YELTSIN NOMINATES FEDOTOV FOR CONSTITUTIONAL COURT.
Yeltsin on 13 February nominated Mikhail Fedotov to fill the vacancy in the
19-member Constitutional Court created by the departure of Chairman Vladimir
Tumanov, who has passed the age limit for judges, ITAR-TASS reported. As a
student, Fedotov was thrown out of Moscow State University in 1968 for
participating in the human rights movement but was later allowed to study at
the university's night school. During the 1970s, he worked as a journalist.
After earning a graduate decree at the All-Union Law Correspondence Institute
in 1976, he stayed on as a member of the faculty. From 1990-1992, he served as
deputy press minister, and from 19921993, as press minister. Since 1993,
Fedotov has been Russia's representative to UNESCO. He holds a doctorate in
legal studies and helped draft Soviet and Russian laws on the media and social
organizations. -- Robert Orttung
INITIAL REACTION TO FEDOTOV APPOINTMENT.
NTV pointed out that the
initial ITAR-TASS reports stated that President Yeltsin had appointed Fedotov
to the position of Constitutional Court chairman. Those statements were later
withdrawn since the justices themselves must elect their chairman. Many of the
court's current members do not support Yeltsin, and the president may be
concerned that the post-Tumanov court will be more aggressive in attacking his
nearly unlimited decree power. The station claimed that Fedotov has
"practically no chance" of being confirmed by the Federation Council. Ekho
Moskvy on 13 February expressed lukewarm suport for Fedotov but added that he
sometimes puts his ambitions before the truth. -- Robert Orttung
YELTSIN SLAMS ATTEMPTS TO AMEND CONSTITUTION.
In his 14 February radio
address, President Boris Yeltsin rejected any attempts to amend the 1993
constitution, describing them as "premature" and "irresponsible." He defined
the constitution as the "core of the new Russian statehood" and "the foundation
of balanced relations between the branches of power, and between the federal
authorities and regions." He said that the constitution could be amended in the
future, but that there "should be no haste about this." The Communists have
long sought changes to the country's basic law, and even Federation Council
Speaker Yegor Stroev has recently spoken out in favor of change. The president
reiterated earlier statements that working pensioners would not lose their
pensions, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Robert Orttung
DUMA FAILS TO ASK YELTSIN TO STEP DOWN.
With a vote of 271-39 and 14
abstentions, the Duma on 14 February adopted a resolution calling on the Health
Ministry and President Yeltsin's doctors to release a report on his health
before 1 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Only 208 deputies supported Communist
deputy Viktor Ilyukhin's proposal asking the president to step down. A measure
needs 226 votes for approval. -- Robert Orttung
MOSCOW SPELLS OUT BALTIC POLICY.
The Foreign Ministry's director of
foreign policy planning, Vadim Lukov, said on 13 February that Russia wants the
Baltic states to stay outside of any alliances and maintain a policy of
neutrality, ITAR-TASS reported. Russia wants to base its relationship with
Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia on "economic cooperation, the "indivisibility"
of each state's security, and respect for human rights and national
minorities," he said. He defined the Baltic states as a buffer zone against the
expansion of NATO. He stressed that it is unacceptable to try to protect the
security of other countries while creating a "strategic risk" to the security
of Russia. -- Robert Orttung
MASKHADOV REFUSES SEAT ON FEDERATION COUNCIL.
Having reaffirmed his
commitment to reinforcing Chechnya's independence at his inauguration on 12
February, Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on 13 February said he would not
take his seat in the Federation Council, ITAR-TASS reported. Maskhadov will
serve as prime minister of the new Chechen government as well as president. On
15 February, runoff elections are to take place in 46 constituencies and repeat
elections are scheduled in two constituencies. -- Liz Fuller
YELTSIN SIGNS COSSACK DECREES.
President Yeltsin signed decrees on 12
February confirming the charters of the Zabaikal, Siberian, and Terek Cossack
communities, ITAR-TASS reported the following day. The decrees place the
Cossack groups in state service. Their units will be subordinated to Russian
military institutions, such as the Defense Ministry, the Interior Ministry, and
the Federal Border Service, and they will receive weapons from the state.
According to NTV, there are now 12 regional Cossack organizations and one
federal one in Russia. -- Penny Morvant
KULIKOV TO TACKLE ECONOMIC CRIME.
Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov
said after a meeting with Yeltsin on 13 February that the president has given
him "carte blanche" to combat economic crime. Kulikov assumed responsibility
for economic offenses when he was appointed deputy prime minister on 4
February, Russian media reported. He advocates the introduction of
"personalized" customs stamps to allow investigators to trace imported goods
more easily and has proposed that truck drivers be required to carry detailed
delivery schedules and register with the traffic police, Rossiiskie
vesti reported on 14 February. At a 13 February cabinet session devoted to
revenue-raising measures, Kulikov called for a revision of federal and local
tax breaks and a ban on the introduction of new exemptions by the executive. An
ITAR-TASS report released the same day showed that a high percentage of checks
run by the Federal Tax Police Service and the State Tax Service in 1996
revealed violations, but less than 1,400 people were convicted for tax evasion.
-- Penny Morvant
MORE LABOR UNREST THREATENED.
The wage debt to Russian workers now
stands at almost 50 trillion rubles, Mikhail Shmakov, chairman of the
Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR), told ITAR-TASS on 13
February. He added that the debt to pensioners was about 15 trillion. According
to Shmakov, the FNPR will discuss a nationwide protest scheduled for 27 March
at a meeting on 27 February. -- Penny Morvant
ENERGY PRICES FOR HOUSEHOLDS TO GO UP.
Fuel and Energy Minister Petr
Rodionov said that beginning on 1 April 1997 energy prices for households will
increase and those for industrial users will go down, ITAR-TASS reported on 14
February. He noted that the bulk of energy subsidies for households goes to
wealthy individuals who have bigger flats and use more electrical equipment.
According to the Fuel and Energy Ministry, 10% of the richest Muscovites
receive 50% of energy subsidies in the city. The government's aim is to
gradually increase energy prices to individual consumers in order to cover the
costs of energy production and distribution. A State Statistical Committee
survey shows that regional energy prices for households in Russia vary from
4,800 rubles ($0.85) per 100 kW/hour in Irkutsk to 25,500 in
Petropavlovsk-Kamchatskii, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 February. -- Natalia
DUMA ASKS GOVERNMENT TO POSTPONE PRIVATIZATION OF ROSGOSSTRAKH.
The Duma has asked the government to postpone the privatization of
Rosgosstrakh (Russian State Insurance Company) until it resolves the problem of
restoring the value of insurance premiums paid before 1 January 1992, ITAR-TASS
reported on 12 February. The company had just completed a closed sale of a 20%
equity stake. It was sold to 55,000 new shareholders for more than 2 billion
rubles ($354,000). The company intends to sell a 30% stake to top Rosgosstrakh
officials for 3 billion rubles. The remaining shares are expected to be offered
publicly for 250-260 billion rubles, which will be transferred to the budget as
privatization revenue. -- Natalia Gurushina
FOREIGNERS INVEST $6.7 BILLION IN GKOs.
A spokesperson for the Central
Bank (TsB) said that foreign investment in Russian state short-term securities
(GKOs) has reached $6.7 billion, Delovoi mir reported on 13 February.
The liberalization of access to this segment of the financial market and the
market's stabilization are making it increasingly attractive for foreign
investors. First Deputy TsB Chairman Aleksandr Khandruev said that falling
inflation and declining GKO yields (which now average 30%) should make it
possible to bring the TsB's annual refinancing rate to 20%-25% (down from 40%
at present) by the end of 1997, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 February. -- Natalia
NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL IN BAKU.
Javier Solana arrived in Baku on 13
February for talks with Azerbaijani Defense Minister Safar Abiev, Foreign
Minister Hasan Hasanov, and President Heidar Aliev, ITAR-TASS and Western
agencies reported. Aliyev told Solana he is anxious that NATO "do everything
possible" to guarantee Azerbaijan's security, according to Reuters. Aliyev also
said that he wants NATO to help secure a settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh
conflict, but ITAR-TASS quoted Solana as stating that the Nagorno-Karabakh
issue could be solved within the parameters of the OSCE Minsk Group
negotiations. -- Liz Fuller
OPPOSITION LEADER WARNS AGAINST ARMENIA'S LOSS OF "REAL" INDEPENDENCE.
Speaking at a meeting of some 700 ethnic Armenians in the Iranian city of
Esfahan, former presidential candidate and National Democratic Union (AZhM)
leader Vazgen Manukyan warned that Armenia may lose its "real political
independence" because of the current regime, Noyan Tapan reported on 13
February. Manukyan alleged three clans led by President Levon Ter-Petrossyan's
elder brother Telman, Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisyan, and Yerevan Mayor Vano
Siradeghyan control almost the entire Armenian economy. The AZhM leader said
that the united opposition will exert "civilized" pressure on the government to
secure early, free, and fair elections at all governmental levels. -- Emil
Russia has weighed in on the tug-of-war pitting
Turkmenistan against Azerbaijan over the Chirag and Guneshli offshore Caspian
Sea oil fields, RFE/RL reported on 13 February. Citing Russian media sources,
the agency noted that Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennadii Tarasov said
Moscow does not accept Turkmen claims and continues to view the Caspian Sea as
the common property of the five littoral states. He also reiterated Russia's
view that a temporary legal mechanism legitimizing offshore activity be put
into effect until the sea's legal status is determined. -- Lowell Bezanis
CHRISTIANS REPRESSED IN UZBEKISTAN?
An 11 February editorial in The
New York Times listed Uzbekistan among 11 countries where Christians are
"enduring great religious persecution." The commentary was based on research
conducted by Nina Shea, director of the Puebla Program of Freedom House. The
other countries on the list are China, Sudan, Pakistan, North Korea, Saudi
Arabia, Vietnam, Egypt, Nigeria, Cuba, and Laos. -- Lowell Bezanis
EBRD LOAN TO UZBEKISTAN.
The EBRD has granted a credit line of $120
million to Uzbekistan to develop the country's banking sector, ITAR-TASS
reported on 13 February. The medium-term credit is expected to go to the
National Bank of Uzbekistan and the Asaka-Bank financial company. The credit
comes after Uzbekistan fully repaid its first three-year loan of $60 million,
the agency reported. -- Lowell Bezanis
MORE AGREEMENTS SIGNED BY TURKMENISTAN, IRAN.
Saparmurad Niyazov's two-day visit to Tehran yielded five agreements on
cooperation in transport services, trade, railroad building, dam construction,
and environmental protection, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 February. A joint
communique issued by Niyazov and his Iranian counterpart Ali Akbar Hashemi
Rafsanjani pointed to positive trends in bilateral relations, stressed the
importance of promoting regional interaction within the Economic Cooperation
Organization (ECO), urged the international community to increase humanitarian
aid to Afghanistan, and acknowledged the need to continue the inter-Tajik
talks. -- Lowell Bezanis
UN OBSERVER REPORTED EXECUTED IN TAJIKISTAN ...
An ITAR-TASS reporter
being held hostage in Tajikistan by the Sadirov brothers was allowed to call
her office in Moscow to report that one of the other hostages, a UN observer,
was executed on 13 February, according to international media. Neither the UN
nor Tajik authorities could confirm the report. The two brothers, Bahrom and
Rezvon Sadirov, had demanded that 40 of their men in Afghanistan be granted
free passage to Tajikistan. It is unclear whether the government fulfilled the
demand. According to some reports, the men were flown by helicopter to the
Kulyab area of Tajikistan on 13 February, but the Sadirov brothers say that no
one was on board the helicopters. Other reports say that the men were attacked
by troops loyal to Afghan Gen. Ahmed Shah Masoud as they attempted to board the
helicopters in Afghanistan. Five of the Sadirovs' men and six of Masoud's men
were reported to have been killed in an exchange of fire. -- Bruce Pannier
...TAJIK AUTHORITIES MOVE TO AVOID FURTHER BLOODSHED...
President Imomali Rakhmonov has announced that he is prepared to go to the
scene of the ongoing hostage crisis, now in its 10th day, according to
international press. At the moment, Tajik Defense Minister Sherali Khairulloyev
is in the area negotiating with hostage-taker Bahrom Sadirov. The Tajik
government has announced that it is prepared to meet all of the Sadirov
brothers' demands in order to achieve a peaceful resolution to the crisis. --
... AND RUSSIA HAS STRONG WORDS FOR TAJIK KIDNAPPERS.
Prime Minister Vitalii Ignatenko urged Bahrom Sadirov in a phone conversation
to "act like a man. You cannot hold women, journalists, and foreigners,"
Russian media reported. After speaking with President Rakhmonov, Russian Prime
Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said he may send Defense Minister Igor Rodionov to
Tajikistan. Russian Minister for the CIS Aman Tuleev, who just returned from a
previously scheduled trip to Tajikistan, said: "The (Sadirov band) are all on
drugs and their actions are unpredictable. They should be destroyed like mad
dogs." -- Bruce Pannier
CRIMEAN PARLIAMENT ELECTS NEW SPEAKER.
Crimean legislators have elected
Anatolii Hrytsenko as their new speaker, international agencies reported on 13
February. Hrytsenko is a former local administration head from eastern Crimea
and is in favor of close links with Kyiv. "The new Crimean parliament
leadership share and accept the policies of the Ukrainian president and
parliament," Hrytsenko said after his appointment. Last week, Crimean deputies
removed Hrytsenko's predecessor, Vasyl Kyselyov, on charges of authoritarian
tendencies. Kyselyov had spent only four months in office. In other news,
Volodymyr Zaskoka--a member of the Anit-Crime Coalition caucus, which is headed
by Kyselyov--beat the deputy head of the parliament's secretariat Petro
Morgunov, UNIAN reported on 12 February. Morgunov had to be hospitalized. --
UKRAINE, RUSSIA SIGN CONVERSION MEMORANDUM.
Director-General of the Ukrainian National Space Agency Oleksandr Hehoda,
Ukraine and Russia have signed a memorandum on converting Ukraine's SS-18
missiles, Ukrainian Radio reported on 13 February. International agreements
call for the destruction of the missiles, but experts argue they can be used
for peaceful purposes, including the simulation of satellite launches. --
DECREE ON DECLARING INCOME IN BELARUS.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka
on 12 February signed a decree ordering citizens to declare incomes and assets,
Belarusian TV reported. The decree is aimed at protecting the state's economic
interests and stopping corruption. Citizens must declare monetary and other
incomes over the past year, as well as all properties, including homes,
garages, apartments, land, vehicles, and valuables worth more than 200 minimum
wages (the equivalent of some $1,000). If tax inspectors or other control
bodies are dubious about a citizen's income, they may call upon that individual
to come to their offices and undergo an audit. -- Ustina Markus
BELARUSIAN DEMOCRATIC TRADE UNIONS PICKET JUSTICE MINISTRY.
the Belarusian Congress of Democratic Trade Unions (BCDTU) began picketing the
Ministry of Justice earlier this week to protest the ministry's refusal to
register it as an organization, Belapan reported. The BCDTU was founded by the
Free Trade Unions of Belarus, the Free Trade Union of Metal Workers, the
Democratic Trade Union of Transport Workers, and the Trade Union of Belarus.
Executive director of the BCDTU Anatol Gurynovich claims that the reasons for
the ministry's refusal are political, since one of the congress's co-founders
was behind the strike in the Minsk metro in summer 1995. He said that the BCDTU
is picketing the ministry in order to defend the constitutional rights of the
30,000 or so congress members, who, he said, are not being allowed to take part
in the "social partnership" between the government, the unions, and employees.
The protesters also plan to hold a demonstration and picket the presidential
administration. -- Sergei Solodovnikov
ESTONIA'S RULING COALITION PROPOSES NEW CANDIDATE FOR PREMIER.
Coalition Party and the Country People's Alliance bloc of farm parties have
nominated Mart Siimann, deputy head of the Coalition Party, for prime minister,
ETA reported on 13 February. A decision on whether to broaden the coalition or
remain a minority government will be made after other parties have been
consulted about their opinions on Siimann. The Progress and Reform Parties have
already said they consider Siimann a suitable candidate. No decisions will be
made until President Lennart Meri returns from a five-day visit to France on 16
February. Prime Minister Tiit Vahi has not yet submitted his official
resignation to Meri, who is required to nominate a new candidate to replace
him. -- Saulius Girnius
NEW LATVIAN GOVERNMENT APPROVED.
The Saeima has approved Andris Skele's
new government, BNS reported on 13 February. As in the previous cabinet, five
caucuses (with a total of 73 deputies) have portfolios as well as the support
of the For People and Justice caucus. Skele will serve as finance minister
until a suitable candidate from the Democratic Party Saimnieks (DPS) can be
found. The only other major change in the government lineup is that the DPS has
the education and science portfolio, which was previously granted to the For
the Fatherland and Freedom caucus. Skele has reversed his earlier decision to
abolish the state minister posts and has appointed Eriks Zunda of the DPS as
state minister for local government affairs. -- Saulius Girnius
POLISH RULING PARTY PROPOSES REFERENDUM ON NATO ENTRY.
Social Democracy of the Polish Republic (SdRP) has calls for a referendum on
membership in NATO, Polish media reported on 14 February. Izabela Sierakowska
of the SdRP said objections against Poland's entry to the EU and NATO were
raised by many delegates to the party congress last weekend (see OMRI Daily
Digest, 10 February 1997). Deputy Defense Minister Andrzej Karkoszka and
Foreign Affairs Minister Dariusz Rosati responded by saying such a referendum
is superfluous since the overwhelming majority of Poles are clearly in favor of
NATO membership. According to former Foreign Affairs Minister Andrzej
Olechowski, SdRP leaders are pandering to the more conservative party members
by proposing a referendum. A January poll by the Public Opinion Research Center
(OBOP) showed support for NATO and EU at 90% and 88%, respectively. These are
the highest figures for any country in the region. -- Beata Pasek
CZECH GOVERNMENT TO IGNORE INTERPELLATIONS.
Czech Prime Minister Vaclav
Klaus told the lower chamber of the Czech parliament on 13 February that
ministers will not respond to interpellations in protest at statements made by
deputies of the ultra-right Republican Party, Czech media reported. "Statements
have been made here that would be punishable under criminal law, if they had
been made outside the parliament," said Klaus. Republican Party deputy Rudolf
Smucr had commented that the government--which is defending the Czech-German
declaration--consists of "members of foreign nationalities, namely, Jews,
Poles, and former Sudeten Germans." The government has asked the Immunity and
Mandate Committee of the Parliament to deal with the Republicans. It has also
discussed the possibility of banning the Republican Party. -- Jiri Pehe
SLOVAKIA TO HOLD NATO REFERENDUM.
The parliament on 14 February approved
the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia's (HZDS) proposal for a
referendum on NATO membership, Slovak media reported. The draft proposal asks
Slovaks three questions: if they favor Slovakia's entry into NATO, if they want
nuclear weapons to be stationed on Slovak territory, and if they are agreed to
having military bases in Slovakia. The opposition strongly opposes the last two
questions, which, it says, are aimed at prompting Slovaks to vote "no" to NATO
membership. Also on 13 February, the parliament approved a law on the
nationalist cultural organization, Matica slovenska, stressing its
"decisive role" in boosting patriotism and developing local and regional
culture. A bill was also passed extending the ban on the privatization of
Slovakia's four biggest financial institutions until 31 December 2003. Finally,
in a second round of voting, opposition candidates again failed to gain seats
on the parliamentary committees overseeing the secret service and military
intelligence (see OMRI Daily Digest, 12 February 1997). -- Sharon
SLOVAK POLITICAL ROUNDUP.
In a FOCUS opinion poll released on 13
February, more than 65% of respondents said they would welcome direct
presidential elections, TASR reported. Nineteen percent support presidential
elections through the parliament. HZDS Deputy Chairman Arpad Matejka told CTK
on 13 February that his party wants to hold separate talks with each
parliamentary party to discuss changes in the electoral system and the date of
the next parliamentary elections. In other news, the Slovak government has
appointed Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Sergej Kozlik of the HZDS as its
representative on the board of the National Bank of Slovakia, TASR reported on
13 February. Kozlik, however, has no voting rights on the NBS board. Last week,
the Slovak cabinet appointed former Finance Ministry State Secretary Jozef
Magula to the NBS board, a move that could endanger the bank's independence. --
SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTRY CONDEMNS HUNGARIAN CRITICISM ...
Foreign Ministry on 13 February issued a statement saying it considers "the
increasingly critical statements" made by Hungarian politicians about Slovakia
to constitute an "ongoing campaign that casts doubt on the real situation of
the Hungarian minority," CTK reported. The statement also says that the
criticism is even more surprising since "it comes from a country that has not
been able to provide conditions for the survival of national minorities on its
own territory." The main problem is not the situation of Hungarians in Slovakia
but rather "Hungary's minority policy in relation to the Hungarian minorities
abroad," the statement claimed. -- Anna Siskova
... WHILE HUNGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER TRIES TO AVOID "WAR OF WORDS."
Laszlo Kovacs said in response to the Slovak Foreign Ministry statement
that Hungary does not want a "war of words" with Slovakia and is striving for
improved bilateral relations, international media reported. He added that
Budapest wants to resolve disputes in line with European standards, noting that
while Hungary recognizes the general progress in bilateral relations, it cannot
ignore issues affecting minority rights. The two countries' foreign ministers
are scheduled to meet next month in Bratislava to discuss controversies in
bilateral relations, including the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dam dispute and a
minority language law in Slovakia.
-- Zsofia Szilagyi
BRCKO DECISION PUT OFF ...
The international arbitration commission,
meeting in Rome on 14 February, announced that it cannot yet rule on the fate
of the strategic north Bosnian town, news agencies reported. Brcko will instead
be placed until March 1998 under international supervision headed by an
American, and the EU will oversee local elections that will be held "soon."
More SFOR troops will be sent into the area to provide better security. The
international community's High Representative Carl Bildt said: "We are not yet
convinced that any of the candidates are sufficiently stabilized to take on the
situation. It is very possible that the outcome could be that Brcko could
become a special district of Bosnia-Herzegovina." In the days leading up to the
announcement, there had been numerous leaks to the press suggesting that Brcko
would be assigned to the Serbs. -- Patrick Moore
... AS SFOR PREPARES FOR THE WORST.
Each side has threatened war
should the other be granted control over Brcko, and Muslim leader Alija
Izetbegovic said on 13 February he will resign if Brcko goes to the Serbs,
Oslobodjenje reported. U.S. SFOR troops cut off roads to the town, news
agencies added. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright tried to reassure the
Croats and Muslims, who have recently staged anti-American protests. Brcko was
the one territorial issue so sensitive that it was not resolved in the Dayton
agreement at the end of 1995. Both the Serbs and the Croat-Muslim federation
want it because it is a transportation hub, but it is vital for the Serbs since
it and the narrow corridor around it connect the eastern and western halves of
the Republika Srpska. The Muslims and Croats also want to reverse the wartime
"ethnic cleansing." -- Patrick Moore
MOSTAR REMAINS TENSE.
Herzegovina's principal town remained under tight
control by peacekeepers on 13 February, following a series of incidents earlier
in the week (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 February 1997). In keeping with
the latest Croatian-Muslim agreement, telephone links between
Croatian-controlled western Mostar and the Muslim-held eastern half of town
were restored, international media reported. A fraction of the 100 Muslims
expelled from their homes in the west began to return, although some reports
suggest that evictions may not have stopped. NATO helicopters on 12 February
hovered over the funeral of a 65-year-old Muslim killed by Croats on Monday.
Croat and Muslim politicians continued to exchange recriminations, Onasa noted.
-- Patrick Moore
SERBIAN OPPOSITION READY TO GOVERN LOCALLY?
election commission has once again recognized opposition Zajedno wins in
the November municipal elections, Nasa Borba reported on 14 February.
The decision follows in the wake of the Serbian parliament's passage of
legislation ostensibly recognizing opposition wins, and may be the last legal
barrier prior to the opposition's forming of municipal governments. But Serbian
President Slobodan Milosevic may have an ulterior motive in tolerating
opposition local governments, Reuters reported. Since local and regional
governments depend on the central authorities for funding and "patronage," it
may be Milosevic's aim to undermine Zajedno by making it look
ineffectual, if not incompetent, ahead of the republican 1997 elections. Vuk
Draskovic, a Zajedno leader and head of the Serbian Renewal Movement,
commented that "the regime will introduce all forms of economic pressure and
sanctions against us and highlight any failure." -- Stan Markotich
SERBS RALLY IN EASTERN SLAVONIA.
Some 5,000 Serbian protesters marched
through down-town Vukovar--the main town of the last Serb-held region, which is
due to revert to Croatian rule--in a bid to secure local autonomy,
international media reported. The protesters were demanding that eastern
Slavonia become a single county, that Croatia have an open border with
neighboring Serbia, and that they be granted dual Croatian-Yugoslav
citizenship. Such demands have been rejected in the past, with UN officials
blaming the bid for autonomy on local Serbian nationalist leaders who have
spread disinformation about the reintegration process. Most of the protesters
in Vukovar said they would rather leave the area than stay under Croatian rule.
Meanwhile, a Serbian leader in eastern Slavonia, Vojislav Stanimirovic, said
Serbs fear they do not have enough time to prepare for local elections, AFP
reported. The elections have been postponed from 16 March to 13 April (see
OMRI Daily Digest, 13 February 1997). Stanimirovic said the Serbs have
not yet decided whether they will take part in the polls. -- Daria Sito Sucic
ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT TO CONSIDER ACCESS TO SECURITATE FILES.
parliament is considering introducing legislation that would allow citizens who
were under secret police surveillance during the Communist era to have access
to their files, Romanian media reported. The opposition supports the move but
opposes the proposal to disclose the files of public officials. Virgil
Magureanu, head of the Romanian Information Service (SRI), said on 12 February
that he favored the proposed legislation. He also suggested that the files,
which are currently under SRI supervision, should be given to another
institution. The issue of public access to Securitate files has been one
of the most contested in post-Communist Romania. -- Zsolt Mato
LEADING ROMANIAN COLUMNIST RESIGNS.
Ion Cristoiu, one of the founders of
Romania's top-selling daily Evenimentul zilei, has resigned as
head of that publication, Romanian media reported. Cristoiu, in an interview
with Radio Bucharest, said he was responding to pressure from the readership
following his criticism of the new government. He suggested that his
"constructive" criticism was misunderstood by the public. Former President Ion
Iliescu, who is the leader of the leftist Party of Social Democracy in Romania,
seized the opportunity to attack the new administration for alleged
"intolerance" against political opponents and for attempting to "purge" those
who do not share their views. In an allusion to Eugen Ionesco's
anti-totalitarian play The Rhinoceros, Iliescu spoke of an on-going
"rhinocerization" of political life in Romania. -- Dan Ionescu
BULGARIAN PREMIER'S FIRST DAY ON THE JOB.
Taking office on 13 February,
Stefan Sofiyanski went about introducing sweeping change immediately by firing
the board of directors of the country's main oil refinery, Neftochim, Bulgarian
media reported. He also appointed himself head of a special working council
that will undertake to stabilize the country's downward-spiraling economy. The
council will negotiate with foreign states and international financial
institutions in order "to obtain staples for the population and credits to
stabilize Bulgaria's balance of payments," AFP reported. Finally, the
parliament dissolved itself on 13 February, after approving the new premier and
caretaker cabinet. -- Stan Markotich
LAWLESSNESS IN SOUTHERN ALBANIA ...
While protesters took to the
streets for a ninth consecutive day in Vlora, the demonstrations claimed
another victim--a 12-year-old child who died in the hospital on 13 February
from injuries sustained after he was hit by a stone during the weekend clashes,
Deutsche Welle's Albanian-language service reported. Reuters reported that
Vlora has become an Eldorado for gangs, small-time criminals, and smugglers
since police abandoned the city. A policeman's house was bombed there, although
there were no injuries; and an 18-year-old girl was abducted from her home and
her father injured by three shots. Police suspect a prostitution ring behind
the kidnapping. Meanwhile, the food-shortage is becoming critical in Vlora. CNN
on 13 February broadcast footage of people plundering market stands. Local
Socialist Party leader Zabib Brocaj has been accused of "inciting violence." --
... WHILE ITALIAN PROSECUTORS SAY MAFIA WAS INVOLVED IN PYRAMIDS.
Italian investigators say they have evidence of large-scale Mafia
involvement in the Albanian pyramid schemes, German TV reported on 13 February.
According to Italian authorities, the investment companies were used to launder
money acquired from smuggling refugees and drugs to Italy and from illegally
trading arms elsewhere. In Tirana, Police cordoned off Skanderbeg Square to
prevent anti-government demonstrations. The worst clashes have been in Fier,
where civilians armed with wooden clubs and iron bars attacked several thousand
protesters, injuring at least six. The assailants were believed to be
Democratic Party supporters. Police at a nearby station did not intervene,
according to eye-witnesses. Meanwhile, the Muslim, Roman Catholic, and Orthodox
communities have agreed to hold a "day of prayer" for peace on 16 February. --
[As of 1200 CET]
Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave