RADUEV RELEASES HOSTAGES.
Chechen field commander Salman Raduev on 18
December released the 22 Russian policemen taken hostage by his men on the
Chechen-Dagestan border on 14 December, Russian and Western agencies reported.
Raduev had come under pressure to release the men from Russian and Chechen
officials, including acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev. Still
unresolved, however, is the whereabouts of a North Ossetiyan government
delegation abducted on 16 December in the Chechen village of Znamenskoe while
traveling to Grozny for talks with Chechen officials on normalizing the
situation on the border between the two republics. Meanwhile, six Russian
civilians were killed in Grozny on the night of 17-18 December, according to
ITAR-TASS. Following the murder of six Red Cross workers in Novye Atagi, a
third humanitarian group, Medicins sans Frontieres, has suspended its
operations in Chechnya, AFP reported. * Liz Fuller
YELTSIN TO MAKE "UNEXPECTED" MOVES, BUT NO DYACHENKO APPOINTMENT.
Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said Boris Yeltsin will make some
"unexpected" moves when he returns to work on or before 25 December, ITAR-TASS
reported on 18 December. However, Yastrzhembskii denied rumors circulating in
the Russian press that Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko may soon be
appointed to an official position in the presidential administration.
Meanwhile, Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais said the American surgeon Michael
DeBakey, who was a consultant during Yeltsin's recent illness, wrote to Yeltsin
saying the president could enjoy another 10 working years as long as he returns
to a full work schedule gradually, Reuters reported. Only a few photographs and
brief video footage of Yeltsin have been released since his 5 November heart
operation. * Laura Belin
SHAKHRAI ON CHUBAIS.
Sergei Shakhrai, Yeltsin's deputy chief of staff
and representative in the Constitutional Court, suggested that persistent
attacks could soon prompt Chubais to resign voluntarily, NTV and Russian Public
TV (ORT) reported on 18 December. The Procurator-General's Office is
investigating a transcript published last month that apparently implicated
Chubais in wide-ranging malfeasance during Yeltsin's re-election campaign. More
recently, Communists in the Duma demanded Chubais' ouster as a condition for
adopting the 1997 budget. Kommersant-Daily argued on 19 December that
even if Chubais remains in office, his authority will be reduced and Prime
Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's influence will increase. The paper also
suggested that Shakhrai and Chubais (who are known to dislike each other) may
develop a "good cop, bad cop" approach toward regional policy. Shakhrai is
considered to be more sympathetic to regional interests, while Chubais has
called for cracking down on so-called legal "separatism." * Laura Belin
YELTSIN CREATES DEPARTMENT ON COSSACK POLICY.
Yeltsin signed a decree
establishing a Main Directorate on Cossack Units in the presidential
administration, which will be responsible for working out policy on the revival
of Russia's Cossacks and coordinating the activities of all registered Cossack
organizations, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 December. In April, Yeltsin signed
several decrees on Cossack participation in the border guards and civil service
(see OMRI Daily Digest, 18 April 1996). Meanwhile, Komsomosakaya
pravda reported on 18 December that 3,000 Terek Cossacks blockaded the
airport and train station in Mineralnye Vody (Stavropol Krai) until they were
promised a meeting between Chernomyrdin and their ataman, Vladimir Shevtsov.
The Terek Cossacks are demanding that some territory be transferred from
Chechnya to Stavropol Krai, as well as immunity from prosecution for possession
of firearms and the authority to guard the border between Chechnya and
Stavropol. * Laura Belin
CONFUSION OVER MINIMUM PENSION INCREASE.
Presidential Chief of Staff
Chubais told ITAR-TASS on 18 December that Yeltsin has resubmitted to the Duma
an amended bill raising the minimum pension. Earlier reports said Yeltsin had
vetoed the law on the grounds that it was too expensive. Chubais said the new
version raises the minimum pension by 10% as of 1 January. The Duma had wanted
the increase to take effect on 1 November. Also on 18 December, the Duma passed
on second reading a bill raising the minimum wage from 75,900 rubles a month to
95,000 as of 1 January. The minimum wage, which is used as the basis for
calculating a range of benefits, was last raised on 1 April. The Duma also
overcame a Federation Council veto on a bill increasing child benefits for
single parents. * Penny Morvant
DUMA PASSES BILL AGAINST SEPARATISM BY AUTONOMOUS OKRUGS.
passed in the third and final reading a draft law regulating relations between
krais, oblasts, and the autonomous okrugs subordinated to them, ITAR-TASS
reported on 18 December. Nine krais and oblasts of the Russian Federation
contain autonomous okrugs. The bill would make okrugs subject to the laws of
the corresponding oblast or krai. It stresses that elections to a krai's or
oblast's legislative and executive bodies are held throughout all their
territories without any exception. The Duma vote is in large part aimed at
preserving the integrity of Tyumen Oblast, since the legislature of the
Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug--one of two okrugs in Tyumen--has declared that
the okrug's citizens will not participate in the 22 December Tyumen
gubernatorial elections (see OMRI Daily Digest,16 and 18 December 1996).
* Nikolai Iakoubovski
RODIONOV TAKES HARSH STAND IN BRUSSELS.
Russian Defense Minster Igor
Rodionov blasted NATO's plans to expand eastward after meeting with defense
ministers from the 16 NATO countries on 18 December, international agencies
reported. Rodionov dismissed alliance pledges not to deploy nuclear weapons in
new member states, saying such promises could be revoked at any time. He
renewed threats to take unspecified "countermeasures" if the alliance expands
and said expansion would threaten START II. Rodionov's comments may be aimed at
extracting the maximum concessions for Russian acquiescence to enlargement, but
they could also signal that Moscow still hopes to torpedo the process. * Scott
FBI AGENT ACCUSED OF SPYING FOR RUSSIA.
FBI agents on 18 December
arrested one of their own colleagues, Edwin Pitts, charging him with espionage
for the Soviet Union and Russia, international agencies reported. Pitts is
accused of passing information to the KGB beginning in 1987, when he worked in
the New York office of the FBI conducting counterintelligence operations
against suspected Soviet agents. Although Pitts apparently stopped working for
the KGB's Russian successors in 1992, a recent Russian defector fingered him as
a turncoat, and the FBI agents posing as Russian operatives induced him to
reveal details of his past cooperation with Soviet intelligence. Like Harold
Nicholson, the CIA officer recently arrested on charges of spying for Russia,
Pitts' motivation was financial, and he received $224,000 in return for
information on FBI agents, counterintelligence techniques, and codes. * Scott
TURKISH FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW.
Turkish Deputy Prime Minister and
Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller discussed a wide range of issues in meetings with
Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Foreign Minister Yevgenii
Primakov on 18 December, international agencies reported. Ciller said NATO
expansion should "be handled very carefully," adding that Turkey, whose
approval is neccessary for the admission of new members, "will not allow NATO
to become a threat to Russia." Kommersant-Daily on 19 December
speculated that Ciller hoped to trade Turkish opposition to NATO expansion for
Russian agreement not to support Kurdish separatists. Ciller and Primakov did
sign a joint anti-terrorism declaration, and each side pledged to respect the
others' territorial integrity. But Primakov said Moscow is "not responsible"
for the activities of the Kurdistan Workers' Party and rebuffed Turkish
concerns over the planned sale of S-300 air defense missiles to the
Greek-controlled part of Cyprus. * Scott Parrish
EXPLOSION ON ST. PETERSBURG METRO.
One passenger was slightly injured
when an explosion ripped through a train on the St. Petersburg metro shortly
after midnight on 19 December, Russian and Western agencies reported. The metro
director, Vladimir Garyugin, said the force of the explosion was similar to one
that killed four people on the Moscow metro in June. No one claimed
responsibility for the Moscow metro bombing. * Penny Morvant
NEW PRIVATIZATION LAW.
On 18 December, the Duma passed on first reading
a new privatization law, the first since 1991, Kommersant-Daily
reported. The draft law was prepared in advance by a joint
parliamentary-government commission: only the Liberal Democratic Party voted
against the bill. Many of the innovations in privatization since 1991 have
taken place on the basis of presidential decrees, leading deputies to argue
that the new law was needed "the day before yesterday" to halt the "fire-sale
of state property." The bill includes new procedures for deciding which firms
are to be privatized, abolishes annual targets, and provides a legal basis for
a broader range of privatization methods, including more freedom for federation
subjects. * Peter Rutland
DE BEERS ISSUES ULTIMATUM TO RUSSIA.
South Africa's De Beers has issued
a statement urging the Russian government to ratify an agreement between the
company and Russia's largest diamond producer Almazy Rossii-Sakha by the end of
1996, AFP and ITAR-TASS reported on 18 December. De Beers says it will not buy
Russian raw diamonds under the terms of the current agreement next year. The
new agreement would allow De Beers to become the sole buyer of all Russian raw
diamond exports. De Beers was responding to a statement by Finance Minister
Aleksandr Livshits in Smolensk on 17 December: he said the agreement with De
Beers should pay more attention to the interests of the Russian diamond
extracting and cutting industries. * Natalia Gurushina
TRIALS ON POST-ELECTION UNREST IN YEREVAN TO START IN JANUARY.
Armenian opposition representative, Vladimir Hakhverdyan, said that the
investigation into the 25 September protests in Yerevan is complete and that
trials will begin in January, Groong reported on 18 December citing
Asbarez-on-line. The protests were triggered by reports of alleged vote-rigging
in the 22 September presidential election. A number of supporters of the
defeated opposition candidate Vazgen Manukyan burst into the parliament
building and took the National Assembly speaker and his deputy hostage.
According to Hakhverdyan, a group of opposition activists arrested in
connection with the unrest, have been charged with inciting mass disorder and
illegally possessing arms. * Emil Danielyan
RUSSIA UPSET OVER ADAMS/KHACHUKAEV MEETING.
Russia's Ambassador to Baku,
Aleksandr Blokhin, told ITAR-TASS on 18 December he was displeased at the
reported recent meeting in Baku between Terry Adams, chairman of the Azerbaijan
International Operating Company (AIOC), and Chechen government official Eduard
Khachukaev (See OMRI Daily Digest for 18 December 1996). Blokhin argued
that the export of Caspian oil via Chechnya to Novorossiisk, which Adams and
Khachukaev allegedly discussed, was regulated under the terms of the existing
agreement between Transneft and the AIOC. A spokesman for Adams confirmed that
he had met with Khachukaev but denied that the two men had discussed transit
tariffs. * Liz Fuller
ADZHAR SUPREME SOVIET DENIES REPORTS OF STATE OF EMERGENCY IN BATUMI.
18 December a spokesman for the Adzhar Supreme Soviet denied press reports that
a state of emergency had been declared in the capital, Batumi, but said that
military vehicles had been moved to the city on 18 December to take part in
maneuvers, according to ITAR-TASS of 18 December. Nezavisimaya gazeta on
19 December quoted a source within the Georgian parliament as claiming that all
Russian troops stationed in Adzharia had been placed on full alert in
connection with an anticipated attempt to assassinate Azdhar Supreme Soviet
chairman Aslan Abashidze. * Liz Fuller
NIYAZOV ON NATUAL GAS EXPORTS.
Speaking on state television, Turkmen
President Saparmurat Niyazov said on 18 December he is pinning his hopes for an
economic revivial on renewed exports of natural gas to Western Europe, Reuters
reported. He said that gas exports in 1997 will almost double to 40 billion
cubic meters and that half the gas will be shipped to Western Europe via
Russia, in accordance with an agreement with Russia's Gazprom. Last year,
Turkmenistan exported 24 billion cubic meters of natural gas. In the late
1980s, Turkmenistan produced more than 80 billion cubic meters of gas a year.
In 1993, Russia stopped delivering Turkmen natural gas to Europe, leaving the
country to supply cash-strapped CIS countries. * Lowell Bezanis
TAJIK OPPOSITION FREES CAPTIVES; MOSCOW TALKS DELAYED.
opposition on 18 December released 39 hostages captured in recent fighting,
RFE/RL reported. Those freed were described only as "high-ranking" officials.
The move was agreed at a meeting of Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and
opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri on 10-11 December. Talks between the two
leaders in Moscow scheduled for 19 December have been pushed back a day as
Nuri's departure was delayed by an opposition meeting in Tehran on 18 December,
according to Russian sources. In a brief interview with Nezavisimaya
gazeta on 19 December, Rakhmonov said that a national reconciliation
council must be set up but--a stipulation of the original cease-fire agreement
signed in Tehran in 1994--but added: "It's not our fault the agreement has not
been realized." * Bruce Pannier
In the Freedom House survey covered in the OMRI Daily
Digest of 18 December, Kyrgyzstan was classified as "partly free."
UKRAINE TO REMOVE FUEL FROM CHORNOBYL SARCOPHAGUS.
Environmental Protection and Nuclear Safety Minister Yurii Kostenko said
Ukraine will remove nuclear fuel from the concrete shell over the damaged No. 4
reactor, Ukrainian TV and Western agencies reported on 18 December. The process
could take 30-50 years, while the preparation for it will require 10-15 years,
according to Kostenko. In opting for the fuel removal method, which will be
financed by the West, Ukraine has rejected French-British and Russian projects
to reinforce the concrete structure. The fuel must be removed to rule out the
possibility of a chain reaction inside the devastated reactor. Kostenko said
Ukraine has received only $185 million out of the $3.1 billion pledged by the
G-7 to fund the closure of the Chornobyl by the year 2000. He reiterated that
Ukraine will have to reopen the second block of Chornobyl, because the only
functioning reactor, No. 3, cannot meet national electricity needs alone. *
REACTIONS TO RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN COMMUNITY.
Russian Prime Minister Viktor
Chernomyrdin on 18 December said that the Russian-Belarusian community has
proved its viability, despite some shortcomings, Radio Rossii reported. His
comments came at the sixth meeting of the community in Moscow. Meanwhile,
Izvestiya criticized Russia's official support for Belarusian President
Alyaksandr Lukashenka, warning that with the support of Gen. (ret.) Aleksander
Lebed and the Russian patriotic opposition led by Sergei Baburin, Lukashenka
may become a figure of extreme influence in the community. At the same time,
Uladzimir Hlod, editor-in-chief of Belapan news agency's analytical service,
called the draft agreement on further integration between Russia and Belarus a
work of Russian chauvinist forces disappointed at the outcome of Russia's
presidential election. The document calls for the countries' two legislative
branches to be merged followed by a common presidential election. * Sergei
BELARUSIAN PARLIAMENT ELECTS STANDING COMMITTEES.
The House of
Representatives has elected the heads of its permanent committees, Belarusian
TV reported on 18 December. Yuryi Malumau will head the Legal Committee; former
KGB head Uladzimir Yahorau will head the National Security Committee; Syamyon
Livishits will head the Economics Committee; Anatol Krastsky will head the
state and Local Authorities Committee; Alyaksandr Zenchenka will head the
Budgetary and Finance Committee; Mykola Kutsko will head the Agricultural
Committee; Uladzimir Pletyukhau will head the Education and Culture Committee;
Stanislau Hovorushkin will head the Labor, Health, Social Issues, and Sports
Committee; Yuryi Kulakovsky will head the Human Rights and International
Relations Committee; and Leanid Rachkau will head the International Relations
and CIS Committee. A day earlier, Belapan reported the parliament voted to
abolish abstentions in voting. Deputies must now vote for or against laws and
resolutions. All resolutions on that day were passed unanimously. * Ustina
ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT ADOPTS BUDGET.
The Rigikogu adopted the 1997 state
budget on 18 December by a vote of 62-32, ETA reported. The volume of the
budget is 12.512 billion kroons ($1 billion). The largest source of revenues
come from the VAT, which should bring in 5.775 billion kroons, and a 44%
personal income tax, which should amount to 2.25 billion kroons. The rest of
the revenues will be secured through a corporate income tax (1.1 billion
kroons), an alcohol exise tax (983.2 million kroons), a tobacco exise (326
million kroons), and a motor fuel exise (896 million kroons). The Social
Ministry will get 2.184 billion kroons; the Education Ministry, 2.26 million
kroons; the Interior Ministry, 1.546 million kroons; the Transport and
Communications Ministry, 1.64 million kroons; and the Defense Ministry, 732.2
million kroons. The budget also includes expenses for preparing Estonia for
entry into the EU. * Ustina Markus
LATVIA COMES UNDER CRITICISM.
A report prepared by EU experts has found
corruption at all levels of the Latvian government, Latvian Radio reported on
17 December. It reported that about 50% of profits generated from criminal
activities are spent on bribing government officials, especially customs and
police officers. The report stated bribery is rife everywhere, adding that most
organized crime in Latvia relates to Russia. In other news, the Latvian human
rights bureau has found that several points in Latvian law do not meet
international human rights standards. Those include regulations allowing only
Latvians to work as private detectives, employees of armed security and
aircraft services, lawyers and their assistants, firefighters, and pharmacists
and veterinary licenses. * Ustina Markus
SOLIDARITY DEMONSTRATIONS IN POLAND.
Some 3,000 workers participated in
three Solidarity-sponsored demonstrations in Warsaw on 18 December. The loudest
demonstration was organized by the Gdansk Shipyard's Solidarity branch to
demand greater state funding for the bankrupt company. Demonstrators threw
firecrackers and smeared red paint on the walls of the government building.
Another group, from the Swidnik helicopter factory, demanded more money in the
stage budget to enable the Polish army to buy local armament industry products,
including Sokol helicopters produced in Swidnik. The third group, from the
power engineering industry, protested against the liberalization of energy
prices. * Jakub Karpinski
FORMER CZECH PREMIER ELECTED CHAIRMAN OF SENATE.
Petr Pithart, the Czech
premier in 1990-1992, was elected chairman of the first Czech Senate at its
constituent session on 18 December, Czech media reported. Pithart was proposed
by the coalition Christian Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People's Party, but
his candidacy was opposed by Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic
Party (ODS). Klaus's party claimed that Pithart had failed in his post of
premier. Pithart, a former dissident, was a leader of the Civic Movement which
competed against the ODS in the 1992 elections. President Vaclav Havel
supported Pithart's candidacy, describing him as an educated and understanding
man. The 81-member Senate failed to elect Pithart in the first round of voting,
when Pithart received only 39 votes. In the second round, he received 41 votes.
Klaus has expressed disappointment over the election of his former political
rival. * Jiri Pehe
SLOVAK PARLIAMENT DELAYS VOTE ON DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION.
parliament, in a special session called by the opposition, voted on 18 December
to postpone debate on the constitutional bill on the president's direct
election until 15 February, Slovak media reported. The opposition plans to
launch a referendum drive on the issue in the new year. If it collects 350,000
signatures, the president will be required to call a referendum within 30 days.
In other news, the Slovak Syndicate of Journalists on 18 December protested the
"protection of the republic" amendment that was approved the previous day,
saying it threatens constitutionally-guaranteed civic rights and freedoms as
well as journalists' right to freely exercise their profession. Also on 18
December, the Slovak Helsinki Committee criticized the amendment's vague
formulations, saying that it "raises serious concerns among the public and
chaos in the legislation," TASR reported. * Sharon Fisher
SLOVAK PRIME MINISTER ON NATO.
During an 18 December television debate,
Vladimir Meciar said he thinks Slovakia could join NATO later if it fails to be
included in the first wave of expansion, CTK reported. He added that the
alliance "will not leave Slovakia behind" and "it can wait." Meciar said his
government's support for a referendum on NATO membership will not change
anything concerning its aim of joining the alliance, "but such a serious
historical decision must have public support." He noted that while the public
supports joining NATO, it is opposed to troop and nuclear missile deployment on
Slovak territory. Regarding Western criticism of his governing practices,
Meciar said that Western countries should be sending positive signals to
Slovakia. He also noted that "Slovakia has complicated life for itself by
taking impractical steps." * Anna Siskova
SERBIAN OPPOSITION SUFFERS A SETBACK?
The electoral commission in the
town of Smederevska Palanka on 18 December ruled that the governing Socialists
won the 17 November municipal elections, Nasa Borba reported the
following day. The commission's ruling comes after a court decision recognizing
a Zajedno victory in the town. A similar court ruling in Serbia's second
largest city of Nis which also recognized opposition victories has not been
contested by the local electoral commission, at least for the moment.
Meanwhile, at least 100,000 people marched in Belgrade on 18 December, with
some of the protesters walking past the Russian Embassy to register their
protest and anger at Moscow's support for the regime. About 30,000 students
tried to march to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's residence, but they
were turned away by police. * Stan Markotich
SERBIAN PRESIDENT STANDS FIRM.
In the latest sign that Serbian
President Slobodan Milosevic is standing firm in his resolve to not recognize
the opposition's victories in the recent municipal elections, about 2,000
Milosevic loyalists demonstrated in the village of Sremska Mitrovica, near
Belgrade, to show support for the regime, RTS 1 reported. The demonstrators,
almost all elderly, showed their support for the authorities by unfurling
banners reading, "We love you, Slobo" or "Slobo--Peace and Progress," and
injunctions against opposition demonstrators such as, "Think with your head,
not your feet." * Stan Markotich
ETHNIC CLEANSING REINFORCED IN BOSNIA.
Three houses belonging to Muslims
but located on Croat territory were dynamited last weekend, the UN police
announced on 18 December. UN spokesman Alexander Ivanko added that the
explosions in Capljina brought the total number of such incidents on Croat
territory over the past three months to 35. Ivanko charged that the authorities
should try to prevent such acts or at least try to catch the guilty parties. He
noted, however, that nobody has been caught to date, AFP reported. Meanwhile,
the UNHCR charged the Bosnian Serb authorities with preventing Muslims from
returning to their homes in the Sipovo area in western Bosnia, near Mrkonjic
Grad. The UN noted that the local Serbs had previously been helpful, and
suggested that the authorities in Pale may have meanwhile issued orders to
block any returns. The Dayton agreement provides for freedom of movement and
the right to go home, but those provisions have scarcely been enforced. *
NEW UN HEAD DEMURS ON UN POLICE FORCE TO CATCH WAR CRIMINALS.
on 18 December said he doubts the UN International Police Task Force (IPTF),
currently operating in Bosnia-Herzegovina under a limited mandate, is an
adequate force to find and apprehend Bosnian war criminals, AFP reported. Annan
said the governments in the region must be pressed to cooperate, a position
already articulated by NATO. The head of the U.S. joint chiefs of staff, Gen.
John Shalikashvili, has promoted the idea of a separate international police
force to hunt down war criminals, saying the NATO-led peace force in Bosnia is
not trained for "police work" (see OMRI Daily Digest, 17 December 1996).
The still vague proposal suggests that the new police force might operate under
the EU, the UN criminal tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, or the OSCE. But
critics say none of those organizations have the means or the experience to
track down suspects. * Daria Sito Sucic
CROATIA THREATENED BY FOREIGN FORCES WHO WANT YUGOSLAVIA?
Defense and National Security Council on 17 December claimed that "pressure is
still being exerted by those who support the existence of Yugoslavia at all
costs and who are against the creation of an independent Croatian state," AFP
reported. The council, chaired by President Franjo Tudjman, stressed that those
people have plans to push Croatia back into a Balkan or southeast European
"melting pot." Those "foreign scenarios" aim to stage simultaneous
demonstrations in Zagreb, Belgrade, and Sarajevo. In other news, Tudjman on 16
December replaced four government ministers who were either considered to be
too independent or suspected of corruption. Senior police officers have pledged
support for one of them, former Interior Minister Ivan Jarnjak, saying he is
the only person who would be capable of handling the chaos that would ensue if
Tudjman were to die in office, AFP on 18 December, quoting the independent
weekly Globus. * Daria Sito Sucic
NEW ROMANIAN LIBERAL ALLIANCE.
The Liberal Party '93, the National
Liberal Party-Democratic Convention (PNL-CD), and the National Liberal
Party-Campeanu Group decided on 17 December to set up a new alliance called the
National Liberal Union (UNL), Radio Bucharest reported. Dinu Zamfirescu of the
Liberal Party '93 deplored the fact that the National Liberal Party (PNL) is
attempting to "impose unacceptable conditions" on the unification of liberal
formations. PNL first deputy chairman Viorel Catarama said on 12 December that
his party must have a 60% representation in any future joint Liberal conference
that will decide on the unification of Liberal formations. The Party of Civic
Alliance (PAC) has also rejected Catarama's formula. It is unclear, however,
how the UNL will get its act together, since the PNL-CD is a member of the
Democratic Convention of Romania and the other two parties are not. PNL-CD vice
chairman Alexandru Popovici said on 18 December that any unification must take
place within the CDR.Question marks also loom over the future of the National
Liberal Alliance, set up by the Liberal Party '93 and the PAC a few months
earlier. * Michael Shafir
ROMANIANS PROTEST APPOINTMENT OF ETHNIC HUNGARIAN PREFECTS.
leaderships of the Democratic Convention of Romania and the Democratic
Party-National Salvation Front in Harghita county have protested against the
appointment of an ethnic Hungarian to the post of county prefect, Radio
Bucharest reported on 18 December. Ethnic Hungarians form the majority of the
county's residents. The decision to appoint three members of the Hungarian
Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) as prefects was reached as a result of
discussions among the new governing coalition parties. UDMR Senator Attila
Verestoy told RFE/RL that based on its strength in parliament, the UDMR was
entitled to five prefects but has agreed to have only three. Adevarul
reported that President Emil Constantinescu and Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea
promised ethnic Romanian members of parliament that they would "be on guard"
against "infringements of the constitution and the country's laws"--an allusion
to the UDMR program that calls for "local, territorial, and personal autonomy."
* Michael Shafir
RUSSIA, BELARUS, ABKHAZIA SEND OBSERVERS TO TRANSDNIESTRIAN ELECTIONS.
Responding to an invitation from the Tiraspol authorities, Russia, Belarus, and
Abkhazia will send observers to the 22 December presidential election in the
breakaway region, local and international media reported on 18 December. The
Russian delegation will include members of the State Duma from Vladimir
Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic faction and from the Communist Party faction.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov said the presence of the
delegation will "not upgrade" the "purely local character" of the ballot. He
said Russia continued to favor the settling of the dispute by granting the
region special status within Moldova. The head of the OSCE permanent mission in
Moldova, Donald Johnson, said no OSCE observers will be delegated because the
organization "supported and continues to support the sovereignty and
territorial integrity of the Republic of Moldova." * Michael Shafir
SOUP KITCHENS OPEN IN BULGARIA.
The city of Sofia on 18 December opened
the capital's first 24 permanent soup kitchens to serve free meals to the poor,
RFE/RL reported. The kitchens will offer warm soup and bread once a day to
around 3,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of Bulgarians live in increasingly
miserable conditions, with average monthly wages and pensions declining
constantly, the latter to 5,700 leva ($12.3). The previous day, the Polish Red
Cross--following a request from the Bulgarian Red Cross and Red
Crescent--arranged for two cargo planes to send 9 metric tons of food to
Bulgaria. Meanwhile, Demokratsiya on 19 December reported that of the
1.6 million Bulgarians dependent on central heating, 111,000 have had the
heating in their homes turned off because they cannot afford it.
Standart noted that all state-controlled heating companies will face
bankruptcy when the price of Russian gas goes up in January. * Stefan Krause
BULGARIAN EMPLOYERS, TRADE UNIONS SIGN ACCORD.
The Bulgarian Chamber of
Commerce (BSK) and the two big trade union confederations on 18 December signed
an accord stipulating that Bulgarians receive their salaries every third day,
if the country is hit by hyperinflation, or weekly, if monthly inflation
reaches 40-50%, Standart and Kontinent reported. According to
experts of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria, the
inflation rate for 1996 is 300%, and BSK Chairman Bozhidar Danev said inflation
is running at 25-27% in December alone. * Maria Koinova in Sofia
HIGH-RANKING ITALIAN LAW-ENFORCEMENT OFFICIALS VISIT ALBANIA.
delegation led by Deputy Attorney-General Alberto Mariatti left Albania on 18
December after meeting with various Albanian official bodies to discuss greater
cooperation in fighting organized crime, Rilindja Demokratike reported.
The largest problem both countries face is the smuggling of arms, drugs, and
people. In recent years, Albania and Italy have drastically raised their level
of cooperation and have engaged in more mutual exchanges of crime-related
information. Last week, the Italian and Albanian interior ministers signed a
cooperation agreement in Tirana. * Fabian Schmidt
ARAFAT VISITS ALBANIA.
Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat arrived in
Albania on 18 December to meet with President Sali Berisha to discuss
strengthening ties. Arafat expressed his commitment for the Middle Eastern
peace process and thanked Albania for its consistent support of the Palestinian
cause, describing it as a "brotherly country," international agencies reported.
Communist-era Albania had sided with the Palestine Liberation Organization
during its prolonged armed struggle with Israel. Like most other Communist
countries, it refused to recognize Israel. * Fabian Schmidt
[As of 1200 CET]
Compiled by Penny Morvant and Victor Gomez