss Army Gen. Vladimir Semenov as commander of the ground forces, ITAR-TASS reported. Yastrzhembskii said Semenov had asked for such an investigation in a letter to Yeltsin. It remains unclear whether Semenov will be dismissed or on what grounds, as the earlier allegations of misconduct and corruption appear to have been dropped. -- Scott Parrish

CHERNOMYRDIN ADDRESSES FEDERATION COUNCIL.
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin promised on 10 December that the government will meet all its current wage and pension commitments and pay off many of its debts to the budget sector by the end of the year. He told the Federation Council that 7.9 trillion rubles ($1.4 billion) will be earmarked for wages, of which almost 4 trillion will go to the army, 650 billion to miners, 1.5 trillion to education, 285 billion to the courts, 146 billion to prosecutors, 71 billion to the media, 460 billion to the health service, and 730 billion to the state administration, Kommersant-Daily reported on 11 December. He said the remaining debt to the army and pensioners should be paid off early next year and stressed the importance of passing the 1997 budget. Chernomyrdin was sharply criticized by the upper house last week for failing to make a scheduled appearance on 4 December. -- Penny Morvant

CHECHEN ROUNDUP.
Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin met with the head of the OSCE mission in Grozny, Tim Guldimann, on 10 December to discuss arrangements for the OSCE and the Council of Europe to monitor the presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled in Chechnya on 27 January, ITAR-TASS reported. Rybkin also met with the Russian chairman of the Russian-Chechen joint commission, Georgii Kurin, to discuss the implementation of President Boris Yeltsin's 23 November decree on the withdrawal of the last Russian troops still stationed in Chechnya. The Chechen parliament has issued an appeal to the parliaments of other CIS states to take a stand on the proposed participation of Chechen parliament deputies in the work of the CIS Inter-Parliamentary Assembly, Kommersant-Daily reported on 11 December, citing Interfax. -- Liz Fuller

NEW INGUSH PRIME MINISTER APPOINTED.
One day after sacking his republic's government for economic mismanagement and possible corruption, Ingush President Ruslan Aushev appointed a new prime minister, Belan Khamchiev, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 December. Khamchiev previously served as Ingush commissioner to the Russian president. The ousted prime minister, Mukharbek Didigov, said it is "normal" for governments to be dismissed for failing to meet economic targets but denied any personal involvement in corruption. Meanwhile, Ingush parliament Chairman Ruslan Pliev praised Aushev's decision, saying Didigov's cabinet had been extremely inefficient. -- Laura Belin

NEW AIRBORNE FORCES COMMANDER APPOINTED.
In a decree dated 4 December, President Yeltsin appointed Lt.-Gen. Georgii Shpak commander of the Airborne Forces, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 December. Shpak, 53, served in the paratroops from 1966 to 1988 and fought in Afghanistan. His son, also an officer, was reportedly killed in Chechnya. Shpak is a graduate of the Frunze and General Staff academies, and a former commander of the 76th Airborne Division. Before his appointment as airborne forces commander, he was first deputy commander of the Volga military district. Shpak replaces Yevgenii Podkolzin, who was officially retired in October but widely believed to have been sacked for his opposition to Defense Minister Rodionov's plans to downsize the airborne forces. -- Scott Parrish

MOSCOW STANDS FIRM AGAINST NATO EXPANSION.
NATO's recent moves to assuage Moscow's fears over the alliance's eastward expansion have not eased Moscow's opposition to the idea, Russian and Western media reported on 11 December. Despite the 10 December declaration by NATO foreign ministers that the alliance has no plans to deploy nuclear weapons on the territories of new members, and their endorsement of negotiations on a formal NATO-Russia charter, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov termed the expansion of the alliance "unacceptable" following a meeting with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana. Primakov welcomed the proposal to begin talks on a NATO-Russia agreement but said it must contain "concrete arrangements," signalling that Moscow wants it to contain legally binding security guarantees. -- Scott Parrish

MINERS' PROTESTS CONTINUE.
About 2,000 people took part in a rally in Tula on 10 December organized by miners from the Moscow coal basin, ITAR-TASS reported. The demonstrators demanded the resignation of the president and government as well as the payment of wage arrears totaling about 100 billion rubles. About 16,000 miners from Tula are taking part in the national miners' strike, which entered its ninth day on 11 December. Ivan Mokhnachuk, deputy head of the miners' union Rosugleprofsoyuz, said the future of the strike, which has been losing momentum, would be discussed following the return of First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin from the Kuzbass coal basin. According to an ORT report, there have been 164 strikes involving more than 300,000 miners in the Kuzbass this year. -- Penny Morvant

NUCLEAR INDUSTRY WORKERS PROTEST.
About 100 employees of nuclear missile production facilities picketed the Finance Ministry in Moscow on 10 December to demand the payment of wage arrears. According to union representatives cited by ITAR-TASS, wage arrears now total 550 billion rubles, while the government owes an additional 2.5 trillion for state contracts. Employees have not been paid for two to six months. Trud on 10 December noted that funds are not being allocated to finance the storage of nuclear warheads, posing a threat to security. -- Penny Morvant

RUSSIA SEEKS ENTRY TO WORLD TRADE ORGANIZATION.
Speaking at the meeting of the World Trade Organization in Singapore on 10 December, Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Davydov said that he expects Russia to join the 125-country organization by the end of 1997, Reuters reported. Davydov argued that Russia has already abolished all quota restrictions on imports. Russia originally applied to join the WTO's predecessor, GATT, in 1993. Its application has been held up by lack of clarity over industrial subsidies and trade statistics. The same day ITAR-TASS reported that Russia's trade turnover in the first 10 months of 1996 was up 7.2% over the same period last year, with exports of $71 billion and imports $38 billion (not including any allowance for individual "shuttle traders"). Trade with CIS countries accounted for 23% of the total. -- Peter Rutland

SIDANKO TO SELL FEDERAL STAKE.
The Federal Property Fund will hold an investment auction for a 51% federal stake in the Sidanko oil company, Kommersant-Daily reported on 11 December. The stake is currently held by the Mezhdunarodnaya Finansovaya Kompaniya, which won it in return for a $130 million loan to the government in December 1995. This is the second stake won in last year's loans-for-shares auctions to be sold off: in November, Menatep bank announced it would sell its 33% stake in the oil company YUKOS (see OMRI Daily Digest, 21 November 1996). Meanwhile, the oil firm Tatneft (which was threatened with bankruptcy by the special tax commission in October) has become the second Russian company alongside Gazprom to successfully float its shares (10% of the equity capital) at the London Stock Exchange in the form of American Depository Receipts. -- Natalia Gurushina

BANKS PROVIDE CREDIT TO ZIL.
The Moscow government has signed a 246 billion ruble ($45 million) credit agreement with six banks to finance the rehabilitation of the local truck manufacturer ZIL, Kommersant-Daily reported on 11 December. The one-year loan, bearing a 48% annual interest rate, is secured against a 100% equity stake in the Rossiya hotel worth 400 billion rubles. The Moscow government bought a 60% stake in ZIL in September 1996 to prevent it from going bankrupt. Moscow authorities are also working on a rehabilitation deal for another debt-ridden auto plant, the AZLK (Moskvich) factory. -- Natalia Gurushina



THREE DASHNAK PARTY MEMBERS SENTENCED TO DEATH IN ARMENIA.
Armenia's Supreme Court on 10 December sentenced to death three members of the banned Dashnak party (HHD) on charges of terrorism after a trial that lasted more than 16 months, international agencies reported. Arsen Ardzrouni (a Lebanese citizen of Armenian origin), Armen Grigoryan, and Armenak Mnjoyan have been convicted of forming a clandestine armed group called Dro and committing three murders. Eight other members of the alleged group were sentenced to prison terms ranging from three to 15 years. The lawyers of the defendants can appeal the verdict within a week. President Levon Ter-Petrossyan suspended the activities of the HHD in December 1994 on the grounds that Dro was affiliated with the party and planned to overthrow the government. But according to RFE/RL, the three-member panel of judges ruled that there is not enough evidence to prove a connection between HHD and Dro. -- Emil Danielyan

19 FORMER OPON MEMBERS ARRESTED IN AZERBAIJAN.
Elchin Amiraslanov, the former commander of the OPON special police sub-division in Kazakh Raion, was arrested in Baku on 10 December along with 18 of his associates, Turan and Western agencies reported. In March 1995, the OPON unit occupied the local administrative building to protest a planned crackdown on their involvement in the illegal export of strategic metals; the incident precipitated a showdown between OPON commander Rovshaan Djavadov and Azerbaijani army troops in which the former was killed. Amiraslanov, who subsequently fled to Ukraine, will be charged with treason and the murder of several high-ranking security officials in October 1995. Azerbaijani parliament speaker Yagub Mamedov has denied reports of Amiraslanov's arrest, according to Turan. -- Liz Fuller

RUSSIAN STATE DUMA SPEAKER IN TBILISI.
Gennadii Seleznev met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Minister of State Niko Lekishvili on 10 December to discuss bilateral relations and the Abkhaz conflict, Russian and Western agencies reported. Shevardnadze and Seleznev said they favor expediting the ratification of a handful of bilateral treaties, including one on friendship and cooperation, and Seleznev affirmed his support for Georgia's territorial integrity, according to ORT. Also on 10 December, a UN human rights office opened in the Abkhaz capital, Sukhumi, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Liz Fuller

KAZAKSTAN FLOATS BONDS ON WORLD MARKET.
Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksandr Pavlov announced on 10 December that $200 million worth of "Kazak Euronotes" were launched in Amsterdam on 9 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Kazakstan is the second CIS country, after Russia, to float its bonds on world markets. According to Pavlov, Kazak Euronotes have a three-year term and will carry an interest rate of 9.3%. The proceeds will be used to pay wage and pension arrears. -- Bruce Pannier

UZBEKISTAN TO BUY RUSSIAN GRAIN.
Due to a poor 1996 harvest, Uzbekistan agreed to exchange 100,000 metric tons of grain from Russia in return for 18,200 tons of cotton, the BBC reported on 9 December. The agreement is backed by a $27 million guarantee from European bankers. Officials noted that Uzbekistan will have to make further grain imports, as the 2.7 million ton harvest fell short of the 4.5 million tons the country requires. -- Roger Kangas

TAJIK PRESIDENT, OPPOSITION LEADER MEET.
Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri met in Khosdekh, Afghanistan, on 10 December, international press reported. Few details were available on the meeting, except that the two men agreed to meet officially in Moscow on 19 December. The press speculated that a new ceasefire agreement will be signed at that time as well as an agreement on the establishment of a coalition council with representation from both the government and opposition. Meanwhile, Red Cross representatives were allowed to see 110 government soldiers being held by opposition forces in Komsomolabad. -- Bruce Pannier

TURKMENISTAN CELEBRATES NEUTRALITY.
An article in the 11 December edition of Nezavisimaya gazeta noted that Turkmenistan will celebrate the first anniversary of its recognition as a "neutral country" on 12 December. On that day in 1995, the UN passed a resolution recognizing Turkmenistan's status as a neutral country. To mark the occasion the former Karl Marx Square is being renamed "Neutrality Square." The article notes that "during the last year more than 60 international conferences, symposiums, and summits" took place in Ashgabat, and that three rounds of negotiations between the Tajik government and opposition were also held there, going so far as to claim that "only thanks to Turkmenistan" were the Tajik negotiations kept "alive." -- Bruce Pannier



1997 NATO SUMMIT TO ISSUE MEMBERSHIP INVITATIONS.
NATO foreign ministers agreed on 10 December that an alliance summit meeting on 7-8 July in Madrid will decide which of the 11 Eastern European applicants will be invited to accession negotiations, international agencies reported. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana refused to reveal which countries would be selected, saying only that "one or more" would receive invitations. Poland, the Czech Republic, and Hungary are still believed to be the leading candidates, although Slovenia, Romania, and Slovakia are still under consideration. -- Scott Parrish

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT FIRES HIS CHIEF OF STAFF.
Leonid Kuchma has dismissed presidential chief of staff Dmytro Tabachnyk and stripped him of the military ranks acquired in the last three years as a reserve officer, Ukrainian and international media reported on 10 December. The official reason for Tabachnyk's removal is transfer to another job, but the decree did not specify which. Tabachnyk--one of the country's most influential politicians, whom the media describe as the president's shadow--has faced sharp criticism in the parliament, and has been accused of illegal dealings in real estate and abuse of his position. A parliamentary anti-corruption commission is conducting an official investigation into the allegations that Tabachnyk had illegally obtained a second apartment in Kyiv. Tabachnyk, 33, played a key role in Kuchma's victory in the 1994 presidential elections. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

UKRAINIAN INDUSTRY: HIGH DANGER FOR ENVIRONMENT.
Ukrainian Emergency Situations Minister Valerii Kalchenko said up to 42% of Ukrainian enterprises, employing one-third of the workforce, are ecologically unsafe, UNIAN reported on 10 December. Minister said Ukrainian railways, where 16% of crossings need replacing, are especially dangerous. Ukraine faces problems with destruction of chemical weapons of the former USSR. Kalchenko said many of 4,000 wagonloads of shells near Kerch in Crimea had exceeded their shelf life. Meanwhile, officials at Radical chemical factory in Kyiv warned that chlorine compound stored in an aging storage tank at the plant could soon be released into atmosphere, exposing nearby residents and forests, RFE/RL reported on 10 December. The factory cannot afford new containers to store 20 metric tons of the highly toxic material. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

UKRAINE ON NATO, SEVASTOPOL.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko said at a North Atlantic Cooperation Council meeting in Luxembourg that Ukraine would like to have a separate agreement with NATO, Ukrainian radio reported on 10 December. He reiterated Ukraine's opposition to the deployment of nuclear weapons on the territory of new NATO member states. U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher said NATO had no plans for such deployment. The same day, Foreign Ministry spokesman Yurii Serheyev said Ukraine would not enter into any negotiations with Russia over the status of Sevastopol, because Ukraine's territorial integrity was recognized internationally. On 11 December Ukraine's parliament began examining a law on the status of foreign troops on Ukrainian territory. The previous day ITAR-TASS reported the Justice Ministry finished drafting the law on the status of Kyiv and Sevastopol. Under the new constitution, the two cities have a special status. -- Ustina Markus

ANOTHER ANTI-PRESIDENT DEMONSTRATION IN BELARUSIAN CAPITAL.
About 500 students demonstrated in Minsk on 10 December to mark the International Human Rights Day, international agencies reported. The demonstrators marched down the central avenue waving UN and EU flags, handing out leaflets containing the UN Charter and other human rights documents. They protested the government's numerous human rights violations, and demanded the release of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's opponents arrested at recent demonstrations. The rally was peaceful, but police arrested several students as the demonstrators were dispersing. Meanwhile, at least 40 Supreme Soviet deputies, who refused to recognize the new Belarusian parliament, assembled in the Minsk-based House of Writers, Belapan reported. They also adopted a statement reaffirming their loyalty to the 1994 Constitution, non-recognition of the results of the 24 November referendum, and declaring the Supreme Soviet the only legislature in Belarus. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

MCDONALD'S RIOT IN BELARUS.
The opening of the first McDonald's in Belarus on 10 December led to rioting at the restaurant in Minsk, Reuters and AFP reported. A 4,000 strong crowd descended at the McDonald's and tried to push their way in because of rumors that the first customers would get free food or a prize. Riot police beat people with truncheons to keep them from forcing their way in. In all, McDonald's plans to open four restaurants in Minsk.. -- Ustina Markus

ESTONIA TO ISSUE ALIEN PASSPORTS TO RUSSIAN MILITARY PERSONNEL.
The Estonian government decided on 10 December to change its policy and issue alien passports to nearly 10,000 retired Red Army officers and their families, BNS reported. About 20,000 retired officers--of whom more than 50% acquired a citizenship of a foreign country, in most cases Russia--have received permission to live in Estonia. Residence permits are affixed to the new passports. Regional Affairs Minister Tiit Kubri said the earlier ban on issuing alien passports to retired officers had been discriminatory, which had precluded them from being readmitted to Estonia in case they went abroad. -- Saulius Girnius

NEW LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT SWORN IN.
The Seimas on 10 December voted 87 to 21 with 13 abstentions to support the 1997-2000 government program of prime minister designate Gediminas Vagnorius, Radio Lithuania reported. After the vote, the 17 member Cabinet and Vagnorius were sworn in as the 8th government since the re-establishment of Lithuania's independence. The program devotes the most attention to economic and law-and-order issues. It forecasts that inflation will fall to 7% and average monthly wages will double by 1999. The government is formally a coalition of two parties--the Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) and the Christian Democratic Party--but two ministries were given to the Center Union and one to the Confederation of Industrialists. All but four of the new ministers are members of the Seimas. -- Saulius Girnius

CONTROVERSIES OVER POLISH CONSTITUTION.
The co-ruling Polish Peasant Party (PSL) contested the proposed three-level local administration scheme included in the constitution draft, Polish dailies reported on 11 December. The PSL demands a statement in the constitution that "the family farm is the basis of the rural structure of the Polish state." The PSL and the leftist Labor Union demand also that the constitution establishes the so-called social rights: for housing, free health care and education. The chances that Poland will have the new constitution before the parliamentary election scheduled for 1997 are therefore slim. -- Jakub Karpinski

DOCTORS STRIKE IN POLAND.
About three quarters of Poland's hospitals and a half of outpatient clinics have joined the first day of strike, and more are going to join, international media reported on 11 December. Only emergency cases are treated, and cancer, psychiatric, children's, and maternity wards are not participating in the strike. The All-Poland Doctors' Union, representing about a third of 84,000 doctors, began the protest after the two-month negotiations with the government stalemated. The doctors demand a collective wage deal that would increase their salaries up to three times the average wage. They also want budget spending on the health care to be increased to 6% of the GDP instead of the planned 4.5%. The government rejects the demands, citing financial constraints and the prospect that the planned health care reform will bring a wage increase for doctors in two years' time. -- Beata Pasek

CIS VISITORS IN POLAND.
One million people from the CIS countries are in Poland every day, Gazeta Wyborcza reported on 11 December. Poland had 2,313,000 Russian visitors in 1995, 3,275,000 visitors from Belarus, and 4,740,000 from Ukraine. The mass influx of eastern visitors to Poland means more jobs for Poles and more hard currency in the country, as Russians, Belarusians, and Ukrainians import huge amounts of goods from Poland and leave there from $1 to 2 billion yearly. -- Jakub Karpinski

CZECH PRESIDENT DOING BETTER.
Vaclav Havel's physicians told journalists on 10 December that the president's health is improving. Havel underwent surgery for lung cancer on 2 December. A twelve-member team is looking after Havel. Pneumonia that developed in Havel's left lung is, according to his doctors, currently the most serious problem. Robert Ginsberg of the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, an external consultant who has joined the medical team, told journalists that he had expected "a very sick man" but was pleasantly surprised. -- Jiri Pehe

SLOVAK TV HAS A NEW DIRECTOR.
Slovakia's parliament on 10 December elected a new director of state-run Slovak TV (STV) in a secret ballot vote, press agencies reported. Jozef Darmo, the former director of the pro-government station, was dismissed from his post yesterday by the decision of 106 deputies. Darmo said that parliamentary deputies are responsible for the fact that STV directors are often replaced, causing a total collapse of STV in program and organizational structure. Darmo continued that "the functioning of STV has been influenced by the country's permanent political struggle." Igor Kubis, the new STV director, previously worked as a newscast editor and is often said to have very close contacts with the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. -- Anna Siskova

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES BASIC TREATY WITH ROMANIA.
The Hungarian parliament on 10 December ratified the bilateral treaty with Romania, aimed at normalizing bilateral relations between the two countries, Hungarian media reported. The treaty was signed in September and ratified by the Romanian parliament in October, ahead of the parliamentary elections. The vote in Hungary was 249 for the treaty, 53 against with 12 abstentions. Although opposition parties have criticized the treaty, saying it does not guarantee sufficient minority rights, ratification was never in doubt because the ruling coalition has a 72% majority in the parliament. -- Zsofia Szilagyi




STANDOFF IN BELGRADE.
The opposition carried out its threat to boycott the federal Yugoslav parliament session that took place on 10 December, international media reported. Protests entered their fourth week and continued in the streets with the demand that the authorities recognize the opposition victories in the 17 November runoff local elections. Meanwhile, the federal supreme court upheld the decisions of its Serbian counterpart to cancel those poll results. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic has now repeatedly failed to take advantage of opportunities to end the confrontation in a peaceful and legal manner by having courts uphold the opposition victories. Elsewhere. federal Interior Minister Vukasin Jokanovic said that force will not be used against the protesters unless they attack public property. Finally, the 400,000-strong independent metal workers union Nezavisnost announced a strike starting 11 December in Kragujevac and Nis, AFP reported.-- Patrick Moore

CLINTON TELLS MILOSEVIC TO ACCEPT VOTE RESULTS . . .
U.S. President Bill Clinton urged Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to respect the outcome of the 17 November ballot. CNN on 10 December quoted him as saying: "Elections should be respected and the voice of the people should be heard... The United States has made its statement and its position clear. Neither we nor anyone else would seek to interfere in the internal events of Serbia but our sympathies are always with a free people who are struggling to express their freedom and want to have the integrity of their elections respected." The protesters have paid close attention to reactions to their cause from abroad, and Clinton's statement is likely to be regarded as the most important message in their favor to date. -- Patrick Moore

. . . AS DOES NATO . . .
The Atlantic alliance, after a meeting of its foreign ministers, told Milosevic that NATO "strongly deplores" his decision not to recognize the election results. The ministers urged him "to respect the democratic will of the people by reversing [his] decision," AFP reported on 10 December. The NATO statement praised the opposition for remaining peaceful and warned the authorities against using violence. U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher added: "The people of Serbia deserve what their neighbors in central Europe have: clean elections, a free press, a normal market economy. If President Milosevic respects their will, Serbia can enjoy the legitimacy and assistance it needs. If he seeks to rule Serbia as an unreformed dictatorship, it will only increase his isolation and the suffering of his people." Washington called of a visit to Belgrade by envoy John Kornblum as a message to Milosevic. -- Patrick Moore

. . . AND THE BOSNIAN SERB LEADERSHIP.
Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic told TV Pale that she supports the students, adding that "the entry of students always means that freedom and democracy are endangered," Reuters and Deutsche Welle reported on 10 December. Plavsic stressed that this is the moment for Serbia to finally break with its communist past, adding that "the Croats [long ago] resolved this problem very quickly." She also said that Milosevic was not important to ensure the implementation of the Dayton agreement, arguing that its success depended on the directly affected people. -- Patrick Moore

HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS STILL PERSIST IN KOSOVO.
On the occasion of the International Day of Human Rights, the Kosovo Human Rights Council issued a statement on 9 December saying that Albanians in federal Yugoslavia continue to be "subjected to cruel human rights violations." The statement adds that the situation in the Serbian province has deteriorated since the abolition of its autonomy in 1989 and that "violence, terror and other persistent patterns of genocide acts" by the Serbian authorities continued with the same intensity throughout 1996, including "arbitrary, inhuman and degrading treatment." The Council pointed out that ethnic Albanian emigrants with valid Yugoslav passports have been barred entry, that schools continue to be closed for Albanian pupils--despite the September agreement with the Serbian government-- and that most Albanians are excluded from the health care and social insurance system, and remain unemployed. -- Fabian Schmidt

CROATIA, SERB REFUGEE ORGANIZATIONS SIGN AGREEMENT ON RETURN.
Adviser to Croatian President Franjo Tudjman Slobodan Lang and Serb and Croat refugee associations signed an agreement on the return of Serbian refugees who fled Croatia in 1995, when Croatian troops ran over the rebel Republic of Srpska Krajina, AFP reported on 11 December. Some 100 families may return by the end of the year to the towns of Okucani, Gornji Bogicevci, Stara Gradiska, Lipik, and Pakrac, in western Slavonia. No such mass authorization has so far been issued by Croatian authorities. In other news State Department deputy spokesman Glyn Davies called the decoration of indicted war criminal Tihomir Blaskic [see OMRI Daily Digest 9 December] "completely inappropriate," adding that "it does raise questions about [Croatia's] commitment to Dayton," Reuters reported. -- Fabian Schmidt

PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES APPROVE ROMANIAN CABINET NOMINEES.
Joint committees of the Parliament's two chambers on 10 December approved all nominees for ministers in Victor Ciorbea's cabinet, Jurnalul National reported. The longest hearing was held for the foreign minister nominee, Adrian Severin, who had been contested even from within the governing coalition long before his official nomination. Severin said Romania's relations with the West must have priority over those with the East. According to RFE/RL, Romanian nationalists criticized Severin for being "too European." One of the two ethnic Hungarian ministers, Gyorgy Tokay of the Office for National Minorities, received negative votes from the two extremist parties represented in parliament, the Party of Romanian National Unity and the Greater Romania Party. Both parties oppose Hungarian presence in the new government. The parliament is expected to vote today on the cabinet on the whole. -- Zsolt Mato

OUTGOING MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT TO STAY IN POLITICS.
Outgoing President Mircea Snegur stated on 10 December that he was not going to either quit politics or accept a post in the new administration, Infotag reported. Snegur said he felt responsible for the 800,000 people who had voted for him in the 1 December runoff and promised to continue to combat the left-wing forces that endanger both the reform process in Moldova and the country's integration into European and Euro-Atlantic structures. Snegur welcomed as "very timely" an initiative of setting up the Democratic Convention of Moldova as a political expression of the unified opposition. The initiative was launched on 7 December by parties and organizations belonging to the Pro-Snegur Civic Movement, an ad-hoc political alliance that had backed Snegur during the electoral campaign. -- Dan Ionescu

BULGARIAN INFLATION ALMOST 224% FOR FIRST 11 MONTHS OF YEAR.
Consumer price inflation was 9.7% in November, down from 16.7% in October, bringing the first eleven months cumulative figure to 223.6%, Bulgarian media reported on 11 December. The National Statistical Institute blames the continuing high inflation on the collapse of the lev, which was fixed by the national bank at 504.30 against the dollar on 11 December, compared to 369.42 a week ago and 70.47 a year earlier. Since the beginning of the year, electricity prices have risen by 382%, transport and communications services by 203%, and food prices by 227%. Meanwhile, a study carried out by a team headed by presidential advisor Yordan Hristoskov concluded that one third of workers work informally, not paying taxes or paying only part of them, 24 chasa reported on 11 December. This has cost the budget 31 billion leva ($193 million) this year. -- Michael Wyzan





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