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Newsline - January 27, 1997

Chechen voters began casting ballots for a new president and parliament at 7:00 a.m. local time on 27 January, Russian and Western agencies reported. Amid tight security, 72 OSCE election monitors will observe voting at 435 precincts in the republic, where voters are choosing from 766 candidates vying for 63 parliamentary mandates and 13 candidates for the presidency. Three minor presidential candidates withdrew from the race on 26 January; two threw their support behind acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, while one backed former Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov. Chechen Electoral Commission officials said over 400,000 voters have been registered for the polls; 700,000 ballots have been printed, since registration will continue during the elections. Polling stations for Chechen refugees have been established in Ingushetiya, but refugees from other neighboring regions must return to Chechnya to vote. -- Scott Parrish

The former Chechen chief of staff said on 26 January that the presidential election would force Moscow to open talks with Chechnya on independence, declaring "we want to be recognized as a sovereign state," Reuters reported. Maskhadov added that he would seek "war reparations" from Russia if he became president. Maskhadov's statement provoked an angry reaction from the Russian Foreign Ministry. Deputy Foreign Minister Viktor Posuvalyuk renewed warnings that Moscow would break diplomatic relations with any country that recognizes Chechnya, although he admitted that no country had yet taken steps to do so. Some anticipate that Maskhadov will win the 27 January presidential election outright, getting over 50% of the vote. However, other leading candidates, including notorious former field commander Shamil Basaev, ex-press spokesman Movladi Udugov, or acting President Yandarbiev could garner enough votes to force a runoff election in two weeks. -- Scott Parrish

On the eve of the Chechen elections,
five people were killed and two injured in an explosion in the Khasavyurt Raion of Dagestan near the Chechen border, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 January. The blast occurred during railway track repairs. The cause of the explosion is still unknown, but the local branch of the Federal Security Service has not ruled out the possibility that terrorists planted a mine under the tracks. Meanwhile, in Chechnya, the kidnapped head of the Orthodox church in Grozny and his assistant (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 January 1997), were released. Chechen officials insisted that "criminals" with no political motive were responsible for the priests' abduction. --
Nikolai Iakoubovski

Presidential aide Georgii Satarov said on 26 January that Boris Yeltsin, who was released from hospital on 20 January after 12 days treatment for pneumonia, is "intellectually extremely active" though physically weak, international agencies reported. Speaking on 24 January, Yeltsin's press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii also stressed that the president is keen to return to work though physically not ready to do so. Yastrzhembskii said Yeltsin did not intend to cancel his international engagements, but it was later announced that a CIS summit scheduled for 29 January had again been postponed. The Kremlin still insists that a 2 February meeting between Yeltsin and French President Jacques Chirac will go ahead. Many commentators are skeptical of official statements regarding Yeltsin's health, noting that no new photos of the president have been released since 6 January even though Yeltsin was reported to have visited the Kremlin on 22 January to meet with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. -- Penny Morvant

The State Duma on 24 January passed the 1997 budget on fourth reading by 245-90 with 17 abstentions, ITAR-TASS reported. Budgetary spending is now set at 529.8 trillion rubles ($94.3 billion) and revenue at 434.4 trillion, leaving the budget deficit at 3.5% of GDP. Tax receipts are expected to reach 374.7 trillion rubles, 25% up from the 1996 level, an estimate considered unrealistic by many observers. Most Communists supported the budget, despite earlier threats to vote agains it or abstain, after securing more promises that the government would settle wage and pension arrears. On the same day, the Duma adopted on first reading an 18 trillion ruble development budget -- a controversial document supported by the Communists that calls for the creation of a special agency to manage part of the budgetary funds. -- Natalia Gurushina

A Moscow district court fined former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed a symbolic one ruble and the weekly Argumenty i fakty 100 million rubles ($18,000) for insulting the honor and dignity of Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov, Russian media reported on 24 January. In an interview published shortly after he was fired in October, Lebed accused Kulikov of collaborating with pro-Moscow Chechen head of state Doku Zavgaev to "write off funds from the Chechen budget." The paper pledged to appeal the decision, on the grounds that it had merely quoted Lebed. Last month, another Moscow court awarded Lebed one ruble after finding that Kulikov had falsely accused him of plotting a military coup in October (see OMRI Daily Digest, 18 December 1996). -- Laura Belin

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with his recently appointed Belarusian counterpart Ivan Antanovich in Moscow on 24 January, Russian media reported. According to an Interfax report monitored by the BBC, Primakov said Moscow is "absolutely satisfied" with Belarusian foreign policy, which he described as "multi-faceted" but having "a special emphasis on Russia." While Primakov denied that Russian-Belarusian integration aims primarily to counter NATO enlargement, Antanovich confirmed that Minsk will continue to support Moscow's opposition to NATO's plans. The Belarusian diplomat also called for taking concrete steps to unify the Russian and Belarusian monetary and energy systems. The same day, the chairmen of both houses of the new Belarusian Federal Assembly, Anatolii Malofeev and Pavel Shepuk, discussed integration issues in Moscow with their Russian counterparts Gennadii Seleznev and Yegor Stroev. -- Scott Parrish

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Grigorii Karasin and North Korean officials on 24 January signed an agreement regulating travel between the two countries, ITAR-TASS reported. In what he described as a change from previous arrangements, Karasin said citizens of each country--except for diplomats and transport workers--would now need visas to visit the other. Earlier during his five-day official visit to Pyongyang, Karasin said the two sides had made significant progress on a new bilateral friendship treaty to replace the 1961 Soviet-North Korean Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation, which expired last September. But the Russian delegation departed from North Korea on 25 January without finishing the agreement, which ITAR-TASS said "working groups" would continue hammering out. Karasin also reiterated that Moscow would like to play a role in facilitating the "peaceful reunification" of the Korean peninsula. -- Scott Parrish

The Russian Constitutional Court on 24 January ruled on a controversial law regulating institutions of state power in the Republic of Udmurtiya, Ekho Moskvy reported. The law, passed by the Udmurt State Council in April 1996, abolished all local government bodies at the town and district level, removed popularly elected mayors, and subordinated all local leaders directly to the republican legislature (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 October 1996). State Council head Aleksandr Volkov had long been at odds with Anatolii Saltykov, mayor of the Udmurt capital, Izhevsk. President Yeltsin, a group of Duma members, and residents of Izhevsk asked the Constitutional Court to examine the "contents and spirit of the law." According to ITAR-TASS, the court upheld the right of the Udmurt State Council to set up its own organs of power but ruled a number of the law's provisions unconstitutional. Thus the Udmurt authorities do not have the right to shut down local elected bodies before their term in office is complete without obtaining the consent of the population. -- Penny Morvant

Russia's gas giant Gazprom is set to receive a $2.5 billion commercial credit from a consortium of major Western banks led by the German Dresdner Bank, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 January. The eight-year loan will not be guaranteed by the Russian government. The money will finance the construction of a 4,200-kilometer gas pipeline from the Yamal peninsula to Western Europe. The total cost of the project is estimated at $24 billion. -- Natalia Gurushina

Georgian police have arrested 12 people who, according to Interior Minister Kakhi Targamadze, plotted to assassinate several high-ranking officials and were "partially funded from abroad," international agencies reported on 24 January. Targamadze alleged that some of those arrested are members of the banned Mkhedrioni paramilitary organization that helped to overthrow former President Zviad Gamsakhurdia. Procurator General Jamlet Babilashvili said the "terrorist group" had links with former Security Minister Igor Giorgadze, who, according to Georgian authorities, was implicated in the assassination attempt on President Eduard Shevardnadze in August 1995. -- Emil Danielyan

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said his country will not remain in Russia's "sphere of influence" unless Moscow helps Georgia restore its sovereignty over the breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, international agencies reported on 26 January. According to AFP, Shevardnadze earlier cited Russian officials as complaining that the West wants to "lure Georgia away" from Russian influence. Georgia has repeatedly threatened to make the presence of Russian troops on its territory contingent on Moscow using its influence to resolve the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts. Meanwhile, the Interior Ministry of the self-proclaimed Republic of Abkhazia has blamed "Georgian secret services" for attacks on Abkhaz military posts, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 January. The Georgian Security Ministry denied the allegations. -- Emil Danielyan

Zhirayr Libaridian, the chief aide to Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, said Armenia will no longer hold direct negotiations with Azerbaijan without the participation of representatives of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Noyan Tapan reported on 24 January. Libaridian said the decision was taken in the wake of the December 1996 OSCE summit in Lisbon. Libaridian, who previously had a number of meetings with his Azerbaijani counterpart Vafa Guluzade, argued that Azerbaijan wants to use its rich oil reserves as a bargaining chip in settling the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. In related news, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev met Russian presidential aide Emil Pain, in Baku. The two agreed that the any resolution of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict should preserve Azerbaijan's territorial integrity while granting autonomy and security guarantees to Nagorno-Karabakh, Russian media reported. -- Emil Danielyan

Azerbaijan's Ministry of National Security and the state prosecutor issued a joint statement on 24 January claiming that they thwarted a coup attempt planned for late last fall, Azerbaijani and Russian sources reported the same day. The statement says the coup was planned by former President Ayaz Mutalibov, former Prime Minister Suret Huseinov, and former KGB chief Vagif Huseinov, and involved unnamed foreign intelligence officers. The plot allegedly unraveled when a key conspirator, former OPON Commander of Kazak District Elchin Amiraslanov, was arrested for murdering three law enforcement officials in October. Some 40 people have been arrested in connection with the alleged coup attempt. -- Lowell Bezanis

The commander of the Tajik Army's First Brigade, Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, began on 25 January to enforce a presidential order to disarm all non-military formations in the city of of Tursun Zade, Russian sources reported. For four years various outlaw groups have struggled to gain control of the city, which is home to Central Asia's largest aluminum factory. According to the presidential order, disarmament should be completed by 28 January. Khudaberdiyev claims this will not be a problem and that the people of the city support his efforts, but he warned that any group which fails to comply will be eliminated. NTV reported on 25 January that Khudaberdiyev's unauthorized early January attack on Tursun Zade convinced President Imomali Rakhmonov to sign the disarmament order. -- Bruce Pannier

The upper house of the Kazakstani parliament on 24 January discussed a draft of the country's language law, already passed by the lower house, which would increase the use of the Kazak language in the country, ITAR-TASS and Radio Mayak reported. Though Kazak is officially the state language, the lower house claimed it is not fully used and is still inferior to Russian. The bill gives ethnic Kazaks in the government until 2005 to master the language and ethnic Russians until 2010, but some parliamentarians now doubt that this deadline can be met without greater efforts to promote the state language's use. -- Bruce Pannier and Merhat Sharipzhan

Some 5,000 people on 25 January participated in an opposition rally to demonstrate support for the popular movements in Serbia and Bulgaria, ITAR-TASS reported. The Belarusian Popular Front demanded early parliamentary elections and called on supporters to resist the authorities' attempts to restrict freedoms. It also accused Russia of trying to "occupy Belarus." Shouting anti-Russian slogans, demonstrators marched to the Russian Embassy building, which had been placed under heavy guard. Although the rally was not officially sanctioned, there were no serious clashes with the police. Meanwhile, a special mission composed of representatives of the EU, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE has begun its work in the Belarusian capital, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 January. The mission is to study the political situation in Belarus, focusing on the November referendum that increased President Aleksandr Lukashenka's powers. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

Oleksander Moroz has urged the parliament to take an official position on NATO expansion and the deployment of nuclear arms on the territory of new member countries, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 January. He complained about the often divergent opinions among politicians over Ukraine's possible membership in NATO at a time when a "a complicated process of re-evaluating the idea of NATO expansion is under way worldwide." Moroz's comments followed Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko's visit last week to Geneva, where he said non-affiliated Ukraine is not planning to join NATO. Earlier this month, Security Council Chairman Volodymyr Horbulin suggested Ukraine might join NATO by 2010. In other news, the parliament has ratified an international convention on torture and other violations of human rights, meeting one of the conditions for Council of Europe membership, Ukrainian Radio reported on 24 January. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

Serhii Holovaty has said the Crimean parliament contravened the Ukrainian constitution by voting to oust the peninsula's government, Ukrainian media reported on 25 January. He noted that the Ukrainian constitution contains no provision allowing the Crimean parliament to suspend the powers of the Crimean government. The Crimean parliament on 23 January voted to dismiss the government and ordered the formation of a new Council of Ministers. Crimean Prime Minister Arkadii Demidenko has said the move was aimed at redistributing power and property and paving the way for new elections.
He has appealed to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma to overrule the Crimean parliament's decision. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

President Guntis Ulmanis on 25 January discussed the formation of a new government with the five smallest caucuses in the Saeima, BNS reported. Parliamentary representatives of the Latvia's National Independence Party, For People and Justice, and the coalition of the Farmers Union and Christian Democrats expressed support for Andris Skele's re-nomination as prime minister, but For Latvia representatives said they would vote against a Skele government. The largest caucuses--Latvia's Way, For the Fatherland and Freedom, and Democratic Party Saimnieks--met the same day but declined to make a public statement about their talks. -- Saulius Girnius

The Sejm on 25 January approved the 1997 budget by a vote of 287 to 123 with 14 abstentions, Polish media reported. The budget foresees a 5.7% growth in GDP, compared with 6% in 1996, and a 13% inflation rate (18.5% last year). It also provides for a 2.8% budget deficit and a 5.5% increase in real terms in public sector wages. Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said that with this budget, Poland will remain one of the fastest developing countries in the world. The opposition, meanwhile, accused the government of deliberately giving low figures for budget revenues so that it can use additional funds to "buy" votes for the fall parliamentary elections. -- Beata Pasek

Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) Chairman Jan Kalvoda on 25 January announced he will not seek re-election at the party congress in March, Czech media reported. Kalvoda recently resigned from his government posts following reports that he had falsely claimed to have a doctorate. Trade and Industry Minister Vladimir Dlouhy, one of the most popular politicians in the country, has also said he will not run for the ODA chairmanship. Meanwhile, the Central Committee of the Czech Social Democratic Party (CSSD) has rejected a proposal by a group of party members to recall CSSD Deputy Chairman Milan Machovec, who is considered a political opponent of party chairman Milos Zeman. However, the committee has expelled Jozef Wagner, another opponent of Zeman, for a second time. Wagner was recently stripped of his party membership but was subsequently re-admitted by a local party organization. -- Jiri Pehe

The Republican Council of the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) on 25 January proposed that the next parliamentary elections be held in early July 1998, instead of the fall, TASR reported. HZDS Deputy Chairwoman Olga Keltosova said this would give the party more time to prepare for the local elections, which are scheduled for fall 1998. She added that talks on the timing of the elections should be held within the ruling coalition and also with opposition parties. Meanwhile, the HZDS is waiting for the Constitutional Court to rule on the opposition's proposal for a referendum on direct presidential elections. Keltosova said
that if such a referendum takes place, the HZDS will consider giving further powers to the next president and possibly changing the length of his term in office. She added that the HZDS will seek to hold a referendum on joining NATO in May since "more than 70% of voters" are in favor of such a vote. -- Anna Siskova

Representatives of opposition parties and civil organizations, meeting in Budapest this weekend, rejected the ruling Socialists' bid to secure an out-of-court settlement of the Gabcikovo dispute, Hungarian dailies reported on 27 January. The government, which is holding secret negotiations with Slovakia, is divided over the issue, since the junior coalition Free Democrats argue that the dispute should be settled at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. Meanwhile, Hungarian environmental organizations have submitted a compromise plan to The Hague. They have also sent a letter urging the court to rule that nations do not have the right to destroy eco-systems, since rivers and forests are not their sole property. They warn that the Slovaks' unilateral re-routing of the Danube has caused a significant deterioration of the Szigetkoz region's eco-system, pointing out that two-thirds of the neighboring population have had to flee. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Demonstrators clashed with police in towns throughout the country over the weekend as they protested the recent collapse of pyramid schemes, international media reported. Hundreds of thousands of Albanians have reportedly lost their life savings because of the collapse. Around 30,000 people rallied in Tirana on 26 January. Police fired pistol shots into the air when some 3,000 protesters tried to advance toward the parliament. Eighty-four policemen were reported injured, some seriously. About 30 people were arrested. The Democratic Party headquarters and government buildings were torched in Korca, Fier, and Vlora, while protesters set fire to the building of the oil company Albpetrol in Patos. On 25 January, demonstrators blocked the main north-south highway. Meanwhile, 230 rioting inmates at the Barwhor prison near Kavaja tried to burn down the prison; two prisoners died in clashes with the police in the night from 26-27 January. Justice Minister Kristofer Peci claimed the situation had returned to normal by early this morning. -- Fabian Schmidt

The parliament on 26 January gave President Sali Berisha special powers to deploy military units to restore law and order, international media reported. "A limited number of army units will be temporarily engaged alongside police forces to protect state and public institutions and to ensure the free flow of traffic on national roads," a parliamentary statement said. But Foreign Minister and Democratic Party Chairman Tritan Shehu, who was attacked at a demonstration in Tirana the previous day, said the parliament's decision has "nothing to do with a state of emergency." The army has been put on alert in Tirana to guard ministries, the central bank, and other strategic buildings. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi has told the demonstrators that they will get their money back beginning in early February. Authorities have seized around $300 million from two pyramid scheme accounts, but that sum is unlikely to cover all losses. Another mass demonstration is scheduled to take place in Shkoder today. -- Fabian Schmidt

President Petar Stoyanov on 24 January held talks with leaders of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and the opposition in an attempt to resolve the country's political crisis, RFE/RL reported. Stoyanov said no agreement is possible unless both sides become far more flexible, and he called the BSP's demands "very difficult" for the opposition to accept. BSP leader Georgi Parvanov said his party will agree to a "non-Socialist, broad-based" government that can take over until December 1997--provided that government is headed by BSP premier-designate Nikolay Dobrev, who is currently interior minister. On 26 January, Stoyanov had separate meeting with BSP and opposition leaders. Meanwhile, thousands of people took part in anti-BSP rallies over the weekend to demand new parliamentary elections. The Confederation of Labor Podkrepa has announced it will stage strikes in 14 cities, including Sofia. -- Stefan Krause

By about 7:30 a.m. local time on 27 January, an estimated 300,000 demonstrators had taken to Belgrade streets in response to a call by Orthodox Church leaders, Reuters reported. The elderly Patriarch Pavle headed the demonstration, along with some two dozen priests, to mark Saint Sava's day. Earlier, police withdrew the cordon around downtown Belgrade, allowing some 50,000 students and others to march along the city's main streets. These latest developments follow a weekend of low-level violence in the capital and other Serbian cities. Meanwhile, Vojislav Seselj, ultranationalist leader of the Serbian Radical Party, has met in Belgrade with members of the Russian State Duma. Commenting on the mass demonstrations, Seselj told the government-controlled Vecernje novosti that "the leaders of [the opposition coalition Zajedno] are serving the West, contrary to the interests of their own people..., while the demonstrators march under foreign flags." -- Stan Markotich

Bosnian Serb crowds on 25 January attacked Muslims who were attempting to deliver construction materials and otherwise help families seeking to return to the village of Gajevi just inside Serb-held territory (see OMRI Daily Digest, 24 January 1997). Some 100 men armed with crowbars attacked and injured Semsudin Mujic, who was driving a tractor hauling prefabricated building materials, AFP wrote. The attackers stole some of those materials. A Muslim witness said that SFOR soldiers stood by and watched the beatings but did nothing. U.S. spokesperson Sgt. Marianne Mirabella said, however, that "security in the Republika Srpska is surely not the responsibility of SFOR. That's the responsibility of Republika Srpska police. They ought to be ashamed." The Muslim families are seeking to exercise their right under the Dayton agreement to go home. They have been vetted under a system supervised by the UN and agreed to by all sides. -- Patrick Moore

The Croatian member of the Bosnian presidency, Kresimir Zubak, accused the Muslims of still harboring foreign Islamic fighters, AFP reported on 25 January. In further evidence of friction between the nominal allies, Federal Deputy Minister Drago Bilandzija, a Croat, told Oslobodjenje that the State Directorate--a major public-sector company--is laundering money and evading taxes on a grand scale. He himself has been accused of corruption by Muslim Prime Minister Edhem Bicakcic. Increasingly, public tensions threaten to split the shaky coalition between the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). Leaders of the two parties, meeting over the weekend, issued an 11-point program aimed at harmonizing their relationship, Oslobodjenje wrote on 27 January. According to that text, the presidency and vice presidency of the federation will rotate annually between Croats and Muslims. The president for 1997 will be a Croat. -- Patrick Moore

Nikola Koljevic (60) died on 25 January in the Belgrade military hospital as a result of a suicide attempt in Pale on 16 January, AFP said, quoting Tanjug. As a vice president of the Republika Srpska, he had helped negotiate the Dayton agreement. But he had been pushed to the political sidelines by the Bosnian Serb leadership after the 14 September elections. He became depressed as a result of this treatment, as he himself made clear in a suicide note left for his family (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 21 January 1997). -- Patrick Moore

Jadranko Prlic on 24 January met with his Croatian counterpart, Mate Granic, to discuss worsened relations between Muslims and Croats in the Bosnian Federation, international media reported. Prlic attributed that development to the increasing harassment of Muslims in Mostar and differences over issues such as defense, AFP reported. But he added "there is no problem that cannot be resolved with dialogue." Both officials agreed that the Federation Forum--over which U.S. envoy to Bosnia-Herzegovina John Cornblum is to preside--should convene "as soon as possible." Prlic also met Croatian Defense Minister Gojko Susak to discuss Croatia's assistance in training the Bosnian federal army, Dnevni Avaz reported on 27 January. The ministers discussed bilateral cooperation in preventing border incidents and implementing an agreement on sub-regional weapons control. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The Croatian office of the international humanitarian organization sponsored by George Soros has paid $500,000 in taxes one month after Croatian financial police charged the office with tax evasion, Reuters reported on 25 January. Office executive director Srdjan Dvornik said the taxes had been paid in order to prevent further problems in Croatia. He added that the foundation will appeal to get the money back once the police has sent the conclusions of its investigation. State-run television commented that by paying the taxes, the foundation has admitted it violated the law. Croatian financial police stormed the Zagreb premises of the organization in December and claimed to have found evidence of " financial malpractice." -- Daria Sito Sucic

Janez Drnovsek, prime minister-designate and leader of the Liberal Democrats (LDS), on 24 January announced he has formed a new government, Radio Slovenija reported. Talks between the LDS and the three conservative Slovenian Spring parties--which have 44 of the 90 parliamentary seats--broke down earlier this month. Drnovsek said he has forged a coalition with the former communist United List of Social Democrats and several minor parties, resulting in a one-seat majority. He said the LDS will have nine portfolios, the former Communists five, and two minor parties one seat each. The agriculture and justice portfolios still have to be filled. Drnovsek may attempt to extend an olive branch to the Slovenian Spring parties with offers of those two posts. -- Stan Markotich

The Executive Bureau of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania on 25 January said it will propose a "political and social pact" at a meeting later this week with President Emil Constantinescu, Radio Bucharest reported. The bureau said it was "concerned" about what it called the new government's "political purges." It asked the president to use his influence over the governing coalition to put an end to the firings and hirings among the heads of state institutions. Meanwhile, a Bucharest appeals court on 24 January rejected Miron Cozma's request for bail, Radio Bucharest reported. Cozma is being detained on charges of "undermining state authority" by helping organize the miners' rampages in the Romanian capital in 1990 and 1991. Cozma's lawyer said after the ruling that he was dropping the case because of a "work overload." Miners held protest rallies earlier this month to demand Cozma's release on bail. -- Zsolt Mato

The legislature on 24 January approved Prime Minister Ion Ciubuc's government and its program, international agencies reported. Valeriu Pasat, former ambassador to Moscow, has been appointed defense minister. He is the first-ever civilian to be appointed to that post. Communist Mihai Plamadeala is the new interior minister, while Tudor Botnaru, former ambassador to Belgium, takes over the national security portfolio. Ciubuc said the government will restructure the economy, reduce budget expenditures, and launch privatization in energy and agriculture sectors. Meanwhile, following a meeting of work teams in Chisinau on 23 January, Moldova and the Dniester republic agreed to step up negotiations to find a settlement to the ongoing conflict, Infotag reported. -- Dan Ionescu

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Jan Cleave