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Newsline - July 2, 1996

President Boris Yeltsin's appearances on Russian television 1 July gave no explanation of why he had missed four days of crucial campaigning before the 3 July runoff. He looked weak, leading to increased suspicion that he had suffered a relapse of the heart disease that put him in the hospital twice last year. Yeltsin's aides, including Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, gave superficial assurances that everything was fine. Generally, the pro-Yeltsin media have barely mentioned his sickness. However, communist challenger Gennadii Zyuganov pressed the issue, demanding an official report of Yeltsin's health, Reuters reported. -- Robert Orttung

Yeltsin, in his last televised speech before balloting begins, on 1 July stressed the need to participate in the elections, according to NTV. Nezavisimaya gazeta the same day criticized the president for losing the initiative to his challenger Gennadii Zyuganov in the second round campaign. While Yeltsin merely stressed the need to vote, the new Secretary of the Security Council Aleksandr Lebed appeared everywhere, giving the impression that he was the candidate, the paper complained. Zyuganov addressed voters on ORT with a scathing attack on Yeltsin's record, criticizing him for the loss of Ukraine, the Chechen war, and reducing 80% of Russian citizens to poverty, among other things. -- Robert Orttung

Central Electoral Commission (TsIK) Chairman Nikolai Ryabov announced that he will file legal charges against the people responsible for prematurely publishing the results of second round voting in Kazakhstan, ITAR-TASS reported. The electoral commission in Almaty reported that President Boris Yeltsin had won 71% of the vote among Russians living in Kazakhstan, while Gennadii Zyuganov took only 24%, Ekho Moskvy reported. Russians there voted on 30 June because 3 July will not be a holiday. Ryabov said that the early release of voting results violated the right to a secret ballot and TsIK member Raif Bektagirov called the journalists who reported the information incompetent for "blindly passing on whatever comes [their] way." Voting also took place in Latvia and Estonia where Zyuganov did well in the first round, but those results have not yet been made public. The TsIK will not announce any results until all polling stations are closed. -- Robert Orttung

Russian Public TV (ORT) replaced a clip prepared by filmmaker Stanislav Govorukhin, intended for the Communists' last free airtime slot on 1 July, with a Zyuganov speech broadcast earlier in the day, ITAR-TASS reported. ORT Deputy General Producer Andrei Vasiliev explained that the broadcaster had no choice because the Govorukhin clip was 10 minutes instead of the five minutes allotted by law. ORT had asked the Communists to pay for the additional five minutes, but they did not transfer money into the ORT bank account before airtime. The communists criticized what they saw as ORT's refusal to run their ad. Vasiliev argued that ORT was acting within the confines of the law and denied that its decision was based on political motives. The station's news coverage is heavily biased toward Yeltsin. -- Robert Orttung

In remarks to journalists on 2 July, Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed said "I do not consider myself a full democrat, I am a semi-democrat," ITAR-TASS reported. Lebed expressed a preference for a strong presidency, saying that "parliamentary democracy is not [good] for this country." He argued that he was seeking additional powers "not for my personal interests, but for solving the problems of the security of the state." -- Peter Rutland

Lebed met with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov on 1 July to discuss a draft decree on combating crime in the capital, ITAR-TASS and Russian Public TV reported. The meeting was also attended by senior Interior Ministry officials, acting director of the Federal Security Service Nikolai Kovalev, Moscow Procurator Sergei Gerasimov, and Moscow City Court Chairwoman Zoya Korneva. Luzhkov said the president, who ordered the meeting, will hear a report on the document on 8 July. He promised that the decree would tackle problems such as the understaffing of courts and procurators' offices without restricting human rights. One of Lebed's key campaign pledges was to crackdown on crime and corruption, but his preference for tough methods has aroused concern about human rights violations. -- Penny Morvant

Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky announced that he will vote against both candidates in the runoff, AFP reported on 1 July. He won more than four million votes in the first round, 5.7% of those voting, and expects that his voters will follow his lead. Zhirinovsky had ruled out any kind of alliance with the communists and set conditions for a coalition with Yeltsin that the president would never accept. -- Robert Orttung

Windows of nearby buildings were blown out and many residents injured by flying glass after an explosion at a polling station in Grozny during the early morning of 2 July, ITAR-TASS reported. Voting in the second round of the Russian presidential election opens in Chechnya on 2 July. Four Russian-Chechen working groups convened on 1 July to discuss issues connected with the implementation of the 10 June peace agreement but made only negligible progress. -- Liz Fuller

Kenjiro Aoki, a preacher for the Reverend Sun Myung Moon's Unification Church, was expelled from Russia on 1 July for repeated visa violations, Russian and Western agencies reported. Aoki, who was first charged in April, pleaded guilty in the Tatarstan capital Kazan to charges of breaking Russia's passport regime, which still requires foreigners to list places where they visit. His departure comes days after Yeltsin's new security chief Lebed spoke out against the proliferation of religious sects in Russia (see OMRI Daily Digest, 28 June 1996). The U.S. State Department described Lebed's derogatory remarks about the Mormons as "worrisome." Many other Russian politicians and Orthodox Church leaders have expressed concern about the activities of cults and sects. -- Penny Morvant

Russian authorities refused to grant a visa to David Harris, director of the American Jewish Congress, who wanted to participate in a congress on Jews of the former Soviet Union in St Petersburg, AFP reported on 1 July. The refusal came despite intervention on Harris's behalf by the U.S. State Department. There have been several reports of harassment of Jewish Agency branches in Russia in recent months. Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed told reporters on 2 July that he intends to introduce a stricter visa regime for foreigners intent on visiting Russia, including citizens from former Soviet republics. He suggested countries will be graded by the extent of their "friendliness" towards Russia. -- Peter Rutland

Procurators in Stavropol Krai have launched criminal proceedings against Aleksei Kulyakovskii, Yeltsin's former special representative in the region, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 July. Kulyakovskii has been charged with illegal financial dealings, and investigators have said that they may turn to law enforcers abroad for help in locating accounts in his name in foreign banks. Yeltsin sacked Kulyakovskii in late May for misusing public funds intended for the development of the spa resort Mineralnye Vody (see OMRI Daily Digest, 24 May 1996). -- Penny Morvant

Russian Muslim religious leaders, at a conference on "Democracy and Islam's destiny in Russia," have supported the course of reforms and President Yeltsin as its guarantor, ITAR-TASS and Russian TV (RTR) reported on 1 July. At the conference, they established the Council of Russia's Muftis which aims to protect Muslims' rights and represent their interests in state structures. Meanwhile, a new political movement, the Muslims of Tatarstan, has been constituted in the Tatar capital Kazan, Segodnya reported on 28 June. The movement's leader, Mufti Khazrat Gabdulla, declared that it would not campaign for any presidential candidate, but be involved in politics in general. -- Anna Paretskaya

A major blast was prevented on 1 July at a transport hub in the North Caucasus, a spokesman for the Federal Security Service (FSB) told ITAR-TASS. A team of local and federal security officers located a powerful explosive device planted at the Prokhladny railway station between Mozdok and Vladikavkaz in North Ossetiya. The device was reportedly programmed to explode during the rush hour. The team had been investigating the Nalchik bus explosion, which killed five people on 28 June. -- Penny Morvant

The Pacific Fleet, for the first time, launched ballistic missiles simultaneously from "several nuclear submarines," a spokesman told ITAR-TASS on 1 July. The launches took place during a 28 June exercise, and were "recognized as successful," the spokesman said. The aim of the exercise was said to be to test "the actual combat readiness of the nuclear deterrence forces of the Russian Navy." Last week a navy official announced that the Navy would begin receiving a new generation of strategic submarines beginning in 2002. -- Doug Clarke

At a press conference on 1 July Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said that inflation was only 1.2% in June, down from 1.6% in May, ITAR-TASS reported. Inflation cumulated to 16.5% for the first half of 1996. The same day Chernomyrdin addressed the sixth meeting of the Consultative Council on foreign investments. Chernomyrdin tried to reassure the investors that Russia has achieved a degree of economic stability. Interviewed in Vek on 21 June, Economics Minister Yevgenii Yasin stated that foreign investment for the whole of 1995 amounted to only $230 million, but rose to $884 million in the first quarter of 1996. This figure seems rather high, and may include pledges as opposed to actual fund transfers. The figure did not include some $2.5 billion that foreigners have spent buying government securities. -- Peter Rutland

Nezavisimaya gazeta on 1 July published an open letter from leading Russian and American economists, including Leonid Abalkin, Stanislav Shatalin, and Nobel prize winners Vassily Leontieff, James Tobin, and Lawrence Klein. They argued that the government should play a greater role in the transitional economy, since laissez-faire policies have failed to achieve the desired results. -- Natalia Gurushina in Moscow

The new "inclined exchange rate" formally took effect on 1 July, ITAR-TASS reported. The Central Bank announced the day's exchange rate to be 5,119 rubles to the dollar. The new inclined rate system, similar to a "crawling peg," was introduced informally on 16 May, and replaces the "ruble corridor" introduced on 5 July 1995, when the band was set at 4,300-4,900 rubles to the dollar. The new system fixes the currency band at 5,000-5,600 rubles to the dollar for the next six months, with the Central Bank announcing an official rate each day based on the market rate. The system allows a gradual devaluation of the ruble while providing some predictability to the exchange rate. -- Peter Rutland

Antonios Tracatelis, the head of a European Parliament delegation, told a press conference in Yerevan at the end of a tour of Transcaucasus capitals that a joint commission will be established to supervise implementation of the cooperation and partnership agreement signed between Armenia and the EU, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 July. Tracatelis expressed the hope that a fair solution could be found to the Karabakh conflict which was the subject of discussion in all three capitals. -- Liz Fuller

Turkey's ultranationalists and religious right are well organized and represented in the Turkophone republics of Central Asia and Azerbaijan, according to parliamentarian Ahmet Ketenci, Cumhuriyet reported on 1 July. The center-left deputy said three groups are active in Azerbaijan: those connected with the pan-Turkist MHP (National Action Party of Alparslan Turkes), the Islamist RP (Welfare Party of now Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan) and those linked with Imam Fetullah Gulen (a controversial cleric also known as Fetullah Hoca, who is involved in establishing dozens of middle schools in the former Soviet Union and the Balkans). -- Lowell Bezanis

Turkmenistan's President Saparmurad Niyazov has adopted a neutral posture on Russia's presidential election, according to a 30 June RIA agency report monitored by the BBC. Niyazov made it clear that Ashgabat seeks "good-neighborly" relations with Moscow whoever is elected president. He also pointed out that the two countries "don't have a single disputed or vague issue" between them. Meanwhile, on 28 June Niyazov decreed that private farmers are no longer required to sell their produce to the state at regulated prices, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 June. The BBC monitored report indicated that "strategic" types of produce (food, grain, and cotton) may only be sold on the domestic market while others may be exported. The ruling applies only to agricultural produce grown outside the state sector. -- Lowell Bezanis

The 30 June elections to the Mongolian parliament, the Great Hural, proved a surprise as the Democratic Union (DU) Coalition took 50 of 76 seats, Western media reported. The Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP), which had been in power since 1921 and still consisted of former communists, was expected to maintain its majority in the Hural, but inflation and unemployment persuaded voters to opt for change. The MPRP took 70 of the 76 seats in the 1992 elections. Among a field of 304 candidates the DU hoped simply to get 23 seats, enough for veto power. Former US Secretary of State James Baker was an observer at the elections and said Mongolia will be seen as having "successfully embraced democracy," according to AFP. Voter turnout was high at 87.3 %.-- Bruce Pannier

Yukihiko Ikeda, who arrived in Kyiv on 1 July for an official visit, met with his Ukrainian counterpart, Hennadii Udovenko, President Leonid Kuchma, and Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, international agencies reported. Ikeda welcomed Ukraine's commitment to shut down the Chornobyl nuclear power plant and offered $55 million in new credits to Ukraine, some $5 million of which is to be used to develop the country's electronic and telecommunications industry. Excluding this latest offer, Japan has provided Ukraine with around $150 million in credits since it gained independence. -- Ustina Markus

Alyaksandr Lukashenka has announced plans to introduce a "strict economic regime" that will primarily affect high-ranking public servants, Belarusian TV reported on 30 June. Lukashenka denied this was a "dictatorial move," saying it was normal in all "economically developed democratic states." Deputies and officials who continue demanding "cars, apartments, and currency for foreign travel" are the prime targets of his proposal. Radio Mayak reported that as of 1 July all Belarusian officials, deputies, and enterprise directors will be able to travel abroad only with the president's consent. -- Ustina Markus

Lukashenka has signed a decree transforming the parliamentary newspaper Narodnaya hazeta into a closed joint-stock company, Belapan reported on 29 June. The Republic of Belarus will have a 75% controlling share, while the remainder will belong to members of the editorial office's working collective. Mikhail Shymansky has been appointed director-general of the company and editor-in chief of the newspaper. Meanwhile, the Belarusian parliament has passed a draft resolution creating the post of commissioner for human rights, Belarusian Radio reported on 28 June. The previous day, the KGB Collegium met to discuss improving the agency's foreign intelligence activities. -- Ustina Markus

Tiit Reiman, head of the foreign trade department of the Estonian Economics Ministry, said trade with Ukraine increased significantly after a free trade agreement went into effect in March, BNS reported on 1 July. Exports to Ukraine in the first five months of 1996 were up 238% on the same period last year, increasing from 232 million krooni ($19 million) to 552 million krooni. Ukraine now accounts for nearly 6% of Estonia's total exports and is its sixth largest export partner. During the same period, imports from Ukraine rose by 229%. Also in the first five months of this year, Estonia's total imports and exports increased by 127% and 116%, respectively. -- Saulius Girnius

The Security Council, headed by President Guntis Ulmanis, convened on 1 July to discuss three recent murders in the Latvian armed forces, BNS reported. In separate incidents on 23 June, two soldiers were shot by their comrades after consuming alcohol. Three days later, a Latvian Home Guard officer was found fatally injured by gun shot in his apartment. Ulmanis said the passage of the new law on obligatory armed service must be sped up and military education should be resumed in schools. He said that neither armed forces commander Juris Dalbins nor Defense Minister Andrejs Krastins should resign because problems in the armed forces were linked to the attitude of society and the parliament toward the defense forces. Ulmanis also said that draft proposals on improving discipline in the army and raising the professional level of the officers would be sent to the parliament. -- Saulius Girnius

Vandals have overturned and destroyed more than 60 graves at Warsaw's Jewish cemetery, Polish media reported on 2 July. A police spokesman said the police have launched an investigation into the incident, which probably took place on the night of 28 June. The police informed the PAP news agency that the vandalism was likely the result of teenagers practicing karate rather than an anti-Semitic act. Menachem Joskovitz, chief rabbi of the 1,000 or so Jews living in Poland, urged the authorities to take strict measures to prevent such incidents in the future because, he said, they perpetuated the "stereotype of Poles as anti-Semites." Meanwhile, President Aleksander Kwasniewski, meeting with government officials and Jewish community leaders on 1 July, pledged his support for a plan to better preserve the former Auschwitz death camp, now a museum. Kwasniewski will discuss ways to promote ties between Poland and U.S. Jewish groups during his visit to Washington and New York next week. -- Jakub Karpinski

As a formal consequence of the recent parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus submitted his government's resignation to President Vaclav Havel on 2 July, CTK reported. Later the same day, he is due to present Havel with a list of 16 ministers in a new minority government formed on the basis of the coalition agreement signed last week by the three parties in the outgoing center-right coalition. In the new cabinet, Klaus's Civic Democratic Party will no longer have a majority of posts. Instead, it will have eight ministers, while the Christian Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People's Party, and the Civic Democratic Alliance, will have four each. The new government is expected to be sworn in this week. -- Steve Kettle

At the parliamentary session on 1 July, Slovakia's ruling coalition demonstrated that the internal crisis has been resolved, Slovak media reported. The coalition parties united to remove from the session's agenda motions giving the Supreme Supervisory Office control over the National Property Fund (FNM) and implementing changes in the FNM Presidium. Motions to reconstruct the Slovak TV Board and to fill the second opposition slot on the board overseeing the secret service were also rejected. None of those motions will be discussed before September, the coalition said. Meanwhile, the parliament expanded its agenda to include discussion of the controversial territorial administration bill, which was vetoed by the president in April. It also passed a resolution asking authorities in the southern town of Velke Kapusany to abandon plans to build a monument commemorating the 1,100 anniversary of Hungarian settlement of the region. -- Sharon Fisher

Two senior EU officials visiting Bratislava on 1 July warned that Slovakia's political reputation does not correspond to
its economic realities, Narodna obroda and CTK reported. German State Minister of Foreign Affairs Werner Hoyer and French European Affairs Minister Michel Barnier said their visit--the first French-German mission of its kind--represented coordinated activity of the countries that are the "motors of European integration." Barnier stressed that key EU values include democratic culture and peaceful relations among member states. Hoyer said the draft penal code amendment on the protection of the republic, the recently passed law on foundations, legislation regulating minority rights, and the parliamentary majority's treatment of the opposition "have provoked certain emotions in the EU." -- Sharon Fisher

The IMF delegation to Hungary told Finance Ministry officials on 1 July that Hungary's macroeconomic progress is unlikely to be jeopardized by either the high rate of inflation or the social insurance deficit, which is larger than anticipated, Hungarian dailies reported on 2 July. The IMF has recently reviewed the government's economic program following the approval in March of a $387 million stand-by credit. But the government may be able to make good on only one of its promises to the IMF: to ensure the current account deficit stays below $2 billion in 1996. Finance Minister Peter Medgyessy recently admitted that the government will not be able to meet the IMF requirement to keep the budget deficit below 3.9% of GDP and that it will be unable to prevent real wages from dropping by more than 2% in 1996, as promised to trade unions earlier this year. Nor has a solution been found to reduce the ballooning social insurance deficit. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The pre-election convention of the governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) has endorsed incumbent President Radovan Karadzic for another term. The first time he was elected by the parliament, not by a direct vote. It is unclear whether Karadzic has accepted, international media reported from Pale on 1 July. He is an indicted war criminal, and the Dayton agreement bans such individuals from public life. Speaking of Karadzic's candidacy, the international community's High Representative Carl Bildt said: "That will be an interesting development, we'll see if that happens." The latest move of the SDS seems to be another attempt by the Bosnian Serbs to defy the international community and test the limits of its patience. Pale is also under pressure from Serbia to regulate its controversial leader to the sidelines. Washington and its allies insist that Karadzic resign, leave public life, and face charges in The Hague. -- Patrick Moore

The Bosnian Serb leader, who was reelected SDS president on 29 June, gave a major televised address to the party's executive committee on 1 July, Reuters reported. He stressed a now-familiar theme to his electorate, namely that his fight is theirs as well: "The international community is pressuring me not only to resign but not to engage in party business, not to support our candidates. Their opponent therefore is not Radovan Karadzic, their opponent is the Serbian Democratic Party. Their opponent is the Serb people.... They know that the people are determined to have their own country and oppose any forced mixing with others...That is why they will try everything so that the SDS does not win." -- Patrick Moore

The List for a United Mostar, led by east Mostar mayor Safet Orucevic, gained 48% of the vote in the recent municipal elections, while the Croatian Democratic Community of west Mostar mayor Mijo Brajkovic received some 45%, Oslobodjenje reported on 2 July. AFP, however, quoted an EU official who did not want to be named as suggesting that the ballot was fraudulent. "My impression is that everything has already been agreed," he commented. The 37-member City Council will be comprised of 16 Muslims and Croats each and five members of other nationalities. The election outcome confirms the nationalist polarization in the city and gives little hope for reconciliation. -- Fabian Schmidt

State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns on 1 July said that Washington will advocate reimposing sanctions if Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic remains in office, Reuters reported. Burns, however, stressed that Washington will not press for an embargo to be reimplemented in the near future. "I wouldn't want to lead you to believe that that's something that we're going to exercise today," he commented. Meanwhile, a high-ranking delegation of Bosnian Serbs, including Republika Srpska parliamentary speaker Momcilo Krajisnik, met with Slobodan Milosevic in Belgrade on 1 July, Nasa Borba reported. It is unclear whether the meeting was linked to Karadzic's continued maneuvering to retain power in the republic. -- Stan Markotich

Seven ethnic Albanian organizations have called for a rally in Tetovo on 4 July following the decision last week to reduce the sentences of Fadil Sulejmani, dean of the illegal Tetovo University, and other Albanian activists, Macedonian media reported. Sulejmani's supporters had been hoping that the sentences would be dropped altogether. Instead, his sentence was shortened to one year. Others sentenced include university professor Milaim Fejziu and former leader of the Party of Democratic Prosperity (PPD) Nevzat Halili. Sulejmani had earlier charged the PPD, which is represented in the parliament, with failing to support the interests of ethnic Albanians in Macedonia and of Tetovo University. Meanwhile, Serbian police have arrested Kosovar writer Agim Vinca because he had a three-year-old Albanian stamp in his passport. Before early 1996, Kosovars were prohibited from traveling to Albania. -- Fabian Schmidt

The Macedonian government on 1 July ordered that some 1,000 cattle infected with hoof-and-mouth disease be slaughtered, Nova Makedonija and Western media reported. It appealed to the EU to supply vaccines for the remaining cattle. The disease, which can affect humans, is believed to have come from Albania. Six villages near Skopje and a village in the Titov Veles region are mainly affected. Some 80 cows and 100 sheep have been killed near Kumanovo, in northern Macedonia, for fear that they might be infected. Skopje has tightened border controls with Albania and rump Yugoslavia has imposed restrictions on goods from Macedonia. One of three border crossings between Macedonia and rump Yugoslavia has been closed for all traffic and another for freight transports. -- Stefan Krause

Hillary Clinton arrived in Bucharest on 1 July on the first leg of a tour through seven CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEan countries, Romanian and Western media reported. Addressing some 3,000 people at Revolution Square in downtown Bucharest, she said the U.S. supports "the courageous efforts under way in Romania to build a new and lasting democracy." Members of the crowd chanted slogans directed against President Ion Iliescu and in support of exiled King Michael. The First Lady visited a pediatric AIDS clinic, a primary school, and a nursery school but called off a visit to the Kretzulescu church in protest at the intolerant attitude of the Romanian Orthodox Church toward Jehovah's Witnesses. She was also received by Iliescu at the presidential residence. Before leaving Romania on 2 July, she is expected to meet with representatives of non-governmental organizations. -- Dan Ionescu

An adviser to Moldovan President Mircea Snegur on 1 July said the signing in Moscow of a memorandum on normalizing Moldovan-Dniester relations has been postponed until after the second round of the Russian presidential elections. Infotag quoted the adviser as saying that Snegur, Igor Smirnov, president of the self-proclaimed "Dniester republic," and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma all canceled their trip to Moscow at the last moment. The memorandum was initialed on 28 June following talks brokered by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov and other Russian, Ukrainian, and OSCE officials. -- Dan Ionescu

The government on 1 July raised electricity prices by an average of 118% and telephone and postal rates by some 40%, Pari reported. The new prices take effect immediately. The government also pegged electricity, heating, and coal prices to inflation and the U.S. dollar. It discussed raising the minimum monthly salary from 3,040 leva ($19.4) to 4,000 leva on 1 July and 6,000 leva on 1 October. Other issues on the agenda were adjustments for employees to compensate for inflation and additional benefits for the socially needy. Meanwhile, the big trade unions called for protests against the latest price hikes and announced a wave of strikes. Miners went on a one-day nationwide strike on 2 July to protest the imminent closing of four mines, Trud reported. -- Stefan Krause

The Foreign Ministry on 1 July announced it will recall Ambassador to Albania Stefan Naumov and initiate legal proceedings against him, Reuters reported. Naumov has been accused by employees at the Tirana embassy of issuing them with death threats (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 June 1996). An investigation conducted by the Foreign Ministry substantiated these charges and concluded that Naumov harmed Bulgarian state interests and failed to fulfill his basic duties, a ministry spokesman said. President Zhelyu Zhelev must approve Naumov's dismissal. Naumov has denied all allegations and is expected to stay in Tirana, where he has strong personal ties. In other news, a national convention of dissident clergy under Metropolitan Pimen has opened in Sofia, Standart reported. On the agenda is whether to break away from the official Bulgarian Orthodox Church, headed by Patriarch Maksim. -- Stefan Krause

Addressing the new Albanian parliament at its inaugural session on 1 July, President Sali Berisha called on the Socialist opposition to take up their 10 seats in the 140-member legislature, Reuters reported. The Socialists and several other parties that were represented in the previous parliament have boycotted the new legislature, claiming the recent elections were fraudulent. Only Socialist Sali Rexhepi has said he will defy his party's policy and take up his seat. Berisha charged the opposition with seeking to "destabilize Albanian democracy and to tread upon Albania's sovereignty." International monitors, however, have confirmed irregularities in the ballot; and Western diplomats, including from the U.S., refused to attend the parliamentary opening ceremony. The new legislature is composed of 122 Democrats, three Republicans, two members of Balli Kombetar, and three members of the Human Rights Party. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and

Jan Cleave