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Newsline - January 20, 1997

Javier Solana met with Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 20 January to open talks on a proposed NATO-Russia charter, Russian and Western agencies reported. An anonymous NATO diplomat told AFP on 17 January that despite media reports of a "new package" of NATO incentives to defuse Russian opposition to NATO expansion, Solana was not bringing any new proposals to Moscow. Solana will simply make a "complete presentation" of existing proposals for a charter, the diplomat said. Speaking in Bonn before his departure for Moscow, Solana said he hopes a charter establishing a "durable" and "institutionalized" relationship with Moscow can be signed before the scheduled July NATO summit, when the alliance plans to issue the first invitations to prospective East European members. -- Scott Parrish

The 17 January session of the CIS Heads of Government Council addressed 17 proposed economic agreements but approved only nine of them, Russian and Western media reported. Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin declared that the council had "approved" an overall concept for CIS economic integration, but Russian CIS Affairs Minister Aman Tuleev admitted that Uzbekistan, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan refused to support it, and at the insistence of Ukraine, the document will be resubmitted to a scheduled 28 January meeting of the council for discussion. Segodnya on 18 January reported that Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko criticized the draft concept's proposals for unified CIS trade, labor, transport, customs, and currency systems, saying they contradict the Ukrainian constitution. Predicting that Ukraine would not agree to sign the document, the paper sarcastically said the session had continued the CIS tradition of "paper creativity." -- Scott Parrish

In a game of diplomatic tit-for-tat reminiscent of the Cold War, officers of the Moscow directorate of the State Automobile Inspectorate (GAI) launched "Operation Foreigner," Russian and Western agencies reported on 17 January. The operation, during which GAI spokesmen said 1,000 cars with foreign plates were stopped and 200 violations discovered, is apparently in retaliation for the 29 December traffic incident in New York involving allegedly drunk Russian and Belarusian diplomats (see OMRI Daily Digest, 2 and 3 January 1997). U.S. diplomats were found to be the worst offenders during the operation, according to Segodnya on 17 January. Citing GAI sources, the paper reported that a U.S. diplomat had been stopped on 3 November for drunk driving, but officers had been unable to arrest him as he claimed diplomatic immunity. -- Scott Parrish

Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov has rejected Ukrainian protests over his recent visit to the Crimean port city of Sevastopol, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 January (see related story in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEan section). Luzhkov declared that "no one can stop me, I have traveled and will travel to Sevastopol, which is a Russian city." He rejected the possibility that Kyiv might bar him from entering Ukraine, saying that by doing so, "Ukraine would show that it is completely undemocratic." Citing polls saying 70% of Russians believe Sevastopol belongs to Russia, Luzhkov said "Russia will never accept the current situation," adding that Ukraine will ultimately be forced to begin negotiations on Sevastopol's status. Many link Luzhkov's jingoistic posturing to his presidential ambitions and hopes to undermine Aleksandr Lebed's support among nationalist voters. -- Scott Parrish

Under a contract signed on 17 January in Bogota, Colombia will purchase 10 Mi-17 transport helicopters from the Russian state-owned Rosvooruzhenie company, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. Although the full value of the contract was not disclosed, Colombia will pay $42 million for the first shipment of helicopters. After an open tender, Colombia decided last year to purchase both U.S. and Russian helicopters. Moscow accused Washington of interfering in its negotiations with Bogota last October, fueling a diplomatic spat over the sale. -- Scott Parrish

The State Duma on 17 January instructed its law committee to work out amendments to the law on weapons that would allow Cossack organizations to be armed, ITAR-TASS reported. While Deputy Security Council Secretary Boris Berezovskii has supported demands of southern Russian Cossack leaders to be allowed to create armed units (see OMRI Daily Digest 16 January 1996), Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov opposed the idea on 17 January, while noting that the state "must enter and protect people" if genocide against Russians erupts in Chechnya. Speaking to Russian Public TV (ORT) on 18 January, Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin indicated that he is against the arming of separate Cossack units. Instead, he suggested that they serve in the region's regular army regiments. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski

A Moscow businessman was killed on 17 January when a remote-controlled bomb exploded as he entered his office, Russian and Western agencies reported. The businessman, Gennadii Dzen, was director of the Roskontraktpostavka trading company and a voluntary assistant to ultranationalist politician Vladimir Zhirinovsky. On 20 January the owner of the "Dolls" strip club was shot dead in Moscow, Western media reported. On 19 January, a powerful explosion in Nalchik, the capital of Kabardino-Balkariya, damaged the republic's Procurator's Office. ITAR-TASS, quoting the local Interior Ministry, said the explosion was caused by a gas leak, but there is speculation that the blast was linked to an 8 January explosion at the republican parliament building. -- Penny Morvant

Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov said on 17 January that 29,700 murders and attempted murders were committed last year, some 2,000 fewer than in 1995, AFP reported. Of the estimated 450 contract killings, only 60 were solved. Kulikov added that 2.62 million crimes were recorded in 1996, down from 2.75 million in 1995, Russian media reported. However, he estimated the total number of crimes committed at 7 million. Kulikov said more than 200 gangs were broken up by police. But while the police scored some crime-fighting successes, corruption and other abuses within the ministry remained high. President Yeltsin's press secretary said on 18 January that the head of the Interior Ministry's Technical and Military Supplies Main Administration and 30 other officers had been fired for financial abuses, including misusing funds earmarked for salaries and prison construction. Kulikov said 10,000 employees of Interior Ministry organs were brought to book in 1996, including 3,500 for criminal offenses. -- Penny Morvant

Tatyana Chernova, wife of environmental activist Aleksandr Nikitin, may be prevented from returning to Russia at the end of a six-day trip to Norway, AFP reported on 18 January. Russian customs officials stamped Chernova's passport "exit for permanent residence abroad" after subjecting her to a 90-minute search and interrogation when she left the country on 15 January. The Moscow Times quoted a spokeswoman for the St. Petersburg Visa and Registration Department as saying Chernova would have to file for special permission to re-enter Russia. Chernova's lawyer said there were no legal grounds for the move. Nikitin was held in a pre-trial detention center for 10 months, on accusations that he illegally gathered data for a report on radioactive contamination of the Kola Peninsula. He was released last month following an international outcry, but the Federal Security Service is reluctant to let the case drop. -- Penny Morvant

In late December 1996, 9.3% of Russia's work force was unemployed, up from 8.8% in early 1996, Russian and Western agencies reported on 18 January, citing the State Statistics Committee. The figures were calculated on the basis of household survey data. Some 2.5 million people, or 3.4% of the work force, were registered as unemployed with the Federal Employment Service. The wage debt to Russian workers totaled 47.1 trillion rubles on 23 December, up from 46.6 trillion on 25 November. About one-fifth of the total arrears--9.3 trillion--were in organizations funded by the federal or local budgets. -- Penny Morvant

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin met IMF first deputy managing director Stanley Fischer on 17 January to discuss a resumption of the IMF loan, two $340 million monthly payments of which were suspended last year, AFP reported. Chernomyrdin said, "The West should not worry. The reforms are not going to be halted. Russia simply does not have much money at the moment." First Deputy Chairman of the Central Bank, Sergei Aleksashenko, told Reuters on 17 January that by the end of 1997 foreigners will be given full access to the government bond market on the same terms as Russian buyers--something which the IMF has been urging. One policy change which may not please the IMF is the introduction of differentiated excise duties on oil and gas, up to $17 per metric ton, on firms that buy at domestic prices and then export, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 January. The new tax sounds suspiciously like the resurrection of the oil export duty which was abolished at the IMF's insistence in July 1996. -- Peter Rutland

Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov said on 17 January that his ministry has been working on the so-called aluminum case for 18 months, ITAR-TASS and NTV reported. NTV carried an investigative series on the "aluminum mafia" in recent weeks (see OMRI Daily Digest 13 January 1997). Kulikov said that the Trans-seas Commodities company, represented by Lev Chernyi, paid on contracts with several aluminum plants using money it obtained from fraudulent bank transfer documents. He also said Moscow's Izmailovo criminal gang is involved in the aluminum business. Kulikov called for new laws obliging citizens to reveal the sources of their income. Former First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets denied NTV's accusations that he maintained links with the Chernyi brothers, although he did not refute the NTV report about his American Express account, according to an interview published in Obshchaya gazeta on 16 January. -- Peter Rutland

On 19 January, NTV's "Itogi" revisited the 1994 scandal around the privatization of the Novosibirsk Tin Combine (NOK). At that time it was revealed that NOK director Aleksandr Dugelnyi had managed to acquire a large portion of NOK shares and had also bought shares for government officials, including Soskovets. The investigation was closed down on the orders of then Procurator-General Aleksei Ilyushenko, who is currently in detention under criminal investigation. NTV provided fresh documentary evidence of Soskovets's share holding, and alleged that Dugelnyi, who is still the director of NOK, has $1.2 million abroad in foreign bank accounts. Dugelnyi had formerly worked with Soskovets at the Karaganda Metal Combine in Kazakstan, where an anti-corruption probe in 1991 led to 14 arrests. -- Peter Rutland

An armored personnel carrier operated by Russian peacekeeping forces in the Georgian-Abkhaz conflict zone blew up on 15 January after hitting an anti-tank mine, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 January. According to a Sakinform report monitored by the BBC, Georgian Deputy State Security Minister Avtandil Ioseliani said that "soon" Russian peacekeepers will no longer be required in the region as Georgia and Abkhazia are likely "to find a common language without a mediator." -- Emil Danielyan

The World Bank has extended a $14.7 million credit to Azerbaijan to promote the privatization of the country's agricultural sector, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 January. In other news, Azerbaijan's State Oil Company, SOCAR, has supplied 10,000 metric tons of gasoline to Iran on a trial basis, Russian media reported on 19 January. SOCAR is hoping to deliver 120,000 tons to Iran on an annual basis. -- Lowell Bezanis

The chairman of a local branch of the opposition National Self-Determination Union (AIM), Artush Hamazaspyan, is still under arrest on charges of "participation in mass disorders" in the wake of 25 September post-election unrest in Yerevan, Noyan Tapan reported on 17 January. Norayr Khanzadyan, an AIM representative, said that Hamazaspyan was "severely beaten" while in custody and the authorities are still holding him despite repeated promises that he would be released. Out of the 27 AIM members arrested after the election, Hamazaspyan is the only one still in custody. Khanzadyan also claimed that Interior and National Security Minister Serzh Sarkisyan has not yet delivered on his "promises" to compensate AIM for some 10 million drams ($21,300) in damage to the party's headquarters. -- Emil Danielyan

Two weeks of difficult talks between the Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) ended in Tehran on 19 January with the signing of a joint statement approving some important procedural issues but failing to determine how many representatives each side will have in a prospective National Reconciliation Commission, Western and Russian media reported on 19 January. The government wants to dominate the commission and render it subordinate to Tajik President Immomali Rakhmonov, while the opposition sees it as the first step toward a redistribution of power in a post-war government. The two sides agreed on the procedure for approving a mutual amnesty law and a central election commission and on holding a referendum on governmental reform. -- Lowell Bezanis

The Tajik Presidential Guards clashed with local self-defense forces in Tursun Zade in a fight over Central Asia's largest aluminum plant, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 January. Two were injured during the exchange of fire and an estimated 20 local-self-defense fighters were "detained" by the Presidential Guard. The fight was the latest development in an ongoing struggle for control of the country's single most valuable asset. In other news, unidentified assailants killed a junior Russian officer in Dushanbe, Reuters reported on 18 January. -- Lowell Bezanis

Yurii Luzhkov flew unannounced to Sevastopol on 17 January, despite Ukrainian threats to declare him a persona non grata and his earlier assurances that he would not come but would tend to his broken leg, Ukrainian and international agencies reported. Upon arrival, Luzhkov reiterated his position that Sevastopol had never been handed over to Ukraine, saying when former Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev handed Crimea over to Ukraine "after a drinking binge, Sevastopol was turned into a separate administrative entity and was not handed over to Ukraine." He added he would continue to visit Sevastopol and that no one can stop him. The next evening, Luzhkov and his bodyguards spent most of the night at the airport, after customs officials refused to let one of the bodyguards leave because he allegedly brought a gun illegally into the country. Luzhkov's entourage denied the gun was brought in illegally, and Luzhkov called the incident "a very primitive" act of revenge. -- Ustina Markus

Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko said he viewed Luzhkov's visit very negatively. He said he had personally appealed to Luzhkov not to visit Sevastopol or aggravate the situation there, and that Luzhkov's claims to the city were not constructive for Russian-Ukrainian relations. President Leonid Kuchma, speaking in Homel, Belarus, during a meeting with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, said Russian-Ukrainian relations are deteriorating, AFP and Reuters reported on 17 January. Kuchma said it was pointless to investigate the letter published last week by Kievskiye vedomosti, which was allegedly from one senior Russian official to another and urged a campaign to discredit Kuchma so he could be impeached. Russia has called the letter a fabrication. Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said on 17 January that Moscow would like to rent the entire city of Sevastopol as it main Black Sea Fleet base but had no territorial claim to the port. -- Ustina Markus

The ethnic Russian-dominated Crimean parliament voted down changes to the autonomous region's draft constitution designed to overcome the Ukrainian parliament's objections, UNIAN reported on 15 January. Ukraine's parliament rejected the 1 November 1995 draft last year because of provisions giving Crimea the right to determine Sevastopol's status and to grant citizenship, giving Crimeans the right to dual citizenship, and giving Russian the status of an official language and the language of business in Crimea. Meanwhile, President Leonid Kuchma asked the Constitutional Court to overturn Crimean legislation imposing taxes on barter trades, which he claims contradicts Ukrainian law, Ukrainian TV reported on 18 January. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma met in Homel, southeastern Belarus, on 17 January to discuss economic cooperation and controls on their mutual border, international agencies reported. The two leaders signed a communiqué aimed at simplifying customs rules and fostering ties between the two countries' customs agencies, border guards, and interior ministries. They also agreed to broaden cooperation in industry, especially in the manufacturing of farm machinery. Lukashenka said that "if the countries carry out the signed agreements, Belarus's relations with Ukraine will overtake its relations with other states." Since the break-up of the Soviet Union, Ukraine has been one of Belarus's main trade partners, importing $714 million of Belarusian goods in 1996. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

The nationalist Belarusian Popular Front picketed the Russian embassy in Minsk for the fourth day in a row on 17 January, Ekho Moskvy reported. The group was protesting Russian President Boris Yeltsin's proposal to hold a referendum on Russian-Belarusian unification. Among the signs toted by the demonstrators was one saying: "Russia broke its teeth on Chechnya, and will choke on Belarus." -- Ustina Markus

Fourteen out of 34 members of the Estonian Progress Party's governing council, including former council chairman Arvo Junti, walked out of the council's meeting on 17 January in protest against Tiit Made's leadership, BNS reported. Made was appointed head of the council at the meeting, replacing party chairwoman Andra Veidemann, who became a minister last year while her party was still in the ruling coalition. Junti is calling for a party congress in March, but the council decided to hold it on 3 May provided that the party had gathered the 1,000 members it needs to be formally registered as a political party by that time. Party board member Mart Ummelas accused Junti of creating the split on instructions from leaders of the Center Party, which the Progress Party split from last year. -- Saulius Girnius

Jerzy Jachowicz of Gazeta Wyborcza, Poland's largest daily newspaper, has been charged with identifying a Polish secret service agent in an article on the spying allegations brought against former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy, Polish media reported on 20 January. Jachowicz has also been charged with obstructing investigation of the leak by refusing to disclose his source. It was the second time charges of obstructing criminal proceedings have been brought against Polish journalists for refusing to reveal their sources; the previous one was also connected to the Oleksy affair. The Supreme Court ruled in 1995 that the criminal code provision allowing a prosecutor to require journalists to reveal their sources overrules the media law provision on journalists' right not to reveal their sources. Justice Minister Leszek Kubicki disagreed with that ruling. -- Beata Pasek

Vaclav Havel told Czech Radio on 19 January that the documents he received last week from Social Democratic Party Chairman and Parliament Speaker Milos Zeman do not prove Zeman's suspicion that constitutional officials, especially from the opposition parties, have been shadowed by the country's secret service (BIS). Havel however conceded that the documents might justify Zeman's suspicion that unlawful acts had been committed. Havel said the content of the documents was "disgusting," adding that they deserved to be examined by the parliamentary committee overseeing the BIS. The president rejected Zeman's claim that the documents show the Czech Republic is becoming a police state. In response to Havel's statements, Zeman said the documents were indeed disgusting. "I believe that spying on political opponents is always disgusting," he added. -- Jiri Pehe

The Slovak government wants to restore a continuous dialogue between journalists' organizations and the government, but new media legislation is needed to create the right political conditions, Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar said in a meeting with journalists on 17 January. Meciar said he "wondered" why Slovak journalists allow themselves to be described as "not free," declaring: "You are free and proud, so acknowledge it." But every freedom entails responsibility, Meciar stressed, urging journalists to bear the interests of Slovakia in mind. If journalists continue squabbling with the government this year, Meciar said, the expansion of NATO and the European Union will pass Slovakia by. The opposition daily Sme and Czech independent TV channel Nova were not invited to the meeting. -- Anna Siskova

The ongoing investigation into last year's privatization scandal provides evidence that parts of the controversial payment by the state privatization agency to an outside consultant were transferred to companies linked to the coalition parties, Magyar Hirlap reported on 20 January. The paper cites a letter from the prosecutor-general which says that Laszlo Boldvai, the Socialist Party's treasurer and a deputy in parliament, and Gyorgy Budai, an entrepreneur with links to the junior coalition party, the Alliance of Free Democrats, told consultant Marta Tocsik last May that she could only keep her $5.1 million commission from the privatization agency if she transferred 25% of that amount to each of two companies. According to the paper, the prosecutor-general has evidence of a series of money transfers between Tocsik and the two companies and on 19 December requested that parliament waive Budai's immunity from prosecution. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Forty-five public figures have issued an appeal condemning government efforts to reach an out-of-court settlement in the Gabcikovo dam dispute, which will soon go before the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Hungarian media reported on 20 January. Endorsed by such prominent Hungarians as film director Miklos Jancso and historian Gyorgy Litvan, the appeal calls on the cabinet to reveal details of the secret talks it has been holding with Slovakia. The appeal follows Prime Minister Gyula Horn's 17 January denial of any secret agreement and the opposition Young Democrats' demand that the secret negotiations stop. Opponents of an out-of-court settlement fear that a consensus between Bratislava and Budapest over the dam will only produce an environmentally damaging solution. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

In a letter to Deutsche Welle's Albanian service, the Kosovo Liberation Army claimed responsibility for the killing of Cun Dervishi in Skenderaj on the night of 16-17 January, calling the ethnic Albanian man
a "cooperator with the Serbian occupiers." The secretive group also claimed responsibility for the attempted assassination on 16 January of Radivoje Papovic, dean of the state-run Pristina University, and for the 13 January killing of Fazli Hasani, an ethnic Albanian who worked for the Serbian police near Mitrovica. Meanwhile, some 1,000 Serbs held a demonstration in Pristina on 18 January to protest the attack on Papovic. While Radio Serbia put the blame for the attacks on Serbian opposition leader Vuk Draskovic, the opposition claimed the United Yugoslav Left -- led by President Slobodan Milosevic's wife, Mirjana Markovic -- were the real "terrorists" responsible for the attacks and accused Milosevic of planning to use the events in Kosovo as a pretext for declaring a state of emergency, BBC reported. AFP quoted Draskovic claiming that "Milosevic is trying to play his last card by preparing civil war in Kosovo without caring about the consequences and the expected blood bath." -- Fabian Schmidt

While the regime of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic continues to resist calls to recognize the opposition Zajedno coalition's wins in 17 November runoff municipal elections, the opposition continues to find creative ways to protest. The latest effort to bypass official bans on mass protests was to rally under the banner of "Pets Against the Beasts in Power," international media reported. On 19 January, an estimated 10,000 people gathered in downtown Belgrade, all "coincidentally" out on the town walking their pets. Other methods of bypassing bans on mass protests have included thousands of motorists simultaneously experiencing mechanical difficulties in downtown Belgrade, shutting down all traffic in the city center. Meanwhile, UN human rights envoy Elizabeth Rehn met with government and opposition officials, and on 18 January urged Milosevic to recognize the Zajedno election wins. After meeting with Zajedno leader Zoran Djindjic on 19 January, German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel vowed that international pressure against Milosevic would not abate, Nasa Borba reported. The ruling Socialists were reported to be appealing an electoral committee ruling recognizing the
opposition victory in the Belgrade Assembly. Zajedno leader Vuk Draskovic, addressing the crowd of pet owners on 19 January, warned that the regime may be attempting to foment violence and urged members of the military to side with the peaceful protesters. -- Stan Markotich

Janko Jeknic died in a traffic accident on 17 January when his car slammed into a stalled bus. The accident took place on the Podgorica-Danilovgrad road near Komanski Most, Montena-fax reported. One other person was seriously injured in the incident. -- Stan Markotich

An explosion eliminated a section of a wooden bridge near Koraj in Serb-held territory in northern Bosnia late on 18 January. It is not clear who caused the blast, but an electric detonation cord was found nearby, AFP reported. The region has been a source of tension since the second half of 1996 as Muslim refugees try to exercise their right to return to their homes just inside the Serbian side of the interentity border. Meanwhile in Mostar, a gunman threatened Muslim journalists in full view of UN police, Onasa wrote on 19 January. The Muslims were waiting for news of the outcome of a meeting of the High Representative's office and said they will boycott Carl Bildt's future meetings unless their security is guaranteed. -- Patrick Moore

Nikola Koljevic, a former vice president of the Republika Srpska, is in critical condition after shooting himself in the head in Pale on 16 January, news agencies said. Initial reports on 17 January suggested that he was dead, but he actually was in a coma. SFOR flew him by helicopter to Belgrade, where he underwent emergency surgery in the military hospital. Doctors there are "reserved" about his chances for recovery, AFP wrote on 19 January. Koljevic had attempted several times to end his life after being replaced as vice president following the 14 September Bosnian elections. In late 1995 he participated in the talks that led to the Dayton agreement, and in a suicide note for his family, he said he had done all he could for his people. -- Patrick Moore

The left-wing Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) elected former President Ion Iliescu as its chairman on 17 January, Romanian and Western media reported. The decision was taken at an extraordinary national congress, at which a new party statute was also discussed. Iliescu pledged to renew both the membership and the policies of the party that, under different names, governed Romania from December 1989 until November 1996, when it was defeated in general elections. He singled out the need to combat corruption within the party's own ranks in order to improve its image, which was seriously eroded by corruption scandals in recent years. The PDSR, now the main force in the opposition, defines itself as a center-left political organization. Critics, however, say it is a haven for former communists and doubt its ability to reform itself. -- Dan Ionescu

The "Romania's Alternative" Party (PAR) announced on 19 January that it is withdrawing its "unconditional support" for Victor Ciorbea's government, Romanian media reported. PAR, which is a member of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR), complained that it was not offered state secretary positions and local administration posts as promised. Radu Vasile, secretary general of the National Peasant Party-Christian Democratic (the main force in the CDR), suggested that the Senate might reverse the nomination of PAR Chairman Varujan Vosganian to chair its Budget and Finance Commission. -- Dan Ionescu

Nickolay Dobrev, nominated by his party to succeed the resigned Prime Minister Zhan Videnov, presented the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) Executive Council on 19 January with a short-term stabilization program aimed at improving the economy and fighting crime and corruption, Standart and Trud reported. The program expects a short-term government and early elections, and includes such measures as the adoption of a currency board and procedures for closing insolvent banks. The same day, President-elect Petar Stoyanov, who under the constitution is expected to give Dobrev a mandate to form a new government, made his formal oath to the constitution along with Vice President-elect Todor Kavaldzhiev. Police cordoned off the ceremony with metal barriers, apparently concerned protesters might again try to storm parliament as they did on 10-11 January. In his speech, Stoyanov endorsed the idea of early elections and called for "a new social contract" between the authorities and the people. -- Maria Koinova in Sofia

Riot police used truncheons to disperse a demonstration in Tirana organized by the Center Pole coalition and the Socialist Party on 19 January. Out of some 10,000 demonstrators, 3,000 managed to break through a police cordon and reach central Skanderbeg Square, a Deutsche Welle correspondent told OMRI. Another 5,000 people took to the streets in Fier to demand the resignation of the local mayor. The Interior Ministry subsequently issued a statement warning that it "will deliver the deserved legal response to those responsible for violating the law ... It will act with all the force the law entitles against anyone who does not respect it," Reuters reported. The ministry rejected eyewitness reports that some protesters in Tirana had been hurt in scuffles with police and accused the opposition of encouraging people to daub themselves with red ink. Disappointed investors in collapsed pyramid schemes had started the protests earlier in the week; the opposition accused the government of involvement in the schemes. Socialist Party Secretary-General Rexhep Mejdani pledged to "continue protests for democracy until this fully anti-democratic regime is overthrown." -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Tom Warner