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Newsline - September 23, 1996

President Boris Yeltsin's operation will be delayed at least six to eight weeks, and it may have to be canceled, according to Renat Akchurin, the surgeon who will operate on Yeltsin, NTV's Itogi reported on 22 September. Akchurin said that it is "the most serious operation" to face the president and that the earlier it is carried out, the greater the risk. Yeltsin wants the operation as soon as possible. Akchurin, whose comment to ABC in English that Yeltsin had a third heart attack before the second round of the presidential elections caused a sensation in the Western press, clarified his statement. He said Yeltsin had heart trouble (pristup), not a heart attack (infarkt). On the NTV broadcast, he did not repeat his earlier statement that the episode had damaged Yeltsin's heart and might complicate surgery, the Los Angeles Times noted. Akchurin said that there was an 85-90% chance of saving Yeltsin. The Kremlin and the official news agency ITAR-TASS have been silent on the revelations. -- Robert Orttung

A troop train carrying some of the 30,000 Russian soldiers in Chechnya left on 21 September, resuming the process that the commander of federal troops in Chechnya, Lt.-Gen. Vyacheslav Tikhomirov, halted on 12 September, Russian TV reported. The pullout is expected to be completed by the middle of December. Acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev's trip to Moscow, originally set for 23 September, has been postponed to the end of the month, NTV reported. The Chechens blamed the delay on the failure of Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to make the necessary preparations for the visit. In response, a source close to the prime minister said that Chernomyrdin had no plans to meet with Yanderbiev, but might do so depending on the outcome of his talks with Lebed, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 September. The Moscow visit is expected to finalize Chechnya's new coalition government, AFP reported on 21 September. -- Robert Orttung

The trickle of POW exchanges continued on 22 September, with the Russians swapping three fighters and two Chechen journalists for 11 of their soldiers, most of whom had been held for more than a year, NTV reported. An additional two Russian prisoners did not want to return because they converted to Islam in captivity and refused to leave Chechnya. The Russians claim 1,383 people are missing in action, including 118 civilians, Russian TV reported. The Chechens believe about 1,350 from their side are being held, but the Russians could only confirm 59. -- Robert Orttung

The Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly gathered on 23 September, but neither Lebed nor rebel Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov will address the meeting about the situation in Chechnya, according to Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 September. Both Lebed and Maskhadov had been invited to Strasbourg two weeks ago, but Gian-Paolo Castanetto, the Parliamentary Assembly's deputy clerk, told RFE/RL on 20 September that Maskhadov had been "disinvited" due to criticism from the head of the Russian Duma foreign affairs committee, Vladimir Lukin. AFP reported on 21 September that Maskhadov had obtained a French visa in anticipation of the visit. Lebed did not attend because he believed that doing so would give legitimacy to Chechnya's claims of independence. -- Peter Rutland and Robert Orttung

Grigorii Yavlinskii, addressing a conference in Washington on 19 September sponsored by RFE/RL, condemned Yeltsin for the Chechen war, which he claimed has cost 100,000 lives. Yavlinskii, a Duma deputy and failed presidential candidate, said that Western lending to Moscow while the war continues is akin to the sending of athletes to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. He was dismissive of Lebed's peace efforts, saying that the Security Council secretary lacks the authority to end the conflict. -- Peter Rutland

Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov said Russia must prepare for a new presidential election and described his candidacy as the most "legitimate," since he gained 30 million votes on 3 July, Russian and Western agencies reported on 20 September. He alleged that Chernomyrdin, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, and Lebed are actively preparing for early elections. Meanwhile, appearing at the fifth congress of Yegor Gaidar's party Russia's Democratic Choice, presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais expressed confidence that Yeltsin will make a swift and full recovery. Chubais warned that politicians who are already preparing for the next presidential campaign will quickly discover that "this start is a false start," ITAR-TASS reported on 21 September. -- Laura Belin

About 10 pro-Communist parties and organizations rallied on Moscow's Smolenskaya Square on 21 September to mark the third anniversary of the bloody stand-off between President Yeltsin and the old Russian parliament, the Supreme Soviet. About 2,000 people attended the rally, organized by a "committee in memory of the victims of the tragic events of September-October 1993," according to ITAR-TASS. Neither communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov nor former Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi addressed the gathering, although their presence had been expected, NTV reported. -- Penny Morvant

Yeltsin signed a decree giving NTV the right to broadcast 24 hours a day on Russia's eighth television channel, NTV and ITAR-TASS reported on 20 September. The network had previously only been able to broadcast for eight hours a day, beginning at 6 p.m., on the fourth channel. The move is the latest sign of friendlier relations between the authorities and NTV, which has long sought full-time broadcasting privileges. The network drew sharp criticism from some officials in 1994 and 1995, particularly for its bold coverage of the Chechnya conflict. This year NTV's president joined Yeltsin's campaign committee, and the network strongly supported Yeltsin's re-election effort, although since July its news coverage has become somewhat more independent. In June the gas monopoly Gazprom, which has close ties to the government, purchased a 30% share in the network. -- Laura Belin

En route to Helsinki on 21 September, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry expressed support for a formal charter between NATO and Russia to give the latter a voice but not a vote on sensitive issues, particularly concerning nuclear weapons, AFP reported. ITAR-TASS on the following day quoted German Defense Minister Volker Ruehe as saying, "We would like ... a joint NATO-Russian committee where political consultations would be held." Ruehe added: "We shall record a truly strategic partnership between Russia and NATO in a new charter." The charter idea was launched by Perry in a speech at Stuttgart on 6 September. Perry said NATO has no plans at present to base nuclear weapons in former Soviet-bloc countries but it would not guarantee that such deployments would never be made. He expressed concern that Russia has not substantially reduced its arsenal of tactical nuclear missiles. -- Peter Rutland and Penny Morvant

Two hours of talks in Vienna between NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana and Yevgenii Primakov on 20 September failed to dislodge the Russian foreign minister from his opposition to NATO expansion, Reuters reported. Primakov earlier told OSCE delegates in Vienna that "it is absolutely unacceptable to Russia if NATO moves its military infrastructure nearer to our territory" and urged Austria not to join NATO, AFP reported. U.S. Defense Secretary Perry asserted on 22 September that an enlarged NATO alliance posed no threat to Moscow. Meanwhile, several dozen military leaders from Russia and the U.S. gathered in St. Petersburg on 21 September for a conference analyzing the results of the IFOR peacekeeping mission in Bosnia and military cooperation between NATO and Russia, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Peter Rutland

Chernomyrdin met with ministers on 21 September to discuss the plight of the northern regions as they prepare for winter, ITAR-TASS reported. The Far North received 8.5 trillion rubles worth of credits from the federal budget in 1994-95 to stock up with winter supplies and allow the regions to finance the transportation of goods themselves in 1996. Now, however, an additional 2 to 3 trillion rubles is urgently needed before the end of October, when navigation becomes impossible. Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Livshits said the government will investigate how the 8.5 trillion was spent, but Chernomyrdin said that the government would not leave northern residents without food and fuel, ORT and NTV reported. Meanwhile, coalminers in Vorkuta threatened to strike from 1 October because of unpaid wages and electricity cuts. -- Peter Rutland and Penny Morvant

Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko said on 21 September that the federal government has agreed to transfer 190 billion rubles ($35 million) to the regional power company Dalenergo and that the money should start to arrive on 24 September, Russian media reported. Nazdratenko had just returned from Moscow, where he had a series of meetings with federal government officials to discuss the region's energy crisis. Despite Nazdratenko's remarks, regional power workers vowed to continue their strike, begun on 16 September, until the payment of back wages begins and a timetable for full reimbursement is worked out. Communist leader Zyuganov, meanwhile, blamed the economic crisis in the Far East on the federal government. Local trade unions, which back Nazdratenko, also attacked the government and renewed calls for a regional strike on 10 October. -- Penny Morvant

Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits told a press conference that Russia has never been so close to both successful economic reform and totally reversing the economic course, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 September. Although the rate of inflation and interest rates on credits are falling (the latter went down from 170-180% in the spring of1996 to 50-60% in the fall), the budget received only 78% of expected revenues in January through August. Moreover, the volume of the government's wage and pension debt equals the volume of tax arrears by Russia's 66 largest industrial enterprises. -- Natalia Gurushina

An estimated 2.4 million voters cast their ballots on 22 September in Armenia's second presidential election, international agencies reported. Incumbent Levon Ter-Petrossyan's principal challenger, National Democratic Union leader Vazgen Manukyan, alleged that serious irregularities took place during the vote. There has been no independent confirmation of these allegations. Russia openly threw its weight behind Ter-Petrossyan, with President Yeltsin sending greetings to mark the fifth anniversary of Armenia's independence the day before the vote. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin went further the same day, telling Armenian Television viewers Ter-Petrossyan was a brave, reliable, selfless, and thoughtful man he liked to work with. Joint Russo-Armenian military exercises and a subsequent military parade in Yerevan were also intended to support the incumbent. Meanwhile, parliamentary elections were held in Adzharia on 22 September, ITAR-TASS reported. Some 225,000 voters cast ballots without incident to elect 80 deputies. -- Lowell Bezanis

Citizens of Kazakstan have an opportunity to voice their grievances to President Nursultan Nazarbayev through one of four telephone lines, NTV reported on 21 September. The idea is Nazarbayev's and is intended to help the president get in touch with the problems of the population. According to the report most callers so far have complained about their "wretched lifestyle" and about the regional and oblast Akims, the Kazak equivalent of councilors. The leadership of the Pokolenie (Generation) movement said their three-hour attempt to reach an operator on the hot line was unsuccessful, and the NTV report noted that four phone lines are clearly not enough to serve a country of 16 million. -- Bruce Pannier

Narodno slovo on 19 September published a draft law on political parties for public discussion. It prohibits the establishment of parties based on ethnic or religious lines, and those advocating war or the subversion of the constitutional order, according to the BBC-monitored report. Military and law-enforcement personnel, foreigners, and stateless people will not be able to join parties. In a bid to prevent regionally based parties, the law stipulates that prospective parties must divulge details of 3,000 members distributed over at least eight of the country's regional-level administrative territories. Parties may not accept donations from state, foreign, religious, or anonymous sources. -- Lowell Bezanis

Kazakstani President Nazarbayev has sent a letter to his Uzbek counterpart Islam Karimov suggesting Almaty is disappointed with the unimplemented customs union agreement signed with Russia, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan, RFE/RL reported on 19 September. Nazarbayev proposed closer ties with Bishkek and Tashkent, including the establishment of a unified parliament of the three countries. Delovaya nedelya., carrying the RFE/RL report on 20 September, noted that Nazarbayev initially expressed his concerns during unofficial talks with Karimov and Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev in Jambul in August. The report also alleged that Almaty's plans to become Moscow's principal ally have failed to bear fruit as Belarus is successfully playing this role, and that Tashkent is cool to Nazarbayev's newfound interest in his fellow Central Asians. -- Lowell Bezanis and Merhat Sharipzhan

The Electoral College, convening on 20 September in Tallinn, voted for Lennart Meri to serve a second five-year term as president, Western agencies reported. In the second round of voting, Meri received 196 votes and parliamentary deputy speaker Arnold Ruutel 126; 44 college members abstained and six cast invalid ballots. In the first round, which took place earlier that day to decide who should take part in the run-off, Meri received 139 votes, Ruutel 85, Tunne Kelam of the Fatherland Union 79, computer specialist Enn Tougu 47, and deputy leader of the Center Party Siiri Oviir 25. -- Saulius Girnius

The official campaign for parliamentary elections began on 20 September, Radio Lithuania reported. The campaign will end 30 hours before polls open on 20 October. Twenty-four parties and 17 independent candidates will compete in the elections. Voters will cast two ballots: the first for a candidate in one of the 71 individual districts, the second for a political party. Parties that receive more than 5% of the vote will gain representation in the 141-seat legislature. Campaign funding is strictly limited. Parties are not allowed to spend more than 700,000 litai ($175,000) and independent candidates 33,000 litai. -- Saulius Girnius

The Ukrainian Ministry for Environmental protection has admitted that there have been two detected increases in radioactivity around Chernobyl's No. 4 reactor, international agencies reported on 20 September. At the same time, it stressed that there has been no effect on the environment. The radiation releases occurred on 12 and 16 September. An examination of the exterior of the sarcophagus did not reveal what caused the radiation increase; it is not possible to examine the inside. Similar unexplained increases in radiation occurred in June 1990 and January 1996. -- Ustina Markus

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has said that Russia will finance part of the Belarusian air defense forces, Russian Public TV reported on 22 September. Lukashenka noted he reached an agreement to that effect with Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov during his "secret blitz-visit" to Moscow on 7 September. Russia's Defense Ministry has not confirmed Lukashenka's statement. Russian Public TV noted that in the absence of information on Lukashenka's visit to Moscow, the Belarusian president has been freely interpreting what happened at meetings there. Nezavisimaya gazeta on 18 September wrote that Moscow is becoming an arbitrator in the political dispute between the president and parliament in Belarus. Lukashenka is reportedly courting the Russian military because he has fallen out of favor with Russia's gas and oil lobby as well as the Russian prime minister. -- Ustina Markus

Deputies have voted 105 to 28 in favor of canceling the parliamentary referendum on a new constitution if the president cancels his proposed plebiscite, international agencies reported on 20-21 September. The deputies have proposed abolishing the presidency, while Lukashenka wants a new constitution that would greatly increase the president's powers. Pro-presidential deputies denounced the "zero option," but the president said he is ready to reconsider some parts of his referendum questions, including the proposal to grant former presidents life-long seats in the parliament. He also stressed that the current versions of his draft constitution and referendum questions are not necessarily final. Meanwhile, Radio Rossii reported that 60% of Belarusians live at or below the poverty line. More than 70% blame government structures for declining living standards, while 40% blame Lukashenka. -- Ustina Markus

Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz and Mikhail Chyhir, meeting in Bialystok in eastern Poland on 21 September, signed an agreement to increase the number of crossing points on the Polish-Belarusian border, international reported. Cimoszewicz said Poland has started to build a new large customs terminal for trucks near Terespol. Work is under way to expand two other checkpoints. The premiers' talks also focused on ethnic minorities in the two countries. Some 350,000 Belarusians live in Poland and an estimated 500,000 Poles in Belarus. After their meeting, they visited a school in Kleszczele, in northeastern Poland, where all classes are held in Belarusian. They then traveled to Hrodna in Belarus to open a Polish school there. -- Jakub Karpinski

The Polish Defense Committee has tentatively decided to equip the army's new combat helicopters with an Israeli anti-tank missile rather than a U.S. one, a government official announced on 20 September. Reuters quoted Leszek Miller as saying that a group of Polish military experts will go to Israel in November to further evaluate the "Raphael" missiles. U.S. officials have been pressuring Poland to buy Rockwell's "Hellfire" missile for the 150 Huzar helicopters it plans to purchase. -- Doug Clarke

The Executive Council of Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party on 21 September expressed support for Finance Minister Ivan Kocarnik and rejected calls for his dismissal as "politically motivated attacks," Czech media reported. The opposition Social Democrats have demanded that Kocarnik be recalled from his post, blaming him for the 2 billion crown ($75 million) losses resulting from the recent collapse of the Kreditni banka. Although Kocarnik knew in advance that the bank would collapse, he did not warn the Czech Customs Administration, which had deposited 2 billion crowns in the bank. Kocarnik, a member of the country's supervisory banking committee, argues he would have broken laws on banking secrecy if he had warned the customs administration. Meanwhile, Czech media reported on 21 September that Kocarnik has lost the support of the coalition of the People's Party and the Christian and Democratic Union. Under the Czech Constitution, the parliament cannot deliver a vote of non-confidence in individual ministers. -- Jiri Pehe

Vladimir Meciar, in an interview with Slovak Radio on 20 September, criticized the parliamentary opposition for trying twice last week to oust Culture Minister Ivan Hudec. Meciar argued that opposition attempts to call votes of non-confidence in Hudec are designed "to make the cabinet nervous." He commented that "the opposition is supposed to oppose, not to destroy." In the same interview, Meciar also remarked that the Hungarian cabinet is beginning to "confront nationalism issues." He noted that the Hungarian government is faced with the question of whether to accept European standards and join integration processes or give in to pressure from Hungarian nationalists. Meciar said that recent steps taken by Gyula Horn's cabinet were "positive." -- Jiri Pehe

The Hungarian-language daily Szabadsag, published in the Transylvanian city of Cluj, says there are "startling differences" between the Romanian-Hungarian draft treaty and the version signed last week in Timisoara, Magyar Hirlap reported on 23 September. According to Szabadsag, the final text leaves key issues open to interpretation, despite public assurances that the treaty would be worded so precisely as to bind each signatory to take specific measures. The opposition has said it will raise the issue in the parliament, while Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs claimed any modifications are strictly of a "stylistic nature." In other news, former Polish President Lech Walesa, during his three-day visit to Budapest, met with Hungarian President Arpad Goncz, opposition leaders, and Reformed Bishop Laszlo Tokes of the Democratic Federation of Hungarians in Romania. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The OSCE body that supervised the 14 September elections has said it has withdrawn its earlier, tentative elections returns, international media reported on 22 September. Spokesmen said there were numerous computer mistakes and other technical errors, such as counting some polling stations' figures twice. Hrair Balian of the NGO International Crisis Group (ICG), which has been critical of the elections, called the tally "a royal mess," adding that the OSCE's conduct throughout the poll was "irresponsible" and that its mismanagement invited challenges from nationalists who wanted to discredit the entire electoral process. The ICG had noted earlier that the returns showed that 104% of the total electorate had voted, the International Herald Tribune reported on 21 September. The Sunday Times suggested the next day that 107% of the Muslims had cast ballots. The turnout in the 1990 elections was 74%. -- Patrick Moore

The OSCE nonetheless quickly backtracked and declared that a recount had shown Alija Izetbegovic to be the presidential candidate with the highest number of votes. What the OSCE called "preliminary final results" gave 731,024 votes to Izetbegovic, 690,130 to the Serbian candidate Momcilo Krajisnik, and 329,891 to the Croatian Kresimir Zubak, Reuters reported. Izetbegovic's original margin of victory had been 26,000 votes. The OSCE is not expected to announce final results before this Saturday, which is one week later than expected. The parties will then have 72 hours to register complaints, which the OSCE, in turn, has 72 hours to consider. Only then will it decide on the validity of the vote. The OSCE has been talking about holding municipal elections on 22-24 November, but the imbroglio surrounding the previous vote makes such an early date increasingly unlikely. Meanwhile, OMRI's special correspondent reported from Sarajevo on 23 September that the OSCE has closed its press center there. -- Patrick Moore

IFOR peacekeeping forces on 21 September confiscated a dozen or so weapons found among a group of Muslims who had returned to repair houses
in a Muslim village in the Bosnian Serb entity within a separation zone where weapons are banned, Oslobodjenje reported on 23 September. Major Brett Boudreau said IFOR is waiting to see if this was another "flash point" or if it indicated a legitimate return of Muslims to their villages. Meanwhile, the Bosnian Serb authorities on 20 September sacked the Prijedor police chief in line with a NATO ultimatum for his dismissal following an incident with IFOR troops earlier that week (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 September 1996), AFP reported. In other news, Bosnian Serbs said they will boycott arbitration talks over the northern town of Brcko because the maps of the disputed region have not been made public, Oslobodjenje reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The UN Security Council on 20 September criticized Croatia for "numerous incidents" in areas it has retaken from rebel Serbs, which, it said, are threatening efforts to reintegrate refugees and displaced persons, AFP reported. The UN expressed concern about the security of both Serbian refugees and human rights workers. Ivan Zvonimir Cicak, head of the Croatian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights, welcomed the UN statement, particularly its references to the frequent attacks on and threat to human rights activists in Croatia. The Croatian parliament the same day adopted a law amnestying Serbs who fought against Croatia but excluding war criminals and those who violated human rights. Meanwhile, Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic on 22 September left for New York to attend a UN General Assembly session and discuss the situation in eastern Slavonia, the last Serb-held part of Croatia, Hina reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Trade union officials told AFP on 21 September that urgent action must be taken to fight unemployment, which has drastically increased following layoffs in the shipbuilding, textile and oil industries as well as the large number of demobilized soldiers on the labor market. Hasim Bahtijari, spokesman for the trade unions' umbrella organization, said demonstrations will be organized at the national and regional level "because the social situation has got worse since last year and the government has not responded to our demands." Croatian Trade Minister Davor Stern says unemployment is about 12% or 13%, but the unions estimate it is as high as 22%. Trade union officials said industrial restructuring is one of the reasons why people have been laid off, and they recommend businesses to opt for early retirements instead of layoffs. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Democratic Party (DS) leader Zoran Djindjic on 20 September received a suspended four-month prison sentence after being found guilty of libel, Beta reported. Djindjic has 15 days to appeal the Belgrade court ruling. Djindjic was charged with libel after running an advertisement earlier this year in Nedeljni Telegraf suggesting that Serbian Premier Mirko Marjanovic had been involved in the misappropriaton of grain and gas supplies. Dragoljub Belic, editor of Nedeljni Telegraf and Djindjic's co-defendant, was acquitted. Djindjic maintained throughout his trial that he did not intend to embarrass or belittle Marjanovic but to make the public aware of government abuse of authority. -- Stan Markotich

Radoje Kontic on 22 September ended a three-day official visit to Romania, Radio Bucharest reported. Kontic met with his Romanian counterpart, Nicolae Vacaroiu, Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu, Senate Chairman Oliviu Gherman, Chamber of Deputy Chairman Adrian Nastase, and President Ion Iliescu, who noted that the lifting of the economic embargo on Serbia and Montenegro will help "revitalize" bilateral economic relations. The two countries signed agreements aimed at boosting cooperation in agriculture, tourism, industry, and trade. Romania also pledged to back Yugoslavia's efforts to reintegrate into the international community. The two countries signed a basic treaty in May. -- Dan Ionescu

Georgi Pirinski and Theodoros Pangalos, meeting in the Bulgarian town of Smoliyan on 19 September, signed two accords on the use of strategic water reserves and the opening of three new checkpoints, Reuters reported. Bulgaria will guarantee 29% control over the average annual Maritsa River flow to Greece. According to Trud, Greece has controlled 80% of the flow until now owing to Bulgaria's lack of funds to construct new reservoirs. This accord ends a year-long dispute. The three new checkpoints-- at Gotse Deltchev-Drama, Smolian-Xanti, and Kardzhali-Komotini--are to be financed by the EU PHARE Program and INTERREG II. Last week, Bulgaria began transitting Russian natural gas to Greece, which is the second country--after Turkey-- to receive Russian gas via Bulgarian territory. -- Maria Koinova

The Bulgarian National Insurance Institute on 20 September announced that as of 7 October, pensions will increase by 30% to take into account inflation, the Bulgarian press reported. The minimum pension has been set at 2808 leva ($11), while the average pension is to be 5712 leva and a ceiling has been imposed at 8424 leva. According to Social Minister Mintcho Koralski, "there is no shortage of funds for either pensioners or the unemployed." In the meantime, 24 Chasa reported that prices for electricity and heating will rise by 14 % beginning 1 October. -- Maria Koinova

President Sali Berisha on 20 September issued a decree appointing new members of the Central Electoral Commission, following an agreement with the opposition reached earlier this month. That body, in turn, has appointed 36 district commissions, a Tirana municipality commission, and a watchdog body to ensure fair public TV and radio coverage, ATSH reported. Meanwhile, the lustration commission has rejected five of the Democratic Party's 140 mayoralty candidates. It has not yet investigated opposition candidates. Koha Jone reported on 20 September that the Center Pole coalition has still not decided whether to take part in the ballot or not. Imprisoned Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano called on his party to participate in the ballot. -- Fabian Schmidt

UNICEF vaccination expert Martin Bruno told AFP on 20 September that he believes the polio epidemic in Albania may have originated in Chechnya. Seventy-five cases have been reported in Albania since April, and seven Albanians have died from the disease. Bruno pointed out that this year's immunization program in Chechnya included only 58% of children due to the civil war. Some 150 polio cases have been reported there. He added that the disease probably reached Albania via Turkey, where 10 cases have been registered. The World Health Organization is to launch a mass vaccination program targeting some 3 million Albanians. -- Fabian Schmidt

Prime Minister Kostas Simitis's Pan-Hellenic Socialist Movement (PASOK) has won the 22 September elections, gaining 41.5% of the vote (162 seats in the 300-member parliament), international media reported. New Democracy came second, with 38.17% (108 seats). Simitis ran an election campaign supporting membership in the European currency union and tough monetary policy. He also capitalized on nationalist sentiments over Greece's relations with Turkey and the Cyprus dispute. His new cabinet is to be announced on 24 September. Observers speculated that Education Minister George Papandreou, the son of late socialist leader Andreas Papandreou, may replace Theodoros Pangalos as foreign minister. Pangalos has failed to win strong support for Greece from within the EU over its disputes with Turkey. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Jan Cleave