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Newsline - February 3, 1997


YELTSIN MEETS WITH CHIRAC.
French President Jacques Chirac made a one-day working visit to Moscow on 2 February, Russian and Western agencies reported. Chirac met Russian President Boris Yeltsin at a government residence in Novo-Ogarovo, outside Moscow, for about three hours of talks on European security and bilateral ties. After the meeting, Chirac said he was "impressed" with the speed of Yeltsin's recovery from heart surgery and pneumonia. The French president said a NATO-Russia agreement could be signed before the planned July NATO summit in Madrid, when prospective East European members will be invited to begin membership talks. He added that France did not object to Moscow's demand that the agreement be a legally binding treaty, but could also accept a political declaration. Putting an upbeat spin on the meeting, NTV argued that France wants to take a "different route" to expanding the alliance than that favored by Washington. -- Scott Parrish

FINAL CHECHEN ELECTION RESULTS.
The Chechen Electoral Commission released the final results of the 27 January presidential election on 2 February, ITAR-TASS reported. As expected, former Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov won, with 59.3% of the vote, followed by former field commander Shamil Basaev with 23.5%, and acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev with 10.1%. The electoral commission said turnout was 79.4%, with 407,699 of 513,585 registered voters participating. Commission head Mumadi Saidaev said the delay in reporting the final results, which had drawn criticism from some Russian journalists, was permitted under Chechen law, and allowed defeated candidates to appeal the election results if they felt it necessary. The commission said a second round of voting in the Chechen parliamentary elections is scheduled for 15 February, although final results of the first round voting in the republic's 63 constituencies have not yet been tabulated. -- Scott Parrish

MASKHADOV MEETS RYBKIN.
Chechen President-elect Maskhadov met with Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin in Grozny on 1 February, Russian and Western agencies reported the next day. Although the final results of the 27 January Chechen presidential election had not yet been published, Rybkin handed Maskhadov a congratulatory message from Yeltsin. The Russian president termed Maskhadov's election "an important step toward defining the political relationship" between Moscow and Grozny, while expressing hope that "dialogue and cooperation" could resolve outstanding differences. AFP quoted Rybkin as saying he had urged Maskhadov to begin "serious" negotiations, and added that Moscow had already prepared several drafts of a proposed power-sharing treaty. Maskhadov, who has insisted Moscow recognize Chechnya's independence, said he is "ready for any talks with Moscow," but emphasized his view that Chechnya is already a sovereign state by saying he will not participate in the Federation Council. -- Scott Parrish

CONSTITUTIONAL COURT NOT TO EXAMINE KHASAVYURT ACCORDS.
The Constitutional Court announced on 31 January that it will not consider an appeal by 93 State Duma deputies against the Chechnya peace accords signed last August, Ekho Moskvy and Russian TV (RTR) reported. The deputies claimed that then-Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed exceeded his authority in signing the accords (see OMRI Daily Digest, 9 and 17 September, 1 October 1996). However, the court ruled that it had no jurisdiction over the issue, since the accords were a political agreement rather than a treaty between the Russian Federation and one of its republics. The court has periodically shied away from controversial cases by disclaiming jurisdiction; in the famous "Chechnya case" of 1995, judges declined to pass judgment on the legality of two presidential decrees relating to the deployment of Russian troops in Chechnya (see OMRI Daily Digest, 1 August 1995). -- Laura Belin

REWARD OFFERED FOR RETURN OF ORT JOURNALISTS.
Although Chechen law enforcement officials announced last week that the safe return of two Russian Public TV (ORT) correspondents was imminent, Roman Perevezentsev and Vyacheslav Tibelius still have not been found. Now the Chechen Interior Ministry is offering a 10 million ruble ($1,800) reward to the law enforcement officer who frees the journalists or discovers information concerning their whereabouts, Russian TV (RTR) reported on 1 February. No one has demanded a ransom payment since the two went missing on 19 January; citing anonymous sources, ORT speculated on 1 February that the journalists may be held captive by troops under the control of outgoing Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev. Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed on 28 January said his associates were involved in negotiations to secure the journalists' safe return. -- Laura Belin

ZYUGANOV FAVORS ARMING COSSACKS "UNDER STRICT CONTROL."
After meeting with Communist Party (KPRF) activists and Cossack atamans in Moscow, KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov said he was in favor of arming Cossack units, provided that such a policy was carried out under "strict" and "reliable" state control, ITAR-TASS and Russian TV (RTR) reported on 31 January. He argued, "The greatest crime of the current authorities is that they handed out arms to everyone except those who should defend the country." Most Russian officials, with the exception of Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii, have spoken out against arming the Cossacks. Asked about Maskhadov's calls for complete independence from Russia, Zyuganov--who has strongly criticized the Khasavyurt peace accords signed by Lebed and Maskhadov--said the new Chechen president will face a "a number of obligations and a complicated domestic situation" and may be forced to change his position. -- Laura Belin

CONFLICT OVER PROCURATOR IN CHUVASHIYA.
The legislature of Chuvashiya has asked the republic's president, former Russian Justice Minster Nikolai Fedorov, to rescind his order firing republican Procurator Sergei Rusakov, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 February. Fedorov fired Rusakov on 19 January, citing rampant crime in the republic. However, the Russian procurator general, who has the right to appoint and dismiss regional procurators, demanded that Fedorov take back his decree since it exceeded the powers granted him by Russian law. New Stavropol Krai Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov has also denounced his local procurator, but has so far only threatened to appeal to the federal authorities to remove him. As regional executives become more assertive across the country, they may demand that the center give them greater oversight over local law enforcement officials. Local legislatures will be able to use the conflict to promote their own agendas. -- Robert Orttung

LARGE POPULATION DECLINE IN 1996.
Russia's population declined by 475,000 in 1996 to 147.5 million by the end of the year, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 January citing Goskomstat. By comparison, the population fell by 164,000 in 1995 and by only 60,000 in 1994, since immigration was higher in those years. As in the preceding two years, deaths exceeded births in 1996 by about 60%. The report did not give figures for natural loss (the population decline attributable to an excess of deaths over births) but said that the net gain of 349,500 immigrants compensated for about 40% of the natural loss. This suggests that natural loss in 1996 was about 870,000. Natural loss was greatest--10 to 13 per 1,000--in Pskov, Tula, Tver, Novgorod, Ivanovo, Yaroslavl, and Ryazan oblasts. A natural increase in the population was registered in only 10 regions, most of them non-Russian republics (Ingushetiya, Dagestan, Kalmykiya, Altai, Tyva, Sakha, Kabardino-Balkariya, Karachaevo-Cherkessiya) -- Penny Morvant

RUSSIAN OFFICIALS IN DAVOS.
Encouraging more foreign investment is a top priority of the Russian government, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 31 January. Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Nikolai Kovalev told the forum that the FSB had set up a special unit to protect foreign investments in the country, ITAR-TASS reported on 1-2 February. He also said the security service will investigate links between Russian financial groups in Switzerland and organized crime. Kovalev stressed, however, that the problem of the "Russian mafia" is often exaggerated. Deputy Security Council Secretary Boris Berezovskii and Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov said that much of Russia's difficulty in attracting foreign capital stems from the absence of appropriate economic legislation and inconsistency in implementing economic reforms. -- Natalia Gurushina

PRIME MINISTER SIGNS EDICT ON ALCOHOL LICENSING.
Prime Minister Chernomyrdin has signed a government edict on licensing imported alcohol products, First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin told ITAR-TASS on 31 January. He said the new regulations, which authorize customs officials to collect excise duties and VAT before alcohol products enter the country, would go into effect on 1 February. Potanin said the measure was aimed at raising tax revenue and reducing the amount of liquor smuggled into the country. Russia had earlier planned to introduce quotas for alcohol imports but abandoned the idea in favor of licensing following objections from the International Monetary Fund. The Russian government has also taken a number of steps recently to tighten controls on the domestic production of alcohol in an attempt to raise revenues. -- Penny Morvant

STATE OF RUSSIA'S GOLD RESERVES.
Central Bank (TsB) spokesperson Natalya Khomenko attributed recent press reports that Russian strategic gold reserves had been depleted to a minterpretation of procedural changes, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported on 31 January. She stressed that the gold did not leave the country but was bought by the TsB from the Finance Ministry. Hitherto, the strategic gold reserves were kept at the State Treasure Reserve (Gokhran), which was subordinate to the Finance Ministry. The TsB's gold reserves (which are used to support the national currency) increased from some 380 metric tons in October 1996 to 400 metric tons at the end of the year. Sources within Russia's Audit Chamber, however, point out that exports of gems, platinum, and palladium in 1996 were double the expected level of 4.5-4.6 trillion rubles ($800 million at the current exchange rate). -- Natalia Gurushina


OFFICIALS: PLOT TO ASSASSINATE SHEVARDNADZE FOILED.
A conspiracy to kill Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and other top government officials last fall was thwarted, RFE/RL reported on 31 January. According to sources in Georgia's Ministry of Interior, the conspirators planned to assassinate Shevardnadze during the Tbilisi city festival last October and were funded and directed by the country's former top security official, Igor Georgadze. A dozen people have been arrested in connection with the plot. -- Lowell Bezanis

MOSCOW ON U.S. ROLE IN KARABAKH NEGOTIATIONS.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov said Moscow is opposed to U.S. efforts to secure the co-chairmanship of the OSCE-sponsored Minsk Group on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, RFE/RL reported on 1 February. Pastukhov said the American proposal is part of a wide-ranging Western campaign to challenge Russian interests in the region and the OSCE has already selected France for the position. Armenia welcomed the OSCE decision, announced in early January, while Azerbaijan prefers the U.S. to take up the post. Pastukhov alleged that Iran, Turkey, the U.S., and other NATO countries were involved in a broader campaign to edge Russia out of the region. -- Lowell Bezanis

PIPELINE, CASPIAN UPDATE.
The victory of Aslan Maskhadov in Chechnya's presidential election was widely interpreted as a positive sign Caspian Sea oil will flow uninterrupted through Chechnya en route to Novorissisk and world markets, Reuters reported on 31 January. The next day ITAR-TASS reported Maskhadov has given promises the oil will flow and Chechen officials will begin talks later this month with the Russian Energy Ministry on financing repairs to the pipeline through Chechnya. In other news, Turkmen Deputy Foreign Minister Yulbaz Kepbanov reiterated Ashgabat's view that the Azeri and Chirag Caspian Sea fields were within its territorial waters and it would be "incorrect" for Azerbaijan to forge ahead with drilling plans until the Caspian's status was defined, RFE/RL reported on 1 February. -- Lowell Bezanis

DRUG PROBLEMS CONTINUE ON TAJIK-AFGHAN BORDER ...
Russian border guards shot and killed one of four men attempting to cross from Afghanistan into Tajikistan on 31 January, ITAR-TASS reported. The other three fled back across the Pyanj River to Afghanistan. The same night Russian border guards apprehended another man carrying 20.6 kilos of narcotics. Radio Rossii reported on 2 February that in January Russian border guards caught 58 people trying to cross into Tajikistan illegally and confiscated more than 35 kilos of narcotics. -- Bruce Pannier

... WHILE TASHKENT WARNS DUSHANBE.
Tashkent has officially expressed "serious concern" over what it terms the increasing level of drug trafficking into Uzbekistan from Tajikistan, RFE/RL reported on 1 February. According to unnamed sources in the Uzbek Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tashkent fears smugglers are turning Uzbekistan into a transit country for drugs heading to other CIS countries as well as to the West, and in some cases are involved in smuggling weapons into Uzbekistan. Tashkent called on Dushanbe to make every effort to halt these activities and said it would take whatever measures were necessary to prevent future incidents. -- Lowell Bezanis


UKRAINE GOVERNMENT SEEKS TO ABOLISH DEATH PENALTY.
Justice Minister Serhii Holovaty said on 31 January that the government has asked the parliament to abolish the death penalty, Reuters reported. The call for a moratorium on executions and their replacement by life sentences was prompted by the resolution adopted several days earlier by the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly threatening to suspend the credentials of the Ukrainian and Russian delegations if their countries continued executions. When it joined the CE in November 1995, Ukraine had pledged to end the death penalty within three years. Holovaty said in the first half of 1996, Ukraine, had executed 89 people. -- Saulius Girnius

EU FACT-FINDING MISSION ENDS VISIT TO BELARUS.
Representatives from the European Union, the Council of Europe, and the OSCE completed a six-day trip to Belarus on 31 January, Belapan reported. Their mission was to collect information about the 24 November referendum and constitutional reform in Belarus for a report on the country's human rights record to be presented to the EU Council of Ministers on 24 February. Dutch Council of State member and head of the mission Ari Kosto said that the delegation had met with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, various ministers, deputies of both the old and new parliaments, and representatives of the opposition. The delegation came at the invitation of Lukashenka, who expressed regret that his country's application for membership in the Council of Europe had been put on hold. -- Saulius Girnius

LATVIAN AGRICULTURE MINISTER CHANGES PARTIES.
Roberts Dilba on 31 January formally ended his affiliation with the Unity Party (LVP) and was admitted to the Farmers' Union (LZS), BNS reported. As the only minister from the LVP, Dilba had also served as deputy prime minister. Dilba's decision was probably prompted by the suggestion by Prime Minister Andris Skele that his new government would be formed without the LVP. The LZS coalition with the Christian Democratic Union now has 10 deputies while the LVP was reduced to six. -- Saulius Girnius

LITHUANIA-SWEDEN INITIAL VISA FREE AGREEMENT.
After three days of negotiations in Stockholm on 31 January, Lithuanian and Swedish foreign ministry delegations initialed treaties on the elimination of visa requirements and the return of illegal migrants, BNS reported. The agreements are expected to be signed during the visit of Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius to Sweden in February and may go into effect as early as 1 May. Lithuania has had visa free travel with Denmark and Norway for several years, but Sweden would be the first Schengen country to be accessible to Lithuanian citizens without visas. -- Saulius Girnius

GREAT CORRUPTION AFFAIR IN POLAND.
The Warsaw prosecutors office ended a seven-year investigation of Boguslaw Bagsik, Andrzej Gasiorowski and others, Polish dailies reported on 1 February. Bagsik, the main defendant, is the former president of Art "B," a Poland-based holding company established in 1988. Bagsik was extradited from Switzerland last year and is in prison in Warsaw. Gasiorowski, his closest collaborator, was accused in Israel of falsifying credit cards. Art "B" multiplied its assets by receiving credit guarantees, enabling the company to obtain other credits and then kiting--rapidly transferring large deposits from one account to another, earning interest on both accounts. Bagsik and Gasiorowski withdrew over $100 million from Polish banks and escaped from Poland in 1991. -- Jakub Karpinski

STRIKES IN THE CZECH REPUBLIC.
Trade unions representing Czech railroad workers announced on 2 February that railroad workers will begin a 48-hour strike today, Czech media reported. The unions are claiming that the current management is not doing enough to modernize and restructure the railroads and they want the government to step in. They also demand higher wages. Meanwhile, Czech teachers continue holding strikes in selected schools in an effort to push the government into agreeing to higher wages for the educational sector. -- Jiri Pehe

SLOVAK PREMIER INSISTS ON BANK PRIVATIZATION.
Speaking on Slovak Radio, Vladimir Meciar said on 31 January that bank privatization is a condition for OECD membership, and if Slovakia does not privatize its four biggest financial institutions quickly, it will miss its chance to join. A ban on bank privatization ends on 31 March, and Meciar hopes to sell them to domestic industrial firms. Peter Weiss, deputy chairman of the opposition Party of the Democratic Left, told TASR on 1 February his party opposes hasty bank privatization. The sale of large banks to big industrial firms would result in an enormous concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a small group of people, he said. Weiss pointed out that the World Bank and IMF recommended a delay in Slovak bank privatization. He added that Poland and the Czech Republic--both OECD members--are approaching bank privatization "very cautiously." -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARIAN DAILY PUBLISHES REPORT ON PARLIAMENTARY COMMISSION FINDINGS.
Tamas Deutsch, deputy of the opposition Young Democrats and chairman of the parliamentary commission investigating the privatization scandal, was furious when he learned the daily Nepszabadsag published a report on 1 February alleging the findings of the commission. Deutsch said the daily's article contains a number of inaccuracies, and was probably culled from several documents. The daily's analysis of an alleged commission report assigns responsibility to several people at the privatization agency but reveals little new evidence. Deutsch said the aim of the leak was to divert attention from recent revelations that the two coalition parties were implicated in the payments fiasco. -- Zsofia Szilagyi


POLICE VIOLENCE IN BELGRADE.
Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic confronted Belgrade demonstrators with a massive show of police violence beginning 2 February, local independent media reported. The demonstrators are demanding recognition of the opposition wins from the 17 November municipal runoffs. Heavily armed riot police resorted to beatings, tear gas, and dowsing protesters with water cannons. Eyewitness reports, some describing the city as "a battleground," say it was the most serious display of state aggression since 1991, when Milosevic deployed tanks to put down anti-government demonstrations. According to sources in the opposition Democratic Party, hundreds of people--including foreign and local journalists singled out for attack--were injured and scores arrested during the evening of 2-3 February. Throughout the city, protesters hurled concrete slabs and lit fires in the streets in an effort to halt police charges and water cannons. -- Stan Markotich

SERBIAN AUTHORITIES CRACK DOWN ON OPPOSITION LEADERS.
Leaders of the Zajedno opposition coalition were among those seemingly targeted for an attack during the continuing demonstrations in the country. Vesna Pesic, head of Serbian Civic Alliance, was reportedly beaten about the hands, feet and ribs. Speaking to Radio Index, she commented "I was lucky some of the protesters tried to protect me. I suffered bruises but they saved me from worse injuries." Pesic is now in hiding. Meanwhile, Serbian Renewal Movement head Vuk Draskovic said he was pursued by plainclothes policemen, and his car was shot at, Radio B92 reported. Draskovic also went into hiding. He did, however, vow that protests would continue the afternoon of 3 February, adding the time for "Ghandi-style resistance" had passed and urged demonstrators to bring with them whatever they needed to defend themselves, CNN reported. -- Stan Markotich

POLICE ARRESTS AFTER KOSOVO SHOOT-OUT.
Serbian police arrested over 100 ethnic Albanians in Kosovo over the past week, according to the Democratic League of Kosovo (LDK). The arrests reached a peak after three ethnic Albanians were killed in a 31 January shoot-out with police near Vucitrn. Senior LDK officials held an emergency meeting and called the situation "extremely serious." They charged Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic with stirring tensions in order to divert attention from the Belgrade opposition protests. Police later claimed those killed belonged to the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK). They also said that one of them, identified as Zahor Pajaziti, was a top UCK official and added that during raids, a large number of weapons, explosives, and maps of public buildings and military facilities were seized. -- Fabian Schmidt

KARADZIC WARNS OF WAR OVER BRCKO ...
Former Bosnian Serb civilian leader Radovan Karadzic told the Greek daily ElevtherosTypos: "If the question of Brcko is not resolved, we will go to war again," AFP reported on 2 February. In a rare interview, he also taunted NATO troops for failing to arrest him for war crimes, saying he has so far escaped detention "because I have 2,000 men who follow me everywhere, and if [NATO tries to make an arrest], there will be at least 500 dead." U.S. mediator Roberts Owen is slated to rule on the future of the strategic town of Brcko on 15 February, which was the one territorial question not settled in the Dayton agreement. Vice president of the mainly Croat and Muslim federation Ejup Ganic is in Washington to lobby officials regarding Brcko, and Republika Srpska Vice President Dragoljub Mirjanic is due to arrive there shortly for the same purpose. -- Patrick Moore

... AS DOES BOSNIAN ARMY GENERAL.
Gen. Sead Delic, commander of the Muslim-led Bosnian Army's Second Corps, while visiting the disputed northern town of Brcko, warned Bosnian Serbs that they faced more fighting unless they let refugees return home, AFP reported on 1 February. Delic said the war was not finished as long as the people cannot return home: that was not a threat but the only way to achieve what they fought for. Meanwhile, a UN-supervised convoy of Muslim refugees, who were supposed to return to their homes in Croat-held Stolac, was blocked on 31 January by a group of about 300 to 400 Croat civilians. A human wall of women and children blocked the way and Muslim refugees were kept in the coach during a one-hour standoff. It is the second set-back for UN efforts to help Muslim refugees to return to their homes. -- Daria Sito Sucic

INCIDENTS CONTINUE IN EASTERN SLAVONIA.
An explosive device on 1 February damaged a track near the town of Vukovar on the railroad recently reopened by the UN to connect Croatia's government-controlled territory with the Serb-held region of eastern Slavonia, international and local agencies reported. The same day a hand grenade was thrown in front of a Croatian pension payment office in village of Jankovci, injuring none and causing only slight damage, Hina reported. The agency also reported a hand grenade was thrown at the house of a non-Serb in the town of Negoslavci, but no one was injured. Explosions took place a day after a Belgian corporal serving with the UN force in eastern Slavonia was shot and killed by a young Serb. A Jordanian soldier and a civilian UN official were also wounded, and a suspect detained. The incidents began following the UN Security Council endorsement of a Croatian government letter of intent for reintegration of eastern Slavonia on 31 January. -- Daria Sito Sucic

FRANJO TUDJMAN TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT?
The Croatian president said on 31 January in an interview with CNN that his health was satisfactory enough to run for president in elections later this year, and that he would step down if he lost. "But there is no chance that I and the (ruling) Croatian Democratic Community could lose. We have the support of the majority of the people," Tudjman said. He downplayed reports that he was seriously ill with stomach cancer. Tudjman also dismissed the possibility that war criminals wanted by the Hague-based tribunal were hiding in Croatia. Commenting on evictions of Muslims from the Croat-held part of the divided town of Mostar in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tudjman blamed "extremists on both sides," but that Muslims were more to blame. -- Daria Sito Sucic

DEAN OF TETOVO UNIVERSITY RELEASED FROM PRISON.
Fadil Sulejmani, dean of the illegal Tetovo Albanian-language university, was released on probation from prison on 1 February. Sulejmani was sentenced last July to two and a half years in prison for stirring unrest during the February 1995 riots surrounding the university. In an interview with Deutsche Welle's Albanian-language service, Sulejmani said that Tetovo university is a reality that the Macedonian authorities can no longer ignore. -- Fabian Schmidt

ROMANIA LAUNCHES DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE.
President Emil Constantinescu's visit to Brussels today is aimed at promoting Romania's membership in the European Community and NATO. Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma said in Davos, Switzerland--where Constantinescu had met with several heads of state before arriving in Brussels--that Romania should not be allowed to join NATO before the signing of a basic Ukrainian/Romanian treaty. Constantinescu confirmed that NATO's position is the same and Romania was willing to accept that demand. Ending a one-day visit to Romania, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Kornblum told Reuters on 1 February that the elections in Romania demonstrated "political maturity," which "bodes well for relations with the U.S., and for Romania's quest to join NATO and other Euro-Atlantic structures." But he stopped short of backing the Romanian application. -- Zsolt Mato

CIUBUC ON MOLDOVAN GOVERNMENT PRIORITIES.
At a press conference in Chisinau on 30 January, Premier Ion Ciubuc said he intends to break the energy sector monopoly in order to overcome the existing crisis, BASA-press reported on next day. He also said he would reconsider Moldova's possible participation in the Cernavoda Romanian nuclear power station project. Asked whether he would adopt a pro-Moscow stance to get energy deliveries from Russia, Ciubuc replied that he was "a pro-Moldovan official" who "will do his best to have good relations with Romania, Ukraine, and Russia." He denied statements by a spokesman for President Petru Lucinschi that a World Bank loan of $80 million would be used exclusively to pay off salary and pension arrears and said the government would first try to mobilize domestic resources and only afterward to make use of foreign loans in order to lessen that debt. -- Dan Ionescu

MOLDOVAN MILITARY ASSETS TO BE SOLD.
Presidential spokesman Andrei Turcanu said Moldovan authorities intend to sell off some of the country's military equipment to partly finance salary and pension arrears. The Defense Ministry declined from commenting, but BASA-press reported on 31 January that most likely, MiG-29 planes, which cannot be used by the Moldovan air force, will be sold. The Moldovan government already sold off such planes three years ago. -- Dan Ionescu

BULGARIAN POLITICAL DEADLOCK CONTINUES ...
The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) looks set to announce a new Socialist government on 3 February after its offer for talks on a coalition government was rejected by the opposition the previous day, RFE/RL reported. BSP Chairman Georgi Parvanov said that if no coalition government is formed, the Socialists will name a new government on 3 February and present it to the parliament for a vote of confidence the next day. The Union of Democratic Forces demanded that the BSP give up the mandate to form a government before talks begin. President Petar Stoyanov said he can not broker talks as long as the Socialists hold the mandate. The BSP's premier-designate, current Interior Minister Nikolay Dobrev, on 31 January proposed that Stoyanov name a broad coalition government and said he was willing to give up his mandate. On 2 February, the BSP leadership met to discuss the formation of a new government. -- Stefan Krause

... AS DO PROTESTS.
As the political deadlock ensued, protests continued throughout Bulgaria over the weekend, reaching their 28th consecutive day on 2 February, RFE/RL and Reuters reported. The blockade of the main road and rail link from Sofia to Greece continued for a fifth day in Dupnitsa. Police reportedly tried to break the blockade on 1 February. Opposition leaders said people were beaten, while the police denied the use of violence. Duma on 3 February alleged that "40 Canadian businessmen" and Bulgarian tennis coach Yuliya Berberyan paid the protesters a total of $20,000. Students blocked the main roads leading into Sofia. Protesters also briefly blocked the exit of Bulgaria's biggest oil refinery, Neftochim in Burgas. Thousands demonstrated in Sofia and other towns. Public transport workers in Sofia went on strike on 3 February. Dock workers in Burgas and Varna are expected to go on strike the same day. -- Stefan Krause

MORE PROTESTS IN ALBANIA.
Despite a government ban, anti-government demonstrations went ahead on 2 February in Tirana near the Dynamo stadium. The demonstration was organized by the Union of Independent Trade Unions, headed by well-known gadfly Azem Hajdari. Police reinforcements were brought in to block off several main roads. Hajdari, who was recently expelled from the ruling Democratic Party, demanded the resignation of Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi. He also said his brother, Hikmete Daje, who is also the secretary general of the union, were arrested, adding that "they are putting pressure on my family and I am receiving threats," AFP reported. The opposition organized two other protest marches in Durres and Lezha. About 300 Albanians demonstrated in front of the Albanian embassy in Athens, Deutsche Welle's Albanian-language service reported. Following last week's clashes, police have arrested about 150 people. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Valentina Huber




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