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Newsline - January 20, 1995

CHECHENS ABANDON PRESIDENTIAL PALACE. In what Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev described as a "turning point" in the war in Chechnya, Russian troops took control of the devastated presidential palace in central Grozny during the afternoon of 19 January after the Chechen defenders decided to abandon the building and establish a new center of resistance elsewhere in Grozny, Interfax and Western agencies reported. Interfax quoted Russian military intelligence sources as claiming that the Chechens had suffered "substantial losses." In a statement issued after the Russian military took control of the palace, Russian President Boris Yeltsin claimed that the military stage of reestablishing constitutional order in Chechnya was almost completed, and that Interior Ministry forces would take over the mission of restoring law and order. Yeltsin further voiced his respects for the Russian soldiers killed during the fighting and for the "suffering of the civilian population." Also on 19 January, Russian Interior Ministry forces consolidated control of eastern Chechnya, according to Reuters. Grozny was subjected to intensive Russian artillery fire during the night of 19 January in an attempt to wipe out remaining pockets of Chechen resistance, AFP reported. On 20 January, Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev met with journalists in Khasavyurt, Dagestan, and declared that Chechen resistance would continue; as quoted by Reuters, he claimed that neither Yeltsin nor Chernomyrdin was in control of the situation. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

CHERNOMYRDIN REJECTS TALKS WITH DUDAEV. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin rejected the possibility of talks with Dzhokhar Dudaev, saying "I do not talk to gangsters," Interfax reported 19 January. He told a group of journalists that the situation in Chechnya is often fanned by "the likes of you," implying the media, and by "some hot heads in parliament." He said that there is no war party in the cabinet or Russia in general. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

KOVALEV TO MEET CHERNOMYRDIN, NOT YELTSIN. Human Rights Commissioner Sergei Kovalev returned to Moscow from the Chechen capital Grozny on 19 January. Russian television newscasts broadcast footage of Kovalev's news conference at Vnukovo airport in Moscow where he stated that the Chechen war would not be finished even after the Russian occupation of Grozny. The military has been preparing for a guerrilla war, Kovalev added, showing a leaflet in which a Russian commander stationed in Chechnya threatens rural villages with destruction if they shelter Chechen fighters. Kovalev said that he was going to meet with Viktor Chernomyrdin, not Boris Yeltsin--indirectly hinting that he blamed the atrocities in Chechnya on Yeltsin. On the same day, Yeltsin's closest ally, Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, told the RTV program "Details," that he could not name anyone in the world as knowledgeable on human rights as Kovalev. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

ATTEMPT TO IMPEACH YELTSIN FAILS. Following three days of heated debates, the upper chamber of the Russian parliament approved on 19 January a resolution on the Chechen crisis, Russian television newscasts reported that day. The Federation Council senators rejected nearly all strong measures proposed by the various committees of the house. Proposals included starting the impeachment process against Yeltsin; and prosecuting him for exceeding his authority and violating the constitution in the form of dispatching the army to Chechnya without declaring either military or emergency rule. Although approximately half of the senators present voted for the resolution, the total votes (61) fell far short of the necessary 90 votes required. A vote of no confidence in Chernomyrdin's government received 66 votes, also short of the 90 needed. A third failed proposal entailed barring the Federation Council's speaker, Vladimir Shumeiko, from participating in sessions of the President's Security Council. The chamber succeeded in passing a resolution introducing amendments into the constitution to ensure parliamentary and public control over the executive branch of the government. Another resolution approved called on acting Russian Prosecutor-General Aleksei Ilyushenko to bring criminal charges against those responsible for illegal sales of Russian weaponry to Chechen forces. (In his address to the Council of Federation, the chairman of its Defense Committee, Petr Shirshov, named Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev as being responsible such actions.) -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

COUNCIL OF FEDERATION EXASPERATED. The 18 January session of the Federation Council became heated after it was snubbed by top Russian officials. On the eve of the session, members of the chamber, who refer to themselves as "the Russian senators," invited President Yeltsin, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Minister of Internal Affairs Viktor Erin, secretary of the Security Council Oleg Lobov and acting Russian Prosecutor-General Aleksei Ilyushenko to attend the session, which was supposed to discuss the situation in Chechnya. Only Ilyushenko arrived, while other officials told the chamber that they were too busy to attend the session. According to Russian Television newscasts, the deliberate absence of the other top officials caused an uproar in the upper chamber and its members then proposed several measures, starting with the dissolution of the Federation Council and including demands for the resignation of Yeltsin, Chernomyrdin and the "power" ministers. The senators particularly lambasted the Security Council, which they hold responsible for the decision to invade Chechnya, and their own speaker, Vladimir Shumeiko, a Yeltsin appointee to the Security Council along with Ivan Rybkin, speaker of the State Duma. Ostankino's "Vremya" broadcast two minutes of the footage of the address of the famous reform-minded senator, Yurii Chernichenko, attacking the Security Council as "the new Politburo," and the "secretive, illegal, dictatorial body" that "has unleashed a civil war" in Russia. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT PUTS EU-RUSSIAN PARTNERSHIP ACCORD ON HOLD. The European Parliament voted 19 January to put the partnership agreement, signed with Russia in June, on hold, AFP reports. The European Parliament, the legislative arm of the European Union, made the move to show its displeasure with Russian military actions in Chechnya. The action must be approved by EU foreign ministers, who are expected to back the suspension. The European Parliament denounced "the totally disproportionate measures taken by the Russia authorities, as well as the flagrant violation of human rights which results from these measures." The European Commission had been on the verge of implementing the economic and commercial aspects of the agreement on an interim basis. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

FILATOV WARNS RUSSIAN REGIONS. Sergei Filatov, President Yeltsin's Chief of Staff, condemned various Russian regions' drive for greater autonomy as "posing a danger to the integrity of Russia," Interfax reported 18 January. He said that some regions' adoption of charters designed to give them more rights and limit federal authority had resulted in numerous violations of the constitution. Filatov ruled out "tough methods" for resolving the disputes and suggested instead that experts from the president's State Law Administration should try to persuade regional authorities to change their attitudes. If that doesn't work the federal authorities plan to appeal to the Constitutional Court. In a related development, Yeltsin met on 18 January with the president of Tatarstan, Mintimer Shaimiev, Interfax reported. Tatarstan, like Chechnya, refused to sign the Russian Federation Treaty but signed a bilateral power-sharing agreement with Moscow on 3 February 1994. Shaimiev commented that the Tatarstan model had great importance because it "showed that members of the federation were able to establish normal relations on a peaceful basis." -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

YELTSIN: YES TO PRIVATIZATION. The Russian government has no intention of stopping its privatization program or of re-nationalizing the industries that have already been privatized, President Yeltsin said at a news conference on 18 January. Yeltsin was referring to a controversial statement made by his newly appointed Chairman of the State Property Committee, Vladimir Polevanov, who told a news conference on 29 December of his plans to introduce "state control" over some privatized industries. (According to Anatolii Chubais, who was in charge of privatization in his capacity as Polevanov's predecessor as the State Property Committee's Chairman, Polevanov's statement had cost Russia billions of rubles in the form of lost foreign investments.) Yeltsin explained Polevanov's unfortunate remarks in terms of the latter's personal vendetta against Chubais, citing Polevanov's lack of experience in top government. The former head of the administration of the Amur Region at the Russian-Chinese border, Polevanov was unexpectedly promoted to an important position in Moscow, Yeltsin said, adding that Polevanov had erred by failing to understand that he had to work in one and the same team with Yeltsin's other ministers. In all fairness, it may be added that Chubais' privatization scheme that distributed the shares of formerly state-owned industries free of charge has been lambasted by many market-oriented Russian economists, such as former Minister of Finance Boris Fedorov. -- Julia Wishnevsky, OMRI, Inc.

PRESSURIZED RUBLE HITS RECORD LOW. The ruble plunged to a record low of 3,947 rubles/$1 in MICEX trading on 20 January, Western and Russian agencies reported. Dealers expected the currency to hit new lows, partly due to fears that Russia's military campaign in Chechnya will spike inflation. The ruble's previous record low was 3,926 rubles/$1 on historic "Black Tuesday," 11 October 1994. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

RUSSIA'S FOREIGN TRADE INCREASES 7.2% IN 1994. Due to expanding trade links, foreign trade rose 7.2% in 1994 with a total of $76.2 billion, Russia's Foreign Economic Relations Ministry reported to Interfax on 18 January. Among Russia's largest trade partners were Germany (13% of total turnover), the US (7.3%), Britain (6.4%), Italy (5.7%), China (5%), the Netherlands, Finland, Switzerland, and Japan (from 4.2 to 4.8%), the report said. In 1994, the majority of Russia's exports (67%), went primarily to industrialized countries of Europe. On the import front, volume in 1994 reached $28.2 billion, up $4.3 billion, or 5.4% from 1993. The main share of imports (69%), also came from industrially developed countries. Raw materials predominated the export scene, while food products and consumer goods comprised 50% of the import market. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

80 COAL MINES TO CLOSE? Interfax reported on 17 January that Russia is examining plans to close 80 unprofitable coal mines over five years; 450,000 jobs would be lost out of a total coal-mining work-force of about 800,000. An official from the mining company Rosugol neither denied nor confirmed the report, telling Reuters "the government still has to approve the program and allocate funds to help cut the number of mines." According to Segodnya, the World Bank, which plans to lend Russia $500 million to help restructure its ailing coal industry, wants 15-25 loss-making mines to be closed a year, cutting output to match demand. A first draft of the World Bank program, submitted to the government in 1994, was rejected by Rosugol and trade unions. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.

FORMER UZBEK VICE PRESIDENT TO FOUND NEW POLITICAL PARTY. In the wake of the recent Uzbek parliamentary elections that resulted in an overwhelming victory for the former Communists, Shukrulla Mirsaidov, who resigned as vice president three years ago to protest the policies of Uzbek President Islam Karimov, told Interfax on 18 January that he planned to found a new political party. To be called the Social Democratic Adolat (Justice) Party, he said it would function as a "constructive opposition" to the existing government. Mirsaidov said the party would focus on democracy, freedom of the press, private enterprise, tax reform and greater involvement of religious leaders in public life, and that it already had the necessary number of supporters to gain official registration. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

The Ukrainian legislature has appropriated land for the construction of an oil terminal near the Black sea port of Odessa in an effort to ease Ukraine's energy dependence on Russia, Reuters reported on 19 January. Legislators voted 208 to 83 in favor of a site 40 km east of Odessa. The project was halted in 1994 after local officials vetoed it on grounds the terminal would damage the environment. Ukraine is still searching for funding for the $3.4 billion terminal, which could receive up to 40 million tons of oil annually either by tanker from the Middle East or through a pipeline across Turkey to the Black Sea. Most of Ukraine's oil needs, estimated at 36 million tons, are now met by Russia, which provides 8 million tons annually through state channels. Deputies say the terminal could be operational in 16-18 months, with an initial annual capacity of 12 million tons. -- Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.

Interfax on 19 January reported that Belarus has signed a multimillion dollar tractor deal with Pakistan. Deputy Prime Minister Uladzimir Harkun says the deal provides for the export of 12,000 Belarusian tractors to Pakistan over six months for less than $5,000 each. When the USSR broke up, Belarus was the world's third-largest tractor manufacturer after the U.S. and Japan. Minsk is currently trying to negotiate a deal for the same volume of tractors with Iran. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.

The Belgian newspaper Le Soir reports that a sophisticated missile fire control system used by the Russians has been seized near Antwerp because customs authorities thought it might be bound for the Middle East. The paper discovered that the equipment--called "Rangir"--originated in Minsk and has been sold to "a well-heeled U.S. company." The "Rangir" is a mobile missile battery command post designed by the Agat Institute in Minsk and is used by the Russian armed forces to control SA-15 and SA-19 air defense missiles. Le Soir revealed that a number of even more sophisticated missile control systems, known as MP-22-E and also from Agat, recently passed through Antwerp en route to the U.S. from Minsk. Russian officials and commentators blasted Belarus for selling the modern S-300-PMU missile defense system to a U.S. company that turned out to be an agent for the U.S. government. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

The Estonian parliament on 19 January adopted a new citizenship law by a vote of 60 to 6, BNS reports. Under the previous legislation, people could apply for citizenship after two years residency in the country and could be naturalized one year after submitting the application. The new law requires five years residency to apply for citizenship. It also bans Estonian citizens from having dual citizenship but allows such citizenship for ethnic Estonians who are citizens of another country. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The law on the status of former Soviet citizens who are citizens of neither Latvia nor another state has been approved by the Saeima on its second reading, BNS and Interfax report on 19 January. The law, which will go into effect when approved on its third reading, gives former Soviet citizens rights such as free movement within Latvia, free exit from and entry into the country, and freedom of expression and religion. But it does not grant them the right, enjoyed by Latvian citizens, to take part in elections, buy land, or possess weapons for self-defense. Noncitizen passports will be issued to people who were permanent residents of Latvia before 1 July 1992, unless they retired from service in the Soviet army after 4 May 1990. Saeima Chairman Anatolijs Gorbunovs said the approval of the law on its second reading will greatly improve Latvia's chances of becoming a member of the Council of Europe in February. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

The Russian State Duma on 18 January issued an appeal to the Lithuanian parliament not to deport four Russian citizens who were active in the pro-Soviet organization Edinstvo. The four have been asked to leave Lithuania by 22 January. Parliament chairman Ceslovas Jursenas told RFE/RL's Lithuanian Service on 19 January that it was unlikely the parliament would discuss a response to the appeal but that the parliament's leadership would probably reply officially next week after it determines whether the deportation order conforms with Lithuanian law. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

President Lech Walesa on 19 January found himself isolated in a Sejm debate on the command structure of the armed forces, which took place after nearly one year's delay . Arguing that "military people should run the military," Walesa supported draft legislation that would give greater power to the General Staff, reduce the role of the Defense Ministry, and subordinate military intelligence and counterintelligence to the General Staff. Walesa opposed any reduction in the army's size, Rzeczpospolita reports. The ruling coalition and most of the opposition called for a command structure in which the General Staff would answer to the civilian Defense Ministry. Only two minor parties endorsed Walesa's version, but there was consensus that the armed forces should be shielded from political influence and that NATO membership is Poland's chief security goal. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

President Lech Walesa told a press conference in the Sejm on 19 January that his decision on whether to sign the 1995 budget depends on the coalition's willingness to come to terms with him. Walesa has until 2 February to make up his mind. Asked if he planned to dissolve the parliament, Walesa vowed not to violate the legal system but added that "we have good laws and still better lawyers, so the impossible often becomes possible," Gazeta Wyborcza reports. The constitution offers no legal grounds for the president to dissolve the parliament in the current situation. The coalition parties, fearing new legal improvisation on Walesa's part that will block the budget, are inclined to compromise. Walesa hinted that he had no objections to one of the coalition's rumored candidates for the Foreign Ministry but mentioned no names. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

A Czech government committee is investigating accusations that the state counterintelligence agency BIS illegally collected information on political parties, Czech media report. The committee is made up of one minister from each of the four parties in the governing coalition. The main charges of BIS spying were made by Deputy Prime Minister Jan Kalvoda. He took part in a committee session on 19 January in place of his designated party colleague Jiri Skalicky, who left with Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus on a visit to Egypt. Kalvoda said he provided the committee with broader information than he submitted to a parliament commission simultaneously investigating the issue. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.

Addressing the parliament on 19 January, Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar said the cabinet's most important strategic goal is European integration, Narodna obroda reports. He noted that to achieve this goal, the rights of all minorities must be respected and a policy of economic revitalization and development introduced. Slovakia plans to submit its application to the European Union by 30 June. Meciar said the country will strive to achieve a standard of living comparable to that of industrial European countries by the year 2010. The program has drawn criticism from the opposition as being overly ambitious and not specific enough about how to reach its goals. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

Austrian Environment Minister Maria Rauch-Kallat on 19 January announced that Austria's hearing on Mochovce, scheduled for 23-24 January in Vienna, will not take place because of the refusal of the two firms building the nuclear power plant to participate. She also said Austria would officially inform the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development of the meeting's cancellation, Sme reports. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

An opinion survey conducted in December by Szonda Ipsos found that general satisfaction with the government was rated 44.9 points on a scale of 0 to 100, a drop of 0.8 points compared with November and a 3-point drop compared with October, Magyar Hirlap reports on 19 January. The government fared even worse with regard to its performance on the economy, the easing of social problems, and the maintenance of law and order (a combined total of 42.9 points). The population was most satisfied with the government's performance in developing relations with Hungary's neighbors and in guaranteeing media freedom, with the government's rating declining only by 1-2 points. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.

International media on 19 January reported UN officials as saying that 700 shells exploded near the UNPROFOR compound, close to Velika Kladusa. The town is the power base of local Muslim rebel kingpin Fikret Abdic, whose forces retook it last month with the help of Krajina and Bosnian Serbs after losing it to government forces in the summer. The Krajina Serbs and Abdic's units have not signed the current four-month cease-fire, although Abdic has given his verbal approval. The UN called the shellings a "significant increase in military activity" and reported that Krajina Serbs are bringing up heavy guns, but it is unclear who was responsible for how many of the latest exchanges. AFP also noted that the Bosnian Serbs have recently advanced about 1.5 kilometers into the UN-declared "safe area" of Srebrenica. Meanwhile, government delegates in Sarajevo walked out of a UN-sponsored meeting to discuss procedures on the separation of forces specified in the cease-fire agreement. The government wanted to protest the continued lack of progress in reopening Sarajevo supply routes. Croatian delegates joined the walkout, leaving the UN to talk with the Serbs. The Serbs, for their part, refused to join a planned helicopter monitoring flight over Mt. Igman, saying the area under inspection included territories outside the demilitarized zone. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

The Washington Post reports on 20 January that a delegation from the Contact Group will return to Sarajevo on 21 January. The paper suggests that the Clinton administration is anxious to be seen as taking serious action to restore the current cease-fire and thereby prevent a rumored return visit by former President Jimmy Carter to the area. Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic was unimpressed, telling reporters that "the Contact Group comes, we give them coffee, they ask questions, and they leave." Meanwhile, the government-controlled edition of Borba (see below) on 20 January reports that a representative of the Greek Foreign Ministry is visiting the Bosnian Serb headquarters in Pale. He is reportedly presenting a message on ending the conflict, but the paper notes that the Greek press provides no details. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Politika on 20 January reports that Belgrade's independent newspaper Borba, currently the target of a government take-over bid, has now officially reincorporated and registered itself as Nasa Borba. Gordana Logar is to stay on as editor in chief. Publication of Nasa Borba's first issue is expected to be delayed, due to a lack of newsprint. Meanwhile, Tanjug reports that Belgrade has asked TV stations throughout Serbia to reduce their hours of broadcasting to between 18:30 and 23:00 local time to help conserve electricity. Power shortages and cuts have been common throughout rump Yugoslavia this winter, with the opposition accusing Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's regime of reducing electricity supplies in order to barter that energy for oil with neighboring countries. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

Foreign Minister Mate Granic has stressed that President Franjo Tudjman's decision not to renew UNPROFOR's mandate at the end of March is final, Reuters reported on 18 January. He said Zagreb has "carefully considered" the concerns expressed by the UN but also noted that "on this occasion, it is again necessary to reiterate Croatia's decision." Much tougher language was used by Vladimir Seks, the lower house deputy speaker and one of the leading hard-liners in the governing party. Seks was quoted by Hina as saying the decision was "irrevocable" and no bluff. Meanwhile, Hina and Reuters quoted IMF officials as praising Croatia's efforts to end inflation and stabilize the economy. One official said Croatia's inflation must be the lowest in the world. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

Traian Chebeleu, a spokesman for Romanian President Ion Iliescu, on 19 January described calls to ban the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania--the main political organization of Romania's Hungarian minority--as "extravagant." Gheorghe Funar, the controversial leader of the ruling Party of Romanian National Unity, recently proposed a referendum on whether to outlaw the HDFR. But Chebeleu said a referendum can be held only in accordance with the constitution, indicating that Funar has no constitutional right to call such a vote. Recent demands by the HDFR for more autonomy for Romania's ethnic Hungarians have prompted protests from nearly all other Romanian parties. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

The Romanian Health Ministry on 19 January announced that as of 31 December 1994, a total of 3,119 AIDS cases had been registered in the country, of whom 2,885 were children, Radio Bucharest reports. The statement said 1,154 people so far had died of the disease. It also noted that the number of new cases had recently dropped, mainly owing to such preventive measures as the use of one-time needles and screening blood for transfusion. Meanwhile, the parents of a child dying of AIDS continue their legal battle against a local hospital and the Health Ministry for 200 million lei (some $113,000) in damages. They say their daughter was infected when she was treated for influenza in 1992 in the Santa Maria hospital in Iasi. The Health Ministry on 17 January rejected the allegations, saying that the exact time of the child's infection could not be established. Social workers and lawyers expect the case to set a precedent for other child AIDS victims. -- Dan Ionescu, OMRI, Inc.

During a one-day visit to Sofia on 19 January, Georgian parliament chairman Eduard Shevardnadze met with Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev and signed a bilateral treaty on friendship and cooperation. The two leaders also called for a peaceful resolution to the Chechen conflict, Western agencies report. Shevardnadze told a meeting of foreign businessmen that Georgia has prepared the legislative base for the transition to a market economy and is following IMF recommendations. Characterizing the domestic political situation as "more or less stable," Shevardnadze also proposed Georgia as the route for a new oil and gas export pipeline from Azerbaijan and Central Asia to the Black Sea ports of Poti and Batumi. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

Block 3 of the Kozloduy nuclear power plant had to be shut down for seven hours for technical reasons on 18 January, AFP reported the same day. The director of the plant assured the public there was no nuclear leakage and no security risk. But he admitted that there was a technical problem in the block. The Soviet-built plant has been modernized several times in the past three years but still is considered unsafe by Western experts. Bulgaria refuses to shut it down, saying that it is dependent on the energy produced at Kozloduy, which provides some 40% of the country's supplies. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

Albania's Constitutional Court ruled on 18 January that the immunity of Chief Supreme Court Judge Zef Brozi can be lifted by the parliament, Reuters reported the next day. Brozi is charged with corruption by Chief Prosecutor Alush Dragoshi, who claims that Brozi illegally ordered the release of a Greek citizen involved in a narcotics case. A member of the ruling Democratic Party, Brozi was nominated by President Sali Berisha to stamp out corruption in the judiciary but later accused Berisha of abandoning him in his fight. The parliament ruled on 29 December that it is not entitled to lift a judge's immunity. Now it must decide whether to lift the immunity of two former ministers. Prosecutors are already investigating former Transport Minister Fatos Bitincka and Albert Gajo, an adviser to the prime minister, on charges of abuse of power and forgery. Meanwhile, the trial of Arben Lika, a former deputy of the Democratic Party who is charged with smuggling cigarettes, was postponed until 24 January because of a lack of witnesses, Koha Jone reported on 20 January. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Pete Baumgartner and Jan Cleave