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Newsline - December 17, 1996


RED CROSS WORKERS SLAUGHTERED IN CHECHNYA.
Six medical personnel working for the International Committee of the Red Cross in a Norwegian-funded hospital in Novye Atagi, south of Grozny, were shot dead on the night of 16-17 December. In response to the killing of the six international volunteers, the Red Cross announced it was suspending all operations in Chechnya. Meanwhile, Chechen field commander Salman Raduev said on 16 December he would release 10 of the Russian Interior Ministry troops abducted by his men two days earlier in return for an apology from the Russian military for preventing his men from entering Dagestan, Russian and Western agencies reported. He added that he would exchange the remaining Russian hostages for Chechen fighters currently held prisoner by the Russians and accused the Russian security services of planning to assassinate him. Later the same day, however, after receiving a "tough warning" from interim Chechen Prime Minister Aslan Maskhadov, Raduev agreed to release all the hostages on 17 December, Reuters reported citing Interfax. -- Liz Fuller

BUDGET VOTE REVEALS SPLIT AMONG COMMUNISTS.
Although Communist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov supported the draft 1997 budget in the Duma on 15 December, 44 of 147 KPRF deputies voted against it, along with all 46 Yabloko deputies and some of Sergei Baburin's supporters in the left-wing Popular Power faction, Segodnya reported on 16 December. Zyuganov said his party had been forced to choose a "very bad" outcome in order to avoid a "total disaster," NTV reported on 16 December. Yet leading KPRF official Valentin Kuptsov told ITAR-TASS that the Communists who voted against the budget had done so "with the consent of the faction leadership." The latest edition of Itogi (no. 31) argues that the KPRF faces deep ideological divisions and that party leaders adopt a vague "general opposition" stance partly to avoid alienating current supporters and partly because provoking confrontation with the authorities would jeopardize their own chances of joining the ruling elite. -- Laura Belin

MINISTERS GO TO THE REGIONS.
Numerous ministers are now visiting cities outside Moscow to listen to citizens' complaints and promise a better future. A crowd of angry pensioners and street venders accosted First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Ilyushin while he was in his hometown of Nizhnii Tagil on 16 December, ITAR-TASS reported. They pleaded with Ilyushin to ensure the payment of back wages and pensions, some of which have been delayed since September. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits said in Smolensk that 1997 would be the year of "cheap money and cheap credits," while Deputy Prime Minister Vitalii Ignatenko told Samara college students that the government would spend seven times as much on science, education, and culture next year as it has in 1996. -- Robert Orttung

FEDERATION COUNCIL TO REVIEW RUSSIA-CHINESE BORDER TREATY.
Federation Council Deputy Chairman Vasilii Likhachev, who heads a special parliamentary commission reviewing the 1991 Russo-Chinese border agreement, told ITAR-TASS on 16 December that the treaty "inflicts damage on Russia's geostrategic interests" and should be amended. The commission has been visiting the Russian Far East to discuss the ongoing demarcation of the Russo-Chinese border with officials from Primorskii Krai and Khabarovsk and Amur oblasts. Although the Russian Foreign Ministry has insisted that the treaty does not harm Russia's national interests, the commission supports local officials' opposition to the scheduled transfer to China of some small areas along the border. Likhachev said the treaty could be amended to address these concerns without undermining its framework. The Federation Council is scheduled to discuss the issue in mid-January. -- Scott Parrish

RUSSIA OPPOSES NATO EXPANSION, BUT WANTS DIALOGUE.
Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said on 16 December that Moscow has agreed to open a dialogue with NATO not because it has softened its opposition to the alliances's plans to enlarge, but in order to "alleviate our concerns about some developments in Europe," ITAR-TASS reported. Primakov, who was speaking at a joint news conference with his visiting Slovak counterpart Pavol Hamzik, added that Moscow would sign a "corresponding document" with the alliance only if those talks directly addressed Russian concerns. Primakov did, however, note some recent "positive changes" in "NATO's position on Russian concerns," including the decision to open talks on revising the 1990 CFE treaty and the declaration that the alliance does not plan to deploy nuclear weapons in new East European member states. Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry announced that NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana will visit Moscow next January. -- Scott Parrish

RODIONOV ON MILITARY REFORM.
Defense Minister Igor Rodionov said in an interview with Nezavisimaya gazeta on 16 December that a "general plan" for military reform is on the verge of being adopted by the Defense Council. However, he stressed that reforms would require sufficient financing and described the draft 1997 budget's planned defense expenditures as "totally unrealistic." Even with the significant force reductions planned for 1997, it is a "dangerous illusion" to think the country can economize on defense spending, he said. While giving no details of the plan, he noted that it will have five major priorities: maintaining nuclear deterrence, matching manpower levels to current and prospective threats, purchasing modern weapons systems, improving the system of command, and upgrading working conditions for officers and soldiers. Rodionov refused to answer a question about the imbroglio surrounding the dismissal of Ground Forces commander Vladimir Semenov. -- Scott Parrish

YELTSIN SIGNS WEAPONS LAW.
President Boris Yeltsin signed the federal law on weapons on 13 December, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 December. The law, passed by the Duma on 13 November, regulates the acquisition, licensing, and use of arms. It allows individuals to use weapons in self-defense and, unlike previous legislation on arms, to acquire gas sprays and electric shock devices without a license. As before, other weapons cannot be bought without a license and must be registered with the Interior Ministry, according to NTV. Licenses to purchase weapons are valid for six months, while those for the production, trade, collection, or exhibition of weapons are good for three years. -- Penny Morvant

RUSSIA ADHERES TO DEATH PENALTY BAN SINCE AUGUST.
No death sentences have been carried out in the Russian Federation since August, Chairman of the Presidential Commission on Pardons Anatolii Pristavkin told ITAR-TASS on 16 December. The Council of Europe called on Russia to place an immediate moratorium on executions when Russia was admitted to the organization in February of this year, but 53 death sentences were carried out in 1996. In 1995, 40 people were executed, and in 1994, 10. In the new Criminal Code, which goes into effect on 1 January 1997, the number of crimes punishable by death has been reduced to five. Pristavkin called for the adoption of a law banning capital punishment to prevent the authorities from resuming executions. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski

TRADE UNION BOSSES BECAME ABLE CAPITALISTS.
An article in Obshchaya gazeta of 11-18 December accuses the leaders of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FNPR) of lining their pockets at the expense of their 45 million members. Author Vakhtang Yakobidze estimates that membership dues provide only 5% of the FNPR's income: the rest comes from operating the extensive network of hotels, sanatoria, etc. that the FNPR inherited from its Soviet predecessor. Much of this real estate has been sold off at nominal prices to private companies controlled by FNPR officials. Yakobidze singles out the joint-stock company formed on the basis of the FNPR's former Central Council for Tourism and Excursions, which now owns the massive Izmailogo and Salyut hotels in Moscow and others in the Mineralnye Vody resort. The company's president is Viktor Pugiev, deputy chairman of the FNPR for financial affairs. -- Peter Rutland

NATIONAL ELECTRONIC MEDIA SILENCED IN MURMANSK.
Communications workers in Murmansk Oblast declared an indefinite strike on 16 December to protest non-payments from the federal budget, ITAR-TASS reported. The workers first switched off transmitters for national television networks and radio stations during a one-hour strike in November, then declared a warning strike on 10 December, silencing Russian Public TV (ORT), Russian TV (RTR), St. Petersburg Channel 5, and radio stations including Radio Mayak. ITAR-TASS estimated back wages owed to communications workers across Russia at 120 billion rubles ($22 million) and suggested that broadcasts in other regions could soon be disrupted by strikes. Meanwhile, FNPR Chairman Mikhail Shmakov predicted another coordinated nationwide strike during the first quarter of 1997, noting that isolated groups of teachers, machine-builders, and power industry workers are already on strike to protest wage arrears, RIA-Novosti reported. -- Laura Belin

FOOD IMPORTS STILL HIGH.
The Russian Institute for Strategic Studies estimates that Russia's food imports for 1996 will total some $13.5 billion, or about the same level as last year, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 December. Imported food products now account for 35-37% of domestic consumption. Meat imports, in particular, meet over 50% of domestic demand. There has, however, been some improvement in domestic grain production. This year's grain harvest was 68 million metric tons, a 6% increase over 1995. As a result, Russia is likely to export up to 7 million metric tons of grain, mainly to other CIS countries, while importing 5 million tons to the Russian Far East. -- Natalia Gurushina

FEDERAL INVESTMENT PROGRAM IN 1996.
In the first nine months of this year, only 12 of 411 construction projects envisaged by the 1996 federal investment program were completed, Finansovye izvestiya reported on 17 December. At a fifth of the sites, no work was carried out at all. Of the 1.32 trillion rubles ($240 million) allotted to the program, only 1.01 trillion were released. None of the 77 construction projects in agriculture were finished, and the actual volume of investment in construction in that sector was a mere 57.3 billion rubles, or 20% of the expected level. -- Natalia Gurushina



ANOTHER POLITICAL CASUALTY IN UZBEKISTAN.
The regional governor of the Bukhara region, Mavlon Rahmonov, asked to be relieved of his duties on 14 December, Uzbek Radio reported. Current Deputy Finance Minister Samoiddin Husinov, has been nominated by President Islam Karimov to replace Rahmonov, who is the fourth regional governor to lose his job this year. Poor harvest figures were cited as the reason for Rahmonov's departure. While still incomplete, figures on Uzbekistan's grain harvest reveal that, on average, less than 80% of the expected quota was attained. Poor weather and mismanagement at the regional level have been blamed for the shortfall. And, as in 1995, the result has been a reshuffling of key positions in the government. -- Roger Kangas

STATE ENTERPRISES TO BE AUCTIONED IN TURKMENISTAN.
Foreign and domestic investors will be offered an equal opportunity to buy 100 state enterprises specializing in sales before the end of the year, Finansovye izvestiya reported on 17 December. According to unnamed sources in Turkmenistan's ministries of economics and finance, more than 2,000 enterprises involved in public catering and the retail trade are to be privatized over the next two years. Meanwhile, the Turkish firm Artpaper has won a tender to build a cellulose plant in Turkmenistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 December. The plant is to begin production in 1998 and will produce 32,000 tons of various cellulose products. The project is worth $110 million and is being financed by the Turkish side. -- Lowell Bezanis

DEMIREL IN KAZAKSTAN.
Turkish President Suleyman Demirel completed a two-day visit to Almaty on 17 December, Western and Russian agencies reported. The visit coincided with celebrations of the country's fifth year of independence and was designed to highlight Turkish-Kazakstani relations, which Demirel described as "eternal." Demirel and his Kazakstani counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, discussed expanding bilateral trade and utilization of a $300 million line of credit from Turkey. According to the Turkish Daily News, Demirel also presented a list of complaints from Turkish investors operating in Kazakstan. Over 200 Turkish firms have invested an estimated $1.2 billion in the country. -- Lowell Bezanis

CONCERN OVER PKK ACTIVITIES IN KAZAKSTAN.
The Turkish daily Yeni Yuzyil on 17 December used Demirel's visit to focus attention on the activities of the Kurdistan Worker's Party (PKK) in Almaty. The paper claimed that the group was causing distress to Turkish students and businessmen in Almaty because of its alleged involvement in protection rackets. One business was reportedly bombed and a businessmen kidnapped. -- Lowell Bezanis



RUKH HOLDS FIRST ALL-UKRAINIAN CONFERENCE.
The first party conference of the Narodnii Rukh (People's Movement) of Ukraine met on 14-15 December in Kyiv and unveiled its pre-election program for 1997, ITAR-TASS reported the following day. The party also called for the immediate withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine. One part of the program calls for the integration of Ukraine into the EU, WEU, and NATO, while another section focuses on fighting poverty. Rukh called on other Ukrainian democratic and reformist parties to unite against the left. A total of 490 delegates from 26 local party organizations, more than 30 Ukrainian parliament deputies, and guests from abroad attended the conference. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT IN SOUTH KOREA.
Leonid Kuchma arrived in Seoul to meet with his South Korean counterpart, Kim Young Sam, and sign an agreement on civil aviation and a declaration on the principles of bilateral relations and cooperation, Ukrainian Radio reported on 16 December. The two countries' ministers of external economic relations signed agreements on investment protection. During the visit, Kuchma received an honorary degree from Kyunghee University. -- Ustina Markus

FIRST SESSION ON BELARUSIAN LOWER HOUSE BEGINS.
The House of Representatives of the Belarusian Parliament met for its first session on 17 December, ITAR-TASS reported. The house is made up of 110 deputies from the old unicameral parliament who acknowledged the legitimacy of the 24 November constitutional referendum, and expressed their desire to serve in the new bicameral legislature. The speaker of the new lower house is Anatol Malafeev. The session will deal primarily with organizational issues. The house will have to organize standing committees, elect members to the committees, and change the law on the budget. It would also have to confirm a new prime minister, but President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said he is content with acting Prime Minister Syarhei Ling, and will not bother appointing a replacement. -- Ustina Markus

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT SPEAKS AT WOMEN'S FORUM.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka spoke on 14 December at the first forum of women's organizations, Belarusian Radio reported. Women are among the most vulnerable social groups in Belarus, with some 60% of them unemployed. The president suggested that some 30% of the upper house of parliament should be composed of women, and that women's organizations should administer the public humanitarian aid and children's health programs. He said the status of women is linked to the country's economic performance, noting that the economic decline has been halted and GDP is expected to increase by 2%-3% in 1996. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

74 ASIAN REFUGEES LEAVE LATVIA.
The Interior Ministry press center announced on 16 December that 74 Asian refugees from the Olaine internment camp had left Latvia, BNS reported. They had arrived illegally in Latvia in 1995 through Russia or Belarus. Their legal status in Latvia was unclear since the country has not yet complied with requests of the Nordic countries that it adopt and implement refugee legislation in accordance with the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees. As most of the refugees have relatives in nearby countries, 53 of them will go to Sweden, 19 to Denmark, and two to Australia. Another 47 will leave for Finland and Norway in the near future. -- Saulius Girnius

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT CALLS FOR WAR AGAINST SMUGGLING.
Algirdas Brazauskas on 16 December called smuggling "more than a terrible thing" and urged the new government to carry out a revolution in border protection, BNS reported. He said that Lithuania's budget is losing more than 1 billion litai ($250 million) a year in revenues because of smuggling. Since 90% of the contraband goods entering the country pass through official border posts and replacing border officials has not improved the situation, he called for modernizing border control to minimize the human factor of the task. He also pointed out that poor border controls would hinder the country's efforts to gain membership in the EU. -- Saulius Girnius

EXPERIMENT IN POLISH ADMINISTRATION REFORM.
Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz on 16 December met the organizers of the Municipal Area of Public Services, an experimental alliance of 14 communes in Nowy Sacz province in southern Poland, Rzeczpospolita reported on 17 December. As of 1 January, the area administration will manage the region's health service, education, culture, sport, and foster homes and will serve as a test for an intermediary level of local administration between the commune and the province, known in Polish as the powiat. Cimoszewicz said he advocates establishing powiats and enlarging provinces. President Aleksander Kwasniewski has suggested that a national referendum be held on the three-tiered administration scheme. The Democratic Left Alliance supports the scheme, but the Polish Peasant Party, the other governing coalition partner, opposes it. -- Jakub Karpinski

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVES PENAL CODE AMENDMENT.
The parliament on 17 December passed the controversial penal code amendment on the protection of the republic that was submitted by a group of Slovak National Party deputies, TASR reported. Of the 77 deputies who took part in the vote, 66 voted in favor, five against, three deputies abstained, and three did not vote. The Party of Democratic Left (SDL) was the only opposition party to participate in debates on the amendment, but because the governing coalition did not want to delete controversial points from the proposal, the SDL deputies left the session, joining the other opposition parties who were already absent. The amendment, first passed in March, has attracted fierce criticism domestically and internationally. -- Anna Siskova

SLOVAKIA TO BE WITHOUT PRESIDENT?
Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar on 16 December told Slovak Radio that he does not support recent opposition calls for constitutional amendments that would provide for the direct election of the president. The opposition fears that when President Michal Kovac's term expires in March 1998, the parliament will be unable to agree on a new candidate since a three-fifths majority is needed--a scenario that Meciar also believes is likely. The prime minister would thus take over the presidential duties until a new president could be elected after the next parliamentary elections, scheduled for fall 1998. -- Sharon Fisher

SLOVAK RULING COALITION DENIES PROBLEMS.
Deputy Parliament Chairman Augustin Marian Huska told RFE/RL's Slovak Service on 16 December that European authorities should also listen to the government, adding that there is a tendency in the West to see the situation in Slovakia through the "eyes of the opposition." Huska, who also serves as a co-chairman of the EU-Slovak Joint Parliamentary Committee, on 10 December received a warning letter from his European counterpart, Herbert Bosch. Bosch expressed concern about the decision to revoke Frantisek Gaulieder's mandate and said recent events have strengthened EU concern about the Slovak parliament's supervision of the intelligence service and opposition participation in all parliamentary committees. Bosch added that if the trend does not change, it could have "serious consequences" for Slovakia's for early entry EU. -- Anna Siskova

HUNGARIAN PRIME MINISTER APPOINTS VON HABSBURG AS AMBASSADOR OF EUROPEAN INTEGRATION.
Gyula Horn on 16 December appointed the 32-year-old Archduke Georg von Habsburg, grandson of the last king of Hungary, as Hungary's ambassador for European integration, Hungarian media reported. Horn said the appointment would enhance Hungary's international reputation and also serve as recognition for the work of Otto von Habsburg, Georg von Habsburg's father, who is a European Parliament deputy from Austria and has been pushing Hungary's case for European integration. In other news, Horn on 16 December appealed to the EU not to open simultaneous talks with all countries applying for membership but to start with those most ready to join. -- Zsofia Szilagyi



SERBIAN OPPOSITION TAKES A SECOND TOWN . . .
A court in the Serbian town of Smederovska Palanka on 16 December ruled that the local electoral commission must turn over the municipal council to the opposition Zajedno coalition, thereby recognizing the opposition's victory in the 17 November municipal elections. It was the second such ruling in two days (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 December 1996). For his part, Montenegrin Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic said that "recognition of second round [17 November] elections is the best solution," Nasa Borba reported on 17 December. Finally, in another sign that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic may be willing to make concessions and amid growing trade union support for the daily mass demonstrations across Serbia, the Serbian government announced it would not debate an unpopular labor bill that could throw as many as 800,000 people out of work, Reuters reported on 17 December. -- Stan Markotich

. . . AND VOWS TO CONTINUE WITH MASS DEMONSTRATIONS.
Opposition leaders have pledged to continue with peaceful mass rallies at least until Milosevic recognizes opposition victories in all 12 of Serbia's largest municipalities, where the Zajedno coalition scored second-round victories. On 16 December, the 27th consecutive day of peaceful rallies in Belgrade, an estimated 100,000 people demonstrated, Nasa Borba reported. Zoran Djindjic, leader of the opposition Democratic Party, told the crowd that the opposition coalition would continue to back nationwide protests and encourage groups from all across Serbia to trek to Belgrade in solidarity with protesters in the capital. Reuters quoted him saying: "One thousand people from each of 30 towns in Serbia will walk to join us here in Belgrade in the new year, we will be world champions in protest marathons." -- Stan Markotich

PLAVSIC WARNS OF WAR OVER BRCKO.
Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic said on 16 December that the contested strategic town of Brcko is and will remain Serb. She warned that there will be war if international arbitration takes it away from the Serbs, VOA reported. "Through its force and its good organization, the army must show that Brcko is a territory which is inviolable and dangerous for all enemies," Plavsic told the local military contingent. The formerly mainly Muslim town controls the key land corridor that links the eastern and western halves of Republika Srpska. It is the only territorial issue that was not resolved at Dayton. Mediation was to have settled the matter by 14 December, but the deadline was moved to 15 February after the Serbs refused to attend meetings. Plavsic may be trying to repair links to the army, whose leadership she purged in November. -- Patrick Moore

OPPOSITION PARTIES FROM BOTH BOSNIAN ENTITIES TO FORM SHADOW-GOVERNMENT?
The Sarajevo-based Union of Bosnian-Herzegovinian Social-Democrats (UBSD) and the Banja Luka-based Liberal Socialist Party on 15 December proposed the formation of an alliance of non-nationalist parties to try to resolve various disputed issues and prevent the country from falling apart, Onasa reported. The Democratic Alternative Forum (FDA) alliance would stand against nationalists who are working for Bosnia's division. Miodrag Zivanovic, head of the Liberal Socialist Party, said the opposition in both entities is long overdue in creating a reconstruction project to improve living conditions in all of Bosnia. He added that the situation in Republika Srpska is critical because no foreign aid is coming in. "The isolating policy of the current Bosnian Serb leadership jeopardizes the population," international agencies quoted him as saying. -- Daria Sito Sucic

CROAT REFUGEES FROM SERBIA RESETTLE FORMER SERB-HELD AREA IN CROATIA . . .
Croats from Serbia's province of Kosovo, forced to leave Serbia in 1991, are resettling in the small town of Kistanje located in the Krajina area, which was held by Croatian Serbs for four years, AFP reported on 16 December. Kistanje is at the heart of a pilot scheme designed to encourage the repopulation of a region that became a wasteland after some 180,000 Serbs fled into Serbia or Bosnia during the Croatian army offensive last year. Croatian authorities hope to move in more than 1,000 Croats from Kosovo by 1 January. Employment for several hundred people will be provided by the rehabilitation of a local metal works, AFP reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

. . . WHILE SERBS RETURN TO MUSLIM-CROAT FEDERATION.
In a rare experiment, Serbs from the village of Krtova, located in a demilitarized zone near Tuzla, have returned to their homes in the Bosnian Federation, international agencies reported on 16 December. About half of the 1,150 people who fled in September 1995, when the Bosnian army recaptured the area, have returned. While attempts by Muslims to move back to their homes in a demilitarized zone of the Bosnian Serb entity have encountered resistance, these Serbs have had no problems with Muslim-Croat federation officials. Meanwhile, the Bosnian Federation is demanding the release of 40 people arrested by Serbs this year while practicing their right to freedom of movement, which is guaranteed under the Dayton peace accords, Oslobodjenje reported on 16 December. -- Daria Sito Sucic

SHALIKASHVILI CALLS FOR NEW FORCE TO ARREST WAR CRIMINALS.
The head of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Gen. John Shalikashvili, visited Bosnia and praised IFOR, international and regional media reported on 16 December. The peacekeepers' mandate ends on 20 December, but the smaller SFOR will then take over IFOR's duties and facilities. The U.S. general said that IFOR could be proud of its work but regretted that more was not done to arrest indicted war criminals, which IFOR and the general call "police work." NATO claims that responsibility for arresting war criminals lies with the various former Yugoslav civilian authorities, but critics charge that IFOR has deliberately turned a blind eye toward war criminals in order to avoid violence. Shalikashvili said that "a way must be found for an international police force to be constituted" and arrest suspects. The UN's International Police Task Force has long been in place but, like IFOR, it also keeps away from touchy situations involving war criminals. -- Patrick Moore

SERBIAN AUTHORITIES DETAIN RETURNING KOSOVO ALBANIANS.
Serb police on 7 and 14 December detained 14 Kosovo Albanians, including a mother with two children, at the Pristina Airport as they returned from Switzerland, ATSH reported on 16 December. The Pristina based Council for the Defense of Human Rights and Freedoms said all of the detained Albanians had valid travel documents. Meanwhile, shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova left the U.S. for Paris on 14 December, after meeting with U.S. senior officials, including Secretary of State Warren Christopher. The official announcements after the meeting gave no indication, however, that any concrete steps or substantial diplomatic efforts would be undertaken on the Kosovo issue. -- Fabian Schmidt

CONSTANTINESCU VOWS TO FIND 1989 REVOLT TRUTH.
President Emil Constantinescu has pledged to uncover and reveal the truth about the events of December 1989, which toppled dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, RFE/RL and Radio Bucharest reported on 16 December. Speaking in Timisoara, at ceremonies marking the beginning of the 1989 events, Constantinescu said it is the duty of the country's new leaders to investigate allegations that hundreds died as a result of confusion purposely sowed by those who succeeded Ceausescu and his team to leadership positions. The crowd, estimated at some 15,000, cheered and chanted "the truth, the truth," and waved flags with the center torn out--the symbol of the 1989 revolt. His predecessor, Ion Iliescu, who had never participated in ceremonies marking the revolt in Timisoara, sent a message to the gathering. -- Michael Shafir

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT DISMISSES STATE TELEVISION HEAD.
Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea's government on 16 December announced the dismissal of Dumitru Popa, widely regarded as a partisan of the previous executive, as head of Romanian state television. The decision was, however, explained in legalistic terms. The communique said that since Popa was not a member of the television administration's board, he was legally barred from staying in the position. Popa was "temporarily" replaced by film director Stere Gulea. The head of the Free Trade Unions in Radio and Television, Dumitru Iuga, protested against the dismissal and said he is disappointed that the new government behaves just as its predecessor did, Radio Bucharest reported on 17 December. -- Michael Shafir

MOLDOVAN CONSTITUTIONAL COURT RULES IN SNEGUR'S FAVOR.
Moldova's Constitutional Court on 16 December ruled against an appeal launched by the country's prosecutor general, who had contested outgoing President Mircea Snegur's assumption of direct control over the Defense Ministry last April. Snegur's decision followed fruitless attempts to dismiss Defense Minister Gen. Pavel Creanga, whom Snegur had accused of corruption. The parliament and government did not back the attempt to dismiss Creanga, and the Constitutional Court then ruled that Snegur could not dismiss him without the legislature's consent. In response, Snegur assumed direct control over the ministry and the court has now confirmed that the measure was in line with the constitution, which defines the president as commander in chief and grants him the right to directly command the armed forces, Infotag and BASA-press reported on 16 December. -- Michael Shafir

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER REJECTS OPPOSITION'S CONSENSUS FORMULA.
Zhan Videnov on 16 December said at a meeting with local Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) leaders in Vratsa that the currency board--proposed by the IMF as a "key element" in Bulgaria's economic stabilization--should be introduced by his government and passed by the present parliament, Duma and Standart reported. Videnov's statement amounts to a rejection of the United Democratic Forces' (ODS) proposal that the board be created only if a consensus is reached in parliament on early elections and the resignation of the Bulgarian National Bank's current executive board. Videnov said the cabinet will publish a document on the country's financial stabilization--including stringent financial discipline and a fixed exchange rate--before the 21-22 December extraordinary BSP congress. Videnov apparently aims to use the document to shore up his leadership before the congress, at which many observers believe he will either lose his position as BSP leader or prime minister. -- Maria Koinova in Sofia

BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTER STARTS ANTI-CORRUPTION CAMPAIGN.
Nikolay Dobrev on 16 December launched a campaign against corruption in his ministry, Duma reported, citing an unnamed source. Ministry officials will have to declare their income, real estate, and cars annually. Officials leaking confidential information will be fired and taken to court. On 13 December, Dobrev said corruption within the state administration and low motivation among ill-paid police officers are the main obstacles to fighting organized crime, Demokratsiya reported. He said corruption and the selling of classified information are major problems and noted that police operations against organized crime are always plagued by information leaks. He said "criminal groups have more agents in the [Interior Ministry] than we have among them." -- Stefan Krause

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Penny Morvant and Victor Gomez











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