SPECULATION OVER POSSIBLE DEFENSE MINISTER RESIGNATION.
The Defense Ministry on 5 January denied rumors that Igor Rodionov would use a 6 January meeting with President Boris Yeltsin to resign over insufficient funding of the military, NTV reported. Rossiskaya gazeta on 6 January, however, speculated that there might be "some substance" to the rumors, since Rodionov listed "normal financing" of the military as one of his conditions for taking the post last July. The same day, ITAR-TASS reported that Rodionov's meeting with Yeltsin had been postponed, although the President will chair a session of the Defense Council on 8 January. The armed forces only received 56.6 trillion rubles ($10.2 billion) of the 68.8 trillion rubles awarded them in the 1996 budget, Moskovskii komsomolets reported on 6 January, and of that only 37 trillion was paid in cash, the remainder in credits and securities. A Duma staffer told ITAR-TASS that the 104 trillion rubles allocated to the military in the 1997 draft budget falls short of the minimum 160 trillion requested by the Defense Ministry. -- Scott Parrish
YELTSIN, KOHL DISCUSS NATO ENLARGEMENT.
After meeting with Yeltsin at the Russian president's Zavidovo country residence on 4 January, German Chancellor Helmut Kohl admitted that "some differences" divide Bonn and Moscow on NATO enlargement, but he expressed the hope that a mutually acceptable compromise solution would be found this year. Yeltsin's spokesman, Sergei Yastrzhembskii, later said that the Russian president had laid out Russian objections to enlargement "fairly toughly." Kohl hailed Yeltsin's speedy recovery from his 5 November heart operation, but urged his "friend Boris" to return to work only gradually. Yeltsin agreed to visit Germany in April to accept a media award, and accepted Kohl's suggestion to meet with Dutch Prime Minister Wim Kok, who currently holds the rotating EU presidency, in The Hague on 4 February. -- Scott Parrish
LEBED: RUSSIA BECOMING AN OLIGARCHY.
Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed warned that Russia is evolving toward "oligarchy" rather than democracy, AFP reported on 3 January. He argued that half the Russian economy is controlled by "a small group of banks and financial-industrial groups, while the other half is controlled by criminal clans." Lebed added, "Ordinary Russians are now as far from the real levers of power as they were during Soviet Communist Party rule." Meanwhile, 65% of 5,000 Russians surveyed by the Russian Sociological Studies Center named Lebed "man of the year," Ekho Moskvy reported on 30 December. The electronic media remains generally unfriendly to Lebed, despite his popularity. For instance, a 5 January commentary on Russian TV (RTR) acknowledged that Lebed was one of the most notable politicians of 1996 but downplayed his role in ending the war in Chechnya. -- Laura Belin
CHECHNYA FREE OF RUSSIAN TROOPS.
Lt.-Gen. Pavel Maslov, chief of staff of the Interior Ministry troops, stated to Interfax on 5 January that: "I officially announce that as of today not one soldier of the Interior Ministry or Defense Ministry of the Russian Federation remains in Chechnya," Reuters reported. Earlier reports of the withdrawal had been confusing: on 29 December it was announced that all combat units had left but some elements were still in place. Maslov said details of the withdrawal were kept obscure "to avoid possible provocations," and stated that all combat troops left by 31 December. -- Peter Rutland
CHECHEN GOVERNMENT PLANS ...
Deputy Interim Prime Minister Ruslan Kutaev said on 3 January that the new Chechen president will not take up his seat in the upper house of the Russian parliament which is automatically granted him by the Russian constitution, ITAR-TASS reported. However, Chechnya will send a commissioner to the Russian parliament for the next five years, who will have a right to vote. The same day Kutaev said the government intends to try ousted pro-Moscow Chechen leader Doku Zavgaev for treason (in absentia). He also explained that 14 Chechen field commanders "had a serious conversation" with maverick Salman Raduev to dissuade him from provocative acts. -- Peter Rutland
... AND ELECTION PREPARATIONS.
On 3 January the 16 presidential candidates were sworn in by Chechnya's leading mufti, Akhmed-Khodzha Kadyrov, and promised to accept the results of the elections, ITAR-TASS reported. Tim Guldimann, the head of the OSCE mission in Chechnya, said Russian officials assured him that international observers will be granted visas to visit Chechnya without delay, RIA reported on 6 January. The OSCE is providing some financing for the Chechen Electoral Commission: the OSCE will decide on 16 January whether to send its own observers. The Russian Duma has already decided not to send observers. -- Peter Rutland
RUSSIA, CYPRUS CONCLUDE ARMS DEAL.
Cypriot officials and a Rosvooruzhenie delegation concluded a contract for the delivery of S-300 air defense missile systems on 4 January, international agencies reported. The number of missiles involved and the exact value of the deal was not revealed by either side, nor has a delivery date been specified. Unconfirmed Cypriot sources suggest Nicosia has purchased 20 missile systems for $660 million. The Turkish Foreign Ministry protested the deal, saying it undermines "regional peace," while Western diplomats cited by AFP said the S-300 missiles, which have a range of 150 km, would alter the military balance on Cyprus by neutralizing the air superiority which Turkey has enjoyed since the 1974 division of the island into Turkish and Greek enclaves. Rosvooruzhenie spokesman Valerii Podgrebnikov, however, termed the missiles "purely defensive," and dismissed Turkish concerns. Russian officials had pledged during the recent visit of Turkish Foreign Minister Tansu Ciller to deliver only "defensive" weapons to Greek-controlled Cyprus. -- Scott Parrish
COMMUNIST ELECTED PRESIDENT OF MARII-EL.
Communist-backed candidate Vyacheslav Kislitsyn won the 4 January presidential election in the Republic of Marii-El, Russian media reported. Preliminary results indicated that he won 59% of the vote to 36% for Duma deputy Leonid Markelov, nominated by Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal-Democratic Party of Russia. ITAR-TASS noted that local "democrats" had supported the 33-year-old Kislitsyn in the second round, and that the outgoing president of Marii-El, Vladislav Zotin, had inadvertently boosted Kislitsyn's campaign by recently firing him as head of one of the republic's raions. (Zotin was eliminated in the first round after trying unsuccessfully to cancel the 22 December election.) Andrei Trapezni-kov, an assistant to presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais, told ITAR-TASS on 5 January that the administration was satisfied with the Marii-El result; he described Kislitsyn as an experienced economic manager. -- Laura Belin
YELENA MAVRODI'S ELECTION PYRAMID SCHEME IN TULA.
Yelena Mavrodi, whose husband Sergei ran the infamous MMM pyramid scheme in 1994, is running a human "pyramid" scheme in her bid to claim the Tula State Duma seat once held by Aleksandr Lebed, according to Izvestiya on 5 January. Citizens can receive 3,000 rubles ($0.55) for signing contracts to become campaign "agitators" for Mavrodi; they are promised a chance for up to 50 million rubles ($9,000) after the February by-election, depending on "the election results in your polling area." Agitators are then told to recruit more agitators: for each recruit, they receive an additional 3,000 rubles. Izvestiya concluded that the 50 million ruble promise is merely bait to recruit more "agitators" while not appearing to be buying votes directly. Former presidential bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov and chess grandmaster Anatolii Karpov are also contesting the Tula by-election. -- Laura Belin
KAMCHATKA OIL SPILL.
The Russian oil tanker "Nakhodka" sank en route from China to Kamchatka on 1 January, international agencies reported. Up to 4,000 tons of its 19,000-ton cargo have spilled, threatening fishing grounds off Japan's main island of Honshu. Japan sent a dozen vessels to disperse the 50-km slick. The tanker's sinking threatens electricity supplies to the peninsula's 400,000 population. Industrial users will be switched off and residential areas will be cut for 4-5 hours per day until the arrival of the next fuel oil tanker, scheduled for 17-18 January. -- Peter Rutland
PENSION CRISIS CONTINUES.
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin chaired a government meeting on 5 January to discuss the crisis in pension payments, NTV reported. Pension arrears now total 15.8 trillion rubles ($2.8 billion), Radio Mayak reported on 5 January, while employers in turn owe 50 trilion rubles to the Pension Fund. October pensions have only been paid in 59 (out of the 89) Federation subjects, and December pensions in only 24 Federation subjects. -- Peter Rutland
RUSSIA TO CLAIM ARCTIC TERRITORIES?
Natural Resources Minister Viktor Orlov said in an interview with Trud-7 of 4-9 January that in 1997 Russia will prepare documents in order to stake claim to 1.5 million square kilometers of the Arctic shelf. He said the U.S. and Canada are also contemplating such action. Orlov underlined that exploitation of Russia's mineral resources is the key "that will help us enter the group of the world's most developed countries." He stressed that except for a brief period in 1992 all resource development projects must be licensed in Moscow. A "dual key" system is in operation: projects must be approved both by Orlov's ministry and by the government of the federation subject (region or republic). He admitted that problems can arise - for example, development of the Timan-Pechora oil fields has been delayed for four years due to failure to reach agreement with the Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug. Only 4% of the 10,867 licenses issued since 1992 have gone to ventures with foreign participation. -- Peter Rutland
RUSSIAN RED TAPE HINDERS REMOVAL OF GEORGIAN URANIUM.
American officials blame Russian indifference and foot-dragging for the failure of their year-long efforts to have about 2 lbs (0.8 kg) of used reactor fuel and 9.5 lbs (4.3 kg) of highly-enriched uranium transferred to Russia from a poorly-guarded research institute outside Tbilisi, The New York Times reported on 5 January. Although in 1994 Washington addressed a similar problem by directly purchasing Kazakstani uranium and flying it to the United States, the Clinton administration asked Russia in early 1996 to accept the Georgian uranium for storage and reprocessing. However, months of talks on the issue have hit repeated legal, financial, and bureaucratic snags, despite American offers to pay for the transport and provide necessary equipment. The uranium remains at the Georgian Institute of Physics under improved, but still inadequate, security. -- Scott Parrish
TERRORISM IN TAJIK CAPITAL.
The bodies of two Tajik military officials were found on the outskirts of Dushanbe on 3 January, RFE/RL reported. Both were killed, in separate incidents, by a shot from a pistol. On 4 January two bombs went off in downtown Dushanbe, killing one and injuring five, Russian sources reported. The first blast occurred near a market when four servicemen from the CIS peacekeeping force and 201st Motorized Rifle Division attempted to start their car after buying goods at the market. One serviceman was killed, the others were wounded along with two civilian passers-by. The other bomb went off two hours later, destroying a police post near the presidential palace. No casualties were reported. Just prior to these latest attacks the Russian Foreign Ministry had expressed its alarm at the increase in attacks on peacekeepers, noting that between 27 December and 2 January six Russian soldiers were killed and eight wounded in or near Dushanbe. -- Bruce Pannier
NEW BORDER TARIFFS FOR KAZAKSTAN.
A decision by the Kazakstani government to allow so-called "shuttle traders" more weight when arriving from foreign countries went into effect on 5 January, ITAR-TASS and Radio Rossii reported. The previous limit without a fine was 20 kg per passenger but under the new rule the limit is 70 kg per passenger and the first 270 kg after that is subject to a reduced tariff. The government is hoping that this new freedom to bring goods into the country will increase products on the domestic market. However, planes are often overloaded and Kazakstan has a poor history of air safety, highlighted by the November mid-air collision of a Kazakstani plane with one from Saudi Arabia over India which killed more than 300 people. -- Bruce Pannier
STRENGTH OVER JUSTICE IN UZBEKISTAN.
A coat of arms for Uzbekistan's capital, Tashkent, was issued on 4 January, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. The emblem's components are an open gate topped by an oriental dome on a background of a mountain and rivers framed by flowers, a grape vine and a plane tree in blossom. Encircling all of this are the words "In Strength is Justice" [Kuch Adolatadir], a mis-translation of the words "Rasti Rusti" [In Justice is Strength] from Firdausi's Persian epic The Book of Kings [Shah Namah]. Since the late October celebration of the birth of Tamerlane, the improperly rendered text has increasingly been associated with him and is to be found on numerous billboards, the wall of a museum erected to lionize the great conqueror-builder, as well as the star of Samarkand state medal in Uzbekistan. -- Lowell Bezanis
GAZPROM THREATENS BELARUS WITH GAS CUTS.
The Russian gas monopoly Gazprom has threatened to cut gas supplies to Belarus by 40% because of outstanding bills, AFP and Russian Public TV reported on 4 January. Last February, Russia and Belarus signed a "zero option" agreement that wrote off Belarus's gas debt. But since then, its gas payment arrears have climbed to $295 million. In December, Gazprom cut supplies by 15% for three days, prompting Minsk to hand over $10 million. -- Ustina Markus
FORMER BELARUSIAN PARLIAMENTARY SPEAKER STOPPED FROM TRAVELING TO POLAND.
Stanislau Shushkevich has been prevented from traveling to Poland because his diplomatic passport is invalid, Reuters reported on 5 January. At the end of last year, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka decreed that diplomatic passports held by members of the 1996 legislature were no longer valid. Previously, Syamyon Sharetsky, speaker of the 1996 parliament, had been prevented from traveling abroad for the same reason. Shushkevich said he tried to obtain a regular passport, but the Interior Ministry refused to issue the document without approval from the presidential Security Council. -- Ustina Markus
POLITICAL APPOINTMENTS IN BELARUS.
President Lukashenka has signed a decree appointing Mikhail Myasnikovich as head of the president's administration, Reuters reported on 5 January. He appointed Hryhor Vasilevich as chief justice of the Constitutional Court and also named Justice Minister Valeryi Sukalo as a member of that body . Under the new constitution, Lukashenka has the right to appoint the chief justice and five other judges to the 11-member court. -- Ustina Markus
UKRAINE'S CONSTITUTIONAL COURT COMES INTO BEING.
Ukraine's new Constitutional Court formally came into being on 3 January, Ukrainian Radio reported. The head of the court, Vitalii Boiko, met with President Leonid Kuchma to mark the occasion. So far, 16 out of the court's 18 judges have been appointed. The remaining two are be appointed by the parliament, which has the right to appoint one-third of the court's justices. The same day, Kuchma submitted his first case to be examined by the court. The case involves the accounting department of the parliament. -- Ustina Markus
CRIMEAN DEPUTY RESIGNS OVER KYIV'S POLICIES.
Oleksandr Bobrinev, a deputy from Sevastopol, has resigned, saying Kyiv is pursuing a policy that is increasing tension over Sevastopol and the Black Sea Fleet, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 January. Bobrinev said President Leonid Kuchma and parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz are reorienting the country toward the West and moving closer to a radical nationalist position. His resignation is retroactive to the beginning of the year. -- Ustina Markus
CITIZENSHIP POLL IN ESTONIA.
An opinion poll in Estonia shows that two out of three ethnic Russians aged 18-29 want to apply for Estonian citizenship, BNS reported on 3 January. Only one-tenth of young Russians in Estonia have acquired Russian citizenship, even though the procedure is considered very easy. Some 60% of Russian citizens said they took Russian citizenship only because they did not want to be without any citizenship and because the procedure for obtaining Estonian citizenship is more difficult. Twenty-one percent said they took Russian citizenship because of their ethnic background. Three-quarters of young Russians said they regarded Estonia as their country, while only 27% of elderly Russians said the same. Of the 110,000 Russian citizens in Estonia, 42% are pensioners over the age of 60. One-tenth of young Russians could not speak any Estonian, while half of the over-60 group had no knowledge of that language. Most of those polled said they felt it was right for Russian children to learn Estonian. -- Ustina Markus
LITHUANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON VISIT TO POLAND.
Algirdas Saudargas, who today begins a two-day official visit to Poland, told Rzeczpospolita that Lithuania should be treated like Poland over the issue of NATO admission. "We fulfill the same criteria," Saudargas said. "And, like Poland, our only frontier with Russia is through neighboring Kaliningrad Oblast." Referring to the controversial statement by Lithuanian Education Minister Zigmas Zinke-vicius on Polish-Lithuanian relations (see OMRI Daily Digest, 2 January 1997), Saudargas said Lithuania will fulfill bilateral and international agreements on minority rights. He added that Polish-Lithuanian relations are now better than at any time in this century. This is the first official visit by a Lithuanian foreign minister to Poland since World War II. -- Jakub Karpinski
NEW APPOINTMENTS IN POLAND.
Internal Affairs Minister Leszek Miller has named Marek Papala the new chief of police, Polish dailies reported last week. Papala replaces Jerzy Stanczyk, who had headed the force since March 1995. Papala was Stanczyk's deputy. Col. Andrzej Anklewicz, an adviser to former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy, was named chief of the Border Guards. The new heads of the fire brigade and Civil Defense have also been named. Former ombudsman Tadeusz Zielinki is the new labor minister, replacing Andrzej Baczkowski, who died in November. -- Jakub Karpinski
CZECH PRESIDENT TIES THE KNOT.
Vaclav Havel on 4 January married actress Dagmar Veskrnova in a private, previously unpublicized ceremony, Czech media reported. Veskrnova has been Havel's companion for some time, but the President's Office did not officially acknowledge their relationship until recently. Havel's first wife, Olga Havlova, died on 27 January 1996, following a long battle with cancer. Havel is himself recovering from lung cancer surgery, which he underwent at the beginning of December. He told journalists after the wedding that he sees the marriage as the beginning of new period in his life. -- Jiri Pehe
SLOVAK POLITICAL ROUNDUP.
Christian Democratic Movement spokeswoman Lucia Faltinova has announced that, later this week, the opposition will launch a petition drive for a referendum on direct presidential elections, TASR reported on 3 January. The party urged all Slovaks to support the referendum, saying that elections would allow citizens to directly influence who becomes the head of state and would also increase their control over that position. A total of 350,000 signatures are needed for a referendum. An opposition proposal for a constitutional amendment on the issue was submitted to the parliament in December, but discussion was postponed until February. The president is currently elected by the parliament. The ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia opposes a constitutional change. Meanwhile, President Michal Kovac, taking part in a debate on private TV Markiza on 5 January, said he considers himself neither an enemy of the government coalition nor the leader of the opposition. -- Sharon Fisher
HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT REJECTS AMENDMENT TO PRIVATIZATION LAW.
Arpad Goncz has sent back to the parliament an amendment to the privatization law, Hungarian media reported on 6 January. The legislature passed the amendment last month following a heated debate over a clause stating that, under special circumstances, the State Privatization and Holding Co. can allocate public assets to local governments and co-operatives free of charge. The Socialists had insisted on including that provision. The parliamentary Constitutional Committee recommended omitting the disputed clause, but the Socialist-dominated parliament ignored its recommendation. Last week, Goncz rejected the law on conflict of interests, which the parliament also passed last month. -- Zsofia Szilagyi
NOISY, CARNIVAL-LIKE WEEKEND IN BELGRADE.
Opposition protesters continue to devise novel ways to circumvent the police ban on marches, which was imposed following violence between opponents and supporters of President Slobodan Milosevic on 24 December. On 3-4 January, the protesters once again made much noise by blowing whistles and beating pots and other implements during Serbian TV's evening newscast. On 5 January, they staged a "protest by traffic jam," in which drivers of all sorts of vehicles blocked Belgrade streets amid a carnival atmosphere, international media reported. Protesters plan to extend the traffic jam tactic throughout Serbia should the government fail to recognize the results of the 17 November local elections within a few days. -- Patrick Moore
SERBIAN OPPOSITION STICKS TO ITS' DEMANDS.
The opposition Zajedno coalition has rejected the authorities' latest offer to accept part but not all of those election returns, CNN reported on 4 January. This time, the government proposed to acknowledge opposition victories in Belgrade and two smaller towns but called for a new vote in Nis. Zajedno says it will keep up its protests until the government unconditionally respects the 17 November results. Meanwhile, Serbian Orthodox Patriarch Pavle gave a radio address in which he repeated the Holy Synod's recent condemnation of the Milosevic regime, the BBC stated on 4 January. The U.S., for its part, is also keeping up the pressure on Milosevic, who is increasingly isolated both at home and abroad, Nasa Borba wrote on 6 January. -- Patrick Moore
BELGRADE DEMONSTRATORS APPEAL TO POLICE.
The Zajedno leadership has called on people to stage a protest in the form a large "religious procession" on 6 January, which is the Orthodox Christmas Eve. Meanwhile, the students have appealed to the police not to block their marches, AFP reported on 6 January. One of their leaders said: "We appeal to those installing police cordons to withdraw them before January 9, so we don't have to do it for them." On a more diplomatic note, Zajedno issued a proclamation to the police as "dear friends," Nasa Borba wrote. The text stated: "Do not let yourselves be abused by the [Socialist Party of Serbia] thieves and do not allow yourselves to be pushed into a conflict with the people, whose lives are as difficult as yours. Think hard before obeying the orders of the thieves." The police are one of Milosevic's main pillars of support. -- Patrick Moore
FEDERAL YUGOSLAV ARMY WILL NOT OPPOSE STUDENTS.
One of the reasons Milosevic has relied on the police is that his relations with the army (JNA) have never been particularly good. On 6 January, Chief of Staff Gen. Momcilo Perisic told a delegation of students that the JNA will not oppose them, AFP reported. Army support was crucial to Milosevic in crushing protests in March 1991, which constituted the most direct challenge from the streets to his rule prior to the current unrest. -- Patrick Moore
NEW BOSNIAN GOVERNMENT CONVENES.
Bosnia's new government convened for the first time on 3 January in Serb-run Lukavica, near Sarajevo, international media reported. Earlier the same day, deputies in the lower house of the Bosnian parliament approved the government and the nomination of the two joint prime ministers--Boro Bosic, a Serb, and Haris Silajdzic, a Muslim. Silajdzic said the cabinet discussed who should take part in a delegation to a conference in Brussels on 9-10 January aimed at raising funds for the reconstruction of Bosnia. Meanwhile, Momcilo Krajisnik, the Serbian member of Bosnia's three-man presidency, has said he wants to see "reconciliation and acceptance of the characteristics of all the peoples" in Bosnia, AFP reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic
BOSNIA'S MUSLIM RULING PARTY CONFIRMS RECEIVING FUNDS FROM IRAN.
The Party of Democratic Action (SDA), headed by President Alija Izetbegovic, has confirmed that it received $500,000 from Iran in mid-1996, Oslobodjenje reported on 4 January. But it added that the money was used for scholarships and not for the party's election campaign. Last week, the Los Angeles Times reported that Iran gave Izetbegovic that sum for use in the run-up to the September elections (see OMRI Daily Digest, 2 January 1996). In other news, Drazen Erdemovic, the first war criminal to be sentenced by the UN International Criminal Tribunal for Former Yugoslavia, has appealed his 10-year prison term, AFP reported on 3 January. -- Daria Sito Sucic
CROATIA MAKES OFFER TO SERBS IN EASTERN SLAVONIA.
The Croatian government has drafted a Memorandum on the Completion of the Peaceful Reintegration of eastern Slavonia and handed it over to Jacques Klein, the head of the UN Transitional Administration for eastern Slavonia, Vecernji List reported on 4 January. The document attempts to resolve the contentious issue of voting rights for those living in eastern Slavonia, as well as cultural and educational rights. Ivica Vrkic, the government official in charge of the region, said Croatian Serbs who were not living there in 1991 but had lived in another part of Croatia will be able to vote in eastern Slavonia if they choose. Previously, the government had insisted that only Croatian Serbs who had lived in eastern Slavonia before the war would be allowed to vote in local elections. The memorandum also offers the Serbs several senior posts in the government and gives Serbian men the option of not performing compulsory military service in the Croatian Army. -- Daria Sito Sucic
KOSOVO POLITICAL UPDATE.
Kosovo human rights activist Adem Demaci has been elected chairman of the Parliamentary Party of Kosovo, ATA reported on 5 January. Demaci, who also heads the Kosovo Human Rights Council, became a party member in fall 1996. Albanian Foreign Minister Tritan Shehu welcomed Demaci's election and praised the Kosovar shadow-state party system for its peaceful policies. Demaci is expected to compete with shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova in upcoming presidential elections. Elsewhere, Shehu urged Belgrade to fully respect the opposition victories in Belgrade and to allow an OSCE monitoring mission to Kosovo, AFP reported. The last monitoring mission left Kosovo in summer 1993 after Belgrade refused to prolong its members' visas. -- Fabian Schmidt
ROMANIA'S FORMER RULING PARTY LAMBASTS GOVERNMENT OVER ECONOMIC POLICY.
The Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) on 4 January accused Victor Ciorbea's cabinet of failing to keep its election promises and not drawing up a government program, Romanian and Western media reported. The PDSR said recent gasoline price hikes were excessive and part of a "shock therapy" strategy. The cabinet, dominated by the Democratic Convention of Romania, responded the next day in a communique saying the hikes were unavoidable because of the economic "chaos" created by the previous administration. It also pledged to counter the effects of the price hikes through social protection programs. The price of gasoline almost doubled as of 1 January. -- Dan Ionescu
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MEETS WITH NEIGHBORING LEADERS.
Moldovan President-elect Petru Lucinschi and Igor Smirnov, president of the self-declared Dniester republic, met in Chisinau on 3 January, BASA-press reported. The leaders discussed resuming bilateral negotiations over a special status for the breakaway region within the framework of the Moldovan state. Two days later, Lucinschi had an unofficial meeting with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Odessa. He appealed to Ukraine to take a more active part in mediating between Chisinau and Tiraspol. In 1995, Ukraine joined Russian and OSCE efforts to broker a solution to the Moldovan-Dniester conflict. -- Dan Ionescu
BULGARIAN MASS RALLY CALLS FOR EARLY ELECTIONS...
More than 40,000 Sofia citizens on 3 January protested the Bulgarian Socialist Party's policies and called for early elections. The rally, organized by the United Democratic Forces (ODS), took place outside the BSP headquarters, where the Socialists were electing a new Executive Bureau. The protesters shouted "Mafia" and "Red rubbish" and threw eggs, pieces of bread, and stones at the building. Three windows were broken, and one policeman injured. Riot police were deployed after protesters broke down an iron fence in front of the BSP headquarters. Speakers at the rally stressed that parliamentary means to resolve the present crisis have been virtually exhausted. They said the ODS will use all legitimate means--including street demonstrations and boycotting the parliament --to "turn the current government crisis into a parliamentary crisis."
-- Maria Koinova in Sofia
...WHILE BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS ELECT NEW LEADERSHIP.
The composition of the new BSP Executive Bureau, the party's highest decision-making body between party congresses, is seen as a victory for former BSP leader Zhan Videnov, Duma reported. Videnov's most prominent opponents failed to get elected, although some were proposed by new BSP chairman Georgi Parvanov,
including former Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski, former BSP Deputy Chairman Yanaki Stoilov, and the head of the parliamentary Foreign Relations Committee, Nikolay Kamov.
Videnov himself refused to run for the Executive Bureau, saying former party leaders should not be on it. Originally, the Executive Bureau was to have had 20 members in order to represent all major tendencies within the party. The BSP Supreme Council, however, reduced that number to 15. -- Stefan Krause
ALBANIAN DAILY PUBLISHES LIST OF PARDONED PRISONERS.
The Daily Albania on 4 January published the full list of people included in President Sali Berisha's New Year amnesty. Two founders of a communist party, 54-year-old Timoshenko Pekmezi and 62-year-old Sami Meta are among those released. They were sentenced last year to two and three years in jail, respectively. The 15-year sentence of former Politbureau member Lenka Cuko was reduced by five years. Cuko was sentenced last year for crimes against humanity and for deporting dissidents into internal exile. Socialist leader Fatos Nano's prison term for embezzlement was reduced by six months. He has another 18 months left to serve, Reuters reported. Elsewhere, police have arrested 13 Kurds from Iraq in Vlora who were waiting to cross illegally to Italy, international agencies reported on 3 January. -- Fabian Schmidt
[As of 1200 CET]
Compiled by Steve Kettle and Jan Cleave