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Newsline - September 19, 1996

In a meeting with Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais, President Boris Yeltsin said that he approved of the work being carried out by the government, the Security Council, and his administration in resolving the Chechen conflict, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September. He stressed that Moscow had to take a differentiated approach for each regional election and ordered Chubais and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to visit regions where elections are to be held soon. The two men also discussed the procedure for handling the "nuclear button" during Yeltsin's medical treatment: it will probably be transferred for several days to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. The Kremlin also denied reports that Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko had been hospitalized, AFP reported. -- Robert Orttung

The prime minister was not nearly as upbeat about Lebed's 17 September trip to Chechnya as Lebed himself. Chernomyrdin said that he would participate in the negotiations with the Chechen separatists "if necessary," since it was his job to do so, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September. However, Chernomyrdin will not meet with acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev to discuss the formation of a coalition government, a source close to the prime minister told ITAR-TASS. Earlier on 18 September, Lebed met with Chernomyrdin for 40 minutes to explain the results of his trip to Chechnya. -- Robert Orttung

The Russians and Chechens remain divided over whether Chechnya can become an independent country. While official Moscow says no, Chechen Minister of Information and Press Movladi Udugov warned that Russia would not disintegrate if Chechnya becomes independent, but that it would fall apart from the "tension of keeping Chechnya on its knees in a position of slavery," NTV reported on 18 September. After his talks with Lebed, Yandarbiev said that "we are compromising in order to win our independence." The leaders of the coordinating council of Chechen parties and movements made clear that Moscow would have difficulty setting up a moderate coalition government since it would be impossible to find any politicians in the republic who did not support Chechen independence, Kommersant-Daily reported on 19 September. The names of the cabinet members are expected on 24 September. -- Robert Orttung

Chechnya has reached the same stage as the conflicts in Nagorno-Karabakh, the Transdniestr region, and Abkhazia, Presidential Council member Emil Pain wrote in Rossiiskie vesti on 19 September. In these places there is a relatively peaceful balance in which the "center" has suffered a military defeat and cannot restart military activities, while the separatists, feeling victorious, do not want further fighting. This situation can hold for a relatively long time. Pain argued that those who advocate forceful methods of resolving the conflict no longer can convince Russia's leaders that one last campaign will remove the resistance. He claimed that the political situation on the ground is responsible for the relatively peaceful status quo, not the treaties signed by Lebed and Maskhadov. Since his arguments appear in the presidential administration's newspaper, they may be an attempt to show that Lebed has accomplished less than he claims. -- Robert Orttung

In an article in Nezavisimaya Gazeta of 18 September, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov distinguished between "Islamic extremism" and "Islamic fundamentalism." Primakov argues that fundamentalism is a natural response to historical developments, such as the former persecution of Islam. "Islamic extremism," which he defines as the use of force to change state borders, he regards as unacceptable. Primakov, formerly a scholar of the Middle East, is thus trying to justify Moscow's role in Tajikistan and Chechnya, while signaling that it wants friendly relations with the Islamic world and with the 17 million Muslims who live inside Russia. -- Peter Rutland

U.S. Energy Secretary Hazel O'Leary and Russian Atomic Energy Minister Viktor Mikhailov have agreed on additional practical steps for the inspection of Russia's stockpile of nuclear weapons, Reuters reported on 18 September. The two are attending the annual conference in Vienna of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). An IAEA spokesman said that Russia had also agreed to place an unspecified amount of fissile material under IAEA inspection. A Russian team will visit three nuclear stockpile sites in the U.S. to study American safeguard techniques with a view toward applying these in Russia. -- Doug Clarke

About 1,500 workers at Russian navy installations in the Far East held a rally in Vladivostok on 19 September to pressurize the Defense Ministry into paying more than 140 billion rubles ($26 million) in back wages, ITAR-TASS reported. An official of the Pacific Fleet trade union said workers have not received wages for four to six months. The demonstrators also demanded the timely transfer of federal payments for defense orders. The government debt to military facilities in the Far East is one reason for the severe payments crisis there. The Vladivostok protest is a follow-up to a rally outside the government building in Moscow six months ago involving representatives from all Russia's military trade unions. Another rally is to be held in Moscow later today. On 18 September workers attached to the Northern Fleet rallied in Murmansk. Shipyards there are owed 230 billion rubles by the fleet, which is in turn owed 1.4 trillion by the government, Krasnaya zvezda reported. -- Penny Morvant

The war in Chechnya has cost Dagestan about 6.2 trillion rubles ($1.15 billion), ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September, citing Dagestani Emergencies Minister Yunus Abdullaev. He blamed the losses primarily on terrorist acts and severe disruption to the republic's communications links and economic activity in regions bordering on Chechnya. He also said 50 Dagestani residents were killed and more than 100 injured in fighting spilling over from Chechnya. The head of the administration of Kizlyar, the scene of fighting between Chechen and Russian forces nine months ago, said the town suffered 150 billion rubles worth of damage but has received only 40 billion rubles for reconstruction and 36 billion in compensation for victims of the tragedy. In addition, Dagestan's health minister said many of the estimated 150,000-220,000 refugees from Chechnya in his republic are suffering from serious infectious diseases. -- Penny Morvant

Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko submitted a report to the presidential administration on 18 September detailing the measures he has taken to resolve the energy crisis in Primore, NTV reported. A decree issued by President Yeltsin on 14 August gave Nazdratenko a month to stabilize the situation. The measures were approved by First Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Bolshakov, and the report will now be considered by presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais. Both sides now appear to be backing away from a confrontation over the issue. Meanwhile, workers participating in the 16-day hunger strike at the Primorskii power plant in Luchegorsk pledged to continue their action until wage arrears are paid despite warnings from doctors about the health risks, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 September. -- Penny Morvant

American companies are willing to invest $1.5 billion a year over the next three years in Tatarstan, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September, citing First Deputy Prime Minister Ravil Muratov. Muratov has just returned from the U.S., where he had talks with Vice President Al Gore, business people and bankers. He believes this money is likely to be invested in the oil industry, petrochemicals, fertilizers, food processing, and the planned Yelabuga auto plant, a joint venture with General Motors. -- Natalia Gurushina

During a recent visit to Nizhnii Novgorod, Economy Minister Yevgenii Yasin said that the Russian government is considering introducing a new "hard" ruble, which will be equal to 10,000 current rubles, Segodnya reported on 14 September. (Currently, there are 5,382 rubles to the dollar.) The Chairman of the Duma's Subcommittee on Banking Legislation Pavel Medvedev supported the idea of currency reform, adding that low inflation creates favorable conditions for such move, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September. However, the agency also reported that Sergei Dubinin, Chairman of the Central Bank, said that there will be no currency reform in Russia in the near future. There was considerable panic in July 1993, when the government abruptly canceled old ruble bills and insisted on the use of new bills - even though in that case they were of the same denomination. -- Natalia Gurushina

Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits on 17 September announced a new procedure to off-set federal tax arrears of firms (and regions) against money owed to them by federal agencies, Segodnya reported. Commercial banks will issue credits to firms or regions which are owed money from the budget, and the firms will use these loans to pay the taxes they owe. The finance ministry will use the money to pay federal arrears, enabling the firms to repay the bank loans. The scheme appears to be a substitute for the existing tax waivers, which have attracted criticism from the IMF. It assumes that the banks are willing and able to help plug the holes in tax collection. On 18 September Duma deputies, ministry officials, and representatives from 53 republics and regions met in Voronezh to discuss the 1997 draft regional budget, ITAR-TASS and ORT reported. Livshits told the gathering that nonpayments to the federal budget amounted to 32 trillion rubles ($5.9 billion) by the end of August. -- Ritsuko Sasaki and Peter Rutland

The chairman of Georgia's parliament, Zurab Zhania, has claimed that Russia's policy toward Abkhazia and South Ossetia seeks "to legalize the separatists' position" by turning a blind eye to elections the two breakaway regions are planning in November, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September. Zhania said the elections would condone "the ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Georgian population carried out by Abkhaz separatists," and argued that the Russian peacekeepers in those regions have a responsibility to prevent the elections from taking place. Zhania once again stressed that Tbilisi was prepared for a "strategic partnership" with Moscow on condition of Georgia's territorial integrity. -- Lowell Bezanis

Three candidates have withdrawn from the 22 September presidential election and thrown their support behind National Democratic Union leader Vazgen Manukyan, Western and Russian agencies reported on 17 September. The now four-way presidential race pits Communist leader Sergei Badalyan and Scientific-Industrial Civic Union leader Ashot Manucharyan against Manukyan and incumbent Levon Ter-Petrossyan. Long the clear favorite, Ter-Petrossyan is now widely perceived to be facing a serious challenge from Manukyan. -- Lowell Bezanis

A sub-committee of the Russian State Duma Committee for CIS Affairs has issued a protest against what it termed "unceasing persecution of the Russian population, especially Cossacks, in Kazakstan", ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September. The sub-committee is chaired by Aleksei Lebed, the brother of Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed. The statement referred to a series of "preventative arrests" in Kazakstan, including the arrest of three men on 11 September for wearing Cossack uniform in a public meeting in Kaskelen. The letter argued that Cossacks are being badgered "primarily for adherence to their primordial habits and ways." This is the second such statement emanating from the Russian State Duma on this subject in a week. -- Lowell Bezanis

Ministers for CIS affairs from 10 CIS states (excluding Azerbaijan and Ukraine) met in the Kyrgyz capital to discuss ways to promote economic integration between CIS member states, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 September. Russian CIS Minister Aman Tuleev said that "the repayment of the debts by state-owned packages of shares of industrial enterprises of CIS republics may become the main mechanism in this respect." Such debt-equity swaps have already been concluded with Moldova, but are being resisted by Ukraine. -- Peter Rutland

Turkmen authorities have circulated an official statement declaring that President Saparmurad Niyazov is the founder of all local newspapers published in the country, according to a 17 September Pravda-5 report. Noting that Niyazov was earlier officially declared the founder of all the republic's central press, the report suggested the mass media in Turkmenistan have been "essentially monopolized." In other news, Turkmenistan's first Islamic theological school, established by Turkey's Religious Affairs Directorate, has opened in Ashgabat, Zaman reported on 18 September. -- Lowell Bezanis

Gennadii Zyuganov, leader of Russia's Communist Party, was in Minsk on 18 September at the invitation of the Belarusian parliament, Belapan and Radio Rossii reported. Zyuganov met with Parliament Speaker Syamyon Sharetsky and addressed the Belarusian legislature. He urged restraint in the political power struggle and said the Russian leadership did not want events in Belarus to "overstep civilized limits." Zyuganov also met with Prime Minister Mikhail Chyhir and is scheduled to meet President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. -- Ustina Markus

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka banned funding for the 24 November by-elections, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 September. According to Finance Minister Paval Dik, Lukashenka said that his promises to the Belarusian people prevented him from allowing the by-elections to be financed from the country's budget. Meanwhile, head of the Belarusian Liberal Democratic Party Syarhei Haidukevich voiced support for Lukashenka's referendum on changing the constitution to enhance the president's powers. Head of the Party of Communists of Belarus Syarhei Kalyakin denied there were rifts in the party and said that he would not allow an extraordinary session of the party to take place. Kalyakin had come under criticism from some party leaders for having joined forces with the "round-table" group that included nationalists, centrists, and market reformers. -- Ustina Markus

Leonid Kuchma outlined a four-year program to combat crime in Ukraine, Ukrainian TV reported on 17 September. The program provides the legal, technical, and organizational conditions to carry out his administration's crime-fighting plan. Meanwhile, Ukrainian agencies reported on 18 September that bombs exploded in two shops owned by Akar Ltd. in downtown Sevastopol. There were no reported injuries. In another development, a popular correspondent for the weekly TV current affairs show, Pisliamova, was beaten and robbed on 14 September. Volodymyr Skachko, the program's chief political reporter, suffered bruises and cuts when several youths forced their way into his apartment, tied and gagged him, and ransacked his flat. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Oleksander Moroz has threatened to appeal to the Kyiv City Court to strip lawmakers who have failed to give up their government or private sector jobs of their seats, Ukrainian TV reported on 17 September. Moroz said he will take the action if the legislators fail to quit their second jobs by the end of the week. He said he had warned the employers of 32 deputies of the move. Meanwhile, a new faction calling itself the Constitutional Center was registered within the legislature, Ukrainian agencies reported. The new group, headed by Mykhailo Syrota, calls itself "progressive and reformist" and plans to work on legislation aimed at implementing the new constitution. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Japan said on 18 September that it had extended its system of trade and business investment guarantees to Ukraine and Azerbaijan, as those countries' economies are considered to have normalized. Previously, only Russia, Kazakstan, and Turkmenistan had such guarantees from Tokyo. On 17 September, UNIAN reported Ukrainian National Security Council chief Volodymyr Horbulin was in Washington for talks with the U.S. State Department and National Security Council. Discussions focused on security, NATO expansion, and prospects for a peace settlement in the Balkans. -- Ustina Markus

Although Latvian and Lithuanian Prime Ministers Andres Skele and Mindaugas Stankevicius have complied with the agreement not to discuss the current negotiations on the sea border, other officials have made contradictory statements. Latvian negotiating delegation head Maris Riekstins repeatedly asserted that Latvia is waiting for Lithuania to respond to its new proposal. His Lithuanian counterpart, Rimantas Sidlauskas, said on 18 September by saying that Latvia had not proposed anything new, BNS reported. He said that Latvia had at first agreed to the Lithuanian proposal that the border be determined using the 1982 UN Sea Law Convention but reverted to its former position that "the border proposed by Latvia be recognized and that the countries cooperate in the disputed territory." Lithuania stands by its position that the sea border must be settled before talks on disputed oil deposits can begin. -- Saulius Girnius

The Constitutional Commission of the Polish Parliament decided on 18 September to discuss a preamble to the new constitution, revoking its January decision that no preamble is needed. Former Prime Minister and a Freedom Union leader Tadeusz Mazowiecki proposed a compromise text that refers to "citizens of Poland who believe in God, the source of truth, good, and beauty" and to citizens "who do not share this belief but recognize a need to aspire to those supreme values." The episcopate's secretary, Bishop Tadeusz Pieronek, approved Mazowiecki's draft and said it is consistent with the Vatican II Council's Declaration on Religious Freedom. Nine drafts of the preamble have been deposited with the commission. The rest of the draft constitution is ready and the text awaits final approval of the parliament and citizens by referendum. -- Jakub Karpinski

Polish Sejm commissions responsible for budget and finance decided to maintain the existing tax rates of 21%, 33%, and 45% for 1997. The rates were introduced in 1994 as an increase from 20%, 30%, and 40% and were initially intended to be a temporary measure for one year, but later "budget considerations" prevailed. The decision of the commissions has to approved by the Sejm and the Senate, and the bill has to be signed by the president. -- Jakub Karpinski

Pavel Tykac, the head of the financial group Motoinvest, who on 17 September left the Czech Republic because he "was afraid for his life" after announcing that he knows the people responsible for the collapse of Kreditni Banka, resurfaced in Prague on 18 September. He said that he is still afraid but that he has to put the interests of his company and his friends, who are being prosecuted in connection with the bank's collapse, above his personal interests. Tykac announced that his company is likely to give up its activities in the Czech banking sector. A company official is currently abroad trying to sell Motoinvest's share in another bank, Ceska Sporitelna. Motoinvest's 13% share in Agrobanka has been, in effect, frozen since the National Bank appointed its own administrator to take over Agrobanka on 17 September. -- Jiri Pehe

The Czech government on 18 September approved the state budget for 1997, Czech media reported. The budget, which must still be approved by parliament, is balanced; state income and expenditures should each reach 549.1 billion crowns ($20.3 billion). The government agreed to discuss allocations for housing and construction and for defense in greater detail. Defense Minister Miloslav Vyborny threatened in August to drastically reduce the army unless it receives more money. The opposition Social Democrats have said they are not opposed to the budget's structure or the fact that it is balanced, but they questioned the government's ability to effectively collect taxes. The budget for 1996 had to be reduced by 9 billion crowns in August because the government was unable to collect bad debts and had overestimated its income from taxes. -- Jiri Pehe

Pavol Hamzik said in Budapest on 18 September that his talks with Hungarian officials during his one-day visit to Hungary were "very open and valuable," Slovak and Hungarian media reported. Hamzik and his Hungarian counterpart, Laszlo Kovacs, discussed European integration in light of bilateral relations. "Both sides are interested in settling controversial issues. ...we know very well that the European Union welcomes any mutual progress," said Hamzik. He also said Slovakia will consider setting up a Slovak-Hungarian intergovernmental committee to oversee the two countries' basic treaty signed in 1995. The creation of the committee, proposed by Hungary, "would further the implementation of the treaty...which is expected to be a long process," Kovacs said. -- Jiri Pehe

Foreign Ministers Kovacs and Hamzik continued to differ over the recent introduction of the Slovak law restricting the use of foreign national anthems, Hungarian media reported on 19 September. To Hamzik's remark that Slovakia's treatment of flags and national anthems is in keeping with international customs, Kovacs responded that there are no plans to restrict foreign national anthems or flags in Hungary. Kovacs also criticized the virtual termination of state subsidies for minority papers and pressed for passage of a Slovak law governing the use of minority languages. Meanwhile, Hungarian Culture Minister Balint Magyar charged that existing Slovak legislation on the state language discriminates against minority languages and that cuts in state subsidies have caused major problems for Hungarian cultural activities in Slovakia, Hungarian media reported. -- Ben Slay

Hungary's exports and imports in current prices increased by 30.3% and 24.3% respectively during the first seven months of 1996, the Central Statistical Office announced on 17 September. The value of exports came to 1.1 trillion forints ($7.2 billion), while imports totaled 1.3 trillion forints. Hungary's export performance contrasts with most of its Central European neighbors, for whom import growth is generally running well ahead of export growth. While this news is likely to please the IMF delegation now discussing Hungary's economic prospects in Budapest, it is less likely to help Hungary's case with the World Trade Organization, which has called for an 85% reduction in Hungarian agricultural subsidies by 2000. -- Ben Slay

The OSCE supervisor of the Bosnian elections, Robert Frowick, announced on 18 September that Alija Izetbegovic of the Party of Democratic Action (SDA) won both the Muslim seat on the three-man presidency and the most votes of any of those three winners. Izetbegovic took 729,034 votes, while the Serb Momcilo Krajisnik had 690,373 and the Croat Kresimir Zubak won 342,007, Oslobodjenje reported. As to their respective challengers, Haris Silajdzic finished with 123,784 votes, Mladen Ivanic with 305,803, and Ivo Kosmic with 38,261. As the top vote-getter, Izetbegovic will be the first to hold the rotating chair of the presidency, although some legal confusion remains as to whether he will have the position for two years or for a shorter term. -- Patrick Moore

Getting the three nationalist leaders to work together will be no easy task. Krajisnik and his Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) are on record as wanting the destruction of the Bosnian state and the unification of all Serbs in a greater Serbia. Krajisnik nonetheless said on 18 September that "the fact that we sought posts in the joint institutions of Bosnia-Herzegovina shows that we are ready to work there and think that we can secure the rights of the Serb people," AFP reported, quoting SRNA. Zubak, whose party formally acknowledges the Bosnian state but openly favors union with Croatia, said he will work "for the full implementation of Dayton." Izetbegovic's SDA is the most unambiguous of the three leading parties in its support for a united Bosnia-Herzegovina, but the party has a strong Islamic wing that would prefer a small "pure" state to a multi-ethnic one. In any event, Izetbegovic said: "I want to repeat my political goal. In short, it is the reunification of the country and justice in it." -- Patrick Moore

Gen. George Joulwan, NATO's supreme commander, said on 18 September he would recommend only a limited reduction of the NATO Peace Implementation Force (IFOR) in Bosnia-Herzegovina until municipal elections are held, AFP reported. The exact date for the elections has yet to be decided, but Joulwan said they may be held in November. NATO had previously planned to significantly reduce the 50,000-strong force after Bosnia's landmark September elections. Joulwan said it is "premature" to say whether a NATO force will be needed in Bosnia next year to prevent a new war breaking out. That same day NATO decided to send a new military command to oversee IFOR's withdrawal from Bosnia. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The UN international criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia rejected on 17 September the request by defense lawyers to abandon 21 out of 31 charges against Bosnian Serb Dusan Tadic, Nasa Borba reported the next day. Tadic has been charged with killing 13 Muslims and torturing 18 others in detention camps and during ethnic cleansing in northwestern Bosnia. In a request filed in August, Tadic's lawyers argued the prosecution had failed to prove the charges despite summoning 75 witnesses, and they asked that the majority of the accusations be dismissed. The court ruled that only in the final stages of the trial will it be decided whether the charges have been proved. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Republika Srpska Deputy Prime Minister Velibor Ostojic said on 18 September that Izetbegovic's election as president of Bosnia's collective presidency was "the result of manipulation," AFP reported. Ostojic said the Serbs had had a "realistic expectation" that their candidate, Momcilo Krajisnik, would win the most votes, but he added that the Republika Srpska would stand by the result. Bosnian Serb television waited more than six hours to announce that Izetbegovic will be Bosnia's president again. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Slovenia has petitioned authorities to freeze assets held by nine French banks registered under the name of the former Yugoslavia. French authorities are expected to rule sometime "next week" on whether the assets, totaling an estimated $593 million, will be frozen, AFP reported on 18 September. The report also noted that Ljubljana "fears that the accounts ... could be seized by rump Yugoslavia" and demands that the banks "be required to account for movements of capital since the collapse of the former Yugoslavia." In a similar development earlier this summer, Ljubljana succeeded in winning a court order freezing Belgrade's assets in Cyprus, Nasa Borba reported back on 22 July. -- Stan Markotich

The strike by arms and auto workers in Kragujevac continued to grab headlines on 19 September. Nasa Borba reported that while the job action continues, the arms facility has secured a preliminary agreement with the rump Yugoslav army on a deal valued at nearly 10 million dinars ($2 million). But protesters vow their strike will go on until all grievances are met. Whether Serbia's labor movement will support the strikers, however, is a question. Aleksandar Ivovic, president of the Union of Metalworkers of Serbia, has publicly criticized their efforts, saying the Kragujevac protesters are jeopardizing the company's future and well-being. He added that because many of their demands, including calls for back pay, have been met, the purpose of continued action is unclear, Tanjug reported on 17 September. -- Stan Markotich

A group of historians working with Kosovar Albanian historian Zekiria Cana
claims to have found a mass grave containing the bodies of about 2,000 ethnic Albanians near Tivar, international media reported on 19 September. The men were allegedly killed by Serbs and Montenegrins at the end of World War II. The historians had been searching for many years for the victims, who allegedly were among about 5,000 ethnic Albanian members of partisan groups who were ordered to leave Kosovo in March 1945 on the pretext that they could join Yugoslav partisan groups. Albanian historians claim that most of them were killed by Serbian guards during their march from Kosovo through northern Albania to Montenegro. Cana claims that about 50,000 Albanians in Kosovo were killed by the Serbian military administration after the war. -- Fabian Schmidt

Romania's government on 18 September started ratification procedures for the basic treaty with Hungary signed two days before, Radio Bucharest reported. The cabinet discussed the draft law on the treaty's ratification, which will be forwarded to parliament soon. Meanwhile, deputies from the ultra-nationalist Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) continued criticizing the document. On 17 September, PUNR Deputy Chairman Ioan Gavra described the absence of Hungarian President Arpad Goncz from the signing ceremony as "another slap in Romania's face." While the treaty was being signed in Romania, Gavra said, Goncz was at "NATO headquarters [in Brussels], bringing the news that Hungary now has free access" to the organization. PUNR Chairman Gheorghe Funar on 18 September formally registered with the authorities as a candidate in the presidential election scheduled for 3 November. -- Dan Ionescu

Moldovan Parliament Chairman Petru Lucinschi said a law on the future legal status of the breakaway Dniester region has a good chance of being completed and approved in the first half of 1997, Infotag reported, quoting the London Sunday Telegraph. According to Lucinschi, the law will require one to two years for implementation. He added that Moldova "is doomed to conduct a well-balanced [foreign] policy, since any unilateral orientation to either Romania or Russia may trigger tension in society." -- Dan Ionescu

A homemade bomb exploded near the Rodina Hotel in central Sofia early on 18 September, injuring one person, Bulgarian media reported on 19 September. The bomb went off in front of a truck loaded with construction materials, propelling the truck into a tree. This is the second bombing in Sofia's city center, coming after the explosion near the Palace of Culture two months ago. Standart suggests underworld feuding may be behind the bombings. -- Maria Koinova

The World Health Organization has expressed concern over a recent outbreak of polio in Albania that has killed seven and infected 59 people, Rilindja Demokratike reported on 19 September. There are now more polio cases in Albania than were recorded in all the rest of Europe during 1996. Local media have connected the outbreak to the vaccination of 350,000 children in April and May, but according to the WHO, tests have proved that the vaccine was not the cause of the epidemic. The WHO estimates that about 3.2 million vaccinations are needed to prevent a further spread of the disease. Currently Albania has only about 300,000 doses available. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]
Compiled by Steve Kettle and Susan Caskie