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Newsline - September 3, 1996

Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov, and OSCE mission head Tim Guldimann on 31 August signed a three-page agreement on ending the war in Chechnya after eight hours of talks in Khasavyurt, Dagestan, Western agencies reported. They also agreed on the withdrawal of Russian forces from Chechnya and postponing any decision on Chechnya's independence until 31 December 2001. The agreement failed to define how Chechnya's future status would be decided, or who would govern the region until then, AFP reported. A joint commission will be created by 1 October to monitor the Russian troop withdrawal and coordinate measures to prevent criminal and terrorist activities, according to AFP. -- Liz Fuller

The last remaining Russian troops withdrew from Grozny on 31 August, AFP reported. On 2 September, however, Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov told NTV that only the federal forces that had been temporarily deployed in Chechnya will be withdrawn, while some units of the North Caucasus Military District will be permanently stationed in Chechnya. The commander of Russian Interior Ministry forces in Chechnya, Lt.-Gen. Anatolii Shkirko, told Russian TV (RTR) on 2 September that he has not seen the Lebed-Maskhadov peace agreement, and very much doubts that it marks a definitive end to the war. Shkirko also claimed that not all Chechen forces had withdrawn from Grozny, ITAR-TASS reported. A spokesman for pro-Moscow Chechen head of state Doku Zavgaev, described the agreement as "a large-scale provocation." -- Liz Fuller

President Boris Yeltsin has just completed a full physical examination and finished a "course of preventive procedures," ITAR-TASS reported on 2 September, citing a source in the Kremlin who did not provide any further details. Yeltsin feels good, the source claimed, and will continue resting without seeing any visitors. Meanwhile, Russia has asked South African President Nelson Mandela to postpone his planned 18-22 September visit indefinitely without giving any reason. Mandela postponed a visit in late 1995 when the fighting in Chechnya intensified. A 7 September meeting with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl has not been canceled. -- Robert Orttung

Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed met with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 2 September to discuss the agreement on political principles that he signed with Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov on 30 August, Russian media reported. Chernomyrdin subsequently met with President Yeltsin at his vacation home in Zavidovo 100 km outside Moscow. Lebed told NTV on 2 September that he was unable to reach Yeltsin by telephone. As of 2 September, Yeltsin had not made public his attitude toward the peace plan. After an initially cool response to the plan, Chernomyrdin came out in support of it. Defense Minister Rodionov also came out in support of the plan, NTV reported on 2 September. Yeltsin's chief of staff, Anatolii Chubais, said he is concerned that the peace may have been bought at too high a price, ORT reported. Chubais said that "the unity of Russia" cannot be violated "under any circumstances, at any price." -- Peter Rutland in Moscow

Security Council Secretary Lebed's negotiations with Chechen rebels "pose a direct threat to the national security, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of the Russian Federation," according to a statement released by the leadership of Gennadii Zyuganov's Popular-Patriotic Union of Russia. The statement, published in Sovetskaya Rossiya on 31 August, also attacked President Yeltsin's previous policy on Chechnya. Instead, it proposed establishing peace, law, and order in Chechnya "within the framework of the existing constitution," and then granting Chechnya special status within the Russian Federation. It did not specify how these tasks were to be accomplished; repeated military efforts to disarm Chechen rebels have failed. Some political parties otherwise opposed to the government, including Yabloko, have supported Lebed's efforts in Chechnya. Surprisingly, in recent weeks no opposition parties have called for a special session of parliament to discuss the Chechen crisis. -- Laura Belin

Dmitrii Ayatskov won 80% of the vote in the Saratov gubernatorial election on 1 September, convincingly defeating the Communist Party candidate, businessman Anatolii Gordeev, who won 16%, NTV reported on 2 September. Ayatskov, a 45-year-old agronomist, was appointed to his post by President Yeltsin in April 1996. He campaigned as a non-partisan economic professional who, in the style of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, is able to manage his region effectively. Ayatskov supported Yeltsin in the recent presidential election. Since his appointment, Ayatskov has fired the majority of the region's district administrators, and directly intervened in farm and factory management to ensure that the harvest was brought in and wages were paid. Speaking on NTV, Ayatskov said he won 85% of the rural vote and 77% of the urban vote. -- Peter Rutland in Moscow

Prime Minister Chernomyrdin took part in the opening of the first of five planned "NTV-plus" satellite channels in Nizhnii Novgorod, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 September. The channel, which will be available in most of European Russia, will show four Russian films every night beginning at 6:30 p.m. By the end of the year, NTV will launch additional satellite channels for foreign-made films, sports, news, and music, Kommersant-Daily reported on 31 August. Individual subscribers will have to pay $145 for the equipment to receive the special channels and then $10 per month for the transmissions. The capital needed to launch these channels was raised in June, when the gas monopoly Gazprom bought a 30% share in NTV (see OMRI Daily Digest, 10 June 1996). -- Laura Belin

Moscow has voiced "mounting concern" over the situation in Iraq following a U.S. cruise missile attack on military targets in and around Baghdad as well as in southern Iraq, AFP reported on 3 August. The agency, citing an unnamed Russian Foreign Ministry official, said the attack could lead to "an uncontrollable situation," adding that "everything now depends on what the Americans do next." The day before, the Russian Foreign Ministry said it supports a negotiated settlement between Baghdad and the Kurds "based on ensuring the right of the Kurds to autonomy within a united state." -- Lowell Bezanis

Amnesty International has designated Aleksandr Nikitin, a retired navy officer being held in prison for revealing Russian state secrets, a prisoner of conscience, Russian and Western media reported on 30 August. Nikitin was arrested in February while collecting information on the nuclear security of the Russian Northern Fleet for a report by the Norwegian environmental group Bellona. Nikitin, who has yet to be put on trial, says the information he was gathering was openly available. He could face the death penalty if convicted of treason. -- Anna Paretskaya

The Foreign Economic Relations Ministry has decided to close down 35 of its commercial centers in foreign capitals, Izvestiya reported on 31 August. That would bring the number of existing centers to 47, down from 130 five years ago. The move will save $20 million in annual operating costs and free up $500 million worth of property, but 500 staff will be fired or relocated. Eventually, commercial centers will only be kept in the "big seven" industrial powers, and in China, Iran, Iraq, Indonesia, and Libya. Commercial functions will be taken over by the regular embassy. This step is part of a general campaign to strengthen the coordinating role of the Foreign Ministry. In other news, Foreign Economic Relations Minister Oleg Davydov announced that his ministry has taken over the functions of the Russian State Committee on Military-Technical Policy, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 August. -- Peter Rutland in Moscow and Doug Clarke

Several thousand employees of Aviastar, Russia's largest commercial aircraft producer, blocked streets in Ulyanovsk on 2 September to protest wage arrears and the lack of work, NTV reported. Aviastar has not paid its employees since April and the company put its workforce on administrative leave at the end of August. The plant, which makes the Tupolev 204 and the Antonov 124 military transport plane, is in a financial crisis. Demand for the An-124 has fallen sharply, and the plant lacks the necessary capital to increase the production of Tu-204s. The oblast's governor has appealed to Prime Minister Chernomyrdin for help, and workers are preparing to send a petition to President Yeltsin. In mid-September, the government is due to announce its decision on providing financial guarantees for a deal involving the sale of 30 Tu-204s to an Egyptian firm, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 August. -- Penny Morvant

Despite President Yeltsin's pre-election efforts to clear the backlog in pensions, pension arrears rose from 3 trillion rubles on 1 June to 7.3 trillion rubles ($1.4 billion) on 1 August, according to the head of the Pension Fund, Vasilii Barchuk, writing in Izvestiya on 31 August. In most regions of Russia pensions are being paid with a 2-4 week delay. The Pension Fund in turn is owed 8 trillion rubles from the federal budget. The minimum pension for the second half of 1996 has been set at 220,000 rubles and the average pension will be 374,000 rubles ($70), compared with the current average wage of 790,000 rubles. -- Peter Rutland in Moscow

The State Statistical Committee has announced that the rate of inflation in August was close to zero, the lowest level since the beginning of economic reform, AFP reported on 3 September. In the last two weeks of August, Russia recorded the first incidence of deflation as consumer price inflation fell by 0.1% and 0.2%, respectively. This latest achievement should make it possible for the government to keep the annual inflation rate below 30%, down from 131% in 1995. At the same time, there is growing concern that the government is focusing too intensely on monetary stabilization and neglecting other areas of the economy. -- Natalia Gurushina

After a review of Russia's economic performance last month, the IMF agreed to move up its target figure for Russia's 1996 budget deficit from 4% to 5.25%, Reuters reported on 29 August. The step is a reaction to the need to make an adjustment to the repayment of outstanding state short-term securities (T-bills) issued on the eve of the presidential election, when yields were soaring to as high as 155% annually. The IMF has delayed the disbursement of July's tranche of the $10.1 billion extended facility fund for one month, citing poor tax collection practices. The tranche was released in August after the Russian government adopted a package of 30 measures designed to boost revenue collection. Despite the IMF's decision to loosen the budget deficit target, the fund's conditions on Russia's revenue collection remain unchanged. -- Natalia Gurushina

Tens of thousands of ethnic Azeris in Iran have signed a petition calling on their deputies in the Iranian parliament to introduce legislation demanding the "return" to Iran of 17 cities in the Caucasus, including Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, AFP reported on 31 August, quoting the Iranian daily newspaper Abrar. The petition calls on the leadership of Azerbaijan to "be courageous and recognize historical facts" and accede to these demands. -- Liz Fuller

Meeting in Tbilisi with the deputy head of the OSCE mission in Georgia, Georgian Defense Minister Vardiko Nadibaidze proposed disbanding the joint Georgian-Russian-Osetian peacekeeping force deployed in Tskhinvali since 1992 and replacing it with a group of Russian and Georgian military observers, ITAR-TASS reported on 31 August. -- Liz Fuller

Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov has sacked Supreme Court Chairman Amanmurad Kakabayev and Deputy Interior Minister Amangeldy Geldykurbanov, Reuters reported on 29 August. The two were dismissed for "failing in his responsibilities" and "serious shortcomings," repectively, according to the agency. A 28 August Turkmen Radio report monitored by the BBC reported that Geldykurbanov, who was also the head of Turkmenistan's Higher Militia School, was demoted and expelled from all Interior Ministry bodies. He was replaced at the school by Gurbanmukhammet Kasymov. No replacement for Kakabayev has been announced. Niyazov deplored "an epidemic of corruption which has touched all levels in the justice authorities," Reuters reported, citing Neitralny Turkmenistan. -- Lowell Bezanis

Ukraine's national currency, the hryvnya, was introduced on 2 September, international agencies reported. For a transitional period, both karbovantsy and hryvnyas will be accepted as legal tender, and prices will be frozen for the month. As of the hryvnya's introduction, all wages, pensions, and foreign exchanges will now be made in the new currency. -- Ustina Markus

German Chancellor Helmut Kohl arrived in Ukraine on 2 September for an official visit, international agencies reported. It was Kohl's third visit. Kohl met with President Leonid Kuchma, Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko, and parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz. The visit will last until 4 September, and Kohl is to receive an honorary degree from Kyiv's state university. An agreement is to be signed on consultations over Ukraine's economic reforms, for which Germany will give 28.7 million DM this year. An accord is also expected on cooperation between German and Ukrainian TV, and on the status of Ukraine's 40,000 ethnic Germans. -- Ustina Markus

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka presented his draft constitution on 31 August, Russian TV and Radio Rossii reported on 1 and 2 September. The draft extends the president's term of office and gives him the right to annul decisions by local councils, set election dates, call parliamentary sessions, and dissolve parliament. He can also appoint judges, five members of the Constitutional Court and the chief justice, Central Election Commission officials, and the head of the State Control Service. The draft envisages a two-chamber parliament with a 110-member house of representatives and a senate. All former presidents will be senators for life. There was no mention of what should happen to the currently elected 199 deputies in the smaller new legislature. The president will have the right to appoint a third of the senate. An All-Belarusian Congress of 5,000 members is to convene on 19 October to discuss the draft. -- Ustina Markus

Lukashenka's draft constitution was immediately denounced by parliamentary speaker Syamyon Sharetsky. He said the document was meant to enhance the president's powers and was dangerous given Lukashenka's "boundless appetite for power." On 2 September ITAR-TASS reported 3,000 demonstrated in Minsk against Lukashenka's proposed new constitution and referendum. The rally ended with protestors collecting signatures for the removal of the president. -- Ustina Markus

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Strobe Talbott presented the so-called Baltic Action Plan to the ambassadors of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania in Washington on 29 August, BNS reported the next day. The state department-developed plan has three parts. The first foresees U.S. aid to the Baltic states for integration into Western institutions, primarily in the area of security, including NATO. The second stresses the importance of good relations with neighbors, especially Russia. The third provides for the signing of individual cooperation charters between the U.S. and the three states. Lithuanian Foreign Ministry Political Department Director Vygaudas Usackas said the charters, which will encompass aspects of economic, political, and security cooperation, should be signed early next year. -- Saulius Girnius

The Sejm approved an amendment to the abortion law on 30 August, allowing abortion up to the 12th week of pregnancy in cases where the woman faces "major financial or personal difficulties." Pope John Paul II was critical of the amendment, saying in Polish on 1 September in Castelgandolfo: "A nation that kills its own children is a nation without hope." Polish Catholic Primate Jozef Glemp was also critical. Glemp said on 1 September that the law was a "general license to kill, aimed at children." Polish public opinion is divided over the issue and many Catholics are against the criminalization of abortion. President Aleksander Kwasniewski said on 2 September: "Liberalizing the law on abortion is a means of fighting hypocrisy which unfortunately emerged in Poland in recent years." The Senate and Kwasniewski are expected to approve the amendment. -- Jakub Karpinski

Solidarity trade union organized on 1 September a demonstration in Warsaw marking the union's 16th anniversary. The demonstration began with an open-air mass conducted by Polish Primate Archbishop Jozef Glemp at St. Stanislas, the former church of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, murdered by communist secret police in 1984 and buried in the churchyard. "Solidarity still has commitments to fulfill," Glemp said. The demonstrators shouted "Down with communism!" Police said about 35,000 took part. Solidarity chief Marian Krzaklewski criticized the ruling coalition's tendency to "ideologize all aspects of life," and to limit workers rights. -- Jakub Karpinski

A Czech Defense Ministry official on 30 August announced a plan for radical cuts in the army, Reuters reported. Defense Minister Miroslav Vyborny drafted the plan, aimed at maintaining the country's defense capability "with respect to economic possibilities." The plan must be approved by the government and parliament; proposals put forward by his two predecessors were rejected by the cabinet. Vyborny's plan has already been criticized by the opposition Social Democrats and Communists and praised by the Civic Democratic Alliance of the ruling coalition, CTK reported. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus has reportedly asked for more details. The proposal is said to include a reduction of the army--which currently has 65,000 soldiers and 27,000 civilians--by 1,500 soldiers and 5,500 civilians. It also reportedly includes a cut in compulsory military service from the current 12 months. -- Sharon Fisher

TV Markiza, Slovakia's first private terrestrial station, began broadcasting on 31 August, Slovak media reported. Markiza broadcasts on Slovakia's third terrestrial channel, while the country's other two terrestrial channels are controlled by the pro-government Slovak TV. Currently covering about 60% of Slovakia's territory, Markiza plans to broadcast 20 hours a day. Central European Media Enterprises, which holds a majority share in the successful Czech station Nova, owns 49% of Markiza. Although other private stations exist in Slovakia--broadcasting through regional transmitters, cable, and satellite--Nova has dominated Slovakia's TV market where it is available. Markiza's General Director Pavol Rusko said Markiza's news will be "factual, without commentary," Narodna obroda reported on 31 August. -- Sharon Fisher

Actors and other staff of the Slovak National Theater (SND) on 2 September called for Culture Minister Ivan Hudec's resignation, Slovak media and Reuters reported. Returning from summer vacation, SND staff met to discuss Hudec's controversial replacement six weeks ago of the theater's stage director with actor Lubomir Paulovic. The staff said Hudec violated the SND's autonomy by changing the stage director without consulting the theater's general manager, Dusan Jamrich. That same day, Paulovic announced his resignation from the SND. Also on 2 September, Slovakia's opposition parties met to discuss the country's foreign relations and the upcoming parliamentary session. The opposition expressed solidarity with the SND actors and said they will propose Hudec's dismissal. The Democratic Union is also demanding the removal of Prosecutor-General Michal Valo. -- Sharon Fisher

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Kosovar shadow state President Ibrahim Rugova signed an agreement on the return of ethnic-Albanian elementary and secondary school children to school premises on 1 September, international media reported. The agreement, negotiated under mediation of the Roman Catholic community San'Egidio, is apolitical and both sides expressed the understanding that it was of purely social and humanitarian character. It is, however, the first case in which Milosevic accepted Rugova as a negotiating partner. Albanians in Kosovo have been boycotting the Serbian schools and established an underground school system in private homes since 1990. Albanian President Sali Berisha praised the accord as an important step for human rights. Rugova said the agreement lacked clarification on the status of university education. A committee made up of three members from each side has been appointed to work out terms for applying the accord. -- Fabian Schmidt

The governing Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA) and the opposition Party for Bosnia and Herzegovina (SBiH) have decided to call off their threat of an election boycott, the BBC reported on 31 August. The OSCE apparently told them that the current election rosters--which the Serbs in particular had packed to gain strategic advantages in key towns--will not be used after the 14 September vote. The SDA and SBiH were thereby reassured that the Serbs would not be able to use the lists as a basis for rigged voting in future local elections or referendums. -- Patrick Moore

Voting in Serbia and Montenegro continued to produce a poor turnout, with only 25% of those eligible having cast their ballots by the end of the weekend, AFP reported on 2 September. Voting there began on 28 August and is slated to end on 3 September. The initial call by the SDA and SBiH for a boycott apparently helped contribute to a low turnout among Muslims in Germany, and as of 2 September only 10% of the ballot papers from that country had been returned. Many could still be in the mail, however, so the last word is not in. Things were considerably different in Croatia, however, where some two-thirds of the potential electorate turned out to vote on 31 August-1 September. Many others were expected to travel home to cast their ballots in person. OSCE monitors described the vote in Croatia as "without fraud or major irregularities." The only problem was in Dubrovnik, where 1,700 voters were given Serbian ballots by mistake and will later have to be issued Croat-Muslim ones. -- Patrick Moore

U.S. Assistant Secretary of State John Kornblum announced on 30 August the self-styled Bosnian Croat para-state of Herceg-Bosna would legally cease to exist as of the next day, international media reported. In turn, certain republican, mostly Muslim-controlled ministries would be also dissolved into joint federal structures. Kornblum said specific institutions of Herceg-Bosna would be changed over the coming fortnight. But nothing really changed on 31 August. Ivan Bender, the Herceg-Bosna senior official, said Bosnian Croats will abolish their para-state only after getting guarantees from Muslims about simultaneous dissolution of the republic authorities, Dnevni Avaz reported on 3 September. Bender announced the para-state of Herceg-Bosna will be replaced by the Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna, a future political institution to guarantee political rights of Bosnian Croats. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Four explosions rocked Brcko early on 1 September, hitting three Muslim-owned houses and one Muslim company specializing in housing repair materials, news agencies reported. This is not the first such incident involving Muslim property in the strategic Serbian-held town, the future of which will be decided by arbitration later this year. In Doboj, peacekeepers on 31 August fired a warning shot at a Serbian ambulance that was transporting unauthorized weapons. Meanwhile, at Ovcara near Vukovar in Croatia, international forensic experts arrived on 30 August to begin work on excavating a probable mass grave. The site presumably holds the remains of at least 250 Croatian hospital patients killed by rump Yugoslav forces who took the town in November 1991. Vukovar is synonymous with heroism and martyrdom in Croatia, and work at the site will be followed closely by a broad public. -- Patrick Moore

The director of the Zastava arms facility in Kragujevac, Col. Vukasin Filipovic, is resigning, Nasa Borba reported on 2 September. Beta on 29 August reported him saying that same day that he fully intended to resign, noting the action "was for the [future] good of the plant, for the honest workers . . . and to preserve the integrity of the office of plant director." Zastava workers are waging a strike action, demanding unpaid wages, and have insisted on Filipovic's ouster (see OMRI Daily Digest, 29 August 1996). Meanwhile, on 29 August Beta also reported that Tomislav Banovic, chair of the Council of Independent Workers of Serbia, said that with the conclusion of "an agreement with the federal government," most of the Zastava workers' demands had been addressed and the issue of unpaid wages "should be resolved through negotiations with plant management." -- Stan Markotich

Slovenian President Milan Kucan opened a second round of dialogues on 2 September with the country's political parties, aimed at securing agreement on a national election date, Reuters reported. By 3 September, Kucan is expected to have met with representatives of 11 parties. According to the Slovenian constitution, Kucan will have to announce the date 60 to 90 days in advance, and an election must be held between 27 October and 8 December 1996. In other news, Nasa Borba of 31 August-1 September reported that Slovenian Premier Janez Drnovsek reiterated at a recent press conference that Slovenia "wants normalized relations with [rump Yugoslavia]." He added that Belgrade "continues to be overly preoccupied with the question of continuity," suggesting that outstanding issue may be a stumbling block to normalization. -- Stan Markotich

The Party of Social Democracy in Romania on 2 September decided to oust its junior partner from the governmental coalition, Radio Bucharest announced on 2 September. The decision was made after the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR), at a meeting the previous day, reiterated attacks on President Ion Iliescu over his intent to sign the Romanian-Hungarian basic treaty. PUNR Chairman Gheorghe Funar earlier called the intention "treason" and called for Iliescu's suspension from office. Transportation Minister Aurel Novac immediately announced he was resigning as PUNR deputy chairman and from the party itself in protest against what he called Funar's "unjustified" attacks on Iliescu, which he said are aimed at building "political capital" in Funar's race against the incumbent president. Novac will stay in the government as an independent. Prime Minister Nicolae Vacaroiu asked Iliescu to approve the dismissal of the other three PUNR ministers and said their replacements will be made known on 3 September. -- Michael Shafir

Moldova's breakaway Dniester region on 2 September staged what Reuters called "pompous" celebrations to mark the sixth anniversary of the region's "independence." Several thousand Dniester troops marched in Tiraspol's main square. Leader Igor Smirnov read congratulatory telegrams from the heads of several autonomous Russian regions and from the leader of the Russian Liberal Democratic Party, Vladimir Zhirinovsky. Infotag quoted Smirnov as saying there will be no voting for the Moldovan presidential elections on Dniester territory. Those wishing to vote will not be obstructed from doing so, but will have to travel to the territory controlled by Chisinau, Smirnov said. -- Michael Shafir

The Supreme Court on 2 September rejected an appeal against the Central Electoral Commission's (TsIK) refusal to register Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski as presidential candidate of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) on the grounds that he is not a "Bulgarian citizen by birth" as required by the constitution, Bulgarian media reported. The unanimous decision of a five-member magistrate under Chief Justice Rumen Yankov is final. The BSP daily Duma accused the court of acting on political orders by the opposition. Pirinski has not commented so far. He will hold a press conference on 3 September. Trud named Culture Minister Ivan Marazov--so far Pirinski's running mate--as the most likely new BSP candidate. Other possible candidates include Parliament Chairman Blagovest Sendov and Interior Minister Nikolay Dobrev. A BSP plenary meeting is expected to decide on a new candidate later this week. -- Stefan Krause

Greek Foreign Minister Theodore Pangalos left Albania on 1 September after a two-day official visit, AFP reported. The previous day he met with Albanian President Sali Berisha in Vlora after inaugurating the Greek consulate in Gjirokastra. The two countries agreed to set up a department of Albanian language at Athens University, and a Greek high school in Tirana. Berisha and Pangalos also discussed ways to legalize the immigration of Albanians to Greece as seasonal workers. Berisha accepted an invitation from Greek President Kostis Stephanopoulos for a visit in the near future. In other news, Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic arrived in Tirana on 2 September. He met Berisha and Foreign Minister Tritan Shehu. -- Fabian Schmidt

Lord Finsberg, leading a delegation of the Council of Europe's parliamentary assembly, implied that the Council was ready to suspend Albania unless the government and opposition parties respected its call to start serious talks to sort out their differences, Reuters reported on 30 August. Finsberg also said the Council would send technical aid to Albania to help it hold free and fair local elections on 20 October. Meanwhile, the Socialists pledged to participate fully in the local ballot, but demanded the government guarantee free and fair elections. They further demanded round-table talks to change the electoral law, a new constitution and new parliamentary elections as soon as possible and the annulment of the controversial "genocide law." -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Janet Hofmann