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Newsline - August 30, 1996

A planned meeting between Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov and the commander of the Russian federal forces in Chechnya, Lt.-Gen. Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, to discuss the demilitarization agreement was postponed on 29 August pending the return to Chechnya of Russian Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, Russian and Western agencies reported. Meanwhile, Russian and Chechen troops continued to pull out of Grozny and some residents who had fled the fighting began to return, according to ITAR-TASS. Speaking in Moscow on 29 August, Lebed stressed that if any Chechen political faction were to consolidate its power, the result would be "more war," and called for the creation of "a new pyramid of power" comprising representatives of all political factions. Lebed also called for the resignation of pro-Moscow Chechen head of state Doku Zavgaev, according to AFP. On 30 August, Lebed flew back to Chechnya for talks with Maskhadov and acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev at an unspecified location, Western agencies reported. According to AFP, Maskhadov has accepted an invitation from the chairman of the PACE committee on Chechnya, Ernst Muellimann, to address the autumn session of the EU Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg if Lebed agrees to do likewise. -- Liz Fuller

President Boris Yeltsin continued to maintain his distance from Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed by choosing to speak with him over the phone about Lebed's proposal for a settlement to the conflict, Ekho Moskvy reported. Neither Lebed nor Yeltsin revealed the content of their conversation. Lebed said that not being able to meet with Yeltsin in person is making his work difficult. Komsomolskaya pravda commented on 30 August that if Yeltsin approves the Chechen peace plan he would have to explain why he approved the war almost two years ago, why tens of thousands Russians have died, why he is negotiating with "bandits," and why money from the strapped federal budget is being spent on restoring buildings destroyed in the fighting, particularly if Chechnya might become independent. -- Robert Orttung

Yeltsin's reaction to the peace plan was apparently negative judging from Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's remark that the proposals need "serious work." He made that comment after meeting with Lebed, the power ministers, and the chairmen of both houses of the Federal Assembly at Yeltsin's request. Chernomyrdin expressed particular concern that Chechen separatist field commanders were setting up executive institutions parallel to Moscow-backed Doku Zavgaev's government. Lebed commented that the parallel institutions had always existed in Chechnya and that they had simply become more visible now, Radio Rossii reported. Chernomyrdin had earlier expressed cautious support for the plan but may now be shifting his position under pressure from Yeltsin. Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais supports Lebed's peace plans, according to Duma member Sergei Yushenkov, who along with Chubais is a member of the leadership of Russia's Democratic Choice, the BBC reported. -- Robert Orttung

Several reform parties, including Russia's Democratic Choice, Yabloko, and Democratic Russia are planning to hold a demonstration in Pushkin Square on 31 August to support Lebed's initiatives. However, Lebed rejected the idea of the rally, saying he hopes to succeed without the help of those parties, NTV reported 30 August, citing a Security Council Press Service statement. Galina Starovoitova, one of the rally organizers, said she doubts that Lebed had personally prepared this statement due to its emotional and angry tone, Radio Rossii reported. Later, Lebed called on the parliament and all of Russia's political parties to come to a common agreement on how to resolve the conflict. -- Robert Orttung

Presidential press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii told Moskovskii komsomolets on 29 August that he would like to organize regular briefings on President Yeltsin's health, attended by medical professionals who have treated the president. He did not say when journalists could expect the first such briefing. In the last two months, despite intense speculation in the media on the president's health, doctors have not spoken publicly about Yeltsin's condition. Yastzhembskii said another one of his priorities will be to develop an "information strategy" for shaping public opinion. As Russian ambassador to Slovakia, he said, he had observed how Moscow's information policy with respect to the war in Chechnya had "utterly failed." -- Laura Belin

State Duma deputies from Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko party released two statements on 29 August attacking decrees signed earlier this month on enforcing an "austerity regime to fulfill the federal budget" (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 August 1996). Charging that President Yeltsin "will save money on law and order" and "is rejecting the promises of candidate Yeltsin," they said the spending cuts would hurt precisely the groups whom Yeltsin promised to help before the election, including farmers, teachers, and doctors, Kommersant-Daily and Pravda-5 reported on 30 August. In particular, they complained that by removing privileges from judges and procurators and suspending planned increases in law enforcement personnel, Yeltsin's decree will weaken the judicial branch and impede the war on crime. -- Laura Belin

The Primorskii Krai legislative assembly has voted to hold a regional referendum on 22 September to decide on whether Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko should remain in office, ITAR-TASS and Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. The krai's residents will also be asked whether they support the governor's attempts to check the rise in electricity and railway transportation rates and the governor's policy of blocking the federal transfer of some of the krai's land to China. The assembly's decision comes after President Yeltsin formally placed the blame for the krai's energy and financial crises on Nazdratenko in early August. Nazdratenko was elected governor in December 1995 with about 90% of the vote. The president has the authority to remove governors from office. -- Anna Paretskaya

Security service officers have arrested a man who attempted to throw a grenade at Vologda Oblast Governor Vyacheslav Pozgalev, Izvestiya reported on 30 August. The 30-year-old unemployed man is reportedly associated with an opposition organization in the oblast, according to a regional security official. Pozgalev, appointed governor in May this year, is said to have the best chance of winning the oblast's 6 October election. In other news, an unidentified assailant seriously wounded the top union official of the Volga car plant, Aleksandr Ivanov, in the city of Tolyatti on 29 August, ITAR-TASS and Izvestiya reported. Ivanov, who received four bullet wounds in his stomach and one leg, has been hospitalized. His assailant managed to escape. This is the second attempt on Ivanov's life this year and other union members have been similarly attacked, according to Izvestiya. -- Anna Paretskaya

At least 141 people were killed when a Vnukovo Airlines chartered plane crashed into a mountain on the remote Norwegian island of Spitsbergen, Russian and Western agencies reported on 29 August. Most of the passengers were Russian and Ukrainian coal miners and their families traveling to work in Spitsbergen, which is 400 miles north of the Norwegian mainland. The cause of the crash was not known; air traffic controllers received no distress signal and although the Tupolev Tu-154 has a reputation for being accident-prone, the plane that crashed in Spitsbergen was an improved model and was only eight years old, according to the Los Angeles Times. ITAR-TASS suggested that low cloud cover could have been a factor. The accident was the sixth crash involving a Russian airplane this year, NTV reported. -- Laura Belin

Militants linked to the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK) have established a cultural center, and possibly a military training camp, near the Gavrilov Yam settlement in Yaroslavl, Komsomolskaya pravda reported on 29 August. The site, allegedly purchased by a group calling itself the International Union of Kurdish Public Associations, was previously home to the "Solnechnii" children's summer camp. The students at the new "military-political academy" are reportedly ethnic Kurds from CIS member states and "refugees," some of whom are wanted by the Turkish and Iranian authorities. The paper noted the camp, already "swarming with wounded Kurdish guerrillas," may turn into a rehabilitation center for Kurdish militants. -- Lowell Bezanis

In the 29 August issue of Segodnya Pavel Felgengauer published a number of leaked documents relating to the activities of the state-owned company Rosvooruzhenie, which has an effective monopoly of the arms export business worth $3 billion a year. A 7 June letter from Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov asked President Yeltsin to investigate the activities of the company, which Skuratov said is operating in the absence of legal regulation and does not clearly account for the funds at its disposal. Skuratov said it owes defense plants $200 million for weapons already delivered. Felgengauer says the company takes 7-10% commission, while other state trading companies take only 1%. Some senior managers, many of them army officers "on reserve," were reportedly paid up to $70,000 a year. After the Skuratov letter, 15 leading defense plant directors wrote to Yeltsin asking him not to shake up the company, which has managed to find some new customers overseas. However, changes are expected since arms exports were overseen by Presidential Security Service Head Aleksandr Korzhakov, who was dismissed in June. They may soon fall under the remit of Security Council Secretary Lebed. -- Peter Rutland

The government on 29 August discussed measures to avert an energy crisis this winter, which will include a doubling of electricity prices from 1 October, ORT and NTV reported. The issue is relatively urgent because the cities of the Far North must be supplied with stocks of coal and oil before winter sets in. Aleksandr Yevtushenko, the first deputy minister of fuel and energy, said that the non-payments crisis in the electricity sector "has the country by the throat," and demanded assistance from the Finance Ministry. First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Petrov said "non-traditional" and off-budget sources of additional funding would have to be found--given the government's pledge to the IMF to reduce the budget deficit. Meanwhile, in Primorskii Krai residents are facing power cuts of two hours per day, and Dalenergo has instructed all industrial customers to cut power usage by 40%. -- Peter Rutland

Commercial banks froze some 11.5 trillion rubles ($2.2 billion at the current exchange rate) of companies' money earmarked for payments to other organizations as of mid-August, Segodnya reported on 29 August, citing the Federal Tax Agency. Of this amount, 5.9 trillion rubles (a 63% increase over April 1996) are payments that should have gone to the consolidated budget and non-budgetary funds. The largest proportion of frozen payments were recorded in Moscow (2.5 trillion rubles) and Moscow Oblast (1.9 trillion rubles). The tax agency has announced that it will send special commissions to these banks, whose aim will be to recover the frozen money and transfer it to the budget and non-budgetary funds. -- Natalia Gurushina

The Russian government has announced that it will close Russia's trade representative offices in 35 countries including Singapore, Switzerland, Australia, and South Africa, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 August. Budget constraints and the current state of trade relations with these countries are the major reasons cited for the move. Meanwhile, the State Epidemiological Service has announced that 9% (1,840 metric tons) of food stuffs imported into Russia in the first half of 1996 were either of low quality or had passed the expiration date for freshness. -- Natalia Gurushina

The German Embassy in Yerevan on 28 August condemned what it described as the misinterpretation of statements made by Germany's OSCE Minsk Group representative, Ambassador Frank Lambach, during an early August meeting with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev in Baku, Noyan Tapan reported on 29 August. On 23 August, the Information Department of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh (RNK) accused Lambach of exhibiting pro-Azerbaijani bias in statements he had made about the possible future status of the RNK. The German Embassy said that Lambach's words had been misquoted and "had evoked fair criticism" from Armenia, according to Noyan Tapan. Meanwhile, Gerard Liparitian, special adviser to Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, met this week in Germany with his Azerbaijani counterpart, Vafa Gulu-zade, to discuss the Karabakh issue before flying to Ankara for a two-day working visit. -- Liz Fuller

Speaking to parliament on 29 August, Uzbek President Islam Karimov said his government is committed to boosting cooperation with international human rights organizations, Reuters reported the same day. In the speech that marked the country's fifth year of independence, Karimov praised the republic's political stability and added that there is a need for political "alternatives" as long as they are "constructive." -- Lowell Bezanis

Senior border guard officers from Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Russia agreed in Moscow on 29 August to take "additional measures" to defend the Tajik-Afghan border, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Russia appears to be strengthening the hand of its border troops in Tajikistan in order to face down some 1,000 armed Tajik rebels who are reportedly ready enter Tajikistan from Afghanistan. The presidents of Kyrgyzstan and Kazakstan have both voiced their concern over the increase in tension along the border and have called on the Tajik government and opposition to resolve the conflict. -- Lowell Bezanis

The trial of seven Ukrainians accused of causing public disorder and insulting police during the 26 April Chornobyl anniversary demonstrations in Belarus began in Minsk on 29 August, RFE/RL reported. The defendants have been in jail since the rally. They face prison sentences of up to three years if found guilty. Six of the defendants have pleaded innocent, while one has admitted to disturbing the peace and obstructing traffic. ITAR-TASS reported that the defendants have denied belonging to the ultranationalist Ukrainian National Assembly-Ukrainian Self-Defense Organization. The trial will be open to the press, and one Ukrainian deputy will be attending. -- Ustina Markus

The Agreement on the Formation of a Community, signed by Russia and Belarus on 2 April, officially went into force on 29 August, ITAR-TASS and Russian Public TV reported. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov exchanged the instruments of ratification with Belarusian Ambassador to Russia Viktar Danilenka. The agreement was overwhelmingly ratified by both parliaments but also gave rise to mass protest demonstrations in Belarus. -- Ustina Markus

U.S. Senator Richard Lugar arrived in Ukraine on 28 August to meet with parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz and head of the National Security Council Volodymyr Horbulin, Ukrainian Radio reported. Talks focused on economic cooperation and international security. ITAR-TASS the next day reported that NATO commander of European Forces Gen. George Joulwan met with President Leonid Kuchma, Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko, and Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk. Discussion touched on Ukraine's participation in the Balkan peacekeeping effort. Finally, Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharshvili arrived in Ukraine on 30 August for talks on increasing Ukrainian-Georgian cooperation and expanding economic ties. -- Ustina Markus

Following Latvia and Lithuania's failure to reach agreement over their sea border, Latvian Prime Minister Andris Skele has asked the Saeima to postpone ratifying an oil prospecting agreement with the Amoco and OPAB oil companies, BNS reported on 29 August. Skele said he was confident progress would be made over the border issue, while head of the Saeima's Foreign Affairs Committee Indulis Berzins said the agreement did not have to be ratified until the end of October. Under the agreement, the two oil companies would be allowed to conduct oil explorations in the disputed area of the Baltic Sea between Lithuania and Latvia. -- Ustina Markus

The Public TV Board on 29 August failed by one vote to dismiss TVP1 Director Tomasz Siemoniak, Polish media reported. TVP1 is the most popular TV channel in Poland. Siemoniak had replaced Maciej Pawlicki in that post earlier this year, prompting the resignation of TVP Director Wieslaw Walendziak. Siemoniak is considered to hold centrist views, while both Pawlicki and Walendziak tend toward right of center. Two members of the five-strong TV board who have links to the ruling Democratic Left Alliance reproached Siemoniak for his unwillingness to fire several young journalists who were hired under the Pawlicki-Walendziak management and are considered to be right of center. Those journalists have been dubbed "pampers" to stress their youth. The TVP board has canceled a new program produced by them and will also take off the air another "pampers" program called "Pulse of the Day," Gazeta Wyborcza reported on 30 August. -- Jakub Karpinski

Lech Walesa, speaking at the conference on "Solidarity: Sources, the Present, and the Future" in Szczecin on 29 August, declared his support for Solidarity Electoral Action, which aims to draw up a joint list of candidates for the 1997 parliamentary elections in order to beat out the post-communist Democratic Left Alliance and the Polish Peasant Party. Walesa warned Solidarity not to take over government, saying it should not abandon its trade union vocation. He praised the leadership of the Freedom Union, which includes former Premier Tadeusz Mazowiecki, who also spoke at Szczecin. Walesa rejected any cooperation with the Movement for Poland's Reconstruction, led by another former prime minister, Jan Olszewski. -- Jakub Karpinski

Czech police on 29 August arrested one of Vaclav Havel's bodyguards and charged him with stealing money and "various objects" from the president's house in Prague, Czech and international media reported. In a press statement, the president said he was "disappointed." and that he has had "the best possible experience with the members of his security detail." Police did not reveal how much money and which objects were stolen. -- Jiri Pehe

Several hundred citizens gathered in Bratislava on 29 August to lay wreaths honoring the 52nd anniversary of the anti-fascist Slovak National Uprising (SNP), Slovak media reported. President Michal Kovac noted the historical importance of the event, stressing that "if we do not want to betray the message of the SNP, we must fulfill it not only verbally but also in every-day life." He added that "we must purposefully and persistently cultivate in our lives the political culture of a mature democracy but also the culture of decent interpersonal relations, true understanding, tolerance, and moderation." Small ceremonies were also held in Banska Bystrica, Kosice, and other towns. Kovac was joined in Bratislava by parliamentary deputy chairman Marian Andel, Deputy Premier Katarina Tothova, and representatives of the Anti-Fascist Fighters Union, political parties, and the Israeli and Russian embassies. -- Sharon Fisher

Meanwhile, Slovakia's leftist opposition expressed disappointment that while lavish festivities took place to inaugurate the new regions, major SNP celebrations were not held this year, CTK reported. It also criticized the fact that official history textbooks containing passages on the SNP were withdrawn under pressure from the nationalist cultural organization Matica slovenska. Kovac expressed anxiety that during discussions on Slovakia's wartime history, "responsibility for acts against humanity, against civil and human rights [and] for acts motivated by political or racial intolerance is denied or minimized." He said interpretation
of those events should be left to qualified and objective historians to avoid their use as instruments for permanently dividing society. The ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia on 27 August issued a statement praising the SNP. But its junior coalition partner--the Slovak National Party--has, together with other nationalist forces in Slovakia, attempted to glorify the war-time state and its president, Jozef Tiso. -- Sharon Fisher

The two largest Muslim parties are still threatening to boycott the 14 September elections, despite the OSCE's agreeing to their demand that the municipal vote be postponed. The governing Party of Democratic Action and the Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina remain concerned about massive voter registration fraud by the Serbs, AFP reported on 30 August. The anti-nationalist Republican Party, led by prominent Croatian politician Stjepan Kljuic, called for the abolition of the practice of allowing people to register in any area except where they used to live, Oslobodjenje reported. Pale's Serbian Democratic Party, however, seems to have decided to ignore the OSCE ruling and will go ahead with its own municipal ballot on schedule, Tanjug noted on 29 August. The leading party among the Croats, the Croatian Democratic Community, has also condemned the OSCE's decision, Onasa reported. -- Patrick Moore.

IFOR troops on 29 August arrested and disarmed a contingent of Bosnian Serb police in the village of Mahala, near Zvornik. The Serbs had fired on two dozen elderly and middle-aged Muslims who had returned to rebuild their homes after four years in exile, the BBC and AFP reported the next day. Ten Muslims were injured, and some of their fellows pelted the arrested Serbs with stones. In Zvornik itself, an angry and increasingly drunken crowd surrounded a UN police office and trapped six people inside while attacking and destroying several UN vehicles. NATO ground forces commander Gen. Sir Michael Walker then released the 65 Serbs and the mob in Zvornik dispersed. Walker took the weapons to Bosnian Serb acting President Biljana Plavsic in Banja Luka. -- Patrick Moore

Refugees registered to vote in the 14 September Bosnian elections have stayed away from polling stations in Serbia for a second consecutive day, AFP reported on 29 August. According to official statistics, approximately 85,000 refugees have registered to vote in Serbia. But only one of the four polling stations in Belgrade reported activity by midday--and that was the arrival of one voter. It seems that voter apathy, however, is not the reason. Beta reported that voters were encountering a number of "technical difficulties." In Leskovac, for example, a number of voters complained they had not received ballot papers. -- Stan Markotich

U.S. envoy John Kornblum met for three hours with Slobodan Milosevic on 29 August to discuss the 14 September Bosnian elections. Kornblum said after the meeting that "we discussed the decision to postpone the municipal elections, and I made clear it was primarily the manipulation of voter registration by the Republika Srpska which led to this development," Reuters reported. The U.S. envoy gave no indication of whether Milosevic would support efforts to remedy abuses in the electoral process. -- Stan Markotich

Deputy leader of the Democratic League of Kosovo Fehmi Agani and head of the Albanian Education Trade Union Agim Hyseni have held secret talks with the Serbian government on the readmission of ethnic Albanian students to secondary school, Nasa Borba reported on 30 August. The dialog, which is reported to have begun under international mediation, may lead to resuming Albanian-language education for some 300,000 students who have been taught at private shadow state schools since the abolition of autonomy in Kosovo in 1989. It is unclear, however, whether any results have yet been achieved. -- Fabian Schmidt

Nine people were killed and 41 seriously injured on 29 August when lightning struck outside an Orthodox church in the east Macedonian town of Berovo, Nova Makedonija reported. Around 10-15,000 people were celebrating Assumption Day outside the Church of the Holy Virgin when a thunderstorm struck Berovo. Witnesses said that first aid units found it difficult to access the site because panic broke out and people blocked the streets. An ambulance driver said it took him 35 minutes to drive 3 kilometers from the hospital to the Church. Eyewitnesses also noted that the police failed to properly organize the rescue of the injured. -- Stefan Krause

Hasan Muratovic arrived in Skopje on 29 August for a two-day visit, Nova Makedonija and AFP reported. He met with his Macedonian counterpart, Branko Crvenkovski, to discuss political, economic, and trade relations and regional developments. Both sides expressed their willingness to upgrade relations to ambassadorial level. Earlier that day, the 900 Bosnian refugees in Macedonia who are registered for the upcoming Bosnian elections started casting their ballots. In other news, the Turkish-Macedonian Joint Commission for Economic Cooperation held its first session on 28-29 August in the Turkish city of Izmir. The commission decided to give priority to setting up a joint Turkish-Macedonian bank. -- Stefan Krause

President Ion Iliescu on 29 August met with leaders of all parliamentary parties to discuss the Romanian-Hungarian basic treaty, Romanian and Western media reported. The treaty is due to be signed next month. Most politicians expressed support for the treaty, but nationalist and neo-communist leaders reiterated their criticism of the document, which they perceive as a threat to Romania's territorial integrity. Gheorghe Funar, leader of the chauvinistic Party of Romanian National Unity, repeated his remark that the treaty is "an act of national treason." Adrian Paunescu, first deputy chairman of the Socialist Labor Party, described it as a "capitulation" to Hungarian and Western pressure. Bela Marko, chairman of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, noted that the treaty was offering less than Romania's ethnic Hungarians had expected. -- Dan Ionescu

Romania is facing the biggest epidemic of meningitis and meningo-encephalitis since 1986, Romanian and Western media reported. There are currently 179 registered cases, of which 136 are in Bucharest. Ten people have died since early August. The Health Ministry advised the population to avoid unfamiliar sources of water and food. In a separate development, Daniela Bartos, the new health minister, announced that the budgetary allocation for the health care system has been increased by 249 billion lei (some $78 million). According to Bartos, this will allow "moderate investment" in the country's ailing medical sector. -- Dan Ionescu

The Security Ministry of the self-declared Dniester Moldovan republic has said it is prepared to "oppose an attack by the enemy," BASA-press reported on 29 August . The statement comes after weeks of tension over the status of the town of Bendery (Tighina), located on the Western bank of the Dniester river. The town has both a Moldovan and a Dniester police force. Tom Zenovich, head of the town's administration, was quoted as saying he did not exclude the resumption of the armed conflict in the region. He added that the deteriorating situation was related to the forthcoming presidential elections in both the Republic of Moldova and the Dniester region. -- Dan Ionescu

Energy Minister Rumen Ovcharov on 29 August said he cannot promise that there will be no electricity rationing during the winter, Demokratsiya reported. He noted that if tests at Reactor No. 1 at the Kozloduy nuclear power facility are not finished soon, the reactor will be unable to go back on line for the winter season. Ovcharov said electricity prices will probably not be raised by more than 5-10% before the end of the year. In Sofia, street-lighting will be turned off until the city pays its 30 million leva ($149,000) debts to the state electricity company. In other news, the Supreme Court will rule on 2 September against the Central Electoral Commission's refusal to register the Socialist presidential and vice presidential candidates--Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski and Culture Minister Ivan Marazov, Duma reported. According to Standart, the Socialists are already looking for new candidates. -- Stefan Krause

The ruling Democrats and the opposition on 29 August agreed that the election laws need reviewing and that dialogue is essential, Reuters reported. The talks, organized by the U.S. International Republican Institute, focused on 31 recommendations made by the institute following Albania's disputed parliamentary elections in May. Topics covered included the role of the media, election administration, and election-day procedures. There was, however, no compromise in sight on the composition of the election commissions, a key issue for upcoming local elections. -- Fabian Schmidt

Muslim fundamentalists are suspected of having destroyed large parts of Voskopoja's 18th-century Saint Nicholas Church, Zeri i Popullit reported on 28 August. In what is the first religious-motivated case of vandalism since the end of communism, the culprits--reportedly Muslim pupils encouraged by Arab teachers--destroyed 23 frescoes. Police found inscriptions such as "Allah Is Great" on the walls. The head of Albania's Muslim community, Hafiz Sabri Koci, denounced the destruction as an attack against religious tolerance in Albania. Meanwhile, the Albanian Helsinki Human Rights Committee has sharply criticized the activities of Arab foundations in Albania, saying they are offering money to poor families and then manipulating their children in religious courses, international agencies reported. -- Fabian Schmidt

Theodoros Pangalos arrives in Albania today, Reuters reported. He is scheduled to attend the inauguration of a Greek consulate in Gjirokastra and to meet with his Albanian counterpart, Tritan Shehu, and President Sali Berisha in Vlora. The Albanian government on 26 August agreed to increase the number of Greek-language classes in secondary
schools. Greek-language elementary schools also opened for this new school year in three towns. In other news, the Albanian government on 28 August asked Greece to explain an increasing number of deportations of Albanian immigrants, Reuters reported. Greece deported about 5,000 Albanians within five days. Elsewhere, the Albanian Orthodox church has sent a letter to Constantinople protesting the appointment of ethnic Greek Bishops to Albania as interference in the Albanian Church's internal affairs, Albania reported on 28 August. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave