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Newsline - September 26, 1996

Doctors attending President Boris Yeltsin decided on 25 September to delay his heart operation by six to 10 weeks, and Yeltsin will rest until then in the hospital or the Barvikha sanatorium. He will also need about six to eight weeks to recover from the procedure, NTV reported. American doctors would perform the operation quickly to avoid the risk of a serious heart attack during the delay, The Washington Post argued. Yeltsin's doctors stressed that his kidneys, lungs, and liver were functioning normally, but that he was suffering from anemia. The continued uncertainty surrounding the president will undoubtedly encourage more infighting among his closest lieutenants. -- Robert Orttung

Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Sergei Kharlamov on 25 September ended talks with the Chechen leadership on the agenda for acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev's upcoming meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed in Moscow, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. In Moscow, Lebed chaired a closed meeting to discuss implementation of the agreements on demilitarization. Meanwhile, the withdrawal of Russian troops and Interior Ministry forces from Chechnya is proceeding according to schedule, although the situation there remains tense. The Russian military procuracy has instigated criminal proceedings against the former commander of the Russian interior ministry forces in Chechnya, Maj.-Gen. Partagen Andrievskii, for negligence during the defense of Grozny against a massed attack by Chechen forces in March. -- Liz Fuller

Lebed, in an interview published in Izvestiya on 26 September, said that Chechens will likely vote to remain within the Russian Federation in the envisioned referendum five year from now, but that their decision depends on how well the Russian government meets its commitments to the republic. Lebed defended his advisor Sergei Glazev's attacks on the government's economic policies as "normal" and giving no cause for removing him. He sees the Security Council's job as determining the direction of defense, social, information, and economic security, while the government implements policy. Lebed said that he "did not rule out" supporting former Director of the Presidential Security Service Aleksandr Korzhakov if he ran for the Duma seat in Tula that Lebed had to resign when he joined Yeltsin's administration. He described the situation in Tula as "criminal" and suggested that Korzhakov might be able to improve it. -- Robert Orttung

The Justice Ministry has registered a new movement called the Popular-Patriotic Union, whose honorary chairman is former Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi, Pravda-5 and
Kommersant-Daily reported on 26 September. The movement is separate from Gennadii Zyuganov's Popular-Patriotic Union of Russia (NPSR), which was founded in August but has not yet been officially registered, although Rutskoi remains on the NPSR's executive committee. The papers said the new movement could strengthen Rutskoi's hand in the opposition camp. Kommersant-Daily also speculated that Rutskoi is taking revenge against Zyuganov's Communist Party for not doing more to help him register as a gubernatorial candidate in Kursk Oblast. Communists in the Kursk legislature, who have a majority, could have repealed the residency requirement under which the local electoral commission denied Rutskoi registration, the paper argued. Rutskoi has appealed to the Supreme Court, claiming the residency requirement is illegal. -- Laura Belin

Federal Security Service (FSB) agents have arrested a Russian citizen on charges of spying for the U.S., an FSB official told ITAR-TASS on 25 September. The accused spy, identified only as Finkel, worked at a naval scientific research institute, and was recruited a year ago by the CIA, which wanted information on the latest generation of Russian nuclear submarines, according to the FSB source. The FSB official claimed that Finkel had been recruited by a CIA field officer named John Satter, whom he described as working under the cover of a consular position at the U.S. Embassy in Moscow. Finkel, who was arrested "some time ago," allegedly hoped to trade classified information for political asylum in the U.S. -- Scott Parrish

Chernomyrdin met with Defense Minister Col.-Gen. Igor Rodionov and other top Defense Ministry officials on 25 September to discuss the financial situation of the armed forces, ITAR-TASS reported. The meeting took place on the same day as Lebed harshly criticized the government for neglecting the financial needs of the military (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 September 1996). The meeting suggests that Chernomyrdin may be assuming more responsibility for the military due to Yeltsin's illness. Meanwhile, Krasnaya Zvezda on 25 September reported that 123 servicemen had committed suicide this year, which it attributed to the demeaning material conditions of military service. The same day, Izvestiya reported that pilots of an air defense unit in Kamchatka, unpaid since May, had gone on a hunger strike in protest. -- Scott Parrish

On the eve of Rodionov's meeting with his NATO counterparts in Bergen, Norway, Izvestiya on 24 September lambasted U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry's recent proposal for a European "security ring" as "only a new verbal strategy" to cover NATO expansion. The next day, Nezavisimya gazeta panned another Perry proposal to give Russia a "special status" in its relationship with NATO, complaining that while Poland and Estonia would be admitted to NATO, Russia would be "shown the door." It attributed this "unfair treatment" to Western unwillingness to help defend Russia, and to fears that Moscow would not "march to the American tune" if admitted to the alliance. Izvestiya on 26 September said that Rodionov faced a "hard task" in Bergen, trying to persuade his Western colleagues to accept Russian views on the "depressing subject of NATO's eastward expansion." -- Scott Parrish

Central Electoral Commission Chairman Nikolai Ryabov has recommended that the Amur Oblast Commission defer announcing the final results of the 22 September gubernatorial elections in Amur until all complaints about procedural violations have been examined, Radio Rossii reported on 25 September. Complaints have reportedly been filed by residents of remote regions unable to vote because of bad weather. Preliminary unofficial results put Communist challenger Anatolii Belonogov, the chairman of the oblast legislature, less than 200 votes ahead of incumbent Yurii Lyashko, who was appointed by Yeltsin only three months ago. The Communists have done well in previous elections in Amur Oblast. Kommersant-Daily likened the delay in announcing the results to the situation in Tatarstan during the first round of the presidential election, when early reports gave Zyuganov more votes than Yeltsin but the final results reversed the situation. -- Penny Morvant

Viktor Cherepkov, the newly reinstated mayor of Vladivostok, told Russian Television (RTR) on 25 September that he doubted whether a referendum called by his opponents in the city administration would be fair. The first deputy head of the Vladivostok city administration said the same day that 30,988 signatures had been gathered in favor of a referendum on ending Cherepkov's term in office prematurely and that it would take place on 27 October. Signatures began to be collected in August after a Moscow court ruled that Cherepkov's dismissal was unlawful. Cherepkov's replacement, Konstantin Tolstoshein, refused to comment on Yeltsin's decree of 24 September reinstating Cherepkov until he had seen the original rather than a faxed copy, ORT reported on 25 November. The decree was published in Rossiisaya gazeta on 26 September. -- Penny Morvant

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has issued a report on foreign direct investment in 1995, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 September. Russia received a mere $2 billion, compared to $3.5 billion for Hungary, and $2.5 billion each for Poland and the Czech Republic. Other CIS countries also fared poorly. Kazakstan received $284 million, Ukraine $200 million, Uzbekistan $115 million, Azerbaijan $110 million, Moldova $32 million, Belarus $20 million, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan $15 million each. The total flow of investment worldwide was $315 billion, of which $38 billion went to China. -- Peter Rutland

In an interview with Trud on 25 September, the Deputy Secretary of the Security Council in charge of economic affairs, Sergei Glazev, said the Russian economy has entered a stage of deep decline following a short period of stabilization in 1995. In July 1996 GDP fell by 9%, industrial output by 7%, agricultural production by 13%, and investment by 20% over the same period in 1995. He stressed that Russia is losing its status in the world and may become an economy of the colonial type. According to Glazev, the government's focus of attention should shift from monetary targets to the real sector. In order to overcome the industrial crisis, Glazev suggested introducing strict price and currency controls, export duties on raw materials, and tax exemptions for the part of companies' profits spent on the development of production. -- Natalia Gurushina

Minister of Labor and Social Development Gennadii Melikyan is concerned that wage arrears have reached a total of 36.5 trillion rubles ($6.8 billion) and continue to increase by 5-6% a month, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 September. Wage arrears in budget organizations amount to 6.6 trillion rubles, of which 1 trillion is owed by the federal budget. The Federation of Independent Trade Unions intends to stage a national day of protest against wage arrears on 5 November, Ekho Moskvy reported on 25 September. -- Ritsuko Sasaki

A special government interdepartmental commission has been created and instructed to recommend by the end of the year a new policy for regulating energy and communications monopolies, Segodnya reported on 25 September. The report said that the government has agreed with the IMF to reduce state shareholding in the "natural monopolies" and remove their tax privileges -- which are seen as a major reason for the shortfall in budget revenues. The government also plans to turn Gazprom's extracting firms into judicially independent daughter companies, who will bid for access to gas pipelines. The newspaper also reported that a decree reintroducing export duties on oil and gas condensate will be issued shortly. -- Peter Rutland

Following a session of the Central Electoral Commission on 25 September, four commission members issued a statement rejecting as inaccurate the preliminary presidential election returns released on 24 September by CEC Chairman Khachatour Bezirjian. The four claimed that opposition candidate and National Democratic Union Chairman Vazgen Manukyan polled 55% of the vote as opposed to 37% for incumbent Levon Ter-Petrossyan, Western agencies reported. Some 10,000 Manukyan supporters marched to the building housing the CEC and the Armenian parliament, which was cordoned off by special police. Some 45 minutes after Manukyan entered the building, Paruir Hairikyan, chairman of the radical Union for National Self-Determination and one of three presidential contenders who withdrew to support Manukyan, announced (mistakenly) that the latter had been arrested, whereupon demonstrators broke through the perimeter fence and forced their way into the building. Riot police used water cannon and fired over the heads of the demonstrators; parliament Chairman Babken Ararktsyan and his deputy were hospitalized after being beaten by demonstrators. According to Noyan Tapan, Western agencies, and The New York Times of 26 September, one person was killed in the clashes and up to 50 others, including former presidential candidate Lenser Agahalovyan, were injured -- Liz Fuller

Presidential spokesman Shahen Karamanukyan and Interior Minister Vano Siradeghyan denounced the attack on the parliament building as "an attempted fascist coup ordered by one of the leaders of the National Democratic Union," Reuters and AFP reported. ITAR-TASS quoted Siradeghyan as stating that three organizers of the protest had been arrested; Prosecutor General Artavazd Gevorkyan announced that the organizers would be charged with attempting to stage a coup d'etat and the attempted murder of the parliament speaker and his deputy, according to AFP. Speaking on state television on the morning of 26 September, President Ter-Petrossyan imposed a ban on all unsanctioned meetings and demonstrations. Early the same day, riot police surrounded the presidential palace, which is close to the parliament building, and tanks and armored personnel carriers cordoned off Yerevan's main square and the nearby headquarters of the NDU. On the morning of 26 September, the Armenian parliament voted by an overwhelming majority to lift Manukyan's immunity. He and several other opposition leaders were subsequently arrested, Western agencies reported. -- Liz Fuller

The Azerbaijan Foreign Ministry on 25 September expressed concern at the recent joint Russian-Armenian military exercises, ITAR-TASS reported. A ministry statement charged that the maneuvers were aimed at enhancing the combat effectiveness of the "Armenian occupation forces" in Nagorno-Karabakh. The Azeris were particularly concerned that officials from Nagorno-Karabakh attended the exercises, as did the Armenian president and Russian Chief of Staff Col.-Gen. Mikhail Kolesnikov. -- Doug Clarke

According to the Central Election Commission in Batumi, 93.8% of the electorate voted in the 22 September parliamentary elections in Adzharia, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 September. As widely predicted, the ruling coalition and election bloc composed of the All-Georgian Revival Union, led by parliamentary chairman Aslan Abashidze, and the ruling party in Georgia led by President Eduard Shevardnadze, the Union of Georgian Citizens, secured 83% of the vote. One seat each is known to have been secured by the Union of Georgian Traditionalists and the Tavisupleba [Freedom] bloc. The number of seats secured by the Adzharian regional branch of the United Communist Party of Georgia, which took over 5% of the vote, is still unclear. -- Lowell Bezanis

Ukrainian experts and officials have tried to minimize or have openly contradicted Environment Minister Yurii Kostenko's warning that another explosion is possible at Chornobyl, RFE/RL and Ukrainian agencies reported on 25 September. National Security Council Secretary Volodymyr Horbulin said Kostenko is mistaken in concluding that three recent increases in neutron emissions signaled a chemical reaction that could lead to a thermal explosion in the fourth reactor. Chornobyl plant director Serhii Parashyn denied there had been any rise in radiation at the plant. He said torrential rains had seeped under the encased reactor, causing the measuring equipment to malfunction and register a change in the density of neutron flux. A spokesman for the International Atomic Energy Agency agreed with that assessment, although he said a full explanation for the recorded rises in radiation may never be found. He stressed that no Western experts believe another explosion is likely. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Delegates have been elected to the All-Belarusian People's Congress, which is to debate President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's proposed constitution, Belarusian radio reported on 25 September. Lukashenka had originally planned that 6,000 delegates attend the congress. The report did not specify how many were ultimately elected but noted that between six and 18 delegates were elected in rural raions, and 166 in oblasts. Some 40% of the elected delegates are directors of enterprises or representatives of the president's so-called "vertical" structures. -- Ustina Markus

Following Lukashenka's recent announcement that Russia is to help finance Belarus's air defense forces (see OMRI Daily Digest, 23 September 1996) Izvestiya quoted on 24 September a Russian air defense official as saying Russia is prepared to pay for its own anti-aircraft defense but not for Belarus's. He added that Russian-Belarusian military cooperation is such that neither is in fact paying the other, only mutually waiving costs. The following day, Trud wrote that Lukashenka has suggested that certain Russian circles are opposed to him. Those "circles" were taken to mean Security Council chief Aleksandr Lebed and Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov. Both have recently visited Belarus but refrained from offering Lukashenka their support. -- Ustina Markus

A Tallinn city court on 25 September sentenced former dissident Tiit Madisson to two-and-a-half years in prison for treason, ETA reported. Madisson was arrested on 31 May for circulating a document on behalf of the Liberation Army in Estonia, whose declared aim is to overthrow the post-communist regime and impose a military dictatorship. Madisson denied all charges, saying the document was intended only to collect funds toward the founding of a voluntary military organization called the Defense League. -- Saulius Girnius

Guntis Ulmanis, addressing the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg on 24 September, announced a moratorium on the death penalty pending a formal parliamentary vote to abolish it altogether, Reuters reported. The council had stipulated its abolition as one of the conditions Latvia has to fulfill to gain membership. Earlier this year, it urged Latvia, along with Russia and Ukraine, to end the death penalty. An Amnesty International Report released at that time noted that Latvia executed two people by firing squad in January 1996 and two others were on death row. Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas on 25 September granted pardons to 38 convicts. The amnesty commission, however, did not discuss four appeals to commute the death sentence because it is waiting for parliament action, BNS reported. -- Saulius Girnius

The Polish state-run gas company on 25 September signed a major contract with Gazprom, international media reported. Three billion cubic meters are to be supplied in 1997. Thereafter, supplies will be increased gradually; and after 2010, Poland will be supplied 12 billion cubic meters of Russian gas annually by the Yamal-Western Europe pipeline, which transits Poland. President Aleksander Kwasniewski and the government dismissed fears that the contract would endanger Polish sovereignty by making the country dependent on Russian energy supplies. Polish Industry Minister Klemens Scierski stressed that Poland will continue to utilize its own gas sources. He added that the contract is advantageous because of the low cost of Russian gas and the potential it offers for the creation of new jobs. Currently, 60% of Poland's gas supplies come from Russia. -- Jakub Karpinski and Beata Pasek

The Sejm lustration commission has ordered the Ministries of Defense and Internal Affairs not to destroy files created before 1 August 1990, Polish media reported. Deputy Internal Affairs Minister Jerzy Zimowski responded that the order is superfluous because destroying files is a crime that the ministry is not about to commit. He added that before February 1990, secret police files were systematically destroyed; as a result, 40-50% of materials are missing. Antoni Zielinski, director of the State Security Office archives, noted that the amount of files destroyed differs from province to province and that in Gdansk only 5% were disposed of. Former Internal Affairs Minister Krzysztof Kozlowski commented that the most important agents did not sign anything and that members of the political, cultural, and church elites were too reluctant to do so. -- Jakub Karpinski

The government has decided to return some church property confiscated by the communist regime, Czech media reported on 25 September. Only those buildings (and the land on which they were built) that are currently in the possession of the state will be restituted. The churches have until 30 November to reclaim their property. The Catholic church has demanded the return of all its former forests, but the government's decision omitted any such reference. Both the opposition Social Democrats and Communists have threatened to block a large-scale restitution of church property that included forests. -- Jiri Pehe

Czech Premier Vaclav Klaus told journalists on 25 September that the country's foreign trade deficit reached 100 billion crowns ($3.7 billion) at the end of August, Czech media reported. This figure is equal to the trade deficit for 1995. Klaus has asked five of his ministers to prepare analyses of the situation and suggest solutions within two weeks. Some economists and exporters have urged the government to devalue the crown, but the government has so far refused such pressure. -- Jiri Pehe

Vladimir Meciar on 25 September began a two-day unofficial visit to the German states of Hessen and Baden-Wuerttemberg, Slovak media reported. He met in Frankfurt-am-Main with the head of Germany's largest private bank, Deutsche Bank, to discuss foreign investment in Slovakia. Meciar also met with Hessen Prime Minister Hans Eichel. He is due to arrive in Stuttgart today to meet with Baden-Wuerttemberg Premier Erwin Teufel. -- Jiri Pehe

The British financial monthly Euromoney has named Hungarian Central Bank Governor Gyorgy Suranyi as the top banker in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE in 1996, Hungarian dailies reported on 26 September. Euromoney wrote that the stabilization policy conceived by Suranyi and former Finance Minister Lajos Bokros has reinstated Hungary's financial equilibrium. Readers of the latest edition of the U.S. financial magazine Global Finance also gave Suranyi an excellent rating. The magazine notes that during Suranyi's 18-month term in office, the independence of the central bank has been reinforced, inflation has shrunk, and the introduction of "crawling peg" devaluation has stabilized the national currency. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

President Alija Izetbegovic warned the UN General Assembly that the conflict could resume in Bosnia-Herzegovina if the Dayton peace accord is not enforced. He argued that an international military presence will be necessary "for a certain and limited period of time" and criticized the local Croats for maintaining their para-state of Herceg-Bosna, despite numerous promises to dissolve it. Izetbegovic singled out the Bosnian Serbs for criticism because they block Muslim and Croatian refugees from going home and because they refuse to hand over indicted war criminals to the Hague-based tribunal. Oslobodjenje on 26 September quoted him as saying that "if genocide without punishment is possible, then Bosnia and Herzegovina is not possible." With regard to the new government for the entire country, he said that it should include representation from the opposition and seek to enforce the Dayton agreement and promote media freedom. -- Patrick Moore

Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic, who is currently in New York, has rejected any extension of the one-year mandate for UN peacekeepers in eastern Slavonia, Vjesnik reported on 25 September. The local Serbs want the foreign troops to stay on for at least another year. In Bergen, Norway, NATO defense ministers announced for the first time that the alliance will start planning a possible role in Bosnia after IFOR's mandate expires at the end of the year. No concrete measures are likely to be announced until after the U.S. elections in November, the BBC reported. British Defense Secretary Michael Portillo said that "we can't abandon the investment we've made there" in promoting peace and stability. In Paris, Foreign Minister Herve de Charette announced that a major international meeting on Bosnia will take place in early November to deal with the future of Bosnian state institutions, AFP reported on 26 September. -- Patrick Moore

Tensions continue to run high over the village of Jusici on Bosnian Serb-held territory, where armed Muslims have returned to rebuild their homes. The UNHCR is expected to clarify the matter soon, Oslobodjenje reported on 25 September. But U.S. General George Casey said later that day that the Muslims must first leave and process the necessary paperwork before they can live there. Nasa Borba stated on 26 September that Bosnian Prime Minister Hasan Muratovic has agreed to this formula. It appears, however, that the Muslims are determined to force the issue of their right to go home, as specified in the Dayton agreement, and that the original number of returnees has grown from 100 to 300, Reuters said. A UN police spokesman accused the Muslims of taunting the local Serbian police. -- Patrick Moore

International experts have suspended their excavation of mass graves in eastern Bosnia until next spring. They have uncovered nearly 500 bodies this year, virtually all of whom are Muslim males from Srebrenica who appear to have been executed, international news agencies noted on 25 September. The experts stressed that it is necessary for Bosnians to know the truth about war crimes if they are to begin looking toward the future. Izetbegovic recently made the same point at the UN. -- Patrick Moore

The UN Security Council on 24 September decided not to lift sanctions against the rump Yugoslavia, AFP reported. But diplomats said they expected Washington and Moscow to agree on a solution shortly. Russian UN Ambassador Sergei Lavrov has drawn up a document that, in accordance with the Dayton agreements, ends sanctions 10 days after the elections take place. He argues that since the ballot took place on 14 September, the sanctions should have been lifted on 24 September. The U.S., however, has rejected his plan, saying the election results have not yet been validated. -- Fabian Schmidt

The strike at the Kragujevac Zastava arms and automobile works has entered its 29th day. Workers demonstrating in front of the local municipal parliament on 25 September demanded back wages and talks with the government and the plant management. Former Central Bank governor Dragoslav Avramovic has announced he will visit the factory on 26 September to talk to the strikers. Meanwhile, Vuk Draskovic, leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), has denied earlier reports that Avramovic is planning a political career with the SPO and other opposition parties in the Zajedno (Together) coalition. Draskovic claims the report was "part of a plan to discredit" Avramovic and the leaders of Zajedno, Nasa Borba reported on 26 September. -- Fabian Schmidt

Judge Marin Mrcela on 26 September acquitted editor in chief Viktor Ivancic and journalist Marinko Culic on charges of slandering President Franjo Tudjman (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 September 1996), AFP reported. The two men work for the outspoken Split-based satirical weekly Feral Tribune, which has often been a thorn in the side of the government and the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ). The acquittal signals a major victory for freedom of the press because it is the first such case under a new media law aimed at silencing critics of the government and HDZ. Croatia has been warned by the Council of Europe and other international bodies that the new law is unacceptable if that country wants to join European institutions. -- Patrick Moore

Romania's cabinet on 25 September announced a 6% increase in state employees' wages as of 1 October, Radio Bucharest reported. The hike in the average wage amounts to 23,600 lei (some $7). Employees will also receive the second tranche, worth 6,000 lei (less than $2), of compensation for energy, fuel, and bread price increases. Finance Minister Florin Georgescu said the move will help compensate for most of this year's inflation, which he estimated at about 30%. But domestic media expressed doubts over the minister's statement, suggesting that the real reason for the increase was to gain electoral support for the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania. -- Dan Ionescu

Defense Minister Gen. Pavel Creanga has rejected the "serious accusations" brought against him by President Mircea Snegur in late June as "groundless," BASA-press reported on 25 September. Creanga said Snegur had asked the prosecutor-general to investigate his actions under the suspicion that he was trying to split the army and destabilize the political situation in the country. Snegur had also accused him of disseminating confidential information and of conspiring against the president. Creanga demanded that the results of the prosecutor's investigation be made public. A presidential spokesman said that most of the accusations against Creanga have proven valid but that the president does not intend to discuss the matter with Creanga through the media. -- Dan Ionescu

The government has announced
that the long-delayed mass privatization will begin on 7 October, RFE/RL reported on 25 September. Some 3 million Bulgarians are expected to bid for shares in 968 out of a total of 1,063 state companies up for sale. Under the mass privatization scheme, the state will continue to exert control over "strategic companies" such as oil refineries and tourist offices; only 25% of their shares will be offered to investors. Banks, arms factories, railroads, power plants, and companies offering services will not be privatized. About 65% of shares in medium-sized companies and 90% in small ones will be privatized. Results of the bids will be announced by the end of November. -- Maria Koinova

Ivan Marazov, the Democratic Left's presidential candidate, said in Bonn on 25 September that Bulgarian institutions are "at war," international agencies reported. He blamed President Zhelyu Zhelev for making too liberal use of his right to veto bills passed by the parliament. During his visit to Bonn, Marazov met with German government officials and deputies. In other news, two tons of hashish have been seized at the Bulgarian-Greek border checkpoint of Kulata, Reuters reported on 24 September. The drugs were hidden in a truck containing marble slabs on its way from Greece to Bulgaria. -- Maria Koinova

The opposition on 25 September expressed concern for the local elections next month, most of the international monitors will come from the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly and not from the OSCE, Koha Jone reported on 26 September. The latter had issued a more critical report on the May parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, the Center Pole coalition has sent a protest letter to the Central Election Commission saying that President Sali Berisha and government members have violated the electoral law by participating in the election campaign. It also argued that the municipality of Tirana should not be allowed to organize the ruling Democratic Party's public rallies, as was the case on 22 September, Poli i Qendres reported on 26 September. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Jan Cleave