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Newsline - December 20, 1996


SVR: SPY SCANDALS POLITICALLY MOTIVATED.
Col.-Gen. Vyacheslav Trubnikov, head of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), complained to ITAR-TASS on 19 December that the widely publicized arrests of FBI agent Earl Pitts and CIA officer Harold Nicholson (see OMRI Daily Digest, 19 December 1996) are part of a propaganda campaign to "kindle anti-Russian sentiments." He blamed the campaign on "various forces abroad," which object to Russia's "more resolute" pursuit of its "national interests." Trubnikov refused to comment on whether Pitts worked for the SVR but argued with obvious annoyance that his agency could easily stage similar spy scandals but chose not to dramatize the "axiom" that all states conduct intelligence operations. Meanwhile, in Washington, FBI Director Louis Freeh told a Senate committee that Russian spying, especially a recent increase in economic espionage, remains a "serious problem" for his agency. * Scott Parrish

DUMA GEOPOLITICS COMMITTEE MARKS BREZHNEV ANNIVERSARY.
In what ITAR-TASS described as an "atmosphere of nostalgia," a session of the Duma Geopolitics Committee examined the foreign policy of Leonid Brezhnev on 19 December, the 90th anniversary of the former Soviet leader's birth. Committee chairman Aleksei Mitrofanov (Liberal Democratic Party) described Brezhnev's foreign policy as "realistic" and suggested that "old experience could and should be applied at present." Anatolii Gromyko, son of the longtime Soviet foreign minister, pointed out that Brezhnev's foreign policy was based on mutually incompatible premises but argued that the USSR was able to maintain its "geopolitical space" until 1985, when Mikhail Gorbachev took power. Brezhnev's foreign policy, which blended attempts at detente with an across-the-board military build-up, adventurism in Africa, and the invasion of Afghanistan, had plunged the USSR into deep international isolation by the time he died in 1982. * Scott Parrish

COMMUNIST PRESS CALLS FOR TOUGHER OPPOSITION STRATEGY.
The opposition press is calling on Communist Party (KPRF) leaders to adopt a less compromising posture and be less afraid that President Boris Yeltsin might dissolve the State Duma. The 20 December Pravda-5 argued that public trust in the opposition would grow if the Duma risked sacrificing itself on a matter of principle: "It is impossible to attain the title of defender of the people's interests by constantly striving to preserve your deputy's chairs at all costs." Likewise, a special 20-27 December edition of Pravda argued that if the government ignores the 11 conditions set by KPRF leaders for further support of the 1997 budget (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 December 1996), the party should make good on its threat to organize massive protests and vote no confidence in the government. (`s editors have managed to publish several editions irregularly since the paper was shut down in July.) * Laura Belin

FORBES PROFILE.
Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii said an article published in the 30 December edition of the U.S. magazine Forbes was filled with "fabrications, garbled facts, and direct lies," ITAR-TASS reported on 19 December. The article alleges that Berezovskii became a billionaire through criminal means and suggests that he might have been involved in the March 1995 assassination of TV journalist Vladislav Listev and could perhaps be described as "the godfather of Russia's godfathers." Berezovskii charged that Forbes had fallen victim to a "disinformation campaign" and had become "a mouthpiece for communist propaganda." The opposition Sovetskaya Rossiya published the article in Russian before it appeared in Forbes, which NTV said "attests to clear coordination between the two publications." Meanwhile, Berezovskii was voted Patron of the Year by the Society for Supporting Science and Education; his donation of $1.3 million financed conference trips abroad for1,500 Russian scientists in 1996. * Laura Belin

ANOTHER ATTEMPT TO CENTRALIZE REGIONAL POLICY.
A new commission has been created under First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin to oversee the allocation of federal funds to the regions, Segodnya reported on 19 December. Government decree no. 1450 grants the commission broad powers to coordinate all federal economic policies that affect the regions. The commission will be located in the Economics Ministry, and Deputy Economics Minister Andrei Shapovalyants will be its deputy chairman. The newspaper noted that the proliferation of new agencies reflects power struggles within the government. * Peter Rutland

MAYORAL CANDIDATE ATTEMPS TO SEIZE CITY OFFICES IN CHELYABINSK OBLAST.
Three days before a mayoral election in Zlatoust (Chelyabinsk Oblast), candidate Aleksandr Morozov and about 100 supporters occupied several offices in the city administration building, Russian media reported on 19 December. An eyewitness said Morozov, accompanied by young men in black coats and yellow armbands, entered the office of incumbent mayor Vasilii Maltsev and announced, "Power has changed hands." Meanwhile, more supporters and an orchestra playing "triumphal marches" gathered outside the building. Interior Ministry troops and riot police were brought in to negotiate, and Morozov and his supporters eventually surrendered peacefully. (ITAR-TASS reported that the band continued to play after Morozov's men had left the building.) The Zlatoust Procurator's Office has opened a criminal investigation into the bizarre incident, and Maltsev promised to tighten security at polling stations for the 22 December vote. * Laura Belin

CHECHEN LEADERSHIP DENIES ABDUCTION OF NORTH OSSETIYAN DELEGATION.
Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov on 19 December denied Russian media reports that Chechen militants were responsible for the abduction of a delegation of North Ossetiyan and North Caucasian officials, for whom a $6 million ransom has been demanded, AFP reported. Udugov also told journalists that the Chechen Interior Ministry is on the track of the killers of the six Red Cross volunteers and six Russian civilians slain in Grozny earlier this week. He implicated Russian security forces in the murders, which he said were intended to undermine international support for Chechnya, Reuters and AFP reported. * Liz Fuller

MOSCOW ON CHECHEN ELECTIONS.
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told journalists in Kazan on 19 December that the Russian leadership considers the Chechen parliamentary and presidential elections "essential to the Chechen people" and hopes that they will be "democratic and legitimate," ITAR-TASS reported. In Moscow, however, State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev argued in favor of postponing the elections, which are scheduled for 27 January. Meanwhile, Ekho Moskvy claimed on 19 December that the Ukrainian Academy of Military Sciences has asked Chechen field commander and presidential candidate Shamil Basaev to deliver a course of lectures on the subject of waging a guerilla war in current conditions. Basaev reportedly accepted the offer and declined the fee. * Liz Fuller

TATARSTAN OPENS CHEVROLET PLANT.
Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and several other ministers on 19 December attended the ceremonial opening of the Yelabuga factory, which will assemble Chevrolet Blazers, RTR and ITAR-TASS reported. The plant plans to assemble 50,000 cars per year from imported components, eventually rising to 300,000. They will sell at $23,000 each. The plant will produce not the North American jeep but the more basic model that GM sells in Brazil. General Motors owns 50% of the shares in the venture; the Russian and Tatarstan governments 25% each. This is the first foreign venture in the auto industry to start production since Soviet times. * Peter Rutland

NEW QUASI-MONEY IN YEKATERINBURG.
Sverdlovsk Oblast began on 18 December to issue new quasi-money to the local population, Radio Rossii reported. The bills have a water-mark and carry a picture of local Tsarst-era industrialist Nikolai Demidov. Local governor Eduard Rossel told ITAR-TASS on 7 December that he had won Central Bank approval for the scheme. Details are unclear, but it appears that the notes will be given to welfare recipients and will be issued to an amount equal to the taxes that local firms pay in barter goods. Rossel has thus backed off from the idea of issuing a full parallel currency, the so-called "Urals francs." * Peter Rutland

CORRUPTION IN THE DIAMOND INDUSTRY.
Komsomolskaya pravda argued on 19 December that the main reasons for the recent reorganization of the precious metals sector was unprecedented theft and smuggling in the diamond industry. President Yeltsin issued a decree in August disbanding the State Committee on Precious Metal and Gems, and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin recently appointed Deputy Finance Minister German Kuznetsov to head the replacement State Fund of Precious Metals and Gems. The paper said that a recent audit discovered that $300 million worth of diamonds had been exported illegally in 1994 and $500 million in 1995, severely damaging the domestic diamond cutting industry. Yevgenii Bychkov, former head of the Committee on Precious Metals and Gems, was fired in February amid allegations of corruption. * Penny Morvant

BANKS CONTRIBUTING LESS.
Banks are contributing less to the federal budget than in previous years, according to Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits. A study by the government's Working Centre for Economic Reforms found that while banks account for 14% of GDP, they provide only 4% of total tax revenue, Segodnya reported on 19 December. Livshits said that the government may have to change the tax mechanism for banks by replacing the tax on profit with a tax on banks' assets or liabilities. Meanwhile, reported on 19 December that the city of Moscow alone accounts for 27% of federal budget revenue. * Natalia Gurushina

SPACE AGENCY ASKS FOR MORE MONEY.
Russian Space Agency head Yurii Koptev told the Duma on 18 December that the government should increase spending on the space industry in the 1997 budget by 1.8 trillion rubles to 5.1 trillion rubles ($920 million), ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. Koptev warned that without additional funds the agency will not be able to continue work with the U.S. on the Alfa space station. He noted that 50% of Russia's satellites are outdated and that the stock of rockets is virtually exhausted. Funds from Western companies and agencies accounted for 40% of the industry's funding in 1996, and the industry expects to receive $600 million from such sources in 1997. The space industry was allocated 3 trillion rubles in the 1996 budget, but only 2.4 trillion were released. As a result, Russia was able to carry out only 11 of 27 scheduled space lauches in 1996. * Natalia Gurushina



LATEST ISSUE OF OPPOSITION NEWSPAPER CONFISCATED IN ARMENIA.
The 18 December issue of Ayzhm, the newspaper of the opposition National Democratic Union, has been confiscated by the Haymamul state-run distributing agency, Groong reported on 18 December citing Asbarez-on-line. Ayzhm's latest issue contained an article critical of Haymamul's activities. The agency, which has a monopoly over newspaper distribution, has been repeatedly slammed by Armenian journalists for its allegedly inefficient work, including delays in paying periodicals for copies sold. Some journalists claim that the agency is used by the authorities as an instrument of control over the media. * Emil Danielyan

TURKMENISTAN SUSPENDS GAS SUPPLIES TO ARMENIA.
Turkmenistan has suspended natural gas supplies to Armenia because of the latter's $15 million debt for 1996, Noyan Tapan and AFP reported on 19 December. Armenian Energy Minister Gagik Martirosyan said that Armenia's energy sector now has debts of $75 million as a result of nonpayments by enterprises, government agencies, and individuals. He added that Armenian officials are currently negotiating with the Turkmen side and suggested that gas supplies may soon resume. * Emil Danielyan

IMF SUSPENDS LOAN TO UZBEKISTAN.
The International Monetary Fund on 19 December suspended a $185 million standby loan to Uzbekistan, Reuters reported. Further disbursements have been postponed because Uzbekistan failed to meet the fund's inflation targets, according to Mark O'Brien, the IMF's resident representative in Tashkent. Uzbekistan's target for 1996 was 25%, but inflation is estimated to have exceeded 40%. Another factor was the introduction of draconian foreign exchange controls in October. Further payments have been condtioned on a "very tight financial policy...combined with a full liberalization of access to foreign exchange." * Lowell Bezanis

HIGH PRICES FOR KAZAKSTANI BROADCAST FREQUENCIES.
Information obtained by Internews in Moscow suggests that prices at a planned auction for broadcast frequencies in Kazakstan will prove prohibitively high for independent stations. A decree signed by Deputy Prime Minister Imangali Tasmagimbetov on 12 December lists annual fees and auction starting prices for radio and television frequencies. Bidding for radio frequencies with the weakest signals (FM 100-1,000W) will begin at $30,857; radio stations will also have to pay an annual fee of $6,171. The highest starting price--$114,285--is for UHF television frequencies (100-1,000W). Companies will also have to pay an annual fee of $11,428. Discounts will be available for stations broadcasting outside Almaty and Akmola. Frequency licenses cost $500, and only Kazakstani companies can apply. Such high costs are likely to force most independent stations off the air. * Bruce Pannier

ONE MAN'S SOLUTION TO WAGE ARREARS IN KAZAKSTAN.
Kazhmurad Nagmanov, the head (akim) of the eastern Kazakstan region, is encouraging heads of local factories to sell their cars in order to pay their workers, Reuters reported citing an article in the 20 December Kazakstani daily Karavan Blitz. Unpaid wages have become a chronic problem in Kazakstan, triggering several demonstrations to protest living conditions. According to Karavan Blitz, there was no indication that "the directors were rushing to take the akim's advice." * Bruce Pannier



UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS DECREE ON CABINET.
Leonid Kuchma signed a decree fixing the number of ministers in the cabinet as well as the total number of ministries, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported on 19 December. The decree also directly subordinates the interior, foreign, information, and defense ministers to the president. The decree has sparked controversy among deputies, some of whom say it is unconstitutional and accuse the president of taking over some of parliament's prerogatives. Deputy Volodymyr Chemerys said parliament may turn to the Constitutional Court to have the decree revoked. * Ustina Markus

BUDGET DEBATES PROGRESSING IN UKRAINE.
Ukraine's parliament has approved the constitutional commission's budgetary proposals for 1997 and sent them to the cabinet for further refinement, Ukrainian Radio reported on 19 December. The government has two weeks to work out the details of the budget. Parliament also debated a law on arbitrating in labor conflicts. The law foresees the creation of an independent labor arbitration service. Deputies were categorically opposed to a provision that would allow for the mass dismissal of workers, but the law was approved in its first reading. * Ustina Markus

BELARUSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON RELATIONS WITH THE WEST.
Uladzimir Syanko said that although relations with Russia remain a priority in Belarus's foreign policy, the country is also seeking closer cooperation with the West as well, Belarusian Radio reported on 18 December. He noted that Western countries have recently taken on a more reserved stance toward Belarus, perhaps because of Belarus's support for Russia's position on NATO expansion. At the same time, Belarusian Ambassador to the UN Alyaksandr Sychou tried to dismiss allegations that Belarus is not abiding by the principles of democracy. Meanwhile, the Political Committee of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly decided to recommend that the assembly suspend Belarus's membership as an observer in the council, Russian TV reported on 19 December. * Sergei Solodovnikov

WORLD BANK LOAN TO LATVIA.
The World Bank has approved a $60 million loan to Latvia to support a program promoting private developers and improved management of public resources, Reuters reported on 20 December. The funds would be released over three years, with the first $20 million tranche available immediately. Since joining the World Bank organization in 1992, Latvia has received $210 million for seven projects. * Ustina Markus

GERMAN, FRENCH, POLISH FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET IN WARSAW.
Klaus Kinkel of Germany, Herve de Charette of France, and Dariusz Rosati of Poland met on 19 December for the sixth foreign ministers' meeting since 1991, when the three countries initiated the so-called Weimar triangle of cooperation. The ministers discussed European security and the process of bringing new members into the EU and met with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz. The three ministers said the heads of state of the three countries will meet next year, although a date has yet to be announced. They also said their three embassies in the Baltic states, Ukraine, and Belarus would cooperate. A common French-German-Polish cultural institute is to be created in Warsaw. * Jakub Karpinski

OLEKSY AFFAIR FOLLOW UP.
The Sejm on 19 December accepted a special commission report on the Internal Affairs Ministry (MSW) and its former minister, Andrzej Milczanowski. Milczanowski a year ago accused former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy of spying for the Soviet Union and Russia. In April, military prosecutors dropped the case against Oleksy, although investigations revealed that he had maintained social contacts with Russian agents operating under diplomatic cover. The commission report states that the State Security Office and Milczanowski "may have violated the law" in conducting the Oleksy case. During the stormy debate, Oleksy's party colleagues stated that Milczanowski and some intelligence officers were preparing a political plot against Oleksy. The opposition stressed the inappropriate character of Oleksy's social contacts with Russian diplomats. MSW Deputy Minister Andrzej Anklewicz fainted in the Sejm, suffering from what was thought to have been a heart attack. The Sejm voted 243-90, with 31 abstentions, in favor of accepting the report. * Jakub Karpinski

CZECH PRIME MINISTER THREATENS TO LEAVE THE RULING COALITION.
Vaclav Klaus on 19 December said that his Civic Democratic Party (ODS) may leave the coalition government, should parliament approve two controversial laws the ODS opposes. Klaus accused one the ODS's two junior coalition partners, the Christian Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People's Party (KDU-CSL), of violating the coalition agreement by helping to pass in the first reading an amendment to the retirement law and a bill on farming. Klaus was also angered by the fact that the KDU-CSL banded together with the Social Democrats to elect former Premier Petr Pithart to the post of Senate chairman, despite strong resistance from the ODS. Klaus said the two laws, if passed, would cast doubt on the country's transformation drive, and the ODS could not stay in the government under such circumstances. * Jiri Pehe

SLOVAKIA'S MAIN RULING PARTY DEFENDS CONTROVERSIAL AMENDMENT.
Representatives of the leading coalition party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), say it will be impossible for the authorities to abuse the protection of the republic amendment to the penal code. HZDS legal expert Jan Cuper said on 19 December that the amendment's provision concerning the spread of false information about Slovakia abroad has been deleted from the original version. Cuper continued that opposition parties, which protested against the original version, do not even attempt to hide their own cooperation with "international political structures, which they effectively use for fighting against the government coalition." The new amendment, passed by parliament, makes it illegal to call for mass disturbances with the aim of overturning the constitution or Slovakia's territorial integrity and sovereignty. * Anna Siskova

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES ACT TO MAKE PRIVATIZATION MORE TRANSPARENT.
Parliament on 19 December passed an amendment to the privatization law, which aims to make the process more transparent, Hungarian dailies reported. The amendment was drafted by three deputies of the junior coalition partner, Alliance of Free Democrats. The legislation instructs the State Privatization & Holding Co. APV to place privatization related documents in the National Archives for public perusal within 30 days after closing each deal. Before the vote, deputies held a heated debate over the parliamentary constitutional committee's proposal for amending the draft law. The committee proposed that--under exceptional circumstances--APV be allowed to transfer state-owned property to local governments and cooperatives for free. The opposition Young Democrats said that the proposal, put forward by the Socialist-dominated committee, suggests that, in the wake of the privatization scandal, the government wants to establish the legal conditions for corruption, instead of concluding that corruption is wrong. * Zsofia Szilagyi



FEDERAL YUGOSLAV FOREIGN MINISTER DOES NOT RULE OUT NEW ELECTIONS . . .
The Federal Republic of Yugoslavia's foreign minister, Milan Milutinovic, said on 19 December that yet another round of municipal elections in those centers where the opposition Zajedno coalition originally scored victories cannot be ruled out. But he added that such elections would be contingent on an OSCE recommendation. "Should the OSCE delegation which is coming here [on 20 December] recommend new elections in Serbia after making a thorough and impartial review, we would accept that," he said. Meanwhile, CNN reported that Milutinovic also said that the strategy of the demonstrators has outlived its usefulness. "Here in Serbia, there is an old saying that when the song is over, you stop singing," he said. * Stan Markotich

. . . AND DEMONSTRATIONS CONTINUE.
Across Serbia, meanwhile, mass demonstrations demanding that the regime recognize the opposition electoral victories continued into a their 30th day on 19 December. Radio Index reported that more than 200,000 people marched in Belgrade in one of that city's largest single protest actions to date. For their part, Zajedno leaders also used the occasion for a mass celebration of St. Nicholas Day. On 18 December, some 37 students began a march from Kragujevac, about 120 km from Belgrade, to the capital with a protest letter they were intending to deliver to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Meanwhile, pro-Milosevic demonstrations continued on 19 December for a second day throughout small towns in Serbia, including Kosovo. So far, such events have been attended by only a few thousand people, mostly elderly and die-hard communists, and they have not taken place in Belgrade. * Stan Markotich

CROATIA, VATICAN SIGN KEY AGREEMENTS.
Croatia and the Holy See signed three documents on 19 December to regulate their relations, Croatian and international media reported. The texts cover legal issues, education and culture, and the role of priests in the army and police. The head of the government's religious affairs commission, Jure Radic, said that Croatia has thus become the first former communist country of Eastern Europe to establish "full ties" with the Vatican, Reuters added. Cardinal Franjo Kuharic praised the agreements as legalizing the status of the Roman Catholic church, and stated that the still-open question of former church properties confiscated by the Communists could be solved soon. More than 90% of Croats are nominally Roman Catholic, but polls consistently show that, while Kuharic himself is well liked, there is strong opposition to a larger political role for the church and to the church's stand on abortion. * Patrick Moore

IZETBEGOVIC WARNS AGAINST SERBIAN BLACKMAIL OVER BRCKO.
The Muslim member of the Bosnian presidency, Alija Izetbegovic, has warned the international community against yielding to Serbian pressure in the upcoming arbitration over the strategic town of Brcko, Onasa reported on 19 December. The president of the Republika Srpska, Biljana Plavsic, had said on 16 December that there will be war if anyone tries to take the formerly majority Muslim town away from the Serbs (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 17 December 1996). Izetbegovic has now responded that his forces could have taken the town in late 1995 but accepted arbitration under the Dayton agreement instead. He said he did so because he believes the legal arguments are on his side, a point Dnevni avaz reiterated on 20 December. Izetbegovic concluded: "The only right that [the Serbs] stress is the right of the stronger. This right exists no more, because they are not stronger any more. If there really were a war for Brcko, there is no doubt who would win it. * Patrick Moore

HERCEG-BOSNA SAID TO BE OFFICIALLY DISMANTLED . . .
Kresimir Zubak, the former president of the Muslim-Croat Federation and a Croat member of the three-man Bosnian presidency, said on 19 December that the Bosnian Croat para-state of Herceg-Bosna ceased to exist on 17 December, the same day that the Bosnian republican government transferred its functions to the federation, Oslobodjenje reported the next day. In a letter to international peace envoy Carl Bildt and U.S. envoy John Kornblum, Zubak said a special commission will be in charge of the details of dismantling the mini-state. Zubak said all stamps, stationery, and other documents will be withdrawn and requested that the same be done by the Bosnian government. Zubak also asked that the information and documentation agency, which the Croats claim is an espionage organization directed against them, be dismantled. He said the Federation Forum, which he prevented from convening last week, should meet as soon as possible to deal with the question of implementing the federation. * Daria Sito Sucic

. . . BUT EVICTIONS OF MUSLIMS FROM MOSTAR CONTINUE.
UNHCR spokeswoman Ariane Quentier said an elderly Muslim couple was expelled from the Croat-held part of Mostar on 18 December, thus bringing the number of Muslims driven out since the beginning of the year to 73, AFP reported on 19 December. The couple were forced out by men who showed them "a temporary authorization" from Herceg-Bosna authorities to move into the apartment. Meanwhile, the Croat mayor of Mostar, Ivan Prskalo, accused his Muslim deputy, Safet Orucevic, of wanting to spark a conflict in the city, saying that his statements "only offer one option for the future: war," AFP reported. In other news, Croatian Ambassador to the UN Mario Nobilo said Croatia is not willing to support the Croat-Muslim Federation until the alleged poor treatment of Croats in central Bosnia and Sarajevo stops, Oslobodjenje reported on 18 December. * Daria Sito Sucic

RUGOVA MEETS BERISHA.
After concluding visits to the U.S. and France, Kosovar shadow state President Ibrahim Rugova arrived in Tirana on 19 December for a meeting with President Sali Berisha. Both sides said they "wholeheartedly support the active protests of the Belgrade students and the Serbian democratic forces," adding that "this movement is directed against the dictatorship of [Serbian President Slobodan] Milosevic." The presidents concluded that "the democratization of Serbia in a democratic and peaceful way is an important and positive development ... for peace and stability in the region." The statement did not call on the Kosovo Albanians to turn out for street protests. * Fabian Schmidt

ROMANIAN TROOPS TO STAY WITH BOSNIA FORCE.
Parliament on 19 December voted to keep the 200-strong Romanian engineering battalion in NATO's new SFOR force in Bosnia and offered Timisoara's airport, near the Serbian border, for possible use by SFOR. The decision came in response to President Emil Constantinescu's formal request in a letter to the legislature, Romanian and international media report. Constantinescu said maintaining the force (which was first sent to Bosnia in February as part of the former IFOR) will increase the prestige of the country and enhance its chances of being included in the first wave of new NATO members. * Michael Shafir

ION CEBUC LIKELY TO BECOME MOLDOVA'S NEXT PRIME MINISTER.
Infotag reported on 19 December that Ion Cebuc, the current chairman of the State Accounting Chamber, is the candidate most likely to be designated the country's next prime minister. Citing Agrarian Democratic Party of Moldova (PDAM) leader Dumitru Motpan, the agency reported that Cebuc's nomination was discussed at a recent meeting between President-elect Petru Lucinschi and the PDAM leadership. Motpan added that Cebuc has "vast experience" in politics and managing the economy, having served at different times as the head of Moldova's representation in Moscow, deputy foreign minister, and deputy minister of the economy. Infotag added that Motpan himself has a good chance of replacing Lucinschi at the head of the country's parliament. * Michael Shafir

TRANSDNIESTER AMENDS ITS CONSTITUTION.
An amendment to the constitution passed by the Supreme Soviet of the breakaway Transdniester region on 19 December will make it possible to hold the 22 December presidential election as scheduled even if only one candidate is running for the post. The previous stipulation required at least two candidates. The amendment was passed after President Igor Smirnov's electoral rival, Vladimir Malakhov, threatened to withdraw from the race, arguing that his campaign had received "unequal treatment" from the Smirnov-dominated media. In related news, the Russian ultra-nationalist leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky appealed on Transdniestrian television to the electorate, calling on it to back Smirnov. * Michael Shafir

ANTI-GOVERNMENT DEMONSTRATIONS IN BULGARIA.
Between 20,000 and 50,000 people demonstrated outside the parliament building in Sofia on 19 December to demand the government's resignation. The event was organized by the Union of Democratic Forces and the "Promyana" alliance, Standart and Trud reported. The demonstrators blocked downtown traffic, chanted slogans such as "Red garbage," and burned an effigy of Prime Minster Zhan Videnov. Speakers at the demonstration appealed to Sofia's citizens to rally against the government. They also announced that miners in Burgas have descended into their mines and gone on hunger strike, threatening not to come out until the government resigns. The demonstrators also protested against censorship in the national media. * Maria Koinova in Sofia

NO CONSENSUS ON BULGARIA'S CURRENCY BOARD.
The parliamentary faction of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) on 19 December rejected the opposition formula for a national consensus on the adoption of the currency board adoption, Standart and Kontinent reported. The United Democratic Forces proposal for early parliamentary elections and the immediate resignation of the Bulgarian National Bank's executive board in exchange for the opposition support of the currency board idea, is "strange and not understandable," BSP deputy Stefan Gaitandzhiev said in parliament. Union of Democratic Forces deputy Alexander Bozhkov said that if the BSP parliamentary faction rejects the opposition proposal, the government should be ousted by street demonstrations. * Maria Koinova in Sofia

ALBANIA FACES FOOD SHORTAGE DUE TO GREEK ROAD BLOCKADES.
Twenty-two days after Greek farmers set up road blocks all over Greece, Albania is facing a food shortage, Reuters reported. The blockade has so far inflicted $100 million worth of damage on the Greek economy and forced several Albanian factories to shut down. It has resulted in price hikes of up to 20% in Gjirokaster. Prices for oranges, apples, and potatoes have gone up by 30%. * Fabian Schmidt

SECOND COLLAPSE OF ALBANIAN PYRAMID SCHEME WITHIN A MONTH.
Police prevented thousands of Albanians from storming the premises of the Sude investment company in Tirana on 19 December, Radio Deutsche Welle's Albanian language service reported. The four-year-old company was one of many Albanian pyramid schemes offering monthly interest rates of up to 30%. More than 10,000 Albanians are estimated to have invested in Sude. Many cheated Albanians reportedly blamed the government for allowing the companies to operate. Another pyramid scheme head disappeared with $13 million in November. * Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]
Compiled by Penny Morvant and Victor Gomez



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