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Newsline - March 6, 1996

Heavy fighting was reported in Grozny on 5-6 March during which Chechen fighters seized police stations in the Zavodskii and Oktyabrskii regions of the city, ITAR-TASS reported. Other federal positions in the center of the city came under fire from machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades. General Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, commander of federal forces in Chechnya, said there were casualties on both sides. ITAR-TASS reported that the fighting had died down somewhat by late morning on 6 March, but added that "sporadic" but "intense" fighting continued in some parts of the city. Also on 5 March, agencies reported that Salman Raduev, who led the raid on Kizlyar in January, had died from gunshot wounds received in an ambush on 3 March. -- Scott Parrish

Federal artillery and helicopter gunships continued to bombard the western Chechen town of Sernovodsk on 5 March, Russian and Western agencies reported. AFP, citing an independent Chechen journalist who fled the town, reported that at least 20-30 civilians have been killed. The journalist added that the center of the town has been totally destroyed by the shelling. On 4 March, federal forces had opened a corridor for civilians to flee, but it was closed again on 5 March, trapping an unknown number of inhabitants in the besieged town. Although federal commander General Nikolai Tkachev expressed willingness to negotiate an end the fighting, the bombardment of the blazing town continued into the evening. -- Scott Parrish

Russians are still trapped in the ideology of an imperial power and have not embraced the "national idea," journalist Vadim Kozhinov said at a 5 March conference on "Nationalism in Modern Russia" at the Russian Social-Political Center, Express-khronika reported. He argued that those who rely on Russian nationalism "will lose and suffer cruel disappointment." Others, such as writer Aleksandr Sevastyanov, claimed that nationalism is becoming the most popular ideology in Russia. -- Robert Orttung

President Yeltsin on 5 March created a third commission to come up with solutions to the Chechen crisis, ITAR-TASS reported. The commission will be headed by presidential adviser Emil Pain. Several weeks earlier, Yeltsin had ordered Pain and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to lead other commissions on Chechnya. The new commission will have more clout as Yeltsin has ordered Chief of Staff Nikolai Yegorov to ensure its efficiency. Chernomyrdin met with Yeltsin on 5 March to discuss his commission's proposals. -- Robert Orttung

The Moscow organizations of a number of pro-reform parties, including Yabloko, Russia's Democratic Choice, Democratic Russia, and Forward, Russia!, have signed an agreement to coordinate their activities during the presidential campaign, even though the national leaders of these parties have yet to agree on any sort of cooperation, Ekho Moskvy reported on 5 March. Representatives of the local party branches agreed to select a single candidate by 15 March. The move reflects a further collapse of organizational discipline within the pro-reform camp. -- Robert Orttung

During their monthly meeting on 5 March, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev suggested that President Yeltsin propose amendments to the constitution to abolish the presidency in 1997, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. He said that many parties would support a decision not to hold the elections in 1996 in this case. -- Robert Orttung

The deputy leader of the Congress of Russian Communities, Lt. Gen. (ret.) Aleksandr Lebed, has left the Popular Power Duma faction headed by former Soviet Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, NTV reported on 5 March. Lebed's departure is said to be a response to Ryzhkov's support for Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov (see OMRI Daily Digest, 5 March 1996). Lebed also intends to join the presidential race, and he is lobbying for support from some of the "popular patriotic forces" that have backed Zyuganov. If at least three more people leave the faction, which now has just 37 members, it would be disqualified from official status, since Duma regulations set a minimum of 35 members for Duma factions. -- Anna Paretskaya

About 200 hardline Communists on 5 March marked the 43rd anniversary of the death of Joseph Stalin by laying a wreath on his grave, Russian and Western agencies reported. Participants in the ceremony included Working Russia leader Viktor Anpilov, but Russian Federation Communist Party leader and presidential hopeful Gennadii Zyuganov stayed away. Last week, Zyuganov dodged questions about his party's assessment of Stalin, saying it would take Shakespeare to determine the appropriate role for Stalin in history, The New York Times reported on 4 March. -- Penny Morvant

After the end of the Cold War, Russian foreign policy was "overcorrected" and became excessively pro-Western, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said in a lengthy interview with Izvestiya published on 6 March. While endorsing the concept of an "equitable" partnership with the West, Primakov said Russian foreign policy should now focus on "more vigorously and effectively" defending Russian national interests while avoiding confrontation. -- Scott Parrish

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov met his Czech counterpart, Josef Zieleniec, in Moscow on 5 March, Russian and Western agencies reported. Their discussion focused on NATO expansion, with Primakov declaring Russia will continue to oppose any expansion of the alliance. Zieleniec reiterated the Czech Republic's desire to join NATO but denied that the policy is directed against Moscow. Both diplomats stressed that bilateral relations were developing smoothly and said that the two countries held "very similar" views on almost all issues other than NATO expansion. Primakov and Zieleniec also signed a cultural and scientific agreement, and exchanged documents ratifying the 1993 Czech-Russian Friendship Treaty. -- Scott Parrish

Russia is continuing its research on the development of new nuclear weapons, Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov told a 4 March Moscow news conference. Russian media quoted him as saying the research is aimed at improving the safety of Russian nuclear weapons and to enhance their capability to overcome any anti-missile defense system. He also announced that Russia would reprocess 12 metric tons of weapons-grade uranium from dismantled nuclear weapons this year. He said that six metric tons had been reprocessed last year and 35 tons would be treated in 1996. -- Doug Clarke

Defense Minister Pavel Grachev on 4 March told an army unit near Grozny that the ministry has decided to buy 36 new helicopters from the Rosvertol company in Rostov-na-Donu for use by federal troops in Chechnya, Russian media reported. He said that the order would be for 20 Mi-24 gunships, 10 Mi-26 transport helicopters, and six special Mi-26s configured as fuel-tankers. Rosvertol, like all Russian aircraft manufacturers, has been hard hit by the military's failure to buy its products in recent years. The Defense Ministry did not purchase a single helicopter in 1995. -- Doug Clarke

A Moscow court ruled on 6 March that the left-wing Sovetskaya Rossiya should pay damages to popular singer Iosif Kobzon for claiming that he had ties with organized crime, ITAR-TASS reported. An article by Larisa Kislinskaya that appeared in the paper in 1992 alleged that Kobzon had personal links with organized crime bosses. The paper and journalist were ordered to pay Kobzon a total of 15 million rubles ($3,100) in compensation. Kobzon, who was no. 3 on Col. Gen. Boris Gromov's My Fatherland party list in the December Duma elections, was denied a U.S. entry visa in 1995 following the publication of an article in the Washington Times in March alleging that Kobzon was Russia's main mafioso. -- Penny Morvant

The Health Ministry said on 5 March that 13.5% of those involved in the clean-up operation following the 1986 Chornobyl disaster are now invalids and that hospitals treating radiation victims are under-staffed and under-equipped, ITAR-TASS reported. A commission to distribute welfare benefits to victims of nuclear disasters has been set up in Primorsk Krai, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 5 March. It has already registered more than 1,000 people, and that number is expected to grow as more immigrants arrive from the Chornobyl and Semipalatinsk areas. The commission will probably also deal with naval and civilian personnel affected by the 1985 explosion of a reactor on board a Pacific Fleet submarine undergoing repairs. -- Penny Morvant and Doug Clarke

A poultry trade dispute between Russia and the U.S. (see OMRI Daily Digest, 27 February 1996) was settled on 5 March, ITAR-TASS and Western agencies reported. In a message relayed by Economics Minister Yevgenii Yasin, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin assured U.S. Vice President Al Gore that American poultry imports will not be halted after 16 March. The prospect of trade stoppages caused protests from both American poultry exporters, who announced production cuts, and Administration officials who began considering retaliatory measures. -- Natalia Gurushina

On the eve of Afghan President Burhanuddin Rabbani's visit to Turkmenistan, Kabul has condemned a Pakistani plan to repair a road linking Chaman in Pakistan to Torghundi on the Afghan-Turkmen border, Afghan and Western media reported on 5 March. Kabul Radio condemned the plan as part of Pakistan's efforts to help the opposition Taliban movement, which now controls much of Afghanistan aside from the capital and various northern provinces. Pakistan said the road is simply a means of stimulating trade with the newly independent states of Central Asia. -- Lowell Bezanis

Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev appointed Deputy Prime Minister Akhmetzhan Yesimov to the post of state secretary that was created under the new constitution adopted last year. In terms of formal ranking, the position is second after the presidential post. Agriculture Minister Zhanybek Karibzhanov has been promoted to the rank of deputy prime minister, but he will retain control of farming policy, a government spokesman told ITAR-TASS on 5 March. The akim (head) of Taldy Kurgan Oblast, Serik Akhymbekov, is the new agriculture minister. -- Bhavna Dave

Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 4 March issued a decree establishing a Ministry of Extraordinary Affairs, Western and Uzbek sources reported. The ministry, which is to address "the consequences of extraordinary situations of a natural and technical character," will be headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Ismail Jurabekov. Aside from organizing natural disaster relief, the specific functions of the ministry are unclear. Last year, Jurabekov headed a commission that evaluated the efficiency and agricultural production levels of regional administrations, resulting in the replacement of several hokims (governors). -- Roger Kangas

The unemployment rate in Kyrgyzstan has climbed from 0.7% to 3.2% since the beginning of 1995, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 March. The number of registered unemployed in the Central Asian republic is 91,200. Not listed in these totals are the numerous people working part-time or those who have not received their salaries for weeks or months. -- Bruce Pannier

The head of the Tajik commission for refugees, Temur Tabarov, announced on 1 March that the majority of refugees from the Tajik civil war have returned to their homes, according to a Tajik Radio report monitored by the BBC. According to government figures 729,179 of the registered 955,653 refugees are back in their place of residence. Support from international sources, particularly the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has helped to rebuild 24,868 of the estimated 35,723 homes that were damaged in the fighting of 1992-93. Tabarov said the government is working to repatriate the 8,000 refugees who are still in Afghanistan and another 190,000 scattered throughout former Soviet republics. -- Bruce Pannier

Ukrainian lawmakers voted on 5 March to ban alcohol and tobacco advertising in an effort to head off growing substance abuse in the country, Reuters reported. The ban was included in a bill regulating advertising, a budding $900 million a year industry. Deputies claimed that cigarette and liquor ads comprise 40% of all advertising revenues. They also said alcohol production was the only industry in Ukraine that had not experienced a decline, though at the expense of the nation's health. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Tiit Vahi said on 5 March that the Estonian government has tried not to get involved in religious problems and thus only dealt with the secular side of the dispute within the Orthodox Church, ETA reported. The state was obliged to return to the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church the property it had prior to World War II. He said he was glad that the EAOC had agreed to allow Moscow-led congregations to use their church buildings. Interior Minister Mart Rask called recent Russian charges that his ministry was creating a schism in the Orthodox Church unfounded. He could not comply with the demands to abolish the registration of the EAOC since courts had ruled that its registration was in accordance with Estonian laws. -- Saulius Girnius
Aleksander Kwasniewski began a two-day visit to Vilnius on 5 March by signing a declaration on strengthening cooperation with his Lithuanian counterpart, Algirdas Brazauskas, Radio Lithuania reported. Foreign ministers Dariusz Rosati and Povilas Gylys signed a border treaty, and defense ministers Stanislaw Dobrzanski and Linas Linkevicius an agreement on the joint use of airspace for military aircraft. The presidents discussed trade issues and the prospects for their countries' integration into the European Union and NATO. Kwasniewski also met with leaders of the Polish community and was scheduled to address the Seimas the next day. -- Saulius Girnius

Truckers have blockaded a border crossing point between Poland and Belarus by Terespol, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 March. The crossing point is one of the busiest between Eastern Europe and the CIS and the line of cars and trucks waiting to enter Belarus stretches tens of kilometers into Poland, forcing drivers to wait an average of 55 hours to get into Belarus. The blockade is meant to draw attention to the problem. There is no shortage of border crossing points and they are working to capacity. Since the beginning of the year the Terespol crossing point has cleared 53,000 trucks. -- Ustina Markus

Shareholders in Zycie Warszawy on 5 March authorized the board of directors to sell at least part of the Italian-owned daily, despite opposition from Polish shareholders who hold around 2% of the paper. Journalists claim that no-one has informed them to whom and on what conditions the newspaper will be sold. According to Gazeta Wyborcza on 6 March, the final transaction has not been completed. Italian owner Nicola Grauso is holding talks with Zbigniew Jakubas, who has promised to retain the newspaper's staff and not worsen working conditions. In an interview with Rzeczpospolita, Jakubas said he would like Zycie Warszawy no longer to be one-sided and become the newspaper of the political center, directed by a council of individuals from various political groupings. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

A government commission dealing with restoring villages and buildings abandoned by the Soviet Army visited the Koszalin province in northwestern Poland on 5 March. The commission should visit eight Polish provinces where the Soviet forces were based and is to help draft a project allocating 30 million zlotys ($11.67 million) for putting in working order the post-Soviet structures. In Bagicz, which hosted a former Soviet military airport, the main threat is liquid fuels which have penetrated the soil. The delegation also visited Klomin and Bialogard, where houses and a hospital need attention, Rzeczpospolita reported on 6 March. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

Czech media reported on 5 and 6 March that two members of the Czech battalion serving in Bosnia have been cleared of accusations that they raped a U.S. servicewoman last weekend. A Czech police investigator who traveled to Bosnia to examine the case was quoted as saying that no rape - as defined by Czech law - occurred. "The result of the investigation is that she agreed with their proposal," the spokesman of the Czech contingent said, and a Czech doctor who examined the woman involved agreed with this conclusion. Mlada fronta Dnes, however, reported that American military authorities disagreed, insisting that rape did take place. The daily quoted a U.S. military spokeswoman as saying that such incidents will be thoroughly investigated. -- Steve Kettle
Interior Ministry State Secretary Pavol Kacic on 5 March announced the government's approval of Slovakia's new territorial division, Slovak media reported. The draft, which awaits parliamentary approval, divides Slovakia into eight regions (Bratislava, Trnava, Nitra, Trencin, Zilina, Banska Bystrica, Presov, and Kosice) and 74 districts. The cabinet's bill cancels the independent statute of Bratislava as Slovakia's capital, which Coexistence chairman Miklos Duray called "political revenge" for the results of the last elections. Kacic said the election law, which is currently based on four electoral regions, will have to be amended, a move which ethnic Hungarian leaders fear could lead to a decline in their parliamentary representation. The cabinet did not discuss a territorial administration proposal put forward by the Hungarian coalition. -- Sharon Fisher

Police investigator Jozef Ciz on 5 March questioned Michal Kovac Jr. for eight hours in connection with his abduction to Austria last August, RFE/RL's Slovak Service reported. Kovac said the questioning included looking at photographs of possible suspects; however, he declined to say whether he had identified his kidnappers, noting his agreement not to grant information which could "frustrate" the investigation. "Everything took place in a correct working atmosphere," Kovac said, stressing that the "self-abduction" variant put forward by certain coalition representatives was not discussed. On 6 March, Kovac will undergo interrogation concerning his alleged involvement in the Technopol fraud. Ciz told Slovak Radio that the abduction case should be completed within one to two months, but he emphasized the need to question former Slovak Information Service agent Oskar F., who accused the SIS of involvement. -- Sharon Fisher

The German religious organization "Kirche in Not" [Church in Need] on 5 March issued DM 9,000 to the Roman Catholic Church in Pecovska Nova Ves in the Presov district, TASR reported. Local Roma will use the funds for the construction of a chapel dedicated to Zeferyn Jimenez Mall, a Spanish Rom shot in 1936 during the Civil War and the first Rom in history to be beatified by the Church. Of the village's 2,100 inhabitants, 360 are Roma. The cornerstone was laid last September, and the chapel is expected to be open for its first service this summer. -- Alaina Lemon

The Federation of the Jewish Communities in Hungary continued to protest the acquittal of two neo-Nazi leaders charged with using fascist symbols and inciting hatred, Hungarian media reported on 6 March. The protest came in the wake of a Budapest municipal court ruling, which said the submitted evidence was insufficient to support the charges filed by the prosecution (see OMRI Daily Digest, 5 March 1996). The president of the federation, Peter Feldmajer, said that "in the 1947 Paris Treaty, the Hungarian government undertook the obligation to prosecute any anti-Semitic propaganda," and that "the acquittal of those who regard themselves as followers of (Hungarian fascist leader) Ferenc Szalasi allows the propagation of fascist ideology to continue." The Jewish Communities expressed the hope that the Supreme Court will decide on appeal in line with the European legal system and will prevent the propaganda of racist, fascist ideology. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

A 90-man contingent of government police took up duty on 6 March in the third formerly Serb-held Sarajevo suburb to pass to federal control under the Dayton agreement. The force consisted of 70 Muslims, 15 Serbs, and 5 Croats, which reflects the prewar ethnic composition of the area, AFP reported. CNN said that a group of Croat police had entered the area the previous night and occupied a building, but left peacefully after IFOR threatened to use force to oust them. The Croats felt that they were underrepresented in the federal contingent. The Serbian population had largely fled on Pale's orders, and torched and looted buildings in the process. The UNHCR will launch a $2.5 million project to repair the damage to homes the Serbs gutted, Onasa reported on 5 March. -- Patrick Moore

The NATO peacekeepers were ready to to take stiff measures against a group of Croatian policemen (see Top Story), and many think they should show the same resolution toward indicted war criminals and persons tampering with evidence of war crimes. To date, however, IFOR's commanders say that such activities are not in their mandate. Discussions are nonetheless underway in Brussels to broaden the interpretation of IFOR's mission to include dealing with war criminals and protecting evidence, as well as possibly helping with some civilian reconstruction projects. AFP reported on 6 March that moves in this direction are in progress and that diplomatic sources are confident of Washington's approval. U.S. Secretary of the Army Togo West said in Tuzla, however, that this is not the case and "we have a well-defined mission and we are sticking to it." -- Patrick Moore

Kresimir Zubak said that the federation could break down and a new conflict emerge if current differences are not resolved. Elsewhere, Onasa also reported on 5 March that the UNHCR has retracted a report that Serbs have launched a new wave of ethnic cleansing in the Banja Luka area, saying now that the evictions took place some time ago. Meanwhile in Tuzla, the Red Cross announced it is setting up a group to look into the fate of missing persons in Bosnia. And in Sarajevo, the Academy of Sciences expelled the prominent Bosnian Serb historian and professor Milorad Ekmecic for his role in developing Pale's nationalist ideology, "which has caused an unseen plight of even the Serbian people in Bosnia." Ekmecic's theories include the historically dubious idea that the area is "historic Serbian space," which provided the ideological underpinnings for the wholesale destruction of mosques and Ottoman-era buildings. The Bosnian government has said it wants Ekmecic indicted for war crimes for his role in promoting ethnic hatred. -- Patrick Moore

Nasa Borbaon 6 March features an interview with Dusan Mihajlovic, leader of the small but important New Democracy (ND) party, which functions as a coalition partner and de facto member of the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia in Serbia's legislature. Mihajlovic, signaling that relations between ND and the SPS are likely to remain good, said "we are not going to engage in putsches or conspiracies." He added, "I see no crisis in relations." He touched on the sensitive question of the status of Serbia's Kosovar Albanians, suggesting that he, and presumably his patron, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, continue to rule out genuine autonomy for Kosovo and international mediation on the status of the once-autonomous province. "The [Kosovo] question must be solved by Serbs and Albanians. That's much better than someone else solving it," he observed. -- Stan Markotich

Nasa Borba on 4 March ran a piece, "A Fake Studio B," describing what has happened to the once-independent Studio B TV following the recent government take-over. During the past few weeks, the report suggests, the station has seemingly fallen completely into the regime's hands, and now practices distorting and misrepresenting opposition party platforms and public statements. Not surprisingly, the station also now endorses uncritically the policies of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his Socialist Party of Serbia. "Studio B is now tripping over itself, fawning about its new over some 50 minutes of coverage to the [SPS 2 March] party congress during yesterday's programming. This was more coverage than any other television station, except for [the state-run] Radio and Television Serbia," the report observed. -- Stan Markotich

A parliamentary delegation of the rump Yugoslav Federation on 5 March ended an official visit to Romania, Radio Bucharest reported. The delegation, headed by National Assembly Speaker Radovan Bozovic, met with the chairman of Romania's Chamber of Deputies Adrian Nastase and the Senate's Deputy Chairman Ion Solcanu. Bozovic was also received by Romanian President Ion Iliescu and Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu. The two sides discussed ways to boost bilateral relations under the new conditions created by the Dayton agreement. They described the signing in the near future of a basic treaty between the two countries as a top diplomatic priority for both Bucharest and Belgrade. The drafting of the document by teams of experts was completed last week in Belgrade. -- Dan Ionescu

As a result of parliamentary debates on anti-corruption legislation, several top officials should have already resigned, Infotag quoted Mircea Snegur as saying on 5 March in the Moldovan parliament. According to Snegur, corruption is related primarily to the state apparatus. He accused the Foreign Economic Commission for violating its own ban on exports, as well as Defense Minister Pavel Creanga for "dubious transactions" in his ministry. Parliament Chairman Petru Lucinschi said one of the reasons for corruption in Moldova was the fact that criminal groups are better equipped and trained than law-enforcement bodies. -- Matyas Szabo

Before a plenary meeting of the Supreme Council of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP), representatives of its coalition partners, and the joint parliamentary faction scheduled for 10 March, Bulgarian newspapers on 6 March speculate about a likely government reshuffle. Kontinent reported that Minister of Economic Development Rumen Gechev, Agriculture Minister Svetoslav Shivarov (both also Deputy Prime Ministers), Interior Minister Lyubomir Nachev, and Industry Minister Kliment Vuchev will be replaced for failing to cope with the problems in their respective fields of responsibility. Other papers also name Justice Minister Mladen Chervenyakov as likely to lose his post. Health Minister Mimi Vitkova has prepared her resignation but the BSP has decided that she will resign only if the recent AIDS scandal is brought up during the plenum. 24 chasa reported that the cabinet reshuffle will be completed by the end of May. -- Stefan Krause

The U.S. House of
Representatives on 5 March granted Bulgaria permanent most-favored-nation status, Reuters reported. The U.S. had granted Bulgaria the status, which gives it the lowest U.S. tariffs on its export goods, on an annual basis since 1993. Supporters of the bill said Bulgaria has made good progress toward democracy and a free market economy since the fall of communism. The bill has to be approved by the U.S. Senate. -- Stefan Krause

Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov met Kosovar shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova on 5 March in Skopje, Reuters reported. They reviewed the situation in Macedonia, Kosovo and the Balkan region and apparently discussed the new conditions set by the international community for the full diplomatic recognition of rump Yugoslavia. The European Parliament on 1 March had asked the EU Council of Ministers to grant full recognition only if Belgrade reaches a "total and satisfactory settlement" with the Kosovar leadership, Beta reported. The parliament further demanded negotiations without preconditions by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic "with [Kosovar shadow state leader Ibrahim] Rugova and other elected representatives of the people of Kosovo." The parliament also expressed willingness to open a Commission office in Kosovo, noting that the U.S. had similar plans. Rugova had earlier visited Tirana where he met Albanian President Sali Berisha. -- Fabian Schmidt

An Italian journalist, Pietro Zannoni, said he had received information on the origin of the bomb that exploded in central Tirana on 26 February. Zannoni claims he talked to a former communist secret service [Sigurimi] agent who told him that the bomb was given by Serbian secret agents to former Sigurimi agents, who later prepared it in Fier. Zannoni also included internationally wanted Serbian war criminal Zeljko Raznjatovic "Arkan" in his theory. The Interior Ministry could not confirm the allegations, Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 5 March. Zannoni had earlier claimed that he had received information proving that the dailies Koha Jone and Zeri I Popullit were being financed by the Serbian secret service. -- Fabian Schmidt

--Compiled by Victor Gomez and Steve Kettle