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Newsline - January 16, 1997


YELTSIN TO SPEND SEVERAL MORE DAYS IN HOSPITAL.
President Boris Yeltsin's head doctor, Sergei Mironov, announced on 15 January that the president would remain in the Central Clinical Hospital at least until the end of the week, Russian and Western media reported. He said Yeltsin's condition was stable, and his temperature had remained normal for six days, but he noted that pneumonia is a "rather serious disease" that could still lead to complications. However, Mironov predicted that Yeltsin would be well enough by the end of the month to attend a summit of CIS leaders, NTV reported. Commenting on charges that the president is "persistently unable" to fulfill his duties, Mironov said such accusations are "simply not serious," because Yeltsin has been absent from the Kremlin only since 8 January for treatment of pneumonia. Heart disease kept Yeltsin away from the Kremlin for about four months in 1995 and six months in 1996. -- Laura Belin

DUMA EXPERTS NIX RESOLUTION TO REMOVE YELTSIN ...
Legal experts working for the State Duma announced that the lower house of parliament does not have the constitutional authority to pass a resolution to remove the president on health grounds, Russian media reported on 15 January. They noted that there is no law outlining the process by which a president could be removed because of poor health. Following the announcement, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev suggested removing the resolution from the Duma's agenda, ITAR-TASS reported. Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais characterized the attempts to remove Yeltsin as a "political farce." -- Laura Belin

... BUT OPPONENTS KEEP UP THE PRESSURE.
Even though the resolution on removing Yeltsin would apparently carry no legal weight, Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin continued to press for a parliamentary vote on the measure, which was drafted by his committee, Russian media reported on 15 January. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said his faction, which includes Ilyukhin, would meet on 16 January to decide whether to force the Duma to vote on the resolution. Zyuganov added that he was surprised that Yeltsin's advisers, friends and family "decided to finish him off by forcing him to work after such a serious operation." -- Laura Belin

CHUBAIS BEHIND ON HIS TAXES.
Investigative journalist Aleksandr Minkin has discovered that Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais did not pay income tax on the $278,000 he earned between 15 April and 15 July 1996 when he was working for the presidential election campaign. Minkin reported this in Novaya gazeta 's 13-19 January issue, noting that Chubais' monthly salary was 10 times that of the U.S. president. Chubais was appointed chief of staff on 15 July, and in August Yeltsin placed him in charge of a special emergency commission to improve tax collection. Minkin relates that he contacted Chubais' office on 9 January and asked whether he had paid taxes. Minkin was told that Chubais had not, but that he would soon, "at the latest by Tuesday." Minkin notes that under the law on state service a tax declaration must be filed when a person takes up a state job, and asks whether Chubais submitted such a declaration, and if so whether the $278,000 was reported. -- Peter Rutland

LEBED WARNS OF APPROACHING CRISIS.
Appearing on German ZDF television, former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed said he had spoken directly with Yeltsin on 14 January and advised him to resign if he could not carry out his duties because of poor health, Russian and Western media reported on 15 January. Lebed again warned that Russia could face a "social explosion" by March if urgent steps are not taken soon. In an interview published in the 15 January edition of Moskovskaya pravda, Lebed predicted that as the political and social situation deteriorates, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will be fired. He further speculated that Chubais will be appointed acting prime minister, and "with the help of his friends abroad" will mobilize enormous financial resources to pay overdue wages and pensions. -- Laura Belin

STROEV REAFFIRMS SUPPORT FOR PRESIDENT.
Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev reemphasized his support for President Boris Yeltsin on 15 January, commenting that he was outraged by speculation about his political sympathies, ITAR-TASS reported. On 10 January, Stroev had called for amending the constitution, provoking criticism from the president's team that no changes were necessary in the three-year old document. The Federation Council speaker, however, noted that the constitution itself foresees amendments and that there are many loopholes which need to be filled. Stroev also stressed that, in contrast to the Duma, no one in the Federation Council had raised the question of removing Yeltsin on the grounds of his poor health. -- Robert Orttung

DUMA EXAMINES BILL ON SECURING RUSSIA'S TERRITORIAL INTEGRITY.
The Duma approved in first reading on 15 January a bill on preserving the country's territorial integrity. In the speeches before the vote, the deputies referred to pressure from Estonia, Japan, and China for Russian territory and the lack of a legal basis for countering Chechen secessionists, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill backs the use of military force when other means do not work. The current text also allows one of Russia's 89 republics and regions to give land to another, provided a referendum is held on that territory and two-thirds of the population approve the transfer, AFP reported. -- Robert Orttung

SELEZNEV SEES IMPROVING EXECUTIVE-LEGISLATIVE RELATIONS.
On the day the Duma opened its 1997 spring session, Speaker Gennadii Seleznev noted that 1996 was the first year in Russia's post-Soviet history that there were "more or less harmonious" relations between the two branches of power, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 January. Although the legislature made little progress on such important issues as the land code, Seleznev pointed to the progress on the 1997 budget as the Duma's main accomplishment for the past year. In the coming year, Seleznev stressed the need to adopt a law defining procedures for amending the constitution. The communists are seeking to transfer some of the president's enormous constitutional power to the legislature, stressing that Yeltsin's inability to perform his duties were creating a "crisis of power." -- Robert Orttung

CHECHEN ELECTION UPDATE.
Controversy continued on 15 January over whether and how Chechen refugees would be able to participate in the upcoming 27 January presidential elections in the republic, Russian media reported. NTV cited acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev as refuting reports that an agreement had been reached with federal authorities to open polling stations in Moscow, Stavropol, and several other Russian cities (see OMRI Daily Digest, 15 January 1997). Yandarbiev denied even holding talks on the issue. The head of the Chechen electoral commission, Momadi Saidaev, told AFP that polling stations could be opened in Russia if Moscow immediately recognizes Chechen independence, but otherwise "voting will only take place on our territory." In Moscow on 16 January, the presidential human rights commission accused the Chechen authorities of organizing an "intentionally undemocratic" election by excluding refugees living outside the republic. -- Scott Parrish

BEREZOVSKII MEETS COSSACK LEADERS.
Addressing a meeting of southern Russian Cossack leaders in Stavropol Krai, Deputy Security Council Secretary Boris Berezovskii said that "crude military means" could not be used to resolve the Chechen crisis, ITAR-TASS reported. He also rejected demands by some Cossack leaders that federal troops occupy three northern districts of Chechnya which were transferred to the republic in 1957, and had large ethnic Russian populations before fighting began in 1994. He described the Khasavyurt agreement which negotiated an end to the conflict as "humiliating," but said that the federal government had to be "consistent" and implement it. He said there was no question ofBerezovskii also supported he idea of creating armed Cossack units to guard the Chechen-Russian frontier. Chechen officials have expressed worry about possible "provocations" by armed Cossacks hoping to undermine the 27 January Chechen presidential polls. -- Scott Parrish

YELTSIN APPROVES MINIMUM WAGE INCREASE.
President Yeltsin has signed a law raising the minimum wage by 10% from 75,900 rubles to 83,490 rubles ($15) a month retroactive to 1 January, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 January. The bill was passed by the Federation Council on 25 December (see OMRI Daily Digest, 31 December 1996). The minimum wage, multiples of which are used to calculate a wide range of benefits and legal penalties, was last raised in April 1996. -- Penny Morvant

SABOTAGE SUSPECTED IN VLADIVOSTOK HEATING PLANT FAILURE.
Pipes carrying hot water burst in dozens of apartment buildings in Vladivostok on 15 January after a closed valve at a central heating plant caused pressure in the pipes to rise, ITAR-TASS reported. Three schools, a kindergarten, a hospital and apartments in more than 50 buildings were flooded, and then left without heat. Damage is preliminarily estimated at 20 billion rubles ($3.5 million). A spokesman for the mayor's office on 16 January blamed the incident on sabotage, saying the administration had earlier received an anonymous call warning that such an accident might take place. Maintaining hot water and electricity supplies is one of the main challenges facing Vladivostok Mayor Viktor Cherepkov in his first winter since being reinstated in office. -- Penny Morvant

TAX COLLECTION IN 1996 STILL BELOW TARGET.
Tax receipts in 1996 reached 202 trillion rubles, Izvestiya reported on 14 January. This was 40% up on the 1995 collection level in nominal terms, and 17% up in real terms. Still, the 1996 figure was 16% below the target level. The shortfall is due to tax arrears, lower than expected inflation, and the 6% fall in GDP. The government's decision to continue the practice of reserving part of companies' gross profits for paying salaries was responsible for the non-payment of another 3 trillion rubles of taxes to the federal budget. -- Natalia Gurushina in Moscow


SOUTH OSSETIAN LEADER IN TBILISI.
The speaker of the parliament of the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia, Konstantin Dzugaev, has held talks in Tbilisi with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and Parliament Speaker Zurab Zhvania, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 January. Dzugaev is the first South Ossetian official to visit Tbilisi since the region declared independence from Georgia in 1991. In a 13 January interview with Georgian Radio monitored by the BBC, Shevardnadze said "vigorous" Georgian-Ossetian negotiations will start soon. -- Emil Danielyan

GEORGIAN-ABKHAZ UPDATE.
The parliament of Georgia's breakaway Republic of Abkhazia adopted a statement urging the CIS heads of state to lift economic sanctions imposed on the region in January 1996, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 January, citing Abkhazpress. The statement says that the sanctions may "undermine" settlement of the Abkhaz conflict. Earlier, Abkhaz Foreign Minister Konstantin Ozgan warned that lifting sanctions is a precondition for the return of some 200,000 ethnic Georgian refugees to Abkhazia. In another statement, the Abkhaz parliament called on the Russian Federal Assembly to postpone the ratification of the Russo-Georgian agreement on friendship and cooperation, signed in February 1994, until the Abkhaz dispute is settled. The statement also says that the agreement's ratification would strengthen Georgia economically and militarily and thus encourage the latter "to resort to force in settling the conflict." -- Emil Danielyan

FRICTION OVER CO-CHAIR OF KARABAKH NEGOTIATIONS.
Friction has arisen within the OSCE over outgoing Chairman Flavio Cotti's decision to nominate France as co-chair of the deadlocked negotiations over the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute, RFE/RL reported on 15 January. The nomination was welcomed by Armenia but reportedly disappointed Azerbaijan. Baku preferred the United States to take up the post. An unnamed U.S. official said Washington is "still interested" in playing a mediating role along with permanent co-chair Russia, but would not reject France's obtaining the post if a consensus favoring Paris developed. Negotiations, which last took place in late November, are unlikely to resume until the chairmanship problem is solved. -- Lowell Bezanis

PRIVATIZATION CONTINUES IN KAZAKSTAN.
Kazakstan continues to offer major industries for sale in a bid to overhaul its infrastructure. RFE/RL reported on 15 January that there will be a tender for oil refineries at Pavlodar and Aktyubinsk in January. Six companies have already registered for the Pavlodar tender: Canada's Hurricane Hydrocarbons, which bought Yuzhneftegaz last year; American companies Axis Industries and Intermeditteranean; Britain's SS Oil; and Kazakstani companies Amadeus and Radikal. Less interest has been expressed in the Aktyubinsk refinery, which is smaller than the Pavlodar refinery and in worse condition but is closer to the huge Tengiz oil field. So far only the U.S. company Exxon has registered for that tender. Kazakstan's sale of the Vasiilkovskoe gold mine to British Diamonds Resources Company is expected to be finalized by the end of January. -- Bruce Pannier and Merhat Sharipzhan


BELARUS'S NEW FOREIGN MINISTER GIVES FIRST BRIEFING.
Ivan Antanovich, giving his first briefing since taking office, said that Belarus's foreign policy will be "multi-directional" but will give top priority to Russia, Belarusian Radio reported on 14 January. He added that union with Russia would not affect Belarus's sovereignty and that further steps toward integration would include synchronizing economic reforms, customs unification, and the creation of joint energy facilities. Antanovich also said Belarusian foreign policy will increase emphasis on relations with the West and seek to improve relations with Asian and Latin American countries. Meanwhile, there has been no official reaction from Minsk to the Russian president's proposal to speed up integration. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

NEW BELARUSIAN BANK HEAD APPOINTED.
Mikalai Korbut was appointed head of the National Bank of Belarus (NBB) on 15 January, international agencies reported. Korbut had been vice president under Tamara Vinnikau, who was dismissed the previous day and arrested on suspicion of embezzlement. Commenting on the charges against his predecessor, Korbut said they were connected to her activities before she joined the NBB. Irregularities were discovered during an investigation launched by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka into the financial activities of Belarusbank, which Vinnikau had headed before her appointment to the NBB. More than 30% of loans granted by Belarusbank had gone to companies that existed for only 24 hours; both the money and its recipients had vanished soon afterward. Meanwhile, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has completed all ministerial appointments, Belarusian radio reported on 14 January. -- Ustina Markus

UKRAINIAN NATIONAL SECURITY ADVISER ON NATO.
Volodymyr Horbulin said that while Ukraine cannot join NATO at present, he does not exclude membership in the future, ITAR-TASS and UNIAN reported on 15 January. Since the constitution states that Ukraine is a neutral, non-aligned state, that document would have to be amended to allow entry into the alliance, he noted. Horbulin said Ukraine is currently seeking a special agreement with NATO and plans to open a NATO information center in Kyiv in the spring. He added that he hoped an agreement on special relations with NATO will be submitted for approval at the NATO summit in July. NATO's special relations with Russia should develop parallel to those with Ukraine, but not on a trilateral basis, he commented. -- Ustina Markus

ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN FINLAND.
Toomas Ilves, on a one-day official visit to Finland on 15 January, met with his Finnish counterpart, Tarja Halonen, who promised that visa-free travel between the two countries would be introduced in the summer, BNS reported. Ilves later held talks with Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen on bilateral relations, European Union expansion, security problems in the Baltic Sea area, and Estonian and Finnish relations with Russia. -- Saulius Girnius

NEW LATVIAN FINANCE MINISTER APPOINTED.
The Seima has approved the Democratic Party Saimnieks (DPS) nomination of 29-year-old businessman Vasilijs Melniks as finance minister, BNS reported on 16 January. Prime Minister Andris Skele held that post jointly with the premiership after the dismissal of Aivars Kreituss in October. He rejected the party's previous candidate, Sarmite Jegere, several days earlier. The daily Diena claims that Melniks contravened the anti-corruption law by simultaneously chairing the board of Riga Shipyards and serving on the Riga port administration. The six caucuses in the ruling coalition agreed to support his nomination, however, fearing in part that the DPS might otherwise withdraw from the government. -- Saulius Girnius

POLISH CONSTITUTIONAL COMMISSION REJECTS POWIAT.
The parliamentary Constitutional Commission on 15 January rejected including an explicit reference to a third administrative level-- the powiat--in the country's basic law, Polish media reported. Former Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki has proposed instead that a general clause be included stating that "the territorial system ensures the decentralization of public authorities." Meanwhile, commission representatives of the four largest caucuses (the Democratic Left Alliance, Polish Peasant Party, the Freedom Union, and the Labor Union) rejected all amendment proposals by the two Solidarity senators Piotr Andrzjewski and Alicja Grzeskowiak. The Commission is expected to vote today on the draft constitution. A two-thirds majority of a quorum of half its 56 members is necessary for the document's passage. -- Jakub Karpinski

POLAND TO TIGHTEN BORDER CONTROLS.
Internal Affairs Minister Leszek Miller has set up special teams composed of officials from various ministries to deal with the issue of fighting organized crime, Polish media reported on 16 January. That move is expected to streamline the decision-making process. Miller also announced plans to tighten controls on Poland's eastern border, which, he said, will "soon be the eastern border of the European Union." New border crossings are to be opened and old ones modernized. Also, the Border Guard is to be enlarged and cooperation with border forces of Poland's eastern neighbors is to be stepped up. -- Beata Pasek

UZBEK PRESIDENT SUPPORTS CZECH NATO MEMBERSHIP.
Islam Karimov told journalists in Prague on 15 January that he believes the Czech Republic has the right to become a member of NATO. He added that he does not see why the alliance should be perceived as a threat to former Soviet countries, including Uzbekistan. At the same time, Karimov criticized Russia's offer to Belarus to hold dual referendums on merging the two countries. He said that although the current alliances between Russia and Belarus and between Russia, Belarus, Kazakstan, and Kyrgystan were established as economic blocs, Uzbekistan regarded them as military blocs. "Russia has the right to enhance its security but it should not be done by creating new blocs on the territory of the former Soviet Union," argued the Uzbek president. -- Jiri Pehe

CZECH PARLIAMENTARY DELEGATION IN SLOVAKIA.
A Czech parliamentary delegation, led by Chairman of the House of Representatives Milos Zeman, began a two-day visit to Bratislava on 15 January, Czech and Slovak press agencies reported. Zeman reassured his Slovak counterpart, Ivan Gasparovic, that Prague will support Slovakia's efforts to join NATO and EU. Both sides agreed to put more pressure on their governments to step up cooperation and to have more meetings between the two premiers. Slovak President Michal Kovac also received the delegation. Miroslav Sladek of the Assembly for the Republic--Czechoslovak Republican Party refused to meet with the president, saying Kovac should feel obliged to Premier Vladimir Meciar for his political career, Radio Twist reported. -- Anna Siskova

HUNGARIAN PREMIER TO RE-HIRE SACKED PRIVATIZATION MINISTER?
Gyula Horn on 15 January offered Tamas Suchman the post of deputy chairman of the parliament's European Integration Committee, Hungarian media reported. Suchman is one of Horn's close political associates and has been negotiating with the premier about the possibility of another government post. Suchman was fired after a major privatization scandal broke last October. The Socialist Party's parliamentary caucus has yet to approve Horn's plan to re-hire his political ally and long-time friend. -- Zsofia Szilagyi


UPDATE ON BULGARIAN POLITICAL CRISIS.
Bulgarian Socialist Party Chairman Georgi Parvanov has said the BSP wants to form a new government by 19 January, Duma reported on 16 January. Petar Stoyanov is due to be sworn in as new president on that day and to take office on 22 January. He will then give the BSP a mandate to form a new government if no consensus between the opposition and the Socialists is reached by then and if outgoing President Zhelyu Zhelev refuses to issue such a mandate, Standart noted. The BSP, saying it is prepared to accept early elections by the end of the year, has called on the opposition to enter talks about such a vote immediately. Union of Democratic Forces Chairman Ivan Kostov has agreed to negotiations with the BSP. At the same time, he demanded that no new government be formed under the present parliament and that elections be held by May. -- Stefan Krause

PROTESTS, STRIKES CONTINUE IN BULGARIA.
Tens of thousands of people took to Sofia's streets again on 15 January to protest the propoal to form a new BSP government and to support the opposition's demands for early parliamentary elections, Bulgarian media reported. Hundreds of university and high-school students as well as medical workers from cities throughout the country took part. Some 1,200 taxis brought traffic to a standstill in the capital. Miners in five mines stopped working for one hour, while some 3,500 workers at chemical and metallurgical plants downed tools. Ivan Naydenov of the Promyana trade union said Bulgaria's biggest refinery--Neftochim in Burgas--will start suspending operations as of 19 January if the Socialists do not meet the opposition's demands. One of the main power plants in Sofia is to begin today cutting heating supplies to seven Sofia neighborhoods for one hour a day. -- Maria Koinova in Sofia

BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTER ON VIOLENT CLASHES LAST WEEK.
Nikolay Dobrev, who is also the BSP premier-designate, has said the police made mistakes when they tried to contain the situation around the parliament building on the weekend, RFE/RL and Bulgarian media reported. The building was surrounded and subsequently stormed by protesters on 10-11 January, and several hundred protesters and policemen were injured. Dobrev said the main objective of containing the situation "with the least possible violence and without loss of life" had been achieved. But he noted that there had been insufficient coordination among police units and the lack of a special riot unit had been felt. Six people were arrested in connection with the incidents, Dobrev said, adding that he believed more arrests should have been made. He said it was unclear who had beaten up former Prime Minister and SDS leader Filip Dimitrov and other citizens. The police have claimed they did not use tear gas, despite eye-witnesses claiming the opposite. -- Stefan Krause

PROTESTS IN SERBIA RESUME ...
An estimated 20,000 protesters returned to Belgrade's streets on 15 January following a one-day break. Local election commissions on 14 January recognized opposition Zajedno victories in 14 municipalities, while the authorities indicated they might accept at least some opposition coalition wins. But according to Nasa Borba, the demonstrations have been resumed because fears persist that the regime may be wavering. Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic told the demonstrators that "We want our victory in its entirety." Zajedno leader and head of the Serbian Renewal Movement Vuk Draskovic added that "nothing is certain until we see whether the ruling [Socialist Party of Serbia] will challenge" the electoral commissions. -- Stan Markotich

... WHILE SPS DECLINES TO MAKE CONCESSIONS TO OPPOSITION.
Radio B-92 reported on 15 January that members of the Belgrade University Council left the premises that day under police escort following their decision not to oust controversial university rector. Student leaders had demanded that the hard-line university official be removed, saying that otherwise nationwide student protests would continue. In other news, media reports have suggested that while Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic may be willing to compromise on some opposition wins, he is attempting to hold on to other key cities, notably Belgrade. -- Stan Markotich

DEAN OF KOSOVO UNIVERSITY INJURED IN CAR BOMB.
The dean of the official Serbian University of Pristina Radivoje Papovic and his driver were seriously injured earlier today in a car bomb, a Koha journalist told OMRI. Police said the bomb was placed in a parked vehicle in the central Pristina district of Dardania and was probably activated by remote control. Both that vehicle and the car Papovic was traveling in were destroyed by the blast. Papovic is known for his fierce opposition to allow ethnic Albanian students to continue their studies on the premises of Pristina University under an agreement reached last September by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova. The Kosovo Liberation Army is thought to be behind the attack. The group has taken responsibility for the killing of eight Serbs in 1996 as well as the murders since late December of three ethnic Albanians working with the Serbian administration. -- Fabian Schmidt

DOES WASHINGTON FAVOR ASSIGNING BRCKO TO SERBS?
Diplomats who asked not to be named told Reuters on 15 January that U.S. envoy John Kornblum has recommended to U.S. mediator Roberts Owen that the contested town of Brcko be given to the Republika Srpska. Croats and Muslims would be allowed to return to their homes in the area and be given an internationally monitored transit corridor. The joint government of Bosnia, which includes all three peoples, would control the town's harbor on the Sava River, Oslobodjenje added on 16 January. The Dayton agreement already supposedly guarantees the right of refugees to go home and the right to freedom of movement. Owen, who is currently at arbitration meetings in Rome, must reach a decision on the fate of the town and the surrounding area by 15 February. -- Patrick Moore

SWIFT REACTION TO BRCKO REPORTS.
The U.S. State Department quickly denied that the leaked report represents Washington's policy, stressing that any decision will be made by the arbitration commission itself, Reuters and AFP reported on 15 January. Bosnian Co-Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic added that he doubts that the contents of the report are authentic, Oslobodjenje wrote. Vital considerations are at stake both for the Serbs and for the mainly Croat and Muslim federation. The controversy is so intense that Brcko was the one territorial issue that proved impossible to resolve at the Dayton conference in late 1995. The Serbs claim it because they have held it since early in the war and, above all, because it connects the eastern and western halves of their territory. The Muslims and Croats insist it is theirs on the basis of the prewar census--that is, before ethnic cleansing. -- Patrick Moore

CROATIA CAUTIOUS ON U.S. BALKAN INITIATIVE.
State Department envoy Richard Stifter met with President Franjo Tudjman on 14 January to discuss a proposal on economic and ecological cooperation in southeastern Europe. The American position is that the region extending from Hungary to Turkey contains at least 12 mainly small countries that should best tackle problems of infrastructure and communications together. Tudjman said that his country is interested in cooperation on specific projects of an economic nature but rejects any new political grouping. Croatia and Slovenia are the only ones of the 12 countries approached so far that have yet to sign on to the project. The trend in both countries is to stress themselves as being central European rather than Balkan and to be deeply suspicious of anything that smacks of relegating the two countries to the Balkans or of setting up a new Yugoslavia, Croatian dailies on 14 and 15 January reported. -- Patrick Moore

ROMANIAN CABINET, UNIONS DISCUSS ECONOMIC, SOCIAL PACKAGE.
Several ministers and trade union leaders on 15 January discussed a complex reform package aimed at dealing with the country's economic and social malaise, Radio Bucharest reported. Premier Victor Ciorbea said after the meeting that the government has asked for a moratorium of two to three weeks on implementing the program. He added that the delay was necessary to get vital support from international financial organizations for the reform process. Ciorbea also noted that the recent three-day talks with World Bank representatives in Bucharest offered Romania "a big change" to secure support from the bank to soften the effects of massive recent price hikes. Trade unions warned against widespread social protests if the government fails to improve social protection. -- Dan Ionescu

NEW MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT SWORN IN.
Petru Lucinschi on 15 January was sworn in as Moldova's second president since the country declared independence from the Soviet Union in August 1991, local news agencies reported. Lucinschi won the December run-off against his predecessor, Mircea Snegur. Deputy Parliamentary Speaker Dumitru Diacov presided over the inauguration ceremony. The parliament has failed three times to elect a new chairman to replace Lucinschi, who resigned from that post last week. In his inaugural speech, the new president repeated his electoral pledge to ensure the country's "stability, order, and prosperity." He said "normalization" of the situation in the breakaway Dniester region was a "top priority" and expressed the hope that Russia would help "eliminate that hotbed of conflicts in Europe." Dniester leaders declined a formal invitation to attend the inauguration ceremony. -- Dan Ionescu

ALBANIAN OPPOSITION CALLS ON COUNCIL OF EUROPE TO SUPPORT NEW ELECTIONS.
The Center Pole coalition and the Socialist Party have signed a declaration to the Council of Europe calling for its support for strengthening democracy in Albania, Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 15 January. The parties expressed concern about the continuing lack of a full-fledged constitution, the failure of the government to adopt a law providing for private broadcasting media, and "systematic human rights violations." They also repeated their demand for new parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, the Swedish government has decided to give former Albanian ambassador ten days to leave the country. Bardhyl Kokalari asked for political asylum in 1994, saying he risked the death penalty for high treason if he was forced to return to Albania. Tirana had recalled him after he helped an Albanian asylum-seeker write a letter to the Swedish immigration authorities. -- Fabian Schmidt

ALBANIAN POLICE ARREST FOUNDER OF PYRAMID SCHEME.
Police arrested Maksude Kademi, the founder of the Sude investment company, and 18 of her close collaborators on 15 January, Albania reported. Kademi had stopped paying the investors in her pyramid scheme in November. Some 5,000 angry Sude investors clashed with police while marching into central Tirana after Central Bank Governor Kristaq Luniku ruled that the daily withdrawal for a single client would be limited to $300,000. Following the ruling, Kademi put the blame for her insolvency on the government. The demonstrators reportedly charged the government with stealing investors' money. Luniku strongly rejected these charges and said limiting access to assets was "normal," Gazeta Shqiptare reported. Elsewhere, cheated investors of the Gjallica scheme clashed with police in Vlora on 16 January. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Jan Cleave



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