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Newsline - December 9, 1996

The Duma decided on 6 December to postpone voting on the revised 1997 budget until 15 December, ITAR-TASS reported. The draft budget prepared by the government-parliament conciliatory commission is opposed by all parliamentary factions except Our Home is Russia and the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, whose leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky changed his position at the last moment, urging postponement rather than outright rejection. Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov slammed the budget, saying that "the state is bankrupt, the president is ill, the government is helpless, and the Duma is powerless." Observers suggest that some factions may be willing to vote for the budget in exchange for the dismissal of Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais or other government changes. -- Natalia Gurushina

President Boris Yeltsin on 7 December appointed Duma member Sergei Shakhrai as deputy chief of staff and his representative to the Constitutional Court. Since Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais and Shakrai are known to have bad relations, NTV characterized Shakhrai's appointment as Yeltsin's first post-operation move to establish checks on Chubais's power. Until now, Chubais had named the leaders of the administration staff independently. Shakhrai is not very popular in Russia, viewed by the public as being partly responsible for the administration's failed policies in Chechnya, and hated by the opposition for its role in the Belavezha meeting which ended the Soviet Union and the Constitutional Court case banning the Communist Party. Since 1991 he has held, and been fired from, a large number of high government posts under Yeltsin, covering nationalities issues, regional policy, and the media. -- Robert Orttung

Yeltsin addressed some of Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev's concerns in a 6 December meeting by saying that he would personally oversee the timely payment of pensions and salaries once he returns to the Kremlin on 25 December, Russian TV (RTR) reported. Following Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's failure to appear in the Federation Council on 4 December, the upper house invited him to speak at a special 10 December session, but it is not clear if he will appear this time either, Kommersant-Daily reported on 6 December. NTV argued that government Chief of Staff Vladimir Babichev made a serious tactical error in telling Stroev that the constitution did not require Chernomyrdin to appear when the Federation Council summoned him. Chernomyrdin did address the State Duma on 6 December, promising action on wage and pension arrears. -- Robert Orttung

Presidential Press Secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 6 December that Yeltsin and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl have agreed to meet on 4 January, Russian and Western media reported. The one-day meeting will take place at Yeltsin's country residence in Zavidovo, about 100 km north of Moscow. Kohl will be the first Western leader to meet Yeltsin since his heart surgery. On 8 December, the presidential press service told ITAR-TASS that Yeltsin and French President Jacques Chirac have also agreed to hold a brief meeting in Moscow in early January, although no exact date has been set. Like the recent announcement of a Yeltsin-Clinton summit in March, these visits aim to show that Yeltsin is reassuming the leadership of Russian foreign policy. -- Scott Parrish

Nineteen candidates announced their intention to contest the Chechen presidential election by the 7 December deadline, AFP reported. That day, former Russian parliament Speaker Ruslan Khasbulatov announced that he will not run, Ekho Moskvy reported. Presidential and parliamentary elections are to be held on 27 January. It is not yet clear whether Vakha Arsanov will agree to acting premier Aslan Maskhadov's proposal to become his running mate; both men have already collected the 10,000 signatures in their support which must be submitted to the Central Electoral Commission by 27 December. Shamil Beno, leader of the Daimokhk (Motherland) party, called on Chechen voters to register as early as possible; Russian Security Council secretary Ivan Rybkin had told journalists on 6 December after visiting Grozny the previous day that lists of voters would be ready by the end of this week. Polling stations will be established in Stavropol, Ingushetiya, and Dagestan for refugees from Chechnya. Also on 7 December, Russian human rights activist Sergei Kovalev again called for the postponement of the elections on the grounds that preparations had run into "major difficulties," Reuters reported, quoting NTV. -- Liz Fuller

Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov reacted positively to the 5 December appointment of Madeleine Albright as U.S. Secretary of State, calling her a "professional" and a "good partner for dialogue," Russian and Western media reported on 6 December. But many Russian commentators were less diplomatic, and expressed worry that her appointment signals that Washington will take a harsher line with Moscow during Clinton's second term. Segodnya on 7 December said the appointment of the Czech-born diplomat "creates colossal problems" for the Russian Foreign Ministry, citing her firm backing of NATO enlargement and her reputation for tough bargaining. On the same day, Izvestiya speculated that Albright's background makes her "inclined toward confrontation" with Moscow, while NTV said her appointment signals the strengthening of "anti-Russian forces" in Washington. -- Scott Parrish

Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais and Deputy Secretary of the Security Council Boris Berezovskii gave up their positions on the ORT Board of Directors at the 7 December shareholders' meeting, ITAR-TASS reported. In their place, the board appointed four new members: State Privatization Committee head Alfred Kokh, Presidential Business Manager Pavel Borodin, First Deputy Finance Minister Aleksander Vavilov, and Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Maksim Boiko. The state holds a 51% stake in ORT, and the largest private shareholders are Gazprom, Stolichnyi Bank, and Berezovskii's LogoVAZ company. Berezovskii is considered by many as the key person in defining the TV channel's content and policies. --
Nikolai Iakoubovski

Following the 8 December voting, incumbents have won only 14 of 30 gubernatorial elections completed since 1 September. Opposition-backed candidates defeated incumbent governors in Bryansk, Voronezh, and Vladimir oblasts on 8 December, RTR reported the next day. Duma Deputy Yurii Lodkin received 54% of the vote, twice as much as the Bryansk incumbent Aleksandr Semernev. Voronezh Oblast legislature chairman Ivan Shabanov outpolled Governor Aleksandr Tsapin by about 8%, receiving slightly less than 50% of the vote. Vladimir Oblast legislature chairman Nikolai Vinogradov won more than 60% of the vote, three times more than the incumbent governor, Yurii Vlasov. Additionally, 67% of the voters backed Oleg Bogomolov, the chairman of the Kurgan Oblast legislature, in the second round of elections there, while 33% voted against him. He was the only candidate in the run-off since the others withdrew. The courts have yet to rule on whether the vote was valid. -- Anna Paretskaya in Moscow

Khabarovsk Krai secured reelection, sweeping 77% of the vote, while his main rival, businessman and Duma deputy Valentin Tsoi, supported by the opposition, received 7%. Anatolii Guvhvin, Astrakhan Oblast governor, was reelected with 52% support, while his competitor, Duma deputy Vyacheslav Zvolinskii, obtained 40% of the vote. A second round will be held in Arkhangelsk, Kostroma, Perm, and Ryazan oblasts on 22 December, where the incumbents will be challenged by opposition candidates. The incumbents are trailing in Kostroma and Ryazan, and have done poorly in previous runoffs. -- Anna Paretskaya in Moscow

In a referendum on 8 December, Kostroma voters rejected by 87% to 10% a proposal to complete the construction of a nuclear power station in the province, ITAR-TASS reported. The local anti-nuclear group "In the Name of Life" collected 36,000 signatures to call the referendum -- well above the 10,000 legal requirement. This was the activists' second try: a 1993 petition, with 16,000 signatures, was declared invalid. The Ministry of Nuclear Energy campaigned in favor of completion, saying the station would create 20,000 jobs. Work began on the station in 1981, was suspended in 1990 in light of the 1986 Chornobyl accident, but was restarted in 1992. The referendum, the first of its kind in Russia, is legally binding since turnout was 59% - above the required 50%, Reuters reported. -- Peter Rutland

The nationwide strike by coalminers entered its seventh day on 9 December, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. On 7 December the miners' union presidium voted to continue the strike. The miners are protesting wage arrears of 400 billion rubles ($70 million). Despite earlier reports of an impending visit, neither Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin nor First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin have yet traveled to the Kuzbass, the major coal region, to placate the miners. On 7 December 90,000 teachers in 27 regions also began a strike over unpaid wages. Teachers' union spokesman Vladimir Yakovlev told ITAR-TASS on 9 December that the nation's teachers are owed 6.5 trillion rubles ($1.2 billion) in back pay. A hunger strike by 13 workers at the Sosnovyi Bor nuclear station near St. Petersburg that began on 30 November ended on 8 December, ITAR-TASS reported. The government has promised to send 27 billion rubles to the plant by 28 December to clear wage arrears. -- Peter Rutland

Russian, Georgian, and Abkhaz representatives agreed at talks in Moscow on 4-7 December to continue work on a draft document on the foundations for regulating the conflict, confidence-building, and the repatriation of ethnic Georgian refugees, ITAR-TASS reported. Georgian Foreign Minister Irakli Menagharishvili met in Moscow on 6 December with his Russian counterpart Yevgenii Primakov to discuss various aspects of bilateral relations, including the division of the Black Sea fleet, Russia's military bases in Georgia, joint patrolling of the Georgian-Turkish frontier, and the Abkhaz conflict, Russian media reported. At a subsequent press conference Primakov announced that ethnic Georgian refugees from Abkhazia will begin returning to their homes in January. During several days of simultaneous talks in Moscow, Georgian Interior Minister Shota Kviraya solicited the assistance of his Russian counterpart Anatolii Kulikov in preventing the creation of an Islamic Republic in the Caucasus that would include Abkhazia, according to NTV. -- Liz Fuller

Gen. Andrei Nikolaev completed a one-day visit to Armenia after holding a long private meeting with President Levon Ter-Petrossyan, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL reported on 8 December. Nikolaev said that the Armenian leadership supports the presence of Russian troops on its borders with Turkey and Iran, and that he is satisfied with the results of the visit. According to Nikolaev, Ter-Petrossyan called for "additional measures" to strengthen the CIS's external borders. Nikolaev ruled out the possibility of a withdrawal of the Russian border troops from Georgia, arguing that all the problems with the latter "have been settled" during his recent visit to that country, Noyan Tapan reported on 6 December. -- Emil Danielyan

A plane taking United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader Said Abdullo Nuri to his scheduled 9 December meeting with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov in northern Afghanistan was forced down by aircraft of the Taliban movement, Russian and Western sources reported. Taliban sources say Nuri is a "guest" and they will allow him to continue on to the meeting point in Kunduz. Rakhmonov, in Dushanbe, is waiting for word of Nuri's arrival at Kunduz before leaving for the meeting. Fighting inside Tajikistan is at its worst since the civil war of 1992. Government forces are reported to be assaulting Komsomolabad (135 km east of Dushanbe), which fell to the opposition in October. Fighting is also reported in the Tavil-Dara area (200 km east of Dushanbe) and in the village of Chinor (60 km east of Dushanbe) near the Nurek hydro-electric plant. -- Bruce Pannier

Over 3,000 people gathered in front of the Academy of Sciences in Almaty on 8 December to protest living conditions, international media reported. Signs with the words "Salaries," "Pensions," "Free Press," and " Democracy" were burned and symbolically placed in small caskets. People shouted slogans such as "Nazarbayev (the Kazakstani president), you are our Hitler," "President Nazarbayev's credit with the people is finished" and most alarmingly, "Remember what happened to Najibullah" alluding to the former Afghan leader who was dragged from the UN compound in Kabul, killed, and hung in public. There are chronic energy shortages in the country and wage and pension arrears, by some accounts, stand at $500 million. -- Bruce Pannier

Meeting in Moscow on 6 December, participants in the Caspian Pipeline Consortium signed an agreement finalizing their respective stakes in the project, AFP reported. Fifty per cent of the project will be divided between the governments of Russia (24%), Kazakstan (19%), and Oman (7%); the remaining 50% will be divided between Lukoil (12.5%), Rosneft (7.5%), Chevron (15%), Mobil (7.5%), Italy's Agip (2%) British Gas (2%), Kazakstan's Munaigas (1.75%) and the U.S. firm Oryx (1.75%). Construction of the pipeline, which will initially transport 28 million tons of oil annually from Kazakstan's Tengiz field to the Black Sea port of Novorossiisk, will begin in 1997 and take an estimated two years at a cost of $1,500 million, according to Russia's deputy minister for oil and energy, Anatolii Shatalov. The pipeline will be operated by Russia's Transneft. -- Liz Fuller

Leonid Kuchma said he doesn't disagree with Premier Pavlo Lazarenko on major issues but only on tactical matters, UNIAN reported on 5 December. The night before, Kuchma had accused the government of inefficiency and lack of responsibility (see OMRI Daily Digest, 5 December 1996). The differences concerned governmental proposals to ease tax pressure on producers and to cut social benefits to war veterans and the disabled. Kuchma said such measures would only aggravate the situation and cannot lead to increased budget revenue. In other news, Kuchma instructed his government to draw up a new version of the language law to increase the use of Ukrainian, Ukrainian radio reported on 6 December. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

The Agrarian Party of Ukraine held its founding congress in Kyiv on 5 December, Ukrainian radio reported. The congress approved the party program and elected Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Zubets as chairman. A co-founder, the deputy head of the Ukrainian Collective State Farms Council, Ivan Yemets, said the party will defend the interests of the entire agrarian sector. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

As a result of the Russian Federation Council's resolution saying Kyiv had no right to govern Sevastopol, Ukraine's parliament decided to consider adopting a law on the withdrawal of foreign troops from Ukraine's territory, Russian Public Television and UNIAN reported on 6 and 7 December. Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksander Kuzmuk said joint command of the fleet was impossible, and the Ukrainian navy was capable of functioning without help from Russia's Black Sea Fleet, Radio Rossii reported. Ukrainian parliamentary Speaker Oleksandr Moroz warned that the adoption of a law forcing foreign troops to withdraw from Ukraine could have serious consequences, and he doubted it could be implemented. Ukrainian National Security Secretary Volodymyr Horbulin was highly critical of the Russian Federation Council's resolution, and denied that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma had agreed to set up a joint command of the fleet. -- Ustina Markus

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka signed five decrees on the Constitutional Court, including one appointing Ryhor Vasilevich acting chief justice, Belapan reported on 7 December. Vasilevich had been noted for being more partial to Lukashenka than other court judges. Another decree accepted the resignations of four Constitutional Court justices, not counting the former chief justice. Only six of eleven justices from the pre-referendum Constitutional Court remain. Lukashenka also signed a decree moving Mikalai Damashkevich from the post of head of the Presidential Control Service to head the Committee of State Control of Belarus (successor to the Presidential Control service). On 5 December, Belarusian radio reported Lukashenka signed a decree ruling out further by-elections to parliament and a decree on elections to the new upper house of parliament, Belapan reported on 8 December. Regional and Minsk city deputies are to be elected by 26 December. -- Ustina Markus

The Belarusian opposition held its first protest rally in the capital since the 24 November referendum on 8 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Some 3,000 protesters marched downtown carrying Belarus's traditional flags and banners "Shame on Russia" and "Hands Off Belarus." They proceeded to the Russian Embassy to express their discontent with Russia's position of passive observer of President Lukashenka's quest for unlimited power. The demonstrators' main demand was Lukashenka's immediate resignation. Speaking at the rally together with other former parliament deputies, former Chairman Syamyon Sharetsky called the recent plebiscite "an act of violence against people." The protesters called on the democratic forces to unite in their opposition to Lukashenka. Between 10 and 20 protesters were reportedly detained for disturbing public order. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

The Congress of the Coalition Party on 7 December in Tallinn re-elected Prime Minister Tiit Vahi, giving him 219 votes to 35 for challenger Ulo Nugis, ETA reported. Vahi said that the major policy goals of his government will be to introduce a "socially-oriented market economy" and improve relations with Russia. He explained that the fall in the party's popularity had been due to its need to maintain a balance in the ruling coalition between the liberal Reform Party and the rural parties. He noted that Estonia's GDP was expected to grow 3-3.5% this year and that, with the annual inflation rate falling to less than 15%, interest rates would also decrease. -- Saulius Girnius

Solidarity is considering asking its supporters to withhold taxes and insurance payments to prevent the money of pro-life supporters being used to finance abortions, Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski said at the congress of the Polish Federation of Pro-Life Movements in Warsaw on 8 December. The question will be considered at the next meeting of the Solidarity leadership, Krzaklewski said. Legislation signed by President Aleksander Kwasniewski last month allows abortions virtually on demand. Krzaklewski said the Solidarity Senate caucus plans to appeal the newly-liberalized abortion law to the Constitutional Tribunal. He added that all Solidarity candidates in next year's general elections will have to undergo an "internal lustration," sign an "ethics charter" and perhaps even a notarized pledge to support pro-life initiatives. -- Jakub Karpinski

Vaclav Klaus was reelected chairman of his Civic Democratic Party (ODS) at a party congress held on 7-8 December, Czech media reported. Following the unimpressive showing of the ODS in the June general elections and in the recent Senate elections, analysts had speculated that Klaus's position may be in danger. He was, however, the only candidate for the post. The congress also elected four vice chairmen: Ivan Pilip, Jan Strasky, Josef Zieleniec, and Miroslav Macek. Delegates agreed that the ODS should find a new style and become more open, but did not agree on any radical changes in the program or the structure of the party. -- Jiri Pehe

The parliament approved the cabinet's budget bill by a 80-15 margin on 7 December, Slovak media reported. Most of the opposition deputies left the 150-member parliament. Controversy centered on increased funding for the secret service and allocations of 70 million crowns for road construction to reach a recreational center owned by ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia Deputy Jana Gantnerova. The budget -- based on 6% GDP growth, 6% inflation, and 11-12% unemployment -- foresees expenditures of 208 billion crowns ($6.7 billion) and a deficit of 36.9 billion crowns. -- Sharon Fisher

Rabbi Baruch Meyers was attacked by a group of skinheads on 6 December, press agencies reported. The skinheads first insulted Meyers verbally and then started to kick him. The attack took place in Bratislava's center, at a site where a synagogue previously stood and where Hanukkah was celebrated on 7 December. This was the second skinhead attack on Meyers, an American citizen who has held his post in Bratislava since 1993. -- Anna Siskova

Former North Atlantic Assembly Chairman Karsten Voigt said on 7 December that NATO's reservations toward Slovak membership are not part of a conspiracy against the country, CTK reported. Addressing a conference on NATO and European security in Prague, Voigt added that many Slovaks precisely believe the contrary. "It is not a conspiracy against Slovakia, it is the way in which we perceive democratic realities in the country," he stressed. -- Anna Siskova

Istvan Nikolits, minister responsible for secret services, has placed an 80-year stamp of secrecy on data related to the so-called oilgate affair, Hungarian media reported on 9 December. The opposition Democratic Forum fiercely protested the move. Silence has surrounded the affair ever since a parliamentary commission was formed to investigate the charges brought by opposition deputies and the press that several Socialist party members had been involved in business deals related to Russia's repayment of its debt to Hungary. Among others, former Trade and Industry Ministers Imre Dunai and Laszlo Pal were accused of using their influence to secure contracts for certain Socialist-leaning business firms. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Amid continuing daily mass protests across Serbia, the Serbian Supreme Court rejected an appeal by Belgrade's electoral commission to have the 17 November local election results -- in which the Zajedno opposition coalition won a majority -- recognized, Beta reported on 8 December. The court ruling has effectively upheld a third round of balloting that awarded the ruling Socialists 66 of 110 seats in the Belgrade municipal assembly. Electoral commission head Radovan Lazarevic has taken up a further appeal with the federal supreme court, the federal public prosecutor and the republic's public prosecutor. -- Stan Markotich

On 8 December the demonstration in Nis attracted some 50,000 participants, many of whom smashed television sets in protest of the regime's biased media coverage, Reuters reported. Opposition leaders have also told the international press that police harassment and arrest of peaceful demonstrators continues, with at least 40 persons having been apprehended so far. For his part, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, in the face of growing demands for both a recognition of opposition victories in local polling and calls for his own resignation, tore up a draft memorandum on press freedom presented by a member of the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Finally, Serbian Information Minister Aleksandar Tijanic formally tendered his resignation on 6 December, Tanjug reported. -- Stan Markotich

The Serb representative of Bosnia's three-member presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik, said the key Bosnian town of Brcko must be made an integral part of the Bosnian-Serb entity, AFP reported on 7 December. Krajisnik said he is opposed to any move that would put the town under international administration. Brcko is claimed by both Muslims and Serbs. The town had a Muslim majority before the war. Today, Brcko is the only link between the eastern an western parts of Serb-held territory in northern Bosnia. Under the Dayton peace accord, control of Brcko should be decided by an arbitration commission by 14 December, but Serb Prime Minister Gojko Klickovic said the Serbs would pull out and ignore the ruling of the commission because they distrust its chairman, Roberts Owen. -- Daria Sito Sucic

President Franjo Tudjman again warned that those who complain about human rights and media freedom in Croatia are really seeking to subvert the Croatian state, Slobodna Dalmacija reported on 8 December. He said these critics are enemies of Croatian independence or "communist remnants." In a tirade to the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), he especially blasted the Open Society Institute, which supports independent media like the Feral Tribune and some NGOs; prominent critics like Ivo Banac, Chris Cviic, Slavko Goldstein, and Vlado Gotovac; and the BBC, VOA, and Radio 101, as well as the only independent daily, Novi List. Tudjman warned that these enemies "have spread their tentacles throughout our society." -- Patrick Moore

The next day, Tudjman presented a number of military medals, including one to Gen. Tihomir Blaskic for his role in retaking the Knin region in 1995, Reuters said. Blaskic's wife accepted the award, since he is voluntarily appearing before the Hague-based war crimes tribunal on charges of having committed atrocities against Muslims. Tudjman's statement and presentation of the medal are classic examples of his insensitivity to foreign and domestic public opinion, which has long earned him the nickname "Mr. Own-goal." They also reflect his understanding of democracy and the uneasiness of the regime amid recent unrest and reports that Tudjman has cancer. -- Patrick Moore

The UN said on 6 December that international donors have pledged over $30 million to help rebuild the last Serb-held part of Croatia, Eastern Slavonia, international and local media reported. Organizers of the donors' conference in Zagreb originally hoped to raise $1.2 billion. But Derek Boothby, deputy to Jacques Klein, head of the UN Transitional Administration for Eastern Slavonia, said the money promised was a "very good start," according to AFP. Boothby said that foreign money would encourage the Serbs to stay and the Croats to return. Meanwhile, top local Serb representative Vojislav Stanimirovic said the Serbs want to have their own county in Croatia, where they would be a majority, Novi List reported on 7 December. Under Croatian law, the region would be split into two counties. Stanimirovic called for a referendum on the region's administrative status, AFP reported on 6 December. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Preliminary returns from a nationwide ballot held in Slovenia on 8 December show the vote was met with apathy and tacit support for the status quo, STA reported. According to returns, only an estimated 35% of the electorate voted and none of the three proposed packages for fundamental changes in the national voting system received the requisite minimum 50% to become binding. Final results are expected on 12 December. -- Stan Markotich

On 6 December, the victorious parties in the November general elections signed a coalition accord aimed at giving parliamentary support to the new government, Romanian media reported. Leaders of the Democratic Convention of Romania, the Social Democratic Union, and the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) signed the document in President Emil Constantinescu's presence. The coalition thus holds a majority 287 of the parliament's 486 seats. According to Constantinescu, the "solid parliamentary majority" resulting from the accord will back "a strong government set up to solve Romania's big problems." UDMR Chairman Bela Marko described his party's participation in the government as "natural" in view of the support it gave to democratic forces. Designated Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea will seek parliamentary approval for his cabinet on 10 December. -- Zsolt Mato

The mediators brokering a settlement in the Dniester conflict welcomed on 6 December the stance of the OSCE Lisbon Summit on the issue, Infotag reported. At a briefing in Chisinau, the three mediators -- Donald Johnson, head of the OSCE Mission to Moldova, and special presidential envoys Yurii Karlov of Russia and Evgenii Levitsky of Ukraine -- praised the section devoted to Moldova in the Lisbon document. The document expressed concern over the lack of progress in implementing the October 1994 Moldovan-Russian agreement on the withdrawal of Russian troops from eastern Moldova. It also reiterated OSCE's commitment to assist in achieving a final solution to the dispute. The mediators stressed that the key to settlement lies in granting a special status to the Dniester region within a sovereign and independent Moldova. -- Dan Ionescu

Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) Chairman Ivan Kostov said on 8 December that the opposition will support the establishment of a currency board if an agreement with the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party for calling early elections and changing the Bulgarian National Bank's Executive Board can be reached, Pari and Duma reported. However, Kostov's proposal must first receive the backing of the extraordinary SDS National Coordinating Council meeting on 9 December. The council must also decide on Kostov's other idea -- to turn the SDS into a single party before early elections. Over the weekend, 3 parties already backed him, while 6 others rejected the idea, albeit "ambiguously." -- Maria Koinova

An explosive device went off in the Great Mosque in Kazanlak on 6 December, causing damage but no injuries, Duma and Novinar reported. Motives and perpetrators remain unknown. A bomb had been discovered and defused
in the same mosque earlier this year, while mosques in Varna and Shumen were targets of arsonists in 1996. In other news, the EU said Bulgaria can restart the controversial reactor No. 1 at the Kozloduy nuclear power plant but should close the whole plant down as soon as it finds alternative forms of energy, Reuters reported. EU and Bulgarian experts said tests showed that "the material of the pressure vessel ... allows the [reactor's] safe operation." -- Stefan Krause

The daily Rilindja Demokratike, a mouthpiece for the governing Democratic Party, praised the opposition protests in Belgrade, news agencies noted on 8 December. The editorial said it is to be hoped that the demonstrations bring down what it called the hated Milosevic dictatorship, which has opressed the Kosovo Albanians. Meanwhile, President Sali Berisha urged Kosovars to support the Serbian opposition, Deutsche Welle's Albanian Service reported. The Kosovars have taken the attitude that they want no part of Serbia and that Serbian politics hence do not concern them. Berisha's words may be seen as a clear, if gentle message to them that their future indeed lies with Serbia, and that they must help the opposition if they want to help themselves. -- Patrick Moore

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Sava Tatic