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Newsline - December 18, 1996

RADUEV BACKTRACKS ON HOSTAGES. Chechen field commander Salman Raduev said on 17 December that he would not release any of the 21 Russian Interior Ministry troops taken hostage by his men on 14 December, ITAR-TASS reported. Dagestan Security Council Secretary Magomet Tolboev described talks with Raduev on the hostages' release as "difficult." Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov said that Chechen police were undertaking unspecified special measures to release the hostages, but Raduev warned that he would respond to any attempt to free the men by force by shooting them, according to Russian Public TV (ORT). Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Boris Berezovskii, who met in Grozny on 17 December with Udugov and field commander Shamil Basaev, said he would remain in Chechnya until the hostages were released. -- Liz Fuller

RED CROSS KILLINGS CONDEMNED. The UNHCR and the French organization Medicins du Monde formally announced the suspension of relief operations in Chechnya and neighboring North Caucasus republics following the murder of six Red Cross workers on the night of 16-17 December, Western agencies reported. Speaking to journalists in Moscow on his return from Grozny, Russian Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin condemned the killings, as did Presidential press secretary Sergei Yastrzhembskii, who described them as a "provocation" and expressed the hope that they would not derail the ongoing peace process, according to ITAR-TASS. AFP quoted Chechen security chief Abu Movsaev as stating that "there are suspects" and that his men are currently trying to apprehend them. The murders have also been widely condemned by Western governments. -- Liz Fuller

LEBED WINS CASE AGAINST KULIKOV. Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed won a libel suit against Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov on 17 December, international agencies reported. A Moscow district court judge ruled that Kulikov had defamed Lebed's character at a press conference on 16 October when he accused him of plotting an armed mutiny. Lebed was fired soon after. The court awarded Lebed the symbolic damages of 1 ruble he sought and ordered Kulikov to take back the allegations at a news conference within 15 days. Kulikov, who is himself suing Lebed over remarks he made to Argumenty i fakty, plans to appeal. Lebed and Kulikov have been bitter foes since the summer, when Lebed called for the interior minister's resignation over Chechnya. Moscow is currently awash with rumors that Kulikov will be promoted to the post of deputy prime minister, although on 18 December he checked into hospital for a week-long "check up." -- Penny Morvant

FSB CHIEF ON ESPIONAGE AGAINST RUSSIA. Federal Security Service (FSB) Director Col.-Gen. Nikolai Kovalev told reporters on 17 December that combating foreign espionage remains the principal activity of his agency, Russian and Western media reported. He argued that Western interest in spying on Russia has increased because of "Russia's place and role in the international community" and complained in particular about the activity of British, Turkish, and Baltic intelligence agents. Kovalev, who was appointed in July, said that over the last two years the FSB has exposed 400 foreign agents, arrested 39 Russian citizens on espionage charges, and blocked more than 100 attempts to transfer classified information to foreign intelligence services. On the other hand, he said the FSB is cooperating with foreign colleagues in the fight against terrorism, organized crime, corruption, and drug trafficking but admitted to less success in these areas. -- Scott Parrish

YELTSIN WITHDRAWS COURT CHALLENGE TO FOREIGN TRADE LAW. Sergei Shakhrai, President Yeltsin's recently appointed representative to the Russian Constitutional Court, withdrew a presidential request that the court review the constitutionality of the law on "state regulation of foreign economic activity," ITAR-TASS reported on 17 December. The presidential appeal, which was lodged last year, contended that the law grants unconstitutionally broad foreign trade authority to regional officials and infringes on the president's constitutional mandate to direct foreign policy. Shakhrai told Kommersant-Daily on 18 December that the original appeal had been poorly argued and said he planned to resubmit it after revisions. But the paper speculated that the decision reflected Shakhrai's "cautious" attitude toward building Russian federalism, which requires a new approach now that all regional executives will soon be elected rather than appointed by the president. -- Scott Parrish

YELTSIN VETOES PENSION INCREASE. President Boris Yeltsin on 17 December vetoed a bill raising the minimum pension by 10% on the grounds that the country could not afford it, Russian TV (RTR) reported. In a letter to Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, the president said that the increases envisaged by the law would cost an additional 815 billion rubles a month and push the Pension Fund further into debt. Delays in the payment of pensions have sparked protests in some areas and prompted local officials to devise schemes for paying pension arrears in kind. -- Penny Morvant

MOSCOW MAYOR INJURES LEG PRACTICING CIRCUS NUMBER. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov injured his leg while rehearsing a parachute jump from the top of the Moscow Circus tent, AFP reported on 17 December. Luzhkov, 60, planned to perform the number at the special celebrations this week marking the 75th birthday of the circus director and famous clown Yurii Nikulin. Despite the accident, Luzhkov intends to attend the celebrations on 18 December. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski

FOREIGN MINISTRY REJECTS CLAIM ON SEVASTOPOL. Belatedly rejecting the 5 December Federation Council resolution claiming Sevastopol, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov reiterated that the Russian government accepts that "Sevastopol and all of Crimea belongs to Ukraine," Russian media reported on 17 December. Tarasov expressed "bewilderment" at the Ukrainian parliament's 6 December protest against Russian territorial claims (see OMRI Daily Digest, 6 and 7 December 1996). He stressed that under the 1993 Russian constitution, it is the executive and not the Federal Assembly that directs foreign policy. He also harshly criticized Primorskii Krai Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko for his continuing opposition to the demarcation of the Russo-Chinese border under a 1991 bilateral agreement. Tarasov said the agreement would be "unconditionally fulfilled," adding that Nazdratenko's "crude" and "demagogic" attacks on it were "unacceptable." -- Scott Parrish

YAMAL-NENETS DUMA RETURNS TO HARD-LINE POSITION. The Yamal-Nenets Duma has restated its opposition to holding the Tyumen Oblast gubernatorial elections on its territory despite earlier indications that it was ready to compromise on some points. During a morning session on 17 December, the Duma agreed to allow citizens of Tyumen Oblast and Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug currently in Yamal-Nenets to vote for the Tyumen govenor at special polling stations. In the afternoon, however, the Duma reversed its decision. First Deputy Presidential Chief of Staff Aleksandr Kazakov called the Duma's opposition to holding the Tyumen elections "a serious challenge to Russia's sociopolitical structure." Tyumen Oblast Governor Leonid Roketskii and four other candidates have asked Yeltsin to intervene to enable all Yamal-Nenets voters to participate in the elections, RIA Novosti reported. -- Robert Orttung

RADIO AND TV BROADCASTS RESUME IN MURMANSK. Communications workers in Murmansk on 17 September called off a week-long strike that prevented more than 1 million residents of the region from receiving central television and radio broadcasts, ITAR-TASS reported (see OMRI Daily Digest, 17 December 1996). The workers warned that they will take further strike action in the new year if the central broadcasters do not pay off their debts. -- Robert Orttung

LENINGRAD MILITARY DISTRICT COMMANDER KILLED IN PLANE CRASH. Seventeen people were killed on 17 December when an AN-12 transport plane crashed shortly after takeoff from the Andreapol military airbase in Tver Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported. The casualties included Col.-Gen. Sergei Seleznev, commander of the Leningrad Military District. -- Scott Parrish

WESTERN OIL COMPANIES URGE RUSSIA TO BE MORE OPEN TO FOREIGN INVESTMENT. The Petroleum Advisory Forum, which unites 30 Western corporations, released a plan prepared jointly with the Russian Academy of Sciences on 17 December detailing the possible benefits for Russia of six major oil and gas projects, Reuters reported. The projects would require $100 billion of Western investment over the next 50 years but could boost annual oil output by 90 million metric tons, create 550,000 new jobs, and generate $590 billion in revenue, 87% of which would go to Russia. Progress on these projects has been blocked by ambiguous tax legislation and the Duma's failure to pass a list of approved sites covered by the 1995 production-sharing law. Russia's oil production fell from 570 million metric tons in 1987 to 305 million tons in 1995, largely because of lack of investment in new fields. It dropped another 2% in the first 10 months of 1996. -- Peter Rutland

CAPITAL OUTFLOW STILL STRONG. Deputy Procurator General Vladimir Davydov told a press conference that capital flight from Russia tops $12 billion a year, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 December. Russian individuals and companies hold a total of $40-50 billion abroad and operate an estimated 60,000 off-shore companies. Davydov said the situation is exacerbated by discrepancies in customs practices between Russia and other CIS countries. He estimated that the absence of customs duties on foreign-currency transfers between Russia and Belarus cost the Russian budget $2 billion in 1996. -- Natalia Gurushina

FARM SUPPORT SYSTEM STRUGGLES TO SURVIVE. The share of federal budget spending allocated to agriculture (as estimated by the Duma's Agrarian faction) declined from 12% in 1991 to 6% in 1994 and 3.8% in 1996, Kommersant-Daily reported on 18 December. On 17 December the Duma passed on first reading a new law creating a network of federal and regional funds to subsidize farms, with funds to be raised from customs duties on food and alcohol imports and from taxes on food production. -- Natalia Gurushina

FREEDOM HOUSE REPORT NOTES LACK OF HUMAN RIGHTS IN CENTRAL ASIA. In its annual survey of freedom and democracy worldwide, the U.S.-based Freedom House identified Tajikistan and Turkmenistan as among the 17 most repressive regimes in the world, RFE-RL reported on 18 December. Uzbekistan, which last year also appeared in the worst category, improved its record in 1996. Among the CIS countries, Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Russia, and Ukraine are rated "partly free;" and Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan are listed as "not free." Freedom House ratings are based on a check-list of political rights and civil liberties, including the degree of autonomy for minorities, the status of the opposition, the nature of electoral laws, and the degree of freedom of assembly and freedom of the media. -- Lowell Bezanis

CHECHNYA DEMANDS SHARE OF TRANSIT TARIFFS FOR CASPIAN OIL. Chechen government representative Eduard Khachukaev met recently in Baku with the chairman of the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC), Terry Adams, to discuss the transportation of Azerbaijani oil through Chechnya, Turan reported on 17 December. Khachukaev said that Chechnya should receive a share of the transit tariffs from the transportation of Caspian oil via the Baku-Chechnya-Tikhoretsk-Novorossiisk pipeline and that it wants a share in the AIOC. Adams assured Khachukaev that he would raise the issue with the Azerbaijani leadership. Under the terms of an agreement signed by Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and interim Chechen Prime Minister Aslan Maskhadov on 23 November, the Russian and Chechen authorities were supposed to conclude an agreement by 1 December on the unimpeded transportation of oil through Chechnya. -- Liz Fuller

DEMONSTRATION IN KYRGYZSTAN. About 300 people, mostly pensioners, gathered in front of the government building in Bishkek on 17 December to demand compensation for savings lost when several state banks collapsed, RFE/RL reported. The leaders of the demonstration met with Kyrgyz Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov, but no agreement was reached. One of the protesters, Topchubek Turgunaliyev of the Erkin Kyrgyzstan Party, was detained by police as he left the government building. Turgunaliyev was accused of embezzling state property, but Jumagazy Usupov, leader of the Ashar movement, argued that Turgunaliyev's detention was linked to his role in the recent formation of the "For Deliverance from Poverty" movement. Usupov speculated that the detention is aimed at stopping Turgunaliyev from organizing further protests and preventing the new movement from holding a congress scheduled for 21 December. -- Bruce Pannier and Naryn Idinov

UN OBSERVERS IN TAJIKISTAN VICTIMS OF "MOCK EXECUTION." Two teams of UN observers in Tajikistan were stopped at a government checkpoint, verbally and physically abused, and subject to forced to stand in a line for a mock execution, according to an 18 December UN press release. The teams were traveling to Garm to verify reports of cease-fire violations in the area when they were stopped at the Saripul post. Their communications equipment was confiscated and members of the teams were ordered to line up in a field for execution. Government soldiers then fired above and around the men. The UN team was able to escape when the appearance of a car on the road diverted the soldiers' attention. This is the second time this month that government forces have mistreated UN observers. -- Bruce Pannier

UKRAINE'S PARLIAMENT DELAYS 1997 STATE BUDGET APPROVAL. Parliamentary Speaker Oleksander Moroz has announced that nearly all factions agree that the draft of the 1997 state budget should be sent back for revision, Ukrainian TV reported on 17 December. The two largest centrist factions, Reform and Constitutional Center, proposed that the budget be rejected. Parliament recently resumed discussions over the draft budget after they were suspended on 5 November. The government introduced the first draft version on 14 September. The second draft version is based on new tax laws that have yet to be approved by parliament. The Parliamentary Budget Commission rejected both drafts, claiming they were based on false macroeconomic figures. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

FOREIGN CREDITS TO UKRAINE. International donors have pledged to send more than $5 billion in aid to Ukraine over the next five years, international agencies reported on 17 December. Next year, Ukraine will receive $3.5 billion in basic financing, bank loans, and trade credits. The IMF would disperse $1.1 billion of the credits, the World Bank a further $1 billion, while the rest will come from other financial institutions or individual donor nations. The same day, the EBRD announced that it would lend $113 million to Ukraine to finance the replacement of a coal-fired burner at the Donbasenerho Henco plant, part of a plan to replace the power lost through the closure of the Chornobyl nuclear power station. The 210 MW boiler will cost $163 million. Donbasenerho currently generates 15% of Ukraine's total energy production. -- Ustina Markus

BUDGET SUBMITTED TO BELARUSIAN PARLIAMENT FOR REVIEW. The House of Representatives has started to review the state budget for 1997, Belarusian Radio and ITAR-TASS reported on 17 December. In line with the social-economic development plan for 1996-2000, 55.8% of budget revenues are to be spent on increased housing construction, subsidies to the agricultural sector, and increased exports. The budget also foresees GDP growth of 5% in 1997 and expects an average monthly inflation rate of less than 2%. The budget deficit should be around 3.3% of GDP and will be financed through the issuance of short-term state bonds and credits from the National Bank of Belarus. The foreign debt is not to go above $2 billion. Currently, it stands at around $1 billion. The budget also features lower taxes for businesses and enterprises. -- Ustina Markus

BELARUS THREATENED WITH OIL SHORTAGES. Belarus's two oil refineries may run out of oil in four or five days due to difficulties in converting local currency into hard currency, Reuters reported. The vice-president of the Belarusian state oil concern, Uladzimir Prakapchuk, hopes that supplies will resume following the Central Bank's decision to convert $22 million. Russian Deputy Fuel and Energy Minister Valerii Garipov confirmed that crude oil exports will decrease in December as a result of a government program to channel more oil to domestic refineries. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

LITHUANIA'S 1997 DRAFT BUDGET. The Seimas on 16 December discussed changes in the 1997 budget that had been proposed by the previous government of Mindaugas Stankevicius, Radio Lithuania reported. Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius stated that the new government will not contribute to increases in the state debt but will run a deficit in order to repay previous debts. Only deputies from the Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) voted for the first draft of the budget. Even deputies in the governing coalition partner, the Christian Democratic Party, joined the Center Union, Social Democratic, and Democratic Labor parties in demanding major revisions or a totally new budget. -- Saulius Girnius

LUSTRATION LAW IN POLISH SEJM COMMISSION. The Polish Sejm commission has concluded the main part of its work on the lustration law, Polish media reported. According to the project, state officials, including the president, prime minister, ministers, judges, and parliament members, as well as candidates for those posts, will be required to release statements revealing whether they had worked in the security services or collaborated with those services in 1944-1990. The Supreme Court's Penal Chamber will create a Lustration Court consisting of 21 judges who, in three-person teams, will verify the statements by referring to Interior and Defense ministry archives. Defendants will have the right to appeal the verdict. The Lustration Court's ruling will be published in the Government Gazette and people found to have lied on their statement will be dismissed from their job. The National Judicature Council has criticized the idea of using courts as lustration agencies. Prime Minister Jan Olszewski's attempt to conduct lustration ended in 1992 when his government fell. -- Jakub Karpinski

CZECH DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER RESIGNS. Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) Chairman Jan Kalvoda, a deputy prime minister and the minister of justice, resigned on 17 December from his government posts and gave up his parliament deputy mandate. Kalvoda told journalists that he was doing so in response to the fact that he had for years used the degree of Doctor of Law (JUDr.), despite the fact that he never earned the degree. He graduated from Charles University's Law School with a lesser degree. Another four deputies of the Czech parliament have admitted to using JUDr. degrees without having earned them. One of them, a deputy representing the Christian Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People's Party, gave up her deputy mandate on 17 December but the other three (two from Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party and one from the opposition Social Democrats) have so far refused to resign. -- Jiri Pehe

OPPOSITION PROTESTS SLOVAK PENAL CODE AMENDMENT. Opposition and trade union representatives on 17 December strongly protested the parliament's approval that same day of the Penal Code amendment on the protection of the republic, Slovak media reported. The new version was more moderate than that passed in March, which provided for the imprisonment of individuals who organize public rallies "with the intention of subverting the country's constitutional system, territorial integrity, or defense capability" and who "spread false information" that could damage Slovakia's interests. The new proposal replaces the phrase "organize public rallies" with a "call for mass riots" and omits the clause about spreading false information. Still, the opposition fears that civic freedoms are threatened. Slovak National Party chairman Jan Slota said he is "very happy" with the law's approval, adding that "the integrity of the young Slovakia is jeopardized by some representatives of the Hungarian coalition and opposition." -- Sharon Fisher

SLOVAK OPPOSITION DRAFTS LAW ON DIRECT ELECTION OF PRESIDENT. The Democratic Union on 17 December submitted a proposal, signed by 31 opposition deputies, calling for a special parliamentary session to discuss a law on the president's direct election, press agencies reported. Slovak Parliamentary Chairman Ivan Gasparovic must call the session within seven days. The opposition parties proposed two issues for the agenda--a constitutional amendment on the president's direct election and a referendum on the same issue. President Michal Kovac's term ends in March 1998, and a new president is unlikely to be elected since the constitution requires the head of state to win the support of 90 parliamentary deputies. -- Anna Siskova

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES 1997 BUDGET . . . Parliament on 17 December approved the 1997 state budget, Hungarian media reported. The budget was passed by a vote of 257-80 with two abstentions. It projects a deficit of 309.7 billion forints ($1.93 billion), 8 billion forints more than originally planned. Total revenues are set at 2,2251.896 billion forints and total expenditure at 2,561.607 billion forints. According to Magyar Hirlap, the state will have to issue 30 billion-40 billion forints worth of state securities every month to finance the deficit. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

. . . AND A CONCEPT FOR A NEW CONSTITUTION. Parliament also passed the long-debated concept for the new constitution, Hungarian media reported. Two opposition parties--the Young Democrats and the Democratic People's Party--sided with the ruling coalition in approving the concept, which was prepared by the parliament's constitutional committee after the Socialist party leadership boycotted the passage of the original concept in June. The reworked concept contains all the elements suggested by the Socialists--including references to the "social state"--but some observers fear it could block future stabilization plans. If the government's draft text for the basic law is passed by parliament next spring, a referendum will be held on the new constitution in fall 1997. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

SERBIAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH STUDENTS . . . As mass demonstrations continued across Serbia and the independent trade union Nezavisnost led another huge rally in Belgrade, President Slobodan Milosevic met with students on 17 December. A student delegation which had marched to Belgrade from Serbia's second largest city, Nis, delivered Milosevic a protest letter and samples of spoiled ballots. The opposition Zajedno coalition has accused of vote-rigging in the 17 November municipal elections, costing it victories in a dozen municipalities. Milosevic pledged to investigate allegations of electoral improprieties and a state TV broadcast quoted him as saying, "Mistakes are always possible ... I assure you that this state will not protect someone who has broken the law, whether that someone is a citizen or an official." -- Stan Markotich

. . . BUT REMAINS DEFIANT. Milosevic also told the students he would not tolerate their alleged promotion of foreign meddling in Serbia's "domestic" affairs. "We must be completely clear, however much your leaders go to embassies and send envoys and travel to world capitals, a foreign hand shall not rule Serbia," Reuters quoted him as saying. Meanwhile, the OSCE confirmed on 17 December that it would send a delegation, headed by former Spanish Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez, to Belgrade to investigate circumstances surrounding the disputed 17 November election results. -- Stan Markotich

MONTENEGRIN LEADERS LAUNCH COURT ACTION. President Momir Bulatovic, Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic, and parliamentary Speaker Svetozar Marovic have filed lawsuits against several leading opposition figures, alleging that they committed slander during the 3 November election campaign, Montena-fax reported on 17 December. The legal action was undertaken just one day after the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists proposed that several terms, including "murderer," "maniac," "fool," and "traitor" be banned from legislative debates. Novak Kilibarda, one of the leading opposition figures named in the slander suit, said the filing of the charges was little more than a ploy by the government to divert public attention away from serious issues such as the "catastrophic" state of the economy. -- Stan Markotich

BOSNIAN SERB LEADERSHIP WELCOMES SFOR. NATO gave final approval on 17 December to SFOR, which will formally succeed IFOR on 20 December. It will be a 31,000-strong contingent with an 18-month mandate, with the largest individual contributions being 8,500 Americans, 5,000 Britons, 3,000 Germans, and 2,500 French, AFP reported. The Serbian representative on the Bosnian state presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik, said that IFOR had done well and that the Pale leadership had worked hard to persuade the Bosnian Serb public to accept it. IFOR was "a force that protected peace and not one or the other entity in Bosnia-Herzegovina," he concluded, adding that there were few serious incidents during its mandate and that its record was better than that of its predecessor, UNPROFOR. Krajisnik stated that all three sides agreed that SFOR's mandate will be the same as IFOR's. -- Patrick Moore

BOSNIAN WAR CRIMES UPDATE. The Pale leadership has also rolled out the welcome mat to Judge Louise Arbour, who heads the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia. Prime Minister Gojko Klickovic has invited her to visit the Republika Srpska, AFP reported on 17 December. Most of the war criminals indicted in The Hague are Serbs, but three Muslims and a Croat will go on trial on 28 January for crimes against Serbs at the Celebici camp in 1992. For their part, the Serbs on 24 December will begin trying Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic in absentia in Banja Luka for war crimes, a move that the Muslims have strongly condemned as a propaganda ploy. -- Patrick Moore

RAIL WORKERS END STRIKE, TEACHERS DEMONSTRATE . . . Croatian rail workers on 17 December ended a three-week strike after the High Court rejected their appeal against an earlier ruling which branded the action illegal, Vecernji List reported the next day. The High Court ruled that the unions had failed to respect the Transport Ministry's demands that they maintain a minimum traffic flow, AFP reported. Croatian railway unions called the strike to demand higher wages and the payment of an estimated $40 million in wage arrears. Meanwhile, about 1,000 to 2,000 teachers and research workers demonstrated the same day in Zagreb to demand a 15% raise, Novi List reported the next day. The government had only promised them a 5% pay hike. The average monthly wage in education is about $350, or $50 less than the national average. -- Daria Sito Sucic

. . . BUT IMF WARNS CROATIA TO BE "CAREFUL" WITH WAGE POLICY. An IMF delegation on 17 December gave preliminary approval to the Croatian government's economic program up to the year 1999, which could free up to $500 million in loans, international and local media reported. Robert Feldman, the head of the IMF mission, said the loans were contingent on meeting the agreed targets set out in the program, such as real economic growth of 5% and low inflation, AFP reported. The program calls for maintaining macroeconomic stabilization, including a "careful" wage policy with wage increases linked to increases in productivity. Feldman also said the country would have to show significant progress on privatization and restructuring, which would probably lead to more unemployment. But he said that investment in infrastructure should create jobs, as would the creation of new businesses. -- Daria Sito Sucic

ROMANIAN GOVERNMENT DELAYS IMPLEMENTING ELECTORAL PROMISES. Ulm Spineanu, the minister in charge of economic reform, said on 17 December that the government will have to delay the implementation of its electoral promises concerning "social measures" aimed at improving living standards, Romanian TV reported on 17 December. One day earlier, the daily Libertatea quoted Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea as saying that as a resul of talks with Paul Thompsen, the chief IMF negotiator for Romania last week, the measures would be postponed until mid-January, when new parleys on an IMF stand-by loan are scheduled. The IMF is opposed to increasing allowances for children and minimum pensions for peasants to 50,000 lei (about $13) and recommends immediate energy price increases, instead of the gradual increasing envisaged by the government. -- Michael Shafir

TRANSDNIESTRIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION UPDATE. Vladimir Malakhov, the only candidate running against President Igor Smirnov in the 22 December Transdniester breakaway region's presidential election, has threatened to withdraw from the race, Infotag reported on 17 December. Malakhov said "equal rights conditions" were not respected and the Transdniester media were covering only Smirnov's campaign. He also denied accusations that he would work with Moldova's president-elect, Petru Lucinschi, for the unification of the region with Moldova. Malakhov said he envisaged a federation "in which both our republics would enjoy equal status." Meanwhile, Lucinschi said the Transdniestrian elections will change nothing, because the international community recognizes only the Moldovan state. He reiterated the position that Transdniester should be granted a "special status" that would include separate representative and executive bodies "for an efficient administration of the region." -- Michael Shafir

FORMER BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER DIES. Communist-era Prime Minister Stanko Todorov died on 17 December at age 76, Duma reported. He joined the Bulgarian Communist Party in 1943 and became a Politburo member in 1961. After holding several government posts, he was prime minister from 1971-1981, the longest-serving prime minister in modern Bulgarian history. Todorov was parliament chairman from 1981-1990 and among the Communist party leaders who in November 1989 ousted long-time Communist dictator Todor Zhivkov. -- Stefan Krause

SOLUTION TO THE BULGARIAN-MACEDONIAN LANGUAGE CONTROVERSY? The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry has drawn up five possible ways of avoiding language arguments between Bulgaria and Macedonia, Trud and Kontinent reported on 18 December. A day earlier, the projects were discussed by the Consultative Council for National Security, which was convened by outgoing President Zhelyu Zhelev after his meeting with Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov at the OSCE summit in Lisbon. Bulgaria refuses to recognize the existence of a separate Macedonian language. Since 1992, the controversy has postponed the signing of an inter-state treaty and 12 other bilateral accords. Bulgaria will allegedly no longer insist on its proposal to draw up documents in English or another official UN language, which Macedonia had rejected as unacceptable. Gligorov proposed that the new contracts be signed along the lines of the 1994 economic agreement, which was drawn up in Bulgarian and Macedonian without explicitly stating which languages were being used. -- Maria Koinova in Sofia

BULGARIAN CURRENCY IN SHORT SUPPLY? Bulgaria's exchange bureaus are running out of leva, 24 chasa reported on 18 December. The previous day, the Bulgarian currency gained against the dollar, rising from about 500 leva/$1 to about 470 leva/$1 on 17 December. Currency dealers said many people are selling hard currency to buy Christmas presents, while companies are buying leva to pay taxes and outstanding bills. In other news, the government announced it will sell controlling stakes in two major state-owned pharmaceutical companies, Troyapharm and Pharmacia. The sales are part of a program aimed at raising $1 billion for the state budget by selling 18 major state-owned firms. -- Stefan Krause