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Newsline - August 28, 1996

Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov and the commander of the Russian federal forces in Chechnya, Lt.-Gen. Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, met in Noviye Atagi south of Grozny on 27 August and reached agreement on resuming the withdrawal of Russian forces from Grozny, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. The pullout was suspended on 25 August following the seizure of Russian weaponry by renegade Chechen detachments. The last of the snatched arms were returned on 27 August, according to ITAR-TASS. The Russian troop withdrawal should be completed by 1 September, Reuters reported. The two commanders also agreed that joint Chechen-Russian patrols should begin in Grozny in the next few days. -- Liz Fuller

Speaking at a press conference in Moscow on 27 August, pro-Moscow Chechen head of state Doku Zavgaev harshly criticized Russian Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed's Chechen involvement, Russian and Western agencies reported. Zavgaev said he believed Lebed sincerely desired to halt the Chechen war, but charged that his approach is "superficial" and "could unleash an uncontrollable civil war." Specifically, Zavgaev argued that the peace agreement between Lebed and Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov will bring to power in Chechnya "the heroes of Budennovsk," who he charged are engaged in systematically killing supporters of the pro-Moscow Chechen leadership. Zavgaev repeated that his leadership is "ready for any concessions, including political ones" to help resolve the crisis, according to ITAR-TASS. Radio Rossi on 26 August, however, cited unnamed analysts as suggesting that Zavgaev and his supporters may be creating their own military units with an aim to retake Grozny. -- Liz Fuller

Lebed's press secretary, Aleksandr Barkhatov, described Zavgaev's comments as an "open lie," ITAR-TASS reported on 27 August. Barkhatov noted that President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin approved Lebed's actions, charging that Zavgaev was attacking the Russian leaders when he attacked Lebed. Barkhatov suggested that Zavgaev made his accusations to deflect blame from himself for not being able to resolve the Chechen conflict. -- Robert Orttung

Lebed planned to give Yeltsin a peace plan for resolving the Chechen conflict on 27 August, a day after the president wanted it, according to the Security Council Press Service (See OMRI Daily Digest, 16 August 1996). On the 27th, the president's office asked Lebed to submit his plan and an account of his recent trip to the republic in written form, after which the president would decide whether to meet with him in person or discuss the documents over the telephone, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 August. Lebed's plan reportedly rules out the further use of military force while maintaining Chechnya as part of the Russian Federation with special status, AFP reported. The plan envisages a referendum to be held in five years on Chechnya's status. It is not clear whether the Chechen armed forces would be independent or merely a part of the Russian military. -- Robert Orttung

Yeltsin named Anatolii Kuznetsov as the new head of his Presidential Security Service, NTV reported on 27 August. Kuznetsov replaced Aleksandr Korzhakov, a close friend of the president who lobbied for strong-arm policies in the president's inner circle, including the use of force in Chechnya. Korzhakov fell in the purge of hardliners following the first round of the presidential election. Kuznetsov has served as Yeltsin's main personal bodyguard for the last two years and is not expected to play a political role. -- Robert Orttung

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and his Ukrainian counterpart, Pavlo Lazarenko, visiting Moscow, have signed a number of agreements including accords on cooperation in technological and space research, Russian TV (RTR) and ITAR-TASS reported on 27 August. The sides also discussed the question of refining Russian oil in Ukraine and manufacturing internationally competitive military products. Chernomyrdin noted that there was no further progress in talks over the future of the Black Sea Fleet. But he pointed out that Russia would like to establish a strategic partnership with Ukraine and that a general treaty on friendship and cooperation is likely to be signed at the next meeting of the intergovernmental commission in October or November in Kyiv. -- Natalia Gurushina

President Yeltsin on 26 August released Marshal Yevgenii Shaposhnikov as his representative at the Rosvooruzheniye arms export company, ITAR-TASS reported. Shaposhnikov was the last minister of defense of the Soviet Union and briefly led the stillborn CIS joint armed forces. In early 1994, he was named to the Rosvooruzheniye post but in October 1995 was also appointed to head Russia's international air carrier Aeroflot. -- Doug Clarke

Konstantin Tolstoshein, the incumbent mayor of Vladivostok, Primorskii Krai's main city, became the first candidate officially registered for the 6 October mayoral poll, Radio Rossii reported on 27 August. Six more hopefuls are collecting signatures in order to register with the regional electoral commission. However, former Mayor Viktor Cherepkov, who was dismissed in 1994 but reinstated earlier this month (see OMRI Daily Digest, 15 August 1996) opposes the election. He claims that since he was elected in July 1993 for a five-year term, the election should be postponed until summer 1998. Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko has filed an appeal with the Moscow court that reinstated Cherepkov. The court must consider the case in the first week of September. -- Anna Paretskaya

Deputies have collected 70 out of the 90 required signatures to call an emergency Duma session devoted to the food supply situation in Russia's northern territories, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 August. Only about 50% of supplies have been shipped to the North and about 5 million people may be left without food during the winter. The signature collection was initiated by Liberal Democratic Party faction leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The deputies expect the emergency session to be held by 10 September. -- Anna Paretskaya

New Health Minister Tatyana Dmitrieva warned in her first press conference that the health sector is poorly funded, and Russian medical workers may go on strike by early October if financing is not improved, NTV reported on 27 August. She said her top priorities would be fighting AIDS and providing good pediatric and maternity care but indicated that the government has up to now been unwilling to devote the necessary funding for such programs, according to ITAR-TASS. Dmitrieva also said structural changes have been made in the Health Ministry. For instance, while the ministry will no longer supervise the medical industry, it has gained the authority to oversee the state committee Goskomsanepidnadzor, whose responsibilities include infectious disease control. -- Laura Belin

Coal miners, physicians, teachers, and other public sector employees went on a one-day warning strike in Kemerovo Oblast on 26 August. The miners threatened to call for the president to be impeached and the government disbanded if their demands for payment of overdue salaries totaling about 530 billion rubles (about $100 million) are ignored, Sovetskaya Rossiya reported the next day. About 2,000 employees of the Samara airplane construction company Aviakor held a protest rally over wage arrears on 27 August, ITAR-TASS reported. The Aviakor workers have not been paid since February. Meanwhile, 15 more people have joined their five colleagues who have been on a hunger strike for a week in a Tsentralnaya pit in Perm Oblast. The miners have not received their wages for three months, RTR reported. -- Anna Paretskaya

A man whose 18-year-old son was recently arrested for draft evasion locked himself in a car outside a courthouse in Krasnodar Krai and threatened to set himself on fire with Molotov cocktails to save his son from military service, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 August. Firefighters eventually captured the man, who was placed in a prison cell next to his son's. Tens of thousands of young men attempt to evade the draft every year in Russia, and parents of unsuccessful draft dodgers occasionally have resorted to extreme measures (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 August 1996). On the same day, ITAR-TASS reported that a preliminary investigation into the recent suicides of two sailors on a ship in the Arctic Sea attributed one to brutal hazing from fellow sailors. -- Laura Belin

A woman was raped and murdered in an elevator shaft in the same Perm neighborhood where six other women have been attacked in recent months, ITAR-TASS reported on 27 August. Police believe that one person is responsible for all the crimes, but the only suspect arrested so far was not recognized by victims who survived the attacks. -- Laura Belin

Viktor Orlov, who heads the newly-created Ministry of Natural Resources, said on 27 August that his ministry will coordinate all departments devoted to the use of natural resources and reconcile sometimes contradictory laws concerning the sector, Kommersant-Daily reported the next day. Orlov previously headed the state committee on geology and natural resources. (The last government included a Ministry on Natural Resources and Protecting the Environment; now a separate state committee will oversee environmental issues.) Orlov hopes to attract tens of millions of dollars in new investment, while using production-sharing agreements to retain some state control over the private capital involved in the export of natural resources, the paper said. This policy may put him in conflict with Sergei Glazev, deputy secretary of the Security Council, who has said he will review all production-sharing agreements. Moreover, the Duma has hitherto refused to make changes in legislation necessary to facilitate such agreements. -- Laura Belin

Turkey's state-owned pipeline concern, Botas, announced it had reached a deal with Gazprom to significantly increase the amount of natural gas it buys from Russia via an existing and projected pipeline, AFP reported on 27 August. The tender for a new `eastern' pipeline, with an estimated price tag of $1.1 billion, will be opened after Ankara and Moscow formally seal the deal in September. Construction of the 1,160 km-long pipeline is expected to begin in 1997 and will carry an estimated 14 billion cubic meters of gas to Turkey via Georgia by 2010. At present Turkey buys 6 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia via a `western' pipeline passing through Ukraine, Romania, and Bulgaria. This amount is to be increased to 16 billion cubic meters by 2010. -- Lowell Bezanis

Meeting in Vladikavkaz on 27 August, Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze and the speaker of the parliament of the autonomous region of South Ossetia, Ludvig Chibirov, again reaffirmed their determination to resolve the issue of South Ossetia's relations with Tbilisi, ITAR-TASS reported. Specifically, they agreed on restoring economic cooperation which was halted after the conflict over South Ossetia's status in 1990-91. The meeting had been jeopardized by an interview given by Chibirov to Nezavisimaya gazeta on 7 August in which he expressed confidence that "some day" South Ossetia would unite with the Republic of North Ossetiya-Alania, which is a subject of the Russian Federation. -- Liz Fuller

Hasan Hasanov, in Tehran on a two-day official visit, assured President Ali Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani on 27 August that Azerbaijan wishes to improve its relations with Iran, which have been clouded by the recent arrests of Azerbaijani religious activists accused of links with Iranian intelligence, Reuters reported. Hasanov also met with his Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Velayati, and discussed an upcoming meeting of foreign ministers of Caspian littoral states which is to propose a new ruling on the division of the Caspian. Iranian parliament speaker Ali Akbar Nateq-Nuri expressed his anger at negative Azerbaijani media coverage of Iran, according to AFP, quoting IRNA. -- Liz Fuller

Deputy Prime Minister Iziat Orudzhev has been named to head a state commission on fighting drug abuse and trafficking, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 August. The commission was established just before a conference was convened in Baku, attended by senior UN International Drug Control Program (UNDCP) officials, devoted to these same issues. Azerbaijani officials participating in the 27 August conference pointed to skyrocketing figures for drug-related crimes, the cultivation of narcotic plants, and drug seizures in the country. President Heidar Aliyev told the conference that the fight against the spread of drug addiction is one of the country's priorities; the UNDCP will reportedly provide Baku with $500,000 to help in the fight. -- Lowell Bezanis

Abdunabi Boronov and Nurali Janjolov were sentenced to death on 21 August by Tajikistan's Supreme Court, according to the Tajik opposition's Radio Voice of Free Tajikistan monitored by the BBC. The two men were found guilty of killing Tajik journalist and member of parliament Zayniddin Muhiddinov on 13 February 1995, the day after the second round of elections to the Tajik parliament. Blame for Muhiddinov's murder was attributed to the Tajik opposition which boycotted the elections; however, according to the radio broadcast, the two killers were members of the paramilitary Popular Front, which was formed during the Tajik civil war and helped bring the neo-communist government to power in 1992. It is the first time in four years that someone has been convicted for killing a journalist. A total of 40 journalists have been murdered in that time. -- Bruce Pannier

The government has issued a resolution ordering a nationwide freeze of prices on goods and services for one month beginning with the 2 September introduction of the hryvna, Ukrainian agencies reported on 27 August. The move was in response to the collapse of the street value of the karbovanets, which has been trading at more than 200,000 to $1 since the announcement of the hryvna's introduction. National Bank of Ukraine Governor Viktor Yushchenko said he feared "illegal" currency speculation and that the 374 trillion karbovantsi ($2.1 billion) circulating outside the country's banking system could fuel prices upward by 200-250%. He said he expects prices to jump by 8-10% once prices are unfrozen. Yushchenko said the panic selling of karbovantsi this week was unfounded. He added that his bank will annul the currency trading licenses of any exchange points that sell dollars at a rate exceeding 193,600 karbovantsi to $1 and that the government will fine any businesses that refuse to take karbovantsi up to the last day of the exchange period. Meanwhile, the karbovanets was trading against the dollar on the Interbank Currency Exchange at the same level as two weeks ago, at 176,100 to 1. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

In a national radio address, Pavlo Lazarenko tried to reassure Ukrainians that there is no reason for panic over the introduction of the new currency, Radio Ukraine reported on 27 August. Lazarenko reiterated that the reform will be fully transparent and that there will be neither restrictions nor confiscation. He blamed commercial banks and businesses for stirring up panic-buying of dollars in order to make a profit, warning that people who have bought dollars may find out later that they were cheated. He said the government's monetary reform commission has made provisions to extend the period in which karbovantsi can be exchanged for hryvni for people who are abroad or for other extenuating circumstances. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Estonian parliamentary deputies on 27 August went twice to the ballot box to elect a president but, as on previous day, neither candidate received the necessary two-thirds vote, Western agencies reported. Incumbent President Lennart Meri and parliamentary deputy chairman Arnold Ruutel are both running for election. An electoral college, consisting of the 101 parliamentary deputies and 273 representatives of local government, will be convened in September to elect the president. Ruutel and Meri will be automatically listed as candidates, but new ones can also be nominated. In the second ballot, the college will vote on the two top candidates. The one receiving a majority vote (50% of those present plus one) will be the winner. -- Saulius Girnius

Valdis Birkavs on 27 August commented that the Saeima chose an inappropriate time to pass the declaration on the USSR's and Germany's occupation of Latvia, BNS reported. Although the Russian Foreign Ministry has condemned the declaration as a provocation, it is not yet clear whether Prime Minister Andris Skele's planned visit to Moscow on 13 September will be canceled. During that visit, agreements on air transportation and avoidance of double taxation are scheduled to be signed. Birkavs noted that the declaration does not reflect the position of the Latvian government. Saeima Chairwoman Ilga Kreituse told visiting U.S. Senator Richard Lugar that the declaration was not intended to worsen relations with Russia. She added that she hoped recognition of the occupation "will be perceived as a historical matter." -- Saulius Girnius

Lithuanian and Latvian Foreign Ministry Secretaries Rimantas Sidlauskas and Maris Riekstins made little progress in resolving the sea border issue during talks in Vilnius on 27 August, Radio Lithuania reported. The talks had been scheduled for July but had to be postponed when Prime Minister Andris Skele eliminated the position of foreign ministry state minister, which Juris Sinka, head of the Latvian delegation, had occupied. Riekstins successfully completed border talks with Estonia in June. Tensions between the two countries are now high because the Saeima is planning to ratify oil exploration agreements, signed in October 1995 with U.S. and Swedish oil firms, in an area that Lithuania also claims. -- Saulius Girnius

Military prosecutors on 27 August canceled the arrest warrant for Col. Ryszard Kuklinski, who was smuggled to the United States in 1981 after spying for U.S. security services from 1970-81, international agencies reported. The arrest warrant was issued in 1984 when Kuklinski, a former Polish army officer, was sentenced to death by a military court for treason and desertion. The sentence was commuted to a 25-year prison sentence in 1990. Kuklinski lives now undercover in the United States. The spokesman for the Warsaw military prosecutor's office said that, in July, a letter was sent to Kuklinski's U.S. contact address asking if he wanted to testify. No answer has been received. Kuklinski was smuggled out of Poland, with his wife and two sons in November 1981, a few weeks before martial law was imposed. Many Poles regard him as a hero; others, including former President Lech Walesa, accuse him of disloyalty. -- Jakub Karpinski

Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus told journalists on 27 August that the government has agreed that the state budget for 1997 will total 549 billion crowns ($20.3 billion). Klaus admitted he was surprised how little discussion was necessary to reach agreement on the issue. He said expenditures to promote exports are expected to increase by 60%, while those for transportation and housing will rise by 57% and 42%, respectively. Finance Minister Ivan Kocarnik noted that tax changes may be necessary but gave no further details. The government is to discuss taxes and other state income next week. -- Jiri Pehe

President Michal Kovac on 27 August swore in three new ministers, Slovak media reported. Karol Cesnek, director of the electricity firm Slovenske elektrarne, replaced Economy Minister Jan Ducky. Slovak ambassador to Germany Pavol Hamzik took over the Foreign Ministry portfolio from Juraj Schenk. Gustav Krajci, a secretary of the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), replaced Interior Minister Ludovit Hudek. Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar said Schenk resigned for health reasons, Ducky left "by mutual agreement," and Hudek was sacked because of problems in the police force. Krajci noted that significant reforms will take place in the security and police sector. He also stressed the need to quickly resolve Michal Kovac Jr.'s kidnapping case and the Technopol fraud, which are "traumatizing Slovak society." Although Meciar did not rule out further cabinet changes, he said that secret service chief Ivan Lexa will not be dismissed. -- Sharon Fisher

Ladislav Pittner, a former interior minister currently serving as a deputy of the opposition Christian Democratic Movement, told Radio Twist on 27 August that a summons for him to appear before the parliamentary Mandate and Immunity Committee in September is a "threat to democracy." At the request of a Bratislava investigator, the committee is to consider removing Pittner's parliamentary immunity. Pittner said no reasons were given for the move but added that it is connected with his activities as chairman of an independent civic commission established to investigate the Kovac Jr. kidnapping case. In other news, the Slovak Confederation of Trade Unions on 27 August accepted the resignation of Praca Editor in Chief Eduard Fasung, Narodna obroda reported. Fasung--who is to be replaced by his deputy, Ivan Melichercik--is expected to become the new editor in chief of the pro-government daily Slovenska Republika. -- Sharon Fisher

According to an OSCE press release, Swiss Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti, who is currently OSCE chairman-in-office, has invited Budapest and Bucharest to sign the basic Hungarian-Romanian treaty in Vienna--the seat of the Permanent Council of the OSCE. Cotti welcomed the completion of the draft treaty, which, he said, was an essential element of stability in the region. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Prime Minister Gyula Horn's nomination of Tamas Suchman, minister without portfolio in charge of privatization, as new industry and trade minister means that administration of the privatization process and industry will soon merge, Hungarian media reported. Suchman will replace outgoing minister Imre Dunai, who resigned two weeks ago, citing health reasons. Suchman's nomination is likely to be approved by other government members, since the junior coalition party, the Alliance of Free Democrats, is in favor of cutting the number of government ministers. The State Privatization and Holding Co. will be subordinated to the Ministry of Industry and Trade, while the administration structures for privatization management will be similar to those under the previous government. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The OSCE's 27 August decision to put off Bosnian municipal elections until next spring has been sharply criticized by the Republika Srpska's governing Serbian Democratic Party and Bosnia-Herzegovina's leading Croatian party, the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) (see OMRI Special Report, 27 August 1996). The OSCE's Robert Frowick announced that the vote had been canceled owing to Bosnian Serbian irregularities in voter registration. The Serbs said that they will hold their municipal elections along with other voting on 14 September as scheduled, Nasa Borba reported on 28 August. Frowick told CNN in response that "one would have to question the validity of the Bosnian Serbs holding their own elections." The HDZ meanwhile charged the OSCE with giving in to demands for postponement by the Muslim Party for Democratic Action (SDA), Reuters noted on 27 August. The U.S. has endorsed the postponement, calling the move "clear and decisive," CNN reported. -- Patrick Moore

Bratislava Morina, head of the Serbian Commission
for Refugees, told a press conference on 27 August that Belgrade has not manipulated Serbian refugees in order to influence or coerce them into casting ballots in the Republika Srpska. Morina, speaking only hours after OSCE Bosnian mission head Frowick's announcement that the elections had been postponed, remarked that the OSCE had monitored and supervised voter registration, Reuters reported. Meanwhile, rump Yugoslav Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic, speaking from Rome, said he could see "no reason" why local elections in Bosnia should be postponed. -- Stan Markotich

Meanwhile, the 641,010 registered voters living abroad have begun to cast their ballots, international and regional media reported. Voting is already under way in Hungary and Turkey, although the SDA charged that the voting in Turkey began too early. The 220,640 registered refugee voters in Serbia and Montenegro begin to cast their ballots today, despite the OSCE's ruling that many of them were registered under fraudulent circumstances. They constitute the largest single group of Bosnian voters abroad, after those in Croatia (136,553) and Germany (132,850). -- Patrick Moore

Between 10,000 and 20,000 people on 27 August attended the largest campaign event staged to date by the Joint List, which represents five important anti-nationalist parties, AFP reported. The rally took place in Tuzla, which was the only city in Bosnia-Herzegovina where anti-nationalists controlled municipal government throughout the war. Several of the five parties are organized on the basis of a single nationality, but all are pledged to a multiethnic country. They face formidable obstacles because of the nationalists' control over most media and local governments as well as the polarization that took place during the war. -- Patrick Moore

The Macedonian government on 26 August approved a draft law providing for the division of the country into 120 municipalities and communities, Nova Makedonija and Vecer reported on 28 August. Macedonia is currently divided into 34 administrative units. A first draft of the new law provided for 111 communities, but changes were made--particularly in those areas with a substantial ethnic Albanian population--in order to take into account criticism by ethnic Albanian parties. The parliament is expected to pass the territorial law at its first session in September as well as the recently submitted local election law. This will clear the way for local elections scheduled to be held later this year. -- Stefan Krause

Gheorghe Funar, leader of the chauvinistic Party of Romanian National Unity, on 27 August called for President Ion Iliescu to be "suspended from office" for supporting the basic treaty with Hungary, Radio Bucharest reported. Funar appealed to all political forces to band together to oust Iliescu, who, he said, has violated the constitution by accepting the inclusion in the treaty of Council of Europe Recommendation No. 1201 on ethnic minorities. He also charged Iliescu with "jeopardizing the future of the Romanian people, of the national unitary state and of its territorial integrity." Funar described the treaty as a "secret pact" and an act of "national betrayal." -- Dan Ionescu

Nicolae Cochinescu has been appointed prosecutor-general, Radio Bucharest reported on 27 August. Cochinescu replaces Vasile Manea Dragulin, who resigned the same day following criticism for failing to take action over a banking scandal. Bucharest dailies described the change as "a total surprise," and Ziua speculated that it came "under pressure from the political-financial mafia." The daily added that his appointment is designed to suggest that the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) will take a tough stand on corruption. The PDSR has been keen to polish its image ahead of general and presidential elections scheduled for 17 November. -- Dan Ionescu

The Central Electoral Commission (TsIK) on 27 August refused to register the presidential and vice presidential candidates of Bulgaria's two largest political forces, Pari reported. The ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party and its coalition partners have chosen Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski and Culture Minister Ivan Marazov as their candidates. But they failed to gain a two-thirds majority among members of the TsIK because opposition representatives on the commission said documentation on how Pirinski acquired Bulgarian citizenship was inadequate. The united opposition's candidates--Petar Stoyanov and Todor Kavaldzhiev--were also rejected because documents submitted by parties backing them were found to contain irregularities. The Socialists and the opposition both said they will appeal the decisions. They have three days to do so, and the Supreme Court must then rule within another three days. The court's decision is final and binding. -- Stefan Krause

Supporters of Anastasiya Dimitrova-Mozer, the ousted Bulgarian Agrarian People's Union (BZNS) leader, claim that the union's statutes were violated in at least 10 instances during the meeting at which Dimitrova-Mozer was sacked (see OMRI Daily Digest, 26 August 1996), Standart reported on 28 August. They have appealed to the Sofia City Court. Meanwhile, the new party leadership has handed in registration documents to the court, but it is doubtful whether the party can be registered as long as the appeal is pending. The leaders of the Union of Democratic Forces, the People's Union (of which the BZNS is a member), and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom are refusing to meet with the new leadership before Dimitrova-Mozer returns from the U.S. Meanwhile, Dimitrova-Mozer again called for an extraordinary party congress. -- Stefan Krause

A fact-finding mission from the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly arrived in Albania on 27 August, AFP reported. The seven-member delegation, headed by Britain's Lord Finsberg, is to examine "the progress of the political dialogue after the violence and irregularities that marked the legislative elections." The assembly proposed in June that a round table be organized to foster dialogue between the opposition and the government, but those talks have so far failed. The opposition charges President Sali Berisha with failing to ensure the fairness of upcoming local elections. It is also demanding that the activities of the new permanent electoral commission be regulated by new legislation rather than a presidential decree. -- Fabian Schmidt

Two Albanian teenage girls have died of polio, Reuters reported on 27 August. They were among 23 cases that have been referred to the capital's specialist hospital since the beginning of June. A Tirana doctor, however, denied there was an epidemic and claimed the cases were unrelated. The doctor added that the disease probably originated from children who had received polio vaccinations and had then passed on the virus in feces. The virus can enter the water supply and infect people with weak immune systems who live under poor sanitary conditions. Some 700,000 Albanian children received polio vaccinations in April and May. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Jan Cleave