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Newsline - February 10, 1997

Eighteen economic agreements were signed at the eighth meeting of the U.S.-Russian Joint Commission on Economic and Technological Cooperation in Washington, D.C. on 8 February, international agencies reported. They included a joint declaration on regional initiatives in Russia, which is expected to boost foreign investment in Russia's regions. The previous day, U.S. Vice President Al Gore and Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin attended the ceremonial signing of a joint-venture deal between the U.S. oil firm ARCO and Russia's LUKoil. LUKoil will own 54% of the venture and ARCO, 46%. Russian Deputy Finance Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and U.S. Deputy Treasury Secretary Lawrence Summers on 8 February signed an agreement to spread the repayment of Russia's $2.3 billion debt to the U.S. over 25 years. -- Natalia Gurushina

President Bill Clinton will meet his counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, in Helsinki on 20-21 March, according to an announcement in Washington by Vice President Gore. The fact that the venue has been moved from the U.S. to Finland suggests that Yeltsin is not healthy enough to make the long flight to North America. Gore also said that the U.S. is ready to begin START III talks and that preliminary discussions are already under way, AFP reported. The Congress has ratified START II, but the Russian State Duma has not. -- Robert Orttung

At the request of President Yeltsin, Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin held a joint press conference on 7 February to discuss military reform, international media reported. The conference was aimed at dampening speculation that the two men have serious differences of opinion over the direction, speed, and funding of reform (see OMRI Daily Digest, 28 January 1997). Baturin advocated a three-stage program, which Rodionov said he fully supported. The first phase, to 2000, would entail a reduction in manpower; the second phase, 2001-2005, would deal with "qualitative issues"; and the third phase, after 2005, would include large-scale rearmament. According to Rodionov, the size of the armed forces will be cut by 200,000 to 1.5 million by 1998. Both men emphasized their good relationship, but Rodionov admitted they disagree on how to resolve "certain technical problems." -- Penny Morvant

Former presidential bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov on 9 February won the Tula State Duma seat that former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed gave up after he joined the presidential administration last year, NTV reported. According to preliminary results, Korzhakov took 26% of the vote in the 10-candidate race, while his main rival, former Duma member Eduard Pashchenko (Russia's Democratic Choice), received 17%. World chess champion Anatolii Karpov, a candidate backed by the presidential administration, finished third with 16%. The turnout was about 43%. On the eve of the vote, the Tula regional court revoked the registration of Yelena Mavrodi, wife of notorious financier Sergei Mavrodi. The court ruled that Mavrodi's campaign had used illegal sources of financing. -- Anna Paretskaya in Moscow

The Duma adopted a draft amnesty for Chechen fighters on 7 February by a vote of 263-27, ITAR-TASS reported. The amnesty covers a limited number of Russian citizens who committed crimes connected with the Chechen war between 9 December 1994 and 1 September 1996, AFP reported. It does not apply to the June 1995 Budennovsk or January 1996 Pervomaiskaya raids carried out by Chechen field commanders Shamil Basaev and Salman Raduev, respectively. It also does not apply to serious crimes such as banditry and terrorism. Communist Duma member Viktor Ilyukhin supports the current limited scope of the amnesty, while Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii wants to expand it to cover additional offenses, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 8 February. The Duma will review the issue again within the next two weeks. -- Robert Orttung

About 20 State Duma deputies, mostly from the left-wing Popular Power, Agrarian, and Communist factions, are forming a group called the Russian Industrial Union, Russian media reported on 7 February. Its main organizers are Duma deputies Vyacheslav Zvolinskii, Ivan Anichkin, and Leonid Kanaev. Zvolinskii said the new group would defend the interests of industry and stand for "less politics, more professionalism" in parliament, Kommersant-Daily reported. The Russian Industrial Union does not yet have the 35 deputies needed to register officially as a faction, but if it attracts enough deputies, the existence of the Agrarian and Popular Power factions could be threatened. Duma Deputy Speaker and Yabloko member Mikhail Yurev participated in organizing the new group; he denied accusations from Communists and Agrarians that deputies were offered thousands of dollars in bribes to join, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 8 February. -- Laura Belin

In an abrupt turnaround, Eduard Sagalaev, chairman of the state-run network Russian TV (RTR), submitted his resignation to the Kremlin on 10 February, ITAR-TASS reported. The agency said TV journalist Nikolai Svanidze, who currently hosts RTR's Sunday analytical program "Zerkalo," is expected to replace Sagalaev. Last week, a group of current and former journalists at the network accused Sagalaev of financial abuses and poor programming decisions at RTR (see OMRI Daily Digest, 4 February 1997). Sagalaev threatened to sue his critics, charging that the accusations were part of a campaign to get him fired. -- Laura Belin

Viktor Staroseltsev, a scientist at the Nalchik Mountain Geophysics Institute, has reportedly committed suicide out of despair over his financial situation, according to ITAR-TASS on 7 February. It was not clear from the reports how Staroseltsev died, but he did leave a note saying he had decided to take his life because he had not been paid in months and could no longer support his family. Last year, a top physicist committed suicide because he was unable to pay salaries to the employees of his research institute (see OMRI Daily Digest, 31 October 1996). --
Nikolai Iakoubovski

The IMF has disbursed two tranches of the $10.1 billion Extended Facility Fund, withheld in November and December of 1996, to the Russian government, AFP and Reuters reported on 7-8 February. An IMF statement notes that the tranches, worth $647.2 million, were released "on the basis of the achievement of monetary and fiscal targets for December 1996, the continued appropriate conduct of credit policy, as well as effort to improve tax collections and the implementation of several structural reforms." The IMF also welcomed the recent introduction of licensing for alcoholic beverages and the cut in the list of electric power consumers to whom supplies cannot be halted even if they fail to settle their energy bills. -- Natalia Gurushina

Effective on 10 February, the Central Bank (TsB) cut its annual refinancing rate from 48% to 42%, ITAR-TASS reported on 7 February. According to TsB First Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Khandruev, the decision was motivated by a continuing fall in inflation (the increase in the rate of inflation in January 1997 was caused mainly by seasonal factors) and yields on state short-term securities (GKO-OFZ), which now average 30%. The cut is expected to stimulate investment by making credits more accessible to financial institutions and industrial enterprises. This is the sixth cut since February 1996, when the refinancing rate was lowered from 160% to 110%. -- Natalia Gurushina

Contrary to recent reports (see OMRI Daily Digest, 6 February 1997), the Russian pipeline company Transneft intends to abide by the January 1996 Russian-Azerbaijani intergovernmental agreement to transport Caspian Sea oil from Baku to Novorossiisk, according to Turan on 7 February, citing Transneft deputy president Sergei Ter-Sarkisyants. Ter-Sarkisyants explained that transportation will begin only in May 1997 rather than during the first quarter because of the situation in Chechnya. Talks on the optimum schedule for Azerbaijan's Caspian oil exports are due to begin in Moscow on 10 February between Transneft representatives and the presidents of the Azerbaijan State Oil Company, Socar, and the Azerbaijan International Operating Company. -- Liz Fuller

Azerbaijan's security services recently arrested "dozens" of people who had allegedly planned a wave of terrorist bombings in Baku as a prelude to assassinating President Heidar Aliev and seizing power, Security Minister Namik Abbasov told ITAR-TASS on 7 February. The investigation located two caches of arms and communications equipment in Gyanja and Sumgait as well as hideouts for rebel armed units in the northern raion of Belokany, near the border with Georgia. Abbasov claimed that the unidentified plotters were acting on orders from former President Ayaz Mutalibov. -- Liz Fuller

Iran on 9 February lifted a nine-year suspension on rail traffic to the Azerbaijani exclave of Nakhichevan, AFP reported on 9 February quoting IRNA. Speaking at a reception on 7 February to mark the 19th anniversary of the Iranian Revolution, Iranian Ambassador to Azerbaijan Alirza Bikdeli said that a gas pipeline from northern Iran to Nakhichevan will begin operating next year. Bikdeli also said that he could neither confirm nor deny that former Azerbaijani Prime Minister Suret Huseinov, who fled Azerbaijan after being accused of an unsuccessful coup attempt in October 1994, is currently in Iran, Turan reported on 7 February. -- Liz Fuller

Saidamir Zuhurov was taken hostage in Afghanistan on 7 February, after arriving in the Obigarm region of that country to negotiate the release of several other hostages, including Russian journalists and UN workers, Russian and Western media reported. The hostages are being held by outlaw Tajik field commander Bahrom Sadirov, who is demanding the release of his brother, Rezvon Sadirov, who was initially reported to have been a hostage of Afghan field commander Ahmed Shah Masoud. However, other reports say that Rezvon Sadirov is in fact fighting the Afghan Taliban movement alongside Masoud. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov met Masoud in the Tajik city of Kulyab on 9 February in an attempt to resolve the situation. -- Bruce Pannier

Following a wave of kidnappings in Tajikistan targeted against employees of the UN, Red Cross, Russian media, and Tajik government, a number of organizations working in Tajikistan have either scaled back their personnel in the country or pulled out entirely, Western media reported. The Red Cross has left only a skeleton crew in Tajikistan, and on 8 February the UN sent 50 expatriate staff to Uzbekistan. The UN convoy heading west also included workers from UNICEF, the World Health Organization, and the World Bank. Even UN Special Envoy to Tajikistan Gerd Merrem has left for Uzbekistan. Most of the groups have stressed that they have only temporarily departed from the country. -- Bruce Pannier

The chairman of the Kazakstani Federation of Independent Unions, Gennadii Nikitin, has appealed for aid from international humanitarian organizations, AFP reported on 9 February. Nikitin says that there is widespread famine in Kazakstan and that more than one-third of households have no heating, electricity, or gas. Unpaid workers are striking in several northern regions. The AFP report claims people are resorting to shooting dogs for food. "Mothers of families are coming to me asking for Kalashnikov assault rifles to attack the authorities," Nikitin said. -- Bruce Pannier

Uzbek President Islam Karimov on 6 February applauded the country's economic achievements but also noted that corporate debt and slow agricultural reform continue to pose problems, according to an 8 February Narodnoe slovo report monitored by the BBC. Karimov said the "main task of 1996" has been achieved--namely, halting the fall in production and registering economic growth. Without providing detailed figures, he said GDP rose last year by 1.6%, industrial output by 6%, consumer goods production by 8.1%, and foreign trade turnover by 1.4%. He also noted that foreign investment doubled to more than $825 million. Karimov said the main task for 1997 will be to build up a middle class of property owners, who will form the "bedrock" of the state. He also called for an end to Soviet-era hostility to wealth and private property. -- Lowell Bezanis

Turkmenistan has called for an early summit of the Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO), according to a 7 February Turkmen TV report monitored by the BBC. Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov wants his counterparts from Afghanistan, Azerbaijan, Iran, Pakistan, Turkey, and the five Central Asian states to meet this year in Ashgabat to discuss regional pipeline schemes and measures for expediting their construction. The ECO's next summit is currently scheduled for late 1998. -- Lowell Bezanis

Ukraine has won Iranian industrial orders worth $52 billion after a week-long visit by an Iranian delegation headed by the country's industry minister, Reuters reported on 9 February. Tehran ordered metallurgy products worth $26.5 million and railway locomotives and carriages worth $25.5 million. Kyiv officials said Ukraine wants to buy Iranian oil and gas to ease its dependency on Russian imports, but because of a shortage of pipelines and terminals, the deal has not been signed. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko said last week that Ukraine, in trading with Iran, would not violate international restrictions and complained of excessive speculations on Ukraine's ties to Iran. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma appointed former Crimean Parliament Speaker Vasyl Kyselyov presidential representative in Crimea, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 February. Kyselyov, elected speaker last October, was dismissed by the Crimean parliament on 6 February. Meanwhile, about 200 delegates participated in Crimea's Russian community assembly in Simferopol. The assembly called on ethnic Russians in the Crimea to unite to defend their rights and national interests and to preserve and promote Russian culture. The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry said a visit to the Crimea by Russian Duma deputies Sergei Baburin and Georgii Tikhonov would be "undesirable" and might lead to an "invigoration of the separatist movement." Baburin and Tikhonov were invited to participate in the assembly. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

The Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) repeated on 7 February its call for Belarus to restore democratic institutions and renewed its offer to mediate the country's political crisis, Reuters reported. OSCE Chairman and Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Peterson said in a statement released in Vienna that neither the preparation for last year's plebiscite, nor the new constitution, which gives sweeping powers to Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, lives up to democratic standards. Peterson urged the Belarusian government to restore respect for democratic principles, enter into dialogue with the opposition, and ensure free media. The statement also expressed Peterson's personal doubts that the government would respond positively. -- Sergei Soldovnikov

Government delegations in Tallinn on 7 February initialed an agreement that would allow residents of both countries, even if they relocate to the other country, to continue receiving pensions, child support, medical services, and compensation for work-related accidents, ETA reported. Another agreement on mutual recognition of certification of goods was also initialed that day. Trade volumes between the two countries increased by 171.4% in 1996 compared to 1995, due primarily to the implementation of a free trade agreement in March 1996. The agreements are to be signed during Prime Minister Tiit Vahi's visit to Kyiv later this month and will go into effect after ratification by both parliaments. -- Saulius Girnius

A Warsaw court has ruled that Poland should not extradite a Chinese couple wanted in China for allegedly embezzling about $1 million, Polish and international media reported on 8 February. In August 1996, the Mandugeqis were arrested in Warsaw on an international arrest warrant issued by Chinese authorities in 1994--a year after the couple left the country. The court said it has seen evidence proving the couple's guilt, but Poland will allow extradition only to countries that respect human rights, which is not the case in China. The couple faces punishments banned by international conventions, therefore extraditing them would violate international human rights laws. Poland could face charges in the European Court of Human Rights were it to go ahead with extradition, the judge said. The judge added Poland has no extradition treaty with China to provide a legal basis for deportation. The prosecution has seven days to appeal the verdict. -- Beata Pasek

A conference of 300 delegates of the co-governing Social Democracy of the Polish Republic (SdRP), the descendant of the communist party, approved a party platform, Polish media reported on 10 February. According to Jozef Oleksy, SdRP leader, the main platform planks are "lasting and stable democracy, efficient and open economy, and a just and united society." It also denounces the Stalinist period of postwar Polish history but does not include a condemnation of the government's conduct during the events of 1968, 1970, 1976 and 1980-1981, proposed by Oleksy. Delegates rejected another Oleksy proposal to stress the importance of the 1989-1993 reforms by post-Solidarity governments for current economic successes. -- Beata Pasek

Rail workers called an end to their strike on 8 February after five days of interrupted service, Czech media reported. Deputy Prime Minister Josef Lux, who replaced Transportation Minister Martin Riman at the negotiating table, was able to reach an agreement with the trade unions representing the striking workers. Under the agreement, the government will present a blueprint for reforming the country's transportation system by 31 May. The unions will be consulted. The government rejected the unions' demand that it recall Czech Railways General Director Rudolf Mladek. Union representatives, however, said they were hopeful Mladek would be recalled following an in-depth inspection of the ailing railway system. Such an inspection is to take place under the agreement. -- Jiri Pehe

Around 20 policemen blocked a demonstration of 300 members of anarchist and anti-fascist organizations protesting repeated attacks on Romanies in Prievidza, a town in central Slovakia, CTK reported on 7 February. The demonstration was illegal, as its organizers failed to fulfill all the requirements for holding a demonstration. After an attack on the demonstrators by dozens of skinheads, who threw empty bottles and stones, police attempted to separate the two groups. According to a member of "For Mother Earth," dozens of demonstrators were wounded by police as well. The organizers sent a letter to Interior Minister Gustav Krajci claiming that the police failed to move against skinheads but "brutally beat" participants of the anti-racism demonstration. The police chief of Prievidza said the police acted within the limits of the law. -- Anna Siskova

A report by the parliamentary commission investigating last fall's privatization scandal says that then-Privatization Minister Tamas Suchman exerted political pressure on the staff of the State Privatization and Holding Company (APV) to hire the outside consultant, Marta Tocsik, who has been in the center of the controversy, Vilaggazdasag reported on 10 February. Following revelations of an illegal payment transfer to Tocsik's account by the APV last fall, Suchman denied any responsibility for hiring Tocsik and gave contradictory statements on other details as well. The report goes on to say that the government is guilty for letting the prime minister appoint the APV's board and chairman. The commission's final report is expected within two weeks. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The parliamentary caucus of the junior coalition party, the Alliance of Free Democrats, reelected party chairman Ivan Peto on 9 February as head of the caucus, Hungarian media reported. Peto was the sole candidate as more than ten others nominated for the post declined the nomination. Peto offered his resignation as party chairman after a major privatization scandal erupted last fall, implicating both coalition parties, but was asked to stay by the party's executive council. Now, with falling popularity ratings and continuing discussion over whether the party should quit the coalition with the Socialists, leadership positions have become quite unpopular within the Alliance of Free Democrat ranks. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The southern Bosnian city Mostar has been rocked by 12 explosions in recent days, international and local media reported. The explosions began on 3 February, and four blasts were reported in western districts of the city in the following days, with seven more on 6 and 7 February, AFP reported. There have been no casualties. Croat leaders quickly blamed Muslim extremists, and the former mayor of the Croat held part, Mijo Brajkovic, said events in Mostar mirrored the fragile state of the Muslim-Croat Federation. "...There is a defect on all of this; something is not functioning," AFP reported. Brajkovic threatened that unless the international community's representatives do something to end the violence, local people will. But Muslim leaders said the explosions were the work of extremists trying to divide the city. The explosions follow a wave of evictions of non-Croats from the city. Evictions reportedly continued on 7 and 8 February, Onasa reported on 9 February. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Just ahead of a slated 11 February parliamentary discussion on a bill that will allegedly recognize opposition victories in municipal elections, leaders of the opposition Zajedno coalition cautioned once again that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic may not be entirely sincere about recognizing the opposition wins from the 17 November runoffs. Leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement Vuk Draskovic summed up the mood, saying protests against the government would continue and that "we must never trust their [Socialists'] word, because those who stole our votes could have fixed a new [ruse] ... caution, caution, caution," Radio B92 reported on 9 February. Meanwhile, the ultranationalist leader of the Serbian Radical Party, Vojislav Seselj, has indicated that he may be the catalyst for nullifying the substance of any legislation recognizing Zajedno. He said he would "definitely" demand "a constitutional court evaluation" of the legislation, Radio B92 reported. -- Stan Markotich

Nevertheless, the flamboyant accused war criminal, Seselj, is also, at least for the record, disavowing any formal cooperation with the ruling Socialist Party of Serbia (SPS). Responding to what he called "news ... from the anti-Serb press," Seselj addressed the question of SRS members joining the cabinet of Serbia's Premier Mirko Marjanovic, Nasa Borba reported on 10 February. Because Marjanovic is reportedly planning a cabinet restructuring at the legislative session on 11 February, that restructuring, remarked Seselj, must not be taken to mean the SRS will join the premier's coalition. Asked about membership in government, Seselj said: "He didn't ask me [to join], nor would I." -- Stan Markotich

About 500 Serbs marched through Vukovar on 7 February for the third straight day. They are concerned about their status once eastern Slavonia reverts to Croatian control in July. Croatia, for its part, has submitted a document to the UN Security Council outlining the Serbs' future rights, and the UN authorities have praised the text. The Serbs are still arguing for territorial autonomy, which has been rejected by both the UN and Croatia. Croatian media have suggested that the purpose of recent violent incidents and other protests in eastern Slavonia has been to block reversion to Croatian control. Local Serb judicial officials nonetheless met with Croatian Justice Minister Miroslav Separovic and agreed to begin implementing Croatian laws, news agencies added. Croatian local elections are slated for 16 March and President Franjo Tudjman has urged Serbs to obtain Croatian papers in time to vote. -- Patrick Moore

A team of international and Croatian doctors issued a statement on President Franjo Tudjman's health via Health Minister Andrija Hebrang on 7 February. They said that the "diagnosed stomach disorders have ceased and swelling in the lymph nodes has considerably diminished," Hina and Reuters reported. The previous week, Tudjman gave an interview to CNN and described reports that he has terminal cancer as "exaggerated." When Tudjman spent a week at Washington's Walter Reed Army Hospital in November, U.S. diplomats told CNN that he has inoperable stomach cancer and perhaps only months to live. -- Patrick Moore

The Albanian Foreign Ministry on 9 February protested the appointment of OSCE High Commissioner for National Minorities Max van der Stoel as special OSCE envoy for Kosovo. A spokesman said the fact that van der Stoel would hold both positions would complicate his chances of success. The Kosovar shadow-state leadership argued that the appointment of van der Stoel meant that the OSCE was treating the Kosovo conflict as a national minority issue, rather than as an international conflict. It also refused to meet van der Stoel as long as he holds his current position. The Kosovars refuse to be treated as a national minority within Serbia. -- Fabian Schmidt

Corneliu Vadim Tudor, leader of the chauvinist
Greater Romania Party, on 7 February sharply attacked President Emil Constantinescu over statements made during his recent West European tour, Radio Bucharest reported. Tudor "firmly condemned" Constantinescu's statement that Romania has no territorial claims against Ukraine. He demanded that the president be suspended from office and impeached for high treason. Romania and Ukraine have been unable to sign a basic bilateral treaty because of a disagreement over northern Bukovina and southern Bessarabia, territories annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940 and currently part of Ukraine. -- Dan Ionescu

Adrian Paunescu, the former poet laurate of late dictator Nicolae Ceausescu, announced on 9 February that he has resigned from his post as first deputy chairman of the Socialist Labor Party, the heir to the communist party in Romania, local media reported. His decision came in response to widespread criticism from his own party's ranks as well as from other leftist forces over his participation in the presidential election last November. -- Dan Ionescu

The court of appeals in Bucharest on 7 February decided to extend an arrest warrant for Miron Cosma, the leader of the Jiu Valley miners, Romanian and international media reported. Cosma, who was detained last month for his role in the 1991 riot that toppled Petre Roman's government, described the action taken against him as a "political frame-up." Some 2,000 miners on 8 February staged a rally of solidarity with Cosma in the town of Petrosani. The meeting was reportedly marred by violence. -- Dan Ionescu

A new political formation was set up on 8 February in the Republic of Moldova to promote President Petru Lucinschi's political platform, BASA-press reported. The Movement for a Democratic and Prosperous Moldova is headed by Deputy Speaker Dumitru Diacov. It sees itself as a centrist organization with some affinities with both the moderate left and right. -- Dan Ionescu

President Petar Stoyanov on 12 or at the latest on 14 February will issue a decree to dissolve Bulgaria's parliament and set a date for early parliamentary elections, Demokratsyia reported on 8 February. Stoyanov will form a caretaker government, which is expected to be led by Sofia Mayor Stefan Sofiyanski. In other news, an 8 February Bulgarian Socialist Party's Supreme Council plenum decided t{oet the 4 Febràoery move to return the mandate in order to form a second government was the right move to solve the political crisis and to keep the country's civil peace, the paper Duma reported. -- Maria Koinova

About 50 people were injured in the morning of 10 February in Vlora on the sixth consecutive day of rioting following the collapse of pyramid schemes. An angry crowd of about 5,000 people attacked about 100 riot police and managed to isolate about 20. The crowd pursued them, beat them, stripped off their uniforms and seized guns, helmets, and shields. It appeared that the policemen were then let go, but the uniforms and equipment were burned in the center of town, international agencies reported. The previous day, one man died from a heart attack and at least 40 were injured during clashes with riot police. The injury tolls on both sides during these days were the highest since cheated investors launched anti-government protests on 15 January. In Fier, on 9 February, protesters set up road blocks and burned cars and tires. Meanwhile, Gjallica scheme Director Fitim Gerxhalliu and his 11 managers were arrested and charged with fraud. -- Fabian Schmidt

The opposition Forum for Democracy has called for two hours of peaceful daily protests, following the model of the Belgrade opposition. On 8 February, police detained and badly beat some of the organizers on their way to a banned demonstration in Tirana's Skanderbeg Square. They included communist-era dissidents Kurt Kola and Fatos Lubonja, and Socialist Party leaders Rexhep Mejdani and Kastriot Islami. On 9 February, uniformed men beat Democratic Alliance leaders Neritan Ceka, Prec Zogaj, Arben Demeti, and journalist Ilir Keko. Koha Jone protested the 11th day of detention and beating of its reporter Roland Beciraj, who had covered rioting in Korca. Elsewhere, another journalist, Artan Cela, was beaten by bodyguards of the VEFA pyramid company, after reporting that VEFA President Vehbi Alimucaj was robbed in Permet. Arben Puto of the Albanian Helsinki Committee called for international support, saying, "it is important to have a few words from abroad condemning the violence, and a few words of encouragement for the opposition." -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Valentina Huber