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Newsline - January 22, 1997

The Communist and Liberal Democratic Party of Russia factions voted to include the question of impeaching President Boris Yeltsin on health grounds on the agenda of the 22 January Duma session, ITAR-TASS reported. Our Home Is Russia, Yabloko, Popular Power, Russian Regions, and the Agrarians voted against, making the final tally 206-164 with two abstentions. The Our Home Is Russia faction left the Duma chamber in protest when the body began discussing the issue. Instead of trying to impeach Yeltsin now, Popular Power leader Nikolai Ryzhkov called for adopting a law setting up a procedure for removing a president who is no longer able to carry out his duties. The Duma directed its committee on legislation to look into the possibility of creating the position of vice president in Russia. Earlier, First Deputy Duma Speaker Aleksandr Shokhin, representing Our Home Is Russia, warned that any effort to remove the president could be viewed as a coup attempt, forcing Yeltsin to take "appropriate measures." -- Robert Orttung

President Boris Yeltsin met with Prime Minster Viktor Chernomyrdin in the Kremlin on 22 January, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin left the hospital on 20 January after undergoing treatment for pneumonia for 12 days. Yeltsin's doctors have expressed concern that he is not limiting his activities enough to recover fully. -- Robert Orttung

Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin has announced that the Duma will debate on 24 January whether Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais paid taxes on all of his income for 1996, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. Novaya gazeta's Aleksandr Minkin has already published allegations that Chubais did not pay those taxes (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 January 1997). Chubais, however, claimed that he had paid his taxes in full: 515 million rubles ($92,000) on income derived from lectures and consultations earned before he became Yeltsin's chief of staff. Ilyukhin circulated credit card statements purporting to show that Chubais had received considerable sums after he became a civil servant on 15 July, Reuters reported. The last credit is from August, "which is not inconsistent with Chubais's response that he made the money before July," the agency noted. -- Robert Orttung

The popular daily Moskovskii komsomolets on 21 January published an appeal it claimed was written in February 1996 by Maj.-Gen. Valerii Monastyretskii, head of a finance department at the Federal Agency for Government Communications and Information (FAPSI) until he was arrested on charges of embezzlement. In the letter, Monastyretskii alleged that during the renovation of government buildings in 1994 and 1995 the Main Protection Administration, the Federal Security Service, and Presidential Security Service--then controlled by Mikhail Barsukov and Aleksandr Korzhakov--purchased expensive surveillance equipment from dubious sources in the U.S. for their own purposes. Monastyretskii concluded that the aim of the security services was "to place all statesmen and political activists under all-out surveillance so as to compromise them and subsequently use them to pursue their personal political interests." Numerous articles implicating Korzhakov and Barsukov in illegal activities have been published since their dismissal in June last year. -- Penny Morvant

Gennadii Zyuganov led a few hundred Communists at a wreath-laying ceremony on Red Square on 21 January to honor the 73rd anniversary of Lenin's death, Russian media reported. In comments to reporters, Zyuganov repeated communist opposition to suggestions that Lenin's body should be removed from the Red Square mausoleum and reburied. On the subject of Yeltsin's health, Zyuganov noted that the president had been unable to perform his duties for long periods over the past two years and spoke out in favor of establishing a medical commission to monitor his condition. Communists in St. Petersburg also held a number of meetings to mark Lenin's death. Most national TV reports of the Lenin anniversary stressed the low turnout at the meetings. -- Penny Morvant

Izvestiya on 22 January harshly criticized an open letter to President Yeltsin signed by a group of admirals and generals serving in Sevastopol which called on the president to take vigorous countermeasures against NATO enlargement. The letter, released by Interfax on 20 January, urged Yeltsin to counter NATO expansion by not signing START II, building up Russia's nuclear arsenal, targeting alliance members with nuclear weapons, and demanding revisions in the 1990 CFE Treaty. Izvestiya commented that the letter contains "absurdities," such as urging Yeltsin not to sign the START II treaty, which he signed in 1993. It also blasted the letter as a "manifesto" with a tone "akin to mutiny." The paper concluded that Yeltsin must discipline the unruly generals and admirals or else they may soon "move from words to deeds." -- Scott Parrish

Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov said on 21 January that while Russia is discussing a new relationship with NATO, it "maintains and will maintain a negative approach to NATO enlargement," Russian and Western agencies reported. He added that the NATO-Russia talks "cannot be regarded as a compensation for our acceptance of enlargement." Tarasov added that the next round of NATO-Russia talks would take place in February but gave no exact date or location. Izvestiya on 22 January cited NATO sources as saying that the latest Primakov-Solana meeting was much warmer than those held last year. It attributed this "sharp change of tack" to Moscow's desire to conclude an agreement with NATO before the alliance issues invitations to prospective members at its July summit. In contrast NTV argued that the press blackout imposed on the Primakov-Solana talks suggested the negotiations were proceeding "with difficulty." -- Scott Parrish

Acting U.S. Secretary of State Strobe Talbott arrived in Moscow on 21 January for talks on bilateral issues and European security, Russian and Western agencies reported. Talbott, one of the architects of U.S. policy toward Russia, will stay on as deputy secretary of state during President Bill Clinton's second term. He is serving as interim head of the State Department pending Madeleine Albright's confirmation by the U.S. Senate, expected on 22 January. Talbott's main goal is to finalize plans for the scheduled 5-7 February session of the Gore-Chernomyrdin commission, but he will also discuss the proposed NATO-Russia charter with his Russian interlocutors. -- Scott Parrish

Delegates from the 30 signatories of the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty gathered in Vienna on 21 January to discuss revising the Cold War-era accord, Russian and Western agencies reported. The talks are being held at Russia's request. Moscow has long argued that the treaty, based on the principle of establishing a stable military balance between NATO and the now defunct Warsaw Pact, has become obsolete. Russia would like to see the treaty's bloc ceilings on military equipment replaced with national limits, and also wants to modify the zonal restrictions it places on heavy weapons deployment. Such changes would help minimize the possible military consequences for Moscow of NATO enlargement. Despite some sympathy for the Russian position, Western diplomats have predicted that it could take two years to hammer out a revised treaty. -- Scott Parrish

More than 50 workers involved in clean-up operations after the Chornobyl nuclear disaster have been on hunger strike in Tula for more than a week to protest delays in the payment of social benefits, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 January. Nine of the hunger strikers have been hospitalized. The clean-up workers are owed three months' worth of pension payments and have not received compensation payments for damage to their health since March 1996. The local authorities have promised to address the issue, but the protest is continuing. The total debt to Chornobyl programs in Tula Oblast exceeds 300 billion rubles. Meanwhile, ORT reported on 21 January that health-care workers in Primore have begun a four-day strike to protest wage arrears and that teachers' strikes are continuing in 28 Russian regions; a national teachers' protest was held last week. -- Penny Morvant

Despite a good harvest last year--69 million metric tons, 9% up on 1995--three-quarters of Russia's farms ran at a loss in 1996, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 January. Nationally, the losses totalled 16 trillion rubles ($2.9 billion), and only in three of 89 regions (Krasnodar and Stavropol krais and Bashkortostan) was the farm sector profitable. The losses rose from 37 rubles per 100 rubles of output in 1995 to 100 rubles in 1996. Only 8.7 trillion rubles of the 13.2 trillion allotted in the 1996 federal budget for farm support were actually paid out. -- Peter Rutland

Several new personal taxes came into force on 21 January, ITAR-TASS reported. The law imposes a 15% tax on interest earned by individuals from bank deposits if the bank's interest rate exceeds the Central Bank's (TsB) refinancing rate (currently 48%) for ruble deposits or 15% for foreign currency deposits. Also, from now on insurance payments will be taxed if they exceed the premiums paid by the client. Likewise, low-interest loans will also be treated as taxable income. These measures are expected to bring some 400 billion rubles ($71 million) to the state coffers. The new law aims at preventing tax evasion: many firms have been paying salaries in the form of insurance payments, loans, and high-interest bank accounts. -- Natalia Gurushina

Georgian air traffic controllers have barred the military cargo planes that supply Russian peacekeepers in Abkhazia from flying in Georgian airspace because of Russia's $250,000 debt for air traffic services, RFE/RL reported on 21 January. An unnamed Russian air force official declined to say when the debt will be repaid. In other news, the Foreign Ministry of the self-proclaimed Republic of Abkhazia accused Georgia of planning "large-scale terrorist and sabotage attacks" in Gali, Tkvarcheli, and Ochamchira districts, according to an Interfax report monitored by the BBC. The ministry says that the Georgian State Security Ministry wants to prevent the Russian peacekeeping mandate from being extended by destabilizing the situation in the region on the eve of the upcoming CIS summit. -- Emil Danielyan

Azerbaijani Ecology Committee Chairman Arif Mansurov was dismissed by presidential decree on 19 January, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 January. Mansurov was detained by the police the same day while in hospital for heart problems. There has been no official explanation of his dismissal. However, several committee employees were arrested some time ago. -- Lowell Bezanis

National Center for AIDS Control and Prevention director Lev Zohrabyan said that an "AIDS chain reaction" is taking place in Armenia, Noyan Tapan reported on 21 January. Zohrabyan claimed that in 1996 there were 26 reported HIV-carriers in Armenia (three of whom have died) as opposed to only three reported HIV cases from 1988 to 1991. Zohrabyan blamed the situation on a lack of awareness, low living standards, migration, and prostitution. Also, Zohrabyan said the Armenian Health Ministry is now developing a program to tackle the problem. -- Emil Danielyan

The movement For Deliverance from Poverty in Kyrgyzstan on 21 January applied to become an official opposition bloc, RFE/RL reported. The Justice Ministry could take months to process the application. The movement argues that Kyrgyz governmental policies are responsible for wage arrears, a deterioration of social services, and falling standard of living. The movement held its founding congress in December 1996, after which one of its leaders, Jumagazy Usupov, was jailed for 15 days. Another founder of the new movement, Topchubek Turgunaliyev, was given a 10-year prison sentence after being found guilty of embezzlement in early January. -- Bruce Pannier and Naryn Idinov

IMF official Emine Gurgen has noted that Turkmenistan is making progress toward a market economy but must continue pushing forward with economic reform, RFE/RL reported on 21 January. She said that in the last year Ashgabat has shown an increasing awareness of the need to undertake such reforms and pointed to progress in several areas, including the establishment of a two-tier banking system, a reduction of inflation to 10-12% a month, a slowing production decline, and some liberalization of price controls. She said GDP declined by 4% last year. While gas production was said to have exceeded 1995 levels, it was more than offset by a sharp decline in agriculture due to poor cotton and grain harvests. Turkmenistan has been a member of the IMF since 1992. -- Lowell Bezanis

Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov opened a two-day UN-sponsored forum on Afghanistan on 21 January, international media reported the same day. Some 300 representatives of donor countries, UN agencies, and private relief groups are in Ashgabat to discuss how to maintain the flow of aid to Afghanistan and explore means of synchronizing aid and peace negotiations. In his address, Niyazov said Turkmenistan's "largest projects" are linked "to peace and stability in Afghanistan," Reuters reported. He specifically noted that his country is desperate for an international energy consortium to build a $2 billion gas pipeline that would run across Afghanistan to the Indian Ocean, a project he said could also greatly benefit the citizens of Afghanistan. -- Lowell Bezanis

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko said Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov could be declared a persona non grata in Ukraine, Ukrainian and international agencies reported on 21 January. Udovenko said Ukrainian law defines Luzhkov's "territorial claims" on Sevastopol as criminal, and suggested the parliament could act on the recommendation of its commission on international and CIS affairs and ban Luzhkov from entering the country. Udovenko said Ukraine's relations with Russia will not worsen despite Luzhkov's statements in Sevastopol on 17 January claiming that city legally belongs to Russia. He said Ukraine will continue to seek equality and neighborly relations with Russia, and expressed hope that when Russian President Boris Yeltsin recovers from his illness and returns to the Kremlin, "everything will return to its place." -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

A group of Ukrainian environmentalists has panned a project to construct an oil terminal in Kherson Bay, at the mouth of the Dnieper River on the Black Sea, calling it economically absurd and dangerous to nature, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 January. The environmentalists said reconstructing existing oil pipelines would cost $300 million less and allow the existing terminal and refinery in Kherson Bay
to work at full capacity. Another terminal is located in Odesa, several hundred kilometers to the west. The planned new terminal, with a projected annual capacity of 6-8 million tons of oil, has already attracted some $26 million of investment, 20% of that from the national budget. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

Russian Minister of CIS Affairs Aman Tuleev said on 21 January that Russia and Belarus would formally unite by the year 2000, AFP reported. Despite the concerns that Belarus would be an economic burden for Russia, Tuleev said that Russia would gain both politically and economically from such a union, as it would reduce the cost of shipping Russian oil and gas across Belarus to the West. Tuleev, who is the lone member of the Russian government drawn from opposition ranks and its strongest proponent of reintegration among former Soviet republics, said Russo-Belarusian integration will go ahead despite what Tuleev claimed is staunch U.S. opposition. The same day, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said his country could only unify with another state as an equal partner and would not become merely a region in another state. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

President Guntis Ulmanis held talks with the For the Fatherland and Freedom parliamentary faction on 21 January on its proposal that he nominate Economics Minister Guntars Krasts as the next prime minister, BNS reported. It appeared likely that that faction, together with Latvia's Way and the Democratic Party Saimnieks, with whom Ulmanis has not yet met, will form the basis of the new government. The Latvian Free Trade Union Association and Bank of Latvia President Einars Repse expressed support for renominating Andris Skele, who resigned the previous day. -- Saulius Girnius

A group of Polish experts working under the auspices of the Euroatlantic Association has estimated the cost of Poland's accession to NATO at around $1.5 billion, Polish media reported on 21 January. Through 2010, when planned restructuring of the country's military should be finished, annual costs associated with joining NATO will be about 4% of the 1995 defense ministry budget. Costs were calculated based on the costs of participating in the alliance and did not include the costs of modernization. According to Janusz Onyszkiewicz, former defense minister and the Association's chairman, Poland will modernize its military whether or not it is admitted to NATO. The report stresses that the estimation is very general and a more detailed evaluation will be possible only after entry negotiations are completed. Deputy Defense Minister Andrzej Karkoszka agreed that Poland can afford to enter NATO. Experts commissioned by the U.S. Congress estimated the costs of NATO entry for all four Visegrad countries at around $61 billion. -- Beata Pasek

A Sejm committee has approved a draft law regulating the return of property related to religious and charitable activities belonging to Jewish congregations prior to the end of the World War II, Polish media reported on 22 January. A commission made up of government and representatives of local Jewish communities will decide on the return of properties on a case-by-case basis. Pawel Wildstein, chairman of the Polish Association of Jewish Communities, said Jews are "moderately pleased" with the draft. Representatives of Polish Jews abroad -- who number about 1 million -- criticized the law for excluding them
from reclaiming property.
Poland had a population of 3.5 million Jews before the war; now some 1,500 Jews belong to nine communities. -- Beata Pasek

Czech Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and German Chancellor Helmut Kohl signed a joint declaration in Prague on 21 January that addresses mutual historical grievances and paves the way for better relations, Czech media reported. The Germans "recognize their responsibility and express sorrow for" the 1938-1945 Nazi occupation of the Czech lands, while the Czechs "express regrets" that the expulsion of some three million Sudeten Germans after World War II "caused much suffering and injustices to innocent people."
In return, Germany states unequivocal support for the Czech Republic's membership in the EU and NATO. Both sides also agree to ignore all future political and legal claims against each other arising from the past. In a speech at the signing ceremony, Kohl said: "We are asking for forgiveness and, at the same time, want to forgive." Klaus said the Czechs regret the expulsions took place but suggested the return of Sudeten Germans was no longer possible. Several hundred right-wing and leftist radicals staged a demonstration against Kohl's visit and the declaration. -- Jiri Pehe

A group of Czech and foreign physicians assembled to determine what kind of medical care Vaclav Havel needs following his recent lung cancer surgery announced on 21 January that the president is recovering quickly. The physicians decided that Havel does not need chemotherapy or radiation. The president will, however, need to undergo regular checkups. -- Jiri Pehe

Following revelations that large sums of state money were transferred to bank accounts of companies closely linked with the two coalition parties (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 January 1997), Prime Minister Gyula Horn rejected all allegations connecting his Socialist Party to corruption, Hungarian dailies reported on 22 January. Reacting to the opposition Democratic Forum's plans to initiate a no-confidence vote against the government in parliament, Horn said the opposition was merely making desperate efforts to bring down the cabinet. Both the Socialist Party and the Alliance of Free Democrats denied receiving money from the implicated companies. The investigation into the privatization scandal -- involving an unusually large payment to a consultant, allegedly on conditions that part of the money go to the two companies -- suggests the money was destined for election coffers, but the scandal erupted before it actually reached the parties' treasuries. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Serbia's Supreme Court ruled on 21 January that yet another town won by the opposition in 17 November municipal runoffs -- Smederevska Palanka, some 80 kilometers from Belgrade -- was in fact won by the ruling Socialists. It was the second such decision by a judicial organ in as many days. Meanwhile, the Justice Ministry issued a statement on 21 January saying there was no evidence of fraud or electoral improprieties in eight municipalities where the opposition Zajedno coalition scored victories but the Socialists claimed victory, Reuters reported. The eight centers are Kraljevo, Pancevo, Sabac, Jagodina, Vrsac, Soko Banja, Smederevska Palanka, and Pirot. While opposition leaders and supporters remain somewhat divided over just what the latest Justice Ministry statement means, it may represent another government effort to dishearten opposition demonstrations. Meanwhile, street demonstrations against the regime of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and calls for recognition of opposition wins in local elections continued. Nasa Borba reported on 22 January that students remained at the forefront of the protests and were standing "eye to eye" with a cordon of police officers who have prevented students from marching on Belgrade's main streets since 19 January. -- Stan Markotich

Jean-Marie Le Pen, leader of the French far-right National Front, met in Belgrade on 21 January with Vojislav Seselj, leader of the ultranationalist Serbian Radical Party, international media reported. Le Pen, who was invited by Seselj and is on a whirlwind Balkan tour, said Seselj's party protects and defends "near enough the same things that we defend," AFP reported. But some reports suggest Le Pen and Seselj may not have had a complete meeting of the minds. Le Pen expressed sympathy for the ongoing mass public demonstrations, while Seselj blasted the protesters, dubbing them dupes of the United States and Germany, Tanjug reported. -- Stan Markotich

The UN's special reporter for human rights, Elisabeth Rehn, said after a visit to the former Yugoslavia that Serbian-controlled Kosovo province is heading for "a real explosion, a fire. We can fear anything, even civil war," Reuters reported on 21 January. She said Washington is aware of the possibilities of "a new conflict," but Europe has been caught napping. Rehn was referring to the new campaign of assassinations by the shadowy Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) against prominent Serbs and Albanians regarded as collaborators (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 21 January 1997). Controversy persists among Albanians, Serbs, and outside observers alike as to what the UCK actually is and who is behind it, AIM news service added. The Serbian authorities have tried to link the Serbian opposition to the UCK, while some opposition leaders have suggested the group is a fictional cover for regime provocateurs. -- Patrick Moore

Croatian gangs evicted two more Muslims from their apartments in west Mostar on 21 January, bringing the total of such illegal moves to 82, AFP reported. Muslim and international officials have protested the often brutal evictions, but threats and cajoling by international representatives have come to nothing (see Pursuing Balkan Peace, 21 January 1997). Muslims control east Mostar, which is sandwiched between the traditional Serbian stronghold of eastern Herzegovina and the long-time Croatian bastion of western Herzegovina. The internecine war of 1993 generated bitter animosities between the Muslims and Croats, who had often been historic allies. The Muslims now charge the Croats with trying to expel remaining Muslims from western Herzegovina, while the Croats say the Muslims have destroyed Croatian communities in central Bosnia that date back to the Middle Ages. -- Patrick Moore

The governing body of the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) announced that its officials in the federal legislature and government will not carry out their functions pending a clarification or renegotiation of power-sharing arrangements with the governing Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA), Vjesnik reported on 21 January. The HDZ is an extension of the governing party in Croatia of the same name. It has its base among the more nationalistic Croats of Herzegovina rather than among the Croats of central Bosnia, who have traditionally lived integrated with Muslims and Serbs and are more pluralistic in their outlook. The HDZ claims the right to speak for all Croats, although the majority of Croats in Sarajevo did not vote for it. Smaller, non-nationalist parties accuse the SDA and HDZ of monopolizing power for themselves. In other news, the secretary to Roman Catholic Cardinal Vinko Puljic said Pope John Paul II plans to make a long-delayed visit to Sarajevo on 12-13 April. -- Patrick Moore

Republika Srpska Prime Minister Gojko Klickovic on 22 January reaffirmed that the Serbs will not send indicted war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic to The Hague. He charged that the tribunal there has an "anti-Serb prejudice," news agencies reported. The court's chief prosecutor, Louise Arbor, stated after visiting the region that she is "exploring all options ranging from the mildest to the most severe" to secure the extradition of dozens of indicted war criminals. She also said that more indictments will be handed down in addition to the current 74. -- Patrick Moore

Defense Minister Gojko Susak, Interior Minister Ivan Penic, and intelligence chief Miroslav Tudjman held talks in Serb-held eastern Slavonia with the UN's chief administrator for the region, Jacques Klein, Reuters wrote on 21 January. Susak is widely regarded as the second-most powerful man in Croatia, while Miroslav Tudjman is the son of President Franjo Tudjman. The three Croats made explicitly clear that the region will fully return to Croatian control by mid-July, as is slated under current agreements, Vjesnik reported the next day. The Serbs have sought a delay and have complained about the memorandum Croatia submitted to the UN on its policies for the region's future. Klein, however, praised the Croatian document, saying it goes farther than might have been hoped for. The Croatian delegation did not meet with local Serbs. Susak warned the Serbs there will be no new talks and said they should concentrate on becoming full-fledged Croatian citizens. In his annual state-of-the-nation address on 22 January, President Tudjman urged the Serbs to vote in the local elections scheduled for 16 March, Reuters wrote. -- Patrick Moore

French European Affairs Minister Michel Barnier said on 21 January that France supports Romania's bid to join NATO in the first wave of enlargement, Reuters reported. The French official was in Bucharest preparing for French President Jacques Chirac's visit to Romania next month. Chirac will be the first Western leader to visit Romania after the change of power last November. Barnier said he was impressed by the determined and responsible attitude of the new Romanian government toward the issue of NATO and EU integration. He expressed his belief that Romania "will be prepared to meet NATO requirements" for prospective members, expected to be nominated at NATO's July summit. -- Zsolt Mato

Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) leader Georgy Parvanov was elected chairman of the party's parliamentary faction on 21 January, Duma and Trud reported. He surprised many by apologizing to the nation for the current economic situation caused by the previous BSP government. When former premier Zhan Videnov took the BSP's leadership in 1991 he also apologized for the 45 years of communist rule, Trud noted. Union of Democratic Forces Chairman Ivan Kostov described Parvanov's move as a "step in the right direction," but said BSP's real apology would be to refrain from forming a new government. The BSP continues to insist on forming the next government, saying that postponement for 6 months of the urgent measures they plan to introduce would lead to a moratorium on payments on foreign debts. Vasil Kalinov, member of the BSP's Executive Bureau, said BSP local leaders urged the party to take a tougher approach toward the opposition and organize counter-rallies against the anti-Socialist protests, Reuters reported. -- Maria Koinova

Whatever the solution is to the current political crisis, priority should be given to solving economic problems, IMF representative Franek Rozwadowski said after meeting with newly sworn-in
President Petar Stoyanov on 21 January. Both Rozwadowski and Bulgarian economic experts meeting Stoyanov the same day said Bulgaria's economic situation is extremely grave, Pari and Demokratsiya reported. Rozwadowsky said that, for the IMF to aid in the establishment of a currency board, there must be a national consensus on the issue, a functioning parliament, and a constitutionally established government for the IMF to negotiate with. Opposition deputy and economic expert Alexander Bozhkov commented that a caretaker government with a two-month mandate from the president could negotiate with the IMF, but said the actual agreement should be signed by the government established by the parliament established after early elections. -- Maria Koinova

Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi announced on 21 January that he is setting up a commission to investigate get-rich-quick projects, Reuters reported. He said legislation will be drawn up based on its findings and sent to parliament by 27 January. "With this law we aim at giving a global solution for each case, so that everyone has the same compensation from the division of the properties of these companies," Meksi concluded. Recent days have witnessed angry protests by thousands of Albanians affected by the collapse of various pyramid schemes. Those protests have tended to become political as the opposition has accused the government of using the schemes for its own purposes. The authorities are clearly worried that protests in Albania could follow the examples of those in Serbia and Bulgaria (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 January 1997). -- Patrick Moore

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Tom Warner