YELTSIN FAVORS CABINET RESHUFFLE.
President Boris Yeltsin has criticized
the government for failing to ensure the timely payment of wages and pensions
and proposed that it be reshuffled to make it more efficient, international
agencies reported. At a meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 24
January, Yeltsin noted that many Russians are "dissatisfied with the
government, its chairman, and consequently the president" and suggested that
the prime minister draw up proposals on "structural" and, "if necessary,"
personnel changes. The president's spokesman later denied rumors that
Chernomyrdin's own position might be under threat. Chernomyrdin noted that a
timetable for paying pension arrears has been agreed and sought to shift some
of the blame onto the regions by arguing that federal money allocated to pay
wages is often misused. A cabinet reshuffle is unlikely to solve the
intractable arrears problem, and Yeltsin's comments were probably intended
primarily to show that he is ready to reenter the political fray after his long
illness. -- Penny Morvant
YELTSIN MEETS WITH CONSTITUTIONAL COURT CHAIRMAN.
In his first meeting
with new Constitutional Court Chairman Marat Baglai, Yeltsin said that "under
no circumstances" should the constitution be amended within the next several
years, Russian media reported on 24 February. "Our society has not reached this
stage yet," he added. Although the president's supporters on the Constitutional
Court outnumber his opponents, Yeltsin complained that some judges on the court
criticize the constitution, when they should merely respect and interpret it.
Yeltsin's Communist opponents in the State Duma have long advocated
constitutional amendments to reduce presidential power, and some Federation
Council members have recently suggested that the upper house of parliament
might support amendments along these lines. -- Laura Belin
DUMA COMMITTEE REJECTS LAW ON YELTSIN'S HEALTH.
The State Duma
Legislation Committee, chaired by Anatolii Lukyanov, has rejected a draft law
proposed by Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin on removing
Yeltsin from office for health reasons, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 February. Both
Lukyanov and Ilyukhin are influential members of the Communist Party. The
legislation committee had considered eight different versions of a law to
clarify how and when the president must hand over power to the prime minister,
Lukyanov said, and the version his committee selected does not address
Yeltsin's current state of health. Yeltsin suggested on 23 February that he may
"hit back" if the Duma continues its efforts to remove him on health grounds.
But Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov dismissed Yeltsin's veiled threat
to dissolve the lower house of parliament, saying neither the army nor the
public would support such a move, Reuters reported. -- Laura Belin
JOURNALISTS PROTEST DUMA DECISION ON ORT CORRESPONDENT.
Journalists Chairman Vsevolod Bogdanov and Glasnost Defense Foundation head
Aleksei Simonov issued an open letter to Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev
demanding that the Duma reverse its decision to revoke the accreditation of a
television journalist, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 February. The Duma revoked its
accreditation of Pavel Ryazantsev, a Russian Public TV (ORT) correspondent, for
one month because of his report on parliamentary debate over a new pornography
law. Bogdanov and Simonov argued that under Russian media law, a court must
approve any decision to revoke a correspondent's accreditation, which can be
done only if the journalist is found to have misreported the facts. -- Laura
PRIMAKOV IN NORWAY.
Visiting Oslo on 24 February, Foreign Minister
Yevgenii Primakov suggested that the "Norwegian model" of NATO membership could
be appropriate for Eastern Europe, Russian Tv (RTR) reported. Norway is a
member of NATO but has no foreign bases on its territory and does not permit
the stationing of nuclear weapons. Primakov said his talks with NATO Secretary
General Javier de Solana on 23 February were "not easy" but had made "some
progress, in certain directions," NTV reported the next day. The station also
claimed that Defense Minister Igor Rodionov is "sceptical" about the proposal
to form a joint NATO-Russian brigade. There were conficting reports on whether
or not NATO and Russian officials in Brussels are concretely working on a
document which will form a joint agreement. -- Peter Rutland
The U.S. government appeared to be distancing itself from
statements of President Yeltsin suggesting that a compromise deal was in the
works. White House spokesman Michael McCurry said "There's no compromise on the
central fact that we will explore with our treaty ally partners the expansion
of NATO at the Madrid summit later this year," AFP reported on 25 February.
Russia is pressing for a legally-binding agreement, in part because they claim
that the informal promises about NATO not expanding which were given to Soviet
President Mikhail Gorbachev in 1990 during German unification were not adhered
to. -- Peter Rutland
ITALIAN JOURNALIST ABDUCTED IN CHECHNYA.
An Italian photographer was
abducted by masked men in Grozny on 23 February, Russian and Western agencies
reported. Although several Russian journalists have been held hostage over the
past two years, this is the first instance in which a foreign journalist has
been targeted. On 24 February, Chechen President and Prime Minister Aslan
Maskhadov chaired a cabinet meeting; no detalis of the agenda were released.
Also on 24 February, a member of the Chechen Presidential Council told
ITAR-TASS that a peace treaty between the Russian Federation and Chechnya is
currently being drafted and will be submitted to Moscow for discussion before
the end of this month. The same official also predicted that the name of
radical field commander Salman Raduev, who continues to threaten terrorist
acts against the Russian Federation, "will disappear from the mass media" after
the signing of the Russian-Chechen agreement. -- Liz Fuller
ANOTHER SUPERCOMPUTER SALE.
Russia has purchased an IBM RS/6000 SP for
$7 million through a European middleman and will use the machine to simulate
nuclear tests, according to the New York Times on 25 February. U.S.
firms are required by law to seek approval from the Commerce Department before
selling Russia a computer that can perform more than two billion calculations
per second. Last week it was revealed that Silicon Graphics had sold two
similar high-powered machines to Russia (see OMRI Daily Digest, 19
February 1997). In principle, Russia can use these computers to develop new
nuclear warheads, even while observing the ban on nuclear test explosions.
Izvestiya complained on 22 February that leakage of information about
these sales are part of a U.S. plot to discredit Russia. -- Peter Rutland
LAUNCH OF ALFA STATION WILL BE DELAYED.
The head of the Russian Space
Agency, Yurii Koptev, has acknowledged that largely due to a lack of financing,
Russia has delayed the launch of the international orbital space station Alfa
that was originally scheduled for November 1997, ITAR-TASS and Izvestiya
reported on 24-25 February. In 1996, the industry did not receive the 900
billion rubles ($160 million) that was allocated to it in the federal budget.
According to Koptev, the industry has lost some 42% of its specialists over the
last two years and 11 out of the 38 companies working for the space agency are
on the brink of bankruptcy. More than 60% of Russia's satellites have exceeded
their recommended period of service. The Alfa launch is likely to be postponed
until June 1998. Meanwhile, a minor fire broke out on board the Russian orbital
space station Mir when astronauts were installing a new air filter. None of the
six astronauts were injured. -- Natalia Gurushina
MOSCOW GETS INTERNATIONAL CREDIT RATING.
Moscow has become the first
Russian region to get an international credit rating, Kommersant-Daily
and Segodnya reported on 25 February. The credit rating agencies
Standard & Poor's and Moody's gave Moscow the same speculative grades BB-
and Ba2, respectively, as they gave Russian government bonds on the eve of
Russia's first sovereign eurobond issue in November 1996. The floatation of the
first tranche of Moscow eurobonds is slated for 15 March. The investment banks
CS First Boston and Nomura International will underwrite the $400 million
issue. So far, six other regions--the St. Petersburg, Nizhnii Novgorod, and
Sverdlovsk oblasts, the Altai Krai, Tatarstan, and Marii-El--have announced
their intention to float eurobond issues, Delovoi mir reported on 21
February. -- Natalia Gurushina
REGENT GAZ BACKS OFF.
The Cayman Islands-based Regent Gaz Investment
Company has announced that it will comply with demands of the Russian giant
Gazprom to stop operations with Gazprom's shares traded on the domestic market
(see OMRI Daily Digest, 19 February 1997), Kommersant-Daily
reported on 25 February. The company has also stated that Regent Gaz will
repurchase shares worth some $200 million from its shareholders and that the
company itself will then be dissolved. -- Natalia Gurushina
DUMA OVERRIDES FEDERATION COUNCIL'S VETO ON VEKSELYA.
The Duma on
21 February overrode the Federation Council's veto on the law on bills of
exchange (vekselya)--promissory notes with which organizations extended
short-term credits to each other, Kommersant-Daily reported on 25
February. The law limits the rights of regional authorties to issue
vekselya and bans the issuance of electronic bills of exchange. The
Duma's move supports the Finance Ministry's earlier attempts to eliminate the
destabilizing influence of the massive issuance of vekselya (which are a
form of surrogate money) on the Russian financial system by announcing that it
will cut the volume of its guarantees for vekselya floated by commercial
banks. The Federation Council, composed of regional representatives, was trying
to defend the rights of the regions to run independent monetary policy. It
remains to be see whether Yeltsin will sign the bill into law. -- Natalia
GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY ADMITS NUKES WERE DEPLOYED IN GEORGIA.
deputy chief of staff of the Georgian armed forces, Tengiz Razmadze, has
admitted that "tactical, medium-range" rockets with nuclear warheads were
stored at the Soviet military base at Vaziani, near Tbilisi, NTV reported on 24
February. The warheads were reportedly removed in 1989, after the political
disturbances in April of that year. Formerly, Russian and Georgian officials
had claimed there had never been nuclear weapons stationed in Georgia. -- Liz
RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS KILLED IN ABKHAZIA.
A Georgian Foreign Ministry
spokesman on 24 February condemned the deaths on 22 February of three Russian
peacekeeping soldiers in Abkhazia, who were killed when their vehicle hit a
mine, Reuters reported. The commander of the Russian force, Maj.-Gen. Dorii
Babenkov, and an Abkhaz Defense Ministry spokesman blamed the incident on the
Georgian "White Legion," which they claim is subordinate to the Georgian
security service. The legion is a Georgian guerrilla formation seeking to
restore Georgian hegemony over Abkhazia. Meeting on 24 February with the deputy
head of the UN military mission in Georgia, Deputy Foreign Minister Giga
Burduli reaffirmed his government's commitment to seeking a peaceful solution
to the standoff between Tbilisi and the separatist regime in Sukhumi, according
to ITAR-TASS. -- Liz Fuller
GEORGIAN CONDUIT TO TURKEY.
During a recent joint economic session held
in Tbilisi, Georgia and Turkey reached a pipeline and power deal according to a
23 February Interfax report monitored by the BBC. Under the deal, Turkey will
receive Russian gas via Georgia once an existing pipeline is refurbished and
extended 30 km to the Turkish border. The pipeline is to initially carry 3
billion cubic meters annually, subsequently rising to 9 billion cubic meters.
Georgia is planning to generate electricity from Turkmen gas for subsequent
transmission to Turkey. -- Lowell Bezanis
MOUSIN TO BE EXTRADITED, ROTAR DENIED ACCREDITATION.
in Moscow by Russian law enforcement officials, Albert Mousin, a freelance
reporter working for RFE/RL, Komsomolskaya pravda, and Ekho Moskvy, is
to be extradited to Uzbekistan, Radio Rossii reported on 24 February. The same
day, RFE/RL reported that Russia's branch of the PEN club has called for the
44-year-old human rights advocate and reporter to be released. They claim that
Mousin is a citizen of Kazakstan, not Uzbekistan, and that it is "not the first
time" Russian law enforcement agencies are helping Central Asian and
Transcaucasian governments "settle scores" with their political opponents.
Meanwhile, the Tajik authorities have denied accreditation to Nezavisimaya
gazeta reporter Igor Rotar on the grounds he has been "unscrupulous and
biased" in his reporting on certain events that took place in Tajikistan,
according to a 21 February Nezavisimaya gazeta monitored by the BBC.
Nezavisimaya gazeta has expressed bewilderment at the decision. --
TYPHOID EPIDEMIC UPDATE.
The typhoid fever epidemic in Tajikistan has
spread beyond Dushanbe to Kulyab and Tursun Zade, Reuters reported on 21
February. The Tajik authorities have closed down schools in Dushanbe in an
effort to stem the epidemic which is believed to be infecting between 150-200
people every day. An estimated 4,000 people have fallen ill to date. Aid
workers say the city's water supply, which has not been chlorinated in three
months, is "a million times worse" than World Health Organization standards and
citizens cannot afford fuel to boil their water. -- Lowell Bezanis
UKRAINE TO UNILATERALLY DEMARCATE BORDER WITH RUSSIA?
Ukrainian official has said Ukraine is ready to unilaterally demarcate its
border with Russia if a second meeting of the Russian-Ukrainian subcommission
on border issues does not take place in March, ITAR-TASS reported on 24
February. The official said that although Ukraine is prepared to press ahead,
it would be preferable for the two sides to jointly determine their common
border. He noted that without Russia's participation, Ukraine will not be able
to optimally demarcate the border in areas where towns straddle both sides of
the frontier or where the natural contours of the landscape will make
demarcation difficult. -- Ustina Markus
UKRAINE TO PRODUCE NUCLEAR FUEL.
Ukrainian nuclear officials said
Ukraine intends to start supplying its five nuclear power plants with fuel rods
beginning in 2001, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 February. Russia has being
supplying Ukraine with nuclear rods until now to compensate for the nuclear
warheads Ukraine has shipped to Russia. That arrangement runs out in 1998.
Ukraine also plans to set up a joint venture with Russia and Kazakhstan to
manufacture nuclear fuel rods, officials said. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev
BELARUSIAN AUTHORITIES DENY MALTREATMENT OF FORMER BANK CHAIRWOMAN.
Prosecutor-General Aleh Bazhelka, speaking on national television on 23
February, denied that former National Bank of Belarus chairwoman Tamara
Vinnikova is being held for political reasons or has been maltreated. He
refused to disclose details of her case in order not to impede his office's
investigation. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka dismissed Vinnikova in early
January and had her arrested for embezzlement. Bazhelka said he had agreed to
talk about the case in order to dispel rumors in the media of her mistreatment
or the political nature of the case. He warned that the Information Ministry
would decide what to do about newspapers that published stories casting doubt
over the legitimacy of her detention. Commenting on Vinnikova's health,
Bazhelka said doctors monitor prisoners who are kept in isolation. Vinnikova
was moved to a hospital in mid-February, but doctors saw no reason for not
continuing to keep her in isolation, he added. -- Ustina Markus
INTERNATIONAL FACT-FINDING MISSION SUBMITS REPORT ON BELARUS.
head of a six-member mission of representatives from the OSCE, the EU, and the
Council of Europe, has submitted to EU foreign ministers an oral report about
the political situation in Belarus, international agencies reported on 24
February. Although the report was highly critical of President Lukashenka,
there was no mention of the state of democracy in Belarus. They did comment,
however, that the situation there is "not satisfactory" and that they will use
"economic and political means" to pressure Belarus to restore democratic norms
and freedom of speech. -- Sergei Solodovnikov
LATVIAN-RUSSIAN BORDER TALKS RESUME IN MOSCOW.
Following a hiatus of
more than three months, Latvian and Russian delegations resumed border talks on
24 February in the Russian capital, BNS reported. Aivars Vovars remains head of
the Latvian delegation, while former ambassador to Japan Lyudvig Chizhov is
leading the Russian side. This meeting is the first of its kind since Latvian
Prime Minister Andris Skele hinted that Latvia is willing to drop its demand
that the border treaty mention the 1920 Riga treaty between Latvia and Soviet
Russia. Under that treaty, Latvian territory was several thousand square
kilometers larger than it is today, but Russia has refused to discuss changing
borders. -- Saulius Girnius
POLISH PARLIAMENT DEBATES DRAFT CONSTITUTION.
A joint session of the
Sejm and the Senate has begun debating the draft constitution drawn up the
parliamentary Constitutional Committee, Polish media reported on 24 February.
Until now, the so-called "small" constitution has been in force. Passed in
October 1992, that document is supplemented by communist-era basic law, which
has been repeatedly amended since 1989. Both the Solidarity trade union and the
Catholic Church oppose the parliamentary draft because it does not ban abortion
and because it does not state that "natural law" is higher than any man-made
law. Solidarity wants to submit an alternative draft constitution in a
referendum, but the leftist-dominated parliament is unlikely to accept that
proposal. The joint parliamentary session is expected to adopt a text by
mid-March. If approved by the president, the draft will be submitted to voters
in a national referendum. -- Jakub Karpinski
POLAND'S FOREIGN TRADE DEFICIT REACHES RECORD HIGH.
estimates by the Economy Ministry, the foreign trade deficit reached $12.6
billion in 1996, almost double the figure for the previous year,
Rzeczpospolita reported on 25 February. Export revenues totaled $24.35
billion (6.3% increase over 1995) and import revenues $36.94 billion (27.2%).
Economy Ministry official Janusz Kaczurba said the shortfall was caused mainly
by the limited export capacity of the Polish economy and the slowing down of
global foreign trade. He added that the improvement of the German economy
(Germany is the biggest importer of Polish goods) and the increase in foreign
investment in Poland should mean that the foreign trade deficit will be lower
this year. Exports are projected to grow by 15% and imports by 22%. -- Beata
CZECH PREMIER DISAGREES WITH PRESIDENT'S REMARKS.
Vaclav Klaus on 24
February took issue with President Vaclav Havel's statement the previous day
that the West had missed its chance to expand NATO three or four years ago when
Russia was not opposed to such a step, CTK reported. Havel criticized the
West's conservatism and procrastination over the issue. Klaus countered that
expanding NATO requires time, adding that he did not think "it could have been
done faster." He also argued that "only now is the time ripe," pointing out
that Western politicians are persuading one another that this is the right
moment. -- Jiri Pehe
SLOVAK PREMIER ON DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS.
speaking on Slovak Radio on 24 February, said that Slovak citizens could elect
not only the president but also the prime minister. He noted that the premier
is directly elected in some other countries, such as Israel. Direct elections,
he argues, would make the premier more independent. Meciar's statements follow
the recent conclusion of a petition drive calling a referendum on whether the
president should be elected directly. The petition committee announced on 23
February that it had collected the necessary 350,000 signatures. Meciar noted
that it is still not "legally clear whether the constitution can be changed
through a referendum." He added that he believed the referendum on Slovak
membership in NATO should not be held at the same time as that on direct
presidential elections. -- Jiri Pehe
HUNGARIAN FARMERS WANT TO CONTINUE PROTEST.
Hungarian farmers are
continuing to protest changes in tax and social insurance legislation,
Hungarian media reported on 25 February. Farmers are blocking public roads
throughout the country for the second consecutive day. Negotiations between
farmers and government officials are due to begin today. Gyula Kosa, one of the
organizers of the protest, said farmers will be willing to reach a compromise
only with Finance Minister Peter Medgyessy. Meanwhile, Premier Gyula Horn has
said extremist parties are trying to make political capital out of the farmers'
demonstrations. The far-right Hungarian Justice and Life Party has announced a
mass rally outside the parliament building later this week, calling for the
removal of the governing coalition. -- Zsolt Mato
HUNGARIAN PRIVATIZATION HEAD SAYS HE RESIGNED ON OWN INITIATIVE.
Puskas, president of the supervisory board of the State Privatization and
Holding company (APV), has said he resigned on his own initiative, Hungarian
media reported on 25 February. Previously, it had been reported that board
members had asked Puskas to step down following allegations that he was
involved in a privatization scandal (see OMRI Daily Digest, 24 February
1997). Puskas said he stepped down because of disagreements with other board
members over work methods. He added that he had submitted his resignation in
late January. -- Zsolt Mato
ALBANIAN RULING PARTY ADMITS LINK TO PYRAMIDS.
Blerim Celia, who heads
an interministerial committee, said on 24 February that the governing
Democratic Party (PD) received $50,000 from the now collapsed Gjallica
investment scheme. He did not say when the contribution was made, but he added
that Gjallica also spent $867,000 on last October's Miss World pageant, AFP
reported. The opposition and the British daily The Independent have
charged that there is a cozy relationship between the PD, the pyramid schemes,
and organized crime. The PD and the government have denied the accusations.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Ministry on 24 February repudiated charges that losses
to citizens from collapsed pyramids total $2 billion. -- Patrick Moore
ALBANIAN STUDENT PROTESTS TO EXPAND?
Some 5,000 students rallied again
in Vlora on 24 February to demand the resignation of the government. A group of
55 students are continuing their hunger strike, but doctors have urged them to
call it off because of their worsening health condition. A female student was
taken unconscious to a local hospital the previous evening. Meanwhile, other
citizens on 24 February joined in the street demonstrations, which have been
taking place regularly for some three weeks. The police and the central
authorities appear to have given the town over to the protesters. And in Tirana
and Gjirokaster, students called for a boycott of classes, saying they might
launch hunger strikes of their own, international news agencies wrote. --
NEW BELGRADE CITY COUNCIL MAKES MEDIA APPOINTMENTS.
Zajedno city council in Belgrade has moved to put its own stamp on the
local broadcasting media, international media reported on 25 February. A new
director and a new editor-in-chief have been appointed to head the influential
Studio B. Both new appointees--Zoran Ostojic and Lila Radonjic--are independent
journalists who worked at the station before Serbian President Slobodan
Milosevic came to power. Studio B was the city's only independent television
station until the authorities took it over in February 1995. Meanwhile, new
Serbian Information Minister Radmila Milentijevic told a Washington press
conference on 24 February that Milosevic's regime is intent on making
democratic reforms in the broadcasting media, Reuters and Nasa Borba
reported. -- Stan Markotich
EUROPEAN LEGISLATOR BLASTS "MEDIEVAL TORTURE" IN KOSOVO.
Doris Pack, a
German member of the European Parliament, has seen the body of an ethnic
Albanian who died on 22 February in police custody, AFP reported on 25
February. She said: "It's unbelievable that at the end of this century in
Europe, we have medieval-style torture in Kosovo." The Serbian police claimed
Besnik Restelica committed suicide after confessing to terrorist activities,
Onasa reported (see OMRI Daily Digest, 24 February 1997). But the
leading Kosovar Albanian political party, the Democratic League of Kosovo,
charged that he "died a violent death, arguably of torture at the hands of Serb
security." The statement added that he is the sixth Albanian to die because of
the police this year. -- Patrick Moore
IS MILOSEVIC LOOKING TO BOSNIA?
The Serbian president met with Momcilo
Krajisnik, the Serbian member of the three-man Bosnian joint presidency,
Oslobodjenje reported on 25 February. It was Krajisnik's first trip to
Belgrade in five months. "Strengthening ties" between Serbia and the Republika
Srpska topped the agenda. Meanwhile in Sarajevo, the founding meeting took
place of the Council for Strategic Activities of the Serbian Civic Council
(SGV). The SGV represents anti-nationalist Serbs who remained loyal to the
government of Bosnia-Herzegovina throughout the war and who are often called
"the forgotten Serbs." The new body's first task is to draft an amendment to
the constitution of the otherwise Croat-Muslim Federation of Bosnia-Herzegovina
giving the Serbs equal legal status as a people. -- Patrick Moore
NATO REMOVES ROADBLOCKS, CONFISCATES WEAPONS FROM CROATS IN MOSTAR.
troops have removed illegal roadblocks set up by local Croats in the
Herzegovinian city and have also confiscated some weapons, AFP reported on 24
February. The operation followed two recent attacks against SFOR troops (see
OMRI Daily Digest, 21 and 24 February 1997). Also on 24 February, NATO
issued a warning that its units in Mostar will not hesitate to use weapons
against those trying to attack the SFOR contingent. Meanwhile, UN police have
handed over a report on the violent clashes that took place in Mostar earlier
this month to the five major international organizations supervising the
implementation of the Dayton peace accords. They did not, however, submit a
copy to the Bosnian authorities. The report is believed to recommend the
prosecution of those responsible for the violence, which left one dead and more
than 30 wounded. -- Daria Sito Sucic
BOSNIAN SERB GAS DEBT TO RUSSIA TO BE PAID FROM INTERNATIONAL DONATIONS?
Top Bosnian Federation officials on 24 February agreed to propose to the
Council of Ministers that Bosnia's $12.3 million gas debt to Russia be paid
from international donations to the Bosnian Serb entity, the Republika Srpska,
which has accrued that debt, Onasa reported. They stressed that the Sarajevo
canton has paid its gas debt to Russia but that the Serbs have not attended any
meeting over the issue because they want to negotiate with the Russians on
their own. Russia, for its part, cut gas supplies to Bosnia by 25 percent the
same day, local and international media reported. Meanwhile, Haris Silajdzic,
Bosnia's Muslim co-prime minister, complained that separate privatization laws
in the Muslim-Croat Federation and Republika Srpska may finally divide the
country, Reuters reported. Silajdzic said the Bosnian-Herzegovinian state--not
its two entities--should inherit the assets of Yugoslavia's former republic and
regulate privatization. -- Daria Sito Sucic
MACEDONIAN STUDENTS KEEP UP PROTEST AGAINST ALBANIAN-LANGUAGE
Students in Skopje again took to the streets in a series of
protests that began last week. Students in Bitola and Tetovo, which has a large
ethnic Albanian population, joined in solidarity protests, AFP wrote. Their
goal is the abolition of a new law permitting Albanian-language instruction at
Skopje University's teachers' college and the resignation of Minister of
Education Sofija Todorova. The new law was considered a compromise between the
demands of the Albanians for university-level instruction in their mother
tongue, and the constitutional provision that guarantees minority-language
teaching only in elementary and secondary schools. Ethnic Albanians make up at
least 20% of the republic's population. -- Patrick Moore
PRISONERS' HUNGER STRIKE ENDS IN ROMANIA.
Thousands of Romanian
prisoners have ended a six-day hunger strike, international media reported on
24 February. The strike began last week in Bucharest in protest at poor living
conditions and harsh penal laws. It quickly spread to almost half of the
country's prisons. Judicial authorities found most of the prisoners' demands
justified and have promised to take the necessary steps to rectify the
situation. -- Zsolt Mato
ROMANIA'S EXILED KING PLEDGES TO RESPECT CONSTITUTION.
King Mihai told
Romanians in a live Radio Bucharest broadcast on 24 February that he will not
raise at present "any constitutional or property
issues." The exiled
monarch is due to start a six-day visit to Romania at the end of this week.
Mihai thanked President Emil Constantinescu, the government, the parliament,
and intellectuals for their help in recently restoring his Romanian
citizenship. His statements put an end to speculation by former President Ion
Iliescu and his leftist Party of Social Democracy in Romania that Mihai wants
back both his throne and his property in Romania. -- Dan Ionescu
NEW COMMUNIST PARTY IN MOLDOVA.
Hard-liners within the Communist Party
of the Republic of Moldova (CPRM) have decided to set up a new party called the
Communist Party of Moldova, Infotag reported on 24 February. The split, which
took place two days earlier, was described by CPRM leader Vladimir Voronin as
"natural." Voronin added that his party would become stronger following the
defection of "chameleons and renegades." The CPRM's presidential candidate won
some 10% of the vote in the November 1996 elections. Some 60 delegates attended
the constituent conference of the new communist party. -- Dan Ionescu
DISUNITY AMONG BULGARIA'S UNITED DEMOCRATIC FORCES?
Democratic Forces (ODS), which forced the Socialists to give up power following
the recent street demonstrations, is now experiencing internal tensions in the
run-up to the 19 April parliamentary elections, the Bulgarian press reported on
22 and 25 February. Discord has resulted over how to draw up deputies' lists.
The ODS's largest member, the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), insists on
primary elections so that the best candidates can be selected at the local
level. But the People's Union rejects this proposal, fearing that the SDS's
candidates would win against its own. By itself, the union currently has only a
small chance of crossing the 4% voter threshold for parliamentary
representation. The ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom--the third
member of the ODS--has so far not taken a stance over the issue. Its candidates
are almost certain to win in regions with a mixed population. -- Maria
IMF MISSION ARRIVES IN SOFIA.
An IMF mission arrived in Sofia on 24
January to discuss measures to halt Bulgaria's economic collapse, Bulgarian
media reported. Mission leader Anne McGuirk came from Brussels, where a meeting
of representatives of the IMF, the World Bank, the EU, and the EBRD agreed to
set up a consultative group to coordinate international donor efforts but to
disburse aid only after Bulgaria reaches an agreement with the IMF. Greece
appealed to EU foreign ministers to assist Bulgaria, Albania, and Serbia by
immediately providing grain, food, and medicine. McGuirk expressed support for
measures taken to date by the interim government. She also noted the IMF's
willingness to negotiate with the cabinet but did not say whether the IMF would
sign an agreement with it. Meanwhile, the government has raised the minimum
wage to 17,600 leva ($8), raised pensions by 10,000 leva, and increased most
social payments by 60%. -- Michael Wyzan
[As of 1200 CET]
Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave