Accessibility links

Breaking News

Newsline - February 4, 1997

Continuing a coordinated campaign of public diplomacy against NATO expansion, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told The Washington Post in an interview published on 4 February that NATO expansion will bolster the position of Russian nationalists who want armed confrontation with the West. "The West wants us to explain to our people that there is nothing to fear," said Chernomyrdin, adding, "How can we explain this? Nobody is going to listen to any explanations." Emphasizing that "I'm worried about what might happen in Russia," Chernomyrdin derided Western efforts "to comfort us" over the issue. He also hardened the Russian stance on a proposed NATO-Russia security agreement, terming an informal charter "unacceptable," and demanding that NATO sign with Russia a "binding treaty, with verification," pledging to transform itself from a defense alliance into a "political organization" that does not view Russia as a threat and potential adversary. -- Scott Parrish

Speaking at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland on 3 February, presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais declared that if NATO accepts new members without addressing Russian concerns, it would be "the biggest mistake the West has made in 50 years," Russian and Western agencies reported. In remarks he said were cleared with Yeltsin and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, Chubais, who rarely speaks out on foreign policy, warned that NATO expansion would trigger "serious changes" in European politics and force Russia to reconsider its attitude toward Western economic institutions. He argued that advocates of NATO expansion, "not understanding the real situation in Russia," were actually playing into the hands of "nationalists" and "anti-Western forces" in Moscow. Like Chernomyrdin, Chubais urged NATO to conclude a "legally binding" agreement with Russia before beginning enlargement. -- Scott Parrish

Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, who sponsored a resolution last month to remove President Boris Yeltsin on health grounds, told Ekho Moskvy on 3 February that the Duma will again consider the measure this week. However, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 4 February that the resolution, passed as a basis for further discussion on 22 January (see OMRI Daily Digest, 23 January 1997), will be revised before it is put to a final vote, and will merely ask Yeltsin to resign. Legal experts have mostly agreed that the Duma lacks the authority to dismiss the president for health reasons. Meanwhile, presidential Spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii announced on 3 February that other than his regular weekly meeting with Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin will hold few meetings this week, as he is working on his annual message to parliament, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. -- Laura Belin

Russian TV (RTR) Chairman Eduard Sagalaev threatened to sue current and former RTR executives who published a statement in the latest edition of Novaya gazeta accusing him of destroying the state-run television network, ITAR-TASS and Ekho Moskvy reported on 3 February. The disgruntled executives blamed Sagalaev for what they called the "utter commercialization and degradation" of RTR, Russia's Channel 2 broadcaster. One of the signatories, RTR News Programming Director Aleksandr Nekhoroshev, told Ekho Moskvy that Sagalaev had replaced valuable social and political programs with light entertainment. Moskovskii komsomolets reported on 4 February that Sagalaev, appointed RTR chairman in February 1996, may soon be sacked. Among his possible replacements are NTV President Igor Malashenko, RTR journalist Nikolai Svanidze, and political consultant Vyacheslav Nikonov. -- Laura Belin

A minor explosion damaged the official car of First Deputy Finance Minister Andrei Vavilov in central Moscow on 3 February, but no one was hurt, Russian and Western agencies reported. Vavilov's SAAB-9000 was standing empty near the ministry building when the blast damaged its windshield and door. ITAR-TASS quoted an investigator as saying the blast could have been a warning from private companies. Vavilov's duties have included authorizing banks to handle state funds. -- Penny Morvant

Second-round parliamentary elections will take place in 55 of 63 districts in Chechnya on 15 February, the Chechen Central Electoral Commission announced on 3 February. Field Commander Abubakar Magomadov was one of only four candidates who managed to win more than half of the votes in the first round, thereby earning a seat outright, ITAR-TASS reported. In the remaining four districts, the elections will be repeated because of various violations. The new parliament will be divided among a number of recently created and poorly defined political parties. -- Robert Orttung

Mikhail Timkin, deputy director of the state arms export company Rosvoruzehnie, told ITAR-TASS on 3 February that the firm has developed a "strategic plan" to expand Russian arms exports, which will allow Russia to overtake the U.S. in arms sales by 1998. Timkin said Rosvoruzhenie plans to market 200-300 of the most advanced Russian weapons systems, focusing on increasing sales in Asia, Latin America, and the Middle East. In an interview with Russian TV on 2 February, Rosvoruzhenie head Aleksandr Kotelkin said his agency was "very proud" of its recent sale of Mi-17 transport helicopters to Colombia, and confirmed that the controversial deal selling S-300 air defense missiles to Cyprus had been approved by President Yeltsin and would proceed despite international criticism. -- Scott Parrish

Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and his Mongolian counterpart Dambiin Dorligjav signed a military cooperation agreement for 1997 on 3 February, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, Izvestiya reported that although a 1993 bilateral military cooperation agreement has produced few results, Moscow now hopes to trade military aid for Mongolian support of Russian objections to NATO expansion. Meanwhile, the Russian Defense Ministry continues to face a serious financial crisis. Writing in Segodnya on 31 January, military commentator Pavel Felgengauer said the ministry's debts now total 34 trillion rubles ($6.1 billion), including 5 trillion in wages owed to servicemen. The paper said Rodionov personally oversees the allocation of limited funds among Russia's eight military districts, "according to the actual situation." Felgengauer said the ministry still hopes the financial crisis will convince the government to increase the military budget. -- Scott Parrish

Russia will launch two or three Eurobonds this year to pay wages and pensions, Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits said on 3 February. He added that the first, of DM 1 billion ($606 million), will be issued by the end of March, AFP reported. In November, Russia issued a five-year Eurobond offering a yield of 9.25% to raise $1 billion; the issue was twice over-subscribed. First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Ilyushin, meanwhile, said that in order to ensure the payment of current pensions the Finance Ministry and Russian Pension Fund have had to rethink a timetable agreed a week ago to pay off the bulk of pension arrears in February and March, ITAR-TASS reported. The new agreement postpones the settlement of much of the debt to April-June, Segodnya reported on 1 February. According to Pension Fund Chairman Vasilii Barchuk, the debt to pensioners should fall from 17.1 trillion rubles to 14.5 trillion by the end of February. -- Penny Morvant

First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin said that the 1997 privatization revenue target of 6 trillion rubles ($1.1 billion at the current exchange rate) is too high and will be difficult to meet, ITAR-TASS and Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 3-4 February. Potanin, recently appointed head of the government commission on collecting privatization revenue for the federal budget, argued that setting targets at the beginning of the year is "unproductive" since attempts to meet them may cause conflicts over sales of equity stakes in certain companies. Potanin proposed instead increasing other types of revenue, such as taxes on production and sale of alcohol, which could net 10-12 trillion rubles a year. -- Natalia Gurushina

Employees of the Norilsk Mining and Metallurgical Plant (NGMK) have expressed no-confidence in the management of their parent company Norilsk Nikel and the Moscow-based ONEKSIMbank, which holds a controlling interest in Norilsk Nikel, ITAR-TASS and Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 3-4 February. The workers are demanding that Norilsk Nikel pay 1 trillion rubles ($180 million) in wage arrears, increase the minimum wage to 500,000 rubles, and increase the wage compensation coefficient for working in the northern region. They threatened to call for the dismissal of Norilsk Nickel and NGMK management and the revocation of ONEKSIMbank's controlling interest in Norilsk Nikel if their demands are not met by 20 February. Norilsk Nikel officials say the company's ability to solve the wage problem is limited, since tax police sequestered 626 billion rubles worth of output in July 1996. -- Natalia Gurushina

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze arrived in Paris for a three-day state visit on 3 February, Western media reported. Following talks with his French counterpart Jacques Chirac, Shevardnadze was quoted as saying Georgia welcomes France's intention to conduct an "active policy" in the Caucasus and Georgia was "moving in the direction" of the European Union but had no ambitions to join NATO because "no one would take it seriously." Chirac suggested Paris intends to support Tbilisi's bid to join the Council of Europe. -- Lowell Bezanis

Armenian parliamentary Speaker Bakken Ararktsyan held talks with top Iranian officials in Tehran from 1-3 February, Iranian and Western media reported. Ararktsyan's Iranian counterpart, Ali Akbar Natek Nuri, was quoted by Iranian media as saying the two sides had reached "important decisions," including the construction of a pipeline to carry Iranian gas to Armenia. No further details were given. Iranian Vice President Hasan Habibi reiterated Tehran's standing offer, which is anathema to Azerbaijan, to mediate in the Nagorno-Karabakh dispute. Ararktsyan voiced hopes that the recently formed Iran-Armenia joint committee would speed up implementation of existing agreements and that joint ventures in gas, tire manufacturing, transport, and petrochemicals would be established in the future. -- Lowell Bezanis

A Dushanbe court on 3 February found 30-year-old Aleksandr Gayurov guilty of murdering two Russian soldiers in February 1995 and sentenced him to be shot, NTV reported. Gayurov's lawyer says his client received a "cursory and unprofessional trial" and plans to appeal. In a related story, the Russian magazine Itogi on 4 February published a poll on the presence of Russian soldiers in Tajikistan. According a VCIOM survey of 1,600 Russians, 20% said the troops should remain, 12% said their number should be increased, 50% wanted them pulled out, and 18% had trouble answering the question. Russian soldiers make up the core of both the 201st Motorized Division and the CIS peacekeeping force in Tajikistan. During the last two years more than 60 have been killed, many away from the scenes of fighting. -- Bruce Pannier

A leader of the Kazakh Free Trade Unions Confederation, Leonid Solomin, warned the government that if wage arrears are not paid soon strikes could sweep the country, Reuters reported on 3 February. Solomin noted that 254 miners at the Achisaysky non-ferrous metals plant in Kentau have occupied administrative buildings since mid-January demanding their unpaid wages, which now total 40 million tenge ($500,000). Solomin said many had not been paid for eight months and some for as long as two years. Teachers in Kazakstan's northern Semipalatinsk Region are threatening to strike later this week. Total wage and pension arrears are estimated to be approaching $1 billion. President Nursultan Nazarbayev has several times ordered the problem to be solved, but some fear that a sudden payment of the outstanding wages will drastically devalue the country's currency. -- Bruce Pannier

The Internews network on 3 February announced the creation of the Chris Gehring Memorial Fund to aid journalists in Central Asia. Gehring, 28, was the head of an Internews project in Kazakstan until he was found murdered in his Almaty apartment on 9 January. The fund will be used to continue Gehring's work, and will include an annual prize for journalists and a legal defense fund for journalists working in the area. Internews, a non-profit organization, provides assistance to more than 100 independent electronic media organizations in Central Asia. -- Bruce Pannier

In his first official trip to Ukraine on 2-3 February, Michael Portillo urged Ukraine to seek a special relationship with NATO, Western agencies reported. In talks with Ukrainian National Security and Defense Council Secretary Volodymyr Horbulin and Defense Minister Oleksander Kuzmuk on the first day, Portillo said that a special partnership agreement could be worked out before the next NATO summit in July during which the first candidates for NATO membership are likely to be announced. The partnership entails cooperation, but is not full NATO membership. The next day he met with Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko and gave a speech at the Ukrainian Defense Ministry in which he said that the partnership agreement would guarantee Ukraine's "sovereignty and integrity." -- Saulius Girnius

After an hour-long meeting with Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius on 3 February, President Algirdas Brazauskas accepted the resignation of Rolandas Matiliauskas, Radio Lithuania reported. When Matiliauskas submitted his letter of resignation last month (see OMRI Daily Digest, 24 January 1997), Vagnorius asked the procuracy to investigate his then unrepaid low-interest loan from the Kreditas Bank. Although nothing irregular was discovered, Matiliauskas was arraigned on 31 January on criminal charges of embezzlement and foreign currency violations. Vagnorius said that he would name a replacement soon, -- Saulius Girnius

Polish Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said in a radio interview on 4 February he has accepted the resignation of Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Grzegorz Kolodko. The Polish press on 4 February reported that Kolodko submitted his resignation on 24 January. Cimoszewicz said President Aleksander Kwasniewski, would also accept the resignation and Kolodko would be replaced by President Aleksander Kwasniewski's economic adviser, professor Marek Belka. -- Jakub Karpinski

France's Charles Millon, Volker Ruehe of Germany, and Stanislaw Dobrzanski of Poland ended a two day meeting in Warsaw on 3 February and signed a document providing for the three armed forces to hold annual military exercises and creating a special military coordinating group to oversee the links between the members of the Weimar Triangle, consisting of France, Poland, and Germany. The German and French ministers assured Warsaw that its NATO entry bid was on track despite Russian opposition. At a joint news conference after the signing, Ruehe made clear that the first candidates for NATO entry, widely expected to include Poland, would be invited to start talks at a NATO summit in Madrid on July 8 and 9, whether or not the Western alliance had reached an arrangement with Russia by then. -- Jakub Karpinski

Bohumil Hrabal, considered one of the greatest Czech writers of the 20th century, died on 3 February in tragic accident, Czech media reported. Hrabal, who was 82 years old, fell out of a fifth-floor hospital window while attempting to feed pigeons on the window sill. Hrabal had been in the hospital since December for back pain. Hrabal's works have been translated into many languages. The film adaptation of his book, Closely Observed Trains, won the Oscar for best Foreign Film in 1967. Under the communist regime, Hrabal was allowed to publish some of his books; others were widely distributed via samizdat publications. -- Jiri Pehe

Hungary on 3 February appealed to Slovakia to approve a long-delayed minority language law, Reuters reported. Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said that by delaying the law's passage, Slovakia is contravening commitments to its Hungarian minority and to the Council of Europe. Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar and other government officials promised to approve the legislation after the parliament passed a controversial law on the Slovak language in November 1995. However, the minority languages bill has yet to be placed before parliament, and the Slovak nationalities council on 21 November voted against the approval of such a law. Although that Slovak language law took effect at the beginning of last year, its actual implementation was delayed until 1 January 1997. In recent days, controversy has centered over the fact that Hungarian-language schools have begun to issue grade reports only in Slovak, although bilingual versions had been issued by such schools since 1921, Sme reported on 1 February. -- Sharon Fisher

Opposition representatives met on 3 February, agreeing to work together to renew parliamentary democracy in Slovakia, TASR reported. They criticized the methods of the ruling coalition parties, which aim to "strengthen their own power" and confirm that the ruling coalition does not have an interest in creating real conditions for Slovakia's entry into NATO and the EU. The opposition also accused Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar of not having a real interest in holding multiparty talks. In other news, parliament chairman Ivan Gasparovic announced on 3 February that he will not respond to the U.S. Helsinki Commission's complaint about the stripping of deputy Frantisek Gaulieder's parliamentary seat (see OMRI Daily Digest, 29 January 1997). He said that the Slovak Constitutional Court must first decide on the issue. -- Sharon Fisher

Laszlo Kovacs on 3 February told Reuters that Russia's opposition to the enlargement of NATO was based on an obsolete view and dismissed as "nonsense" the idea that enlargement to include the Central European states posed a threat to Moscow. Kovacs also said that the accession of those who are widely considered the most advanced to join the organization would not turn over the military balance in the region. According to Kovacs, both by ruling out early membership for the Baltic States and by stating it had no intention of stationing nuclear weapons in Central Europe, NATO had taken away the biggest reasons for Russia to feel threatened. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Serbian opposition leaders on 3 January called for peaceful resistance in the face of police crackdowns to the continuing protests. Vuk Draskovic, head of the Serbian Renewal Movement and Zajedno leader, urged "We must all turn into a river of non-violent resistance...All schools and faculties must close, we must not pay any taxes and bills and we must all go on strike. They are taking money from the citizens to pay the police who beat the people," Reuters reported. Meanwhile, reports from 3-4 February continued to circulate of police beatings, albeit on a scale which did not reach that of the previous evening. Nasa Borba on 4 February, meanwhile, reported on the magnitude and severity of the police crackdown on that night of 2-3 February under the headline "The Police Beat Whomever They Could." -- Stan Markotich

A flood of international criticism has greeted Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and his government for the decision to employ violence against peaceful protests. State Department Spokesman Nicholas Burns deplored "the most serious use of force [on 2-3 February]" and called "on the Serb police and the Serb authorities led by President Milosevic to exercise restraint in the streets of Belgrade," Reuters reported on 3 February. Meanwhile, U.S. charge d'affaires Richard Miles met Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic on 3 February to "condemn" the police violence and "to call upon the Serbian government officially to refrain from using police force in the streets of Belgrade." But for his part, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic attended a state medal awards ceremony in which high ranking officials, including police dignitaries, were honored, international media reported. -- Stan Markotich

Mirko Tankosic, deputy head of the Office for Transitional Administration in eastern Slavonia, told the Croatian pro-government daily Vjesnik on 4 February that the local Serb leadership has decided to break off all contacts and cooperation with Croatian government representatives. Tankosic said the break will possibly last until 5 February, when the Serb "regional assembly" will meet and decide on a future political direction. The local Serb TV station, Beli Manastir, reported on 3 February that local Serb leadership is very disappointed by the UN Security Council's decision to endorse the Croatian government's letter of intent for reintegration of eastern Slavonia into the rest of Croatia. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Five people on 2 February entered the premises of the independent Sarajevo magazine Dani and tried to evict its staff, Onasa quoted a press release by the Sarajevo Canton Interior Ministry. Claiming they owned the premises, the five threw tear gas canisters and attacked the magazine's deputy editor in chief, Ozren Kebo. Police arrested the perpetrators and said charges would be filed against them. In other news, another cab-driver was murdered in Vogosca, a Sarajevo suburb, on 2 February, following the murder of a cab-driver at suburb of Ilidza several weeks ago, Onasa reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

In response to the public warning by indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic that a Serbian loss of Brcko could lead to war (see OMRI Daily Digest, 3 February 1997), Colum Murphy, the spokesman for the international community's High Representative Carl Bildt, said: "Dr. Karadzic's statement threatening war over Brcko is an outrageous provocation. Dr. Karadzic has made a major mistake. He will not only not be allowed to fan the flames of war, but by such outrageous statements he has hastened the day when he will be able to comment only from The Hague. We will also demand of our colleagues of the international community that indicted war criminals should go sooner rather than later to the Hague tribunal," reported AFP. Bosnian co-Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic said, however, that the international community deserved Karadzic's remarks "because they left those war criminals running around freely for so long." -- Patrick Moore

The Republika Srpska's Information Ministry, AFP continued, denied the whole story, which ran in the Greek daily, Elevtheros Typos: "At the most delicate moment in the process of arbitration ... [the paper] inexplicably carried out an invented interview with Radovan Karadzic. [The text runs] completely contrary to the positions of the Republika Srpska regarding war and peace, the Dayton agreement, and the arbitration itself. Having transferred all his powers to [Republika Srpska President] Biljana Plavsic on 30 June 1996, Radovan Karadzic has not made any public appearances, nor has he authorized anybody to put forward any views in public on his behalf, particularly not views contrary to the official Serb position." Regarding Brcko, the Bosnian Serb leadership has relied primarily on quiet diplomacy in recent weeks, although on 16 December, Plavsic also raised the specter of war should the arbitration go against the Serbs. The Greek journalist, for his part, contended that the interview took place on 25 January, and his paper published a photo of the interview in progress. -- Patrick Moore

President Emil Constantinescu is scheduled today to meet with NATO Secretary General Javier Solana for talks on Romania's bid to join the alliance, international agencies reported. After meeting with Constantinescu, European Commission President Jaques Santer said on 3 February that the EU has been encouraged by progress in Romania since the November 1996 elections. The EU's Foreign Affairs Commissioner, Hans van der Broek, said after talks with Constantinescu that the EU nations should release some $80 million in aid for Romania, which had been blocked when the former government failed to meet its pledge for reforms. He also said that the commission will "give a willful ear" to a $640 million program for aiding those likely to be hardest hit by the envisaged reforms.
-- Zsolt Mato

Responding to Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's opposition to Romania joining NATO without previously recognizing the existing borders (see OMRI Daily Digest, 3 February), Foreign Minister Adrian Severin said Kuchma's attitude was "unsuitable" and amounted to "blackmail," the daily Jurnalul national reported. He emphasized that his country has no territorial claims on Ukraine. Adrian Nastase, deputy chairman of the opposition Party of Social Democracy in Romania, said the present leaders' change of policy toward a Romanian/Ukraine treaty was "worrying." Nastase added that the treaty should not be concluded "at any price." The leader of the extreme nationalist Greater Romania Party, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, said his party's very denomination indicated its position and "we would rather forego the conclusion of the treaty than recognize the abandon of those ancient Romanian lands." At that price, he added, "we do not understand why we should join NATO at all." -- Zsolt Mato

Exiled King Michael has been invited to visit the northeastern Romanian city of Iasi by its mayor, Constantin Simirad, Romanian television reported on 2 February. Simirad said he sensed there was still "reluctance" on the part of the government to the king's visit and thus wanted to test declarations that the former monarch could visit the country at any time. The promise, first made by Foreign Minister Adrian Severin shortly after the new government had been sworn in, was reiterated by the secretary general of the main coalition member, the National Peasant Party Christian Democratic. King Michael's citizenship was revoked by the communists after his forced abdication in 1947 and has never been restored to him.
-- Dan Ionescu

The Transdniester Supreme Soviet has refused to approve the new government proposed by the breakaway region's president, Igor Smirnov, BASA press reported on 3 February. On 30 January, the legislature proposed nominating a first deputy premier, who should become prime minister following an amendment to the existing constitution. Under the present basic law, Transdniester's president is also prime minister. -- Dan Ionescu

Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) premier-designate Nikolay Dobrev on 3 February announced the lineup for his government, RFE/RL reported. Dobrev will present his cabinet to President Petar Stoyanov on 4 February, and a confidence vote in the parliament is scheduled for the following day. The government includes two deputy premiers: Georgi Pirinski, who returns to the Foreign Ministry, and newly-appointed Social Affairs Minister Nikola Koychev. More than half of the portfolios will be headed by new ministers, including interior, defense, industry, and justice. Gen. Sava Dzhendov will become interior minister, while Gen. Lyuben Petrov will take over defense. Finance Minister Dimitar Kostov, Foreign Trade Minister Atanas Paparizov, and Agriculture Minister Krastyo Trendafilov are among the key ministers who will keep their post. Dobrev said he will announce the ministers of economic development and of education at a later date. A BSP plenary meeting passed the new lineup with 146 votes to 7. -- Stefan Krause

Protests against the formation of a new BSP government and for early parliamentary elections intensified on 3 February, Reuters and AFP reported. Traffic came to a virtual standstill in Sofia and Plovdiv as public transport workers struck and students and protesters blocked main intersections. In Sofia, 15 students were injured by angry drivers. Some 20,000 people demonstrated in the capital. Bus and train services were suspended, while roads were blocked throughout the country. Road and train links to Greece were blocked for a 6th consecutive day. Union of Democratic Forces Chairman Ivan Kostov said the protests will continue until early elections are called. Strike organizers said Sofia public transport will go on an indefinite strike if the parliament approves the new government. Meanwhile, Dobrev warned that "peaceful protests are understandable, but civil disobedience is outside the law." National Police Chief Hristo Marinski called on Stoyanov and politicians to find a way of keeping the protests peaceful. -- Stefan Krause

Opposition parties, newly united in a "Forum for Democracy," dismissed the invitation of President Sali Berisha for round table talks of about 20 political parties and organizations. Instead, they renewed demands for the government's resignation, Reuters reported. "The Forum is not in favor of a technical solution as advanced by this round table but for a political solution," senior Socialist Party leader Pandeli Majko said, adding that "we have already declared that the first step for a political solution is the resignation of the government." The Social Democratic Party accused Berisha of staging a public relations exercise. Elsewhere, 24 more demonstrators have been formally charged with public offenses in Lushnje and Berat. -- Fabian Schmidt

Some 350,000 distraught investors are scheduled to receive partial refunds on 4 February. Five schemes have folded in the past three months, but compensation has been announced only for two pyramid schemes whose assets were seized in state banks. Bankers told state television that investors in the Populli scheme would get back 60% of their stake, while payments from the Xhaferri scheme would start a day later. Depositors would be free to choose between cash or government certificates, which could be exchanged later. A top official in the Gjallica pyramid scheme has been arrested on fraud charges. The crisis has put pressure on the lek currency, which has lost 30% of its value against the dollar since January. Last week, it sank to 135 lek to the dollar, rallied at the weekend, but fell again on 3 February to 120. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Valentina Huber