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Newsline - January 8, 1997

A cold and fever forced President Boris Yeltsin to celebrate Orthodox Christmas on 7 January partially confined to bed at a suburban Moscow residence, Reuters reported. Yeltsin's temperature was 37.5 C (99.5 F). The president has no plans to return to the hospital. -- Robert Orttung

Millions of Russians attended church services on 7 January to celebrate Orthodox Christmas, Russian and Western agencies reported. Hours after leading a long Christmas Eve ceremony, Patriarch Aleksii II led a mass at the newly rebuilt Cathedral of Christ the Savior in Moscow. Noting that President Yeltsin has designated 1997 a year of reconcilitation and accord, the patriarch said that "now is a time to create" after a period of devastation. In a Christmas interview with Dom i otechestvo, Aleksii II had warned of the dangers of "Godless materialistic consumerism" but said he believed the Russian people had sufficient moral strength to chose "moral renaissance." On the revival of Orthodox Russia, Aleksii said: "We should not feel embarassed to call Russia an Orthodox country. We should remember our kinship and know that the majority of Russians are rooted in Orthodoxy." -- Penny Morvant

Abu Masaev, the head of the Chechen State Security Department, said on 7 January that they have identified the person who ordered the killing of six Red Cross workers on 17 December, NTV reported. Masaev refused to name the individual, but said that he was now outside Chechnya. Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin urged the Duma to immediately grant a complete amnesty to jailed Chechen fighters, as the only way to secure the release of Russian captives in Chechnya, ORT reported on 6 January. There are an estimated 1,500 Chechen prisoners, while 1,058 Russian servicemen are missing, many thought to be held captive by private citizens in Chechnya, NTV reported on 6 January. That day, ITAR-TASS reported that acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev has refused to serve in the new government if he is defeated in the 27 January elections. Presidential candidate Movladi Udugov dismissed the report as Russian disinformation. -- Peter Rutland

German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel on 8 January said that, although it will be "very difficult," Russia will eventually accept the enlargement of NATO, AFP and RFE/RL reported. He interpreted the latest Russian denunciations of the alliance's expansion plans as bargaining ploys, saying "Russia knows that it cannot prevent NATO expansion and wants to obtain a good price for it." He said Russia should have an "equal and effective" role in European security, but insisted that "NATO will not make decisions in concert with Russia" over issues like enlargement. U.S. State Department spokesman Glyn Davies said that Washington is "aware" of Russian objections to expansion but will proceed anyway, since the policy is "not directed against Russia." NTV said on 7 January that President Yeltsin's recent warnings on the subject were having no effect on Western policy. -- Scott Parrish

The Russian and Belarusian missions to the UN held a joint press conference on 7 January at which they reiterated allegations that New York police unjustifiably beat two diplomats over a traffic citation (see OMRI Daily Digest, 2 and 3 January 1997), Russian and Western agencies reported. Russian diplomat Boris Obnossov and his Belarusian colleague Yurii Oranzh said the police officers had dragged them from their car and beaten them, despite being shown diplomatic identification. Obnossov admitted receiving about 400 parking tickets in 1996 and conceded that his car was illegally parked when the incident occurred, but denied police charges that he was intoxicated. New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani termed the diplomats' version of events "a pack of lies" on 7 January, saying seven witnesses corroborated the police officers' account, according to which the visibly drunk diplomats threw the first punch. -- Scott Parrish

Citing anonymous State Department sources, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January that J. Stapleton Roy, currently the American ambassador in Indonesia, will be appointed as the new U.S. ambassador in Moscow. Roy, 61, is a career diplomat like his predecessor Thomas Pickering, having previously served as ambassador in China and Singapore, and holds the top U.S. diplomatic rank of career ambassador. Although many of his recent postings have been in Asia, the agency said Roy, a Princeton graduate who speaks Russian, had earlier served in the U.S. embassy in Moscow and worked at the State Department's Soviet desk. -- Scott Parrish

Oleg Sidorenko, deputy director of the state-owned firm Rosvooruzhenie, said on 6 January that Russia was the world's second leading arms exporter in 1996, selling an estimated $3.5 billion of weapons abroad, an increase over the $3.1 billion figure for 1995, Interfax reported as monitored by the BBC. Sidorenko charged the United States, Britain, and France with "actively obstructing" Russian access to world arms markets, saying Paris, London and Washington observe "no ethical standards" in the competition for arms contracts. The same day, Defense Industry Minister Zinovii Pak also estimated 1996 arms exports would top $3 billion, and said Moscow plans to triple that figure in the next few years. -- Scott Parrish

The president's Main Department for Cossack Troops (GUKV) published the first issue of its information bulletin, marking the Cossacks' official return to state service, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January. In tsarist Russia, the Cossacks, usually living in special settlements near the country's borders, fulfilled border guard and territorial militia functions in exchange for a number of economic privileges. Since the end of the 1980s, following the era of Soviet repression, the Cossacks have sought to restore their former position and have won official support in recent years. Yeltsin established the GUKV in January 1996. Currently there are 438 Cossacks organizations with 700,000 participants in Russia. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii dismissed a report published on 5 January in the British Daily Telegraph, which claimed that the Kremlin is preparing a presidential decree to reinstate a 15-year-old descendant of the Romanov dynasty, Reuters reported on 6 January. The paper said Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich Romanov would play only a ceremonial role and that plans to bring him back were connected to a Kremlin-sponsored search for a Russian national idea. Yastrzhembskii said the story would be "funny if it were not annoying," speculating that the British media "has run out of its own monarchy stories" and wants to expand onto Russian territory. -- Laura Belin

The Power to the People bloc, formerly led by Aman Tuleev before he became minister for CIS affairs, won nine of the 16 seats decided in the 29 December elections to the Kemerovo Oblast legislature, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 January. The Communists won five seats and the Agrarian Party took two. Results are still being tabulated in an additional district, while four other districts must hold repeat elections because turnout there fell below the mandatory 25%. The returns do not augur well for Governor Mikhail Kislyuk, Tuleev's rival, who faces elections later this year. The legislature's first task will be to define the provision of the electoral law for the gubernatorial elections. -- Robert Orttung

Communication workers removed Russian Public TV (ORT), Russian TV, and local state TV from the air before 8 p.m. local time on 6 January in a warning strike to protest against those broadcasters' failure to pay for their air time, Radio Russia reported. The television companies owe more than 11 billion rubles ($2 million) and the situation is unlikely to improve soon since there is little money in the federal budget to finance the media. Murmansk viewers lost many of their TV stations for a week in December for the same reasons. -- Robert Orttung

The sinking of the Russian oil tanker Nakhodka has caused an energy crisis in Kamchatka as well as blackening a 100 km stretch of Japan's western shoreline and fouling prime fishing areas. The Nakhodka, which broke up on 2 January, was carrying 19,000 metric tons of heavy fuel oil to Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii. NTV reported on 6 January that the city's administration had announced measures to ration electricity supplies because of the shortage of fuel oil; Kamchatka's reserves were used up last summer. According to Radio Mayak, however, a deal with local military units obviated the need for power cuts over Orthodox Christmas. According to the Russian Fuel and Energy Ministry, 20,000 tons of fuel oil are due to arrive by 18 January. Meanwhile, electricity supplies to customers in Primorskii Krai have also been reduced because of a shortage of fuel oil. The energy company Dalenergo, owed more than 1 trillion rubles by local state-funded organizations, cannot afford to pay for fuel supplies. -- Penny Morvant

Internet service provider America Online (AOL) is no longer permitting users in Russia direct access to its services by telephone because of rampant credit card fraud, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 January. The agency quoted AOL spokeswoman Susan Porter as saying that many subscribers have been using stolen credit cards to purchase time on line, leaving the company to foot the telephone bill. There have also been cases of people using stolen passwords to access information. AOL, which has more than 6 million subscribers worldwide, has not said when it plans to reinstate services for users in Russia. Under the new Criminal Code, which went into effect on 1 January, the illegal manufacture or sale of credit cards is punishable by two to six years imprisonment. -- Penny Morvant

More than 200 vehicles remain blocked in a mountain pass connecting Georgia and Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 January. The pass has been closed since 26 December following an avalanche in the Caucasus Mountains (see OMRI Daily Digest, 2 January 1997). Georgian traffic workers continue to clear the most difficult section of the road, using tractors and snow-plows, while rescue helicopters evacuate people trapped in the Georgian mountain resort of Gudauri. According to ITAR-TASS, Georgian authorities expect traffic to resume "in the near future." -- Emil Danielyan

The OSCE has named France as the new co-chair of the deadlocked negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, RFE/RL reported on 7 January. France, beating out an active U.S. bid, succeeds Finland, which held the office for 20 months. The other co-chair is Russia, whose post is permanent. The chief French negotiator will be Jacques Blot. -- Lowell Bezanis

Following two days of talks, Russia and Azerbaijan agreed to improve trade and economic ties, signing protocols on trade in major commodities in 1997 as well as the development of transport and metro building, Russian media reported on 7 January. The head of the Russian delegation, Valerii Serov, termed the meetings constructive and useful, noting that it was the "first time" the two sides had agreed on specific joint actions. Serov also noted that the two sides continue to hold differing views on the Caspian Sea, and on mutual debts. While both Serov and Azeri officials were upbeat about moving Azeri oil through Chechnya soon, Chechen sources, cited by Reuters the same day, claim Russia is dragging its feet in oil negotiations it was to have completed by 1 December. -- Lowell Bezanis

Elements of Tajikistan's First Brigade moved toward the western city of Tursun Zade during the night of 7-8 January, ITAR-TASS reported. The brigade is under the command of Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, who last January led one of two mutinies which for two weeks threatened the capital Dushanbe. The other mutiny was led by the former mayor of Tursun Zade, Ibodullo Baimatov. Like Khudaberdiyev, Baimatov returned to his base following concessions by the government. Since then, control of Tursun Zade, the site of the largest aluminum plant in Central Asia, has been contested by several criminal groups. Baimatov was ousted by late summer 1996 but the city remained outside the jurisdiction of the government. Khudaberdiyev mended relations with the Tajik government and sources from the brigade's headquarters say this latest move is an attempt to restore order in Tursun Zade. -- Bruce Pannier

The amount of wheat flour available to Turkmenistan's citizens at subsidized rates has been decreased by presidential decree, according to a 7 January Interfax report monitored by the BBC. As of 1 February 1997, citizens whose average monthly income does not exceed 200,000 manats (about $40) are entitled to six kilos of flour at 25 manats per kilo. In rural areas the eight kilo ration will remain in effect. -- Lowell Bezanis

Uzbekistan's law on political parties came into force on 7 January, according to Uzbek media monitored by the BBC. The law prohibits parties based on ethnic or religious lines and those advocating war or subversion of the constitutional order. Prospective parties must submit details of at least 5,000 members spread over eight provinces. Applications for registering a party are to be directed to the Justice Ministry and the Supreme Court has the right to suspend or ban them if they are found guilty of persistent legal violations. Parties have the right to take part in elections, publish newspapers, and establish parliamentary and local groups. -- Lowell Bezanis

The eastern region of Kharkiv voted to give the Russian language equal status with Ukrainian as of the beginning of the year, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 January. At the same time, the administration in the predominantly Russian-speaking eastern region of Donetsk took the opposite position, deciding that the official language in the region's administration and business would be solely Ukrainian. Under the Ukrainian constitution, only Ukrainian has state status as a language, but regions with sizable minorities speaking other languages can grant official status to that language. -- Ustina Markus

Gazprom has denied that it threatened to cut gas supplies to Belarus because of unpaid debts, Belarusian TV reported on 6 January. Citing ITAR-TASS, the report noted that Gazprom officials are continuing to deliver regular gas supplies to Belarus because the republic has started to pay its debts. -- Ustina Markus

Belarus may lose its observer status in the Council of Europe because Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has ignored its protests over the 24 November constitutional referendum, AFP reported on 7 January. The referendum gave Lukashenka sweeping new powers, but there were allegations of irregularities in the voting and the conduct of the campaign to promote Lukashenka's new constitution. The council's 40-member committee is to meet later this month to consider the proposal to expel Belarus. Belarus has had a special guest status in the organization since September 1992, and applied for full membership in March 1993. -- Ustina Markus

A law introducing life imprisonment went into effect in Estonia on 5 January, ETA reported on 7 January. Although the law does not abolish the death penalty, it is seen as the first step toward phasing out capital punishment, in accordance with Council of Europe norms. The same day, Estonia's permanent representative to the Council of Europe, Ambassador Karin Jaani, handed over the instruments of ratification of the Council of Europe convention for the protection of national minorities to the secretary general of the organization, Daniel Tarschys. Apart from Estonia, the convention has so far been ratified by seven states, and signed by six others. It will go into effect after 12 states have ratified it. -- Ustina Markus

The daily Diena, formerly known as Tiesa, stopped publication on 1 January without notifying its subscribers, BNS reported on 7 January. The paper has come upon hard times financially, and must either declare bankruptcy or sell a controlling package of its stock. Diena staff refused to release circulation figures for the paper, but other publishers believe it is only 5,000, while major Lithuanian papers have a circulation of 42,000-70,000. -- Ustina Markus

Polish doctors on 7 January launched a strike by starting to refer simple medical cases for further examination in a protest action aimed at securing higher pay and funding, Polish media reported. But, according to Rzeczpospolita on 8 January, it is difficult to distinguish doctors who are on strike from those who are not. The strike is being organized by the All-Poland Doctors Labor Union (OZZL), which groups together about one-third of Poland's 90,000 doctors. Jacek Wutzow, deputy president of the OZZL, said that 650 hospitals and 1,000 medical centers are taking part in the protest. The doctors have called for budget spending on the health service to rise to 6% of GDP, while the government has allocated 4.5%. They are also seeking a collective wage deal, which would increase doctors' monthly salaries to about 3,000 zlotys (more than $1,000), which is about three times the average industrial wage. -- Jakub Karpinski

Polish Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said on 7 January that as Russian leaders stepped up opposition to NATO enlargement, Poland was forging ahead with its own preparations to join the alliance. Cimoszewicz was commenting on a meeting this week in Moscow, at which President Boris Yeltsin and other Russian politicians confirmed their objections to NATO's eastward expansion. Cimoszewicz said that on 6 January Poland's National Defense Committee, grouping the president, prime minister, key ministers, and parliamentary and army leaders, agreed to set up a special body to harmonize their actions concerning NATO. The body would be headed by Foreign Minister Dariusz Rosati. -- Jakub Karpinski

Four Freedom Union (UW) deputies, Wojciech Arkuszewski, Bronislaw Komorowski, Zdobyslaw Milewski, and Jan Maria Rokita, decided to leave the party after a two-hour meeting with the UW parliamentary caucus, Rzeczpospolita reported on 8 January. UW spokesman Andrzej Potocki called the decision "unwise." Komorowski said recently that a new political party is to be created that would unite the People's-Christian Party and the Conservative Coalition. Some UW politicians have been invited to join the new political formation, according to Komorowski. The UW is generally seen as encompassing divergent political tendencies, from socialist to conservative. The four were considered to have been a part of the UW's conservative wing. -- Jakub Karpinski

In a ceremony at the Prague castle, Vaclav Havel on 7 January officially named Vlasta Parkanova the new minister of justice, Czech media reported. This was the first time since his lung cancer surgery in early December that Havel made a public appearance in his capacity as president. Havel left hospital at the end of December. At the beginning of January, he unexpectedly married actress Dagmar Veskrnova. Havel has also announced that he has given up drinking and smoking. -- Jiri Pehe

Christian Democratic Movement deputy Ivan Simko on 7 January announced that the drive to hold direct presidential elections would begin two days later, Slovak media reported. The opposition hopes to gather 400,000 signatures over the next two months, 50,000 more than required. Currently, the president is elected by a three-fifths parliamentary majority, but the opposition fears that when current President Michal Kovac's term expires in March 1998, the parliament will be unable to agree on a new candidate. In that case, Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar would take over some presidential duties. New parliamentary elections are scheduled for fall 1998. In other news, the Slovak Helsinki Committee on 7 January backed calls for direct presidential elections and expressed support for Kovac's re-election. The group said Kovac has demonstrated considerable understanding for democracy; perseverance and tenacity while defending humanitarian principles; and patience, loyalty, and generosity in disputes that were forced on him. -- Sharon Fisher

Foreign Minister Pavol Hamzik on 7 January said the cabinet will officially begin public discussions of the implications of NATO membership this month, TASR reported. The government has already announced plans to hold a referendum on NATO membership, tentatively set for May of this year. Hamzik said Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar and his Czech counterpart, Vaclav Klaus, will meet in the near future for their first official bilateral meeting in several years. Hamzik said he is also arranging visits by Meciar to Bonn and by German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel to Bratislava, although dates have yet to be finalized. Meanwhile, speaking on Radio Twist on 7 January, Association of Workers (ZRS) Chairman Jan Luptak asked why Slovakia should enter NATO, Praca reported. "We do not want to wage a war, we want to live in peace with our neighbors," Luptak stressed. The ZRS is a junior partner in the ruling coalition. -- Sharon Fisher

Hungary's Pension Insurance Authority on 7 January rejected the draft pension reform program proposed by the Finance and Welfare ministries, Hungarian media reported the next day. The program would reallocate one-third of wage earners' pension contributions away from the state pension fund to non-profit funds, which would be able to invest the contributions. Pension Insurance President Janos Vago described the reform program as "unacceptable" since it would be most advantageous for young men with high incomes. Finance Ministry State Secretary Tibor Draskovics responded that Hungary needs a pension system that promotes economic growth as well as providing security for retirees. The pension reform draft is the government's most recent attempt to reform Hungary's overburdened social welfare system, which is currently providing pensions to one-third of the population. -- Ben Slay

Tens of thousands of Serbs attended public demonstrations on 7 January, which is Serbian Orthodox Christmas, AFP and CNN reported. In a new tactic, people kissed the riot police, who are President Slobodan Milosevic's last bastion of defense. Opposition leader Vuk Draskovic appealed to the police: "Even Tito's communist regime did not make its police turn out onto the streets for Christmas. The young people in police uniforms are also part of the people. It's Christmas for you too, do you know that? [The authorities] are sending you here today to provoke bloodshed. But Christmas is the biggest Christian festival ... and therefore, I say to the police, divine peace, Christ is born." -- Patrick Moore

Opposition representatives and other observers suspect that the explosion at the headquarters of a tiny party run by President Milosevic's wife was a provocation by the authorities themselves (see OMRI Daily Digest, 7 January 1997). Opposition leader Vesna Pesic likened it to the Reichstag fire incident of 1933, Nasa Borba reported on 8 January. Protest plans for today center on a campaign to block government telephone lines by calling officials and then leaving the phone off the hook. Lists of government phone numbers, including Milosevic's, have been distributed. Draskovic also appealed to citizens to stage another protest by traffic jam. In other Serbian news, a new law has come into effect that allows employers to fire workers at their own discretion, thereby removing some job protection rights. -- Patrick Moore

Zoran Djindjic of the opposition Zajedno (Together) coalition has appealed to foreign countries to put more pressure on President Milosevic to recognize the 17 November local election results. He told a German radio station: "This is at the moment probably the only thing that can make [Milosevic] move," AFP reported. EU and U.S. flags are prominent at opposition rallies, which reflects popular appreciation for foreign support. The independent media closely follow foreign coverage of Serbian affairs, and opposition leaders frequently give interviews in English or German to Western media. All of this is in stark contrast to the xenophobic tone of the Milosevic regime and its media, which were particularly anti-U.S. and anti-German in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, in Bonn, Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel endorsed opposition demands and called for continuing the suspension of EU financial benefits for Serbia, Nasa Borba wrote on 8 January. He nonetheless warned against any expectations that Milosevic himself could be ousted soon, AFP noted. -- Patrick Moore

Edhem Bicakcic, the newly-appointed prime minister of the mainly Muslim-Croat Federation, said on 6 January that the federation's coal miners are free to go on strike, but they are prohibited from blocking the movement of traffic through the country, Oslobodjenje reported the next day. At a meeting with representatives of coal miners from central Bosnia and Tuzla, Bicakcic said the Tuzla miners receive their salaries regularly thanks to revenues from production and reserves, which is not the case in central Bosnia, Onasa reported. He said the mines must secure their own resources through the commercial sale of coal. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The Interior Ministry of the Bosnian Federation said on 7 January that tear gas was thrown into a Sarajevo church by an unknown person during a Christmas day service for Orthodox Serbs the same day, AFP reported. There were no casualties among some 40 people who attended the service. Meanwhile, Cardinal Vinko Puljic, the Roman Catholic archbishop, joined a group of Orthodox Serbs celebrating Christmas in Sarajevo's oldest church in a show of ecumenical unity. His visit follows that of Serb Archbishop Nikolai to Sarajevo's Catholic cathedral for the Catholic Christmas service. In other news, a mosque in the Sarajevo suburb of Hrasnica was sprayed with machine-gun fire on 6 January by an unknown person, AFP reported. In news from Mostar, another Muslim has been evicted from the Croat-held part of the town. The elderly woman, who was illegally evicted from her home, was found dead in an abandoned building, while a Croat soldier moved into her apartment. -- Daria Sito Sucic

UN spokesman Philip Arnold said on 7 January that a Catholic church was damaged by an explosion a day earlier in the town of Ilok in eastern Slavonia, the last Serb-held part of Croatia, AFP reported. No one was hurt in the blast. The same church was besieged by Serb demonstrators from the area on 24 December as some 200 Croat returnees celebrated Catholic Christmas eve (see OMRI Daily Digest, 30 December 1996). -- Daria Sito Sucic

Emil Constantinescu on 7 January vowed to combat rampant corruption and organized crime, saying they pose a direct threat to national security, Romanian media reported. Constantinescu, who was speaking at an extraordinary meeting of Romania's Supreme Defense Council, proposed the creation of a national council to deal with the problem. Also on 7 January, the president's office rejected the accusations of nepotism that have been leveled against Constantinescu in the media. A statement said that the prefect of Arges is not Constantinescu's brother-in-law, as assumed by some newspapers. The accusations multiplied after the son of Constantinescu's counselor for foreign and internal affairs, Zoe Petre, was appointed to the post of presidential counselor. -- Dan Ionescu

Independent and opposition newspapers have accused Adrian Severin of allegedly giving in to Hungarian requests for the re-establishment of the former Hungarian Bolyai University in Cluj and the reopening of a Hungarian consulate in the same city during his recent visit to Hungary. Former President Ion Iliescu said the opening of the Cluj consulate would be a sign of the "weakness of Romanian diplomacy." According to President Emil Constantinescu, Severin was not mandated to discuss the university problem or the issue of bilingual inscriptions in minority areas. Severin said those topics were not on the agenda of his talks with Hungarian officials. In other news, Constantinescu urged Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic to accept the opposition's local election victories and defuse the crisis in that country, Reuters reported. -- Zsolt Mato

The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and its tiny coalition partners -- the Bulgarian Agrarian People's Union "Aleksandar Stamboliyski" and the Political Club Ekoglasnost -- on 7 January continued to discuss the formation of a new government. The BSP that day nominated Interior Minister Nikolay Dobrev for prime minister, and the leaderships of all three parties are expected to vote on the proposal today. An unnamed BSP leader said Ekoglasnost will support Dobrev and not parliamentary speaker Blagovest Sendov, whom they proposed originally. In return they demand the Interior Ministry for Ekoglasnost leader Stefan Gaytandzhiev, Duma reported. According to Trud, Sendov may also stand in today's election at the insistence of the BSP's partners. BSP Chairman Georgi Parvanov did not rule out such a possibility, Standart noted. The daily also noted that the ruling coalition will not be enlarged. The opposition Union of Democratic Forces said a new BSP-led government will be a "tragedy for Bulgaria." -- Stefan Krause

Zhelyu Zhelev and the chief of staff of the Bulgarian army, Gen. Tsvetan Totomirov, met on 7 January to discuss recent charges of corruption in the armed forces, RFE/RL reported. No details about their meeting were released. It was prompted by a letter published earlier in Bulgarian newspapers and signed by "a group of officers from Sofia." The authors complained that the Defense Ministry is spending large sums of money on lavish foreign trips for top military officials, expensive cars, and new German-made computers, while at the same time "hungry, ill-dressed soldiers" are forgotten and wages are not paid. The letter praised Totomirov, a Zhelev appointee. Analysts believe the letter is linked to the split between hardliners and reformers in the BSP and may aim at preventing the renomination of current Defense Minister Dimitar Pavlov. -- Stefan Krause

The Democratic Alliance Party on 7 January accused the government of misusing investments of Albanians in pyramid schemes to finance its campaign in May 1996 parliamentary elections. The statement said that "the collapse of such pyramid schemes has started," adding that "the government and the one-party state of the Democratic Party should bear responsibility for the losses incurred by Albanians," Reuters reported. The governing Democratic Party's (PD) public relations chief, Arben Cejku, described the accusations as "vile slander," Reuters reported. Cejku said the PD had obtained its share of campaign money from the state budget, in line with an Albanian law that allocates funds for political campaigning based on the parties' share of parliamentary seats. He also pointed out that the PD's parliamentary group had sponsored the creation of a parliamentary commission last November to investigate the pyramid schemes. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Victor Gomez