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Newsline - October 2, 1996

Defense Minister Igor Rodionov told a Moscow press conference on 1 October that the 98.7 trillion rubles ($18 billion) allocated to the armed forces in the draft 1997 budget will cover only one-third of the military's needs, Russian and Western agencies reported. While denying that a military rebellion was likely, Rodionov said that if the government fails to resolve the military's financial problems, especially chronic wage arrears, "undesirable, uncontrollable processes" may begin. He added that "Russia may lose its armed forces as an integrated and militarily effective state structure." The Defense Minister argued that military reform, including a reduction in the armed forces personnel from 1.5 to 1.2 million, was ready to proceed, but could not move ahead without sufficient funding. He also expressed doubts that the military could make the change to an all-professional force by 2000, as President Boris Yeltsin ordered in May, saying that 2005 was more realistic. -- Scott Parrish

At a meeting in the Central Clinical Hospital the same day, Yeltsin ordered Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to convene a special cabinet meeting to discuss the financing of the military, ITAR-TASS and ORT reported. He also told Chernomrydin to chair a session of the Defense Council on 4 October to discuss military reform and other security issues. The meeting will be the first for the council, which Yeltsin created in July. Kommersant-Daily on October 2 said the sweeping proposed agenda for the session again raised the question of the relationship between the Defense Council and the Security Council. -- Scott Parrish

Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev addressed a letter to the Duma on 1 October protesting recent actions by the tax authorities against his company, including the freezing of some bank accounts, AFP and Kommersant-Daily reported. Gazprom owes 15 trillion rubles ($2.8 billion) in tax arrears -- but is in turn owed 48 trillion by its customers. Vyakhirev pointedly noted that Gazprom is refraining from cutting off supplies to these debtors -- which include Moscow, St. Petersburg, Bashkortostan, and Tatarstan. The IMF has been urging the government to break up Gazprom into half a dozen smaller companies, and ORT commented that Gazprom sees the tax actions as part of a "consistent effort by certain unnamed state officials to destroy Gazprom in its present form." The Duma is set to discuss the 1997 budget draft later this week, and could be a useful ally for Gazprom. -- Peter Rutland

Russia set a "shameful record" of 34 journalists killed or missing in 1995, according to Pavel Gutiontov, chairman of the Committee for Defending Freedom of Speech and Journalists' Rights, RTR and ITAR-TASS reported on 1 October. According to a report from the International Federation of Journalists, more than half of the 61 journalists killed worldwide in 1995 were from Russia. Gutiontov noted that the number of deaths per year had risen sharply since 1991, when two Russian journalists were killed and two were missing. Furthermore, he said, investigations of such cases are usually carried out by the victims' families and colleagues rather than law enforcement agencies. Gutiontov also criticized editors, who he said often send their correspondents to "hot spots" like Chechnya without providing them with life insurance. -- Laura Belin

President Yeltsin told Prime Minister Chernomyrdin on 1 October to contact the leaders of the other CIS states to suggest a CIS summit to review the situation in Afghanistan, Russian and Western agencies reported. Meanwhile, Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed told a press conference that Afghan's Taliban movement, which recently seized Kabul, plans to move north into Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Lebed warned that if the Taliban, "backed by Pakistan," combines forces with the Tajik opposition operating in northern Afghanistan, they could easily "sweep away Russian border posts in Tajikstan, and the road to the north across the plains will be open." He urged that Russia support various Afghan warlords who still might block the Taliban from seizing control of north Afghanistan. -- Scott Parrish

Speaking after a meeting in Geneva with Swiss Foreign Minister Flavio Cottii, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin reaffirmed Russian opposition to NATO enlargment, Russian and Western agencies reported on 1 October. Chernomyrdin cautioned against "gambling" with European stability by enlarging the alliance. Meanwhile, in Moscow, Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed said that NATO expansion "would again lead to hostility and confrontation," since it was clearly directed against Russia. Moscow could respond, he warned "with rusty, but still existing missiles." European security could be more effectively and cheaply bolstered by increasing Western economic aid to Russia rather than enlarging NATO, he suggested. -- Scott Parrish

Russian State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and Belarusian Supreme Soviet Chairman Syamyon Sharetsky met in Moscow on 1 October to discuss the planned 24 October session of the parliamentary assembly of the Russo-Belarusian community, ITAR-TASS reported. At a subsequent press conference, the two politicians expressed the hope that Ukraine would join the community, although Kyiv has shown no interest in doing so. Seleznev expressed solidarity with his Belarusian counterpart in the ongoing political struggle over constitutional reform in Belarus, saying the Duma supports "the Belarusian parliamentarians in their fight for a truly real power of parliament." Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, by contrast, told journalists the same day that Russia shoud support Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who he said "is trying to save the country from crisis." -- Scott Parrish

Heeding a call from the Independent Miners Union, miners from 11 pits in Vorkuta staged a one-day strike on 1 October to protest wage arrears and to call for the full implementation of a decree issued by President Yeltsin on resolving the problems of the Pechora coal basin, ITAR-TASS reported. In the run-up to the presidential election in May, Yeltsin ordered the elimination of the wage debt to miners in the Arctic region and increased social benefits. Like many other such promises, these have not been kept. Thousands of other workers from state-funded organizations reportedly joined miners in a mass rally. The same day, the leader of the Russian Coal-Industry Workers' Union announced that its members plan to hold a nationwide strike on 5 November to protest wage arrears totalling 2.7 trillion rubles (as of 10 September). -- Penny Morvant

Dozens of Russian scientists have threatened to join two of their colleagues already on a hunger strike if the government does not pay its debt to scientific institutions by 10 October, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 October. Representatives of the trade union of the Russian Academy of Sciences said scientists are also planning to rally in Moscow and several other cities in mid-October. Moscow scientists Vladimir Strakhov and Igor Naumenko-Bondarenko went on a hunger strike on 30 September. According to Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Fortov, the government debt to the scientific sector totals 3 trillion rubles. He said that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin had agreed that the state would pay 250 billion rubles to the Academy by the end of the year. -- Penny Morvant

Aeroflot and the government of Tatarstan have settled the dispute over the airline's purchase of 10 Boeing 737-400s, Kommersant-Daily reported on 1-2 October. Aeroflot Chairman Yevgenii Shaposhnikov said that his company will go on with the Boeing deal but in the future would agree to buy a new Russian-made aircraft, the TU-214, which is manufactured in Kazan, provided its safety standards improve. It is likely that the new aircraft will be fitted with Rolls Royce RB211-535E4 engines instead of domestic PS-90 engines. Aeroflot's decision in September to buy the U.S. aircraft could have been partly motivated by the fact that foreign manufacturers sell airplanes on credit, whereas Russian firms often demand payments in cash up front. -- Natalia Gurushina

In the first seven months of this year the federal budget deficit reached 51.3 trillion rubles ($9.5 billion), or 4.3% of GDP, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 October, citing the State Statistical Committee. This is above the 3.85% limit initially agreed to with the IMF (both numbers using Russian methodology). Some 55% of the deficit was covered by the issuance of state securities, and 45% by external financing. Tax arrears totaled 48.1 trillion rubles. Meanwhile, the Yabloko Duma faction submitted an alternative version of the 1997 budget, Radio Rossii reported on 1 October. They suggest separating the functions of the Finance and Treasury ministries. The Finance Ministry is supposed to prepare the budget and pass it to the treasury, while the latter should be held responsible for the budget's execution. A major problem for spending ministries this year was the Finance Ministry's refusal to release funds allotted in the budget. -- Natalia Gurushina

In an interview broadcast by Russian Public TV (ORT) on 1 October, defeated Armenian presidential candidate Vazgen Maukyan, who is currently in hiding, stated that he favors a political, rather than a violent solution to the problems facing the country. Speaking at a press conference in Yerevan on 1 October, the chairman of the Central Electoral Commission, Khachatour Bezirjian, denied that there had been major irregularities during the 22 September presidential poll. Also on 1 October, U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns expressed concern at reports that up to 250 Armenians have been detained following the 25 September attack by Manukyan's supporters on the Armenian parliament building, Reuters reported. -- Liz Fuller

The Russian Foreign Ministry is concerned with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's continued insistence that ratification by the Georgian parliament of the 1994 treaty allowing Russia to maintain military bases in Georgia is contingent on the restoration of Tbilisi's rule over the disputed region of Abkhazia, AFP reported on 1 October quoting an unidentified Russian diplomat. Shevardnadze is under increasing domestic pressure to resolve the issue of Abkhazia's status within Georgia. -- Liz Fuller

Russia's debt to Kazakstan for leasing the Baikonur cosmodrome has reached $445 million, AFP reported on 1 October, quoting Kazakstani Deputy Prime Minister Nigmadjan Issiguarin. Baikonur is still Russia's major launching site. Under a bilateral agreement signed in 1994 and ratified by Russia in April 1996, Moscow is supposed to pay $115 million a year over 20 years to lease the site. However, no payments have been made. Russian officials say the arrears are being set against Kazakstan's debt to Russia for energy and other supplies, which amounts to some $1 billion. -- Natalia Gurushina

During his 27 September speech to senior legislators in Bayram-Ali, Turkmenistan's President Saparmurad Niyazov said he expected the country's economy to grow 50-60% in the next five years, according to a BBC-monitored 28 September Turkmen Press report. He predicted that 110 billion cubic meters of natural gas and 10 million metric tons of oil will be extracted yearly during this period, most large and medium-sized firms will be privatized next year, and that both the metallurgical plant in Mari and the Iranian-Turkmen gas pipeline would be finished the following year. Niyazov also noted that annual inflation is to remain within a 10-15% band and up to 60% of the state budget will go to social spending. -- Lowell Bezanis

Turkmenistan's Peoples' Council [Khalk Maslakhati] made public a document which elaborates on the country's military doctrine to insure that it conforms with the "permanent neutrality" envisaged in its constitution, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 October. According to the text published by the agency, Turkmenistan regards no country as its enemy, it eschews participation in any military blocs, alliances or "inter-state coalitions with rigid obligations or contemplating collective responsibility." This language would appear to preclude participation not only in CIS, but nascent inter-Central Asian, security arrangements as well. The text specifically states that Turkmenistan will not host foreign military bases. While there are no Russian bases in Turkmenistan, the Turkmen border is currently patrolled by Russian troops under contract. -- Lowell Bezanis

Recent events in Afghanistan have started a flurry of diplomatic and military activity in Central Asia, particularly in Tajikistan. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov sent an appeal to the UN and "to world powers" asking for a political settlement in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 September. Along the Tajik-Afghan border the situation remains tense. Russian sources on 1 October reported the deaths of four more Russian border guards in fighting near Kalai-Khumb. Radio Rossii, also on 1 October, reported that the estimated 300 fighters of the Tajik opposition, massed in Afghanistan opposite border guard positions, have been joined by "bands of Afghan Mojahedin" and now number 1,500. -- Bruce Pannier

Despite President Leonid Kuchma's assurances that his weekend visit to Moscow helped resolve differences between the two sides, a number of media reports were skeptical. Reuters reported on 1 October that Kievskie vedomosti linked the 20% import tax Russia plans to impose on Ukrainian goods with Ukraine's intransigence over allowing Sevastopol to be exclusively Russia's naval base. Recent statements by Russian Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed and other Russian politicians claiming that Sevastopol was never legally handed over to Ukraine have increased apprehension among Ukrainian politicians over potential territorial claims. Deputy Yurii Karamazin said the five nuclear powers that pledged to guarantee Ukraine's security when it gave up its nuclear weapons in 1994 should step in and defend Ukraine against such economic pressure from Russia. -- Ustina Markus

President Leonid Kuchma has appointed the first six justices to Ukraine's Constitutional Court, Ukrainian TV reported on 1 October. The six include Ivan Tymchenko (the president's chief legal advisor), Mykola Kozyubra, Petro Martynenko, Mykola Selivon, Volodymyr Tykhy, and Volodymyr Shapoval. Twelve more justices have yet to be selected: six each by the legislature and a congress of judges. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Viktar Hanchar, head of the Central Electoral Commission, said President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's establishment of regional commissions to organize and oversee the referendum are illegal, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 October. Hanchar said the commissions parallel similar groups from the Central Electoral Commission, and are performing the same functions. He stressed that only the central commission can appoint such regional commissions, and not the president. The same day over 20 parties appealed to the legislature to start impeachment proceedings against Lukashenka. (See Russian section for news on Russo-Belarusian integration.) -- Ustina Markus

In a bid to increase Latvia's chances of being included in the first wave of NATO expansion, Guntis Ulmanis said on 1 October that he will ask the parliament to approve a larger Defense Ministry budget, BNS reported. Ulmanis made the announcement after a meeting with Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs and Defense Minister Andrejs Krastins to discuss the recent joint statement by the three Baltic presidents, in which they pledged to seek greater international support for NATO membership and to upgrade military forces to bring them in line with NATO standards. The parliament budget and finance committee has approved a Defense Ministry budget of 25.6 million lati ($46 million) for 1997. The first reading of the full budget is scheduled for 7 October; Ulmanis can submit his proposals to the committee for the second reading. -- Saulius Girnius

The collegium of the Russian Foreign Ministry has approved 59-year-old career diplomat Konstantin Mozel as the new ambassador to Lithuania, Radio Lithuania reported on 1 October. Mozel, the director of the Foreign Ministry's Cultural Liaisons Department, has vacationed several times in Lithuania's coastal resorts of Palanga and Nida and has even learned some Lithuanian. The previous ambassador, Nikolai Obertyshev, was transferred to another post in August. Russia had apparently reacted to strong objections voiced in the Lithuanian press to his possible replacement by Russia's ambassador to Tajikistan, Vyacheslav Sienkevich, who is widely regarded in Lithuania as an imperialist, and chose a candidate more acceptable to Lithuania. Mozel's formal appointment, however, may be delayed by President Boris Yeltsin's illness. -- Saulius Girnius

Janusz Lewandowski, Poland's privatization minister from 1991-1993, was indicted on 1 October by the Krakow prosecutor, Polish dailies reported the following day. Lewandowski was charged with failing to sell the Krakchemia and Techma firms to the highest bidders, costing the Polish government 2.4 million zloty ($1 million). Lewandowski, now a deputy for the opposition Freedom Union, called the charges "untrue and absurd." Lewandowski was unexpectedly supported by Wieslaw Kaczmarek, his successor as privatization minister. Kaczmarek said on TV on 1 October that the figures in the indictment were "absurd," and that better offers would have been accepted had they been made. Kaczmarek also agreed on 1 October to serve as a secretary of state in Poland's new Treasury Ministry where, according to President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Treasury Minister Miroslaw Pietrewicz, Kaczmarek will continue to be responsible for privatization. -- Ben Slay

The Czech parliament voted on 1 October to establish a special 12-member committee that will investigate the recent collapse of Kreditni banka, Czech media reported the same day. The Social Democrats, who proposed the creation of the committee, and Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus' Civic Democratic Party will each be represented by 4 deputies; the other four smaller parliamentary parties will be represented by one deputy each. The election of the individual members of the committee, as well as its chairman, will take place in the next few days. The committee is to present a report on its findings to the parliament by the end of February. -- Jiri Pehe

Tomas Kraus, secretary of the Federation of Jewish Communities in the Czech Republic, said on 1 October that the group will apply for the return of some twenty synagogues and Jewish cemeteries, using last week's decision of the Czech government to return some buildings to churches. The government decided in 1993 to return 202 pieces of property to Jewish communities but, according to Kraus, Jewish communities are still negotiating the return of some 31 of those objects, which are currently in the possession of municipalities or individuals. Negotiations over the fate of some 70 others have stopped because the current owners refuse to hand them over to Jewish communities. -- Jiri Pehe

An opposition proposal for Peter Baco's dismissal failed during a special parliament session on 1 October, Slovak media reported. Baco survived the vote despite his ministry's approval of illegal grain exports, constituting one of the biggest corruption scandals since Slovakia gained independence. At the next parliamentary session, Education Minister Eva Slavkovska will be subjected to a similar vote resulting from the controversial university law passed despite protests from the academic community. Also on 1 October, Slovak Culture Minister Ivan Hudec fired Slovak National Theater (SND) director Dusan Jamrich, who had participated in an ongoing campaign against government interference in the SND's affairs. Jamrich's firing was expected after Hudec survived two parliamentary no-confidence votes initiated by the opposition. His replacement is Miroslav Fischer, SND opera director and a candidate of the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia in the last elections. -- Sharon Fisher

Mikhail Kolesnikov, chief of the Russian Armed Forces' General Staff, said in Bratislava on 1 October that Russia and Slovakia are interested in deepening military cooperation, ITAR-TASS reported. The basis of this cooperation was established in an agreement signed in August 1993. Meeting with top Slovak politicians during his three-day visit, Kolesnikov also discussed Russian reservations about NATO's eastward expansion. Speaking with RFE/RL prior to a meeting in Washington with U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry, Slovak Foreign Minister Pavol Hamzik stressed the importance of Slovak membership in NATO. -- Sharon Fisher

Twelve journalists announced their departure from Slovenska Republika on 1 October in protest against personnel changes made by the daily's publisher, Salus, which is 100% owned by the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS), Narodna obroda reported. The journalists opposed Salus's appointment of Rudolf Zelenay as general director, Eduard Fasung as editor in chief, and Milan Rusko as Fasung's deputy. Zelenay is the husband of HZDS deputy and Slovenska Republika commentator Eva Zelenayova; Fasung formerly worked as editor in chief at the leftist opposition daily, Praca. -- Sharon Fisher

A poll conducted by the Hungarian Gallup Institute shows that 48% of those interviewed would support Hungary's admission to NATO if a referendum were held on 6 October, Magyar Nemzet reported on 2 October. Another 27% responded with a definite "no," while 25% were undecided. In a Eurobarometer survey conducted for the European Commission last November, the respective figures were 32% for joining NATO, 22% against, and 46% undecided. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The two most prominent Bosnian Serb politicians had very different things to say about the first meeting of the three-man presidency on 30 September (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 1 October 1996). The Serbian representative on that body, Momcilo Krajisnik, told news agencies that he was pleasantly surprised by the session: "It is hard to sort out the feelings. I thought that such a meeting was in the far future, that work in joint institutions is a fiction. ... Here, now, it became reality." The president of the Republika Srpska, Biljana Plavsic, stressed, however, that the unification of all Serbs in one state remains her ultimate goal. AFP quoted her as saying: "Whether this ultimate goal is reached in 10 or 15 years matters little. ... There is no force in the world that will prevent us acting towards this end." -- Patrick Moore

Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon said U.S. troops will be in Bosnia until March as part of a new force to cover the withdrawal of IFOR, AFP reported on 1 October. Bacon said the U.S. troops will start arriving in Bosnia soon. According to AFP, the new force will conform in size and make-up to a plan being considered by NATO for a reduced version of IFOR remaining in Bosnia. There are fears that war could break out in Bosnia if IFOR ends its mission on 20 December as scheduled. Bacon said the covering force's mission will be for a defined period of time. Richard Holbrooke, former U.S. envoy for Bosnia, said earlier that Bosnia needs "some kind of follow-on international security presence." European allies have said they will participate in a post-IFOR force only together with the U.S. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Following a hand-grenade attack on the home of the Croatian Peasant Party's Josip Jole Musa (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 1 October 1996), unidentified gunmen seriously wounded Musa by spraying his apartment with machine-gun fire, Oslobodjenje reported on 2 October. Political violence was rampant in Mostar before the 14 September elections, but this is the first instance of it since then. Musa's party blamed the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) for the grenade attack, arguing that no such act can happen in west Mostar without the party's knowledge. In central Bosnia, a 46-year-old Roman Catholic nun was found dead in Kakanj, which |. under Muslim control. Onasa reported on 1 October that police are hunting for the killer. In the formerly Serb-held Sarajevo suburb of Grbavica, forensic experts are investigating 31 garbage bags found in a garage that contain human remains. -- Patrick Moore

Bosnian Prime Minister Hasan Muratovic said Bosnia has met all the IMF's conditions for assistance, calling for "immediate" negotiations to secure financial support for Bosnia and establish its creditworthiness, AFP reported on 1 October. Muratovic called for reducing and reprogramming Bosnia's foreign debts, saying it was "a precondition for successful restoration of the country's borrowing power and for attracting additional funds for reconstruction." IMF officials have estimated the debt owed by Bosnia to government and private creditors at about $2 billion. They have said talks in Sarajevo could begin after the formation of a new Bosnian government at the end of October. EU foreign ministers said the same day that the EU should contribute for another two years to the peace process in Bosnia. The EU has put op some $398 million in 1996 to help rebuild Bosnia-Herzegovina. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia rejected on 1 October motions for separate trials filed earlier this year by three Muslims and one Croat charged with murder, torture, and rape at the Celebici camp in central Bosnia, Onasa reported. The court decided that the four cases were properly joined and there was no conflict of interests, and that separate trials would involve much duplication of testimony, AFP reported. The tribunal's new chief prosecutor, Louise Harbor, said that the main responsibility for apprehending those accused of war crimes lay not with IFOR, but with the countries where the accused are currently residing. The former chief prosecutor, Richard Goldstone, had said he was saddened that IFOR did not capture indicted Bosnian Serb war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The Security Council voted 15-0 on 1 October to formally end trade sanctions against rump Yugoslavia, imposed in 1992 for the country's role in fomenting the war in Bosnia, Reuters reported. The sanctions were suspended last year following the Dayton agreement. At the U.S.'s insistence, the council did not lift Yugoslavia's suspension from the UN General Assembly and other UN bodies or make any provisions for it to rejoin financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF. Nor did it release Yugoslavia's frozen assets, which remain disputed by the various Yugoslav successor states. The resolution warned that the Security Council would consider reimposing sanctions if Serbia-Montenegro or the Bosnian Serbs failed "significantly to meet (their) obligations under the peace agreement." But Russia would probably veto such a move. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic will meet in Paris on 3 October to discuss building peace in Bosnia and normalizing mutual relations. -- Fabian Schmidt

A group of journalists on 1 October accused the ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) of trying to manipulate voters ahead of presidential and general elections due in a month, Reuters reported. According to them, the PDSR commissioned a nationwide telephone opinion poll meant to denigrate its rivals. The poll included a question suggesting that Emil Constantinescu, Chairman of the Democratic Convention, wanted to restore monarchy in Romania; it also cast shadows on Petre Roman, another major rival of Ion Iliescu in the presidential race. A PDSR spokesman said the journalists, helped by opposition members, had broken into the Bucharest premises of the institute conducting the survey, and called their action illegal. He admitted that the PDSR had funded the poll, but said it had no knowledge of the survey's contents. -- Zsolt Mato

Andrey Lukanov was shot dead at his home on 2 October, Bulgarian and Western media reported. Police and the Interior Ministry declined to give any information, but neighbors said Lukanov was shot in the head and the chest while leaving his home. Coming from a family with a long communist tradition, Lukanov was a candidate
member of the Bulgarian Communist Party Politburo from 1979-1989, minister of foreign economic relations from 1987-1989, and deputy prime minister from 1976-1987. After the fall of long-time party and state leader Todor Zhivkov, Lukanov became prime minister in February 1990 but was forced to resign in November 1990 following strikes and mass demonstrations. Lukanov -- an outspoken critic of Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) leader and Prime Minister Zhan Videnov -- belonged to the BSP top leadership until 1994 and even afterward remained one of the key power brokers within the party. He was also an influential businessman. In July, Lukanov was dropped as chairman of the board of the Russian-Bulgarian Topenergy company. -- Stefan Krause

Patients of the hospital of Plovdiv, Bulgaria's second largest city, have to pay for hospitalization although the law provides for free medical treatment, Kontinent reported on 2 October. Due to the hospital's financial situation, patients are also asked to bring their own bed-sheets and pay for their food and treatment. Hospital Director Gospodin Halachev said if the hospital did not ask for money it would be forced to close down altogether. Health Minister Mini Vitkova is reportedly informed of the situation but has so far not reacted or commented. Meanwhile in Petrich in southwest Bulgaria, a 17-year old boy died of meningitis. It is the second recent death in Bulgaria. He had recently traveled to Hungary and returned via Romania. A doctor said it was a unique and isolated case. -- Stefan Krause

Zlatko Matesa and his Albanian counterpart Alexander Meksi signed agreements on cultural cooperation and consular services in Tirana on 1 October, ATSH reported. On the first day of a two-day official visit, Matesa also met with President Sali Berisha and discussed deepening mutual economic ties. Both sides agreed on regional security policy issues and in particular on the need for a peaceful solution of the Kosovo crisis and the return of Eastern Slavonia to Croatia. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Pete Baumgartner and Tom Warner