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Newsline - October 3, 1996

Acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, accompanied by four senior government members and OSCE representative Tim Guldimann, left Nazran on 3 October for talks in Moscow with Russian leaders including Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Western agencies reported. Argumenty i fakty reported on 2 October that Yandarbiev wants to discuss the ongoing withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya and compensation for war damages. Other Russian sources suggested that the two sides will also discuss the future Chechen coalition government, which Yandarbiev wishes to head. Yandarbiev also argued that the 30 August Khasavyurt agreement confirmed that Chechnya had been independent since 1991 since it stipulated that Russia and Chechnya should formulate their relations in accordance with international law. Also on 2 October, former Russian parliament speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov arrived in Grozny to attend the congress of the People's Union for Rebirth Party which he chairs, NTV reported. -- Liz Fuller

In a 3 October radio broadcast, President Boris Yeltsin sought to reassure his country that he was still in charge despite the fact that he has been in the hospital since 12 September, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin rebutted those like Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who have called on him to step down, saying that they are "working only for themselves." He also expressed concern about the situation in the military and said that he expected the first meeting of the Defense Council on 4 October to "yield concrete decisions." Yeltsin's staff announced on 2 October that he plans to make regular radio addresses, "since some parts of the country still don't receive TV broadcasts," Kommersant-Daily reported. The newspaper noted that the timing of this decision suggests that Yeltsin does not look healthy enough to appear on TV. -- Robert Orttung

Members of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia (NDR) State Duma faction complained that "there was a great abyss between the legislative work plan and the speeches of the opposition leaders" on the first day of the Duma's fall session on 2 October, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported. Among the leading items on the agenda are discussion of the government's package of tax proposals and the 1997 budget. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov called for the creation of a state council that would bring together legislative and executive branch leaders to resolve priority problems, warning that Russia could suffer the same fate as the Soviet Union unless it is guided by strong leadership. He did not, however, call for a commission to examine President Yeltsin's health as many observers had expected. -- Robert Orttung

Arguing that there is no way to solve the Chechen conflict through force, Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed told the Duma on 2 October that 80,000 to 100,000 people died in the fighting, including 3,726 federal troops, NTV reported. An additional 17,892 troops on the federal side were wounded and 1,906 are missing. In contrast, Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov warned against "appeasing the aggressors" and described Lebed's Khasavyurt agreement as "a cover for unilateral, boundless concessions in the most humiliating and destructive forms" that will lead to a "state catastrophe" and numerous new conflicts. Duma Defense Committee Chairman Lev Rokhlin warned that the peace in Chechnya would send "a huge criminal mass" into Dagestan and suggested sending additional troops there to secure the republic's border with Chechnya. -- Robert Orttung

Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais announced that Yeltsin overrode Security Council Secretary Lebed's objections and appointed Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin to head the presidential commission that approves all high-ranking military promotions, Kommersant-Daily reported on 3 October. Chubais rejected Lebed's accusations that he has been issuing decrees without President Yeltsin's knowledge. Chubais also denied rumors that he has millions of dollars in foreign bank accounts. However, he said his income increased significantly during the six months that he did not hold a government position, when he was paid "tens of thousands of dollars" for lectures. Chubais also called for the creation of a data base that would contain the names of all civil servants in Moscow and the regions to improve the efficiency of the state's overall personnel policies. -- Robert Orttung

President Yeltsin issued a decree on 2 October filling six high-ranking positions in the Defense Ministry, Russian media reported. Kommersant-Daily reported the next day that the appointments had resulted from Defense Minister Igor Rodionov's 28 September meeting with Yeltsin, and demonstrated that the minister is finally assembling his leadership team, after months of having difficulties getting appointments approved. Among the new appointees was Maj.-Gen. Georgii Oleinik, who was named to the position of chief of the Main Directorate of Budget and Finance. The post has been vacant since last November, when former chief Col.-Gen. Vasilii Vorobev was dismissed amid allegations of corruption. Oleinik, who previously headed the economics and finance department at a military academy, met Rodionov's main requirement of having no connections with the financial machinations of former Defense Minister Pavel Grachev's era. -- Scott Parrish

Duma deputies from the Communist Party (KPRF) announced on 2 October that they will create a special Duma commission to investigate evidence of falsification in the 29 September gubernatorial election in Rostov Oblast, Izvestiya reported. According to official results released by the Rostov Electoral Commission on 2 October, incumbent Governor Vladimir Chub received 61% of the vote to just 32% for his main challenger, KPRF Duma deputy Leonid Ivanchenko, ITAR-TASS reported. However, the KPRF deputies said representatives of Ivanchenko's campaign were unlawfully barred from the territorial electoral commissions, where votes were tallied before being passed along to the regional commission, according to Nezavisimaya gazeta on 3 October. They also claimed that a precedent for vote-rigging in Rostov was set during the presidential election, when Zyuganov outpolled Yeltsin in the first round but finished far behind in the 3 July runoff. -- Laura Belin

The Primorskii Krai legislature canceled the mayoral election set for 6 October in Vladivostok and postponed the election set for the city Duma until 22 December, as newly reinstated Mayor Viktor Cherepkov had demanded, Russian media reported on 2 October. However, more than 80 employees of the city administration, who are still loyal to former acting Mayor Konstantin Tolstoshein, expressed their discontent with recent events by setting their vacations to coincide with Cherepkov's return, Kommersant-Daily reported on 3 October. Since the absent officials include all of Vladivostok's deputy mayors and heads of departments, their temporary departure could hamper efforts to prepare the city for winter. According to ITAR-TASS, Cherepkov has said previously that he will sack officials who try to sabotage his efforts. -- Laura Belin

In an interview with NTV on 2 October, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov rejected the idea that Russia should aid Afghan groups opposing the Taliban, as Security Council Secretary Lebed had earlier suggested, saying it was better to "wait and see" how the situation develops. Primakov reiterated Russian opposition to NATO expansion, and warned that Russia would only sign a proposed Russia-NATO charter if it substantively addressed Russian concerns. He added that whether NATO expands or not, Russia wants a "modernization" of the 1990 CFE treaty which would reflect the new European security situation. Primakov dismissed as a "maneuver" recent suggestions that Russia apply for NATO membership. -- Scott Parrish

On a two-day visit to Switzerland,
Viktor Chernomyrdin met with Swiss Foreign Minister Flavio Cotti and President Jean Delamuraz, Russian and Western agencies reported on 2 October. As Switzerland currently holds the rotating presidency of the OSCE, Cotti and Chernomyrdin discussed Chechnya and European security issues. Chernomyrdin also met in Lausanne with the head of the International Olympic Committee, Juan Antonio Samaranch, to discuss St. Petersburg's bid to host the 2004 Summer Olympics. Kommersant-Daily on 3 October suggested that the Olympic discussions may have been the main objective of his visit. -- Scott Parrish

The Union of Muslims of Russia on 2 October accused the Moscow police of inciting racial hatred, charging that police officers had burst into a mosque and arrested about 20 worshippers as they prayed. According to NTV, one man was beaten by OMON officers before the detainees were finally released. Reports on the incident are conflicting. A police spokesman interviewed by Nezavisimaya gazeta said that militia and OMON officers were conducting a check of identification papers near the mosque and that only one officer had entered the building. He was then allegedly asked by a mosque official to remove three people, who were arrested along with another nine people from a nearby cafe. According to ITAR-TASS, Moscow police have launched an investigation into the incident. -- Penny Morvant

Final formal charges have been brought in the case of retired Navy Captain Aleksandr Nikitin, who was arrested on 6 February in connection with his work for the Norwegian environment organization Bellona, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 October. Nikitin has been formally indicted for treason in the form of espionage, disclosing state secrets, and using fake identification papers. A spokesman for the Federal Security Service asserted that Nikitin used an out-of-date pass to visit military facilities in St. Petersburg, where he examined top-secret documents. He allegedly copied passages of those documents and used them in the Bellona report on radioactive contamination of the Kola Peninsula. Bellona argues that all the information contained in the report was publicly available. Several international organizations, such as the European Parliament, have demanded his immediate release. -- Penny Morvant

The OSCE/ODIHR mission issued a statement in Warsaw on 2 October noting "very serious breaches of the election law" during last month's Armenian presidential election, AFP and RFE/RL reported. The mission noted a discrepancy of 21,000 between the number of ballots counted and the number of votes cast; President Levon Ter-Petrossyan has claimed victory by a margin of less than 22,000 votes. Central Electoral Commission Chairman Khachatour Bezirjian rejected the OSCE claims on the grounds that the organization's tallies of irregularities are "not mathematically correct," according to AFP. Opposition presidential candidate Vazgen Manukyan on 2 October called for a second round of voting or a new election. -- Liz Fuller

Meeting in emergency session on 2 October, the Georgian parliament adopted a resolution condemning as illegal the Abkhaz parliamentary election scheduled for 23 November, NTV reported. The resolution further described Russia's mediation role as "unsatisfactory" and advocated the creation of a state commission to reassess Georgia's entire policy toward Russia, including the issue of Russian military bases, according to ITAR-TASS. Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Boris Pastukhov, who has been involved in mediating between Georgia and Abkhazia since 1993, on 2 October said the Abkhaz decision to hold a new parliamentary election was "not constructive" and added that it would disrupt the ongoing search for a political settlement of the conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Liz Fuller

Trade between Kazakstan and Russia grew by 80% in the first half of this year compared with the same period last year, RFE/RL and Nezavisimaya gazeta reported. Credit for the increase was given to the customs union, of which Kyrgyzstan and Belarus are also members, by Kazakstani Deputy Prime Minister Nigmatzhan Isingarin, who is the head of the customs union integration committee. However, Russia is criticizing Kazakstan for permitting travelers to take as much as $10,000 with them when they go abroad. Russian travelers are limited to $500 cash per person. -- Bruce Pannier and Merhat Sharipzhan

Uzbekistan's Security Council held an extraordinary session on 1 October to discuss the situation in Afghanistan, Russian media reported the next day. Tashkent officially declared its "serious concern" over events in that country and pledged itself to pursuing a "peaceful foreign policy aimed at non-interference in the internal affairs of neighboring countries" and a "peace settlement" in Afghanistan, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. These remarks, virtually identical to those expressed earlier by other Central Asian states and Russia, are the first to emerge from Tashkent since the 26 September seizure of Kabul by Taliban fighters. -- Lowell Bezanis

The Kyrgyz government dismissed 39 judges and an additional 11 resigned after they failed to pass a test on legal knowledge, RFE/RL and Kyrgyz Radio reported on 30 September. Kyrgyzstan has only 237 official judges and 14 acting judges so the outgoing judges represent 20% of the magistrates in the country. So far, 150 people have applied for the positions, but only seven of the 30 who have taken the test actually passed it. -- Bruce Pannier and Naryn Idinov

Yevhen Marchuk, dismissed as prime minister in May, announced he will run against President Leonid Kuchma in the 1999 presidential election, Ukrainian TV reported on 2 October, citing an interview in Kievskie vedomosti. Kuchma recently announced he will seek re-election for a second five-year term. Marchuk made his announcement after being elected head of the Social-Market Choice caucus in the Ukrainian legislature. The 24-member group has attracted a number of the country's ex-leaders, including former Prime Minister Vitalii Masol. Its previous leader, Volodymyr Shcherban, recently fired as governor of Donetsk Oblast, chose not to run for re-election. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

A group of deputies split off from the pro-presidential Sohlasiye faction in parliament and joined the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), Belarusian television reported on 1 October. Their leader, Aleh Harbunou, said Sohlasiye has not represented the views of all deputies who have not joined the anti-presidential opposition. He said
the Belarusian LDP, which has existed since 1994, has 15,000 members. In other news, Belapan reported that 14 opposition
parties had met at their regular "round-table" session and agreed to put forward joint candidates in the 24 November parliamentary by-elections. -- Ustina Markus

Deputy Leanid Yunchyk, the parliament's appointee for editor-in-chief of the parliamentary newspaper Narodnaya hazeta, has not been able to take over those duties from President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's appointee to the post, Mikhail Shymanski, Belapan reported on 1 October. Shymanski said he would not obey any of the legislature's resolutions, only the president's. In other news, Reuters reported that Lukashenka's deputy chief of staff, Uladzimir Zamyatalin, had again accused the Russian media of bias in their reporting on Belarus. Zamyatalin's latest attack against the Russian press was triggered by their reporting on Russian President Boris Yeltsin's appeal to the Belarusian parliament and president to compromise over their planned referendums. The Russian media depicted it as a call on Lukashenka to back down. -- Ustina Markus

At the second round of Latvian-Russian border talks in Moscow on 1-2 October, Latvia and Russia made no progress on the key issue of whether the 1920 peace treaty signed by Latvia and Soviet Russia remains valid, Latvian delegation head Aivars Vovers told BNS. According to the treaty, the Abrene district that was incorporated into Russia in 1944 belongs to Latvia. The next round of talks is scheduled for early November in Latvia. Meanwhile, Lithuanian Prime Minister Mindaugas Stankevicius telephoned his Latvian counterpart Andris Skele on 2 October and presented new proposals on how to resolve the Lithuanian-Latvian sea border dispute. Latvian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins said Latvia would think over these proposals, but was not optimistic about swift results due to the ongoing election campaign in Lithuania. -- Saulius Girnius

According to Poland's Central Statistical Office, life expectancy for Poles increased during 1991-1995, Gazeta Wyborcza reported on 3 October. On average, life expectancy for women increased from 75.3 to 76.4 years, while that of men increased from 66.1 to 67.6 years. Demographers cautioned that these statistics do not mean that Poles are living longer. Instead, a significant (30%) decline in infant mortality, which on average increases age at the time of death, may be the most important reason for the growing life expectancy. Men residing in cities tend to out-live men in rural areas, presumably because of better access to health care in urban areas and the burden of heavy physical labor in the countryside. However, the study also found that rural women tended to outlive urban women. -- Ben Slay

The parliament voted on 2 October to create a special 12-member committee to investigate the privatization and functioning of Poldi Kladno, one of the largest steel-producing companies in the Czech Republic, Czech media reported. Poldi and its principal owner, Vladimir Stehlik, have been heavily indebted; production at the company stopped several months ago, and the fate of some 5,000 employees remains uncertain. The government has been trying, so far unsuccessfully, to force Stehlik out, accusing him of mismanagement. Stehlik has accused the government's National Property Fund of blocking his efforts to restart the company. The Social Democrats and Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party will be represented by four deputies each on the committee, while the other four parliamentary parties will be represented by one deputy each. -- Jiri Pehe

During a rally in Bratislava on 2 October, members of the Slovak National Theater announced an indefinite strike to begin the following day, Slovak media and Reuters reported. Some 10,000 people attended the rally, protesting government cultural policies and demanding the dismissal of Culture Minister Ivan Hudec. Controversial policies include Hudec's replacement on 1 October of National Theater director Dusan Jamrich with a government ally, his dismissal of stage director Peter Mikulik in July, and his plans to merge two Bratislava theaters. Popular actor Ladislav Chudik said there will be no public performances until Mikulik is reinstated and a proper competition is held for the post of director. National Theater employees have not gone on strike since November 1989, when actors helped spark the revolution that brought down the communist government. Also on 2 October, Hudec fired Slovak Philharmonic chief Karol Faith. -- Sharon Fisher

The Slovak National Bank (NBS) rejected a request from the Kosice-based ironworks VSZ to increase its stake in the Investicna a rozvojova banka (IRB) on 2 October, Narodna obroda reported. When the request was made in June, VSZ held a stake of 14.63%; another increase could give the firm control over one of Slovakia's four most important financial institutions. VSZ President Jan Smerek said his firm hopes to obtain a 40% stake. However, any purchase of 15% or more of a bank's shares must gain the National Bank's approval. The NBS board explained that IRB is to undergo restructuring of its loan portfolio with state participation. VSZ has close ties to the government through Transport and Communications Minister Alexander Rezes. "Even without the NBS's blessing, VSZ has other possibilities to attain its goal," Smerek said. -- Sharon Fisher

During a two-day visit to Germany by Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn, German federal and state governments granted DM 1 billion ($650 million) in loans to Hungary, Hungarian dailies reported on 3 October. The Baden-Wurttemberg and Bavarian governments granted DM 250 million each, while Germany's federal government approved DM 500 million to support small and medium-size companies and German-Hungarian joint ventures. The loan agreement follows a similar deal signed in October 1995. Horn later flew to Munich to deliver a speech at today's ceremony marking the anniversary of German reunification. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and Alija Izetbegovic, Muslim member of the Bosnian presidency, began talks in Paris on 3 October, Reuters reported. Milosevic said the purpose of the meeting was "strengthening stability in the region." French officials said the talks would focus on building peace in Bosnia and normalizing mutual relations. The private talks will be followed by separate meetings with French President Jacques Chirac and the international community's High Representative Carl Bildt. -- Fabian Schmidt

Muslim presidency member Alija Izetbegovic and his Croatian counterpart Kresimir Zubak signed a document on 2 October establishing a joint command for the federal army. That new body will consist of the former mainly Muslim government army and the former Croatian Defense Council (HVO). Its commander will be the government army's chief, Gen. Rasim Delic, and his deputy will be the HVO's Gen. Zivko Budimir, Oslobodjenje reported. Making the Croat-Muslim federation work has been difficult on all levels, however, and no aspect has been as problematic as integrating the two armies. -- Patrick Moore

The Bosnian federal police arrested 24 Iraqis and four Jordanians on 1 October, two days after they arrived illegally on a Jordanian peacekeepers' plane. An IFOR spokesman said that IFOR's intelligence experts are looking into the Bosnian Interior Ministry report on the arrests, Reuters reported on 2 October. NATO previously said it is satisfied that Bosnia has ended its military relationship with Iran and dissolved training camps for Islamic fighters. Reports nonetheless periodically emerge of small-scale training facilities (including those for terrorists) or of small groups of mujahedin operating on Muslim-controlled territory. -- Patrick Moore

In Mostar, police announced that they recently found and destroyed a 200-stalk field of opium poppies near Ljubuski and have charged two men in the case, Onasa reported on 2 October. The police also indicted several other people in conjunction with five hemp plantations in the Mostar area. Western Herzegovina was long known as one of the former Yugoslavia's centers for cannabis and hemp growing, and more recently it has become linked to organized crime. Elsewhere in Bosnia, police arrested a man in conjunction with the recent murder of the Roman Catholic nun Sister Danka on Muslim-held territory (see OMRI Daily Digest, 2 October 1996). The man, Josip Cokara, has a history of drug and alcohol problems, Oslobodjenje noted on 3 October. -- Patrick Moore

Former Central Bank Governor Dragoslav Avramovic's opposition coalition is supported by 28.5% of Serbs, while the Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's coalition has only 24.2% support, according to a poll conducted for Vreme by an independent agency. The poll, conducted between 26 and 30 September, asked 1,000 people in 26 communities throughout Serbia, but excluding Kosovo, whom they plan to vote for in the 3 November Serbo-Montenegrin elections. Meanwhile, the Reform Democratic Party of Vojvodina and the Democratic Center party have joined Avramovic's coalition, which includes the Serbian Renewal Movement, the Democratic Party, the Democratic Party of Serbia, the Citizens' Union and the independent trade unions. -- Fabian Schmidt

Croatian parliament passed a new media law on 2 October protecting journalists from demands that they reveal their sources and from charges in cases where they publish false information unintentionally, Vjesnik reported. However, provisions prescribing fines and imprisonment for reporters who insult top state officials were retained. The ruling Croatian Democratic Community said the new law was as "liberal as any European law," and fulfilled 90 percent of the Council of Europe's requirements, international agencies reported. Opposition deputies convinced the governing party to drop an amendment requiring newspapers to pay for mandatory insurance to fund any possible trials against them. Recently, more than 15 reporters were fired from the pro-government daily Vjesnik; independent daily Novi List was fined a large amount for alleged customs violations; and applications for broadcast frequencies by many independent TV and radio stations were rejected. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The UN and the Croatian government began a project of buying up the weapons stored in Croatian Serbs' private stocks in eastern Slavonia, international agencies reported on 2 October. This last Serb-held area slated to revert to Croatian control was officially demilitarized in August, but the demilitarization did not include privately owned weapons kept in cellars and other secret storage places. UN authorities offered to pay $120 per working automatic rifle, $150 per machine gun, and $20 per hand grenade. The prices of other items are negotiable and faulty weapons are bought for half-price. But Serbs say the deal will not work because they do not trust the Croats and the offers are too low. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Evidence suggests that the more than 80 bodies unearthed from the Ovcara grave site in eastern Croatia are the Vukovar hospital patients killed by Serbs in 1991, according to William Haglund, an expert working for the International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia. The grave is widely believed to contain some 260 bodies of Vukovar hospital patients killed when the town fell to Serbs in 1991 after a three-month siege. Haglund said on 2 October that the bodies are all male and items found with them show they were patients, international agencies reported. He said at least 40 more bodies are in the grave's first layer, and that the grave has proved to be deeper than expected. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Teodor Melescanu and William Perry met at the Pentagon on 2 October to discuss U.S.-Romanian relations and Romania's prospects for joining NATO, Romanian media reported. Melescanu said Perry appreciated Romania's efforts to meet the criteria for NATO admittance, and that Perry said the signing of the Romanian-Hungarian basic treaty and the very active U.S.-Romanian military cooperation were serious arguments in favor of admitting Romania. Perry further praised Romania's participation in NATO's Partnership for Peace program and in the IFOR mission in Bosnia, Melescanu said. The Romanian minister is on a visit to the United States and Canada primarily aimed at boosting Romania's chances of being included among the first group of countries to join NATO. -- Zsolt Mato

Moldovan President Mircea Snegur appealed to international human rights organizations, the OSCE, and Russian and Ukrainian leaders on 2 October to use their influence to prevent further violations of human rights against ethnic Moldovans in the breakaway Dniester region, Infotag reported. The message focused on the "school war" waged by Dniester separatists against Romanian-language schools in the region that opted for Latin letters. Local authorities recently closed down two schools in the towns of Grigoriopol and Slobozia for having replaced the Cyrillic alphabet with the Latin one. Pupils, teachers, and parents have been protesting the move. -- Dan Ionescu

Political forces and institutions on 2 October condemned the murder of former Prime Minister Andrey Lukanov as an attack on democracy, Bulgarian and Western media reported. The parliament unanimously declared that it will not allow a "terrorist act" to lead to a state of emergency and that the presidential elections will go ahead as planned. It said the murder "will not deflect Bulgaria from the path of social and economic reform." President Zhelyu Zhelev, after meeting with the Consultative Council for National Security, said the murder must not be allowed to fuel tension in the presidential election campaign. He said the fight against terrorism and organized crime "requires the united efforts of all institutions and cooperation with all countries." Prime Minister Zhan Videnov called the murder an attempt at destabilization and said the government will do everything possible to apprehend and punish the murderers. -- Stefan Krause

Police have so far not indicated whether they have a firm lead in former Bulgarian Prime Minister Andrey Lukanov's murder, and it remains unclear whether the motives for the killing are political, economic, or both. While many observers seek the motives for the murder in the realm of politics, Lukanov's role as a successful businessman with ties to influential -- and sometimes controversial -- business groups has fueled speculation that the murder might have an economic rather than political background. One theory links the killing with Lukanov's former post as head of the Russian-Bulgarian Topenergy company. Meanwhile, police reportedly arrested an elderly man looking like a tramp near Lukanov's home. An eyewitness had said she saw a tall man dressed like a tramp in the days before the murder and also shortly before the shooting in the immediate vicinity of Lukanov's house. -- Stefan Krause

The Albanian parliament ratified the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Liberties on 2 October, and another prohibiting torture and inhuman or degrading treatment, AFP reported. Albania also recognized the right of appeal for individuals to the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. The ratification requires "immediate" compliance with the human rights convention, but the anti-torture convention will only become Albanian law on 1 March 1997. It will then allow Council of Europe experts free access to prisons and other detention centers. -- Fabian Schmidt

The Center Pole coalition issued a protest to the Central Electoral Commission against a ruling banning people under the age of 28 from participating in the vote count as observers, Poli i Qendres reported on 3 October. The Center Pole called the age limit absurd and charged the commission with overstepping its competence and preparing election manipulations. Meanwhile, the Socialist Party held a rally in Tirana's Congress Palace to introduce its Tirana mayoral candidate Agim Fagu. Elsewhere the same day, a Council of Europe delegation met with President Sali Berisha to discuss the upcoming ballot. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Tom Warner