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Newsline - August 22, 1996

The commander of the Russian federal forces in Chechnya, Lt.-Gen. Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, rejected a telephone request by pro-Moscow head of state Doku Zavgaev on 21 August to rescind the ultimatum issued on 19 August to all residents of Grozny to leave the city within 48 hours, NTV reported. However, Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov told Russian Television (RTR) that Lt.-Gen. Konstantin Pulikovskii had acted "incorrectly" in issuing the ultimatum and implied he had done so on orders from someone outside the military high command. Russian Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed arrived in Grozny on 21 August and met with Tikhomirov, then traveled to the village of Novye Atagi south of Grozny for talks with Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov. Lebed subsequently canceled Pulikovskii's ultimatum, which he told journalists was "a bad joke" and an attempt to undermine the accords he had reached earlier with Maskhadov, according to ITAR-TASS and Radio Mayak. The Russian military high command then ordered a cessation of hostilities in Grozny; the city was quiet on the morning of 22 August, Reuters reported. Lebed and Maskhadov met again in Novye Atagi during the morning of 22 August. -- Liz Fuller

Late on 20 August U.S. President Bill Clinton sent a letter to President Boris Yeltsin expressing concern about the fate of the some 120,000 civilians remaining in Grozny, Russian and Western agencies reported. AFP said that this was the first direct appeal from Clinton concerning the Chechen conflict, which the U.S. officially regards as Russia's internal affair. The U.S. had apparently not received a reply from Moscow as of 12:00 Moscow time on 22 August. The 19 August ultimatum by Lt.-Gen. Pulikovskii caused a variety of foreign governments to warn Russia that the Chechen situation should be resolved through dialogue, not by force, although Clinton appears to have been the only head of state to react officially. Council of Europe speaker Leni Fischer reminded Moscow that when it joined that organization it promised to "find a political solution to the (Chechen) conflict," AFP reported on 21 August. Reuters reported on the same day that the UN World Food Program has asked the U.S. to fly in 140,000 emergency meals for refugees from Grozny: last month the U.S. sent 35,000 meals. Meanwhile, the Russian government complains that some 1,000 foreign mercenaries are fighting alongside the separatists, according to Rossiiskaya gazeta of 22 August. -- Peter Rutland

Several prominent human rights campaigners and State Duma deputies, including Sergei Kovalev and Sergei Yushenkov of Russia's Democratic Choice and Viktor Sheinis of Yabloko, called for massive political protests if the bloodshed in Chechnya is not ended, Russian media reported on 21 August. On the same day, a group of Russian Muslim clerics appealed to President Yeltsin to end the fighting, while the leaders of the Union of Muslims said they hoped Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed will find a solution for the crisis, ITAR-TASS and Radio Rossii reported. Meanwhile, a protest march organized by Obshchaya gazeta and supported by editors of several other Russian newspapers (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 August 1996) has been set for 5 September, pending approval by the Moscow city government, ITAR-TASS reported. The Soldiers' Mothers Committee, Moscow Helsinki Group and watchdog group Memorial have supported the march. -- Laura Belin

President Yeltsin returned from the lake region of Valdai to Moscow on the evening of 21 June and went to work at the Kremlin on 22 June, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported, citing Presidential Press Secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii. Yeltsin was shown briefly on Russian Television, and met with five of the six newly appointed ministers. -- Laura Belin

On 22 August President Boris Yeltsin appointed six additional ministers to his new government: Anatolii Zaitsev (Railroads), Yurii Bespalov (Industry), Petr Rodionov (Fuel and Energy), Viktor Orlov (Natural Resources), Tatyana Dmitrieva (Health), and Aman Tuleev (CIS Affairs). This signifies the departure from government of the long-standing fuel and energy minister, Yurii Shafranik. Also noteworthy is the appointment of Aman Tuleev to manage relations with the CIS. Tuleev, the head of the legislature in Kemerovo oblast, was a supporter of Communist presidential candidate Gennadii Zyuganov. The post of minister of culture is still vacant. -- Peter Rutland

Aleksandr Korzhakov, President Yeltsin's former top bodyguard, told Argumenty i fakty that he was fired because he tried to limit rampant corruption in the Kremlin and complained: "One gets the impression that nearly all top officials are working to loot state property," Reuters reported on 21 August. Korzhakov was sacked on 20 June, the morning after his men detained and interrogated two Yeltsin campaign officials who were found carrying more than $500,000 in cash. The campaign workers had links to Korzhakov's longtime enemy Anatolii Chubais, who became Yeltsin's chief of staff shortly after Korzhakov's ouster. Moskovskie novosti (No. 33) reported that Korzhakov, along with former Security Service head Mikhail Barsukov, possesses many documents incriminating top officials. In the near future, he will use the media both to attack his main opponents in the Yeltsin camp and to protect himself, the paper said. -- Laura Belin

The 30 soldiers who deserted from an internal troops unit in Perm on 18 August returned after a senior commander guaranteed their safety, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 August. The troops ran away and camped in the woods in order to escape what they described as "unbearable" hazing (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 August 1996). ITAR-TASS reported that the soldiers who "terrorized" the deserters have been transferred and that the unit's commanders are being investigated to find who is guilty of allowing the "critical situation" to develop. According to Radio Rossii, six soldiers suspected of instigating the hazing have been sent to a military prison and a criminal case has been opened against them. -- Laura Belin

Moscow police have detained three people who demanded a $5,000 ransom for a 19-year-old girl kidnapped 10 days earlier, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 August. Meanwhile, eight young people, including two Vietnamese, were shot dead in the town of Borovichi in Novgorod Oblast. The killers opened fire with submachine-guns in a local cafe, named "Banzai!" around midnight on 19 August. No motive was reported. -- Anna Paretskaya

The Moscow customs department confiscated smuggled goods worth 89 billion rubles ($17 million) between 22 July and 15 August, the department's spokesmen Sergei Milokostov said. Tobacco products accounted for 48 billion rubles and alcohol 14 billion of the seized goods, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 August. Small amount of narcotics and three handguns were also seized. Meanwhile, Amur Oblast police detained 53 local drug dealers and 23 dealers from Central Russia, Sakhalin, and Central Asia, Radio Rossii reported. About 130 kilograms of marijuana was confiscated. Krasnodar Krai Governor Nikolai Yegorov signed a decree allowing krai law enforcement agencies to keep for themselves one-quarter of goods or money confiscated from criminals, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 August. According to experts, the decree will provide these agencies with a financial stimulus to work more effectively. -- Anna Paretskaya

Local businessmen held a spontaneous demonstration in the city of Pskov on 21 August to protest the city council's decision to restrict the alcohol trade, ITAR-TASS reported. According to a new instruction, hard liquor may be sold only in shops with special storage premises and alarm systems. If the decision comes into affect, many stalls which now sell drinks will be shut down and hundreds of stallholders will lose their jobs. Last month, restrictions on trade in spirits were introduced in Moscow (see OMRI Daily Digest, 23 July 1996). -- Anna Paretskaya

Moscow metro construction (Metrostroi) workers returned to work after two days of striking over unpaid back wages, NTV reported on 21 August. Metrostroi trade unions reached agreement with the government that within 10 days the workers will be paid 130 billion rubles ($25 million) of overdue wages. If the money is not paid, Metrostroi workers will go on strike again. -- Anna Paretskaya

Primorskii Krai miners will resume their strike on 26 August if they are not paid their June salaries, which Yurii Malyshev, general manager of the federal coal company Rosugol, has promised them, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 August, quoting regional trade union leader Petr Kiryasov. The krai energy workers also plan to start an indefinite strike in September if they fail to get 108 billion rubles ($21 million) of back wages. They also may stop supplying all regional enterprises and individual consumers with electricity. Meanwhile, the crew of a Russian cargo ship announced that it will block the major Black Sea port of Sochi until the ship owner pays wages owed for six months, according to ITAR-TASS. -- Anna Paretskaya

As expected, the IMF Executive Board declared on 21 August that it will approve the release of the $330 million July tranche of the $10.1 billion Extended Fund Facility granted to Russia in February this year, ITAR-TASS reported. The July payment was suspended because of concern over the 40% shortfall in tax collection in the first half of the year. The IMF has apparently satisfied itself that the Russian government is taking steps to address the problem. -- Peter Rutland

Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin said in an interview with Delovoi Mir of 21 August that there is little chance of a sudden financial crisis. He argued that banks are more cautious, experienced, and cooperative in their lending policies, so another domino crisis of failed payments of the sort experienced last August is most unlikely. Dubinin said the position has also been stabilized by the slowdown in inflation -- which was only 0.7% in July and 16.3% since January, Reuters reported on 22 August. However, Pravda-5 argued on 21 August that the financial position of many of Russia's 2,100 banks is precarious and that even large banks are vulnerable. Rumors about Inkombank, Russia's fifth largest, in mid-July caused depositors to withdraw about 160 billion rubles ($30 million), or 15% of its assets. -- Peter Rutland

In accordance with the preferences of the Kazakstani government and several international media sources, OMRI has decided to change the spelling of Kazakhstan, a Russian-derived transliteration, to Kazakstan.

Temur Kurdiani, a member of the Mkhedrioni informal paramilitary formation, has been detained in Moscow and handed over to the Georgian Ministry of Internal Affairs, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 August. He has been charged in connection with a series of political assassinations in Georgia in 1994-95. -- Liz Fuller

The Kazakstani government declared the national airline Aue Zholy bankrupt on 20 August, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL reported. As of mid-August the airline's debt was 19 billion tenge ($180 million), and it has already been denied access to airports in Western Europe, Israel, and Turkey because of failure to finance new insurance agreements. The most valuable assets of the company are to be handed over to a new company, still being formed, Air Kazakstan. The remaining assets are to be sold off to government agencies and local authorities at auctions or assigned to them for management. -- Bruce Pannier

Taking an "analogous measure," Kazakstan cut off shipments of coal to the Omsk Oblast, RTR reported on 22 August. Russia had stopped supplying northern Kazakstan with electricity on 15 August, citing nonpayment of $420 million (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 August 1996). All the cities of Omsk Oblast are dependent on coal from Kazakstan's Ekibazstuz mine. Officials of the Omsk Oblast administration are trying to enlist aid from the private company Moskenergo, but supplying the 14 power stations in the region will require time. Industry in the area is reported to be at a standstill. -- Bruce Pannier

The International Committee of the Red Cross has expressed regret that neither the Tajik government nor the Tajik opposition has fulfilled its promise to trade prisoners, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 August. Under the terms of the Ashgabat agreement, signed on 20 July, exchanges of those held by the two sides should have been completed by 20 August, but as of 21 August neither side had even presented a list of detained persons to the ICRC. Meanwhile, Tajik Foreign Minister Talbak Nazarov met with Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov on 21 August in Moscow and repeated the Tajik government's willingness to settle the Tajik conflict by peaceful means. According to the ITAR-TASS report, Nazarov said the Tajik government would "agree to give the opposition seats in the apparatus of the president, the government, and all structures of management from rural regions to the center." -- Bruce Pannier

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has established a commission to review and propose steps to "humanize" Ukraine's penal code and abolish the death penalty, Ukrainian radio reported on 21 August. Made up of legal experts, lawmakers, and administration representatives, the commission's chief aim will be to help bring the country's crime legislation in line with Council of Europe recommendations, which include the abolition of capital punishment. The president's order also calls for the possible suspension of death sentences for convicts currently on death row and the introduction of life imprisonment as an alternative. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

The Kyiv Universal Exchange has begun futures trading in the hryvna, Ukraine's long-awaited but, as yet, unintroduced permanent currency, Ukrainian TV reported on 21 August. No details were provided on the terms of the contracts. National Bank of Ukraine Governor Viktor Yushchenko reiterated that the hryvna would be introduced by the end of the year at the latest. Trading on 21 August began at a rate of 100,000 karbovantsi to 1 hryvna; the day's average amounted to 101,604 karbovantsi to 1 hryvna. During a celebration marking the fifth anniversary of the central bank's founding, Yushchenko said it appeared inflation in August would be about 5%. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Following Taiwanese Vice President Lien Chan's visit to Kyiv, Beijing postponed a visit by a high-level Chinese government delegation to Ukraine, Ukrainian radio reported on 21 August. Foreign Minister Henadii Udovenko attempted damage control by saying Lien's visit should not lead to any deterioration in Chinese-Ukrainian relations. He said Ukraine's position on Taiwan is well known: it regards Taiwan as an integral part of the People's Republic of China. Kyiv is holding consultations with the Chinese ambassador to Ukraine over the affair. Taiwanese papers reported that Lien had met with President Leonid Kuchma during the visit, but the president's office denied that such a meeting had taken place. Taiwanese television also reported that Kyiv had agreed to exchange trade missions with Taipei, but Ukrainian officials denied there had been any official meetings with Lien and stressed that the visit was genuinely a private one. -- Ustina Markus

120 people representing 12 parties from across the political spectrum participated in a round-table discussion on the political situation in Belarus on 21 August, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL reported. After the Minsk meeting, a joint statement by the 12 parties was issued announcing the decision to convene a permanent body to assess human rights in the country, provide evidence of constitutional violations, and oversee freedom of the press. The statement also supported the holding of the 24 November parliamentary by-elections, which President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said he would cancel if the electorate approved his questions on a 7 November referendum. Participants at the round table said they would do everything legally possible to prevent the referendum. -- Ustina Markus

Few noncitizens have enrolled for the 20 October local elections, even though registration is scheduled from 10 August to 10 September, BNS reported on 21 August. Noncitizens are eligible to vote if they are 18 or older, have applied for a residence permit, and have lived in the respective territory for at least five years. In Tallinn, only 2,448 of the estimated 77,000 eligible voters (3.2%) had registered by the evening of 20 August. The administrative secretary of Tallinn's Lansamae borough government said, "The people are apathetic and don't give a damn about the elections." The figures in Sillimae were only slightly better, as 770 of the estimated 11,120 eligible noncitizens (6.9%) registered in the first 10 days. An appeal by the Russian Party in Estonia to extend the registration period will likely be ignored, since its claim that long lines would form at registration offices has proved to be wrong. -- Saulius Girnius

Representatives of the largest parties in the ruling coalition on 21 August severely criticized the draft coalition agreement and action program proposed the previous week by Prime Minister Andres Skele (see OMRI Daily Digest, 15 August 1996), BNS reported. Latvia's Way caucus head Andrejs Pantelejevs called the accord "too scanty and short," saying its "parts are mutually contradictory." Fatherland and Freedom caucus head Janis Straume said the program was immature and the agreement "a gesture of disrespect toward the caucuses." He asserted that the agreement should be only a supplementary protocol to the original agreement of 25 December 1995. The Democratic Party Saimnieks has prepared an alternative draft agreement. -- Saulius Girnius

Some 3,500 troops and 440 armored vehicles from Britain's 7th Armored Brigade--called the "Desert Rats" following its World War II African campaigns--will begin training in Poland next week, the British Embassy in Warsaw announced on 21 August. Billed as the biggest British army exercises on the European mainland since the end of the Cold War, Ulan Eagle `96 will take place from 30 August to 20 September at the Drawsko military base, formerly used by Warsaw Pact troops. The maneuvers are the first to be held under a British-Polish military agreement signed in June. Polish forces will be invited to observe, and Polish engineers will construct a bridge. -- Jan Cleave

Czech Finance Minister Ivan Kocarnik announced on 21 August that his ministry will have to cut 9.3 billion crowns in expenditures to maintain a balanced state budget for 1996, Czech media reported. The government agreed at its meeting on 21 August that the country's budget must not be a deficit one. Kocarnik explained to reporters that part of the current deficit has been caused by the failure of Russia to pay its debts to the Czech Republic and another part by overestimating the government's income from taxes paid by enterprises. The Finance Ministry plans to introduce spending cuts that will affect all ministries equally. -- Jiri Pehe

The planned reorganization of the Slovak armed forces would violate the terms of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty, the Slovak chief of staff, General Jozef Tuchnya, told CTK on 21 August. He said that the army would increase is holdings of attack helicopters from the current 19 to 40. The CFE treaty limits Slovakia to 25. On the other hand, the air force would not need the 115 combat aircraft permitted under the treaty, and its inventory would drop to 72. Tuchnya indicated that the air force is pleased with its Russian-made MiG-29 fighters and said 465 million crowns ($16 million) would be allocated for their modernization. -- Doug Clarke

The opposition Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) on 21 August demanded a retroactive examination of the entire privatization process, Narodna obroda reported. Calling current privatization "undemocratic, nonmarket, and against the people," SDL Chairman Jozef Migas noted that if fraud is discovered, the party will demand that property be reprivatized under "market principles." SDL Deputy Brigita Schmoegnerova criticized the east Slovak ironworks VSZ's recent acquisition of a 43.7% stake in Investicna a rozvojova banka, Slovakia's third largest bank. She said the move was not approved by the National Bank of Slovakia, which, according to the banking law, must authorize such purchases beforehand. Schmoegnerova also said the advice of the IMF--which recommended that the merging of financial institutions and the creation of mixed ownership between banks and their biggest debtors be avoided--was "ignored." -- Sharon Fisher

Only about 70 people gathered at the grave of Prague Spring leader Alexander Dubcek to commemorate the anniversary of the 21 August 1968 Soviet-led invasion of Czechoslovakia, Slovenska Republika reported. Attendees included representatives of the Social Democratic Party of Slovakia (SDSS)--of which Dubcek was chairman in 1992--as well as from the president's office, the Party of the Democratic Left, and the Anti-Fascist Fighters. Although invited, no representatives of the ruling coalition or of other opposition parties were present, CTK noted. SDSS Chairman Jaroslav Volf said his party will continue to seek a re-examination of the "unclear circumstances" surrounding Dubcek's death in November 1992 of injuries suffered in a car accident. Meanwhile, on 20 August, the opposition Democratic Union warned that the current cabinet is a continuation of the "normalization" regime that followed the 1968 invasion. -- Sharon Fisher

Despite pressure from opposition politicians and representatives of Hungarian minority organizations abroad, the Hungarian government appears set to sign the Hungarian-Romanian basic treaty, Hungarian dailies reported. Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said that he sees no reason to convene another summit of Hungarians and ethnic Hungarians living beyond Hungary's borders and that the treaty could be signed in September. Kovacs also said the basic treaty is a matter for the two countries' governments to handle. None of the questions, he said, should be discussed with minority representatives. In a related development, the German Foreign Ministry on 21 August welcomed the in-principle agreement on the treaty. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The OSCE said on 21 August that the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) has "seriously violated" the voter-registration procedure, Oslobodjenje reported the next day. The OSCE's Mostar office reported that an HDZ official had illegally taken forms filled in by voters in Jasenica, south of Mostar, possibly intending to tamper with them. An OSCE appeals board had ordered the removal from office of the local electoral commission president, Vlado Bevanda, who had denied HDZ involvement in the matter despite evidence to the contrary. It also ordered the removal of Bevanda's name from the HDZ party list and the immediate termination of his candidacy for public office. The OSCE also fined the HDZ $10,000. That same day, officials from the two ruling parties in the Bosnian federation agreed that obstacles to the revival of the Bosnian federation have been removed, Onasa reported. The Muslim Party of Democratic Action and the HDZ agreed to a more rapid institution of cantonal authorities and transitional municipal councils, but they failed to agree on a federal finance system and the status of the controversial state Agency for Research and Documentation. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Operation Volcano, the destruction by IFOR of some 400 tons of contraband Bosnian Serb munitions found in Margetici, continues, with some 130 tons disposed of to date, but questions have arisen over what to do about an additional 16 sites declared by the Bosnian Serbs. Reportedly 10 of those sites contain some 2,600 tons of munitions similar to those discovered at Margetici. Suggesting that the additional munitions deposits may not be destroyed, Maj. Brett Boudreau has said that "all options are under consideration," Reuters reported on 21 August. Some speculation already centers on the possibility that IFOR might allow the Bosnian Serbs "to move the contraband to an already approved storage site," added Reuters. -- Stan Markotich

Serbia's local elections have been called and are to be held on 3 November, Radio and Television Serbia reported on 21 August. Federal elections, as well as balloting in Montenegro, are to take place the same day. The leader of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement, Vuk Draskovic, welcomed news of the Serbian local elections, observing that they may provide opposition parties the opportunity to challenge the governing Socialist Party of Serbia power base in local constituencies, Beta reported on 21 August. Reuters, however, provided an analysis suggesting that with local, one set of republican, and federal elections taking place at the same time, the opposition parties may find their resources and organizational abilities spread too thin, with the ruling parties ultimately posting gains. -- Stan Markotich

Nicholas Oman, Slovenia's honorary consul to Liberia, was dismissed from his post on 21 August, some two months after an Italian prosecutor issued an arrest warrant accusing Oman of smuggling arms to Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, and Slovenia. Ljubljana offered no details of why it removed Oman from the post he has held since 1993, Reuters reported on 21 August. In other news, Oslobodjenje on 22 August reported that a member of the Bosnian presidency, Ivo Komsic, and Nijaz Skenderagic, a member of the leadership of the opposition Social Democratic Party of Bosnia-Herzegovina, were in Ljubljana on 21 August but were barred by Interior Ministry officials from speaking at a "promotional gathering" of five Bosnian opposition parties. -- Stan Markotich

Minister of Health Iulian Mincu and Minister of Culture Viorel Marginean have submitted their resignations, Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu told Radio Bucharest on 21 August. He said Mincu was resigning for personal and health reasons, as well as due to the fact that his work in the Senate took up much of his time. According to the AFP correspondent, however, Mincu, who was once Nicolae Ceausescu's personal nutritionist, has been implicated in several scandals since his appointment in 1992, including mismanagement of a World Bank loan to improve the health-care system. The resignations come against the background of the executive's efforts to rid itself of its corruption-tarnished image on the eve of elections. Marginean, Vacaroiu said, wished to return to his work as a painter. Reuters reported that he also came under attack in the media for having spent large amounts of public money to organize exhibits of his paintings abroad. He did not rule out other changes in the government. On 10 August, Vacaroiu had denied reports in the press that a reshuffle of his cabinet was in the offing. -- Michael Shafir

The chairman of the Party of Romanian National Unity, Gheorghe Funar, said in an interview with Radio Bucharest on 21 August that he does not believe his party will continue to be a member of the coalition if the text of the basic treaty with Hungary is signed in the form agreed upon in Bucharest last week. Funar spoke after a meeting with Deputy Foreign Minister Marcel Dinu. President Ion Iliescu will meet with representatives of parliamentary political parties next week in order to consult them on the treaty, a spokesman for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced in Bucharest on the same day. -- Michael Shafir

Following the controversy that erupted over the pro-monarchy statement attributed to the Democratic Convention of Romania's presidential candidate, Emil Constantinescu (see OMRI Daily Digest, 21 August 1996), the daily Evenimentul zilei revealed on 22 August that the interview granted by Constantinescu to the U.S. Romanian-language publication Micro-Magazin had been tampered with. The journalist who interviewed Constantinescu admitted that he had "mended it," allegedly to reflect the views of American readers. Evenimentul zilei concluded that this was an electoral maneuver. The interview had been printed in Micro-Magazin as far back as 25 July, but there had been no reaction to it till the daily Jurnalul national reprinted it on 20 August. The Party of Social Democracy in Romania, Evenimentul zilei noted, then reacted to the Constantinescu interview with a speed that cannot be otherwise explained but by a plan to stage an electoral coup. Meanwhile, in an interview with Jurnalul national published on 22 August, Constantinescu said he "could not be a supporter of the monarchy," since he is a candidate for the presidential office. He said he told Micro-Magazin that former King Michael should be able to take up residence in Romania "like any other citizen of the country" and that he would "accept the people's decision if it opted for a monarchy in a referendum." -- Michael Shafir

Union of Democratic Forces Deputy Chairman Vasil Gotsev on 21 August said there is no documentation in the Central State Archives proving that Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski--the presidential candidate of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party--ever acquired Bulgarian citizenship, Demokratsiya reported. Gotsev said no state decree on the New York-born Pirinski's naturalization has been located and noted that if no such document exists, Pirinski is not formally a Bulgarian citizen. He added that Pirinski's mother, a U.S. citizen, acquired Bulgarian citizenship based on a certificate by the Sofia administration of the Interior Ministry, which had no authority to change her citizenship. Gotsev said the opposition may ask the Constitutional Court to rule on the case when the new parliamentary session begins in September. Pirinski and the Socialists have not commented. -- Stefan Krause

An IMF team headed by Anne McGuirk arrived in Sofia on 21 August for a regular review of the country's economic stabilization and reform program, RFE/RL and Bulgarian media reported. The mission "will review progress under the [reform] program" in connection with Bulgaria's next scheduled drawing from its current $580 million standby loan. Talks between the mission and the government will focus on monetary and fiscal policy, McGuirk said. She added that the government must continue its present course of reform. -- Stefan Krause

President Sali Berisha on 21 August urged the opposition to participate in local elections on 20 October, international media reported. He said that the elections will be "free and fair" and that the election law is "of European standards." Berisha said the elections would he held even if the Socialists--the biggest opposition party--boycott them. He said the Socialists "have chosen the boycott because they know they would be defeated in any elections." Berisha did not comment on opposition demands to reshuffle an electoral commission that was formed recently by presidential decree. The previous day, Berisha's Democratic Party had announced it would adopt a law preventing opposition representatives from pulling out of electoral commissions in the upcoming local elections by making it a punishable offense to do so, ATSH reported. -- Stefan Krause

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Tim Rostan