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Newsline - February 26, 1997

President Boris Yeltsin has already decided to sack Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Izvestiya speculated on 25 February, citing an anonymous source in the government. The paper predicted that the dismissal will take place after Yeltsin's annual message to the parliament, which is scheduled for 6 March. The paper said the source had mentioned two possible candidates to succeed Chernomyrdin: Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais and Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev. It is unlikely that the State Duma would confirm Chubais in the post, but he could possibly serve as acting prime minister. On 24 February, the president's spokesman denied that Chernomyrdin may soon be fired (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 February 1997). --
Nikolai Iakoubovski

Predicting that March would be "the month of great changes," Communist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov called on President Yeltsin to form a "government of national trust," an idea Zyuganov first proposed before the second round of last year's presidential election, Russian media reported on 25 February. Noting that the ground was being prepared for a major cabinet reshuffle, Zyuganov warned that neither the State Duma nor the public would support a return to the government by Chubais. He also said that the Communist Party would support the general day of protest planned for 27 March, adding that Communists are already participating in various protests by doctors and teachers whose salaries have not been paid. -- Laura Belin

Russian and Chechen delegations headed respectively by Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and acting First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov met near Moscow on 25 February to begin discussions on two draft agreements on peace, accord and cooperation and on future economic ties between the federal center and Grozny, Western and Russian agencies reported. Udugov subsequently told journalists that the negotiations "were rather good," and Rybkin said that he foresaw no major obstacles to signing the agreements, according to ITAR-TASS. Also on 25 February, Chechen President and Prime Minister Aslan Maskhadov met with Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov in Stavropol krai but failed to reach agreement on setting up joint Russian-Chechen border posts, according to Radio Rossii. -- Liz Fuller

The feud between Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin continues. Baturin, interviewed in Itogi on 25 February, said that the strategic forces are in good shape, contradicting Rodionov's warning in his 23 February veterans' day speech of a possible command breakdown. The two men had tried to present a united front in a joint press conference on 7 February. However, according to Kommersant Daily on 25 February, Rodionov broke the "truce" with Baturin in his speech because of hostile questioning from the retired generals in the auditorium and he called, indirectly, for Baturin's dismissal. In an interview with Rossiiskaya gazeta on 22 February, Rodionov said that Yeltsin had been misinformed about the state of the army, and criticized the idea that reform should concentrate on downsizing and modernizing. In that interview, Rodionov also thanked Chernomyrdin for "easing" the military wage arrears problem. -- Peter Rutland

Pavel Felgengauer, writing in Segodnya of 24 February, gave a surprisingly harsh evaluation of the visit of U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, in sharp contrast to the tone of most Western reports. Felgengauer noted that while Albright was meeting Yeltsin on 21 February, Chernomyrdin was at the Odintsovo nuclear command center, overseeing an exercise whose assignment was "to destroy the USA in less than one hour." Felgengauer argued that U.S. officials have been telling themselves for the past two years that Moscow will eventually accept NATO expansion, but have not been listening to what Moscow was saying. Felgengauer said that Albright came to Moscow with "some attractive" proposals, such as asymmetrical reductions in strategic weapons in Russia's favor under START 3. However, he said that "the Americans don't believe in Moscow," and warned that these concessions are mere "deception" prior to NATO's July summit, after which they will not be implemented. -- Peter Rutland

Petru Lucinschi, starting his first official visit abroad since taking office last month, on 25 February held talks in Moscow with President Yeltsin, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin, and other senior Russian officials. The issue of Moldova's breakaway Dniester region figured high on the agenda of his talks with Yeltsin. The two leaders stressed that the key element in solving the long-standing conflict was "unconditional respect" for the principle of Moldova's territorial integrity. Lucinschi further insisted that the Russian troops based in the Dniester region be withdrawn as soon as possible, in keeping with an October 1994 bilateral agreement. Discussions with Chernomyrdin focused on economic issues, including Russian gas deliveries to and investments in Moldova. -- Dan Ionescu

Andrei Sinyavskii, one of the defendants in the last Soviet show trial, died in Paris at age 71, Russian and Western agencies reported on 25 February. Sinyavskii began publishing unorthodox fiction and literary criticism abroad under the pseudonym Abram Tertz in the 1950s. He was arrested in 1965 and tried the following year, along with his friend Yulii Daniel, for publishing "anti-Soviet" material. Sentenced to seven years in prison, Sinyavskii was released from a labor camp in 1971 and emigrated to France with his family two years later. He spent the rest of his life in Paris and continued to write, publishing fiction under the name Tertz and non-fiction under his own name. He and his wife, Mariya Rozanova, periodically visited Russia in recent years and sharply criticized economic policies carried out under President Boris Yeltsin (see OMRI Daily Digest, 10 January 1997). -- Laura Belin

Prominent journalist Vadim Biryukov was found dead in his garage on 25 February, Izvestiya reported. His body was bound with tape, and he had been badly beaten. Kommersant-Daily quoted police investigators as saying that Biryukov's car was missing and that the motive for the murder was probably robbery. Biryukov, 64, worked for many years for the official news agency TASS before founding the business journal Delovye lyudi. At the time of his death, he was deputy director of the Press-kontakt publishing house, which puts out Delovye lyudi and the English-language Business in Russia. -- Penny Morvant

The IMF officially announced on 25 February that it is delaying disbursement of the $340 million January loan tranche to Russia, Reuters and RFE/RL reported. The principal reason given was the poor level of tax collection in January. RFE/RL reported on 25 February that the IMF denied claims by economist Anders Aslund that a "secret budget" for 1997 was being prepared, with radically lower expectations of budgetary revenue. Nezavisimaya gazeta on 25 February suggested that the real reason for the delay was Russian reluctance to follow IMF advice to cut social spending, including the politically controversial question of pensions for working pensioners, and to restructure "natural monopolies" such as Gazprom and the electric power company EES (Unified Energy Systems). -- Peter Rutland

A survey by the U.S. firm Miller & Lents showed that the Russian company LUKoil ranks first in the world among private oil firms as regards the size of its proven oil reserves, Kommersant-Daily reported on 26 February. LUKoil's reserves are estimated at 10.8 billion barrels (1.5 billion metric tons), of which some 2.85 billion barrels are located in the European part of Russia. In December 1995, LUKoil became the first Russian company allowed to trade its stock in the form of American Depository Receipts. -- Natalia Gurushina

The Moscow city tax police intends to crack down on violations related to the registration of companies and organizations in the city, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 February. According to the tax police, the number of registered legal persons in Moscow in 1996 increased by 70,000 and reached 497,000. However, some 125,000 of them submitted incorrect information about their addresses. There are 55 postal addresses in Moscow, each of which is used by 500 different firms. Some 9,700 companies were registered with the use of lost or stolen passports. The tax police has also announced that, although Moscow accounts for nearly one-fifth of Russia's foreign trade turnover ($24.6 billion in 1996), the city is not receiving substantial sums of tax revenue from these operations. In 1996 Moscow-based companies transferred about $5 billion abroad through commercial banks in the Baltic states. -- Natalia Gurushina

A spokesperson for the Union of Russian Goldmining Artels announced at the union's extraordinary meeting that the government owes goldminers some 1.6 trillion rubles ($280 million at the current exchange rate) for deliveries of gold in 1996, Finansovye izvestiya reported on 25 February. If the government fails to repay the shortfall in the near future, goldminers are threatening to cut production in 1997 by 40-60% compared to the expected level. Russia's gold output declined from 133 metric tons in 1994 to 101 metric tons in 1996. Goldmining artels account for some 60% of Russia's total gold output. -- Natalia Gurushina

A report compiled by the Vienna-based International Helsinki Federation criticizes human rights violations in Georgia in 1995-6, including torture of political prisoners and the imprisonment of 80 supporters of former president Zviad Gamsakhurdia, according to AFP of 24 February. Fifty people were sentenced to death, some on charges of treason, before President Eduard Shevardnadze imposed a moratorium on executions and the parliament voted to reduce the number of crimes incurring capital punishment in December 1996. An Amnesty International report released in October 1996 was similarly critical of the use of torture in Georgian prisons and lack of impartiality during court proceedings. -- Liz Fuller

The UN Security Council on 25 February condemned a series of recent guerrilla attacks on CIS peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia and called on both parties to the conflict to ensure their future safety, Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. Also on 25 February, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Andreyev condemned the most recent incident on 22 February in which three peacekeepers were killed. The presidents of Abkhazia and Georgia, Vladislav Ardzinba and Eduard Shevardnadze, have both announced the suspension of bilateral talks on the future status of Abkhazia vis-a-vis the central government in Tbilisi because of the alleged intransigence of the opposing side, according to Georgian media reports monitored by the BBC. -- Liz Fuller

The trial opened belatedly in Baku on 25 February of four of the 10 members of the Islamic Party of Azerbaijan arrested in May 1996, ITAR-TASS reported. The four men, including party leader Ali Akram Aliev, are charged with collaborating with the Iranian intelligence service. The Islamic Party was originally founded and registered in 1992 but failed to secure reregistration in August 1995 in the run-up to the Azerbaijani parliamentary elections. It has an estimated 50,000 members, according to ITAR-TASS, and it is reportedly financed by Tehran. -- Liz Fuller

Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov and his counterparts from Central Asian countries except Turkmenistan held closed-door talks in Tashkent on 25 February to discuss what Russian media termed the "deteriorating" politico-military situation in Afghanistan. The meeting, originally scheduled for March, was brought forward at the request of Uzbek President Aslam Karimov, who held talks with Rodionov the day before the official delegations met. Several plans were reportedly discussed, including the possible creation of two joint motorized divisions to protect the CIS-Afghan border in the event that the Taliban overwhelm Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum's forces. Rodionov said he was "very satisified" with the talks and claimed all sides believe the conflict in Afghanistan is moving "beyond an intra-state struggle." The same day the London Times reported that Moscow is supplying arms to northern Afghanistan to be used against the Taliban. -- Lowell Bezanis

An estimated 25 people have been killed in clashes in Kofarnikhon district in the last week, according to 25 February Russian media reports monitored by the BBC. The clashes pit a group loyal to the brothers Rezvon and Bakhrom Sadirov against a group, led by Kasim Ismatov, loyal to the United Tajik Opposition. The latter asked permission from Tajik President Immomali Rakhmonov, opposition leader Sayid Abdullo Nuri, and the UN mission in the country, to annihilate the opposing group. No reaction to this request was reported. Aside from their involvement in two hostage-taking incidents since last December, the pro-opposition turned pro-government turned independent Sadirov brothers and their companions are widely believed to be an anti-opposition strike force given a free rein to operate in Tajikistan as well as Afghanistan by Moscow and Dushanbe. -- Lowell Bezanis

The chairman of the Erkin Kyrgyzstan Party, Topchubek Turgunaliev, was released from custody in Bishkek on 25 February, RFE-RL reported. Accused of abuse of power, embezzlement, and forgery, he was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment before the republic's Supreme Court overturned the second two charges and reduced the sentence on 18 February. TurgunAliyev must reside in Bishkek and report to the authorities on a monthly basis; when two-thirds of his term is completed, it could be suspended. -- Naryn Idinov

The EU is to send another fact-finding mission to Belarus, RFE/RL reported on 25 February. The decision comes one day after the EU foreign ministers heard an oral report by a fact-finding mission composed of EU, Council of Europe. and OSCE representatives on the political situation in Belarus (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 February 1995). The second mission is to start work next week and will be headed by the Netherlands' Aad Kosto, who led the previous mission. One of its tasks will be to convey to President Alyaksandr Lukashenka the ministers' disapproval of the November 1996 referendum and the subsequent dismissal of the democratically elected parliament. The plebiscite gave Lukashenka sweeping powers. Since then, European bodies have criticized his authoritarian rule and threatened to suspend assistance to Belarus until democratic norms are respected. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

World Bank representative to Belarus Christopher Willoughby has blamed the government's indecisiveness for the bank's refusal to grant Belarus any loans over the past three years, Belarusian TV reported on 25 February. Willoughby noted that if Belarus wanted to become a regional economic power, it needed foreign investment, a tight budget, the completion of privatization, and a competitive market environment. Similar statements have been made on many occasions, but the Belarusian government has so far failed to take decisive action to implement any of those measures. -- Ustina Markus

Leonid Kuchma has sacked Finance Minister Valentyn Koronevskii and Statistics Minister Oleksander Osaulenko, international agencies reported on 25 February. He also announced that Economy Minister Vasyl Hureyev and Valerii Malev, minister for machine-building and the military complex, would be transferred to other posts.
Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko had asked Kuchma the previous day to fire the four ministers following sharp criticism of the government over unpaid wages and the slow pace of reform. Wage arrears totaled 4.2 billion hryvnyas ($2.3 billion) at the beginning of 1997, while GNP in January was down by 10.4% on the January 1996 level. Kuchma launched a cabinet reshuffle earlier this month when he fired the agriculture minister and deputy transport minister. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

A Romanian delegation has arrived in Kyiv for talks on the Romanian-Ukrainian basic treaty, international agencies reported on 25 February. Ukrainian First Deputy Foreign Minister Anton Buteiko was optimistic that the talks would yield results, pointing out that Bucharest needs to conclude a comprehensive bilateral treaty with Ukraine to improve its chances of early admission into NATO. With regard to issue of the Ukrainian-Romanian border, he said Ukraine is ready to make concessions, while Romanian President Emil Constantinescu has noted that Romania is prepared to recognize Ukraine's current borders and its ownership of Serpent Island, an outcrop with potentially valuable energy reserves around it. Italian Prime Minister Romano Prodi met with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma in Lviv on 25 February to discuss boosting economic cooperation. The same day, Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmu and his Albanian counterpart, Safet Zhulali, signed an agreement in Kyiv on military cooperation. -- Ustina Markus

Tiit Vahi on 25 February submitted his resignation to President Lennart Meri two weeks after he narrowly survived a no confidence vote (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 February 1997), ETA reported. Meri is required to nominate within 14 days a new prime minister, who then has two weeks to present a government for the parliament's approval Vahi and his cabinet will remain in office until the new government is approved. The ruling Coalition Party has named its caucus head, Mart Siimann, as candidate for premier. The Progress, Center, and Reform Parties reportedly back Siimann's candidacy, although it is unclear whether any of those formations will be invited to form a coalition. Vahi intends to return to the parliament as a deputy. -- Saulius Girnius

The Seimas on 25 February accepted the resignation of Vladas Nikitinas as prosecutor-general but asked him to remain in office until a successor is appointed, Radio Lithuania reported. Deputies rejected President Algirdas Brazauskas's suggestion that Deputy Prosecutor-General Arturas Paulauskas serve as an interim head. They also transfered the right to nominate the prosecutor-general from the president to the Seimas Law and Order Committee. That body will consider candidates proposed by the chairman of the Supreme Court and the justice minister. The Center Union--which has two portfolios but is not a formal coalition partner--did not take part in the vote on the right to nominate the prosector-general because it believes that changes in the legal system should be made only after a broader public debate. -- Saulius Girnius

During the second day of the joint parliamentary session to debate the draft constitution, Polish Solidarity leader Marian Krzaklewski rejected the draft and argued for a constitution based on religious values, Polish media reported. "Poland has always founded its system of values and its constitutional law on Christian values," Krzaklewski said. Former Prime Minister and Freedom Union leader Tadeusz Mazowiecki expressed astonishment at Krzaklewski's statement. Mazowiecki is the author of a compromise formula in the preamble to the draft, which stresses that Poland is a nation made up both of believers and non-believers. Solidarity senator Barbara Lekawa demanded that the word "citizens" be replaced in the constitution by "nation." -- Jakub Karpinski

Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jozef Sestak told journalists on 25 February that he believes the referendum on NATO membership will confirm the government's program and give it a clear mandate to forge ahead with negotiations over Slovakia's entry into the alliance. He added that there is no alternative for Slovakia to NATO membership. In other news, European Commissioner Hans van den Broek said after a meeting of the EU-Slovak committee in Brussels that the lack of foreign investment in Slovakia is a result of the political climate. Van den Broek expressed hope that the Slovak parliament will soon pass a law on the use of minority languages. -- Anna Siskova

Spokeswoman Marta Podhradska said on 25 February that Minister of Culture Ivan Hudec will not meet theater unions demands because he considers the protest action among theater employees illegal, CTK reported. The theaters want all theaters to be declared legal entities and an open competition for the directorships of all theaters and ensembles. Thirteen of Slovakia's 21 theaters are affected by the protest, which is taking the form of a statement read to the audience after a performance. Meanwhile, Slovak President Michal Kovac has met with the top representatives of the opposition parties to discuss the petition drive for a referendum on direct presidential elections. Presidential spokesman Vladimir Stefko said Kovac is considering holding the referendums on membership in NATO and on direct presidential elections at the same time to save money and simplify organizational matters. -- Anna Siskova

Farmers' representatives and a government delegation headed by Finance Ministry State Secretary Tibor Draskovics have reached a preliminary agreement over new tax and social insurance measures, Hungarian media reported on 25 February. The agreement simplifies tax procedures and eases the farmers' tax and social insurance burdens. However, farmers have started their third--and final--scheduled day of protests, partly blocking roads mainly in eastern Hungary. Hungarian Radio reported some protesters as saying they are no longer protesting simply the new taxes but the government's agriculture policy as a whole. -- Zsolt Mato

Hungarian and Romanian Foreign Ministry officials, meeting in Budapest on 25 February, exchanged documents providing for consulates on each other's territory, Reuters reported. Romania will open a consulate in the southeastern city of Szeged, while the Hungarian consulate will be located in the Transylvanian city of Cluj. Two honorary consulates, mainly aimed at improving economic ties, are to open in the west Hungarian town of Gyor and in Constanta, on Romania's Black Sea coast. The opening of the Cluj consulate has triggered widespread controversy, with local nationalists and all parliamentary opposition parties voicing their objections (see OMRI Daily Digest, 14 January 1997). In related news, a delegation from the Hungarian parliament's European Integration Committee held talks with senior Romanian officials in Bucharest. Viktor Orban, president of the committee, reiterated Hungary's desire that Romania and Hungary join NATO simultaneously. -- Zsolt Mato

The State Department on 25 February said it is "deeply concerned" about recent developments in Albania, AFP reported. It also urged local leaders to call for an end to the violence and to "respect the right of their citizens to demonstrate peacefully." The U.S. is "deeply troubled by reports of beatings and other acts of intimidation," the statement stressed. In Brussels, the EU foreign ministers backed moves by the European Commission to give money and technical assistance to Albania through its PHARE program, Reuters reported. Aid would be targeted at agriculture, small and medium-sized businesses, and local communities. Technical assistance would also be offered to Albania's banking sector. But the ministers made clear they expected Albania to abide by democratic principles. -- Fabian Schmidt

Men claiming to be students broke up an anti-government sit-in at Tirana University on 25 February, attacking students and journalists, local media reported. Pro-government student union leader Shkelzer Margjeka was reported to be among the men who broke up the gathering. The head of the Tirana Engineering School said at least 90% of students stayed away from classes that day. Meanwhile, 48 students in Vlora continued the hunger strike they began last week. They have been joined by striking students in Fier, Gjirokastr, and Shkoder. In Berat, President Sali Berisha, addressing some 1,000 invited supporters, dismissed the student's demands as illegal. The Democratic Party has said it will return a $50,000 donation received from the Gjallica pyramid company last year before the election campaign. Meanwhile, Albania's premier soccer team, Flamurtari, has pledged to continue its boycott of matches in support of the protests. -- Fabian Schmidt

Thousands of students continued their protest in Belgrade on 25 February, calling for increased reforms and the dismissal of the pro-regime rector of Belgrade University, local independent media reported. Teachers also kept up their strike action to demand increased pay, while doctors staged a one-hour warning strike in support of their demand for improved wage packages. In other news, Reuters reported that the newly appointed Zajedno members of Belgrade's Municipal Assembly traveled to Spain on 25 February to launch an appeal for funds to rebuild Belgrade's infrastructure, which, they say, is in ruins because of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's policies. -- Stan Markotich

Serbia state-run television and most state-controlled dailies have made more barbs against Milo Djukanovic, accusing him of "arrogance" and involvement in conspiracies to destabilize the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia. This is the second verbal attack agains the Montenegrin premier within a week (see OMRI Daily Digest, 24 February 1997). Djukanovic is among those leaders seeking to undermine Milosevic's authority and break up Montenegro's political union with Serbia. Meanwhile, prominent members of Montenegro's literary circles have signed a letter to Montenegrin President Momir Bulatovic appealing to the Montenegrin authorities to put a stop to Milosevic's "dictatorship." The letter--signed by the head of Montenegro's PEN club, Jakov Mrvaljevic--appears in today's issue of Nasa Borba. -- Stan Markotich

The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia is continuing efforts to obtain information in the case against Gen. Tihomir Blaskic, who has served with the armies of both Croatia and the Bosnian Croats. The court expects current Bosnian Defense Minister Ante Jelavic, a Croat, to appear on 28 February to present documents as promised by the Sarajevo government, AFP wrote on 25 February. The tribunal's chief prosecutor, Louise Arbour, will also meet with Croatian officials in Zagreb to obtain yet more information. Blaskic agreed in a deal to come to The Hague, where he is being tried for a series of war crimes in 1993 and early 1994 against Muslims, primarily in the Lasva valley area. -- Patrick Moore.

The governments of Croatia and federal Yugoslavia agreed in principle on 25 February to speed up work in investigating the fate of some 2,400 Croats and 3,000 Serbs missing since the 1991 war. The Croatian Foreign Ministry released the statement, adding that the head of the Croatian commission for missing persons, Ivan Grujic, and his federal Yugoslav counterpart, Pavle Todorovic, will meet again on 6 March. The fate of the missing remains an emotionally charged issue across the former Yugoslavia. Although it is widely assumed that most of the persons in question are now dead, both sides are demanding the clarification of each case. Meanwhile, the UN has published a report saying that there are 25,000 missing in all across the former Yugoslavia and blaming the Belgrade government and NATO peacekeepers for the lack of progress in clearing up these cases. -- Patrick Moore

The UN police has said that Bosnian Croat policemen were responsible for the shooting of Muslims in the Croat-held part of Mostar during Muslim-Croat clashes there on 10 February, which left one dead and 34 wounded, international media reported on 26 February. The report said at least two West Mostar police officers in plain clothes were photographed firing into the Muslim crowd, including the Croatian police deputy chief. Michael Steiner, deputy High Representative for Bosnia-Herzegovina, called on top Bosnian officials to dismiss, arrest, and put on trial criminals identified by the report. Alija Izetbegovic, the Bosnian Muslim member of the presidency, has accepted Steiner's request unconditionally. But the Croatian member, Kresimir Zubak, said his acceptance was conditional on the submission of further reports about violence after the 10 February incident. But Steiner said this is unacceptable. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department called on the Bosnian Federation authorities to bring to justice those singled out by the UN report. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Croatian Deputy Premier Ivica Kostovic on 25 February said Zagreb has submitted to the UN a list of suspected war criminals in the 1991 Serbian-Croatian war, Vjesnik reported the next day. The list was not made public. According to Kostovic, it contains the names of between 140 and 170 people who lived in eastern Slavonia in 1991 and who are currently resident in the area. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Four people were injured and 14 arrested in a fistfight in Skopje on 24 February after Ivan Dicev, ousted director of the Pelagonija construction company, and 30 "bodyguards" forced their way into the company's premises, Macedonian media reported. The police restored order and arrested Dicev and his entourage. Workers were on strike from mid-December 1996 until early February to protest massive layoffs, wage and social-benefit arrears, alleged criminal offenses, and the method used to privatize the company. The workers' strike committee decided last month to suspend Dicev and the board of directors and to appoint a new management. During the strike, Dicev claimed he had signed a $400 million deal with Albania's Vefa Holding, a suspected pyramid scheme. -- Michael Wyzan

Victor Ciorbea on 25 February said during a two-hour live broadcast on Radio Bucharest that Romania needed strict economic reform to avoid the kind of economic collapse experienced by neighboring Bulgaria and to make up for the time wasted by the former leftist administration. Ciorbea remained confident that the first positive effects of his cabinet's austerity and reform program would be felt later this year if the program were implemented in full. Meanwhile, former President Ion Iliescu told Cronica romana on 26 February that the current cabinet's package of economic and social reforms was a "big hoax." -- Dan Ionescu

IMF representative to Bulgaria Anne McGuirk, at the start of two-week negotiations with the interim government to conclude a fifth stand-by loan agreement, confirmed that she would like to work with the cabinet but was not certain if the IMF could sign an accord with it, local media reported on 26 February. Nonetheless, at a meeting with President Petar Stoyanov, McGuirk said she is impressed by the willingness of the new cabinet to introduce tough reforms. Meanwhile, Bulgaria's leading trade unions on 25 February signed an agreement with the interim government and the Chamber of Commerce on protecting incomes and imposing a moratorium on strikes, RFE/RL reported. The unions have agreed not to make unrealistic wage demands and to support the government during the transitional period of structural reform. Caretaker Prime Minister Stefan Sofiyansky described the agreement as an "extremely important [demonstration of] support." -- Maria Koinova

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Jan Cleave