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Newsline - May 9, 1996

Moscow Military District commander Col. Gen. Leontii Kuznetsov declared that in his view the forthcoming presidential election should be postponed, Russian and Western agencies reported on 7 May. Kuznetsov argued that the vote would undermine social stability and "split the Russian population into two camps." He added that if the opposition comes to power, it will merely "settle scores instead of changing the political course." Kuznetsov said many officers in the Moscow Military District share this view. -- Constantine Dmitriev

Grigorii Yavlinskii on 7 May tried to downplay the possibility of an alliance with Boris Yeltsin, saying that the two had to resolve numerous difficult problems, including Chechnya, economic and social policy, and most importantly, personnel questions, Russian TV (RTR) reported. However, on 8 May he said that he was willing to discuss with Yeltsin the possibility of uniting the democratic candidates, Radio Rossii reported. Yavlinskii wants to be the prime minister, but Yeltsin is only prepared to offer him a deputy prime ministerial position, according to Kommersant-Daily on 7 May. Communist candidate Gennadii Zyuganov said that the negotiations "are not a surprise" and that they will end Yavlinskii's career since people will cease to trust him, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Robert Orttung

The abortive "third force" alliance of Grigorii Yavlinskii, Aleksandr Lebed, and Svyatoslav Fedorov seems to have suffered a fatal blow. Fedorov, eye surgeon and leader of the Party of Workers' Self-Government, said he will not withdraw his presidential candidacy, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 May. Fedorov advocates what he calls "popular socialism," in which workers would manage their own enterprises. Fedorov added that if Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov were elected president, he might be willing to accept the post of prime minister. Lebed announced earlier this week that he would not drop out of the race in favor of Yavlinskii. -- Laura Belin

President Yeltsin on 8 May sharply criticized the government and Pension Fund for failing to ensure the timely payment of wages and pensions despite direct instructions from his office, Radio Rossii reported. The previous day, Pension Fund head Vasilii Barchuk blamed delays on the government's failure to pay its debt to the fund, which he said totals 4.6 trillion rubles for the period 1992-1995 alone. Following the March clampdown on wage arrears, Yeltsin ordered the elimination of all pension arrears by the end of April--a goal that has clearly not been met. -- Penny Morvant

The government's new regional press agency organized a 6-7 May seminar for 80 television and 60 radio journalists, scheduling meetings with high government officials and paying all their travel and living expenses, according to the latest edition of Moskovskie novosti. President Yeltsin told the journalists, "I am not calling on you to campaign on behalf of candidate Yeltsin, but I expect from you a responsible attitude toward what is happening in Russia," Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 6 May. Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov promised that his office will pay special attention to protecting journalists' rights in cases when the victim of a crime, or the accused, is a journalist. On 7 May, State Press Committee Chairman Ivan Laptev advised the journalists on obtaining tax and customs privileges guaranteed under the law on state support for the mass media, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Laura Belin

Russian President Boris Yeltsin's planned visit to Chechnya is "impossible" at present because of security considerations, Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov told Interfax in a report cited by AFP on 8 May. On 7 May federal forces captured the village of Goyskoe, which has been the scene of fighting for several weeks. The same day Russian helicopters launched a rocket attack on the raion center of Urus Martan, killing five people in the open-air market; the Chechen procuracy has begun an investigation. As of 9 May, the town had been sealed off by Russian troops, according to AFP. Machine gun fire hit the Grozny home of Chechen Interior Minister Hamid Inalov during the night of 7-8 May, but no one was injured, according to ITAR-TASS. On 3 May, Inalov's car was fired on in Urus Martan. -- Liz Fuller

Russia and Britain appear to be seeking a way to back down from confrontation over the espionage incident (see OMRI Daily Digest, 7 May 1996) that has triggered the threatened expulsion from Russia of nine British diplomats, Russian and Western agencies reported on 8 May. Reuters reported that talks are now focusing on the timing and scale of the diplomats' expulsions. British Ambassador Andrew Wood met with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 7 May to discuss the issue. British Foreign Minister Malcolm Rifkind has insisted that Russia has not substantiated its claim that the nine British embassy staff are intelligence agents. Meanwhile, the unidentified Russian whose arrest started the affair has been charged with treason under Article 64 of the Russian Criminal Code, and could face the death penalty. -- Scott Parrish

Russia signed the 1963 Vienna Convention on Civil Liability for Nuclear Damage in a ceremony at the International Agency for Atomic Energy (IAEA) headquarters in Vienna, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 May. The convention, which was never signed by the Soviet Union, is part of the international regime regulating third-party liability for damage resulting from civilian nuclear accidents. Under the convention, primary liability for damage resulting from a nuclear reactor accident rests on the country operating the reactor. -- Scott Parrish

Turkish Foreign Minister Emre Gonensay announced Turkey's willingness to fully finance a pipeline carrying Caspian Sea oil to its Mediterranean port of Ceyhan and threatened to institute safety measures governing the passage of ships through the Bosporus Strait if Russia tries to transport oil through it. Such measures were adopted in 1994 and it is not clear if Gonensay's remarks imply new measures or a stricter application of existing ones. Russia officially termed Turkey's position "unacceptable," saying that the new regulations are a violation of the 1936 Montreux Treaty, and insisting that Turkey adopt a "modern" navigation system to ensure that oil spills are avoided, Russian media reported. Gonensay's remarks reflect Turkey's discomfort with the reallocation of shares in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium last week, which gave Russia a 44% share in the project to move Tengiz oil to the Russian port of Novorossiisk. -- Lowell Bezanis

A spokesman for the Federal Security Service (FSB) in Krasnoyarsk said on 8 May that the scientist arrested the previous day in connection with the theft of nuclear materials was not selling plutonium or any other fissionable material, ITAR-TASS reported. Contradicting earlier reports, the FSB denied that the stolen material was radioactive, adding that it was very hard and heat resistant and could be used to coat ballistic missiles as well as for civilian purposes. -- Penny Morvant

A Russian prisoner on death row murdered a fellow inmate in a jail in Barnaul in Altai Krai and tried to make soup out of his liver, Reuters reported on 8 May, citing Interfax. Last July, the cannibal, Aleksandr Maslich, murdered another fellow prisoner and ate some of his internal organs. Maslich was convicted on triple murder charges in 1993 and sentenced to death last year. -- Penny Morvant

President Yeltsin issued a decree on 8 May raising the status of the State Committee on Defense Industry, headed by Zinovii Pak, to a government ministry, ITAR-TASS reported. He also instructed the Finance Ministry to pay off state debts to defense plants, exempted them from paying taxes until this is done, and promised help with energy bills. Pak said that about one third of defense plants are fully state owned, one third are fully privatized, and in one third the state owns shares. The government now intends to buy back shares in some of the privatized defense plants. Last month, a new Federal Commission on Defense Plant Privatization was created under First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets to monitor defense privatization. -- Peter Rutland

Social Security Minister Lyudmila Bezlepkina told a government meeting on 7 May that enterprises owe the Pension Fund 23 trillion rubles ($4.6 billion), Rossiiskie vesti reported. She said that last year the Russian government spent $500 million of the state's gold and currency reserves on pensions, but payments were still delayed by about 20 to 30 days in many parts of the country. Only about half the country's 89 republics and regions have received funds for this April's pensions. Bezlepkina said that responsibility for collecting contributions from enterprises should be transferred to the State Tax Service. Russia has 37 million pensioners. -- Penny Morvant

The Central Bank has now withdraw licenses from 320 of Russia's 2,599 commercial banks, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 May. Another 465 banks have been warned for violating banking regulations. The banks have a total equity capital of 13 trillion rubles ($2.6 billion), but only 5% of banks have equity capital over 20 billion rubles. General licenses were given to 260 banks, 790 banks have licenses for dealing with foreign currency, and 205 for operations with precious metals. -- Natalia Gurushina

After staying one day longer than planned in China, Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan stopped off in Moscow on 7 May for talks on bilateral relations and the Karabakh conflict with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, who is to visit Yerevan later this month, Russian media reported. Ter-Petrossyan said it would be "neither wise nor advantageous" for Armenia to join the CIS Customs Union at present, according to RFE/RL. Meanwhile, a Russian State Duma delegation led by Speaker Gennadii Seleznev was in Armenia for a two-day visit to meet with Armenian National Assembly Chairman Babken Ararktsyan and Prime Minister Hrant Bagratyan. The issue of Karabakh was not on the agenda since in a previous interview with an Azerbaijani journalist Seleznev had accused Armenia of "aggression," Noyan Tapan reported. -- Liz Fuller

Russia Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov traveled to Baku and then Yerevan on 8 May on what he termed "direct instructions from President Boris Yeltsin" in an attempt to achieve at least minimal progress toward a political solution of the Karabakh conflict, Russian and Western media reported. Following an agreement between Azerbaijan, Armenia, and the leadership of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh on an exchange of all prisoners of war, Primakov brought 34 former Armenian prisoners and one ethnic Russian to Yerevan; in exchange, Armenia is to release 11 Azerbaijanis, and Karabakh Armenian authorities a further 59. -- Liz Fuller

Turkish President Suleyman Demirel concluded a three-day official visit to Tashkent on 9 May during which he signed agreements on "eternal friendship and cooperation," environmental protection, and double taxation with his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, ITAR-TASS reported. In 1995, Turkish-Uzbek trade was valued at $280 million, a 75% increase over the previous year, and involves more than 200 joint ventures. This was Demirel's first visit to Uzbekistan as Turkish president; Turgut Ozal visited in 1993. -- Roger Kangas

The Coca-Cola Company announced that it will invest an additional $200 million into the region over the next three years, RFE/RL reported on 8 May. Calling it the "next frontier opportunity for soft drinks," Neville Isdell, president of the company's Greater Europe Group, announced the opening of a $15 million bottling plant in Almaty, Kazakhstan, as part of a joint venture with the Turkish Anadolu Group and the Kazakhstani bottler ToNus. Plants will also open in Bishkek and Tashkent at the cost of $16 million and $10 million, respectively. Plans are being drawn up for similar plants in Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. The company already has plants operating in the Georgian capital Tbilisi (opened in June 1993) and one in Tashkent (opened March 1994). -- Roger Kangas

Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 8 May promoted Trade and Industry Minister Garri Shtoik to the post of first deputy prime minister, RFE/RL and Reuters reported. Shtoik replaces Vitalii Mette, who left office recently. The choice of one ethnic German to replace another may not be coincidental as Almaty appears anxious to have a German presence in the government. Kazakhstan's sizable German population has the attention and support of the German government. Nazarbayev also promoted Stepan Shutkin to the post of head of the government apparatus. -- Bruce Pannier

Border guards near the Tajik city of Khorog killed eight alleged rebels who were attempting to cross over from Afghanistan, Russian TV (RTR) and Reuters reported on 8 May. The "rebels" were using a route known to be a drug highway from Afghanistan to destinations in the former Soviet Union and Europe. In the capital, Dushanbe, Lt. Gen. Kurbon Cholov survived an assassination attempt in his apartment on 7 May, according to ITAR-TASS. Gunmen using grenade launchers and small arms fired upon the apartment killing Cholov's chief of staff and wounding another officer, but Cholov was uninjured. -- Bruce Pannier

Corrections to the text of Ukraine's draft constitution were almost completed by the end of last week, Ukrainian Radio reported on 6 May. Mykhailo Syrota, leader of the "Center" caucus, said 11 parliamentary groups took part in editing the draft, which is now 80-85% finished. The Communists, however, refused to take part in the process. Meanwhile, the dispute over whether to have a bicameral or unicameral parliament has been resolved. The majority of deputies prefer a single-chamber parliament, but President Leonid Kuchma supports a bicameral one. Ukrainian TV on 7 May reported that Kuchma has agreed to a unicameral parliament for a five-year interim period, after which it will become bicameral. -- Ustina Markus

The Ukrainian Ministry of Statistics has announced that inflation in April was 2.4%, Ukrainian Radio reported on 7 May. This is the lowest rate of inflation Ukraine has had in recent years and is lower than government predictions. At the same time, real incomes in the first quarter of the year decreased by 19%. -- Ustina Markus

Alyaksandr Lukashenka told war veterans on 8 May--Victory Day in Belarus--that the state will be in complete control of the country's economy and that banks will soon be back under government control, Reuters reported on 8 May. Lukashenka plans to increase state control over the six largest banks in Belarus, but he dismissed Western concerns that the plan amounts to nationalization. Last year, the IMF halted the disbursement of a $300 million standby credit to Belarus because of the lack of market reforms in the country. Less than 10% of enterprises are privately owned in Belarus. In a statement that will not help loosen the IMF's purse strings, Lukashenka told war veterans they will be compensated for savings wiped out by post-Soviet inflation. -- Ustina Markus

Deputy leader of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF) Yuriy Khadyka on 7 May was formally charged with organizing and participating in an illegal rally, an RFE/RL correspondent and Western agencies reported. When Khadyka began a hunger strike following his arrest, his lawyer appealed to the court to have him released on bail on grounds of his age (Khadyka is in his late 50s). The appeal was rejected. Another arrested BPF leader, Vyacheslau Sivchik, is also on a hunger strike but has not yet been charged. Belapan on 6 May reported that the Justice Ministry has sent a warning letter to the BPF, which is seen as part of a campaign to ban the organization. -- Ustina Markus

Estonian Ambassador in Moscow Mart Helm was summoned to the Russian Foreign Ministry on 8 May to be informed that embassy official Argo Kuunemae was being expelled for "activities incompatible with his office." Western agencies reported. The Estonian Foreign Ministry later revealed that two weeks earlier Russia had agreed to meet Estonian demands that Russian diplomat Sergei Andreev, who had allegedly been spying for six months, leave Estonia without publicity. The ministry added that for this reason, it was surprised that Russia had retaliated publicly. Meanwhile, President Lennart Meri sent back to the parliament the law on local elections, saying it contravenes the Estonian Constitution and the UN convention on civil rights. The law requires local government candidates who did not graduate from an Estonian-language high school to pass exams in written and spoken Estonian. Russian organizations and parties have protested the law, arguing that it will prevent many Russian candidates from running. -- Saulius Girnius

Edgars Bens, head of the Latvian Unity Party (LVP) caucus, said on 7 May that his party is quitting the ruling coalition, BNS reported. The move was prompted by Prime Minister Andris Skele's dismissal the previous day of LVP Chairman Alberts Kauls as agriculture minister. The coalition's majority in the parliament is not endangered since the LVP had only seven deputies. Meanwhile, Kauls predicted that the government will have to resign within two months since it is unable to tackle nationally important problems. Ziedonis Cevers, who heads Saimnieks, the coalition's largest party, complained that Skele fired Kauls without discussing the issue with other coalition members. -- Saulius Girnius

Algirdas Brazauskas, during his visit to Latvia on 6-7 May, issued a communique with President Guntis Ulmanis saying they will "continue concerted efforts to achieve the common strategic goal of their foreign and security policy--full NATO membership," Reuters reported. The two leaders discussed the controversy over their joint sea border and expressed the hope that it will be settled during the next round of talks, scheduled to take place in Vilnius on 19-20 May. Ulmanis noted that signing a free trade agricultural agreement would help create a unified Baltic economic zone more likely to attract foreign investment. Brazauskas also invited his Baltic counterparts to meet in Vilnius on 28 May to discuss common efforts to join the EU. -- Saulius Girnius

The Polish government has announced it will lower income taxes next year in an effort to maintain high economic growth and low inflation. The plan, which must be approved by the parliament, foresees cutting income taxes currently ranging from 21-45% to 20-43%, Rzeczpospolita reported on 8 May. The government also plans to reduce corporate taxes by 2% and to abolish or reduce some tax breaks. For example, Poles will no longer be able to deduct donations to private individuals or expenses for vocational training. Tax exemptions for those investing in private companies or buying government bonds will also be lifted. The tax cuts are part of the government's four-year economic plan aimed at bringing Poland's economy into line for future membership in the European Union. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

Sejm speaker Jozef Zych on 7 May said deputies may ratify the concordat signed three years ago by the former Solidarity government and the Holy See. The document has not yet been ratified because of opposition from within the parliament. Zych, following a meeting with President Aleksander Kwasniewski, said the lower chamber will debate the concordat in June and may ratify it sometime next year, before adopting the new constitution, Rzeczpospolita reported on 8 May. Among other things, the concordat regulates Church finances and confirms the Church's right to run its own schools, newspapers, and broadcasting outlets. Many Poles, including leftist parliamentary deputies, believe the document gives the Church too much influence over public life. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

Vladimir Meciar on 8 May said the law on the protection of the republic will not be debated again by the Slovak parliament at its May session, Pravda and Reuters reported. Meciar told foreign journalists that "a wider democratic discussion" is needed to ensure that the law complies with international human rights conventions. The law has been widely criticized by the Slovak opposition and from abroad as a quasi-totalitarian means of stifling dissent. It was passed by the parliament in March, but President Michal Kovac returned it to the parliament. Meciar also denied that Slovakia was lagging behind other post-communist countries in creating democratic structures, saying that any rapid enlargement of NATO without Russia's prior agreement could lead to the creation of a "Russian-Chinese-Arab grouping." Meciar also strongly criticized the Czech Republic for its refusal to cooperate more closely with Slovakia, Poland, and Hungary in preparing for admission to the EU and NATO. -- Steve Kettle

Gabor Kuncze has been authorized by the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ), the junior coalition party to which he belongs, to exercise his veto power if the cabinet decides to establish a central investigative office, Hungarian media reported on 8 May. Prime Minister Gyula Horn has long been promoting the idea of establishing such an office to curb large-scale white-collar crime. However, he continues to be at odds with his coalition partner over the issue. Magyar Hirlap reported that the SZDSZ will only accept a solution whereby ad hoc coordination groups are established at the initiative of the police to investigate the most serious economic crimes. The Socialist Party is divided over Horn's proposal but Socialist ministers are expected to back the premier. According to recent polls, 62% of Hungarians consider a permanent investigative office unnecessary. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The Croatian Embassy on 7 May denied Bosnian media reports about alleged secret talks between Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, Onasa stated. According to a story run by the biweekly magazine Slobodna Bosna, Karadzic had been smuggled into western Herzegovina in a car with license plates issued by the Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna. The embassy said the reports are part of a local smear campaign against Croatia's policy toward Bosnia and that the authors' ultimate goal is to destroy the Croatian-Muslim federation. -- Patrick Moore

Bosnian government forces freed two Serbs following a ruling by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia that there is no reason to hold them on suspicion of war crimes. The Serbs consequently released three Muslims they had been holding, AFP reported on 8 May. Elsewhere, IFOR commander U.S. Adm. Leighton Smith said that the Serbian people "as a whole basically carries the blame for the atrocities that occurred in this war. What the Serb population needs to do is to bring the people to justice who were the cause of the atrocities, so that the blame is shifted from the Serb population to the individuals who were responsible." IFOR has been criticized for its reluctance to hunt down war criminals. -- Patrick Moore

Following the killing of a Russian IFOR soldier in Bosnia on 6 May, another IFOR soldier has been found dead from a gun shot wound in the head at Visegrad, eastern Bosnia, AFP and Nasa Borba reported on 8 May. IFOR said there were no suspicious circumstances surrounding the soldier's death. According to AFP, IFOR has sustained 23 fatalities and some 140 injured soldiers in Bosnia to date. Meanwhile, Nasa Borba reported that the Serbian police and the International Police Task Force on 6 May found the bodies of four Serbian civilians who were allegedly kidnapped and then killed by an unknown Muslim terrorist group near Milici, eastern Bosnia. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The UN Security Council on 8 May urged Belgrade to arrest three men charged with the 1991 killing of at least 260 civilians in the Croatian city of Vukovar. The accused were named last month in a letter from The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Reuters reported. The council has also issued a statement saying it "deplores the failure to date of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia to execute the arrest warrants issued by the Tribunal against the three individuals." Meanwhile, Onasa on 8 May reported that Dusan Tadic, the first war crimes suspect to be on trial at The Hague, has sent a letter to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic pleading for help. -- Stan Markotich

Reuters on 7 May quoted High Representative for Bosnia Carl Bildt as saying he has "stressed to President Milosevic that he has a a number of ways. He has an obligation under the peace agreement and we talked about that." Bildt said that during his recent trip to Belgrade, he discussed a number of issues with the Serbian president, including the war crimes tribunal at The Hague. He declined to give details, however. -- Stan Markotich

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher has assigned a U.S. diplomat to Kosovo on a temporary basis as a first step toward opening a U.S. Information Agency office in Pristina. According to the State Department, administrative problems had delayed the appointment of such an official. Meanwhile, Christopher discussed the Kosovo conflict with his Albanian counterpart, Alfred Serreqi, on 8 May, AFP reported. -- Fabian Schmidt

In the ongoing battle between the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) and the independent media, the editor of the satirical weekly Feral Tribune, Viktor Ivancic, has been charged with defaming Tudjman under a new press law. Critics charge that the law is part of a package to muzzle press freedom by enabling top officials to sue if they feel "insulted." Tudjman said he was offended by materials in the 29 April issue of the Split-based weekly that satirized his recent speech on national reconciliation and the Jasenovac war memorial. The paper often tests the limits of good taste, but the authorities' latest moves against Ivancic are part of a long-standing conflict between the HDZ and the few remaining independent periodicals. Feral Tribune announced in response that "totalitarian methods" are being used against Ivancic in "the beginning of a final settling of accounts between President Tudjman and all those who don't think like him," AFP reported on 8 May. -- Patrick Moore

Slovenian Premier Janez Drnovsek and U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry on 8 May signed an accord on closer defense cooperation. The agreement includes commitments to exchange classified military information, Reuters reported . Drnovsek also met with Vice President Al Gore during his trip to the U.S. -- Stan Markotich

The Romanian Workers' Party (PMR), an extraparliamentary group composed of "communist nostalgics," have erected a cross on the presumed grave of former dictator Nicolae Ceausescu in a Bucharest cemetery, Evenimentul zilei reported on 8 May. The day marked the 75th anniversary of the establishment of the Romanian Communist Party. Although Ceausescu himself was an atheist, his grave is now marked by a cross inscribed with his name and dates of birth and death. The PMR also placed a cross on the grave of Ceausescu's predecessor, Gheorghe Gheorghiu-Dej, whose body was removed from a pantheon to a regular cemetery. -- Michael Shafir

The Moldovan parliament on 8 May rejected President Mircea Snegur's proposal to reshuffle the cabinet but urged the premier to consider whether some government officials are suitable to hold office, Moldovan and international agencies reported. The parliament said that the government is failing to carry out its program on social security reform. It also ordered the cabinet to come up with a plan over the next two weeks to deal with wage arrears. Two days earlier, Snegur said on Moldovan TV that "many government members are simply unable to carry out their constitutional obligations." He called upon the parliamentary majority to cooperate with the president's office in reshuffling the cabinet, and he threatened to call a national referendum if deputies rejected his request. -- Matyas Szabo

Moldovan and Russian officials, meeting in Chisinau on 8 May, agreed to establish a joint commission on procedures and deadlines for withdrawing Russian troops from eastern Moldova, international agencies reported, quoting ITAR-TASS. The decision came at the end of a two-day talks on the Russian troop withdrawal from Moldova's breakaway Dniester region. The next round of talks has been scheduled for the fall in Moscow, Infotag reported on 8 May. -- Matyas Szabo

IMF Bulgaria mission chief Ann McGirk arrived in Sofia on 8 May, just as the lev "decided to demonstrate the desperate situation throughout the whole country" by dropping significantly against the U.S. dollar, Pari reported the next day. On the interbank market, the Bulgarian currency fell by another 30 leva, reaching 136.5 to $1 at one bank. The Bulgarian National Bank acknowledges it is powerless to arrest the decline because of its tiny foreign reserves ($670 million on 30 April) and massive imminent foreign debt payments. On 9 May, it was offering an exchange rate of 112.84 lev to $1. Dealers have observed that a reassuring announcement--either from the IMF on a new credit or from the BNB on a policy change--is needed to calm the market. -- Michael Wyzan

Albanian President Sali Berisha announced a day of mourning on 9 May following a boat accident in which 13 teenagers and one adult drowned, AFP reported. The boat capsized on Lake Prespa, near the border with Greece and Macedonia, two days earlier. Police suspect that the boat was overloaded. The youths, aged 17-18, came from Starova and Pogradec and had planned to visit a church on Maligradi Island. The boat was only some 100 meters from the shore when it sank, but most of the youths could not swim. Four survived the accident. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave