NORILSK DEAL SIGNED...
The government has signed a deal on the 5 August sale of a 38 percent stake in Norilsk Nickel to the Svift company, but there were conflicting reports on when the document was signed. A government spokesman told ITAR-TASS on 11 August that Svift and government officials signed the deal sometime after representatives of the Procurator-General's Office, State Property Committee, and Russian Federal Property Fund had informed Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 9 August that no laws were violated during the Norilsk auction. (This report contradicted an earlier ITAR-TASS report on 11 August, which said those officials had not yet submitted their conclusions to Chernomyrdin.) "Kommersant-Daily" on 12 August claimed that the deal transferring the Norilsk stake to Svift, which is linked to Oneksimbank, was signed on 8 August immediately after government officials told Chernomyrdin that the sale was conducted in full compliance with the law.
...AS MORE SHOTS FIRED IN INFORMATION WAR
"Segodnya" on 12 August noted that while the Procurator-General's Office agreed that there are no legal grounds for challenging the Norilsk auction in court, the procuracy's report to Chernomyrdin cited shortcomings in Russia's privatization legislation. The same day, long-time "Izvestiya" journalist Mikhail Berger published a separate article in "Segodnya" arguing that the 1995 agreements under which Oneksimbank acquired management rights over the Norilsk shares were "detrimental and unfair but, within the framework of those unfair rules, everything [connected with the 5 August sale] was honest." Berger argued further that in selling the Norilsk stake, the government had been forced to choose between "the rules" and "fairness," owing to badly-drafted privatization legislation and rules for loans-for-shares deals. Those loans-for-shares rules had been "dictated" by Oneksimbank, Berger claimed. Vladimir Gusinskii's Media-Most group owns "Segodnya," while Oneksimbank is a major shareholder in "Izvestiya."
KORZHAKOV DISCUSSES MEMOIRS
Declaring that the people have a right "to know the truth" about their leaders, State Duma deputy Aleksandr Korzhakov on 12 August told journalists about his new book, "Boris Yeltsin: From Dawn to Sunset," RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported. Korzhakov, former head of the Presidential Security Service and a close confidante of President Boris Yeltsin, declined to talk about the book's contents in detail but said it will appear in shops by 15 August. He claimed that individuals representing Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii had offered him $5 million not to publish the book. Korzhakov also charged that the authorities tried to pressure Russian publishers not to print the book (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 1997). Excerpts from Korzhakov's book that were published in London's "The Times" on 3 August depicted Yeltsin as having a chronic drinking problem and offered an unflattering portrayal of the president's younger daughter, Tatyana Dyachenko.
NEW COMMANDER OF INTERIOR MINISTRY TROOPS APPOINTED
Col.-Gen. Leontii Shevtsov, who since October 1995 has commanded the Russian contingent serving with the UN peacekeeping force in Bosnia, has been appointed deputy interior minister and commander of the Interior Ministry troops, Russian media reported on 11 August. The 51-year-old Shevtsov is a graduate of the Tashkent Higher Military Command College, the Frunze Academy, and the General Staff Academy, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 12 August. He served in East Germany as commander of a tank battalion and as chief of staff of the combined Russian forces in Chechnya from December 1994 to April 1995. Shevtsov replaces Col.-Gen. Anatolii Shkirko, who was reported to have retired "for health reasons" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 July 1997).
SERGEEV SEEKS TO ASSUAGE FEARS ON MILITARY REFORM
Defense Minister Igor Sergeev on 11 August told commanders and officers of the Far East Military District in Khabarovsk that military reform will seek to provide "the highest possible level of military security" without exceeding "feasible expenditures," ITAR-TASS reported. Sergeev also stopped in Kamchatka and is to visit military installations in Chita and Novosibirsk. According to the 12 August "Nezavisimaya gazeta," the Far East, Trans-Baikal, and Siberian Military Districts, along with the Pacific Fleet, have the worst wage arrears problems in the armed forces, with backlogs of up to four months. Speaking in Moscow on 7 August, Sergeev promised that wage arrears to military personnel will be paid by 20 August, before the 1 September deadline imposed by a recent presidential decree, Russian news agencies reported. Sergeev added that as military reforms are implemented, spending on soldiers' wages and benefits will increase.
ROKHLIN'S MOVEMENT TO JOIN PLANNED OPPOSITION PROTESTS
Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin says that this fall, his movement to support the armed forces and defense industry will join with other opposition parties to "lead the people out into the streets and stay there until the president and government resign," Interfax reported on 11 August. Rokhlin -- formally still a member of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia Duma faction -- said he plans to discuss possible cooperation with the Communist, Yabloko, and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia Duma factions. The communist opposition has strongly supported Rokhlin's recent initiatives (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 7 August 1997). Rokhlin also said his movement has formed 35 regional branches and hopes to establish another 35 by September. In order to be registered as an all-Russian public organization, a movement must have branches in at least 45 of Russia's 89 regions.
FOREIGN BANKS TO FINANCE RUSSIAN SPACE PROGRAM
Speaking at the Moscow-based Khrunichev State Space Research and Production Center on 8 August, Yeltsin pledged that Russia will meet its obligations for the construction of the "Alpha" international space station, Russian news agencies reported. Yeltsin also said that he favored centralizing management of the country's space industry. A presidential decree will allow the Finance Ministry to borrow $99.5 million this year from foreign banks to allow the Russian Space Agency to finance the "Alpha" project. Those loans will be backed by government guarantees. Earlier this year, Russian Space Agency head Yurii Koptev said four Russian banks would lend some $140 million toward further construction of "Alpha" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 and 30 April 1997). Because of funding problems on the Russian side, the scheduled launch of the first module of the station has been delayed from November 1997 until June 1998.
CATHOLICISM TO BE ADDED TO LIST OF "TRADITIONAL" RUSSIAN RELIGIONS?
Speaking in St. Petersburg, Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev predicted that when the law on religious organizations is amended, Catholicism will be named among Russia's "traditional religions," ITAR-TASS reported on 11 August. The initial version of the law, vetoed by Yeltsin in July, listed only the Russian Orthodox Church, Islam, Judaism, and Buddhism as traditional religions. The Vatican urged Yeltsin to veto the law. Yeltsin has called on representatives of the presidential administration, the parliament, and the Russian Orthodox Church to submit a revised draft of the law by 1 September. Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II has argued that Catholicism cannot be considered a traditional religion for today's Russia, since before 1917, most Catholics in the Russian empire lived on territory that is no longer part of Russia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 and 7 August 1997).
HALF OF RUSSIANS AGAINST SPECIAL STATUS FOR MEMBERS OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH
In a recent nationwide poll of 1600 Russians by the All-Russian Center for the Study of Public Opinion (VCIOM), 49 percent of respondents said members of the Russian Orthodox Church should not have a higher legal status than atheists or representatives of other religious groups, "Izvestiya" reported on 9 August. Some 27 percent of respondents said members of the Russian Orthodox Church should have a special status under the law, while 14 percent expressed no opinion. Article 14 of the constitution declares that all religious groups are equal under the law.
ENVIRONMENTALISTS PROTEST NUCLEAR PLANT UNDER CONSTRUCTION IN ROSTOV
Some 150 environmental activists have again blocked the road leading to a nuclear power plant under construction in Volgodonsk (Rostov Oblast), RFE/RL's Moscow bureau reported on 11 August. Construction of the plant was halted in 1990, but the Atomic Energy Ministry decided last year to resume construction. In a telephone interview with RFE/RL, Sergei Fomichev of the group Defenders of the Rainbow said the protesters are demanding an oblast-wide referendum on the plant. (Citizens of Kostroma Oblast voted overwhelmingly against building a nuclear plant in a similar referendum last December.) In the 6 August "Izvestiya," Fomichev described how some 30 protesters blocking the road to the Volgodonsk plant were beaten up on 29 July. "Segodnya" on 7 August quoted officials in the Atomic Energy Ministry as saying the Rostov environmentalists instigated the 29 July incident and are in the pay of foreign sources.
TWO RUSSIAN OIL COMPANIES TO PURCHASE IRAQI CRUDE
The Russian oil companies Zarubezhneft (Nostro) and Alfa-Ekho have concluded agreements with Iraq's state oil company SOMO to purchase Iraqi oil under the "oil for food" scheme, Russian media reported. Both contracts must be approved by the UN. Zarubezhneft is to buy 740,000 metric tons, which it intends to transport from Kirkuk in northern Iraq to the Turkish terminal at Ceyhan later in August. Alfa-Ekho will buy 354,000 metric tons, according to Interfax.
LUKASHENKA PROPOSES BELARUS AS VENUE FOR MASKHADOV-YELTSIN MEETING
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has proposed that the planned meeting between Yeltsin and Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov take place in Minsk, Interfax reported on 11 August. Maskhadov's deputy, Vakha Arsanov, told journalists that the Chechen leadership considers either Belarus or Azerbaijan an acceptable venue, Turan and Interfax reported. But Yeltsin's press spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said on11 August that the meeting will take place in Moscow, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 12 August. Yastrzhembskii said the talks would focus on why earlier agreements are not being implemented. The Chechen side wants to sign an "inter-state treaty" between Russia and the Chechen Republic. On 11 August, Maskhadov traveled to neighboring Ingushetia where he discussed the overall situation in the North Caucasus with his Ingush counterpart, Ruslan Aushev.
CHECHENS WILL TRY TO OBTAIN JOURNALISTS' RELEASE
Maskhadov's press secretary Kazbek Khadzhiev said on 11 August that Grozny hopes to secure the release of five Russian journalists abducted in Chechnya over the past three months before the planned Yeltsin-Maskhadov meeting, ITAR-TASS and dpa reported. Vladimir Lukin, the chairman of the Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, told ITAR-TASS that "no serious accords" between Moscow and Grozny should be signed until all Russians held hostage in Chechnya are freed.
TYPHOID OUTBREAK REPORTED IN DAGESTAN
Some 168 people, including 64 children have been hospitalized with suspected typhoid fever in Dagestan, Russian media reported. The first four cases of typhoid in Dagestan this year were reported in May in the town of Kaspiisk, but almost all those affected in the current outbreak are from the village of Tebekhmakhi in Akush Raion. The suspected cause of the outbreak is contaminated supplies of drinking water.
MOP-UP CONTINUES IN WEST TAJIKISTAN...
Forces of the presidential guard are continuing to strengthen their positions in the western regions of Gissar, Shahkr-i Naw, and Tursunzade , according to RFE/RL correspondents. Troops under the command of the guard's commander, Sukhrob Kasymov, have forced armed units of Customs Minister Yakub Salimov and of Col. Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, commander of the army's rapid reaction force, into gorges of the nearby mountains and toward the Uzbek border. Uzbekistan has closed that frontier and strengthened its forces there. Tajik army troops loyal to the government have taken control of on the Tajik side of the border. There is still no official figure for the number of dead and wounded during this latest outbreak of fighting. The government claims to have taken full control of Tursunzade and the aluminum plant in the city. In Dushanbe, where the fighting started on 9 August, the head of the city's police has been fired for failing to take adequate measures to put down the conflict.
...WHILE FIGHTING DIMINISHES IN SOUTH
Tajik government reconnaissance planes show that forces loyal to Col. Khudaberdiyev, have pulled back from their positions in the Fakhrabad Pass, 35 kilometers south of Dushanbe, RFE/RL correspondents reported. Khudaberdiyev claims that those planes bombed positions in Kalininabad on 12 August, preventing the colonel from taking part in negotiations with the head of the CIS peacekeeping force. Russia's NTV on 12 August reported that he does not have sufficient forces left "to put up serious resistance." Commander of the presidential guard Sukhrob Kasymov told NTV that there was fighting in the city of Kurgan-Teppe, where Khudaberdiyev's headquarters is located, and that the city has been under artillery fire since the night of 11 August. He added that he expects to have order restored in "two or three days."
RUSSIAN TROOPS, UTO PROMISE NEUTRALITY
Russian officials in Moscow and a United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader say they will remain neutral in the current problems in Tajikistan. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Valerii Nesterushkin told ITAR-TASS on 11 August that while the Russian military and border guards in Tajikistan "are taking measures to prevent casualties," the response of the Tajik government leads him to believe that the fighting there can be localized. Interfax quoted an unnamed "top" Russian official at the Defense Ministry as saying CIS peacekeepers are not interfering in the conflict. Vladimir Lukin, chairman of the Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs Committee, told Ekho Moskvy that Russian soldiers in Tajikistan have not been targeted in the latest outbreak of fighting but that participation in an "active fashion" might lead some forces to "immediately turn on us." UTO deputy leader Ali Akbar Turajonzoda told Voice of Free Tajikistan that his forces will also remain neutral.
KAZAKHSTAN COMPLAINS ABOUT RUSSIAN CUSTOMS
The chairman of Kazakhstan's State Custom's Committee, Gani Kasymov, has sent a letter of protest to Russian customs officials complaining about violations of trade agreements, RFE/RL correspondents in Kazakhstan reported on 12 August. Russian customs workers have been levying taxes on goods transported by trucks from Kazakhstan. Both countries are members of the four-country customs union (together with Kyrgyzstan and Belarus) and are freed from such taxation. Russia officials have said the practice will be stopped immediately.
RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR MEETS WITH KAZAKH DEMONSTRATORS
Russian Ambassador to Kazakhstan Valerii Nikolaenko on 11 August met with Kazakh journalists demonstrating outside the Russian Embassy on 9 August, RFE/RL correspondents reported. The journalists wanted to show solidarity with Russian journalists currently detained in Belarus. They also demanded that their Russian colleagues be released immediately. Nikolaenko said he had been unable to meet with the journalists on 9 August because he had not been in the capital. He also said the Russian government is closely monitoring the situation.
MORE KARABAKH PEACE TALKS SCHEDULED?
The U.S. intends in the immediate future to intensify its efforts to achieve a political settlement of the Karabakh conflict, AFP reported on 11 August, citing an unnamed U.S. State Department source. He said that "very serious discussions" will be held following the presidential elections in the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic on 1 September. An article in the Armenian state newspaper "Hayastani Hanrapetutyun" on 6 August argued that Armenian society must accept that "mutual concessions on key issues" are necessary to resolve the conflict. The article sparked widespread speculation that the Armenian leadership is preparing to make substantive concessions. Writing in "Hayots ashkhar" on 7 August, Samvel Babayan, the commander-in-chief of the Karabakh Armenian armed forces, rejected such speculation. He asserted that "even if such a document is signed, it won't be implemented."
TURKEY WANTS A STAKE IN RECENT US-AZERBAIJAN OIL AGREEMENTS
The Turkish state oil company TPAO is lobbying to be included in at least one of the four new agreements signed by Azerbaijan's state oil company SOCAR and major U.S. oil companies earlier this month, according to the "Turkish Daily News" on 12 August, quoting a statement released by the Turkish energy ministry. Turkey is a participant in only one of the five international consortiums created to date to exploit Azerbaijan's Caspian oil. TPAO has a 6.75 percent stake in the consortium developing the Azeri, Chirag, and Gyuneshli fields.
ETHNIC GEORGIAN REFUGEES FROM ABKHAZIA ISSUE NEW ULTIMATUM...
Representatives of the ethnic Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia during the 1992-93 war held a congress in Tbilisi on 8-9 August, "Nezavisimaya gazeta" reported on 12 August. The participants adopted a 16-point resolution declaring Abkhazia and South Ossetia "annexed territories" and the Russian peacekeeping forces currently deployed there "an army of occupation." They also called for the annulment of the treaty permitting Russia to maintain military bases in Georgia and for Tbilisi to quit the CIS, according to Interfax. The congress participants threatened a "confrontation" with the Georgian authorities if those demands are not met within one month. On 11 August, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze assured the fugitives in his weekly radio address that "until we return Abkhazia [to Georgian jurisdiction], we are all refugees."
...WHILE SHEVARDNADZE QUERIES POINT OF PLANNED MEETING WITH YELTSIN
Shevardnadze has warned that the withdrawal from Abkhazia of the Russian peacekeeping force, whose mandate expired on 31 July, "would inevitably lead to a new conflict." He also said that he would meet in Moscow with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba only in order to sign a document on resolving the conflict that is acceptable to both sides. Shevardnadze has approved Yeltsin's still unpublished proposals, while Ardzinba wants to use an earlier protocol drafted by the Russian Foreign Ministry as a basis for further negotiations. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with Ardzinba for several hours in the Black Sea coast resort of Sochi on 9 August, according to "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 12 August. No details of their talks have been released, however.
NEW GOVERNMENT APPOINTMENTS IN UKRAINE
President Leonid Kuchma on 11 August appointed Valery Smoliy as deputy prime minister. Smoliy, a historian and member of the Academy of Sciences, replaces Ivan Kuras, who is retiring. Kuchma also appointed Valeriy Cherep, the chairman of the parliament's regional development committee, as minister for transportation; Volodymyr Radchenko as first deputy minister of the coal industry, Volodymyr Husakov to be Construction, Architecture and Housing Committee chairman. The information, justice, and family and youth portfolios remain to be filled, UNIAN reported.
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SIGNS DECREE WRITING OFF DEBTS
Also on 11 August, Kuchma signed a decree writing off debts incurred by state car manufacturer AvtoZaz, Ukrainian Television reports. The move was demanded by the South Korean car manufacturer Daewoo as a condition for the creation of a joint venture.
"VECHIRNYA ODESA" EDITOR KILLED
Borys Derevianenko, editor in chief of the newspaper "Vechirnya Odesa" was shot dead on 11 August by an unknown assailant. Odessa Oblast Police Administrator Col. Hryhoriy Yepur said Derevianenko was shot in the chest and abdomen with an automatic gun. An investigation team has been set up on the orders of President Kuchma by the Interior Ministry, the Prosecutor-General's Office, and the security service. The Odessa Oblast administrator called the murder a political act that was most likely connected with his work and therefore an attack on democracy, Unian reported. Colleagues of Derevyanko say they believe his killing is related to the newspaper's opposition to the municipal authorities.
BELARUSIAN PRIME MINISTER SAYS REAL INCOMES RISING
Sergei Ling said on 11 August that real incomes in the country are growing. But Interfax quotes the country's trade union leader, Vladimir Goncharik, as saying the opposite is the case. At a meeting in Minsk between Ling and the leadership of the Trade Unions Federation, Goncharik said overdue wages since the beginning of the year have reached 791 billion Belarusian rubles ($29.3 million). He says the unions are demanding that the official minimum wage be increased from 170,000 rubles ($6.30) a month to at least 600,000 ($22.22) and that the minimum monthly wage be raised from its current level of 50,000 rubles ($5.55). But Ling said this would be impossible at present. He called for a "calm and balanced" solution since the government "doesn't have such a sackful of money."
RUSSIAN PRESS RESPONSE TO FREEZING OF BALTIC BANK ACCOUNTS
According to BNS, Russian newspapers and financial institutions maintain that Baltic banks with accounts in Russia have broken that country's law. The accusations follow the freezing of bank accounts of a number of Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian banks (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 1997). The Moscow-based newspaper "Segodnya" argues that legislation allows companies in Russia to evade taxes through the use of accounts with foreign banks. "To say now that the Russian tax authorities didn't see all the violations earlier would be...dishonest," the newspaper commented. Moscow has not made an official comment on the decision to block the accounts. Meanwhile, Estonia's Tallinna Pank, Forekspank, and Krediidipank are reported to have filed suit against the Russian tax police to demand compensation for losses incurred by the blockage.
The Estonian Foreign Ministry has pointed out that the item titled "Baltics React Angrily to Freezing of Bank Accounts in Russia" in "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 1997 is misleading since there has been no official reaction from Tallinn. We apologize for any confusion.
WIESENTHAL CENTER CALLS FOR BOYCOTT OF VILNIUS MEETING
The Simon Wiesenthal Center has called on Jews to boycott a commemoration of the 200th anniversary of the death of Gaon Elijah of Vilnius, BNS reported on 11 August. Efraim Zuroff, the director of the center's headquarters in Jerusalem, said participation by Israelis and U.S. Jewish groups in the Vilnius commemoration would "undermine" the current campaign to put pressure on Lithuania to bring Nazi war criminals to trial. In a letter to the Lithuanian ambassador to Israel, Zuroff also proposed transferring the remains of the Jewish sage to Israel. The Lithuanian government is sponsoring the meeting in September in Vilnius to commemorate the gaon's death in 1797.
POLES DISSATISFIED WITH GOVERNMENT MEASURES IN DEALING WITH FLOODS
According to a poll published by the Warsaw-based Center for Public Opinion Research on 11 August, 43 percent of Poles directly affected by the floods say they are dissatisfied with the way the government has so far dealt with the recent floods. Only 28 percent said the government performed well. A majority of respondents, however, expressed satisfaction with the work of the fire departments, the police, and soldiers.
FLOODS CAUSE $1.76 BILLION IN DAMAGE IN CZECH REPUBLIC
Jiri Skalicky, the environment minister and commissioner for dealing with the recent floods, says flooding in Moravia and eastern Bohemia caused damage totaling some 60 billion Czech crowns ($1.76 billion). He added that 2,500 homes were destroyed and 15,000 damaged, Czech media reported on 12 August. Skalicky says the figure may still rise. The Environmental Inspectorate has registered 19 cases of leaks of dangerous substances, including oil, from inundated storage facilities.
CZECH ENVIRONMENT MINISTRY ISSUES GOLD PROSPECTING LICENSE
The Environment Ministry on 11. August issued a one-year license to Britain's Greenwich Resources to carry out a geological survey of gold and mineral deposits in the Rozmital area, southwest of Prague, Czech media reported. The license stipulates 25 conditions, most of which are related to environmental protection and state interests. The Constitutional Court has rejected a complaint by the town of Rozmital pod Tremsinem that says the issue of the town's participation in the licensing proceedings has not been resolved. A ministry spokeswoman says legislation regulating geological surveys does not give local communities the right to participate in those proceedings.
SLOVAK MILITARY SEES ADVANTAGES OF NATO MEMBERSHIP
Col. Vladimir Kmec, the head of the Defense Ministry's Center for Strategic Studies, told RFE/RL's Slovak Service on 11 August that an analysis by his office shows that if Slovakia were to join NATO, its armed forces would be more effective and less costly to maintain. He says an individual defense system would be worse for the armed forces, which he predicts will be in for a "shock" when the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary become NATO members.
SLOVAKIA PREDICTS BIG, BUT LOW-QUALITY HARVEST
Agricultural Minister Peter Baco, speaking on Slovak Radio on 11 August, said Slovakia has so far harvested 200,000 tons more grain than a year ago and intends to export 250,000 tons of grain. But he says the rye, wheat, and barley is of poorer quality than last year and will be difficult to market abroad, even at lower prices.
HUNGARIAN, ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTERS MEET
Romanian Defense Minister Victor Babiuc, whose planned two-day visit to Budapest was postponed (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 April 1997 and related item below) made a brief stop at Budapest airport on 11 April and met with his Hungarian counterpart, Gyoergy Keleti. Hungarian media reported that the two "compared notes on mutual cooperation." They also agreed that the postponed visit will now take place in the fall.
HUNGARIAN TELEVISION TO LAY OFF 750 MORE EMPLOYEES THIS YEAR
Some 750 employees of Hungarian Television (MTV) are to be laid off this year, bringing the total number of employees to below 3,000, an MTV official told Hungarian media on 11 August. Since the state-owned television channel was transformed into a share-holding company last year, 454 people have been laid off, including 219 this year, the official added. MTV has paid out 290 million forints ($1.5 million) in severance and an additional 130 million in social insurance contributions.
ALBANIAN POLICE ROUND UP GANG IN VLORA
The Interior Ministry on 11 August announced that special police units arrested at least three members of the Zani Gang in Vlora. All three men have criminal records. One gang member was wounded, and gunfire could be heard near the home of gang leader Zani Caushi. Some news agency reports said that other gang members later attacked the police. The gang has had a high profile in Vlora during the recent months of anarchy. The 11 August raid was the first such police dragnet in that troubled port town since the new government began its crackdown on lawbreakers in July. Meanwhile in Shkodra in the north, the authorities called on citizens to hand in their illegally-owned weapons voluntarily before the police begin confiscating them.
LAST ITALIAN TROOPS LEAVE ALBANIA
Some 60 Italian soldiers flew out of Albania on 11 August, one day before the official end of the mandate of Operation Alba. Italy launched that project, together with other European countries, in April in order to provide some security for the 29 June elections. Nine Italian military advisers and several dozen Greek troops remain in Albania to help reorganize and train the police and the army. Those remaining foreign troops are not part of a multinational operation but are serving under bilateral agreements between Albania and the respective countries. Both Italy and Greece fear another influx of refugees and criminals unless order returns to Albania. Bedri Soku, the deputy director of the Albanian prison authorities, told AFP on 11 August that Italian aid to reequip six vandalized prisons has begun to arrive.
MONTENEGRIN RULING PARTY HAS TWO PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES
The Electoral Commission in Podgorica on 11 August confirmed the presidential candidacy of incumbent President Momir Bulatovic on the ticket of Democratic Socialist Party (DPS) in the 5 October elections. The commission has, however, already accepted the presidential candidacy of Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic for the DPS. The two men lead rival factions of the party, which has yet to formally split. Each man and his respective backers claim to be the sole legitimate DPS candidate. Blagota Mitric, the president of the Constitutional Court, told an RFE/RL correspondent in Podgorica that he finds the commission's ruling "amazing," since Montenegrin law clearly limits each party to one candidate. Mitric said the court could rule on the matter within 48 hours of receiving a request to do so. News agencies reported that commission members felt that the DPS has become two parties and that both candidates should be on the ballot.
BOSNIAN CENTRAL BANK STARTS OPERATIONS
Serge Robert, the French banker who heads the Bosnian Central Bank, said in Sarajevo on 11 August that the bank has begun operations. Transactions will be electronic only until the three sides can agree on a design for a common currency. The new bills are expected to go into circulation three months after the design is approved. The new monetary unit will be called the "convertible mark" and pegged on a one-to-one basis to the German mark, which has long served as the unofficial second currency throughout the former Yugoslavia. Current Bosnian dinars can be exchanged at the rate of 100 dinars for one convertible mark. International aid donors have warned the three sides that they stand to lose reconstruction assistance unless they cooperate with Central Bank. Joint Bosnian institutions now function poorly, if at all.
PLAVSIC TO HEAD OWN PARTY IN BOSNIAN SERB ELECTIONS
Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic said in Banja Luka on 11 August that she will head a new political party in the elections she has called for 12 October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 8 August 1997). Criticizing the faction in the Bosnian Serb leadership loyal to Radovan Karadzic, she added that one cannot promote Serbian interests by undemocratic means, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Banja Luka. Plavsic regards the Karadzic group as a mafia. She added that "it is irrational to confront the international community when the consequences of such behavior can be fatal for the Republika Srpska."
NON-NATIONALIST APPEALS FOR SUPPORT IN BOSNIAN VOTE
Opposition politician Stjepan Kljuic said on 11 August in Sarajevo that his non-nationalist Joint List for Bosnia-Herzegovina 97 remains open to all parties who want a democratic and united Bosnia. He accused the three governing nationalist parties of manipulating voter registration for the September local elections, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from the Bosnian capital. In Zepce, officials from the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe reported threats and attempts at intimidation made by unnamed persons against the OSCE's local staff. The OSCE has had problems in the past with attempts by local Muslim politicians to manipulate voter registration.
ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT PLANS TO LIQUIDATE FURTHER LOSS-MAKING ENTERPRISES
Sorin Dimitriu, the chairman of the State Property Fund, said on 11 August that the list of loss-making enterprises slated for liquidation contains the names of 222 companies, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He added that at least five of those companies are large and that Romvag, one of the 17 companies included on the list announced recently, may be saved from liquidation and privatized if it manages to pay off its debts to the state budget by 25 August. Also on 11 August, representatives of the management and the trade unions from two Ploiesti refineries slated for liquidation held talks in Bucharest with government officials. Minister of Reforms Ulm Spineanu said after the talks that small components of the two refineries may survive if private investors express interest in buying them.
ROMANIAN DEFENSE MINISTRY DENIES TENSIONS WITH HUNGARY
A spokesman for the Romanian Ministry of Defense has said that Minister of Defense Victor Babiuc's visit to Budapest (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 August 1997) was postponed due to "technical reasons," RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported. He stressed that the postponement had nothing to do with interethnic tensions in Transylvania over bilingual street signs, adding that a letter will soon be sent to "Evenimentul zilei" in response to the daily's recent claim that tensions in Transylvania are endangering Romanian-Hungarian relations. But Gyorgy Tokay, the minister in charge of ethnic minorities affairs in the Romanian government, on 11 August deplored the tensions over the posting of the bilingual signs. He said those tensions were "artificial" and could have "damaging effects." He also noted that it was "strange" that supporters of European integration fail to see that the bilingual signs meet international standards for dealing with minority affairs.
ROMANIAN OPPOSITION SPLINTER-PARTY OFFICIALLY REGISTERS AT TRIBUNAL
The Alliance for Romania (APR), which split from the Party of Social Democracy in Romania in June, officially registered as an independent political formation on 11 August. The Bucharest Municipal Tribunal is to rule on the party's legal status on 4 September. APR leader Teodor Melescanu said the party is now represented in the parliament by 13 deputies and two senators and that seven more deputies and three more senators will join the formation in the fall. He added that the party will elect its leadership at an October congress. Until then, Melescanu remains acting chairman, RFE/RL's Bucharest bureau reported.
STALLED CHISINAU-TIRASPOL TALKS
Anatol Taranu, the chief negotiator for Moldova in parleys with the breakaway Transdniester region, told BASA-press on 11 August that Tiraspol's stance does not tally with the viewpoint of the three mediators -- Russia, Ukraine, and the OSCE. He said Tiraspol does not accept the principle of Moldovan territorial integrity. Transdniestrian intransigence, Taranu added, can be explained only by the fact that Tiraspol is supported from the "outside." Vladimir Atamanyuk, the deputy chairman of the Transdniester Supreme Soviet, told BASA-press that Tiraspol accepts the principle of the "common state" but wants that state to be a confederation of equal partners. Atamanyuk added that if Moldova is not ready to accept this position "there are other countries we could build a common state with -- look at the example of the Russia-Belarus union."
LYNCHING IN TRANSDNIESTER
Citing ITAR-TASS, Reuters reported on 11 August that an unemployed man was found hanged on a tree, with a cucumber stuck in his mouth, near the town of Dubasari. He was apparently killed by vegetable producers angry at the widespread theft of their produce. Earlier this summer, an angry mob caught several thieves near Chisinau, beat them up, removed their clothes, smeared them with mud, and led them through the neighborhood to humiliate them.
BULGARIA HAS LOWEST BIRTHRATE IN EUROPE
The National Institute for Statistics on 11 August said Bulgarians, weighed down by the ongoing economic crisis, have the lowest birthrate in Europe, AFP reported. With 7.79 newborns per 1,000 inhabitants, Bulgaria's birthrate in has dropped behind that of Latvia (8.5 per 1,000 in 1996).
IS ALBANIA'S NEW GOVERNMENT CARRYING OUT PURGES OR REFORMS?
by Fabian Schmidt
Albania's new government, composed of Socialists and their coalition allies, has a highly ambitious program. Foreign Minister Paskal Milo of the Social Democratic Party has announced that his long-term goals are joining the EU and NATO. Earlier, Prime Minister Fatos Nano stressed that good relations with the U.S. and the EU are of primary importance to Albania.
But Albania has a long way to go to reach those ambitious goals. After months of unrest and anarchy, the challenges facing the politicians are huge. Most important, they have to crack down on the gangs that are still controlling large areas, especially in the south, and continuing to wage gang wars that cost dozens of lives each week. Interior Minister Neritan Ceka from the Democratic Alliance Party has pledged to secure all roads in the country within the next two months. But in order to do so, he will have to reform the police to make it a more professional body. Delegates to a recent international conference in Rome have promised broad assistance, including equipping and training police officers.
Rome will also keep 500 soldiers in the country after the multinational forces withdraw at the end of August. Those troops will help rebuild the army, which fell apart shortly after the unrest started in February. The government will also need to reform the judiciary, which is regarded as a political tool of past governments and presidents.
But the necessary reforms can do more harm than good if they are not carried out carefully. The police, the courts, and the state media were highly politicized institutions under the previous Democratic government. The new ministers have indicated that they plan to sack a large number of high-ranking officials, and they have already started appointing successors. But they seem bent on continuing to appoint officials for their loyalty to the political party in power rather than for their independence and professional qualities. The appointees may thus prove loyal servants of a party rather than of a democratic state, thereby impeding the reform progress.
There are already clear indications that the new government wants to make radical personnel changes in the administration, contributing to the public perception that government employees will again be primarily political appointees. Both Justice Minister Thimio Kondi and Defense Minister Sabit Brokaj have told directors of departments within their ministries and top officers that they should resign voluntarily or expect to be sacked. Brokaj even indicated that some top-ranking officers may be put on trial for what he called "violating the constitution" by sending troops against protesters earlier this year or by abandoning arms depots to looters. Although there have been only a few dismissals to date, the Democratic Party has opened an office giving legal advise to those affected by what the Democrats call "political purges."
But not everyone who was in opposition under the Democrats is happy with the new government's appointments. Frrok Cupi, a well-known and respected journalist of the independent daily "Koha Jone," has refused to accept the post of head of the state news agency, ATA. His predecessor, Ilir Zhilla, was an appointee of the Democratic Party, which, after winning the 1992 elections, exercised strict control over agency policy.
Cupi's refusal to accept the post highlights the dilemma of the new government. It desperately needs qualified personnel to help overcome the politicization of the administration. But many of the people with the professional qualities and integrity to change the country's political culture do not want to become the next generation of officials who are under pressure to carry out their jobs and, at the same time, remain loyal to the governing political party.
The author is a Balkan analyst specializing in Albanian, Kosovar, and Macedonian affairs.