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Newsline - January 14, 1997

At the initiative of Security Council Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, the Duma Council on 14 January debated the possibility of removing President Boris Yeltsin for health reasons. Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev noted, however, that the constitution is very vague on how such a process would be implemented, and that it was not clear if a majority of the Duma or Federation Council would support such a move, ITAR-TASS reported. Seleznev said that neither he nor the other members of the legislature had any information on the president's health beyond what his press service has released. -- Robert Orttung

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii said Yeltsin's condition was stable on 13 January but did not specify when the president might be released from the hospital, Russian and Western agencies reported. Yastrzhembskii added that the president's health is no longer a "taboo" subject, thanks to Yeltsin's decision in September to end the practice of covering up the illnesses of state leaders. However, the director of Ekho Moskvy's news department, Aleksei Venediktov, complained to AFP that there is still "an almost total blackout on information" related to Yeltsin's current condition. Meanwhile, Yeltsin's wife Naina was also admitted to the Central Clinical Hospital with an "infection," but Yastrzhembskii indicated that her unspecified illness was not serious. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who has called for Yeltsin's resignation, predicted that friends and relatives will soon tell the president, "Boris Nikolaevich, it is time to have a rest," Reuters reported. -- Laura Belin

Yastrzhembskii noted that it was "surprising" that Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev had not mentioned his desire to amend the Russian constitution to President Boris Yeltsin in their last meeting before the new year, NTV reported on 13 January (See OMRI Daily Digest 13 January 1997). His remarks indicated that the president was not pleased with Stroev's initiative. The same day, Kareliyan President Viktor Stepanov announced that he supported Stroev's opinion, ITAR-TASS reported. He argued that while the president may have needed strong powers to resolve the political crisis in 1993, now it was time to share those powers with the parliament. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, however, has spoken out against making any changes to the constitution. -- Robert Orttung

Yastrzhembskii announced on 13 January that Yeltsin had sent a letter to his Belarusian counterpart Alyaksandr Lukashenka suggesting that measures be taken to accelerate Russo-Belarusian integration, including a referendum on the unification of the two countries "in one way or another," Russian and Western media reported. Yeltsin said steps should be taken to synchronize the economic reform, tax, budgetary, energy, and customs policies of the two states, while also developing a common currency. Although the idea of a referendum on unification is something of a departure for Yeltsin, the other steps listed were already called for in the April 1996 Russo-Belarusian community agreement. Despite the fanfare which accompanied its signing, that agreement has languished largely unimplemented. -- Scott Parrish

Belarusian President Lukashenka hailed Yeltsin's move, as did Russian communist politicians. Lukashenka said accelerated integration "is our baby, mine and the Russian president's." CIS Affairs Minister Aman Tuleev, the only opposition representative in Yeltsin's cabinet, called Yeltsin's move "the only real step to counter NATO" yet taken by Moscow. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin also welcomed the announcement, although he assessed it as an attempt to boost Yeltsin's sagging popularity. NTV argued that the announcement was Yeltsin's latest response to the impending eastward expansion of NATO. But proposing unification with Belarus is a "risky game," the network added, since the authoritarian Lukashenka could become leader of a new unified state. It concluded that Eastern European states should consider whether NATO expansion might compel Russia to take steps which place both its own future, and that of its neighbors, at risk. -- Scott Parrish

Trying to soften the hard-line impression which his recent declarations on NATO and the Baltic states have conveyed, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said on 13 January that Moscow wants to protect its interests without provoking confrontation, ITAR-TASS reported. Primakov contended that Moscow has a "differentiated" approach to the three states, listing Estonia's treatment of its Russian minority as Russia's "greatest concern" in the region. He also contended that the Yeltsin administration's foreign policy is "increasingly acquiring a consensus character," and has the "support of many political parties." However, in recent months Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and Defense Minister Igor Rodionov have publicly clashed with Primakov, and at a 13 January press conference in Prague, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said he does not support union with Belarus, and expressed disagreement with Primakov's stance on the Baltic states. -- Scott Parrish

Russian Minister of Atomic Energy Viktor Mikhailov told a 13 January press conference that Russia intends to press ahead with the controversial deal to complete an unfinished nuclear power station at Bushehr in southern Iran, and install reactors in China and India, ITAR-TASS reported. He claimed Russian nuclear exports had totaled about $2 billion in 1996, up 10% from 1995, although he conceded that Iran and India had payment problems. Mikhailov also said that new supercomputers to be installed soon at Arzamas-16 and Chelyabinsk-70 would increase these research institute's computing power tenfold, helping Moscow to maintain the reliability of its nuclear stockpile while observing the 1996 Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. He did not say where the computers came from, as the U.S. recently denied IBM and Hewlett-Packard licenses to export such computers to Russia. -- Scott Parrish

The Memorial association has been keeping track of Russian soldiers killed during the 21-month long Chechen war, Moskovskii komsomolets reported on 14 January. Memorial estimates that 4,379 Russian servicemen were killed: a list of all their names will be published shortly. The number may rise as the fate of the more than 1,000 troops listed as missing is known. The paper notes that estimates from official Russian sources range from 3,700-4,100 dead, 1,200-1,900 missing, and 18-20,000 wounded. Two-thirds of the casualties are from the Russian Army and one-third from the Interior Troops. -- Peter Rutland

Stavropol Krai Cossacks rallied on 10 January in several cities to demand the return of territory transferred to the Chechen-Ingush Autonomous Republic in 1957 and now part of Chechnya, Russian media reported. The area in question includes Naurskii and Shelkovskii raions. Ataman Yurii Churekov said the Cossack Atamans' Council of the Russian South supports the territorial demand and is ready to mobilize 100,000 armed men to protect Russian-speakers in Chechnya. On 13 January ITAR-TASS quoted the Council of Atamans of the Cossack Forces of Russia as saying it would refrain from any actions that could destabilize the North Caucasus, but the council added that if the post-election leadership in Chechnya altered the status of the republic it would ask the Constitutional Court to review the 1957 land transfer. Russian Security Council Deputy Secretary Leonid Maiorov said the annexation of part of Chechen territory is not feasible. -- Anna Paretskaya in Moscow and Penny Morvant

Teachers from about 70 Russian regions took part in strikes and demonstrations to protest wage arrears on 13 January, according to figures from the Education and Science Workers' Union quoted by NTV. Union leader Vladimir Yakovlev said more than 3 million children are being affected by the protests, which in some regions will last five days. A teachers' picket outside the White House in Moscow was addressed by Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov, who said "Teachers are the last in line, the most unprotected and deprived," Reuters reported. The average wage for teachers is about 540,000 rubles a month, far lower than the national average wage, which was 850,000 rubles in November. First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Ilyushin said during a meeting with a delegation of teachers that the government will debate its debt to the education sector at a session on 16 January. -- Penny Morvant

In line with the new Criminal Code, the Procurator's Office has altered the parameters of the criminal case resulting from the notorious 19 June detention of two Yeltsin campaign aides as they left the White House with a box containing $500,000, Russian Television (RTR) reported on 12 January. Sergei Lisovskii and Arkadii Yevstafev were initially accused of illegal hard-currency operations, but such operations are no longer a crime under the new Criminal Code, which went into effect on 1 January. The incident is now treated as a case of theft. However, as no one has claimed ownership of the money or notified the police of its theft, it is unlikely that the new charge can be made to stick. Thus, this latest development may allow the incident, which raised awkward questions about campaign financing, to be swept under the carpet. -- Penny Morvant

President Eduard Shevardnadze said on 12 January that he is ready to waive diplomatic immunity for Georgi Makharadze, the Georgian envoy in Washington involved in the 3 January car accident that caused the death of a 16-year-old American girl, so that he can face charges in the U.S., international agencies reported. Shevardnadze said he took the decision with a "heavy heart" while arguing that "moral principles" were more important than international conventions. U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns hailed the move as "courageous and unusual in modern diplomacy." Shevardnadze's decision followed a letter from U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher (see OMRI Daily Digest, 10 January 1997), who asked him to allow for Makharadze's prosecution. Burns denied that the U.S. made any threats of sanctions against Georgia. -- Emil Danielyan

French oil companies Elf Aquitaine and Total have reached agreement with Azerbaijan's State Oil Company, Socar, to develop two offshore fields in the Caspian Sea, Western and Russian media reported on 13 January. The deal, with an estimated value of $1.5 billion, involves the exploitation of a roughly 420 square km area, known as the Lenkoran and Talysh Deniz fields, some 300 km from Baku. Elf Aquitaine, with a 65% share of the deal, will operate the consortium; Socar retains a 25% interest while Total will take 10%. Other firms, possibly the U.S. company Mobil and Germany's Deminex, are expected to join them. Estimates of the size of the deposit range from 50 to 100 million metric tons of oil. The landmark deal was signed during the visit to France of Azerbaijani President Haidar Aliev. -- Lowell Bezanis

Human Rights Watch sent a letter to Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev on 13 January, asking him to overturn a court decision jailing Topchubek Turgunaliyev and Timur Stamkulov. In the letter, obtained by OMRI, HRW argues that the $10,000 Turgunaliyev allegedly embezzled from the Bishkek University for the Humanities was in fact a loan which Turgunaliyev promised to return with interest. The university's chief accountant said the university has no financial claims against Turgunaliyev. HRW noted that the procurator's office insisted this trial be held in a criminal court, and the case was reopened six times since 1994. Previous attempts to hold a criminal trial were struck down by the investigators' insistence that the case be handled in a civil court. HRW considers the 10-year jail sentence on Turgunaliyev as "wholly disproportionate" to the alleged crime and that the timing represented "the government's desire to silence Mr. Turgunaliyev's reinvigorated political dissent." -- Bruce Pannier

Japan's Mitsui and NEC companies will build a modern telephone network in Uzbekistan, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 January. The $138 million deal was described as the largest project with Japanese participation in Central Asia. In other news, the European Union is planning to provide Turkmenistan with 10 million ECU in structural food aid annually over the next three years, according to a 9 January Turkmen radio report as monitored by the BBC. The monies are to be used for agricultural reform and to create strategic reserves of grain and flour. -- Lowell Bezanis

Tajik government and opposition representatives signed an agreement on 13 January aimed at repatriating thousands of Tajik refugees, Western and Russian press reported. It was the first agreement signed between the two sides at peace talks in Tehran. UN Special Envoy to Tajikistan Gerd Merrem called it a "happy occasion" and said it was "another building stone to create a multi-faceted national accord." By some estimates there are up to 700,000 Tajik refugees, most living in Afghanistan and Kyrgyzstan. Responding to a question about those refugees who may have criminal records, Nazarov said "if the agreement is implemented appropriately the Tajik government will declare a general amnesty." -- Bruce Pannier

The Council of Europe suspended Belarus's special guest status in the organization on 13 January, international agencies reported. Council President Leni Fischer said the new Belarusian constitution does not respect human rights. The pan-European body is geared toward promoting democracy and human rights. Fischer added that the council cannot recognize the new Belarusian parliament, which was not elected under the new constitution but formed on the basis of the deputies' loyalty to the president. As Belarus has become more alienated from the West and its East European neighbors, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka has been pushing for tighter ties with Russia. -- Ustina Markus

The Council of the Republic met for the first time on 13 January, ITAR-TASS and NTV reported. The new body consists of 64 senators--eight from each of the six regions as well as Minsk with the remaining eight appointed by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. So far, 58 senators have been elected. During the session, deputies unanimously elected Paval Shypuk to head the new chamber. Lukashenka said the role of the new upper house is to review laws drafted by the lower house rather than to draft them. He added that the parliament should busy itself with bringing Belarus's legislation into line with Russia's to facilitate integration (see "Yeltsin Proposes Referendum on Merger With Belarus," in Russian section) . -- Ustina Markus

Leonid Kuchma met with the U.S. economist and architect of Poland's economic reforms, Jeffrey Sachs, Ukrainian Radio reported on 13 January. Sachs noted that foreign investment in Ukraine has been low and said the parliament must pass a new budget based on a reformed tax system in order to attract more investment. He also said the National Bank of Ukraine must continue with its tight monetary policy. The same day, the president's wife, Lyudmilla Mykolaivna, visited children's homes in Simferopol, Sevastopol, and Yalta to familiarize herself with the conditions there. She donated vitamins worth $2,000 to local pharmacies. -- Ustina Markus

Energy Minister Yurii Bochkarov made a special appeal to the Ukrainian public on 13 January, Ukrainian Radio reported. He warned that energy supplies are at a critical level and called on everyone to lower their consumption of energy by 20%. The energy production potential of the Dnipropetrovsh hydroelectric station, which supplies water to one-third of Ukraine's territory, has been almost completely used up. Bochakov said one of the biggest problems has been the indebtedness of consumers. Ukrainians owe 2.5-2.7 billion hryvnyas ($1.4 billion) for energy, and Bochakov warned that those who do not pay will not receive energy supplies. -- Ustina Markus

The number of crimes in Lithuania in 1996 increased by 11.9% compared with the previous year but fell by 2.4% in Latvia and 10.5% in Estonia, ELTA reported on 13 January. Estonia, however, had the highest per capita crime rate with 239.9 crimes per 10,000 population, while Lithuania and Latvia had rates of 183.3 and 151.8, respectively. The crime-resolution rate in Estonia was only 32.5%, while it was 41.3% in Lithuania and 44.2% in Latvia. -- Saulius Girnius

Bjorn Tore Godal held talks with Prime Minister Andris Skele, Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs, Saeima Chairman Alfreds Cepanis, and other officials in Riga on 13 January, BNS reported. He stressed that NATO and the EU should start membership talks with the Baltic states simultaneously and that Scandinavia is not distinguishing between the three countries. He criticized attempts to give any of them precedence in membership, describing efforts to see Lithuania as closer to CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE and Estonia as almost a part of Finland as "rubbish." Godal noted that Europe cannot have a common security system without the involvement of Russia, but he added that Russia does not have a right to veto NATO enlargement. -- Saulius Girnius

Emil Constantinescu and his Polish counterpart, Aleksander Kwasniewski, agreed in Poland on 13 January that their two countries would boost economic and political relations and cooperate in their efforts to join the EU and NATO, international agencies reported. Kwasniewski said experts from both countries would meet to work out concrete measures. He also promised that Poland would back Romania's efforts to join the Central European Free Trade Agreement. Both presidents said that Ukraine has a special role in their foreign policies. It is Constantinescu's first official trip abroad since his election in November last year. -- Jakub Karpinski

Representatives of the four biggest party caucuses in the Sejm--the Democratic Left Alliance, Polish Peasant Party, the Freedom Union, and the Labor Union--on 13 January met for the third time to discuss the draft constitution. Former Prime Minister Tadeusz Mazowiecki (UW) said they were in such agreement "on the basic problems" and "the rest can be discussed at the meeting of the Constitutional Commission." Some controversies remain: whether to introduce a three-tier territorial administration or stick with the current two-level version; whether a so-called "social rights" provision should be included that would guarantee housing, education, and health care for all citizens; how many votes it would take in the Sejm to override a presidential veto; what categories of Constitutional Tribunal decisions are final. The Constitutional Commission will meet on 15 January. -- Jakub Karpinski

Grigorii Yavlinskii, chairman of Russia's Yabloko political faction and a recent presidential candidate, said at a seminar organized by a private foundation in Prague that Russia has natural and economic resources but lacks experience with democracy, Czech media reported. Yavlinskii emphasized that 1996 was an important year in Russia's history because "it was the first time that 75% of people took part in democratic presidential and parliamentary elections." According to Yavlinskii, no country, including Russia, has a right to lecture other countries on who should become a NATO member. But he warned that NATO's expansion would worsen the domestic political situation in Russia and could lead to the collapse of Russian foreign policy as it has developed over the last five years. -- Jiri Pehe

Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar has confirmed his view that a referendum must be held on Slovakia's membership in NATO, TASR and CTK reported on 13 January. In interview for Slovak Radio, Meciar stressed that the government will discuss the issue at a 14 January meeting. Meciar said the referendum campaign should last three months and said experts from various countries, including the U.S. and Russia, would be invited to participate in the campaign. Opposition Christian Democratic Movement Chairman Jan Carnogursky said Slovakia should exercise restraint in its attempt to join NATO in order to buy time for maneuvering between East and West. -- Anna Siskova

The governing Movement for Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) called on its supporters and members to not support the referendum on direct presidential elections, which is being organized by the opposition parties, CTK reported on 14 January. In a statement, the HZDS accused the opposition of "demagogy" and unconstitutional maneuvering. Slovak President Michal Kovac signed a parliamentary petition to hold a referendum on 13 January. Kovac said he is not interested in running for another term as president. -- Anna Siskova

Gyula Horn on 13 January fiercely criticized the Belgrade and Sofia governments, blaming the current wave of mass unrest on the fact that the two Socialist governments have delayed democratic reforms. He noted that while his Hungarian Socialist Party has been accepted into the worldwide Socialist International, the Serbian and Bulgarian Socialist parties have not. Horn's remarks follow a 12 January government statement voicing concern over recent developments in Serbia and a Hungarian deputy's speech that was critical of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic at an opposition rally in Belgrade. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Between 30,000 and 100,000 people took to the streets in Sofia on 13 January to support opposition demands for early elections, Bulgarian media and AFP reported. Their rally was preceded by a student's demonstration that passed by the embassies of Italy, Austria, and the U.S. The students handed out appeals to the diplomats asking them not to support a new Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) government. "We don't want to fill the immigration lists of your countries," students said in the appeal. Meanwhile, the Confederation of Labor "Podkrepa" announced that it had scheduled a nationwide strike for 15 January. Members of the "Promyana" alliance have already started striking in the Burgas and Varna harbors and in Bulgaria's largest fuel plant, Neftohim Burgas. The Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria was the last major union to join the general strike. All striking activities will be coordinated by the opposition. -- Maria Koinova in Sofia

The BSP Executive Bureau on 13 January "agreed in principle to the idea of holding early parliamentary elections in the context of the implementation of a national anti-crisis program," Bulgarian and Western media reported. The Socialists said they are ready to start talks with the opposition on early elections and on the "character and composition" of a new government which they insist must be led by the BSP. The BSP said its premier-designate, Interior Minister Nikolay Dobrev, is non-negotiable. BSP leaders also said that early elections should not be held before the end of the year. The Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) leadership will meet on 14 January to discuss the offer. SDS Chairman Ivan Kostov accused the Socialists of tactical delays since only the BSP Supreme Council--rather than Executive Bureau--is authorized to make a final decision on the issues at stake. -- Stefan Krause

Demonstrators gathered in Belgrade for one of the largest protest marches so far on 13 January as the country celebrated the Christian Orthodox New Year's Eve, Nasa Borba reported. According to some estimates, as many as 500,000 demonstrators flooded into Belgrade's streets to protest against the regime of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and to demand that the authorities recognize opposition victories in the 17 November runoff of the municipal elections. Riot police, who had assumed a high public profile in recent weeks, remained for the most part in their barracks, international media reported. Mass demonstrations also took place in other cities across Serbia, marking the 55th consecutive day of the ongoing protest. -- Stan Markotich

According to a 14 January report in Dnevni Telegraf, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is preparing to recognize the Zajedno opposition coalition's electoral victories in 13 municipalities. He is not expected, however, to make concessions on the Belgrade Municipal Assembly but may recognize opposition wins in a handful of Belgrade's municipal districts. The newspaper speculates that Milosevic may attempt such a move as a way of putting a stop to the ongoing mass demonstrations across Serbia. It would also provide him with a pretext for resorting to force should the demonstrations continue. -- Stan Markotich

The planned structure of the new mainly Croatian and Muslim joint army was announced in Sarajevo on 13 January, two days after presidency members Kresimir Zubak and Alija Izetbegovic signed an agreement. The new force will include 14 brigades divided among four corps--three [Muslim] and one Croat--plus two rapid-reaction battalions. There will also be a combined artillery division and other combined units for air-defense, logistics, training, and helicopters, AFP reported. The two nominal allies fought a brief but vicious war in 1993, which was ended only thanks to vigorous U.S. political and economic pressure on both sides. A major problem has subsequently been to overcome mutual mistrust and local power interests in order to make the Federation of Bosnia and Herzegovina a reality. Nowhere has real cooperation proven more difficult than in military and police affairs. -- Patrick Moore

U.K. Defense Minister Michael Portillo said in Banja Luka on 12 January that aid will be contingent on the implementation of the Dayton agreement, Onasa wrote. He added that war criminals must be brought to justice if a lasting peace is to take root but pointed out that the present peace is no guarantee that war will not break out again some months hence. In contrast to many Western official visitors to the region, he spoke bluntly and refused to paint a rosy picture: "Despite political progress, I don't think there is much progress in reconciliation... There is precious little sign of the population wishing to tolerate each other." The following day, Portillo warned that SFOR's mandate will not be extended after it runs out in mid-1998. He added that all sides should now concentrate on restoring basis infrastructure links. -- Patrick Moore

Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic, a Muslim, warned against attempts to resettle ethnic Serbs from eastern Slavonia into Bosnia when eastern Slavonia returns to Croatian control this summer. He said that such a migration would endanger peace in Bosnia, Oslobodjenje on 11 January quoted him as saying. U.S. Ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith meanwhile told eastern Slavonian Serbs that the Croatian army will be stationed in Vukovar and elsewhere in the area after Croatian officials return on 17 July, Vecernji list reported. The international community has been urging the Serbs to stay put, but they have been seeking guarantees that go beyond existing agreements as a prerequisite to do so. Croatian authorities on 13 January presented a document to the UN outlining future rights for the Serbs, which the UN administrator Jacques Klein said was very positive and does indeed go well beyond existing agreements, AFP reported. -- Patrick Moore

The secretive Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) has claimed responsibility for the 9 January killing of Maliq Sheholli, international agencies reported on 13 January. Sheholli was a member of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia and a member of the Podujevo City Council. The UCK said in a statement that the killing "is a warning to all other collaborators and national traitors." The group called the murder an "execution," adding it had warned Sheholli to "stop cooperating with enemies." The group killed eight Serbs and one ethnic Albanian police officer last year. -- Fabian Schmidt

Slovenian People's Party leader Marjan Podobnik 13 January said he is considering the idea of joining a coalition led by Liberal Democratic Party leader Janez Drnovsek, who was recently re-elected prime minister. "We support a government of national unity in which all or most parliamentary parties would be included," Reuters quoted Podobnik as saying. Podobnik, whose party controls 19 of the parliament's 90 seats, had previously ruled out any cooperation with the legislature's 25 Liberal Democrats. The parliamentary elections were held on 10 November 1996. -- Stan Markotich

Constantin Ticu Dumitrescu, head of the Former Political Detainees' Association which is affiliated to the coalition party Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), suggested on 13 January that Senate Chairman Petre Roman, the head of the coalition party Social Democratic Union (USD), shares responsibility with former President Ion Iliescu for the miners' violent marches on Bucharest in 1990, Romanian media reported. Ion Diaconescu, chairman of the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic, said it was "natural" that Roman, who was prime minister at the time, had to be "on Iliescu's side." Another CDR member, Romania's Alternative Party, proposed the creation of a technical secretariat to prevent future "misunderstandings" between the CDR and USD. Meanwhile, the CDR might exclude the National Liberal Party-Democratic Convention, because its chairman, lawyer Niculae Cerveni, took over the defense in corruption cases. -- Dan Ionescu

The Local Council of Cluj on 13 January issued a statement calling the decision to reopen a Hungarian consulate there as "unwelcome and lacking any pragmatic basis," Radio Bucharest reported. Cluj Mayor Gheorghe Funar, who heads the extremist Party of Romanian National Unity, said that he would use all democratic means to fight against what he described as an "irresponsible" decision. The government coalition councilors walked out of the extraordinary council meeting in protest. The council's statement came after news that Foreign Minister Adrian Severin had agreed to the consulate's reopening during a visit to Budapest in late December. Last week, all parliamentary opposition parties objected to the reopening. The consulate was closed down in 1988 under Nicolae Ceausescu. -- Zsolt Mato

The Albanian government has responded to a student strike that began on 6 January by pledging to take a series of measures to improve the living and working conditions of university students. The Independent Students Union has called of the strike, Republika reported on 13 January. The government will establish a special governmental body to look after the students' problems, the students will be allowed to administer cultural and sports facilities at their campus, and living conditions at the dormitories will be improved. Talks with the government are scheduled for 14 January and will focus on questions of financial support for students and a shorter compulsory military duty. The government had already allocated special funds in the 1997 budget to improve living and teaching conditions for students, international agencies reported. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Victor Gomez