Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - September 10, 1996

In an interview with Itogi magazine, President Boris Yeltsin said that he broke the Kremlin tradition of secrecy to announce his upcoming operation because "the duty of the president is to make sure that every voter lives with the firm belief that the country is in reliable and strong hands." Yeltsin said he is suffering from ischemia, as many had speculated, and that the campaign traveling took a heavy toll on him. Kommersant-Daily on 10 September commented that the Russian media has reversed its past policy of hiding details about the leader's health and is now full of medical minutiae about the president's condition and the procedures he faces. The paper pointed out that the main risk is not the operation itself but that Yeltsin's general state of health (his liver, for example) may be too poor to ensure safe recovery. -- Robert Orttung

President Yeltsin informed the power ministers that they will be subordinate to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin during the president's vacation, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 September. Yeltsin, however, will maintain control of the "nuclear button," press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced. This is separate from the question of who will rule the country after Yeltsin's operation at the end of this month. Additionally, Yeltsin asked Cherno-myrdin to examine all expenditures made by the power ministries and suggest ways to improve the structure of the Defense Ministry and other ministries that control military units. Yeltsin plans to restructure the ministries and their spending on the basis of Cherno-myrdin's findings. -- Robert Orttung

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed on 9 September examined a Justice Ministry study on the legal standing of Lebed's agreements with the Chechen forces, NTV reported. The vice president of the National Association of International Law, Oleg Khlestov, and a group of independent experts conducted the study. There was no information available on the report or the discussion between Chernomyrdin and Lebed. After their last meeting, the two men's press services produced contradictory accounts of the discussion, Russian TV (RTR) reported. Chernomyrdin had earlier said that the documents were political and lacked "juridical standing." -- Robert Orttung

Over the night of 8-9 September, federal troops came under fire in several locations, and one Interior Ministry soldier was killed on Monday, Russian Public TV (ORT) and NTV reported. A federal column en route to the Russian headquarters at Khankala was halted on 9 September by a Chechen checkpoint at Petro-pavlovskoe. The Chechens wanted to search the trucks for stolen property, while the Russians argued that the convoy had been approved in advance by the unified command. The column was eventually allowed to proceed. Ekho Moskvy on 9 September reported tension on the border with Dagestan following a raid by Chechens, who seized hostages and property. -- Peter Rutland

The Council of Europe announced on 9 September that Security Council Secretary Lebed will travel to Strasbourg on 23 September with Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Mas-khadov to discuss their peace agreement, Reuters reported. When Russia joined the Council of Europe in February of this year it promised to seek a political solution to the Chechen crisis. Lebed's peace is still regarded skeptically by most members of the Russian political elite. By entering the international political arena, Lebed could boost his political prestige, but may also provide more ammunition to those who accuse him of betraying Russia to advance his career. Several commentators had already cynically remarked that Lebed was angling for the Nobel Peace Prize. -- Peter Rutland

The Russian press has generally remained silent about Prime Minister Chernomyrdin's announcement that his government will no longer hold weekly meetings, according to Vek on 6-12 September. From now on, the Operational Headquarters for Urgent Measures to Stabilize the Economic Situation, headed by Chernomyrdin and subordinate exclusively to him, will resolve all urgent economic management issues. Thus, the article argues, Chernomyrdin has assumed complete responsibility for the country's economic development and excluded many cabinet members from taking part in the decision-making process. At the same time, presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais has consolidated his control over the presidential administration and Security Council Secretary Lebed is trying to exercise greater control over economic policy. -- Robert Orttung

Aman Tuleev, the new minister for cooperation with CIS states and the only communist supporter in the government, said on 9 September that he had agreed to accept the post because of the essential similarity between the attitudes of President Yeltsin and Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov on CIS integration, NTV reported. He added that he maintains good relations with Zyuganov and is backed by the leftist opposition. Tuleev said that the CIS republics owe Russia $5.8 billion and that his ministry is working on possible ways of securing payment through nonmonetary means such as property and securities, ORT reported. Ko-mmersant-Daily noted that Tuleev has agreed to coordinate actions against drug trafficking and other crime within the CIS with Lebed's deputy at the Security Council, Sergei Glazev, and suggested that a Lebed-Tuleev axis could be forming within the Moscow power structure. -- Penny Morvant

Orenburg Mayor Gennadii Domkovtsev, the sole candidate in the regional election, was re-elected on 8 September with a turnout of 26%, Radio Rossii reported. His two opponents withdrew before the election, complaining about malicious attacks against them in the press and the fact that they had not been paid money owed them for campaign expenses. Although Russian law states that more than one candidate must contend an election for it to be considered valid, the local electoral commission ruled that the condition must only be filled at the registration stage. The commission's ruling could set an undemocratic precedent for future local elections. Central Electoral Commission Chairman Nikolai Ryabov declared Kalmyk President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov's unopposed re-election invalid in October 1995 (see OMRI Daily Digest, 18 October 1995). However, Ilyumzhinov remains in office. -- Robert Orttung

Mikhail Kislyuk has suspended all payments to the federal budget and declared a state of economic emergency in the Kemorovo oblast, which includes the Kuzbass coal mining basin, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 September. He said the move was necessitated by the failure of industrial enterprises to pay their debts and delays in the payment of wages, pensions, and other social benefits in the region. Almost 90% of the region's industrial enterprises rely on barter operations, while monetary transactions are conducted outside the oblast, thereby depriving revenue from the local budget. Kislyuk said he wanted to avoid a repeat of the Primorskii Krai crisis. He asked for more financial help from the government to ease the social strain in the region. -- Ritsuko Sasaki

Russia's Security Council announced it will handle the Black Sea Fleet issue because "Kyiv has shown a tendency to go back on its commitments," UNIAN and ITAR-TASS reported on 9 September. The remark was in reference to the impasse over the status of Sevastopol. Russia has interpreted last year's Sochi agreement allowing Russia's share of the fleet to be based in the port as giving it sole basing rights, while Ukraine interprets the provision as allowing Russia to use some bays for its ships but not precluding Ukraine's use of the port. The council's press service noted that Russia regards the Sochi accord as part of a single program of defense for its legitimate interests in the Caspian-Black seas region. -- Ustina Markus

The directors of more than 20 industrial firms in Primore appealed to Prime Minister Chernomyrdin on 9 September to provide financial aid to the region's fuel and energy sector, ITAR-TASS reported. They called on the government to pay all federal debts to the krai and energy subsidies and urged caution in the matter of raising the price of electricity to consumers. Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko is strongly opposed to the federal government's decision to increase electricity prices from 1 October; on 10 September local trade unions also protested the decision to raise tariffs. The Primorskii branch of the Russian Coal-Workers' Union, meanwhile, issued a statement supporting the decision of Dalenergo workers to begin an indefinite strike on 16 September. The latter are demanding back wages totaling some 125 billion rubles (about $23.4 million) and have called for direct presidential rule in the krai and the firing of Nazdratenko. -- Penny Morvant

Two Russian soldiers were killed on 8 September when the warhead of a short-range missile they were tampering with exploded near Komsomolsk-na Amure, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 September. According to unconfirmed reports, the soldiers were attempting to dismantle it in order to steal precious metals. -- Penny Morvant

In the first half of 1996, the revenue for federal and regional budgets combined totaled 237 trillion rubles ($44 billion) and expenditures 293 trillion rubles, leaving a deficit of 59 trillion rubles, or 5.5% of GDP, Ekonomika i zhizn (No. 36) reported. Regional budget revenue was 134 trillion rubles or 57% of total government income, and their contribution to the deficit was 1.5% of GDP. VAT, profit, income, and excise taxes accounted for 23%, 20%, 11%, and 6% of the consolidated budget's revenue, respectively. The rate of tax collection is deteriorating: in the first three weeks of August, the government managed to collect only 57% of the expected revenue. In late August, the IMF agreed to loosen the budget deficit target from 4% to 5.25%. -- Natalia Gurushina

Firm debts reached 400 trillion rubles ($75 billion) by the end of June, rising by 9% in June compared to an 8% monthly increase in March through May, Ekonomika i zhizn (No. 36) reported. Of this figure, some 86 trillion rubles are owed to the budget, 62 trillion rubles to non-budgetary funds (such as the Pension Fund), and 18 trillion rubles to banks. Russian companies also owe 1.8 trillion rubles to firms in other CIS countries and the Baltic states, while firms in those countries owe Russian enterprises 4.4 trillion rubles. -- Natalia Gurushina

Iran has demanded the extradition of Piruz Dilenji, chairman of the South Azerbaijan National Liberation Committee (SANCL), and a number of other Iranian emigrants living in Azerbaijan, Segodnya reported on 4 September. Iran has been pressuring Azerbaijan to back up its declared neutrality towards the nationalist movement in Azeri-populated northern Iran with concrete steps. Dilenji, who said Azerbaijani officials have warned him that he may be extradited to Iran, may have to choose between leaving Azerbaijan and halting his activities. -- Elin Suleymanov

In response to opposition pressure it has been announced that Armenians living abroad will be allowed to vote. However, Armenian Deputy Foreign Minister Vardan Oskanian said the decision to allow Armenian citizens living abroad to vote in the 22 September presidential election is of political rather than practical significance, Noyan Tapan reported on 9 September. According to Khachatour Bezrijian, the chairman of the Central Electoral Committee, about 10,000 Armenians living abroad are expected to vote, although an estimated 800,000 Armenians are thought to be living abroad. According to Ekspress-Khronikha on 10 September, the number is so low because only those who registered with Armenian diplomatic missions can vote. In Russia, for instance, there are only 172 registered voters. Bezirijian noted that Armenian citizens residing in Nagorno-Karabakh will have to vote in Armenia. -- Elin Suleymanov

Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov arrived in Paris for a three days of meetings with government officials and executives of companies interested in investing in Turkmenistan's oil and gas sector, Western agencies reported on 9 September. French President Jacques Chirac told Niyazov he appreciates Turkmenistan's "will to independence and regional cooperation." The day before Niyazov's arrival, the French Foreign Ministry announced that Paris would establish an embassy in Ash-gabat. Several French firms--including Elf oil, Dassault aerospace, Bouygues construction, and others--are presently operating in Turk-menistan. -- Lowell Bezanis

About 3 metric tons of narcotic substances, including raw opium and heroin, have been seized in the district of Gorno-Badakhshan since early 1996, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 September. The agency, citing a top federal border guard officer in Tajikistan, also reported that two drug processing plants (likely for converting raw opium into morphine base) are operating in Afghan Badakhshan at present. If true, the figures cited would represent a significant increase on the seizures made in 1995, which totaled 1,749 kg according to a 14 August Segodnya report. -- Lowell Bezanis

Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko has announced that his government will lift its statewide price freeze on 16 September, two weeks early, Ukrainian agencies reported on 9 September. Lazarenko said his government had already informed international monetary institutions, including the IMF, about the decision, which was made because the introduction of the country's new currency, the hryvnya, has been going smoothly. Ukraine's temporary tender, the karbovanets, is scheduled to be phased out by 16 September. Lazarenko also announced that after raising excise taxes on spirits and tobacco products, Kyiv found funds to pay its wage arrears to coal miners for July by 16 September and pledged to pay off its August debt within a month. He added that some 60% of pensioners are set to receive the pensions owed them by mid-September. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

A majority of Crimean lawmakers boycotted the scheduled opening session of the regional parliament over a demand by pro-Russian deputies that the assembly's leadership step down, Radio Ukraine reported on 9 September. Legislators failed to reach a quorum, thus preventing the opening of the session. Members of the Rossiya bloc of pro-Moscow caucuses accused supporters of the current presidium of deliberately blocking the session in order to stall a vote of confidence in the leaders, which the bloc has been pressing for. The separatist forces have called for the replacement of the speaker, Yevhen Supruniuk -- who remains hospitalized since he escaped a recent kidnapping attempt -- whom they consider to be ineffectual and overly pro-Kyiv. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Deputy chief of the president's administration Uladzimir Zamyatalin said there is "every indication of a coup d'etat" for which parliament was responsible, Belapan and Russian agencies reported on 9 September. Zamyatalin made the statement in reaction to the parliament's decision to place its own referendum questions on the ballot alongside President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's, including its version of a new constitution that would abolish the country's presidency. Lukashenka backed Zamyatalin, saying deputies were looking into the possibility of buying weapons and creating "another White House," Reuters reported. Parliamentary speaker Syamyon Sharetsky denied deputies had begun arming themselves in anticipation of a coup. -- Ustina Markus

Attempting to show he has Russia's backing, Lukashenka on 7 September made a "blitz" visit to Moscow and made exaggerated claims about his meetings there, NTV and Russian Public Television reported two days later. Russian President Boris Yeltsin's press secretary Sergii Yastrzhembsky refuted Lukashenka's claims that he met with Yeltsin and even denied that any telephone conversation occurred. Lukashenka did meet with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and said the talks were very fruitful; however, Chernomyrdin's press service played it down as strictly a private visit. Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov's office could not confirm the minister met with Lukashenka. Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and Security Council head Aleksandr Lebed did meet the Belarusian president at Lukashenka's initiative, and discussed the withdrawal of nuclear missiles from Belarus. On 9 September Lukashenka announced that beginning next year, Russia will pay for the external protection of Belarus's borders. -- Ustina Markus

Andres Skele and Mindaugas Stankevicius on 9 September in the village of Nica, Latvia discussed the delimitation of their countries' sea border, Radio Lithuania reported. The main problem is determining the borders of the economic sea zones since Latvia has signed oil exploration agreements with two foreign oil companies in areas claimed by both countries. Lithuania rejects Latvia's consideration of the Curonian Spit as a reef or uninhabited rock, arguing that the population density of Latvia and the spit, 42 and 32 people per square kilometer, respectively, does not differ significantly. If the spit is recognized as inhabited, Lithuania would claim about 70-80% of the disputable area where the oil fields are expected to be found. -- Saulius Girnius

Jacek Buchacz on 9 September gave his last press conference in the Sejm, Polish dailies reported. Buchacz, who was dismissed on 4 September, said he did not want to follow Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz's dictates. He argued that his decisions to provide state funds to private corporations were correct, and he announced plans to sue Cimoszewicz if he finds a lawyer ready to take his cause. Cimoszewicz's spokeswoman Aleksandra Jakubowska said the prime minister's statements on Buchacz on 7 September have been analyzed by lawyers, and she can only wish Buchacz the best of luck. -- Jakub Karpinski

U.S. special Balkan envoy James W. Pardew Jr. visited Warsaw on 6 September to determine what Poland can do to help the "Train and Equip" program aimed at strengthening Bosnia's Moslem-Croat Federation military forces, Polish media reported. Polish Deputy Foreign Minister Robert Mroziewicz said Poland would like to participate in the "Train and Equip" program "at the lowest possible level." The U.S. asked Poland to sell T 72 tanks to be financed by a NATO fund; however, Poland declined in line with the policy of many EU states of equal distance from all sides in the Bosnian conflict. The U.S. will sell M60A tanks. Mroziewicz said Poland will decide the extent of its assistance after Bosnia's elections on 14 September. -- Jakub Karpinski

Czech Justice Minister Jan Kalvoda and Internal Affairs Minister Jan Ruml on 9 September agreed to set up a special team to investigate bank fraud and other large scale financial machinations, Czech media reported. The creation of the team has been prompted by the recent collapse of several Czech banks. Some 12 billion crowns ($440 million) were lost in the collapse of Kreditni and Investicni Banka, some of which apparently due to fraud. The special team will consist of the internal affairs ministry's investigators, experts from the Finance Ministry and the Czech National Bank, and possibly also foreign experts. Some Czech officials have admitted that the country does not have enough domestic experts to understand and deal with the complexities of bank fraud. -- Jiri Pehe

Opposition representatives met on 9 September to discuss a strategy for the upcoming parliament session, RFE/RL's Slovak Service reported. The parties stressed that the ruling coalition has yet to respond to the opposition's challenge for discussions on questions of future development and EU and NATO integration. Social Democratic Party Chairman Jaroslav Volf said the following demands will be made: the dismissal of the board members overseeing Slovak TV and Radio and the National Property Fund, the abolishment of the OKO commission overseeing the Slovak Information Service and the establishment of a regular parliamentary committee with adequate opposition representation, the dismissal of Culture Minister Ivan Hudec and Prosecutor-General Michal Valo, and the return of the president's right to name the SIS director. Early elections must be prevented since they would free the government of responsibility for current policies, the opposition said. -- Sharon Fisher

Association of Workers of Slovakia (ZRS) spokesman Jozef Mazar on 9 September announced his party's support for the reintroduction of the death penalty, CTK reported. Mazar was reacting to a statement made three days earlier by Slovak National Party Chairman Jan Slota, who said his party will launch a petition drive to reintroduce capital punishment if the parliament refuses to call a referendum on the matter during its September session. Mazar said the ZRS always favored the death penalty as "an effective means against murders and inhuman brutality." Capital punishment is prohibited by the constitution and by Slovakia's membership in the Council of Europe. Opposition representatives pointed out that studies have shown that implementing the death penalty does not necessarily decrease violent crime. -- Sharon Fisher

Defense Minister Gyorgy Keleti on 9 September announced that 40 overhauled T-72 tanks purchased from Belarus will arrive in Hungary on September 20 as part of Russia's repayment of its state debt to Hungary, Hungarian dailies reported. Another 60 T-72 tanks and 30 new armored personnel carriers will also arrive soon in Hungary. In other news, Magyar Hirlap reported that Defense Ministry State Secretary Laszlo Borsits will resign soon over the uproar that followed the participation in May of Hungarian MiG-29 fighters in a training exercise in Poland, without parliamentary authorization. Meanwhile, Keleti has proposed reducing the term of basic military service from 12 to 9 months, starting next August, Nepszabadsag reported on 10 September. -- Ben Slay

Croatia and rump Yugoslavia on 9 September established full bilateral relations with the exchange of diplomatic letters, Nasa Borba reported on 10 September. A Croatian Foreign Ministry statement said both sides have upgraded their existing liaison offices to embassy status. AFP reported that in Zagreb the exchange of letters involved Deputy Foreign Minister Ivan Simonovic and head of the rump Yugoslav mission Veljko Knezevic, while in Belgrade an identical ceremony included Deputy Foreign Minister Radoslav Bulajic and the head of the Croatian mission Zvonimir Markovic. Ambassadors will be named before year's end, and Croatian state media reported that Damir Zoric, head of Zagreb's refugee bureau, will represent Zagreb in Belgrade. -- Stan Markotich

Two parties having completely divergent programs rallied on 9 September in Brcko, a potential point of a new Bosnian crisis. The relatively moderate Democratic Patriotic Block of Republika Srpska, led by Banja Luka's former mayor Predrag Radic, encountered jeers and catcalls when it called for more democracy. Meanwhile, the ultra-nationalist Radical Party of Republika Srpska gathered some 10,000 people attracted by the announcement that Vladimir Zhirinovsky would be one of the speakers; however, Zhirinovsky missed the rally due to a hold-up at the border with Serbia. Radicals in Brcko said Serbs should be united into a single state, and were greeted with shouts of "Long live Greater Serbia," AFP reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

High Representative for Bosnia Carl Bildt said the Bosnian Serbs will not be allowed to secede from Bosnia after next weekend's elections, international and local agencies reported on 9 September. He threatened action against any party seeking to split from the republic. The secessionist rhetoric that dominates Serb preelection campaigning led Bosnia's main Muslim leaders on 7 September to ask the international community for guarantees that the forthcoming election will not result in the country's division, AFP reported. Meanwhile, at their meeting in Tralee, Ireland on 7 September, EU foreign ministers decided that troops will remain in Bosnia for at least two more years, Onasa reported. Bildt backed the idea and urged full implementation of the constitution agreed to under the Dayton peace accords. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Open Broadcast Network began broadcasting on 7 September, after delays caused by all Bosnian parties' unwillingness to cooperate, AFP reported the next day. The network -- established by the Office of the High Representative, the leading civic agency in Bosnia -- is designed to bring together five existing independent channels in the Bosnian federation. But disagreements over a basic program concept are already noticeable. Heads of the local television stations that joined the OBN fear it will become a new organization employing new journalists, while destroying existing stations, Oslobodjenje reported on 10 September. Meanwhile, Tuzla's mayor Selim Beslagic closed down the town's local television station for unknown reasons, local media reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Slovenian Defense Minister Jelko Kacin on 9 September met his Italian counterpart Beniamino An-dreatta in Bologna to sign a bilateral defense agreement, AFP reported. According to a statement issued by the Italian ministry, Ljubljana's signing of the accord was in keeping with its aim of NATO integration. The Italian side also reiterated its support for Slovenian efforts to join the international organization. -- Stan Markotich

Dubrovnik and environs were again hit on 9 September by a tremor, adding to damage caused since the first 5 September quake. Then, the town of Ston, some 30 kilometers north of Dubrovnik, was the quake epicenter that measured 5.9 on the Richter scale. Some estimates say nearly 70 tremors struck the area since. AFP on 8 September reported that at least 90% of Ston's buildings are damaged, many seriously, and on 9 September Foreign Minister Mate Granic asked for EU aid for the Ston area, Hina reported. On 10 September, Zagreb and surrounding areas experienced quakes. In other news, AFP reported on 7 September that a strategic 500 meter-long bridge across the Sava, linking the Croatian town of Slavonski Brod with the Serb-held Bosnian town of Srpski Brod (or Bosanski Brod) was reopened that same day. -- Stan Markotich

Roman Herzog on 9 September arrived on a two-day state visit in Skopje, AFP and Nova Makedonija reported. Herzog held talks with his Macedonian counterpart, Kiro Gli-gorov, and Parliament President Tito Petkovski. He singled out Macedonia's "moderate" policies that led to a peaceful split form the former Yugoslavia and called its minority policy "exemplary." Herzog will meet Prime Minister Branko Crvenkovski on 10 September. During Herzog's visit, an agreement on bilateral protection of investments will be signed. Herzog is the first head of state of an EU member to visit Macedonia. -- Stefan Krause

An American public relations person will manage incumbent President Ion Iliescu's electoral campaign for the ballot scheduled in early November, Romania libera reported on 9 September. George Gorton, who was also involved in Russian President Boris Yeltsin's successful electoral campaign, has arrived in Bucharest with a staff of 16 experts. Meanwhile, the executive chairman of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, Adrian Nastase, has accused the presidential candidate of the Social Democratic Union, Petre Roman, of trying to bribe the electorate. Roman made a largely-publicized present of money (one million lei or some $315) to a couple at whose wedding he was best-man. -- Michael Shafir

Radio Bucharest and AFP reported on 8 September that Israel has struck an agreement to modernize around 100 MiG fighter-bombers for Romania's airforce. Citing the Tel-Aviv daily Ma'ariv, the report said a prototype of the modernized plane was shown last week at the Farnborough airshow in Great Britain. It was furnished with a new avionic system by the Israeli company Albit, and equipped with Russian air-air missiles usually mounted on MiG-29. -- Michael Shafir

The 52nd anniversary on 9 September of the insurrection that overthrew the monarchist regime in 1944 and ultimately led to the establishment of a Communist regime was marked throughout the country by manifestations of both supporters and adversaries, Bulgarian newspapers reported. Most papers noted that this date, like no other, shows the deep division of Bulgarian society. In Sofia, around 2,000 mostly elderly followers of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) met to mark the event. Zemya -- a paper associated with the BSP -- called the event "a great day that will forever remain in the memory of the Bulgarian people." Meanwhile, the opposition held a meeting in central Sofia commemorating the victims of Communist terror. The opposition daily Demokratsiya charged that the leftist demonstrations "unmask the demagogy of the Socialists' tales about change." -- Stefan Krause

President Zhelyu Zhelev and Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) Chairman Ivan Kostov on 9 September discussed the political situation in light of the upcoming presidential elections, Kontinent and Standart reported. Zhelev -- who will not run in the October elections -- said the liberal forces will support the presidential candidate of the united opposition, Petar Stoyanov of the SDS. Kostov and Zhelev stressed the need for a united opposition. They said the ongoing economic crisis may complicate the election process and called on the government to ensure that the elections are free and fair. Meanwhile, former caretaker Prime Minister Reneta Indzhova announced that she will run for president as an independent candidate. Zhelev said he had warned her twice not to run because she lacks the support of "any serious political force." -- Stefan Krause

The Culture Ministry on 9 September announced that Albania's 15 Islamic theological schools will be closed down in 1997, Koha Jone reported. Effective immediately, they are not allowed to admit new students. The ministry gave no reason. The Muslim community denied a connection to the recent desecration of an Orthodox church in Voskopoja (see OMRI Daily Digest, 30 August 1996) and announced that it will try to have the decision revoked. Otherwise they will continue tuition in private houses. In other news, the independent trade unions called a nationwide one-day strike in most sectors for 16 September, Gazeta Shqiptare reported. They demand general compensation for the liberalization of bread prices, claiming that a government plan would compensate only 33% of the population. They also accuse the government of breaching an agreement providing for compensation of price hikes twice a year. -- Ismije Beshiri and Stefan Krause

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Sharon Fisher