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Newsline - August 12, 1996

Fierce street fighting continued for a seventh day on 12 August and showed little sign of abating, despite efforts over the weekend by federal troops backed by artillery, tanks, and helicopter gunships to blast Chechen fighters out of the city, Russian and Western agencies reported. On 9 August, NTV reported that federal troops had lost control over much of the city, and were reduced to defending isolated positions. Late on 11 August, reinforcements reached the besieged government complex in the city center, from which several trapped journalists had been broadcasting reports contradicting official dispatches that federal troops were gaining the upper hand in the fighting. Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov said on 11 August that 169 Russian troops have been killed and 618 wounded, but separatist spokesmen say up to 1,000 federal troops have died. Fighting is also reported in Gudermes and Argun, the two largest towns in Chechnya after Grozny. -- Scott Parrish

President Boris Yeltsin appointed Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed as his representative in Chechnya, Russian and Western agencies reported on 10 August. Lebed replaces Oleg Lobov, who had held the position since August 1995. On 11 August, Lebed flew to Dagestan, which borders on Chechnya, saying "there is no military solution" to the conflict. A spokesman added that Lebed views an immediate ceasefire and the withdrawal of Chechen fighters from Grozny as the basis for renewed negotiations. According to ITAR-TASS on 12 August, Lebed drove from Dagestan to Starye Atagi, a Chechen village about 20 km south of Grozny, to meet Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov. While details of the talks were not released, Reuters cited a separatist spokesman as saying that the two men had agreed that "real and extreme" steps should be taken to end the fighting. -- Scott Parrish

The Duma voted on 10 August to confirm President Yeltsin's reappointment of Viktor Chernomyrdin to the post of prime minister by a vote of 314-85 with three abstentions, ITAR-TASS reported. The constitution requires that the Duma approve a prime minister by at least 226 votes following presidential elections. To save face, the Duma Council, controlled by the opposition, decided to make the confidence vote a secret ballot. The discussion preceding the vote was relatively formal with Chernomyrdin giving a generally positive account of his performance as prime minister since the end of 1992, although he admitted some errors. Deputies asked only limited questions about Chechnya and the nonpayment and energy crisis in the Far East. Chernomyrdin denied that he is "one of the richest men in Russia," an assertion frequently heard because of his close ties to the gas monopoly Gazprom. Yeltsin did not personally present Chernomyrdin to the Duma as had been expected. -- Robert Orttung

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said that he approved a vote of confidence in Chernomyrdin to give him a chance to stop the disintegration of the Russian state, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 10 August. Zyuganov said that a power vacuum has been created in Russia because "the president is on permanent leave, the government has resigned, and the Duma is ineffective." Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii did not appear in the Duma during the vote, NTV reported on 11 August. However, his deputy, Vladimir Lukin, said that the freely-elected president has the right to pick his own cabinet. Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky said that he supported Chernomyrdin because Yeltsin would have otherwise nominated Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais as prime minister, forcing the Duma to reject him three times and allowing the president to call early Duma elections. Only Our Home Is Russia enthusiastically backed Chernomyrdin. -- Robert Orttung

Former presidential candidate Aman Tuleev has called on the Communist Party to start negotiations with Chernomyrdin about joining a coalition government, ORT reported on 11 August. He said the Communists cannot ignore the opinion of millions of Russians who voted for Yeltsin and that they should set aside party concerns to work with the government. Tuleev is a not a member of the Communist Party, but ran in the number three slot on its list in the Duma election and withdrew his presidential candidacy in favor of Zyuganov. Chernomyrdin is expected to unveil his cabinet later this week. -- Robert Orttung

In a special session following the vote to approve Chernomyrdin on 10 August, the Duma recommended that the president formally impose a state of emergency on Chechnya, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. The move is meaningless, since such a decree would require the approval of the Federation Council, which is on vacation until October, and there is no law defining how to implement a state of emergency although the constitution requires one. During the Duma session, Interior Minister Kulikov said that the rebels managed to enter Grozny because there were no defenses in place to protect the city, except for a few road checkpoints, and because there are not enough men and equipment due to the domestic economic crisis. The Duma also set up a consultative council on the Caucasus, to be chaired by Deputy Speaker Mikhail Gutseriev, that will study ethnic problems in the region. -- Robert Orttung and Anna Paretskaya

A special session of the State Commission on Regulating the Chechen Conflict met on 11 August, chaired by newly-reconfirmed Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, Russian media reported. Speaking after the session, Chernomyrdin said that federal forces in Chechnya must be reinforced and the crisis in Grozny resolved before any new negotiations on ending the conflict can begin. He added that in response to the Duma's request, the Justice Ministry is preparing the legal framework for declaring a state of emergency in Chechnya, although he said both the president and the Federation Council would have to approve before it could be implemented. Chechen head of state Doku Zavgaev, however, said after the meeting that Chernomyrdin's remarks do not mean that more federal troops will be sent to Chechnya, and he emphasized that only negotiations can resolve the conflict. -- Scott Parrish

President Yeltsin declared 10 August a day of mourning for victims of the current fighting in Grozny, Russian media reported on 9 August. He said state flags should be flown at half-mast throughout the country, and recommended that cultural institutions and broadcasters cancel all entertainment programs and activities on that day. Yeltsin described the seizure of Grozny by rebel Chechens as a well prepared attempt to scuttle the peace process with the federal government. Yeltsin also ordered Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov to launch an investigation into the attack on Grozny and to assess the behavior of Russian officials during the attack. -- Anna Paretskaya

The heavy fighting in Grozny has trapped thousands of civilians in basements and other shelters throughout the city, NTV reported on 10 August. While many prefer to hide rather than risk death by fleeing, several thousand others have begun to leave parts of Grozny where the fighting is less intense. The network said a column of refugees several kilometers long is streaming out of the city. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees reported on 9 August that 3,500 Chechen refugees have fled into neighboring Dagestan over the last three weeks, 500 of whom have arrived since the renewed fighting broke out in Grozny. -- Scott Parrish

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Prime Minister Chernomyrdin suggested in a meeting with representatives of the Duma's "Popular Power" faction that the regional elections could be postponed until next year, Segodnya reported on 9 August. He complained that the country's economy barely survived the serious shortfall of taxes that has occurred as a result of the presidential election. Meanwhile, Agrarian Party (APR) leader Mikhail Lapshin announced that his party will field gubernatorial candidates in about 15 regions, Radio Mayak reported on 11 August. Despite its failure in the 1995 Duma election, the party will also participate in elections to regional legislatures and local self-government institutions. About 50 governors and 30 legislatures are to be elected by the end of the year. -- Anna Paretskaya

Chernomyrdin said the battle against inflation is nearly over and the government's next step will be structural reform and industrial growth, ITAR-TASS and NTV reported on 10 August. He noted that ruble stabilization and the falling inflation rate (0.7% in July) should provide a basis for GDP growth of 14-15% and a 5% increase in per capita consumption by the year 2000. He stressed that the government will increase social spending to fulfill President Yeltsin's pre-election promises--which he said is worth an estimated 800 billion rubles ($152 million). The money will be raised by increasing excise taxes on alcoholic beverages, tobacco, and jewelry, and by cutting the number of federal ministries from 90 to about 60. The new custom duties on shuttle-traders (chelnoki) should bring in another $2 billion, he said. -- Natalia Gurushina

Eight people were injured when a bomb exploded on a train traveling from Astrakhan to Volgograd on 12 August, ITAR-TASS reported. The blast, the third incident on this railway line in the last month, occurred about 15 km outside Volgograd. Two days earlier, bomb disposal experts defused a device found at an intersection near Moscow's Vnukovo Airport. It is still unclear who is behind the recent series of bomb explosions and bomb scares on Russia's public transport system, but many believe there is a Chechen connection. Segodnya reported on 8 August that 449 crimes involving the use of explosives have been committed since the beginning of this year. Since 1995, the paper said, 34 metric tons of explosives have been stolen from warehouses, many of which belong to the Defense Ministry. -- Penny Morvant

About 500 miners at the Tulaugol pits in the Moscow coal basin are striking to protest a five-month delay in the payment of their wages, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 August. Fourteen miners have been on a hunger strike in the region for more than a week, while their colleagues have refused to work. Protest actions are also continuing in the eastern Donbass, with miners at 22 of Rostovugol's 23 pits taking some form of action, Izvestiya reported on 10 August. That day, about 3,000 angry miners took to the streets of Novoshakhtinsk to protest five-month wage arrears. On 9 August, several hundred miners took part in a protest meeting in the mining town Artem. Ten of the 14 pits in Primore are working, although miners have yet to receive all the money they are owed, Trud reported. -- Penny Morvant

Azerbaijani Interior Minister Ramil Usubov was quoted by Yeni Yuzyil on 10 August as saying many of the fugitives wanted in his country, "including those wanted for treason," are hiding in Turkey. He said his government has sought their extradition repeatedly, but Ankara has been unable to locate any of them to date. Turkey has denied these charges. In other news, the Turkish Daily News quoted the Azerbaijani Ambassador in Ankara, Mehmet Nevruzoglu, as saying the plans of the "secret" Armenian lobby in Turkey, which aims to open the Turkish-Armenian border for economic reasons, could hurt bilateral ties between Baku and Ankara. -- Lowell Bezanis

Armenian authorities have detained and disarmed a "large" number of what they described as Kurdish resistance fighters near the village of Tsorevan on the border with Turkey, Moskovskii komsomolets reported on 8 August. In other news, two high-ranking officers of the Armenian Interior Ministry--one responsible for personnel and the other for passports and visas--were sacked on 8 August for abusing their positions. Fifty people were hospitalized in the wake of an outbreak of typhoid in Vanadzor, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. -- Lowell Bezanis

Kazakhstani and Iranian officials signed an agreement in Almaty on 10 August that gives Kazakhstan access to Iranian ports on the Persian Gulf, Radio Mayak and RFE/RL reported. Kazakhstan will ship 2 million metric tons of crude oil annually to Iranian ports on the southern coast of the Caspian Sea, where it will be loaded and shipped south to the gulf. Iran will refine the oil and use some of it for domestic consumption. Last week, an ITAR-TASS report claimed that negotiations on this deal had stalled (see OMRI Daily Digest, 7 August 1996). -- Bruce Pannier

Seven people died and six people were wounded in a 10 August gunfight that broke out between rival gangs in the western Tajik town of Tursun Zade, Reuters reported. Officials in Tursun Zade stressed that the shoot-out was an isolated incident that had no political implications. An armed revolt took place in the town in late January. -- Bruce Pannier

Leonid Kuchma has re-appointed Mykhailo Zhurovsky as education minister and named Oleksander Osaulenko as statistics minister, Ukrainian TV reported on 8 August. Bohdan Babii has been appointed chairman of the State Committee on Oil, Gas and Oil Processing Industry and Stanislav Syvokin head of the State Committee for the Protection of Consumer Rights. Kuchma also appointed five oblast governors. In other news, Leonid Kuchma met with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in Moscow on the day of Yeltsin's inauguration, Ukrainian agencies reported on 9 August. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Thirty-five lawmakers in the Crimean legislature have requested that parliamentary leaders hold a special session to discuss those provisions on Crimean autonomy in the new Ukrainian constitution of which they disapprove, Radio Ukraine reported on 10 August. The lawmakers, who are members of four pro-Moscow caucuses, said they hoped the session will vote to call a region-wide referendum on those provisions as well as on points within the Crimean constitution they believe insufficiently guarantee the region's autonomy. The Crimean basic law has yet to be approved. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 8 August proposed to the parliament that a referendum on increasing his powers be held on 7 November, the anniversary of the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and a public holiday, Reuters reported. Parliamentary Deputy Chairman Henadz Karpenka said the referendum was "an attempt to distract people from growing economic problems." He also asked how Lukashenka would find the $2 million needed to hold the vote. Lukashenka has indicated that the referendum questions will include increasing the president's powers and extending the term of office for the head of state from five to seven years. Voters would also be asked whether they were in favor of changing the date of Belarus' independence day from 27 July, marking the republic's 1990 declaration of independence from the USSR, to 3 July, the day on which Minsk was liberated from Nazi occupation in 1944. -- Saulius Girnius

The Estonian Economics Ministry, Estonian Energy, the governor of Leningrad Oblast, the president of RAO Rossiya, and the director-general of Slantso mines have signed an agreement on the sale to Russia of 1.2 billion kilowatt-hours of Estonian electricity, ETA reported on 9 August. The energy is to be produced using oil shale imported from Russia. The agreement will help retain jobs in Estonian power stations and Russia mines and will also provide income to the Estonian Railway. Meanwhile, Taidus Linikoja, deputy head of the Estonian Department of Fisheries, on 9 August said agreement had been reached on the text of a fishing accord with Latvia, following talks in Tallinn with a Latvian delegation, BNS reported. -- Saulius Girnius

Tensions continue within Poland's coalition government between the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) and the Polish Peasants' Party (PSL) over the division of new cabinet posts, Polish media reported. These posts were created as a result of the reform of the central administration, finally approved last week. PSL leaders have apparently set their sights on the capturing one of the two new economic portfolios: the Economics Ministry or the Treasury. If they succeed, Finance Minister Gregorz Kolodko or Privatization Minister Wieslaw Kaczmarek, two of the more liberal members of the current cabinet, could be ousted. The reform abolishes seven existing ministries while creating six new ones. It strengthens the prime minister's position vis-a-vis the cabinet. -- Ben Slay

Jan Kalvoda on 9 August dismissed High State Attorney Libor Grygarek and Prague State Attorney Josef Kredba, Czech media reported. Their dismissal goes into effect at the end of the month. Kalvoda said the move is part of an attempt to approve the efficiency and prestige of the state attorney service. He added that the decision was based on "poor mutual communication between Kredba and Grygarek" and the "unpleasant situation" in the Prague city office. Kredba has failed to find a sufficient number of capable and qualified employees for his staff, thereby weakening the Prague office, Kalvoda said. Meanwhile, Grygarek "tolerated" the situation in Kredba's office rather than improving it, despite having the power to do so. Kalvoda is expected to name replacements this week. -- Sharon Fisher

Michal Valo told Radio Twist on 9 August that he was correct in declaring President Michal Kovac's pardon of two men charged in the Technopol fraud case (see OMRI Daily Digest, 9 August 1996) null and void. "In democracies and legal states, decisions on granting pardons cannot be understood as an absolutely arbitrary move of a monarch who grants a pardon whenever it occurs to murderers or some criminals," Valo said. He admitted the constitution does not lay down conditions for granting pardons, noting that he is not asking the Constitutional Court to override Kovac's ruling. He said that, instead, the court should explain whether the head of state can grant pardons "arbitrarily." Valo's move has been criticized as unconstitutional. If the prosecutor-general does not act according to the law, "Slovakia is headed toward not a legal but rather a police state," Sme commented on 12 August. -- Sharon Fisher

Hungarian Premier Gyula Horn told Hungarian TV on 11 August that the signing of the basic treaty with Romania is just around the corner, Hungarian dailies reported. Although discord over the Hungarian minority in Romania has stalled negotiations on the treaty since mid-1995, Horn said Hungary now accepts the Romanian interpretation of the Council of Europe recommendation on ethnic minority rights. He also announced that Foreign Ministry State Secretary Ferenc Somogyi will go to Bucharest next week to resolve any remaining issues. Meanwhile, a Romanian Foreign Ministry spokesman told Romanian TV that his country welcomes the Hungarian announcement. -- Ben Slay

The Interior Ministry has drawn up two proposals on legalizing prostitution in Hungary, Magyar Hirlap reported on 10 August. According to the first proposal, prostitutes would be limited to working in special "tolerance zones" to which the authorities would "turn a blind eye." The second states a prostitute would be required to be registered as an "individual entrepreneur" and would be subject to taxation. -- Ben Slay

More than 1,000 troops from 22 countries--most of which belonged to the former East bloc--begin a week-long military exercise in the U.S. on 12 August, RFE/RL reported. Participants include the three Baltic states, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Slovakia, Bulgaria, Albania, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, and Uzbekistan. The Czech Republic and Azerbaijan are sending observers. "Cooperative Osprey 96" is the largest exercise NATO has held in the U.S and is designed to integrate regular NATO forces with the eastern forces in combined peace-keeping on land and sea. Russia said it will not participate or send observers because of the high costs of transport, food, and equipment storage. -- Michael Shafir

IFOR began a pre-announced inspection tour of arms depots at the Bosnian Serb military headquarters of Han Pijesak on 10 August, Reuters reported. They visited one site at the mountainside stronghold built as part of Josip Broz Tito's defense system but were denied access to a second area. NATO the next day opened talks with the Serbs on the issue but also pulled its liaison officers out of Bosnian Serb civilian headquarters at Pale, the BBC added. The Serbs charged that IFOR was manufacturing an incident to distract attention from problems between the Croats and Muslims. However, a series of incidents has taken place at Han Pijesak and elsewhere in recent weeks, with the Serbs' testing the limits of NATO's patience by apparently violating the military provisions of the Dayton treaty. Under that agreement, all weapons sites were to have been registered with NATO by 18 April. -- Patrick Moore

Bosnian Muslims and Croats 10 August fought with sticks and stones in and around the town of Novi Seher, central Bosnia, Reuters reported. According to the Bosnian Radio, Croats prevented a group of Muslims from attending a planned Muslim religious festival and Muslims retaliated by blocking the main highway between the Muslim-dominated town of Zenica and Croat-held Zepce. Meanwhile, Croats from central Bosnia have sent a letter to Bosnian Federation President Kresimir Zubak complaining of being harassed by their Muslim neighbors, Oslobodjenje reported on 10 August. In other news, the same daily reported
on 11 August that Muslims are repeatedly being expelled from the Croat-held part of Mostar, while shooting and attacks on cars frequently take place in both halves of the town. -- Daria Sito Sucic

U.S. envoy to Bosnia John Kornblum visited Croatia on 10 August to press Franjo Tudjman to ensure that the Bosnian Croats will abide by the Dayton peace accords, Reuters reported. The EU on 9 August announced that the city council, which until recently had been boycotted by the Croats, will meet on 14 August to elect a mayor and deputy. But chief Bosnian Croat negotiator Mile Puljic complained to the head of the EU mission, Martin Garrod, that the council's Muslim president has not consulted his side. Meanwhile, Bozo Raic, head of the ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), lashed out at Garrod for saying that local elections will not be repeated in Mostar in September although they will take place in all other towns and cities in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Oslobodjenje reported on 12 August. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Two explosions hit a Bosnian Croat (HVO) military base at Rosulje in the Usora valley southwest of Doboj on 11 August, Reuters and Nasa Borba reported. Some vehicles were damaged, but there were no injuries in the unexplained incident. Tensions between Croats and Muslims have been high in the area in recent days. In an apparently unrelated development, a bomb went off in central Zagreb, causing neither damage nor injuries. Police said the device was the work of amateurs and unlikely to have been planted by Serbian terrorists, Western news agencies noted. -- Patrick Moore

In an official response to the summit meeting between Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman near Athens on 8 August (see OMRI Daily Digest, 9 August 1996), the Social Democratic Party of Montenegro (SDPCG) said the meeting served only to underscore Montenegro's "humiliation" and second-class status within the federation. The SDPCG added that it highlighted where power lies in Serbia-Montenegro and that the Montenegrin authorities have sovereignty only "in the decision-making of where to organize festivals and beach-football contests," Beta
reported. Meanwhile, Jovan Glamocanin, chair of the Radical Party Nikola Pasic, claimed that the presidents' summit was "a highly significant step forward for the implementation of the Dayton peace." -- Stan Markotich

The Liberation Army of Kosovo has claimed responsibility for bomb attacks on police stations in Podujevo and Pristina on 2 August, Beta reported on 10 August. In a letter to the Swiss Albanian-language weekly Bota Sot, the group warns that "the Albanian people of Kosovo will not be cheated by defeatists.... Nor will they lay down their arms until the occupied territories have been liberated." It added that in the future, "attacks to liberate the country will be fierce and merciless." Meanwhile, Milivoje Djurkovic, chairman of the Decani municipal council, said that unknown individuals threw or planted explosive devices at a housing complex for Serbian and Montenegrin refugees from Albania in Babaloc on 8 August, ATSH reported. Three unfinished houses were damaged by the explosion, but nobody was injured. -- Fabian Schmidt

Government spokesman Ion Mihai Rosca has denied a report by the
independent news agency Mediafax about an imminent reshuffle of the cabinet (see OMRI Daily Digest, 9 August 1996), Romanian media reported. He accused the agency of breaking the rules of professional journalism and "misinforming" the public. Rosca added that at a meeting last week between President Ion Iliescu and Premier Nicolae Vacaroiu, there was no discussion of a "massive reshuffle of the government." Vacaroiu, in an interview with Romanian TV on 10 August, also denied that a reshuffle was imminent. But an editorial in Adevarul on the same day said the report was accurate and based on sources from the major coalition partner, the Party of Social Democracy in Romania. Meanwhile, Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) Senator Valer Suian gave partial credibility to the report
by commenting that the government's reorganization would not affect ministers who are PUNR members. -- Michael Shafir

Nicolae Manolescu, chairman of the Party of Civic Alliance (PAC) and a literary critic, will run as the National Liberal Alliance (ANL) candidate in the presidential elections scheduled for early November, The Liberal Party `93 is the other member of the ANL. In other news, the Ecological Movement of Romania (MER) has elected Antonie Iorgovan as chairman and as the party's candidate in the presidential elections. The MER belongs to the Democratic Centrist Union (UDC), whose other members are the Agrarian Democratic Party (PDAR) and the Romanian Humanist Party. Iorgovan, who is considered the "father of Romania's constitution," will run against PDAR presidential candidate Ion Coja (a sympathizer of the interwar fascist movement in Romania), in a three-party ballot designed to determine who will be the UDC joint candidate. -- Michael Shafir

Veronica Abramciuc, head of the Moldovan Socialist Party's (PSM) National Relations Department, will run for president as an independent, BASA-Press reported on 10 August. Moldovan pundits believe that her decision to run as an independent can be attributed to both the split within the PSM and the Central Electoral Commission's refusal to register the Patriotic Popular Forces Bloc, to which the PSM belongs. Meanwhile, Pamant si oameni, the Agrarian Democratic Party of Moldova (PDAM) paper, stated that deputy Maricica Levitchi, who is also running as an independent, is not a member of the PDAM. Levitchi had left the PDAM to join President Mircea Snegur's Party of Revival and Reconciliation but later returned to the PDAM. -- Michael Shafir

President Zhelyu Zhelev on 10 August said that he believes the parliament should make a last effort to reach a compromise on the country's coat of arms, Reuters reported. He added that if the attempt fails, either the next parliament or a referendum should decide on the issue. Government and opposition are divided over whether the lion on the emblem should be crowned. Zhelev on 6 August vetoed the latest Socialist-sponsored coat of arms (see OMRI Daily Digest, 8 August 1996). In other news, the 18-floor Interpred building in central Sofia has been sold to the local Maxcom Holding and 12 unnamed individuals for $34 million, government officials said on 9 August. Maxcom committed itself to invest $5 million in the building over the next five years. The buyers will pay 30% of the price in cash and the rest in Bulgarian foreign and domestic debt bonds. -- Stefan Krause

Bulgaria's best-known clairvoyant has died of cancer in the Sofia government hospital at the age of 84, Bulgarian and Western media reported on 11 August. "Aunt Vanga," a blind peasant woman from Rupite in Pirin Macedonia, was revered for her clairvoyant and healing powers by Bulgarians, of whom more than 1 million are said to have consulted her, including intellectuals and politicians. Prime Minister Zhan Videnov and former communist dictator Todor Zhivkov are both reported to have sought her counsel. Opposition presidential candidate Petar Stoyanov also went to see her at the start of his campaign. In a condolence telegram, Videnov said "she lived not for herself but for the people.... That made her a living saint for us." Other top politicians also sent condolences to Vanga's relatives. -- Stefan Krause

The Socialists, the Social Democrats, the Party of National Unity, and the Agrarian Party on 9 August boycotted a meeting with President Sali Berisha to discuss preparations for the 20 October local elections, international agencies reported. The Socialists criticized Berisha's decree on setting up a permanent election commission, saying that while they welcomed such a commission, it should be based on a proper legal framework. Berisha has offered half of the commission's seats to the opposition but said that only parties currently participating in local government should be included. This means that the Democratic Alliance and the Democratic Party of the Right would have no representatives. It seems likely that if the opposition boycotts the electoral commission, it will also boycott the elections. The commission is scheduled to hold its first meeting on 13 August. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave