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Newsline - July 30, 1996

President Boris Yeltsin met with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin 30 July, the president's press service announced, dismissing suggestions that Yeltsin was ill or dead, Reuters reported. Rumors about Yeltsin's condition were causing concern on international markets. The Los Angeles Times reported on 29 July that Yeltsin's latest disappearance "has left Kremlin watchers ever more mystified as to who is running Russia." Although aides continue to deny that he is seriously sick, Yeltsin has been out of the public eye for more than a month. U.S. Vice President Al Gore, the only foreign leader to meet with Yeltsin during this period, declared him fit. -- Robert Orttung

President Yeltsin agreed on 29 July with Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed's suggestion to appoint Nikolai Mikhailov as the deputy chairman of the Security Council, NTV reported. Mikhailov, 59, has a doctorate in economics and served as the president of Vympel Corporation, which designs and manufactures anti-missile systems. Mikhailov was one of 13 bankers and industrialists who published an appeal to presidential candidates Yeltsin and Gennadii Zyuganov on 26 April, calling for a political compromise to avoid splitting society (See OMRI Daily Digest , 29 April 1996). The appointment suggests that Yeltsin is continuing a policy of fostering competing centers of power among his key advisors. -- Natalia Gurushina and Robert Orttung

A local court in Samara released Valerii Yerofeev, editor of the weekly Vremya-Iks, after sentencing him to 10 months in prison, exactly the time he had already served, the Moscow-based Globus Independent Press Syndicate reported on 29 July. Yerofeev was arrested in September 1995 after his paper published articles alleging that city police officers were taking bribes from brothel owners. His trial, which lasted from 18 June to 29 July, was closed to journalists. Watchdog groups including the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists had protested that there were no grounds to hold the trial in closed session and that Yerofeev's prolonged pre-trial detention was unwarranted given his poor health. -- Laura Belin

Talip Ozshelik and Meshmet Ali Tekin, the two Turkish journalists recently sentenced to three years in prison by a district court in the Republic of Dagestan, have been released, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 July. The two were found guilty of entering Russia illegally in November 1994 (see OMRI Daily Digest, 9 July 1996). Reviewing the case, the Dagestani Supreme Court reduced their sentences to eight months, exactly the time served since their arrest. -- Laura Belin

Several newspapers that supported President Yeltsin's re-election with one-sided coverage during the campaign have resumed printing articles criticizing official policies, as was their practice before the spring of this year. For example, a Moskovskii komsomolets headline on 30 July declared, "Yeltsin apparently has sclerosis"; commentaries claimed the president had forgotten his campaign promises to end wage arrears and the war in Chechnya. On the same day, Izvestiya ran a story suggesting Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin, a leading member of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia movement, may be involved in corruption. Izvestiya also recently completed a four-part series on corruption in Primorskii Krai, whose Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko campaigned actively for Yeltsin. -- Laura Belin

For the second time this year, Chechen chief of staff Aslan Maskhadov on 29 July escaped an assassination attempt uninjured, Russian and Western agencies reported. A group of gunmen opened fire on the car in which Maskhadov was traveling in Nozhai-Yurt raion in southeast Chechnya; one attacker was shot dead by Maskhadov's bodyguard. On 9 April, 10 people were killed when a bomb exploded in a cemetery where Maskhadov was due to speak. Akhmed Zakaev, an aide to acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandabiev, told ITAR-TASS on 29 July that Chechen field commanders had reaffirmed their readiness to continue talks with Russian representatives on implementation of the 27 May and 10 June agreements; he also denied any splits within the Chechen ranks. Field commander Salman Raduev, however, was quoted by NTV as stating that he refuses to comply with Yandarbiev's orders to desist from further terrorist acts. -- Liz Fuller

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov addressed a Moscow gathering of Russian ambassadors to the CIS countries on 29 July, Russian media reported. Primakov denounced "some forces" in the West for their "negative attitude" toward CIS integration, which he attributed to a desire to block the emergence of a "powerful center" in the new post-cold war multipolar world. He argued that all CIS states have a "common interest" in the expansion of NATO's "military structures," and urged the assembled diplomats to convince other CIS states to support Russia's stance on the issue. Chernomyrdin said Russia will continue pursuing a course of "pragmatic" integration with the CIS. -- Scott Parrish

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Andreev expressed "regret" on 29 July at the news that China had carried out a nuclear test, ITAR-TASS reported. But Andreev hailed the simultaneous Chinese decision to join the voluntary moratorium being observed by the other four declared nuclear powers pending the conclusion of a Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty (CTBT). Also on 29 July UN-sponsored multilateral talks on the treaty opened in Geneva. While Russia, France, Great Britain, and the United States all now support a compromise draft CTBT, China and India, among others, still have objections to some of its provisions, and it remains unclear when the treaty will be signed. -- Scott Parrish

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov met in Paris with his German counterpart Klaus Kinkel on 29 July to discuss European security, the controversial issue of so-called "trophy art" captured during WW II, and the situation in Chechnya, international media reported. Both diplomats are in the French capital for the 30 July G-7 sponsored anti-terrorism meeting. Afterwards, Primakov said that Russia regards the "exaggeration" of the "non-existent problem" of Bosnian Serb leaders and internationally-wanted war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic as a threat to the orderly holding of elections in Bosnia scheduled for September. While the United States has reportedly been pressing for Karadzic's exile, Primakov argued that since both leaders had already ended their "political activity," the elections should now be the top priority for the international community. -- Scott Parrish

The Railway Ministry's military protection administration has been put on an emergency footing because of the number of bomb alerts on Russia's railways in recent days, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 July. The number of patrols on trains and stations has been increased following one explosion and three attempted bomb attacks in the past 10 days. -- Penny Morvant

Workers at the Leningrad nuclear power plant on 29 July suspended a month-long protest over wage arrears until mid-August, ITAR-TASS reported. The chairman of the plant's trade union said that the protest had been halted because the plant's director has been sacked and his replacement has pledged to produce a timetable by 9 August for paying back wages totaling 25 billion rubles ($5 million). The protest began on 24 June but was temporarily suspended during the presidential elections. -- Penny Morvant

The largest part of Russia's gold reserves will be moved to Sverdlovsk Oblast, President Yeltsin's home region, NTV reported on 29 July. The gold will be placed in a secret bunker in the woods, 70 kilometers from Yekaterinburg, the oblast's main city. According to NTV, the bunker, which was built as a shelter in case of nuclear war, hosted Russia's "reserve government" headed by Oleg Lobov during the coup attempt in Moscow in August 1991. During World War II, part of the gold reserves was also moved to Sverdlovsk Oblast. Experts say that dispersing the reserves increases security. -- Anna Paretskaya

A round table of businessmen and parliamentarians from Russia and the U.S. met in London on 29 July and called for a redoubling of efforts to remove administrative and legal barriers to foreign investment in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. Minister of Fuel and Energy Yurii Shafranik told the gathering that projects worth a total of $27 billion are under consideration. However, First Deputy Speaker of the Duma Aleksandr Shokhin urged that projects include provision for the purchase of equipment from Russian manufacturers. Foreign investors were shocked by the Duma's failure on 19 July to pass amendments to bring existing legislation into conformity with the production sharing law passed last year. -- Peter Rutland

Georgian procurator- general Djamlet Babilashvili, in an interview with the official government newspaper Sakartvelos respublika on 29 July, charged that senior officials, including prime ministers and their deputies, passed 1,500 decrees and instructions between 1991 and 1995 that were detrimental to the country's interests, ITAR-TASS reported. Some decrees were illegal, he said. Babilashvili chairs a state commission investigating the financial activities of the Georgian cabinet; he hinted that its findings could form the basis for initiating criminal proceedings. Babilashvili's statement could herald the arrest of former Prime Minister Tengiz Sigua, who was dismissed by President Eduard Shevardnadze in 1993 and was compromised by his support in early 1995 for the abortive crusade by former Defense Minister Tengiz Kitovani to reconquer the breakaway region of Abkhazia. Also on 29 July, in his weekly Georgian radio interview, Shevardnadze again reiterated that there are no political prisoners in Georgia. -- Liz Fuller

Yurii Yukalov, the former ambassador to Zimbabwe, will replace Vladimir Kazimirov as chief Russian mediator in talks over the Karabakh conflict, Noyan Tapan reported on 29 July. Baku was reportedly unhappy with the work of Kazimirov. On 26 July a mission from the Azerbaijan Milli Majlis (parliament) led by Zakhid Garalov concluded its visit to Georgia. Among the issues discussed was the possible creation of a joint force to guard the oil pipeline across Georgia. It was agreed to form a standing conference between the Georgian and Azerbaijani parliaments. -- Peter Rutland

On 26 July the U.S. Senate approved a $95 million aid bill for Armenia, the largest since independence, Groong reported on 29 July. The Senate also approved a continuation of the ban on U.S. aid to the government of Azerbaijan, which was introduced in 1992 in response to its blockade of Armenia. The House version of the bill included for the first time provision for aid for the 115,000 refugees in Nagorno-Karabakh, but this was absent from the Senate draft. Remaining differences between the two bills will be reconciled on 31 July. -- Peter Rutland

An ITAR-TASS correspondent was allowed into the town of Tavil-Dara on 27-28 July. The unnamed correspondent confirmed that Tajik government forces had regained control of the town on 12 July. The date has been disputed by the opposition which claims the government launched an offensive to reclaim the town after a ceasefire agreement had been signed in Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. There has been no other independent confirmation of the situation in Tavil-Dara. Fighting continues in many of the villages surrounding the town. -- Bruce Pannier

Mohammed Osimi, the 76-year-old former president of Tajikistan's Academy of Sciences, was shot and killed near his home by an unidentified assailant on 29 July, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL reported. Osimi was the leader of the Payvand organization which keeps in touch with Tajik communities around the world. He was not known to have been involved in any political activity. Security services in Tajikistan speculate the murder was aimed at further destabilizing the situation in the country but have no leads to the murderer. -- Bruce Pannier

At a ceremony at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development in London on 29 July, Western investors signed off on a seven-year, $1.5 billion plan to develop the aluminum industry in Kazkahstan, RTR reported. The project includes the development of a new bauxite deposit in Kostanai and new processing facilities at the main Pavlodar plant. -- Peter Rutland

Leonid Kuchma issued a decree on 27 July providing for the reorganization of some 20 ministries and departments in an effort to streamline the government, Ukrainian agencies reported. The Chornobyl ministry and the Civil Defense agency have been merged to create a Ministry for Emergency Situations. A Ministry of Information has replaced the Ministry of Press and Information and the Ukrinform news agency. The president also replaced the Ministry of Sport and Youth with a Ministry of Family and Youth Affairs and a State Committee for Physical Culture and Sport. The Ministry for Nationalities, Migration, and Religious Issues has been abolished and a State Committee for Nationalities and Migration created. Several former agencies have been merged into a single State Committee for State Secrets and Technical Protection of Information. Finally, a Ministry of Science and Technologies has been set up, and the National Committee for AIDS Prevention has been subordinated to the Health Ministry. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Black Sea Fleet commander Viktor Kravchenko said on 28 July, Russian Navy Day, that Sevastopol will remain the main base of the Black Sea Fleet, UNIAN reported. The previous day, Kravchenko outlined on St. Petersburg TV the future composition of the Russian part of the Black Sea Fleet, which, he said, would consist of a western group of forces stationed in Crimea and an eastern group based on Russia's Caucasian coast. The fleet will be mobile and capable of carrying out any task in the Black Sea region, he added. -- Ustina Markus

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has announced that all political rallies are categorically banned "while the peasant is out working in the fields" until winter, NTV reported on 29 July. "Everyone must work instead of organizing campaigns to put the president out of office," he said. Industrial managers and state officials would be held responsible if political demonstrations were held. Lukashenka called on collective farm workers to unite around him and put those "who hoped to see the harvest fail" to shame. -- Ustina Markus

Aleksander Shokhin, first deputy speaker of the Russian Duma, has sent a letter of apology to Belarusian parliamentary speaker Syamyon Sharetsky for the provocative statements made by Russian deputy Viktor Ilyukhin, Belarusian radio reported on 28 June. Iluykhin last week accused the CIA of drawing up a plot to destabilize Belarus from Poland with the help of Ukrainian radical nationalists. The allegations were ridiculed in the Russian, Belarusian, Ukrainian, Polish, and Western press. Shokhin said the Duma considered Ilyukhin's charges to be an expression of his personal views. He apologized to Belarusian deputies for the statements, which, he said, only complicated the process of integration between Russia and Belarus. -- Ustina Markus

The IMF on 29 July announced it will give a $20 million stand-by credit to Estonia to support the government's 1996-1997 economic program, Western agencies reported. Estonian officials. however, noted that the republic did not intend to use the credit, except in the "unlikely event that an unexpected balance of payments need were to emerge." Before the announcement, Prime Minister Tiit Vahi met with IMF representatives in Tallinn to discuss Estonia's memorandum to the organization outlining the country's economic policies. -- Saulius Girnius

The public organization Equality of Rights has founded the political party Movement for Social Justice and Equality of Rights, BNS reported on 29 July. The organization will be disbanded after the new party registers with the Ministry of Justice. The party opposes Latvia's integration into either NATO or the EU and calls for granting Latvian citizenship to all permanent residents. It also urges Latvia to abide by the Declaration of Human Rights and stresses the need for state-guaranteed higher education in Russian. The party was founded by 221 Latvian citizens and will accept non-citizens into its ranks after registration. -- Saulius Girnius

Algirdas Brazauskas on 28 July signed a decree calling for an indefinite moratorium on capital punishment in Lithuania, Western agencies reported. He said the decision is intended to "promote Lithuania's integration with European organizations." The parliament, which will reconvene on 10 September, must approve the decree. Polls in Lithuania indicate that owing to the high crime rate, some 70% of population are opposed to the abolition of the death penalty. Nine people in Lithuania are currently sentenced to death. -- Saulius Girnius

A Warsaw court on 29 July acquitted Gen. Czeslaw Kiszczak, interior minister from 1981 to 1989, of charges that he had allowed police to shoot at striking miners at the Wujek and Manifest Lipcowy collieries in 1981, Polish media reported. Nine miners were killed and 25 injured in the shooting, which took place in December 1981, following the declaration of martial law. Kiszczak had pleaded not guilty and had told the court he authorized the police to shoot in self-defense. The judge concluded that authorizing the police to fire was not the same as giving them an order and that there was no proof that Kiszczak's action resulted directly in the deaths. His acquittal was greeted in court with shouts of "Shame" and "Down with Communists." Prosecutor Leszek Piotrowski said he would appeal the verdict. -- Jakub Karpinski

Former Privatization Minister and current opposition member Janusz Lewandowski on 29 July charged that Poland's post-communist government has permitted a "second nationalization" of privatized firms, Polish dailies reported. He accused the government of allowing state-owned banks and foreign-trade enterprises to purchase significant shares in privatized state enterprises. He also criticized the declining numbers of large firms sold after 1993 through initial public offerings and tenders as well as the lack of progress in privatizing the energy, chemical, pharmaceutical, telecommunications, banking, and insurance sectors. Lewandowski's charges were dismissed by a Privatization Ministry spokesman as having a "political character." -- Ben Slay

Some 300 Roma from Brno have so far signed a petition calling for extreme-right leader Miroslav Sladek to be severely punished for racist remarks to the parliament, Czech media reported on 29 July. Sladek on 25 July said in front of TV cameras that "Gypsies should be made criminally responsible right from their birth because [their birth] is, in fact, their biggest crime." A number of Czech politicians and groups have demanded that Sladek be punished; but since he has immunity as a parliamentary deputy, this may be difficult to achieve. The Romani Democratic Congress has announced it will nonetheless sue Sladek on charges of instigating genocide and defaming a race. Some activists have suggested that the government ask the Constitutional Court to disband Sladek's Republican Party, which currently has 18 seats in the 200-member parliament. The parliament's Immunity Committee will decide whether to punish Sladek following the parliamentary summer recess. -- Jiri Pehe

Conflict has raged in the media over Culture Minister Ivan Hudec's dismissal on 22 July of Peter Mikulik, stage director at the Slovak National Theater (SND). Hudec replaced Mikulik with actor Lubomir Paulovic and renamed the SND the P. O. Hviezdoslav Theater. SND dramaturg Martin Porubjak told Narodna obroda on 30 July, "I do not consider Paulovic a director at the P. O. Hviezdoslav Theater, since such a theater does not exist and no court would accept his appointment.... He was supported neither by the SND's director-general nor by a single actor." Previously, SND department chiefs were named by the Culture Ministry at the recommendation of the SND's director-general, but a new directive took effect on 1 January allowing the culture minister to name department directors without the director-general's agreement. Porubjak said the move conflicts with the civil and labor codes. Several famous actors have announced that they will leave the theater in protest. -- Sharon Fisher

Owing to financing problems, the Hungarian authorities will close down the country's biggest refugee camp, AFP reported on 29 July, quoting an Interior Ministry official. The Nagyatad camp currently houses some 600 refugees from the former Yugoslavia, who will soon be transferred to a camp at Debrecen. At present, neither camp is used to full capacity. According to the ministry, the camp must be closed because this year's budget allocation for refugee support has been cut from $6.54 million to $5.2 million. Since the war broke out in the former Yugoslavia, Hungary has spent more than $1.3 million yearly on the Nagyatad camp alone. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

According to a Labor Ministry report, employees in the education sector are the lowest paid among public servants, Nepszabadsag reported on 30 July. Primary school and kindergarten teachers earn 38,000 forints ($250) and 32,000 forints a month, respectively, placing them last among professionals. High school teachers earned an average 45,000 forints a month last year, while university and college professors earned 53,000 forints. At the top of the list are lawyers and financial sector employees, with average gross monthly earnings of 111,000 and 76,000 forints, respectively. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Gojko Klickovic, prime minister of the Republika Srpska, has said the Bosnian Serbs are fed up with the international community's "permanent pressure" on them and will make "no more concessions," AFP reported on 30 July, citing SRNA reports. The hard-line premier has repeatedly opposed any steps aimed at "reuniting [the republic] with Bosnia-Herzegovina," thereby violating the Dayton peace accords, which define the Republika Sprska as one of the two entities composing a single Bosnian state. Meanwhile, the U.S. is expected to continue exerting pressure on Bosnian Serbs to deliver indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic to The Hague-based war crimes tribunal. Biljana Plavsic, acting president of the Republika Srpska, noted last week that Karadzic and his military counterpart, Ratko Mladic, "will definitely not be going to The Hague," Nasa Borba reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Mile Puljic, head of the Bosnian branch of the ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), has said the Bosnian Croats will not yield to "international blackmail" to accept the results of the elections in Mostar, AFP reported on 29 July. Puljic added that those results "harm the interests of the Croats." Mijo Brajkovic, the Croatian Mostar mayor, confirmed that the Croats will continue to boycott the city council, Slobodna Dalmacija reported on 30 July. Both Croatian officials were responding to Michael Steiner, the deputy of the High Representative to Bosnia, who on 28 July said the international community will not allow to be blackmailed by a "small group of mafiosi figures" in Mostar. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Two blasts on 29 July rocked the Croat-held town of Livno, AFP reported, quoting UN spokesman Alexander Ivanko. The bomb attacks wrecked two Muslim-owned vehicles and damaged a UN car, but no casualties were reported. Ivanko pointed out that the recent escalation of violence indicates a rise in tensions between Muslims and Croats. In other news, a bridge near Velika Kladusa, in northwestern Bosnia, was damaged in an explosion on 29 July, AFP reported. The town was the base of Fikret Abdic, the Muslim kingpin, who sided at various times with both Serbs and Croats fighting against the Bosnian government. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The Hague-based war crimes tribunal has announced that rump Yugoslavia will have until 23 July 1997 to prepare a defense against charges of genocide, AFP reported on 29 July. The government of Bosnia-Herzegovina first contacted The Hague in March 1993, alleging Belgrade was involved in genocide against Bosnia's Muslims and Croats. Several months later, Belgrade issued counter-charges, alleging that the Bosnian authorities were responsible for anti-Serbian atrocities. Meanwhile, rump Yugoslav Justice Minister Vladimir Krivokapic, in an interview with Vecernje novosti on 29 July, said Belgrade had already answered The Hague in the form of "a counter-plea in which [we] deny the charges." He added that "it was the Serbian people who were the victims." -- Stan Markotich

British Defense Minister Michael Portillo on 28 July began a three-day official visit to Romania, local and Western media reported. Portillo and his Romanian counterpart, Gheorghe Tinca, signed agreements on military relations, joint exercises, exchanges, and cooperation in arms production, Portillo was also received by Romanian President Ion Iliescu and is scheduled to meet with Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu and Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu. In other news, a July poll conducted by the Center for Urban and Rural Sociology and sponsored by the Soros Foundation shows a drop in the popularity of both the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) and President Ion Iliescu, Cotidianul reported on 27 July. Of the respondents, 33% said they would vote for the opposition Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), 29% for the PDSR, and 12% for the Social Democratic Union (USD). Iliescu won 40% of the vote (down 7 percentage points on previous polls), Emil Constantinescu (CDR) 28%, and Petre Roman (USD) 20%. -- Dan Ionescu

The parliament on 29 July appealed to President Mircea Snegur to sign the memorandum on the basic principles of normalizing relations between the Republic of Moldova and its breakaway Dniester region. The appeal pointed to
the joint declaration signed in January by Snegur, Russian President Boris Yeltsin, and the Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on the reaching a political settlement to the Dniester conflict as soon as possible. Two deadlines for signing the agreement have already been missed. In early July, Snegur suggested that the signing should be postponed until after the Moldovan presidential election, scheduled for 17 November. The parliament criticized him for failing "to speed up the [peace] process" in the region. -- Dan Ionescu

Interior Minister Nikolay Dobrev on 29 July met with parliamentary caucus leaders to ask for support for extraordinary measures to deal with terrorism, Bulgarian newspapers reported. Recently, there has been an outbreak of terrorist activities and bomb threats in Bulgaria. Among other things, Dobrev proposed increasing police presence on the streets. Meanwhile, Ivan Georgiev, leader of the tiny ultra-nationalist Bulgarian National Radical Party, fired five shots at the building of the Ministry for Economic Development on 28 July, Standart reported. Georgiev claimed he wanted to test the precision of his weapon on an improvised target in his apartment, which is located across from the ministry. But it is speculated that Georgiev deliberately fired at the ministry for political or personal reasons. The BNRP dismissed such speculation as provocation by "certain anti-nationalist circles" aimed at discrediting the party. -- Stefan Krause

The Bulgarian parliament has passed a revised 1996 budget on its second reading, Bulgarian and international media reported. The budget deficit has been increased by 38% to 80.7 billion leva ($431.5 million) or 4.8% of GDP. Almost 53% of expenditures will be used to service domestic and foreign debt. Meanwhile, Kalin Mitrev, director of the Center for Mass Privatization, announced on 29 July that the deadline for voucher holders to transfer their vouchers to investment funds or to relatives will be extended from 31 July to 15 August. Some 1 million people have transferred their vouchers to funds and 500,000 to relatives. -- Michael Wyzan

Nine high-ranking former communist officials went on trial in Tirana on 29 July, AFP reported. The nine are accused of genocide and crimes against humanity and face prison terms ranging from 15 years to life imprisonment or the death penalty. The main charge against them is mass deportations "for political, ideological, and religious reasons." It is Albania's fourth trial against former leading communists. So far, 15 former Communists have been sentenced to terms ranging from 16 years to life imprisonment. Defendants in the latest trial include former Politburo members Lenka Cuko and Llambi Geoprifti, other top party members, and former secret police officials. In other news, President Sali Berisha has set the date of the local elections for 20 October. -- Stefan Krause

Some 250 Albanian inmates of the Larisa prison have been on strike since the end of last week, Poli i Qendres reported on 30 July. They are demanding to be transferred to Albanian prisons in accordance with a bilateral convention signed in August 1995. Albanian prisoners in other prisons in Greece have joined the strike. The inmates say they want to serve the remainder of their sentences in Albania because they are systematically mistreated by Greek prison personnel. Secretary-General of the Greek Justice Ministry Georgios Pavleas commented that bureaucratic obstacles in Tirana are delaying the transfer, while the Albanian Embassy in Athens said the new government will solve the problem soon. -- Ismije Beshiri and Stefan Krause