ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT ON CHECHEN VICE PRESIDENT-ELECT.
remote-controlled bomb blast damaged two cars in the motorcade of Chechen Vice
President-elect Vakha Arsanov as it passed through central Grozny late on 4
February, Russian and Western agencies reported. Arsanov was unhurt, although
his bodyguards suffered minor injuries. Arbi Ruslanov, Arsanov's press
spokesman, alleged the attack was "a carefully planned operation by the Russian
secret services," designed to destabilize Chechnya by provoking conflict
between supporters of Arsanov's running mate, President-elect Aslan Maskhadov,
and Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, the outgoing acting president. -- Scott Parrish
MOSCOW CRITICIZES CHECHEN EXPULSION OF OSCE MISSION HEAD.
criticizing the 4 February decision by Yandarbiev's government to expel Tim
Guldimann, the head of the OSCE mission in Chechnya, Russian Security Council
Secretary Ivan Rybkin said it was too soon to close the mission, ITAR-TASS
reported on 5 February. An anonymous senior Russian government official later
said Moscow expects Chechen President-elect Maskhadov to reverse Yandarbiev's
decision after his scheduled 12 February inauguration. Russian TV reported the
same day that Maskhadov had invited Guldimann to attend the inauguration.
Yandarbiev, meanwhile, stood by the expulsion in an interview with NTV, warning
that Maskhadov would "put himself in a very awkward position" if he retracts
it. Yandarbiev added that Guldimann would be in danger if he returns to
Chechnya. Despite press speculation that he does not support the expulsion,
Maskhadov has not yet publicly commented on it. -- Scott Parrish
KULIKOV'S APPOINTMENT RECEIVES MIXED REACTION.
The appointment of
Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov to the post of deputy prime minister in
charge of economic crime has been slammed in the "democratic" press but
welcomed by Communists and nationalists. Several newspapers derided Kulikov's
promotion, questioning his record against crime and in Chechnya.
Segodnya described Kulikov's elevation as a reward for his loyalty to
Yeltsin rather than for his performance as interior minister, while
Izvestiya claimed the new deputy prime minister had been a failure as
commander of Russian forces in Chechnya and as head of the police. Appearing on
Ekho Moskvy on 5 February, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, on the
other hand, described Kulikov as a professional doing his best to fight
organized crime. Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky
also praised the appointment and Kulikov's crime-fighting abilities, NTV
reported. -- Penny Morvant and Laura Belin
DUMA ACCUSES CHUBAIS OF BREAKING LAWS.
The State Duma passed by a vote
of 235 to 19, with 4 abstentions, a resolution accusing Presidential Chief of
Staff Anatolii Chubais of not declaring his full 1996 income and failing to pay
his taxes on time, Russian media reported on 5 February. The resolution,
prepared by the Security Committee, asked President Boris Yeltsin to require
senior civil servants to release income declarations. The Duma also sent
photocopies of Chubais's bank statement and other financial documents to the
Procurator-General's Office. In January, Chubais paid about 517 million rubles
($95,000) in taxes on income he said he earned through lectures and
consultations during the first half of 1996. The Duma rejected an appeal by
Russia's Democratic Choice member Sergei Yushenkov who claimed that many Duma
deputies are far wealthier than Chubais and called on parliamentarians to
release their own income declarations, NTV reported. -- Laura Belin
DUMA PASSES ANOTHER TROPHY ART LAW.
By an overwhelming majority, the
Duma passed on 5 February a law laying claim to artworks seized by Soviet
troops in Germany at the end of World War II, international agencies reported.
The new legislation stipulates that such works of art "are the property of the
Russian Federation and belong to the federal state." It also stresses that the
artworks are compensation for the massive losses sustained by Russia during the
war. The law still has to be approved by the Federation Council and President
Yeltsin. Russia and Germany have been disputing the ownership of so-called
trophy art since the collapse of the Soviet Union. In July 1996, the Duma
passed a similar law, but the Federation Council rejected it. Following a
meeting with Yeltsin in Moscow last month, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl
announced that both sides wanted to resolve the dispute by the end of this
year. -- Jan Cleave
RUSSIA REACTS POSITIVELY TO FRENCH NATO SUMMIT PROPOSAL.
spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on 6 February that Moscow supports the
reported proposal by French President Jacques Chirac to hold a five-way summit
on European security and NATO expansion this April, Russian and Western
agencies reported. Citing anonymous Western diplomatic sources, AFP reported
the day before that Chirac, supported by German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, had
proposed that an April summit of Russia, France, Germany, Britain, and the U.S.
hammer out a deal on Russian ties with NATO before the alliance issues
membership invitations to prospective East European members at its scheduled
July summit. The French proposal has received a cool response from American
diplomats. -- Scott Parrish
ALIENS GOING TO RUSSIA.
Federal Migration Service head Tatyana Regent
estimates that almost 1 million illegal immigrants have moved to Russia from
beyond the borders of the former Soviet Union, ITAR-TASS reported on 5
February. Only 10,000, however, have applied for asylum, and significantly
fewer are likely to receive it, she said. According to Regent, about 700,000
people emigrated to Russia from former Soviet countries in 1996, down from 1.1
million two years before. She attributed the decline to Russia's economic
problems and the war in Chechnya. Reuters, however, quoted independent
researchers as estimating that the real number of immigrants is at least 50%
higher than the official statistics. -- Penny Morvant
CHORNOBYL WORKERS' PROTESTS SPREAD.
Former miners and soldiers who took
part in the clean-up operation after the 1996 Chornobyl disaster are continuing
a hunger strike in Tula Oblast, although the government has released funds to
pay delayed pensions and disability benefits, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 February.
The former "liquidators," who declared a "dry" hunger strike on 1 February
after more than two weeks of protests, decided to accept liquids and medicine
when the government ordered the payment of 40 billion rubles ($7.1 million) to
clean-up workers, but they say they will continue to refuse food until all the
money, including an adjustment for inflation, is paid. Meanwhile, on 4
February, dozens of "liquidators" in Sverdlovsk Oblast also went on hunger
strike to demand the payment of about 28 billion rubles in overdue benefits.
Sverdlovsk is home to about 4,000 victims of nuclear accidents, including
Chornobyl. -- Penny Morvant
WATER SYSTEM COLLAPSING.
Half of Russia's population is forced to drink
water that does not meet acceptable hygiene standards, ITAR-TASS reported on 5
February, citing the Collegium of the Ministry of Natural Resources. The
Collegium said Russian reservoirs and water purification systems are in
critical condition, and the danger of dams breaking has increased. Of 30,000
water reservoirs, 12% have not been modernized for more than 50 years, while
state subsidies to keep these systems in good condition are insufficient. --
GERMANY AGREES TO RESTRUCTURE RUSSIA'S DEBT.
Russian Finance Minister
Aleksandr Livshits and his German counterpart Theo Waigel have signed an
agreement on restructuring the DM 25 billion ($15.2 billion) debt of the former
USSR for which Russia assumed responsibility in April 1993, ITAR-TASS and ORT
reported on 5 February. Under the deal, the principal will be repaid over 25
years, following a six-year grace period. There will be no rescheduling of
interest payments, and in 1997 Russia will pay Germany some $260 million.
Germany is Russia's largest creditor among members of the Paris Club,
accounting for 40% of these countries' loans to the former Soviet Union. --
TAX SERVICE CRITICIZED.
A report by the Main Control Department of the
Presidential Administration (GKU) criticized the State Tax Service and accused
its head Vitalii Artyukhov of failing to carry out his duties, Segodnya
and Finansovye izvestiya reported on 5-6 February. The GKU said only 16%
of taxpayers paid on time and in full, while 50% have tax arrears and 34% do
not pay taxes. It added that in 1996, industrial companies' profits dropped 50%
compared to 1995. Meanwhile, Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits said that
Russia has not achieved financial stabilization. Livshits said a major cause of
the current financial crisis is "irrationally high" government expenditures.
According to Economics Minister Yevgenii Yasin, they accounted for 39% of
Russia's GDP in 1996 and should be brought down to at least 25-30% for economic
reform to progress. -- Natalia Gurushina
GEORGIA UPGRADES ITS MILITARY AIRCRAFT.
The Tbilisi aircraft plant has
begun production of new Su-39 low-flying assault jets, Georgian and Russian
media reported on 5 February. The Su-39 is an upgraded version of the older
Soviet Su-25 plane with, according to military experts, increased firepower.
Georgian newspapers quoted the plant's general director as saying that the
Georgian Defense Ministry has ordered 50 Su-39s, which are due to be delivered
over the next seven years. -- Emil Danielyan
MINSK GROUP IMPASSE CONTINUES.
Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev and
Denmark's representative in the OSCE Minsk Group, Susan Christiansen, held
talks on resolving the impasse over which country will co-chair the stalled
Nagorno-Karabakh negotiations, RFE/RL reported on 4 February. Christiansen
proposed the U.S. be added as co-chairman, creating a leadership troika that
would also include recently nominated France and permanent co-chairman Russia.
Aliyev rejected the proposal and said the OSCE, in appointing France, had
disregarded Baku's concerns. Aliyev would prefer to see the U.S. or Germany
co-chair the group with Russia. -- Lowell Bezanis
IMF, AZERBAIJAN SIGN MEMORANDUM.
Representatives of the International
Monetary Fund and the government of Azerbaijan signed a memorandum of
understanding in Baku on 4 February, RFE/RL reported. Satisfied with
Azerbaijan's macroeconomic stabilization program of the last two years, which
brought inflation down to 6.8% in 1996, the IMF, in keeping with a decision
reached last December, will offer Azerbaijan two loans totaling $219 million
over the next three years. -- Lowell Bezanis
CASPIAN OIL EXPORT PROBLEMS.
Russia's pipeline concern Transneft has
refused to pump Azerbaijani oil to the Black Sea in February and March, RFE/RL
reported on 5 February. Transneft said it agreed with the Azerbaijan
International Operating Company (AIOC) and Azerbaijan's State oil concern SOCAR
to transport oil from the Chirag and Gunesli offshore fields, but not from
other Azerbaijani deposits. The present rumpus, which pits SOCAR and the AIOC
against Transneft, disrupts plans to export an estimated 70,000 metric tons of
oil in the next two months. -- Lowell Bezanis
MORE UN WORKERS TAKEN HOSTAGE IN TAJIKISTAN ...
Three UN workers
described as "local staff" and a Nigerian national accompanying them
disappeared in the Tajik capital Dushanbe on 6 February, Reuters reported. The
four were working for the refugee agency UNHCR. Four members of the UN military
observer team and their interpreter were captured by a band loyal to renegade
field commander Rezvon Sadirov on 4 February (see OMRI Daily Digest, 5
February 1997). They were allowed to contact UN offices in Dushanbe by radio
and said they were not being mistreated but an Austrian member of the team was
ill. Their captors are demanding safe passage for Sadirov and his group into
Tajikistan from Afghanistan. -- Bruce Pannier
... AS ARE RED CROSS WORKERS AND RUSSIAN JOURNALISTS.
A Red Cross
worker and interpreter on 5 February were captured by the same group which took
UN military observers hostage the previous day near the town of Obigarm,
according to Russian and Western media. The same day five Russian journalists
were also taken by the group. Reports indicate the Red Cross employees were
returning from the Tavil-Dara area were they had been engaged in humanitarian
works. The Russian journalists were en route to meet with the outlaw band which
holds the UN observers and now the journalists as well. Tajik President Imomali
Rakhmonov is ordering his government to take whatever action necessary to
secure the release of all the hostages. -- Bruce Pannier
SALARIES HIKED IN TURKMENISTAN ...
In a television broadcast on 4
February, Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov pledged to double the salaries
of state employees and the military, Reuters reported the next day. Niyazov
said the state had earmarked $92 million for this purpose and salaries will be
raised effective 1 March. He said the increase is to be covered by fines
imposed on Ukraine, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan for overdue payments for
Turkmen gas delivered from 1994 to 1996. -- Lowell Bezanis
... AND ECONOMIC STATISTICS REPORTED.
The Turkmen Press News Agency,
citing the State Statistics Committee, published official economic figures for
1996 on 4 February. According to the BBC-monitored report, inflation last year
was 100.1%. In 1996, 4.4 million metric tons of oil and 35.2 billion cubic
meters of gas were extracted. Over 90% of industrial production came from state
enterprises but some 66% of retail trade is reportedly outside state control.
The agency said GDP exceeded 6.6 billion manats ($1.6 billion) last year. --
CRIMEAN PARLIAMENTARY STANDOFF CONTINUES.
The Crimean legislature voted
by a narrow margin to dismiss its presidium, international agencies reported on
5 February. The parliament also began impeachment proceedings against speaker
Vasyl Kyselyov, who claimed to be a victim in the war between rival Crimean
organized crime groups. On 4 February, the parliament adopted a law stipulating
that the region's government would be appointed and dismissed by its
legislature, UNIAR reported. According to Ukrainian legislation, the Crimean
prime minister is directly appointed by the Ukrainian president. But last
month, the Crimean parliament dismissed its government, leading to a dispute
with Leonid Kuchma who called the move unconstitutional. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev
FLU EPIDEMIC IN BELARUS.
Some 300,000 people in Belarus have fallen ill
with respiratory infections, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 February. At the end of
January, approximately 31,000 people were hospitalized with the flu and
flu-related illnesses. Belarus health officials reported that children make up
about 45% of all cases, and dismissed rumors that there were two deaths as a
result of the epidemic. -- Sergei Solodovnikov
ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS ENGLAND.
Toomas Hendrik Ilves completed
a three-day visit to London on 5 February with talks with Defense Secretary
Michael Portillo and British Council Director General Sir John Hanson, BNS
reported. The previous day, he discussed European security questions and EU and
NATO enlargement with his counterpart Malcolm Rifkind and economic relations
with Deputy Minister for Trade Anthony Nelson. Ilves told a seminar at the
University of London that attitudes toward Estonia will be the touchstone of EU
enlargement. Estonia's non-admission among the first new members would indicate
that geopolitical considerations, and not a country's progress in reform, might
influence the date of its admission. -- Saulius Girnius
LITHUANIA DOES NOT SIGN LETTER OF INTENT WITH IMF MISSION.
Minister Gediminas Vagnorius said over national radio on 5 February that
disagreements over reducing import duties for farm products was why the
government had not signed a letter of intent with the recently departed IMF
delegation, ELTA reported. Lithuania will not lower those duties to 10% later
this year as promised by the previous government, because doing so would hurt
the country's farmers and could even cause a financial crisis. He noted that
real import duties had declined to 20% from 27.5%. Vagnorius added that the new
economic policy memorandum to be signed in September would include gradually
abandoning both the currency board and pegging the litas to the dollar. --
POLISH HIGH OFFICIAL MAY GO BEFORE STATE TRIBUNAL.
A motion signed on 5
February by 139 deputies, mostly from the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD), calls
for Internal Affairs Minister Andrzej Milczanowski to stand before a state
tribunal, Polish media reported. The motion was prompted by Milczanowski's spy
allegations formulated in December 1995 against then-Prime Minister Jozef
Oleksy. Prosecutors dropped charges against Olesky in April 1996, finding
evidence against him inadequate and seriously flawed. The accusations against
Milczanowski say he neglected his ministerial responsibilities to oversee the
security service and therefore harmed the interests of the state and of Oleksy.
He is also accused of not informing prosecutors about the suspected crime, of
revealing secret information openly in the Sejm, and of sharing secret security
service material with the foreign minister. -- Jakub Karpinski
CZECH RAIL WORKERS' STRIKE EXTENDED.
Trade unions representing Czech
railroad workers announced on 5 February that they will extend their 48-hour
strike, which should have ended today, by another 24 hours, Czech media
reported. Trade union representatives said they were unable to reach an
agreement with the management of Czech Railways and the Ministry of
Transportation on how to improve the railroads' efficiency and increase wages.
-- Jiri Pehe
CONTROVERSY OVER VACATED SEAT IN SLOVAK PARLIAMENT.
claimed the parliament on 5 February violated the law in approving Ladislav
Hruska to replace the recently deceased Slovak National Party (SNS) Deputy
Bartolomej Kunc, CTK reported. The election law states that vacated seats must
be taken by the next candidate on the party's list, provided he won over 10% of
that party's preferential votes. The seat thus should have gone to Emil Spisak,
who joined the opposition Democratic Union (DU) after being expelled from the
SNS two years ago. The opposition promised to take the matter to the
Constitutional Court. Also on 5 February, DU Deputy Anton Hrnko announced that
he was leaving his party, reportedly because of his disapproval of the
opposition's referendum petition calling for direct presidential elections. DU
Deputy Chairman Ludovit Cernak said Hrnko will not "join any political camp,"
but CTK reported that Hrnko has had frequent contacts with the ruling Movement
for a Democratic Slovakia. -- Sharon Fisher
SLOVAK COALITION CRISIS BREWING?
Jozef Migas, chairman of the opposition
Party of the Democratic Left, noted on 5 February that current relations among
ruling parties resemble the situation during last June's coalition crisis, CTK
reported. In June, disputes over the privatization of Slovakia's largest
financial institutions nearly tore apart the ruling coalition. Bank
privatization was banned until 31 March, however, Prime Minister Vladimir
Meciar now seems intent on carrying through with it, much to the dismay of the
Association of Workers (ZRS), a junior coalition partner. Although the SNS was
the instigator of last summer's crisis, the party now sides with Meciar. Both
the SDL and the ZRS believe the four biggest financial institutions should not
be privatized. Also on 5 February, Slovak Foreign Ministry spokesman Ivan
Korcok rejected Hungarian accusations that Bratislava is violating
international legal commitments by failing to approve the long-delayed minority
language law, TASR reported. -- Sharon Fisher
HUNGARIAN OPPOSITION LEADER IDENTIFIES TWO SEPARATE POWER GROUPS.
According to Young Democrat Chairman Viktor Orban, there are two separate
power groups emerging within the opposition, Magyar Hirlap reported on 6
February. Orban said one group includes the Smallholders Party and the
Christian Democrats, while the other includes the Young Democrats and the
Democratic Forum. (All parties have signed cooperation agreements within each
group in preparation for the 1998 general elections.) Orban added that the
country is now mentally ready for a change of government, and the only question
is whether the Smallholders Party or the Young Democrats will replace the
governing Socialists. He foresees a major defeat for the Socialists in 1998,
similar to that of the Democratic Forum in 1994. -- Zsofia Szilagyi
UPDATE ON HUNGARIAN PRIVATIZATION SCANDAL INVESTIGATION.
on 4 February voted to lift Laszlo Boldvai's immunity, as requested by the
prosecutor general, Hungarian dailies reported. Boldvai, the Socialist Party's
treasurer and deputy, has been accused of abuse of influence after it was
revealed that he arranged the transfer of 200 million forints ($1.25 million)
from a privatization consultant's bank account to a company linked to the
Socialist Party (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 January 1997). Tamas Deutsch,
deputy of the opposition Young Democrats and chairman of the parliamentary
commission investigating illegal payments by the state privatization agency
(APV) to the outside consultant, said the commission may shortly see even Prime
Minister Gyula Horn and Free Democrat President Ivan Peto testify. -- Zsofia
DIPLOMATIC OFFENSIVE ON EASTERN SLAVONIA.
U.S. Ambassador Peter
Galbraith, who is widely regarded as one of the politically most important
people in Croatia, joined EU ambassadors in a meeting with Foreign Minister
Mate Granic. The diplomats stressed that Croatia must do all it has promised to
reassure the Serbs of eastern Slavonia prior to its return to Croatian
authority on 15 July. After the meeting, Galbraith said: "The process of
reintegration is, I think, going very well. It is speeding up toward July 15,"
Reuters reported on 5 February. He goes today to eastern Slavonia to tell the
Serbs that "the Croatian letter [to the UN outlining its policies in the area]
represents a very positive step, that there is no more time for negotiation,
that measures are in place to protect the rights of the Serbian population."
Meanwhile in Vukovar, the local Serb assembly condemned recent violent
incidents, which Galbraith said were the work of Serbian extremists (see
OMRI Daily Digest, 5 February 1997). -- Patrick Moore
EXPERTS HAND OVER SREBRENICA BODIES TO BOSNIAN AUTHORITIES.
the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on 5 February
handed over to Bosnian authorities the remains of more than 300 bodies found in
mass graves at Pilica and Lazete, international and local media reported. The
bodies are linked to the massacre of Srebrenica Muslims by Serbs in summer
1995. Amor Masovic, head of the war crimes commission in the Bosnian
Federation, said the victims were killed by gunshot. The tribunal's experts
said that the bodies will provide evidence for the Hague-based tribunal
prosecutions. Exhumations are also being carried out by the former warring
parties themselves. Masovic said a total of 1,928 bodies had been recovered
from 31 mass graves and hundreds of smaller graves throughout
Bosnia-Herzegovina; 1,031 bodies had been identified. Meanwhile, in New York, a
magistrate ordered indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic to stand trial in New
York in a lawsuit accusing him of crimes against humanity. The suit was filed
by Bosnian women refugees, international agencies reported on 6 February. --
Daria Sito Sucic
CROATIA TO START PAYING PENSIONS BACKLOG AHEAD OF LOCAL POLLS.
Croatian parliament's upper house on 4 February backed a bill to begin payment
of pension arrears on 3 March, local and international media reported. The
opposition parliament deputies accused the ruling party of using the bill as
part of a preelection campaign; it comes only two weeks before Croatia's local
elections scheduled for 16 March, Novi List reported. The bill envisages
payments to cover the debt that had accrued since 1 February 1995. In other
news, Zvonimir Markovic, the first Croatian ambassador to the Federal Republic
of Yugoslavia, on 5 February presented his credentials to Yugoslav President
Zoran Lilic. Upon arrival at the Croatian Embassy in Belgrade's Dedinje
district, Markovic raised the Croatian flag outside the building, Hina
reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic
SERBIA TAKES MOVES TO VALIDATE OPPOSITION VICTORIES ...
of Serbia submitted to parliament on 5 February a draft of legislation which
calls for the recognition of local runoff election wins by the opposition
Zajedno coalition in 14 municipalities, Tanjug reported. The legislature is
slated to discuss the legislative proposal on 11 February. These latest moves,
however, may not signal that the government of Serbian President Slobodan
Milosevic is interested in genuine compromise or turning over political
authority at any level to the opposition. Representatives of Mirjana Markovic's
Party, the Yugoslav United Left, publicly called on 5 February for an end to
mass demonstrations, hinting that failure to do so may lead to renewed police
aggression against peaceful protesters. Markovic is Milosevic's wife and
political confidante. -- Stan Markotich
. . BUT THE OPPOSITION REMAINS CAUTIOUS.
For their part,
leaders of the Zajedno coalition said that while Milosevic's latest moves may
represent some grounds for optimism, they do not indicate government resolve to
make fundamental political changes. The leader of the Serbian Civic Alliance,
Vesna Pesic, struck a note of caution while addressing the Belgrade crowd on 5
February, saying, "This is just round one ... We must change the entire system,
step by step. ... [and] demand economic reform, freedom, and life with
dignity." Reaction from some quarters of the international community emphasized
the optimistic. OSCE chair and Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen
remarked that Milosevic's latest moves "hopefully [represent] a step toward
positive democratic development in the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. The
installation in office of the elected candidates is expected without delay,"
Reuters reported on 6 February. -- Stan Markotich
SERBIAN SENTENCED TO 11 YEARS FOR KILLING ALBANIAN IN KOSOVO.
A court in
Kosovo has sentenced Zlatibor Jovanovic to 11 years in prison for shooting dead
the ethnic Albanian Armend Daci in Pristina last April, AFP reported on 5
February. According to defense lawyers, the verdict was the harshest ruling in
six years against a Serbian national in Kosovo. The murder had sparked street
protests and was followed by the killing of five Serbs by unidentified
attackers. -- Fabian Schmidt
CONSTANTINESCU IN PARIS.
After meeting for an hour with visiting
Romanian President Emil Constantinescu on 5 February, French President Jaques
Chirac said France will strongly plead Romania's case to its NATO allies,
Romanian and international media reported. Chirac also said Paris will help
Bucharest join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, as
well as its bid for membership in the European Union. Constantinescu also met
with members of the Romanian emigre community there. Paris was the last stage
of his tour, which included Brussels and Davos, Switzerland. Chirac is to visit
Romania on 20-21 February, the first Western leader to do so after the change
in government. -- Zsolt Mato
ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT GOES BACK ON ELECTORAL PROMISES.
Minister of Labor
Alexandru Athanasiu told a parliamentary commission on 5 February that the
government will have to delay promises made during the electoral campaign to
cut income taxes, Radio Bucharest reported on 5 February. He said the
government cannot afford to do so now because of an expected rise in
unemployment due to the planned closing or privatization of non-productive
state enterprises. Athanasiu said salaries will be indexed only to 75% of the
cost of living rise, but the minimum taxable salary will double from the
present 97,000 lei (about $16). Meanwhile, trade union leaders said their
members were losing patience and would not wait beyond 10 February for the
government to announce how it intends to cover the social costs of reform. --
ROMANIAN JUDGES PROTEST LOW WAGES.
Judges in some Bucharest districts
refused to attend court sessions, Radio Bucharest reported on 4-5 February.
While the protest is over low wages and poor working conditions, the action is
not called a "strike," because the law prohibits magistrates to take labor
action. After meeting with the judges, Justice Minister Valeriu Stoica said no
immediate measures were possible, and the magistrates would have to wait at
least two months before any action would be taken. The judges decided to
continue their protest. -- Dan Ionescu
CONSULTATIONS ON BULGARIAN CARETAKER GOVERNMENT START.
Stefan Sofiyanski agreed to head the caretaker government which will conduct
early parliamentary elections in April, Pari and Kontinent
reported on 6 February. According to press reports, the government will include
several top advisers of President Petar Stoyanov. Krasimir Angarski is slated
to become deputy premier and finance minister and will be in charge of talks
with international financial institutions, while Stoyanov's adviser on
international economic affairs, Valentin Dobrev, will probably become foreign
minister. The cabinet will also include opposition deputies; Union of
Democratic Forces Deputy Chairman Aleksandar Bozhkov is expected to become
deputy premier and economics minister. But opposition deputies said the cabinet
lineup is not yet ready and only Stoyanov knows the names. Meanwhile, the IMF
on 5 February announced it will resume talks with Bulgaria after the formation
of the caretaker government. -- Stefan Krause
BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS BOYCOTT PARLIAMENT.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party
(BSP) on 5 February decided to boycott all parliamentary sessions apart from
those making changes to the electoral law, Standart reported. The BSP
deputies started their boycott on 6 February, forcing one session to be called
off. The boycott means that urgent legislation, including anti-crisis measures
and the introduction of a currency board, cannot be passed. The decision was
taken after sessions of the BSP Executive Bureau and the Socialist
parliamentary caucus. The BSP asked that Stoyanov dissolve the parliament by 14
February. The orthodox Marxist platform within the BSP called for the expulsion
from the BSP of Nikolay Dobrev, who, as premier-designate, returned the mandate
and thus opened the way for early elections without consulting the party. The
hardliners accused Dobrev of "violating party discipline and [of] national
treason." Meanwhile, former President Zhelyu Zhelev called for the BSP's
voluntary dissolution. -- Stefan Krause
BULGARIAN PROTESTS COME TO AN END.
The united opposition and the trade
unions on 5 February held "victory rallies" in towns throughout Bulgaria to
celebrate the BSP's refusal to form a second government and the political
forces' decision to call early elections in April, national media reported. "We
won our greatest victory since the totalitarian regime's collapse," SDS
parliamentary caucus Leader Yordan Sokolov told tens of thousands at the
central Sofia rally, 24 chasa reported. While these rallies are supposed
to be the last after one month of demonstrations, strikes over economic demands
continued in several enterprises. State television journalists also continued
their strike against censorship. In other news, Prosecutor-General Ivan
Tatarchev said he will launch investigations against several ministers of the
previous BSP cabinet for causing the current economic crisis. -- Maria
RIOTS AFTER NEW COLLAPSE OF ALBANIAN PYRAMID SCHEME.
Six people were
injured on 5 February during armed clashes at an anti-government demonstration
in Vlora, AFP reported. Three policemen and two civilians were shot and wounded
during two armed incidents. The trouble began when police used clubs and a
water cannon to break up a crowd of 5,000 protesters demanding their money back
from the Gjallica investment company. On 6 February around 10,000 people
protested in Vlora, and Reuters reported both stones and vegetables were
thrown. Gjallica had promised two months ago to reimburse by 6 February its
roughly 400,000 investors who had poured some $300,000 into the company. Fitim
Gerxhalliu, the company's founder, announced on 5 February that there was no
money left. The payout of frozen assets to investors of the Xhaferri and
Populli schemes, meanwhile, continued, Radio Deutsche Welle's Albanian-language
service reported. -- Fabian Schmidt
[As of 1200 CET]
Compiled by Steve Kettle and Jan Cleave