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Newsline - February 25, 1997


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.
Union of 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 Belin

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

NATO UPDATE.
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 Gurushina


GEORGIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY ADMITS NUKES WERE DEPLOYED IN GEORGIA.
The 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 Fuller

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.
Recently detained 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. -- Lowell Bezanis

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?
An unnamed 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.
Aad Kosto, 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.
According to 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 Pasek

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.
Vladimir Meciar, 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.
Sandor 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. -- Patrick Moore

NEW BELGRADE CITY COUNCIL MAKES MEDIA APPOINTMENTS.
The opposition 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.
NATO 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 INSTRUCTION.
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?
The United 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 Koinova

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




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