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Newsline - November 13, 1996

Addressing an annual gathering of military commanders on 12 November, Defense Minister Igor Rodionov warned that if "extreme measures" are not taken to reform the Russian military or if any further reduction is made in the combat readiness of the Russian armed forces, "the consequences could be tragic," Russian and Western agencies reported. He also declared that the current international situation could "broaden the zone of instability" and possibly provoke "conflicts that would threaten Russian security," although he gave no details. In a break with tradition, according to Krasnaya zvezda on 13 November, the meeting was also addressed by diplomats, policy analysts, Economics Ministry officials, and Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais, who described Russia's overall strategic and economic situation to the officers. -- Scott Parrish

Addressing the same meeting, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said that the principle "not numbers, but skill" should guide military reform, adding that "unpopular and harsh" measures are necessary to "save the country's defense capability," ITAR-TASS reported on 12 November. Chernomyrdin said that cuts would affect not only the Defense Ministry, but also other agencies with uniformed servicemen. Despite the objections of some military officers, reportedly including Rodionov, Chernomyrdin also endorsed the speedy development of a new military doctrine to guide reform, arguing that it cannot be postponed until the current financial crisis is resolved. Chernomyrdin supported another Rodionov proposal, however, saying the General Staff should be given increased authority over armed formations outside the Defense Ministry, like the Border Guards and the Interior Troops. He also pledged again to liquidate military wage arrears by mid-November. -- Scott Parrish

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Demurin said on 12 November that Prime Minister Chernomyrdin's planned mid-November visit to Kyiv would be postponed until "the documents that must be prepared for his visit are ready," ITAR-TASS reported. The announcement comes after Russian and Ukrainian negotiators failed to resolve differences over the terms under which the Russian portion of the Black Sea Fleet will lease facilities in the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol (see related story in Central and Eastern Europe section). The postponement continues a well-established pattern in which Ukrainian and Russian leaders publicly announce the resolution of the fleet dispute, but disputed details block final agreement (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 October 1996). -- Scott Parrish

Prime Minister Chernomyrdin met on 12 November with the 15 recently elected regional governors, saying later that he is in favor of signing more power-sharing treaties with the regions but only in places where the local authorities can cope with more power, Russian media reported. The same day, Chernomyrdin asked Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov to solicit proposals from the regions for possible changes to the 1997 federal budget. President Yeltsin is satisfied with the results of regional races and believes that it is incorrect to characterize them as a red revanche, Segodnya reported on 13 November, citing presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii. Eight out of 15 regional executives have been re-elected. The governors who ousted incumbents in Leningrad, Kaliningrad, and Magadan oblasts are thought to be supporters of the president. Opposition members won in Kaluga, Kursk, Pskov, and Kirov oblasts, while the opposition's narrow victory in Amur is still being disputed. -- Anna Paretskaya in Moscow

The joint commission to coordinate the reconstruction process in Chechnya, which comprises 39 Russian ministers and deputies and 31 members of the interim Chechen coalition government, convened in Grozny on 12 November to discuss socio-economic issues and the restoration of communications between Grozny, Moscow, and Rostov-na-Donu, Russian media reported. Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin said the reconstruction should be jointly financed by both sides with the help of private Russian investment and advocated inviting international observers to monitor the January 1997 parliamentary and presidential elections in Chechnya, according to Russian Public TV (ORT). Rybkin then traveled to Nazran where he held talks with the leaders of the North Caucasian republics on a political settlement of the Chechen conflict; the participants decided to prepare a temporary agreement defining relations between Chechnya and the Russian Federation before the Chechen elections take place, NTV reported. -- Liz Fuller

Twenty-six percent of Russians support granting Chechnya independence, according to a survey in which individuals were asked to indicate which ideas they supported from a list provided by VCIOM, Segodnya reported on 13 November. Twenty-four percent back a complete withdrawal of Russian troops and 23% want to close the Russian-Chechen border. On the other hand, 22% support the idea of maintaining Chechnya within the Russian Federation. -- Robert Orttung

Orenburg Oblast Fund for Invalids of the Afghan War Chairman Andrei Chepurnoi suggested that Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Yurii Yarov was involved in the 10 November Kotlyakovskoe cemetery bomb blast that has claimed 14 victims, Trud reported on 13 November. Chepurnoi claimed that the fund's problems began after he, Mikhail Likhodei, and Sergei Trakhirov had met with then Deputy Prime Minister Yarov and asked him what had happened to the large amounts of money earmarked for disabled veterans. Both Likhodei and Trakhirov are now dead. Trud's reporters could not contact Yarov, being told that he is in a meeting, but Radio Mayak reported on 12 November that Yarov claimed to have met the fund's leaders only once and denied that he was involved in its work. -- Robert Orttung

About 70 deputies, including the entire Yabloko faction, several independents, and members of the Our Home Is Russia faction walked out of the Duma as Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka began to address the chamber on 12 November, ITAR-TASS reported. Deputies from the Communist faction and the LDPR stood to applaud him. Before Lukashenka's address, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii made an unsuccessful last-minute attempt to postpone his appearance until after the 24 November constitutional referendum in Belarus, arguing that Lukashenka would use his Duma speech to "pressure Belarusian public opinion." Communist and LDPR deputies insisted that Lukashenka be allowed to speak, saying he leads "a brother republic, the only one which is really friendly toward Russia." -- Scott Parrish

Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Demurin demanded the immediate release "without any conditions" of former Russian intelligence agent Vladimir Galkin, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 November. He termed Galkin's 29 October arrest by the FBI (see OMRI Daily Digest, 5 November 1996) a "deliberate provocation," and warned Washington that "irresponsible actions may have negative consequences for Russian-American relations." The same day, Galkin was arraigned in a Massachusetts federal court on espionage charges. On 13 November, ITAR-TASS reported that discussions with U.S. officials on Galkin's release were making little progress, as Moscow has rejected a U.S. offer to release him on bail pending his trial. -- Scott Parrish

Speaking at a meeting on tax and financial policy, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev has announced that only 16% of Russian companies honor their tax obligations, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported on 12 November. Of 2.6 million firms, 436,000 companies pay taxes regularly and in full, whereas at least 882,000 firms publish no accounts and make no tax payments at all. As of 1 October, tax arrears in Russia reached 132 trillion rubles ($24.4 billion). The problem of tax collection will be crucial in the ongoing negotiations with the IMF monitoring mission on the disbursement of the next tranche of the $10.1 billion extended facility fund. -- Natalia Gurushina

At a meeting of the Committee for Operational Questions, Defense Industry Minister Zinovii Pak said that in 1995 the government was able to purchase only two war planes and five helicopters, compared with some 400 in 1991, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 November. Pak noted that although the aviation industry needed 3.5 trillion rubles of state financing in 1996, the budget earmarked only 562 billion rubles for this purpose, of which only 200 billion rubles was actually released. According to ORT, Russian civil aviation companies sold only eight airplanes in 1996, compared to more than 200 a year at the beginning of the 1990s. Pak said the 1997 budget should allocate 1.3 trillion rubles to the civil aviation technology program and another 2.5 trillion rubles to finance aircraft leasing. -- Natalia Gurushina

Russia, Turkmenistan, and Iran signed a memorandum on 13 November on cooperation in developing the Caspian Sea oil resources, Russian TV (RTR) and Reuters reported. Signed by Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Velayati, and Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov, the memorandum establishes a joint company to further explore the Caspian's resources. The other two Caspian states, Azerbaijan and Kazakstan, are invited to join, but according to the RTR report, Azerbaijan is "unsatisfied" with this agreement. -- Bruce Pannier

In an interview published in Nezavisimaya gazeta on 13 November, Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba stated that there are no obstacles to the Georgian population of Abkhazia, which he estimated at 90,000, participating in the 23 November elections to a new Abkhaz parliament. Unlike its predecessor, the new parliament will not comprise specific quotas from different ethnic groups. Ardzinba further accused the Georgian leadership of preparing terrorist acts against members of the Abkhaz leadership and of pressuring the Abkhaz side to make "unacceptable" compromises regarding the region's future political status vis-a-vis Georgia. On 12 November, Abkhaz-Press carried a statement by Ardzinba, summarized by ITAR-TASS, in which he reiterated his readiness to continue negotiations under the aegis of the UN and with Russian mediation. -- Liz Fuller

The leader of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Robert Kocharyan, called on residents of the region to take part in the 24 November presidential election, Noyan Tapan reported on 12 November. During one of his campaign speeches, Kocharyan said the recognition of Nagorno-Karabakh as an equal side to the conflict by the OSCE and creation of a strong army are among the biggest achievements of his government. According to Kocharyan, the development of small and medium-sized enterprises and tax privileges for agriculture will remedy Karabakh's economic hardships. -- Emil Danielyan

An IL-76 cargo plane from the troubled Kazakstani airline company KazAir collided with a Saudi Arabian passenger plane in mid-air on 12 November, killing everyone on both aircraft, international press reported. The plane from Kazakstan was descending to land at Delhi Airport in India when it struck the Saudi plane while the latter was climbing. The KazAir plane had 38 people on board, including the crew, the Saudi plane had 312 people. KazAir had been shut down after it incurred a debt of $149 million by August 1996 and was alleged to be using substandard aircraft. The crash is being called the worst mid-air collision in aviation history. -- Bruce Pannier

The Constitutional Court of Kyrgyzstan on 12 November found that the selection of Mukar Cholponbayev as parliamentary speaker was not valid, RFE/RL and ITAR-TASS reported. When Cholponbayev was chosen by the Legislative Assembly in March 1995 only 29 of the 35 deputies were present (see OMRI Daily Digest, 7 November 1996). Cholponbayev received 17 votes, a majority of those present but not a majority of the entire upper house. His re-election process can begin when the house meets on 13 November. The decision has deeper implications as it opens the way for opposition deputies to raise the question of the validity of the December 1995 presidential election. The Legislative Assembly voted to move that election forward by one year at a session that also did not have a quorum. -- Bruce Pannier and Naryn Idinov

According to an 11 November press release from Human Rights Watch (HRW), Hasan Mirsaidov, son of Uzbek dissident Shukhrullo Mirsaidov, was abducted by three armed men on 9 November, beaten, blindfolded, handcuffed, and held for 12 hours before being freed. According to Erika Dailey of HRW, this is only the latest event in a campaign to apply pressure on the Mirsaidov family. The Uzbek government has renewed attempts to legally deport the family from Uzbekistan although the original case was filed some time ago and remained "dormant" for 18 months, being brought up again shortly before the kidnapping. Although HRW is calling for a complete investigation into the case, the organization acknowledges that "there is little hope of an impartial investigation since the incident was undoubtedly carried out at the behest of the Uzbek government." -- Bruce Pannier

The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry accused the Russian parliament of anti-Ukrainian behavior and warned it would turn to the international community to solve the Black Sea Fleet dispute, international media reported on 12 November. Foreign Minister Henadii Udovenko said Kyiv would seek support from nuclear powers to guarantee Ukraine's territorial integrity. The Ukrainian parliament scheduled for next week a debate on Russia's withdrawal of its 600-vessel share of the fleet from Crimea by 2000. Last month, the Russian State Duma voted to stop the fleet's division, but the Russian government distanced itself from the Duma resolution. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

Defense Minister Oleksander Kuzmuk and NATO Deputy Secretary-General Sergio Balanzino in Brussels discussed the further development of relations between Ukraine and NATO within the Partnership for Peace (PfP) program, Ukrainian media reported on 9 November. Kuzmuk on 11 November met with Dutch Defense Minister Joris Voorhoeve to discuss cooperation between Ukraine and Netherlands within the PfP program, ITAR-TASS reported. The ministers agreed to begin exchanging training visits of Dutch and Ukrainian servicemen. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

The country's two Christian Democratic parties have announced plans to reunite at an upcoming extraordinary congress in an effort to boost their chances in the 1998 parliamentary elections, UNIAN reported on 11 November. A group led by Volodymyr Stretovych last year split away from the Ukrainian Christian Democratic Party to form the Christian Democratic Party of Ukraine. The parties claim that removal of the controversial founder of the UCDP, Vitalii Zhuravsky, has paved the way for their reunion. In other news, Rukh leader Vyacheslav Chornovil said recent accusations that presidential Chief of Staff Dmytro Tabachnyk illegally obtained an apartment were part of a campaign to discredit President Leonid Kuchma, UNIAN and Vseukrainskie vedomosti reported on 11-12 November. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

The Belarusian People's Front accused Alyaksandr Lukashenka of grossly violating the constitution and sabotaging the elections to the Belarusian Supreme Soviet, the BBC reported on 13 November. The party's governing body urged the Supreme Soviet to initiate impeachment proceedings. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

Guntis Ulmanis, accompanied by the foreign, defense, and communication ministers, began his first official visit to the U.K. on 11 November. The main aim of the trip is to promote Latvian membership in the EU and NATO and increase economic ties. Britain is Latvia's third-largest export partner and the greatest source of foreign investments. Ulmanis discussed Baltic security issues with British Defense Secretary Michael Portilo and toured British air force, marine, and naval bases, BNS reported. Ulmanis is scheduled to meet with Queen Elizabeth, Prime Minister John Major, and Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind before returning home on 15 November. -- Saulius Girnius

Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Rimantas Sidlauskas called the first day of border talks in Moscow on 12 November satisfactory, Radio Lithuania reported. He said the new head of the Russian delegation, Aleksei Obukhov, who had been recalled from his post as ambassador to Denmark after the arrest of his son in May for alleged collaboration with Western secret services, left the "impression of a very businesslike person" and not of an especially ardent Russian nationalist. The two sides have reached agreement on 90% of the border in three years of negotiations. Difficulties, however, remain with the border in Lake Vistytis, the mouth of the Nemunas River, and the Baltic Sea area called D-6, where there are possible oil deposits. -- Saulius Girnius

Polish Public Television (TVP) President Ryszard Miazek and Lithuanian Radio and Television Chairman Juozas Neverauskas signed a cooperation agreement, Polish media reported on 13 November. The deal envisages trading and exchanging programs and information materials. Lithuanian television will broadcast some Polish programs nationwide, while TVP will air Lithuanian-language programs on a regional channel; neither side will charge for use of its programs. The approximately 260,000 Poles living in Lithuania make up 7% of its population. In Poland there are 10,000-20,000 Lithuanians. -- Beata Pasek

Cellular phone company Plus GSM organized a promotion campaign, "Friends of Plus GSM," to provide cellular phones "for testing" to ministers, deputies, higher civil servants, and public institutions. The company, which recently received its license, sent several hundred offers to well-known politicians and institutions. Freedom Union (UW) parliamentary leaders refused the offer. But National Radio and TV Council (KRRiT) member Andrzej Zarebski said he did not have ethical problems in taking the offer, because KRRiT has no common interests with cellular-phone networks. Several ministers are "testing" the cellular phones, Gazeta Wyborcza reported on 13 November. -- Jakub Karpinski

Vaclav Havel on 12 November criticized Social Democratic Party leader and Parliament Chairman Milos Zeman for alleging publicly that the Czech Intelligence Service (BIS) and the Ministry of Internal Affairs were working hand in hand. Under Czech law, the BIS is a separate organization not subordinated to the ministry. Havel called Zeman's statements irresponsible. Zeman responded by making an appointment with the president for next week, at which, he said, he will present the necessary evidence to support his statements. BIS Chairman Stanislav Devaty resigned on 11 November after Christian Democratic Union leader Josef Lux accused the BIS of following him. -- Jiri Pehe

Ivan Korcok on 12 November reacted to criticism that diplomatic protocol was violated when neither Foreign Minister Pavol Hamzik nor State Secretary Jozef Sestak accompanied President Michal Kovac on his current two-day official visit to Holland, Slovak media reported. Former Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan told Narodna obroda that the absence of Hamzik or Sestak was "a slap in the face" to Holland, particularly since Holland expressed special interest in Hamzik's participation. Although the ministry considers the visit "very important," Korcok said, Hamzik had to attend the 12 November cabinet session at which the 1997 budget was discussed, while Sestak had business in Brussels. -- Sharon Fisher

The parliament on 12 November lowered the average rate of the income tax, profit tax, and consumption tax for 1997, Hungarian dailies reported. The highest personal-income tax rate will drop from 48% to 42%. Tax deductions pertaining to salary incomes will go up from 18% to 20%. Parliament also approved tax exemptions for employers' meal contributions and granted taxpayers the right to determine how 1% of their taxes should be spent. The bills were passed in the absence of all opposition deputies, who had walked out earlier to protest a vote on Constitutional Court judges. The Hungarian legislature has amended tax laws every year since 1990, which has made economic planning and tax-return filing problematic for firms and individuals. Due to tightened tax laws last year, tax evasion has become widespread. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The Young Democrats on 12 November demanded the resignation of Ferenc Baja, minister of environmental protection and regional development, for failing to clean up pollutants around the waste dump of Gare in southwest Hungary, Hungarian media reported. Although ministry officials ruled out any threat of disaster, the party insisted that the 15,000 tons of hazardous waste, which were shipped to Gare by the Budapest Chemical Works more than 15 years ago, have been contaminating the area. Baja said the ministry has made repeated attempts to break the deadlock over the matter and will order the Chemical Works to stop the spread of contaminants within 15 days. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The armed confrontation between Republika Srpska police and Muslim refugees trying to return to their homes has led to the most serious fighting since the Dayton agreement took effect. Local and international media on 12 and 13 November agreed that at least one Muslim has died and several persons of both nationalities have been wounded in the separation zone between Muslim-held Celic and Serb-controlled Koraj in northern Bosnia. Each side blamed the other and IFOR blamed them both, adding that the Sarajevo authorities may have deliberately staged a provocation. Russian IFOR troops were caught in the cross-fire and briefly pulled back, but a U.S. IFOR representative stressed that at no time did either side directly fire at the U.S. or Russian peacekeepers. NATO reported on 13 November that the area was calm and that IFOR intended to "contain the situation," AFP noted. -- Patrick Moore

The cashiered Bosnian Serb General Staff published a letter in the Belgrade paper Blic on 13 November warning of a "fratricidal war," AFP reported. They demanded that the Republika Srpska police stop harassing those in the military who are loyal to their sacked commander, Gen. Ratko Mladic. The police are believed to be trying to cut off all communication links to Mladic's command center at Han Pijesak. Mladic loyalists charge that the one responsible for the "putsch" against them is Radovan Karadzic, the indicted war criminal who is widely believed to be still the real power in Pale, BETA noted. Both the group of 80 cashiered officers and their replacements announced by Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic claim that the army is behind them, Nasa Borba and Novosti noted. -- Patrick Moore

Slobodan Milosevic has taken the unusual step of publicly entering the confrontation between the Bosnian Serb civilian and military leaderships. On 12 November he sent Federal Yugoslav Deputy Prime Minister Nikola Sainovic to Pale with the message that Mladic must step down, AFP reported. U.S. envoy John Kornblum visited the Serbian president and insisted that Mladic must go, Nasa Borba reported the next day. Kornblum stressed the need for more democracy in Serbia, particularly where the media and Kosovo are concerned, VOA added. It is not clear why Milosevic has intervened against Mladic. Until now, Belgrade has had stronger links to Han Pijesak than to Pale. -- Patrick Moore

In its seventh session on 12 November, the three-man Bosnian presidency still did not succeed in agreeing on a government for postwar Bosnia-Herzegovina, Oslobodjenje reported the next day. The Muslim member and chairman, Alija Izetbegovic, and the Bosnian Croat member, Kresimir Zubak, advocate a government made up of five ministers and a premier. Serb member Momcilo Krajisnik, however, wants two ministers and a premier, in line with the Serb policy of limiting the powers of any central body. The presidency did agree in principle on a common platform for the Paris conference on Bosnia on 14 November. In other news, the U.S. State Department said a delay in delivering a consignment of U.S. arms to the Muslim-Croat federation is costing nearly $50,000 per day, Reuters reported on 12 November. Washington is delaying delivery until Sarajevo fires Deputy Defense Minister Hasan Cengic, whom Washington considers too close to Iran. -- Daria Sito Sucic

A possible alliance of three conservative parties, the Slovenian People's Party (SLS), the Social Democratic Party of Slovenia (SDSS), and the Christian Democratic Party (SKD) could emerge with a total of 45 legislative seats and exclude the governing Liberal Democratic Party (LDS) from power, Reuters reported on 12 November. The SKD, one-time coalition partner of the LDS, hinted that it may stand firm with the alliance of conservative and rightist parties grouped under the "Slovenian Spring" banner. SLS leader Marjan Podobnik refused to rule out working with the LDS but said it is conditional on several factors, including LDS leader Janez Drnovsek relinquishing the premiership. Vote and seat tallying from the 10 November elections will be made official on 15 November. -- Stan Markotich

Belgrade appears to be covertly helping Libya with its medium-range ballistic missile program, AFP reported on 12 November, citing The Washington Times. According to the report, the CIA has learned that the Serbian company JPL reached a $30 million agreement with the Libyan Al Fatah missile development program. It is unclear what specific role Serbian advisers are playing, since Serbian technical knowledge is reportedly "limited to production of long-range multiple-rocket launcher systems." On 7 November, the New York Times had reported that Belgrade was secretly transporting arms shipments to Libya -- further evidence of Belgrade's violation of the weapons ban imposed by the UN after Tripoli refused to allow extradition of suspects in the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland. -- Stan Markotich

With the 17 November presidential run-off drawing close, incumbent President Ion Iliescu's campaign has become radical, Romanian dailies reported on 13 November. At a rally in the Transylvanian town of Alba Iulia on 9 November, Iliescu accused the leaders of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania of plotting Yugoslav-style secession from Romania. Evenimentul Zilei wrote that Iliescu was becoming "Zhirinovsky-ized." Meanwhile, a growing number of political parties, trade unions, and organizations announced their support for Iliescu's opponent, Emil Constantinescu. -- Zsolt Mato

The president of the self-declared Dniester republic, Igor Smirnov, reaffirmed his opposition to any participation of Dniester residents in the 17 November Moldovan presidential election, BASA-press reported on 12 November. His statement was addressed to Russian President Boris Yeltsin, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, and the chairman of the OSCE Permanent Council. Smirnov's remarks came in response to a proposal by Moldovan Parliament Speaker Petru Lucinschi that polling stations be opened at peacekeeping-force bases located in the Dniester areas where ethnic Moldovans are in the majority. Smirnov said the vote could destabilize the situation in the region. He pledged, however, that the Dniester authorities would not prevent locals from traveling to Moldova proper to cast their ballots if voters used their own means of transport. -- Dan Ionescu

At the end of a 22-hour closed-door session, the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) Supreme Council and the BSP parliamentary deputies on 12 November gave Zhan Videnov a vote of confidence, RFE/RL and other media reported. Of the 158 delegates, 87 supported Videnov, 69 voted against him, and two abstained. The vote means that Videnov can stay in office at least until an extraordinary BSP congress meets on 21-22 December to discuss future policies and leadership questions. The delegates also gave Videnov a mandate to begin consultations on the introduction of a currency board, as proposed by the IMF. Deputy BSP Chairman Yanaki Stoilov, Nikolay Kamov, and Filip Bokov resigned from the Executive Bureau. All three had signed a recent letter by 19 top BSP politicians demanding Videnov's resignation. Bokov also gave as a reason for his resignation the failure of the BSP's presidential election campaign, which he managed. -- Stefan Krause

Bulgaria's military prosecutor and Interior Ministry opened an investigation after Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) Chairman Ivan Kostov complained of microphones in the SDS headquarters, Kontinent and RFE/RL reported on 12 November. Kostov said the bugs were hidden in his office and in the office of President-elect Petar Stoyanov several months before the presidential election in October-November, but the SDS decided not to report the incident before the voting. Members of the security services might be involved, Kontinent observed. -- Maria Koinova

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma on 12 November wrapped up a two-day official visit to Greece, ITAR-TASS reported. The previous day, Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos and his Ukrainian counterpart, Henadii Udovenko, signed three bilateral agreements: on international passenger and freight transportation, on tourism, and on science and culture. Udovenko said the accords complement the friendship and cooperation treaty signed earlier that day. Pangalos said Greece supports "the establishment of Ukraine's close relations with the European Union [and] its developing contacts with NATO as well as active participation in Balkan cooperation." -- Stefan Krause

Police on 12 November banned a rally of Democratic Party legislator Azem Hajdari's breakaway faction from the Independent Trade Unions (BSPSH), Zeri i Popullit reported. The Socialist Party daily implied that Hajdari is the legitimate BSPSH president. The government media, however, maintains that the congress in Durres that elected Hajdari on 5 December had no mandate and that Valer Xheka is the legitimate president. A Tirana court also ruled in Xheka's favor. Xheka has asked parliament to lift Hajdari's immunity so that the prosecutor could start investigations for slander. Hajdari had charged Xheka with corruption and embezzlement of $17,000 from trade union seminars in 1992. Meanwhile, Hajdari participated in BSPSH meetings in Lezha and Lushnja, where he rallied for support. He also scheduled a nationwide congress for 23 November and claimed that his office received support letters from BSPSH branches all over the country. -- Fabian Schmidt