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Newsline - February 14, 1997


YELTSIN NOMINATES FEDOTOV FOR CONSTITUTIONAL COURT.
President Boris Yeltsin on 13 February nominated Mikhail Fedotov to fill the vacancy in the 19-member Constitutional Court created by the departure of Chairman Vladimir Tumanov, who has passed the age limit for judges, ITAR-TASS reported. As a student, Fedotov was thrown out of Moscow State University in 1968 for participating in the human rights movement but was later allowed to study at the university's night school. During the 1970s, he worked as a journalist. After earning a graduate decree at the All-Union Law Correspondence Institute in 1976, he stayed on as a member of the faculty. From 1990-1992, he served as deputy press minister, and from 19921993, as press minister. Since 1993, Fedotov has been Russia's representative to UNESCO. He holds a doctorate in legal studies and helped draft Soviet and Russian laws on the media and social organizations. -- Robert Orttung

INITIAL REACTION TO FEDOTOV APPOINTMENT.
NTV pointed out that the initial ITAR-TASS reports stated that President Yeltsin had appointed Fedotov to the position of Constitutional Court chairman. Those statements were later withdrawn since the justices themselves must elect their chairman. Many of the court's current members do not support Yeltsin, and the president may be concerned that the post-Tumanov court will be more aggressive in attacking his nearly unlimited decree power. The station claimed that Fedotov has "practically no chance" of being confirmed by the Federation Council. Ekho Moskvy on 13 February expressed lukewarm suport for Fedotov but added that he sometimes puts his ambitions before the truth. -- Robert Orttung

YELTSIN SLAMS ATTEMPTS TO AMEND CONSTITUTION.
In his 14 February radio address, President Boris Yeltsin rejected any attempts to amend the 1993 constitution, describing them as "premature" and "irresponsible." He defined the constitution as the "core of the new Russian statehood" and "the foundation of balanced relations between the branches of power, and between the federal authorities and regions." He said that the constitution could be amended in the future, but that there "should be no haste about this." The Communists have long sought changes to the country's basic law, and even Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev has recently spoken out in favor of change. The president reiterated earlier statements that working pensioners would not lose their pensions, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Robert Orttung

DUMA FAILS TO ASK YELTSIN TO STEP DOWN.
With a vote of 271-39 and 14 abstentions, the Duma on 14 February adopted a resolution calling on the Health Ministry and President Yeltsin's doctors to release a report on his health before 1 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Only 208 deputies supported Communist deputy Viktor Ilyukhin's proposal asking the president to step down. A measure needs 226 votes for approval. -- Robert Orttung

MOSCOW SPELLS OUT BALTIC POLICY.
The Foreign Ministry's director of foreign policy planning, Vadim Lukov, said on 13 February that Russia wants the Baltic states to stay outside of any alliances and maintain a policy of neutrality, ITAR-TASS reported. Russia wants to base its relationship with Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia on "economic cooperation, the "indivisibility" of each state's security, and respect for human rights and national minorities," he said. He defined the Baltic states as a buffer zone against the expansion of NATO. He stressed that it is unacceptable to try to protect the security of other countries while creating a "strategic risk" to the security of Russia. -- Robert Orttung

MASKHADOV REFUSES SEAT ON FEDERATION COUNCIL.
Having reaffirmed his commitment to reinforcing Chechnya's independence at his inauguration on 12 February, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on 13 February said he would not take his seat in the Federation Council, ITAR-TASS reported. Maskhadov will serve as prime minister of the new Chechen government as well as president. On 15 February, runoff elections are to take place in 46 constituencies and repeat elections are scheduled in two constituencies. -- Liz Fuller

YELTSIN SIGNS COSSACK DECREES.
President Yeltsin signed decrees on 12 February confirming the charters of the Zabaikal, Siberian, and Terek Cossack communities, ITAR-TASS reported the following day. The decrees place the Cossack groups in state service. Their units will be subordinated to Russian military institutions, such as the Defense Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and the Federal Border Service, and they will receive weapons from the state. According to NTV, there are now 12 regional Cossack organizations and one federal one in Russia. -- Penny Morvant

KULIKOV TO TACKLE ECONOMIC CRIME.
Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov said after a meeting with Yeltsin on 13 February that the president has given him "carte blanche" to combat economic crime. Kulikov assumed responsibility for economic offenses when he was appointed deputy prime minister on 4 February, Russian media reported. He advocates the introduction of "personalized" customs stamps to allow investigators to trace imported goods more easily and has proposed that truck drivers be required to carry detailed delivery schedules and register with the traffic police, Rossiiskie vesti reported on 14 February. At a 13 February cabinet session devoted to revenue-raising measures, Kulikov called for a revision of federal and local tax breaks and a ban on the introduction of new exemptions by the executive. An ITAR-TASS report released the same day showed that a high percentage of checks run by the Federal Tax Police Service and the State Tax Service in 1996 revealed violations, but less than 1,400 people were convicted for tax evasion. -- Penny Morvant

MORE LABOR UNREST THREATENED.
The wage debt to Russian workers now stands at almost 50 trillion rubles, Mikhail Shmakov, chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR), told ITAR-TASS on 13 February. He added that the debt to pensioners was about 15 trillion. According to Shmakov, the FNPR will discuss a nationwide protest scheduled for 27 March at a meeting on 27 February. -- Penny Morvant

ENERGY PRICES FOR HOUSEHOLDS TO GO UP.
Fuel and Energy Minister Petr Rodionov said that beginning on 1 April 1997 energy prices for households will increase and those for industrial users will go down, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 February. He noted that the bulk of energy subsidies for households goes to wealthy individuals who have bigger flats and use more electrical equipment. According to the Fuel and Energy Ministry, 10% of the richest Muscovites receive 50% of energy subsidies in the city. The government's aim is to gradually increase energy prices to individual consumers in order to cover the costs of energy production and distribution. A State Statistical Committee survey shows that regional energy prices for households in Russia vary from 4,800 rubles ($0.85) per 100 kW/hour in Irkutsk to 25,500 in Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 February. -- Natalia Gurushina

DUMA ASKS GOVERNMENT TO POSTPONE PRIVATIZATION OF ROSGOSSTRAKH.

The Duma has asked the government to postpone the privatization of Rosgosstrakh (Russian State Insurance Company) until it resolves the problem of restoring the value of insurance premiums paid before 1 January 1992, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 February. The company had just completed a closed sale of a 20% equity stake. It was sold to 55,000 new shareholders for more than 2 billion rubles ($354,000). The company intends to sell a 30% stake to top Rosgosstrakh officials for 3 billion rubles. The remaining shares are expected to be offered publicly for 250-260 billion rubles, which will be transferred to the budget as privatization revenue. -- Natalia Gurushina

FOREIGNERS INVEST $6.7 BILLION IN GKOs.
A spokesperson for the Central Bank (TsB) said that foreign investment in Russian state short-term securities (GKOs) has reached $6.7 billion, Delovoi mir reported on 13 February. The liberalization of access to this segment of the financial market and the market's stabilization are making it increasingly attractive for foreign investors. First Deputy TsB Chairman Aleksandr Khandruev said that falling inflation and declining GKO yields (which now average 30%) should make it possible to bring the TsB's annual refinancing rate to 20%-25% (down from 40% at present) by the end of 1997, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 February. -- Natalia Gurushina


NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL IN BAKU.
Javier Solana arrived in Baku on 13 February for talks with Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev, Foreign Minister Hasan Hasanov, and President Heidar Aliev, ITAR-TASS and Western agencies reported. Aliyev told Solana he is anxious that NATO "do everything possible" to guarantee Azerbaijan's security, according to Reuters. Aliyev also said that he wants NATO to help secure a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but ITAR-TASS quoted Solana as stating that the Nagorno-Karabakh issue could be solved within the parameters of the OSCE Minsk Group negotiations. -- Liz Fuller

OPPOSITION LEADER WARNS AGAINST ARMENIA'S LOSS OF "REAL" INDEPENDENCE.
Speaking at a meeting of some 700 ethnic Armenians in the Iranian city of Esfahan, former presidential candidate and National Democratic Union (AZhM) leader Vazgen Manukyan warned that Armenia may lose its "real political independence" because of the current regime, Noyan Tapan reported on 13 February. Manukyan alleged three clans led by President Levon Ter-Petrossyan's elder brother Telman, Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisyan, and Yerevan Mayor Vano Siradeghyan control almost the entire Armenian economy. The AZhM leader said that the united opposition will exert "civilized" pressure on the government to secure early, free, and fair elections at all governmental levels. -- Emil Danielyan

CASPIAN UPDATE.
Russia has weighed in on the tug-of-war pitting Turkmenistan against Azerbaijan over the Chirag and Guneshli offshore Caspian Sea oil fields, RFE/RL reported on 13 February. Citing Russian media sources, the agency noted that Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov said Moscow does not accept Turkmen claims and continues to view the Caspian Sea as the common property of the five littoral states. He also reiterated Russia's view that a temporary legal mechanism legitimizing offshore activity be put into effect until the sea's legal status is determined. -- Lowell Bezanis

CHRISTIANS REPRESSED IN UZBEKISTAN?
An 11 February editorial in The New York Times listed Uzbekistan among 11 countries where Christians are "enduring great religious persecution." The commentary was based on research conducted by Nina Shea, director of the Puebla Program of Freedom House. The other countries on the list are China, Sudan, Pakistan, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Egypt, Nigeria, Cuba, and Laos. -- Lowell Bezanis

EBRD LOAN TO UZBEKISTAN.
The EBRD has granted a credit line of $120 million to Uzbekistan to develop the country's banking sector, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 February. The medium-term credit is expected to go to the National Bank of Uzbekistan and the Asaka-Bank financial company. The credit comes after Uzbekistan fully repaid its first three-year loan of $60 million, the agency reported. -- Lowell Bezanis

MORE AGREEMENTS SIGNED BY TURKMENISTAN, IRAN.
Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov's two-day visit to Tehran yielded five agreements on cooperation in transport services, trade, railroad building, dam construction, and environmental protection, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 February. A joint communique issued by Niyazov and his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani pointed to positive trends in bilateral relations, stressed the importance of promoting regional interaction within the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), urged the international community to increase humanitarian aid to Afghanistan, and acknowledged the need to continue the inter-Tajik talks. -- Lowell Bezanis

UN OBSERVER REPORTED EXECUTED IN TAJIKISTAN ...
An ITAR-TASS reporter being held hostage in Tajikistan by the Sadirov brothers was allowed to call her office in Moscow to report that one of the other hostages, a UN observer, was executed on 13 February, according to international media. Neither the UN nor Tajik authorities could confirm the report. The two brothers, Bahrom and Rezvon Sadirov, had demanded that 40 of their men in Afghanistan be granted free passage to Tajikistan. It is unclear whether the government fulfilled the demand. According to some reports, the men were flown by helicopter to the Kulyab area of Tajikistan on 13 February, but the Sadirov brothers say that no one was on board the helicopters. Other reports say that the men were attacked by troops loyal to Afghan Gen. Ahmed Shah Masoud as they attempted to board the helicopters in Afghanistan. Five of the Sadirovs' men and six of Masoud's men were reported to have been killed in an exchange of fire. -- Bruce Pannier

...TAJIK AUTHORITIES MOVE TO AVOID FURTHER BLOODSHED...
Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov has announced that he is prepared to go to the scene of the ongoing hostage crisis, now in its 10th day, according to international press. At the moment, Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Khairulloyev is in the area negotiating with hostage-taker Bahrom Sadirov. The Tajik government has announced that it is prepared to meet all of the Sadirov brothers' demands in order to achieve a peaceful resolution to the crisis. -- Bruce Pannier

... AND RUSSIA HAS STRONG WORDS FOR TAJIK KIDNAPPERS.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Vitalii Ignatenko urged Bahrom Sadirov in a phone conversation to "act like a man. You cannot hold women, journalists, and foreigners," Russian media reported. After speaking with President Rakhmonov, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said he may send Defense Minister Igor Rodionov to Tajikistan. Russian Minister for the CIS Aman Tuleev, who just returned from a previously scheduled trip to Tajikistan, said: "The (Sadirov band) are all on drugs and their actions are unpredictable. They should be destroyed like mad dogs." -- Bruce Pannier


CRIMEAN PARLIAMENT ELECTS NEW SPEAKER.
Crimean legislators have elected Anatolii Hrytsenko as their new speaker, international agencies reported on 13 February. Hrytsenko is a former local administration head from eastern Crimea and is in favor of close links with Kyiv. "The new Crimean parliament leadership share and accept the policies of the Ukrainian president and parliament," Hrytsenko said after his appointment. Last week, Crimean deputies removed Hrytsenko's predecessor, Vasyl Kyselyov, on charges of authoritarian tendencies. Kyselyov had spent only four months in office. In other news, Volodymyr Zaskoka--a member of the Anit-Crime Coalition caucus, which is headed by Kyselyov--beat the deputy head of the parliament's secretariat Petro Morgunov, UNIAN reported on 12 February. Morgunov had to be hospitalized. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

UKRAINE, RUSSIA SIGN CONVERSION MEMORANDUM.
According to Director-General of the Ukrainian National Space Agency Oleksandr Hehoda, Ukraine and Russia have signed a memorandum on converting Ukraine's SS-18 missiles, Ukrainian Radio reported on 13 February. International agreements call for the destruction of the missiles, but experts argue they can be used for peaceful purposes, including the simulation of satellite launches. -- Ustina Markus

DECREE ON DECLARING INCOME IN BELARUS.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 12 February signed a decree ordering citizens to declare incomes and assets, Belarusian TV reported. The decree is aimed at protecting the state's economic interests and stopping corruption. Citizens must declare monetary and other incomes over the past year, as well as all properties, including homes, garages, apartments, land, vehicles, and valuables worth more than 200 minimum wages (the equivalent of some $1,000). If tax inspectors or other control bodies are dubious about a citizen's income, they may call upon that individual to come to their offices and undergo an audit. -- Ustina Markus

BELARUSIAN DEMOCRATIC TRADE UNIONS PICKET JUSTICE MINISTRY.
Members of the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BCDTU) began picketing the Ministry of Justice earlier this week to protest the ministry's refusal to register it as an organization, Belapan reported. The BCDTU was founded by the Free Trade Unions of Belarus, the Free Trade Union of Metal Workers, the Democratic Trade Union of Transport Workers, and the Trade Union of Belarus. Executive director of the BCDTU Anatol Gurynovich claims that the reasons for the ministry's refusal are political, since one of the congress's co-founders was behind the strike in the Minsk metro in summer 1995. He said that the BCDTU is picketing the ministry in order to defend the constitutional rights of the 30,000 or so congress members, who, he said, are not being allowed to take part in the "social partnership" between the government, the unions, and employees. The protesters also plan to hold a demonstration and picket the presidential administration. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

ESTONIA'S RULING COALITION PROPOSES NEW CANDIDATE FOR PREMIER.
The Coalition Party and the Country People's Alliance bloc of farm parties have nominated Mart Siimann, deputy head of the Coalition Party, for prime minister, ETA reported on 13 February. A decision on whether to broaden the coalition or remain a minority government will be made after other parties have been consulted about their opinions on Siimann. The Progress and Reform Parties have already said they consider Siimann a suitable candidate. No decisions will be made until President Lennart Meri returns from a five-day visit to France on 16 February. Prime Minister Tiit Vahi has not yet submitted his official resignation to Meri, who is required to nominate a new candidate to replace him. -- Saulius Girnius

NEW LATVIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVED.
The Saeima has approved Andris Skele's new government, BNS reported on 13 February. As in the previous cabinet, five caucuses (with a total of 73 deputies) have portfolios as well as the support of the For People and Justice caucus. Skele will serve as finance minister until a suitable candidate from the Democratic Party Saimnieks (DPS) can be found. The only other major change in the government lineup is that the DPS has the education and science portfolio, which was previously granted to the For the Fatherland and Freedom caucus. Skele has reversed his earlier decision to abolish the state minister posts and has appointed Eriks Zunda of the DPS as state minister for local government affairs. -- Saulius Girnius

POLISH RULING PARTY PROPOSES REFERENDUM ON NATO ENTRY.
The postcommunist Social Democracy of the Polish Republic (SdRP) has calls for a referendum on membership in NATO, Polish media reported on 14 February. Izabela Sierakowska of the SdRP said objections against Poland's entry to the EU and NATO were raised by many delegates to the party congress last weekend (see OMRI Daily Digest, 10 February 1997). Deputy Defense Minister Andrzej Karkoszka and Foreign Affairs Minister Dariusz Rosati responded by saying such a referendum is superfluous since the overwhelming majority of Poles are clearly in favor of NATO membership. According to former Foreign Affairs Minister Andrzej Olechowski, SdRP leaders are pandering to the more conservative party members by proposing a referendum. A January poll by the Public Opinion Research Center (OBOP) showed support for NATO and EU at 90% and 88%, respectively. These are the highest figures for any country in the region. -- Beata Pasek

CZECH GOVERNMENT TO IGNORE INTERPELLATIONS.
Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus told the lower chamber of the Czech parliament on 13 February that ministers will not respond to interpellations in protest at statements made by deputies of the ultra-right Republican Party, Czech media reported. "Statements have been made here that would be punishable under criminal law, if they had been made outside the parliament," said Klaus. Republican Party deputy Rudolf Smucr had commented that the government--which is defending the Czech-German declaration--consists of "members of foreign nationalities, namely, Jews, Poles, and former Sudeten Germans." The government has asked the Immunity and Mandate Committee of the Parliament to deal with the Republicans. It has also discussed the possibility of banning the Republican Party. -- Jiri Pehe

SLOVAKIA TO HOLD NATO REFERENDUM.
The parliament on 14 February approved the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia's (HZDS) proposal for a referendum on NATO membership, Slovak media reported. The draft proposal asks Slovaks three questions: if they favor Slovakia's entry into NATO, if they want nuclear weapons to be stationed on Slovak territory, and if they are agreed to having military bases in Slovakia. The opposition strongly opposes the last two questions, which, it says, are aimed at prompting Slovaks to vote "no" to NATO membership. Also on 13 February, the parliament approved a law on the nationalist cultural organization, Matica slovenska, stressing its "decisive role" in boosting patriotism and developing local and regional culture. A bill was also passed extending the ban on the privatization of Slovakia's four biggest financial institutions until 31 December 2003. Finally, in a second round of voting, opposition candidates again failed to gain seats on the parliamentary committees overseeing the secret service and military intelligence (see OMRI Daily Digest, 12 February 1997). -- Sharon Fisher

SLOVAK POLITICAL ROUNDUP.
In a FOCUS opinion poll released on 13 February, more than 65% of respondents said they would welcome direct presidential elections, TASR reported. Nineteen percent support presidential elections through the parliament. HZDS Deputy Chairman Arpad Matejka told CTK on 13 February that his party wants to hold separate talks with each parliamentary party to discuss changes in the electoral system and the date of the next parliamentary elections. In other news, the Slovak government has appointed Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Sergej Kozlik of the HZDS as its representative on the board of the National Bank of Slovakia, TASR reported on 13 February. Kozlik, however, has no voting rights on the NBS board. Last week, the Slovak cabinet appointed former Finance Ministry State Secretary Jozef Magula to the NBS board, a move that could endanger the bank's independence. -- Anna Siskova

SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTRY CONDEMNS HUNGARIAN CRITICISM ...
The Slovak Foreign Ministry on 13 February issued a statement saying it considers "the increasingly critical statements" made by Hungarian politicians about Slovakia to constitute an "ongoing campaign that casts doubt on the real situation of the Hungarian minority," CTK reported. The statement also says that the criticism is even more surprising since "it comes from a country that has not been able to provide conditions for the survival of national minorities on its own territory." The main problem is not the situation of Hungarians in Slovakia but rather "Hungary's minority policy in relation to the Hungarian minorities abroad," the statement claimed. -- Anna Siskova

... WHILE HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER TRIES TO AVOID "WAR OF WORDS."
Laszlo Kovacs said in response to the Slovak Foreign Ministry statement that Hungary does not want a "war of words" with Slovakia and is striving for improved bilateral relations, international media reported. He added that Budapest wants to resolve disputes in line with European standards, noting that while Hungary recognizes the general progress in bilateral relations, it cannot ignore issues affecting minority rights. The two countries' foreign ministers are scheduled to meet next month in Bratislava to discuss controversies in bilateral relations, including the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam dispute and a minority language law in Slovakia.
-- Zsofia Szilagyi


BRCKO DECISION PUT OFF ...
The international arbitration commission, meeting in Rome on 14 February, announced that it cannot yet rule on the fate of the strategic north Bosnian town, news agencies reported. Brcko will instead be placed until March 1998 under international supervision headed by an American, and the EU will oversee local elections that will be held "soon." More SFOR troops will be sent into the area to provide better security. The international community's High Representative Carl Bildt said: "We are not yet convinced that any of the candidates are sufficiently stabilized to take on the situation. It is very possible that the outcome could be that Brcko could become a special district of Bosnia-Herzegovina." In the days leading up to the announcement, there had been numerous leaks to the press suggesting that Brcko would be assigned to the Serbs. -- Patrick Moore

... AS SFOR PREPARES FOR THE WORST.
Each side has threatened war should the other be granted control over Brcko, and Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic said on 13 February he will resign if Brcko goes to the Serbs, Oslobodjenje reported. U.S. SFOR troops cut off roads to the town, news agencies added. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tried to reassure the Croats and Muslims, who have recently staged anti-American protests. Brcko was the one territorial issue so sensitive that it was not resolved in the Dayton agreement at the end of 1995. Both the Serbs and the Croat-Muslim federation want it because it is a transportation hub, but it is vital for the Serbs since it and the narrow corridor around it connect the eastern and western halves of the Republika Srpska. The Muslims and Croats also want to reverse the wartime "ethnic cleansing." -- Patrick Moore

MOSTAR REMAINS TENSE.
Herzegovina's principal town remained under tight control by peacekeepers on 13 February, following a series of incidents earlier in the week (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 February 1997). In keeping with the latest Croatian-Muslim agreement, telephone links between Croatian-controlled western Mostar and the Muslim-held eastern half of town were restored, international media reported. A fraction of the 100 Muslims expelled from their homes in the west began to return, although some reports suggest that evictions may not have stopped. NATO helicopters on 12 February hovered over the funeral of a 65-year-old Muslim killed by Croats on Monday. Croat and Muslim politicians continued to exchange recriminations, Onasa noted. -- Patrick Moore

SERBIAN OPPOSITION READY TO GOVERN LOCALLY?
Belgrade's municipal election commission has once again recognized opposition Zajedno wins in the November municipal elections, Nasa Borba reported on 14 February. The decision follows in the wake of the Serbian parliament's passage of legislation ostensibly recognizing opposition wins, and may be the last legal barrier prior to the opposition's forming of municipal governments. But Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic may have an ulterior motive in tolerating opposition local governments, Reuters reported. Since local and regional governments depend on the central authorities for funding and "patronage," it may be Milosevic's aim to undermine Zajedno by making it look ineffectual, if not incompetent, ahead of the republican 1997 elections. Vuk Draskovic, a Zajedno leader and head of the Serbian Renewal Movement, commented that "the regime will introduce all forms of economic pressure and sanctions against us and highlight any failure." -- Stan Markotich

SERBS RALLY IN EASTERN SLAVONIA.
Some 5,000 Serbian protesters marched through down-town Vukovar--the main town of the last Serb-held region, which is due to revert to Croatian rule--in a bid to secure local autonomy, international media reported. The protesters were demanding that eastern Slavonia become a single county, that Croatia have an open border with neighboring Serbia, and that they be granted dual Croatian-Yugoslav citizenship. Such demands have been rejected in the past, with UN officials blaming the bid for autonomy on local Serbian nationalist leaders who have spread disinformation about the reintegration process. Most of the protesters in Vukovar said they would rather leave the area than stay under Croatian rule. Meanwhile, a Serbian leader in eastern Slavonia, Vojislav Stanimirovic, said Serbs fear they do not have enough time to prepare for local elections, AFP reported. The elections have been postponed from 16 March to 13 April (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 February 1997). Stanimirovic said the Serbs have not yet decided whether they will take part in the polls. -- Daria Sito Sucic

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT TO CONSIDER ACCESS TO SECURITATE FILES.
The parliament is considering introducing legislation that would allow citizens who were under secret police surveillance during the Communist era to have access to their files, Romanian media reported. The opposition supports the move but opposes the proposal to disclose the files of public officials. Virgil Magureanu, head of the Romanian Information Service (SRI), said on 12 February that he favored the proposed legislation. He also suggested that the files, which are currently under SRI supervision, should be given to another institution. The issue of public access to Securitate files has been one of the most contested in post-Communist Romania. -- Zsolt Mato

LEADING ROMANIAN COLUMNIST RESIGNS.
Ion Cristoiu, one of the founders of Romania's top-selling daily Evenimentul zilei, has resigned as head of that publication, Romanian media reported. Cristoiu, in an interview with Radio Bucharest, said he was responding to pressure from the readership following his criticism of the new government. He suggested that his "constructive" criticism was misunderstood by the public. Former President Ion Iliescu, who is the leader of the leftist Party of Social Democracy in Romania, seized the opportunity to attack the new administration for alleged "intolerance" against political opponents and for attempting to "purge" those who do not share their views. In an allusion to Eugen Ionesco's anti-totalitarian play The Rhinoceros, Iliescu spoke of an on-going "rhinocerization" of political life in Romania. -- Dan Ionescu

BULGARIAN PREMIER'S FIRST DAY ON THE JOB.
Taking office on 13 February, Stefan Sofiyanski went about introducing sweeping change immediately by firing the board of directors of the country's main oil refinery, Neftochim, Bulgarian media reported. He also appointed himself head of a special working council that will undertake to stabilize the country's downward-spiraling economy. The council will negotiate with foreign states and international financial institutions in order "to obtain staples for the population and credits to stabilize Bulgaria's balance of payments," AFP reported. Finally, the parliament dissolved itself on 13 February, after approving the new premier and caretaker cabinet. -- Stan Markotich

LAWLESSNESS IN SOUTHERN ALBANIA ...
While protesters took to the streets for a ninth consecutive day in Vlora, the demonstrations claimed another victim--a 12-year-old child who died in the hospital on 13 February from injuries sustained after he was hit by a stone during the weekend clashes, Deutsche Welle's Albanian-language service reported. Reuters reported that Vlora has become an Eldorado for gangs, small-time criminals, and smugglers since police abandoned the city. A policeman's house was bombed there, although there were no injuries; and an 18-year-old girl was abducted from her home and her father injured by three shots. Police suspect a prostitution ring behind the kidnapping. Meanwhile, the food-shortage is becoming critical in Vlora. CNN on 13 February broadcast footage of people plundering market stands. Local Socialist Party leader Zabib Brocaj has been accused of "inciting violence." -- Fabian Schmidt

... WHILE ITALIAN PROSECUTORS SAY MAFIA WAS INVOLVED IN PYRAMIDS.
Italian investigators say they have evidence of large-scale Mafia involvement in the Albanian pyramid schemes, German TV reported on 13 February. According to Italian authorities, the investment companies were used to launder money acquired from smuggling refugees and drugs to Italy and from illegally trading arms elsewhere. In Tirana, Police cordoned off Skanderbeg Square to prevent anti-government demonstrations. The worst clashes have been in Fier, where civilians armed with wooden clubs and iron bars attacked several thousand protesters, injuring at least six. The assailants were believed to be Democratic Party supporters. Police at a nearby station did not intervene, according to eye-witnesses. Meanwhile, the Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox communities have agreed to hold a "day of prayer" for peace on 16 February. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave




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