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Newsline - January 21, 1997

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana avoided all contact with the media following five hours of closed-door talks at an official residence in suburban Moscow, Russian and Western agencies reported on 21 January. Solana immediately returned to Brussels, and both NATO and the Russian Foreign Ministry issued similarly terse statements saying the "useful" session had established a "timetable" for further talks but admitting that "there are different approaches on a range of issues." It appears that Moscow continues to insist that any Russia-NATO agreement create a legally binding joint consultation mechanism giving Russia a voice in important alliance decisions, a move NATO officials have balked at. -- Scott Parrish

Duma Defense Committee Deputy Chairman Aleksei Arbatov (Yabloko), said that Russia should not settle for any security guarantees from NATO short of joining the alliance itself, according to a 20 January Interfax report monitored by the BBC. Arbatov said Moscow "cannot be satisfied with signing another declaration or charter," adding that since Russia cannot halt NATO enlargement, it should seek to transform NATO into a multilateral security system. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, however, denounced the talks with Solana. The communist deputy argued that President Boris Yeltsin's foreign policy "had accustomed the West to constant concessions on our part," and charged that Solana had come to "persuade" or "maybe blackmail" Russia into accepting NATO expansion. -- Scott Parrish

In the wake of Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov's recent visit to Sevastopol, which has provoked harsh criticism from Kyiv (see related articles in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPEan section), Russian presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii on 20 January said that Luzhkov's statements on the status of Sevastopol "should not be confused with the position of the president of the country and Russia in general with regard to Ukraine," ORT reported. Yastrzhembskii said Ukraine's territorial integrity had been recognized by the international community and guaranteed by Russia, a reference to the 1994 trilateral Russian-American-Ukrainian agreement under which Kyiv agreed to denuclearize and Moscow agreed to respect Ukraine's territorial integrity. The Foreign Ministry also declared that Luzhkov's statments "do not reflect official policy and should be treated accordingly." -- Scott Parrish

President Yeltsin checked out of the Central Clinical Hospital on 20 January after 12 days and will continue recuperating at his suburban Moscow residence Gorkii-9, NTV reported. He was admitted on 8 January with pneumonia. This week the president is planning one or two meetings and a three- to four-hour daily work schedule, according to spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii. Nevertheless, he is still set to attend the CIS summit in Moscow at the end of January, meet with French President Jacques Chirac on 2 February, and visit The Hague on 3-4 February, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Robert Orttung

Mikhail Lapshin has called on the Popular-Patriotic Union to re-evaluate its position on property rights in advance of the next presidential election, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 January. He blamed Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov's loss in the 1996 election on his lack of support for private property and warned that the opposition must recognize this "obvious reality" in order to increase its electorate. Lapshin said that the Agrarian Party will add the right for peasants to own land to its program at its 22-23 March congress, bringing the party "closer to the center," Segodnya reported 20 January. -- Robert Orttung

Former Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev told a public meeting in Grozny on 20 January that his fellow candidates Aslan Maskhadov and acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev are "crooks," and that he will not join their government if they win, Reuters reported. On 19 January, NTV broadcast a tape of a meeting of the Chechen State Defense Council on 16 January, at which state security head Abu Movsaev accused Avakho Arsanov, Maskhadov's vice-presidential running mate, of having been involved in the kidnappng of three Slovaks from Ingushetiya last October. He said Arsanov, the former northern front commander, is still holding 17 captives for ransom. ITAR-TASS quoted Yandarbiev on 20 January as saying that Arsanov will be prosecuted. -- Peter Rutland

Chechen Electoral Commission head Mumadi Saidaev denied that not allowing voting outside the republic will make the 27 January election undemocratic, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 January. He noted that estimates of the number of refugees range from 100,000 to 350,000, and claimed many have already returned home. However, Russian human rights activist Sergei Kovalev said on 19 January that not allowing refugees to vote where they live is a "serious mistake," Reuters reported. Although Russian authorities will not be involved in running the election, NTV reported on 19 January that Russia is cooperating by setting up the Severnyi Airport and providing helicopter transport for international observers. -- Peter Rutland

Chechen law enforcement agencies have been unable to locate two journalists working in Chechnya for Russian Public TV (ORT), ITAR-TASS reported on 21 January. Roman Perevezentsev and Vladislav Tibelius left Grozny on 19 January for the capital of Ingushetiya, Nazran, where they planned to transmit reports to Moscow. However, they never turned up at the television station or at their hotel in Nazran. Chechen Interior Minister Kazbek Makhashev said all journalists working in Chechnya are offered protection, but that the ORT correspondents left Grozny unaccompanied by any guards. -- Laura Belin

Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed met with senators William Roth and Robert Smith in Washington, RFE/RL reported on 20 January. Roth, who is also president of the North Atlantic Assembly which groups together legislators from all 16 NATO countries, characterized Lebed's position on NATO expansion as somewhat flexible. He said Lebed suggested that Russia has "voluntarily isolated itself" with its current stance on NATO expansion. On the same day, Lebed attended U.S. President Bill Clinton's inauguration ceremony in a public viewing area. Major Russian television networks either ignored or gave unfavorable coverage to the visit. Lebed told NTV that he was "modestly" representing Russia at the inauguration, since the president, prime minister, and chief of staff were not present. -- Laura Belin

A VCIOM poll conducted from 13-17 January found that 50% of Russians oppose the admission of former Soviet republics into NATO and 41% say former Warsaw Pact members should not join the alliance, according to a 20 January Interfax report monitored by the BBC. The poll of 1,600 respondents across Russia found that only 13% support NATO membership for former Soviet republics and only 15% support the aims of former Warsaw Pact countries to join the alliance. However, 17% and 22% of respondents were indifferent to the issue of NATO membership for former Soviet republics or Warsaw Pact members, respectively, while 20% and 22% were undecided. Asked how Russia should defend its interests, 26% said it should not join any alliances, 22% favored cooperation with NATO, 17% said Russia should form its own alliance with other CIS states, and 8% said Russia should join NATO. -- Scott Parrish

Tatyana Chernova, the wife of environmental activist Aleksandr Nikitin, was allowed back into Russia without problems on 20 January despite fears that she might encounter difficulties, AFP reported. When Chernova left Russia last week for a brief visit to Norway, customs officials stamped her passport "exit for permanent residence abroad" (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 January 1997). Chernova has campaigned actively on behalf of her husband, who is facing charges of espionage for his part in a report by the Norwegian-based environmental group Bellona on radioactive contamination of the Kola Peninsula. -- Penny Morvant

Izvestiya on 21 January reported on the latest attempt by Russia's parliamentarians to safeguard their housing benefits. Last week the Duma passed in all three readings amendments to the law on the Status of a Deputy of the Federal Assembly entitling deputies from outside Moscow to the equivalent of $60,000 to buy an apartment in the capital. The figure of $60,000 (330 million rubles) is derived from an estimate of the cost of housing a deputy for four years in a top-class hotel. There is insufficient official housing in part because not all former deputies have relinquished their apartments. According to Izvestiya, 69 deputies have privatized their flats and another 14 have received compensation payments. -- Penny Morvant

Workers at a factory producing women's underwear in Vladivostok have been receiving bras in lieu of their wages, Izvestiya reported on 21 January. Short on cash, the factory has handed out seven to nine bras a month to both male and female employees. Owing to the problem of interenterprise debt and delays in the payment of state subsidies, workers at many enterprises receive wages in kind. -- Penny Morvant

Real monthly wages grew 5% last year although real inm&me levels remë[cedilla]neÅEstable, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 January, citing Goskomstat data. The average monthly wage in November was 835,000 rubles plus an average of 29,800 rubles in social payments. (These figures do not take into account delays in the payment of wages and benefits.) Goskomstat estimated the average December pension at 320,700 rubles, up from 246,700 at the beginning of 1996. The average subsistence minimum in December was 379,000 rubles a month; 22% of the population were living below the poverty line. -- Penny Morvant

Russia's GDP and industrial production fell by 6% and 5%, respectively, in 1996 over the previous year, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 January, citing the State Statistical Committee. The largest decline was recorded in light industry (28%), construction materials (25%), and the chemical and petrochemical industry (11%). Oil production dropped 2% to 293 million metric tons and coal output fell 4% to 243 million tons, while the production of natural gas rose 1% to 575 billion cubic meters. The volume of investment totaled 370 trillion rubles, 18% down on 1995. Housing construction shrank 10% to 37 million square meters. -- Natalia Gurushina

In his weekly interview on Georgian state radio, Eduard Shevardnadze described the development of a "close strategic alliance" between Georgia and Russia as "promising," ITAR-TASS reported on 20 January. Shevardnadze thanked the Russian government for allowing Georgia to postpone repayment of its $180 million debt to Russia until 2000. Shevardnadze said Russia "can and should play the key role" in resolving the Abkhaz and South Ossetian conflicts. Meanwhile, Georgian Parliament Speaker Zurab Zhvania claimed that any special relationship with Russia will be "empty rhetoric" as long as the Abkhaz conflict is not settled. -- Emil Danielyan

Zurab Zhvania met behind closed doors with the leaders of the self-proclaimed Republic of South Ossetia on the first visit by a top Georgian official to the breakaway region's capital, Tskhinvali, in five years, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 January. The visit comes after President Eduard Shevardnadze's prediction of an imminent breakthrough in the Georgian-South Ossetian talks and South Ossetian Parliament Speaker Konstantin Dzugaev's subsequent visit to Tbilisi (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 January 1997). -- Emil Danielyan

Azerbaijan officially commemorated "Black January," when more than 130 people were killed and some 700 wounded in 1990, as thousands of Soviet interior and security forces moved into Baku to defend Soviet power from rising nationalist sentiment, Western and Russian media reported the same day. The intervention helped Azerbaijan Popular Front leader Abulfaz Elchibey come to power. The same day, Turan reported that 69 volumes of documentation relating to the January events were illegally seized and removed from Azerbaijan three years ago; the efforts of Azerbaijani law-enforcement organs to resecure them has won no favor with the responsible military court in Russia, according to the agency. -- Lowell Bezanis and Emil Danielyan

Workers at the Achisay Polymetal plant in Southern Kazakhstan have gone on strike to demand the payment of their back wages, RFE/RL reported on 21 January. According to sources in the Kazakstani Federation of Trade Unions, the strikers were joined by local transport system workers on 20 January. In other news, the city of Kokshetau in North Kazakstan has been unable to provide heat to some 15,000 apartments for two weeks. Temperatures in the city have dropped to -30 C. -- Merhat Sharipzhan

Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov on 18 January issued deeds to 80 farmers permitting them to use their lands in perpetuity, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Turkmenistan's new landowners are prohibited from transferring or reselling their property. The ceremony was held to mark the launch of Turkmenistan's efforts to reform its crisis-riden agricultural sector by moving toward private land ownership. In other news, a total of 123 drug smugglers were executed in Turkmenistan in 1996, according to a 13 January Vechernii Bishkek report monitored by the BBC. -- Lowell Bezanis

Ukraine's Foreign Ministry delivered a note to the Russian Embassy on 20 January stressing that statements by Russian officials of the kind made by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov in Sevastopol on 17 January could damage Ukrainian-Russian relations, Ukrainian and international agencies reported. The ministry also circulated a statement calling Luzhkov's statements "unfriendly" and his claim that Sevastopol "is and will stay a Russian city" a threat to Ukraine's territorial integrity. While the Russian government has refuted any Russian territorial claims on Sevastopol, differences between Ukraine and Russia over how much of the port city will be leased to Russia and for how long remain a stumbling block in the negotiations on the division of the Black Sea Fleet. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

Members of the Crimean Communist Party honored the anniversary of the 1991 referendum that restored Crimea's autonomy with a rally in Sevastopol attended by some 1,000 people, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 January. The communists also demanded early elections to the Crimean parliament, threatening protests and strikes if the parliament stays on. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Deputy Economics Minister Leonid Minin warned that the Crimean economy is in a catastrophic state, Ukrainian radio reported on 18 January. Minin said capital investments in the Crimea had halved and hundreds of thousands of Crimeans are affected by hidden unemployment. Crimean Parliamentary Speaker Vasyl Kyselyov said the continued decline in production raised the specter of a collapse of the peninsula's industry and agriculture. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

First Deputy Prime Minister Piotr Prakapovich announced on 20 January that the Belarusian economy grew by 2.6% in 1996, the first increase since the USSR collapsed in 1991, Western agencies reported. The opposition Belarusian Popular Front issued a report the same day claiming the economy actually shrank by 4%-5% and that about 1.5 million people, around a third of the work force, are unemployed. Prakapovich acknowledged that the country's foreign trade deficit in 1996 was $1.4 billion and that industrial goods worth $633 million are languishing in warehouses. -- Saulius Girnius

Andris Skele sent a letter of resignation to President Guntis Ulmanis on 20 January because "the president and the political elite accused me of pressing amoral decisions upon them," Western agencies reported. That was a clear reference to the controversial appointment of businessman Vasilijs Melniks as finance minister (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 January 1997). Skele expressed regret about leaving a job he had started successfully in December 1995 but had since found too difficult. The president cannot reject Skele's resignation, which also means the dissolution of the government, but he has the right to renominate him. -- Saulius Girnius

Tiit Vahi, accompanied by Social Affairs Minister Tiiu Aro and a large delegation of businessmen and government officials, arrived in Singapore on 18 January for a four-day working visit. Vahi told a business seminar organized by the Export Institute of Singapore on 19 January that Estonia could serve as an ideal gateway to the European Union, ETA reported. Vahi noted with satisfaction that Singapore was his country's sixth-largest source of foreign investment and said that cooperation should be expanded. Vahi met with Singapore Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong on 20 January, BNS reported. -- Saulius Girnius

Vladas Nikitinas submitted his resignation to President Algirdas Brazauskas on 20 January, Radio Lithuania reported. He said that his resignation was prompted by the difficult situation with crime in Lithuania and in particular the events in Panevezys on Christmas Eve, when a businessman shot four racketeers and wounded four others who were trying to extort money from him. Nikitinas, however, will remain in office until the president submits his resignation to parliament's regular spring session, which begins on 10 March. The ruling coalition has been advocating that the parliament and not the president should appoint the prosecutor-general. -- Saulius Girnius

Jan Olszewski, leader of the Movement for Poland's Reconstruction (ROP), has offered to put up joint lists of Senate candidates with Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) in this fall's parliamentary elections, Polish media reported on 20 January. The ROP had previously refused to cooperate with the AWS. Solidarity trade union spokesman Piotr Zak said Olszewski's offer would probably be accepted. According to an anonymous AWS leader cited by Rzeczpospolita, the ROP wants to cooperate because it does not have enough well-known politicians to field in both the Sejm and Senate elections. Olszewski also warned the AWS -- a center-right coalition led by the Solidarity trade union -- not to admit the recently formed Conservative-People's Party, whose leaders have close links to former President Lech Walesa and are critical of the so-called citizens' draft constitution, supported by the ROP and the AWS. -- Beata Pasek

Documents submitted by opposition Social Democratic Party leader Milos Zeman to the parliamentary committee overseeing the Czech Intelligence Service (BIS) on 20 January show that the BIS attempted to discredit the Social Democrats and other political parties, Czech media reported. Members of the parliamentary committee told journalists that the documents are serious. "If authentic, the documents prove allegations made by Civic Democratic Alliance [ODA] leader Jan Kalvoda in 1994," ODA deputy Ivan Masek told CTK. Kalvoda claimed in 1994 that his party was shadowed by the BIS. Similar charges by Christian Democratic Union Chairman Josef Lux in November 1996 led to the resignation of BIS head Stanislav Devaty. President Vaclav Havel, who has studied the documents, said the BIS might have committed illegal acts but rejected Zeman's charges that the country is turning into a police state. -- Jiri Pehe

Unless immediate steps are taken, the army will be unable to defend the country within four years, Miloslav Vyborny said on 20 January. Vyborny said the army does not get enough money and that the situation is particularly critical in the air force, where 50% of equipment is not operational. Vyborny also called for radical reforms, saying the army could be smaller but needs to be "combat-ready and modern." -- Jiri Pehe

In a letter sent to Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar, a spokesman for Slovak Roma, Marek Balaz, announced that Roma are setting up a militia because the state is unable to protect them, international media reported on 20 January. The decision was prompted by the murder of a Rom in Prievidza, central Slovakia, before Christmas. Another Rom was killed earlier in the year, a victim of one of the 19 racial attacks registered in 1996. "Our militia will guard our houses and our people," Balaz wrote. He argued that the authorities often turn a blind eye to violence against Roma; for example, in the past five years in Prievidza, he said, skinheads attacked Roma on 54 occasions but charges were brought only once. -- Jiri Pehe

The opposition has collected almost one-third of the signatures needed to force a referendum on instituting direct presidential elections, a Slovak opposition leader told Reuters on 20 January. The referendum is aimed at preventing Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar from assuming presidential powers before the election of a new president in March 1998, some six moÅ,hs before the next general elections are expected. "According to the latest reports, we have already collected more than 100,000 signatures since we started two weeks ago," Ivan Simko, vice chairman of the Christian Democratic Movement, who heads the petition committee, told Reuters. Simko said the necessary number of signatures (350,000) could be collected within two months. The government argues that a referendum on changing the constitution is illegal. -- Jiri Pehe

In a two-day visit to Hungary, Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski said that Poland, Hungary, and the Czech Republic would form a close-knit group as they approach EU and NATO membership, international and Hungarian media reported on 20 January. Those three countries "should hold regular consultations on presidential, prime ministerial, and ministerial levels in the near future," Kwasniewski said. Hungarian President Arpad Goncz echoed Kwasniewski's views, saying: "We are not competitors but strategic partners on the road leading toward NATO and the European Union." -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The United States, Australia, Argentina, and New Zealand will file a joint complaint against Hungary for oversubsidizing its agricultural exports, Reuters reported on 20 January. The four countries will formally request that the World Trade Organization establish a panel at the next meeting of the organization's dispute settlement body. They accuse Hungary of providing export subsidies in excess of its Uruguay Round commitments and claim it plans to extend subsidies from six products to more than 300 products, including grain, meat, dairy products, fruit, and vegetables. Earlier, the Hungarian Ministry of Industry and Trade had tried tÇeconvince the complaining nations that it was using erroneous data when it agreed to reduce state subsidies. All five nations are members of the Cairns Group of agricultural exporter nations, formed in 1986. Hungary is the sole European member. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Bosnian Serbs in Bosanski Brod fired automatic weapons across the Sava River into Slavonski Brod, Croatia, late in the afternoon of 20 January, Hina reported. The bullets hit the main street and shattered windows but caused no casualties. This is the first such incident since the Dayton peace treaty was signed in December 1995, AFP wrote. In Sarajevo, UN spokesman Kris Janowski criticized the Bosnian Serbs for breaking a "gentleman's agreement" and using UN funds to repair houses whose owners had been "ethnically cleansed" from the region, AFP added. -- Patrick Moore

The new governor of the Tuzla area, Sead Jamakosmanovic, has called for Russian SFOR troops in the area to be replaced. He accused them of complicity in a Serb attack on a bridge on the sensitive Celic-Koraj route, where Muslim refugees are trying to return to homes just inside Serbian lines (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 January 1997). Jamakosmanovic repeated a frequent Muslim and Croat charge against the Russians, saying "they are not neutral," Oslobodjenje reported on 21 January. He asked that U.S. forces replace the Russians, adding: "We have confidence in the Americans." Scandinavian and Turkish troops are also stationed in the tense area. -- Patrick Moore

The Bosnian state commission dealing with the 200,000 missing persons -- mainly Muslims and Croats -- from the conflict said that 31 mass graves containing 1,462 bodies and 466 single graves were found and exhumed last year. Forensic inspectors from abroad and from the region will resume their work in the spring. In Zagreb, the Hague-based war crimes tribunal's chief prosecutor, Louise Arbour, said that Croatia is not cooperating with the court despite its promises to do so. She noted that mechanisms for the extradition of indicted war criminals exist, but said that has not led to concrete results, Onasa reported on 18 January. -- Patrick Moore

Police officers armed with clubs attacked peaceful demonstrators in Belgrade on 20 January, reportedly injuring at least 12 people. According to Radio B92, one person was seriously beaten. The incident occurred when the well-armed police officers moved to disperse the crowd of peaceful protesters from around the city center. Nasa Borba on 21 January reported that Patriarch Pavle had blessed the thousands of students in Belgrade waging an "endurance test" against riot police. The latest student action began on the evening of 19 January, when a cordon of police officers prevented students from continuing their march along Belgrade's main streets. The students, in reply, refused to budge from the police barricades. -- Stan Markotich

Serbia's judicial system dealt two blows to opposition demands on 20 January. First, a local Belgrade court asked the Supreme Court to rule on a Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS) appeal of an electoral commission ruling recognizing opposition Zajedno wins in Belgrade. Since the Supreme Court is under no time restriction to review the case, the municipal court action may be merely the latest SPS ploy to stall for time. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court overturned a decision recognizing opposition victory in the town of Sabac, instead ruling the SPS had won 35 seats to Zajedno's 29 in that municipal assembly. Nasa Borba reported on 21 January that the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, led by accused war criminal Vojislav Seselj, has filed its own court challenges to Zajedno election wins. -- Stan Markotich

The UN's special reporter for human rights, Elizabeth Rehn, said she had asked the Serbian authorities to "think about" her request to open an office in Kosovo, in which over 90% of the population is ethnic Albanian. She pointed to recent tensions and assassinations there as a reason for establishing a UN presence now, AFP reported on 20 January. Currently her staff based in Belgrade visit Kosovo once per month. Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic had earlier banned other international monitors from working out of Pristina. Meanwhile, in Munich, the Bertellsmann foundation opened two days of talks aimed at bringing Serbs and Kosovar Albanians together to explore solutions to their political deadlock. A dozen delegates from the region are taking part in drafting an agenda for possible official talks, and are joined by experts from Germany and other EU countries, an OMRI correspondent reported. -- Patrick Moore

Slovenia's three main conservative parties -- the People's Party, the rightist Social Democrats, and the Christian Democrats -- have expressly rejected an offer by Premier-designate Janez Drnovsek to form a working coalition government, STA reported on 20 January. The three so-called "Slovenian Spring" conservative parties allege that Drnovsek's proposal gives his own Liberal Democratic Party too much influence and representation in government, Reuters added. The "Slovenian Spring" parties hold 44 of 90 parliamentary seats and have demanded that Drnovsek redraft his proposal for "a government of unity." -- Stan Markotich

In an interview with Radio Bucharest on 20 January, Emil Constantinescu defended the recent arrest of Miron Cozma, the controversial leader of the Jiu Valley miners. Constantinescu said the event was part of a campaign against corruption and organized crime and was aimed at "restoring state authority." He described Cozma, who led thousands of miners in violent marches on Bucharest in 1990 and 1991, as "the most flagrant case of a person acting in defiance of law and state institutions." Meanwhile, Jiu Valley union leaders announced they were looking for people to testify in Cozma's favor and warned against more rallies in the area. They were joined by leaders of five associations of participants in the December 1989 revolution. According to them, the arrest was "politically motivated, and an act of revenge" on behalf of Petre Roman, Romania's prime minister in 1990-1991. -- Dan Ionescu

Eighty-five-year-old Todor Zhivkov was released from house arrest on 21 January, owing to advanced age, national media and AFP reported. Zhivkov headed the Bulgarian Communist Party for 35 years until he was dismissed by the party's reformers on 10 November 1989. Arrested in January 1990, he spent several months behind bars and has since been under house arrest in his granddaughter's villa in a wealthy part of Sofia. In 1992, Zhivkov was sentenced to seven years imprisonment for involvement in misappropriating public funds for the benefit of relatives and friends. However, the Supreme Court acquitted him in February 1996 on the grounds that as head of state he could be held responsible only for high treason. Despite that, he remained under house arrest and still faces a possible trial for misappropriating funds earmarked for pro-communist groups in the Third World. -- Maria Koinova

Opposition demonstrations against the Bulgarian Socialist Party's intentions to form a new government entered their third week, national media reported. Stefan Raytchev, chairman of the Promyana Trade Union's strike committee, told Pari his union would announce a nationwide general strike on the day President Petar Stoyanov gives a mandate to the Socialists to form a government. Promyana Co-Chairman Dimitar Dimanov claimed the two other big trade unions are expected to join in the call. Meanwhile, the strike committee at Bulgarian National TV gathered more than 1,000 signatures on 21 January to a petition demanding improved working conditions, an end to censorship, and the resignation of acting Director-General Ivan Tokadzhiev, his deputy, Paun Tsonev, and Chief Secretary Tsveta Stefanova. -- Maria Koinova

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Tom Warner