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Newsline - January 7, 1997


RUSSIA

YELTSIN CATCHES "COLD," CANCELS MEETINGS ...
Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 6 January that, owing to a "serious cold" and a slightly high temperature, President Boris Yeltsin had postponed the scheduled 8 January session of the Defense Council and several other meetings, including a scheduled visit by Bulgarian President-elect Petar Stoyanov, Russian and Western agencies reported. Yastrzhembskii denied that Yeltsin's illness was connected with his 5 November heart surgery, and said the president had probably caught the influenza virus which is currently sweeping Moscow. Yastrzhembskii refuted reports that a special "medical council" of top doctors had convened to discuss the president's condition. Last July, before the second round of the presidential election, administration officials blamed a cold for Yeltsin's failure to appear in public, although later it was revealed that the president had suffered a heart attack. -- Scott Parrish

... ORDERS PREPARATION OF COUNTERMEASURES TO NATO ENLARGEMENT.
Earlier On 6 January, Yeltsin chaired a special meeting to discuss Russia-NATO relations which was attended by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais, and other top officials, Russian and international agencies reported. Yastrzhembskii said the meeting had "unanimously confirmed" Moscow's "explicitly negative position" on NATO enlargement. He added that Yeltsin had directed Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov to devise a flexible "action plan" of various measures which Russia might take if the alliance accepts new Eastern European members. Meanwhile, Western diplomatic sources told Reuters that in his 4 January meeting with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Yeltsin took a hard line, insisting that before NATO invites new members to join, it offer Russia a legally binding consultation agreement granting Moscow a voice in alliance decisions like enlargement. NATO officials have consistently rebuffed such suggestions in the past. -- Scott Parrish

SPLIT IN MILITARY LEADERSHIP OVER REFORM PLANS?
The Russian military leadership is divided over how to approach the issue of military reform, according to a 6 January Interfax report monitored by the BBC. The agency said that the next session of the Defense Council had been postponed largely because of disagreement among military leaders over whether to move ahead with reform at current funding levels, or delay it until additional funds are budgeted. Many military leaders, including Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, have insisted that additional funding beyond the 104 trillion rubles ($18.9 billion) contained in the 1997 draft budget is needed to begin reform, while the agency said others believe that waiting for additional funds is "unrealistic," and argue that the collapse of the military will accelerate unless the limited budget funds available are used to immediately begin downsizing the military. -- Scott Parrish

JUSTICE MINISTRY CALLS FOR ACTION ON REPUBLICAN LAWS.
The Justice Ministry considers unconstitutional regional legislation a threat to Russia's territorial integrity, and believes that "the time for persuasion has gone. It is time to act," sources at the ministry told ITAR-TASS on 5 January. In recent months, prominent figures including presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, and Justice Minister Valentin Kovalev have complained of so-called "legal separatism," noting that provisions in the constitutions of 19 of Russia's 21 republics violate the federal Constitution. Yeltsin has instructed Chubais, Kovalev, and Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov to draft proposals on holding officials responsible if they delay or hinder efforts to repeal unconstitutional local laws. The Constitutional Court recently instructed the Republic of Marii-El to rescind an article of the republic's constitution that imposed language restrictions on candidates for public office. -- Laura Belin

HEAD OF VCIOM DISCUSSES YEAR-END POLLS.
For the first time in the nine years that the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VCIOM) has conducted year-end polls, respondents named a social problem rather than a particular political event as the most important issue of 1996, VCIOM director Yurii Levada wrote in the 29 December-5 January edition of Moskovskie novosti. In 1996, 42% of respondents named chronic delays in paying salaries and pensions as the year's most important event, followed by the peace agreement and withdrawal of troops from Chechnya (39%), and the presidential election (26%). In 1995, respondents cited the January assault on Grozny, the March assassination of television journalist Vladislav Listev, and the December parliamentary election. Levada noted that only about 20% of respondents expect 1997 to be worse than 1996, while 75% believe it will be either better or no worse. -- Laura Belin

RUSSIA REJECTS CRITICISM OF CYPRUS MISSILE DEAL.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Tarasov rejected as "groundless" criticism by the United States, Britain, and Turkey of the contract under which Moscow will supply S-300 air defense missiles to Greek-controlled Cyprus (see OMRI Daily Digest, 6 January 1997), Russian and Western agencies reported on 6 January. The Turkish Foreign Ministry has filed a protest note with Moscow, saying the missile deal "creates a threat to peace on Cyprus," while the U.S. State Department termed the weapons sale "a step in the wrong direction." Tarasov insisted that the purchase of the "defensive armaments" by the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government does not threaten anyone, adding that Russia "does not see any reason to curtail its military-technical cooperation with Cyprus." -- Scott Parrish

CHECHEN SECTION OF PIPELINE MAY NOT BE READY.
The president of Chechnya's Southern Oil Company, Khozh-Akhmed Yarikhanov, complained to ITAR-TASS on 7 January that the Russian Ministry of Fuel and Energy had not signed an agreement on use of the Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline crossing Chechnya by the 1 December deadline which had been agreed by Chernomyrdin and Aslan Maskhadov when they met in Moscow on 23 November. Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev recently ordered his own personal battalion to take steps to shut down all the republic's illegal oil producers, Rossiiskaya gazeta reported on 6 January. Apart from operating their own wells, they also siphoned off oil from the pipeline, when it was functioning. -- Peter Rutland

PATRIARCH SLAMS WAGE ARREARS.
In his broadcast on the Orthodox Christmas Eve, Patriarch Aleksii II said that "The Church states that the non-payment of money for what has been earned by honest toil is a crime against the individual and a sin against God," AFP reported on 6 January. He conducted a Christmas Eve mass attended by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and other officials, in which he called for a moral and spiritual revival of the nation. Rossiiskie vesti of 6 January noted that there are now some 300 churches and eight monasteries working in Moscow. -- Peter Rutland

ACADEMIC ENDS HUNGER STRIKE.
Vladimir Strakhov, the director of the Institute of Earth Physics, ended a hunger strike which he began on 23 December to protest non-payment of the funds allocated to his institute. He staged a similar protest in October. The 64-year old Strakhov was reported to be suffering from heart problems. Strakhov complained that in a meeting with Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits on 25 December, the latter promised to pay off the government's 88 billion ruble ($16 million) debt to the Russian Academy of Sciences by 5 January, but this was not done. Meanwhile, power workers in Chita, who have not been paid since July 1996, began an open-ended strike on 5 January, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Peter Rutland

INFLATION HITS NEW LOW.
The annual inflation rate for 1996 was 21.8%, down from 131% in 1995 and the lowest since 1990, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 January. In December, prices rose just 1.4%, and the 1997 budget sets an inflation target of 11.8% for the year. Some analysts question the relevance of the inflation figures, noting the growing use of barter and money surrogates. However, another positive sign is that nominal annual interest rates on new six-month government bonds have fallen to around 35%, down from a peak of 150% a year ago. (Foreign purchasers of the bonds are limited to a dollar interest rate of 13%). ITAR-TASS reported on 6 January that the federal budget deficit for the first 10 months of 1996 was 63.3 trillion rubles, which was 24% of total budget spending and 3.5% of GDP. It was financed by the sale of government securities (61%--38 trillion rubles) and external borrowing (39%). -- Peter Rutland

NTV ON TARPISHCHEV.
NTV's "Itogi" showed the second installment of its expose on the aluminum industry on 5 January. The first program argued that Oleg Soskovets was the patron of a clique of aluminum industrialists (see OMRI Daily Digest 2 January 1997). The second tried to tie these individuals to Shamil Tarpishchev, former Sports Minister and Yeltsin tennis trainer, and to other figures allegedly linked to Moscow crime groups, such as Oleg "Taiwanchik" Takhtakhunov and Anton Malevskii. The evidence cited was less than conclusive. It consisted of photos of these men meeting at tennis tournaments in Sochi and the Kremlin, and a photo from the magazine Tennis plyus of 2 December showing them meeting the aluminum industrialist Mikhail Cherny in Israel. The program also quoted the Kremlin visitor list for Tarpishev from June 1995, which showed that he met with Oleg Kantor, the head of Yugorskii bank, one month before the latter was assassinated. The program is presumably part of an effort to discredit Tarpishev associate Aleksandr Korzhakov. -- Peter Rutland


U.S. TO SEEK PROSECUTION OF GEORGIAN DIPLOMAT ...
The United States will ask the Georgian government to waive immunity for a diplomat to allow his prosecution in the U.S. for a car accident in Washington that caused the death of a 16-year-old American girl, Western agencies reported on 6 January. Georgi Makharadze, 35, reportedly triggered a five-car crash while drunk. The U.S. State Department said it is awaiting police reports and a decision from the attorney general, expected on 7 January, on whether to begin criminal proceedings against Makharadze. An unidentified White House official told AFP that if the Georgian government declines the request "we will ask the government to remove the diplomat from the country." Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze has sent a letter of condolence to the family of the dead girl and said Makharadze "should take responsibility." -- Emil Danielyan

... AMID CALLS TO SUSPEND U.S. AID TO GEORGIA.
A Republican senator urged President Bill Clinton to suspend aid to Georgia unless the latter strips Makharadze of diplomatic immunity, Reuters reported on 6 January. In a letter to Clinton, Senator Judd Gregg said that would be the only "strong" and "appropriate" action for the U.S. government. A spokesman for the Georgian embassy in Washington did not comment on Gregg's letter but said any decision on a waiver of immunity will be a "decision between the two governments." Georgia is slated to get $30 million in financial aid from the United States for the 1997 fiscal year. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said the United States expressed "very, very serious" concern to the Georgian ambassador, but defended diplomatic immunity "as a concept." -- Emil Danielyan

RUSSIA, AZERBAIJAN TALKS.
A Russian delegation led by Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov is in Baku for talks on a wide range of bilateral, as well as CIS-related, issues, Russian media reported on 6 January. Talks are expected to focus on bilateral trade and economic cooperation, the repayment of Azerbaijan's debts to Russia, and the time-frame and volume for Azeri oil to be transited via Russian territory. Both Azerbaijan and Russia have announced that their respective segments of the 1411 km-long Baku-Novorossiisk pipeline are ready to carry Azeri oil to international markets, Russian agencies reported. Azerbaijan wants to start pumping some 30,000 metric tons of oil in February. -- Lowell Bezanis

TAJIK TALKS OPEN IN IRAN.
With a ceasefire agreed in Moscow in December by Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader Said Abdullo Nuri still holding, delegations from both sides met in the Iranian capital Tehran on 6 January, international media reported. The talks, delayed by one day, are to discuss the formation of a National Reconciliation Commission which is to help pave the way for new parliamentary elections within 12-18 months. Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati welcomed members of the delegations and called on them to "be forgiving and show understanding." AFP reports that the formation of the commission dominated the first day of the talks, with the government delegation rejecting a proposal for 40% of the commission to be made up of UTO representatives. Talks are scheduled to continue all this week. -- Bruce Pannier

TRIAL OF TURGUNALIYEV CONTINUES IN KYRGYZSTAN.
The case against Topchubek Turgunaliyev, chairman of the Erkin Kyrgyzstan Party, continued in Bishkek municipal court on 6 January, RFE/RL reported. Turgunaliyev is facing embezzlement charges for the misappropriation of $10,000 from the Bishkek Humanitarian University when he was its rector in 1994. State prosecutor Marat Kenjakunov asked the court to seize all Turgunaliyev's property and sentence him to a 12-year term in prison. Timur Stamkulov, the former commercial director of the university, is a codefendant and Kenjakunov asked for him to be sentenced to seven years in jail. Turgunaliyev's lawyers argue that Turgunaliyev is a political victim, noting that the trial is taking place in a criminal not a civil court and pointing out that Turgunaliyev was taken into custody at a December demonstration where a new movement "For Deliverance from Poverty" was founded. -- Bruce Pannier and Naryn Idinov


BABY-THEFT SCANDAL IN UKRAINE.
The trial over the illegal adoption of babies in Ivano-Frankivsk has had political reverberations, NTV and Intelnews reported on 6 January. The deputy head of the Lviv regional administration, Yurii Zyma, was dismissed from his post by President Leonid Kuchma. Zyma was charged with complicity in the illegal adoptions, along with the chief doctor of the Lviv Oblast state hospital Bohdan Fedak; another doctor, Volodymyr Droshenko; and the former head of the oblast administration, Zinovii Ursul. Between 1992 and 1994, over 130 newborns from the west Ukrainian hospital were sold to Westerners for $6,000-13,000 each, while the mothers were told their babies had been stillborn. In all of Ukraine, 802 babies were sold without their parents' consent. The fate of 630 is still unknown, and Interpol has been looking into the cases. -- Ustina Markus

OUTPUT OF UKRAINE'S ZAPORIZHZHYA STATION.
Last year, the Zaporizhzhya nuclear power station produced the most electricity in its 12-year history, Ukrainian radio reported on 6 January. The station is the largest in Europe. In December, it generated 3.6 billion kilowatts of electricity. -- Ustina Markus

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT DISMISSES FOOD OFFICIALS.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka dismissed several officials over the disruptions in the supply of food to the population this winter, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 January. The officials included the first deputy trade minister, the first deputy chairman of the board of directors of the Belarusian Cooperative Union, the president of the Belarusian Food Industry, a deputy chairman of the Brest regional executive committee, and a deputy chairman of the Minsk city executive committee. Over the winter months, there has been a shortage of butter, sour cream, sugar, and meat. An investigation concluded there should have been an ample supply, but commercial structures had bought up the products and then exported them for profit. -- Ustina Markus

BELARUSIAN UPPER HOUSE NEARLY COMPLETE.
The new upper chamber of parliament is almost complete, with 53 deputies having been elected from regions and from Minsk city, Belarusian television reported on 6 January. Under the new constitution, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is to appoint additional deputies. He had to confirm the candidates nominated in the regions before they could be elected. -- Ustina Markus

ESTONIAN POLICE LACKING CITIZENSHIP MAY BE FIRED.
A third of the police force in Estonia's northeastern Ida-Virumaa region, 114 officers, may lose their jobs as of 1 February because they have not obtained Estonian citizenship, BNS reported on 6 January. Ida-Virumaa police chief Helmut Paabo said the officers could have passed the citizenship exam if they had really wanted to. The dismissals would leave some towns in the northeast with an understaffed police force. In Sillamae, out of the 60-member police force, only 15 have Estonian citizenship. Paabo said authorities hope to resolve the crisis by restructuring payroll and duties. -- Ustina Markus

UPDATE ON COMMUNIST TRIAL IN LITHUANIA.
Former Yedinstvo activist Valerii Ivanov was expelled from the courtroom on 6 January where Lithuania's former communist leaders are on trial for their role in the 13 January 1991 Soviet crackdown in Vilnius, BNS reported. Ivanov was asked to leave the courtroom because he was subpoenaed as a witness in the case, and can therefore only be present when he gives testimony. Ivanov had to be asked to leave four times before he complied, arguing the expulsion was a violation of his rights. After a month and a half recess, the trial resumed on 6 January. -- Ustina Markus

LITHUANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS POLAND.
Algirdas Saudergas on 6 January began a visit to Poland, his first abroad since Lithuania's new government was appointed in December last year. Saudergas said Poland is Lithuania's most important geo-strategic partner. "Lithuania wants to be a Central European country, not a Baltic republic," Gazeta Wyborcza reported him as saying. His Polish counterpart Dariusz Rosati said Poland and Lithuania have similar aims, among others regarding NATO membership. Both countries intend to conclude new treaties on cultural exchanges and on joint military action, including setting up a battalion for peace missions by next year. The two ministers said they were watching developments in Belarus and would consider joint initiatives. Saudergas, who speaks fluent Polish, had come to Poland in 1991, when the Soviets were cracking down on Lithuanian demonstrations, to prepare for the establishment of an emigre government in Warsaw if necessary. -- Jakub Karpinski

NEW CZECH JUSTICE MINISTER APPROVED.
Vlasta Parkanova, currently a department head at the Ministry of Internal Affairs and formerly a deputy in the Czechoslovak federal parliament, on 6 January was approved by the three government coalition parties as the next minister of justice, Czech media reported. Parkanova had been officially nominated by the coalition Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) on 3 January. President Vaclav Havel is expected to appoint her on 7 January. The post became vacant after Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Minister Jan Kalvoda resigned from his government posts in response to the fact he had falsely claimed to possess a Doctor of Law degree. The decision on who will fill the post of deputy prime minister will not be made until the ODA's congress in March. -- Jiri Pehe

SLOVAK OPPOSITION RESPONDS TO PRIME MINISTER'S OFFER.
Democratic Union Chairman Jozef Moravcik on 6 January responded to Vladimir Meciar's recent calls for a meeting of party representatives "to agree on the rules of political competition," TASR reported. "[Meciar's] initiative could be useful if this meeting were not just a cover-up maneuver with which the ruling coalition wants to stop the decline of its influence on public opinion," Moravcik said. After the last multi-party talks -- held during the June 1996 coalition crisis -- Meciar failed to keep his promises to the opposition Party of the Democratic Left regarding privatization. Moravcik called for direct presidential elections as well as changes in Slovak TV, which has been used as a tool by the ruling coalition. -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARIAN NEO-NAZIS COMMEMORATE FASCIST LEADER'S BIRTHDAY.
About 100 neo-Nazis gathered at the grave of Ferenc Szalasi on 6 January to mark the 100th birthday of the Hitler ally, Hungarian and international media reported. With Nazi assistance, Szalasi became Hungary's fascist leader in October 1944. During his short leadership, he ordered thousands of Jews, left-wingers, and deserters killed. Szalasi was executed as a war criminal in 1946. The Federation of Hungarian Resistance Fighters and Anti-Fascists protested the neo-Nazis' move in a statement released through the state news agency MTI. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

HUNGARY, ISRAEL SIGN TECHNICAL COOPERATION PACT.
Visiting Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs and his Israeli counterpart David Levy on 6 January signed a technical cooperation agreement involving agricultural and other joint projects, Hungarian dailies reported. Israel has offered $160,000 over three years to establish in Hungary a pilot farm equipped with high-tech agricultural technology. During the first day of his three-day official visit to Israel, Kovacs also met with a group of Israeli bankers and with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. Kovacs is still scheduled to hold talks with President Ezer Weizman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Dan Meridor. According to Israeli government figures, some 100 Israeli businesses have invested around $750 million in Hungary, most notably in the areas of telecommunications, computer software, and pharmaceutical products. Trade between the two countries totaled about $100 million in 1996. -- Zsofia Szilagyi


BOSNIA-HERZEGOVINA NEEDS $1.4 BILLION FOR RECONSTRUCTION IN 1997.
The World Bank said on 3 January that foreign donors will need to provide $1.4 billion this year to sustain reconstruction and the return of refugees in Bosnia-Herzegovina, international agencies reported. A donor conference in Brussels on 9-10 January will assess progress and set priorities for 1997. According to the World Bank's director for Bosnia, Christine Wallich, priorities will shift from emergency intervention to sustainable reconstruction, targeting infrastructure, refugee resettlement, job creation, and financial institutions, AFP reported. The World Bank alone plans to approve some $160 million in low-cost loans. Out of $5.1 billion pledged in aid to Bosnia by foreign donors in four years, $1.2 billion was spent in 1996. But Wallich warned that is only a fraction of what is needed in Bosnia, where war damage is estimated at $20 billion. -- Daria Sito Sucic

CONTROVERSY OVER INDEPENDENT TV STATION IN BOSNIA.
Kosta Jovanovic, news director of TVIN, Bosnia's internationally funded independent television network, said on 7 January that TVIN was resuming broadcasting after having stopped on 1 January due to satellite problems, Oslobodjenje reported. But when the station went silent, the Bosnian Federation's state-run media launched a campaign saying that the station had stopped broadcasting because of a financial scandal in which local stations contributing to TVIN's broadcast were cheated, AFP reported on 5 January. Jovanovic said the accusations were a deliberate attempt to discredit the network before the Brussels fund-raising conference. In other news, Bosnia-Herzegovina is supposed to take up the presidency of the Central European Initiative (CEI) in 1997, AFP reported on 4 January. -- Daria Sito Sucic

CROATIAN INSTITUTE FOR HUMAN RIGHTS OPENED.
President of the Croatian Constitutional Court Jadranko Crnic on 6 January opened the new Croatian Institute for Human Rights in Novi Vinodolski, Novi List reported the next day. Crnic came on behalf of President Franjo Tudjman and said that respect for human rights is the greatest legacy of Croatian history. The institute is a non-governmental organization founded by the law schools from major Croatian cities and Croat-held Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina, as well as the Police Academy, the Croatian Bar, and others. Meanwhile, State Attorney Anto Klaric, on his return from Strasbourg where he reported to the Council of Europe on human rights in Croatia, said that Croatia has been watched through a magnifying glass, Slobodna Dalmacija reported on 7 January. Klaric said the international community deputies have lost sight of who is an aggressor and who is a victim. -- Daria Sito Sucic

HUGE ORTHODOX CHRISTMAS EVE MARCH IN BELGRADE.
A crowd of at least 200,000 people walked through the Serbian capital to St. Sava's cathedral to mark Orthodox Christmas Eve in yet another day of protests against the cancellation of the 17 November local election results. The protest was typically good-natured and peaceful, except for a reported small explosion at the headquarters of JUL, the small left-wing party led by Mirjana Markovic, the wife of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, AFP noted on 7 January. After Patriarch Pavle said mass at the cathedral, opposition leaders made speeches outside and presented 5,000 gift boxes for the children of their supporters. The usually uncommunicative police had earlier assured the demonstrators that they would not interfere with Christmas processions. -- Patrick Moore

WILL FEDERAL YUGOSLAV ARMY UNITS MOVE AGAINST MILOSEVIC?
Following discussions between army Chief of Staff Gen. Momcilo Perisic and student leaders on 6 January, the army issued a letter saying the military will not allow itself to be used against peaceful protesters (see OMRI Daily Digest, 6 January 1996). The text stated that problems must be solved by peaceful and constitutional means, Nasa Borba wrote on 7 January, thereby ruling out the possibility that Milosevic could rely on the army to crush dissent as he did in March 1991. The London daily The Independent, moreover, reported on 7 January that at least some units may be ready to turn on Milosevic if he tries to declare a state of emergency, AFP wrote. The Serbian leader has never gotten on well with the military, which resents his building up a powerful police force as his own Praetorian Guard. -- Patrick Moore

BOSNIAN SERB LEADERS OPPOSE MILOSEVIC.
Aleksa Buha, who succeeded Radovan Karadzic as head of the Serbian Democratic Party (SDS), in his Christmas message on 6 January called on Milosevic to avoid bloodshed and respect the election results. Buha said: "It is stupid to stubbornly refuse to recognize what the laws of civilization dictate," AFP and Nasa Borba reported. Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic repeated her earlier declaration of support for the students. There has long been little love lost between Milosevic and the Pale leadership, which feels that the Serbian president has repeatedly betrayed vital Bosnian Serb interests for his own political purposes. Milosevic backed opponents of the SDS in last September's Bosnian elections. -- Patrick Moore

OLD GUARD OUSTED AT ROMANIAN NATIONAL TV.
Stere Gulea, the director-general of Romania's national television (TVR), on 6 January announced sweeping top-level personnel changes, Romanian and Western media reported. Eight senior news executives were replaced in the biggest shake-up at TVR since the fall of the communist regime. The new head of the Information Department is Alina Mungiu, a respected journalist and political analyst. TVR is the only Romanian station with nationwide coverage and the main source of information for isolated rural areas. Under former leftist President Ion Iliescu, TVR was often accused of blatant pro-government bias. The former ruling party, the Party for Social Democracy in Romania, described the changes as "political purge." -- Dan Ionescu

UKRAINE TO SUPPORT MOLDOVA'S TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennady Udovenko on 6 January said that Ukraine "takes the Moldovan side" on the issue of settling the conflict between Moldova and its breakaway Dniester region, Western agencies reported. The comment was made one day after Moldovan President-elect Petru Lucinschi met Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Odessa. During the Sunday unofficial talks, Lucinschi called on Kuchma to mediate more actively in the peaceful settlement of the dispute. On his part, Kuchma reportedly expressed Ukraine's support for Moldova's territorial integrity. -- Zsolt Mato

DOBREV NOMINATED AS BULGARIAN PREMIER.
The Executive Bureau of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) on 7 January nominated Interior Minister Nikolay Dobrev for the post of prime minister, Reuters reported. On 6 January, Dobrev had agreed to be the BSP nominee for that post, although he had previously said that he wanted to stay on as interior minister, RFE/RL and Pari reported. Dobrev now has to be approved by the BSP's parliamentary allies -- the Bulgarian Agrarian People's Union "Aleksandar Stamboliyski" and the Political Club Ekoglasnost -- and by the parliament. Dobrev will succeed Zhan Videnov, who resigned as premier in December. Dobrev, who emerged as an outspoken Videnov critic at the recent BSP congress, has support within the party but also within the population for his fight against corruption and organized crime, but critics of his nomination pointed out that he lacks experience in economics or finances . -- Stefan Krause

WILL A WAVE OF PROTESTS IN SOFIA OVERFLOW BULGARIA?
More than 30,000 people demonstrated on 6 January in front of the local BSP headquarters in Plovdiv, Bulgarian media reported. "If we have to die, we'll die out on the squares," Plovdiv Mayor Spas Garnevski of the Union of Democratic Forces said. The rally follows a mass rally of 40,000 of the "new majority of the hungry" organized by the opposition in Sofia on 3 January. Further rallies are planned for the next few days in Sofia, Varna, Burgas, Lovech, and Montana. Krastyo Petkov, chairman of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria, said his group will support the civil protests, Trud reported on 7 January. His statement contradicts an earlier Duma report that Petkov would guarantee the civil peace needed for the functioning of a new BSP government. -- Maria Koinova in Sofia

ALBANIAN STUDENTS STRIKE.
Up to 25,000 students in Tirana and Gjirokastra staged a strike on 6 January, Zeri i Popullit reported. The protest was organized by the students' union and supported by former student leader, Democratic Party legislator and notorious dissident Azem Hajdari. The students demanded better working and living conditions in the university and dormitories, a doubling of their stipends, the legalization of a student radio and newspaper, the construction of a freedom monument in Tirana's Student City, and freedom from military service for those who attended military high schools. Rilindja Demokratike on 7 January called the protesters "Hajdari's Falange," implying they were a minority and charged Hajdari with running amok. Hajdari originally had planned to hold a general strike but apparently realized that he had insufficient workers' support, Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 5 January. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Susan Caskie



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