News round-up

20 - 27 January 1997

Yeltsin ill

Russian President Boris Yeltsin's health again hit the headlines just weeks after he returned to work following a heart operation last year. President Yeltsin, who has returned to hospital, is suffering from pneumonia, though it is not clear how seriously. The President's absence from office has again raised the possibility that he will be unable to complete his Presidential term, and has prompted calls that he should resign to make way for a fitter leader.

Demonstrations in Sofia

Thousands of Bulgarians took to the streets of their capital Sofia in a series of demonstrations calling for the removal of the Government. The protests were driven by anger at the country's increasingly weak economy, which has seen most Bulgarians become significantly poorer in the years following independence.

Belgrade protests continue

Opposition protests continued in the Serbian capital Belgrade. Demonstrators staged their biggest protest in the city in several weeks of unrest, bringing it to a standstill on Orthodox Christmas Eve. The Yugoslav army commander also offered his support for the demonstrators, who are demanding that the regime recognise municipal elections won by the opposition. Meanwhile, the Greek Foreign Minister met Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, urging him to recognise the poll results. Meanwhile, Carl Bildt, the European Union's High Representative in the former Yugoslavia, called on the Union to help Serbia find a way out of the impasse.

Second term for Slovene Prime Minister

The Slovene Parliament re-elected Liberal Democrat leader Janez Drnovsek to head a new Government. The vote ends several months of political stalemate following inconclusive general elections. Mr Drnovsek has pledged to speed up the privatisation process, streamline the economy by cutting welfare payments and control inflation. He is also keen to achieve European Union (EU) membership by 2001. However, his Parliamentary majority rests on the support of several small left-wing parties, and he may find it difficult to push spending cuts through Parliament. He will also face problems from the right-wing opposition. Slovenia's EU membership depends upon constitutional changes allowing foreign companies to buy real estate; right-wing parties have said that they will oppose this legislation.

NATO expansion

Germany expects Russia to demand large concessions in return for its possible agreement to allow the expansion of NATO to include former Soviet bloc satellites. According to Klaus Kinkel, Germany's Foreign Minister, Bonn expects Moscow to press for full membership of the G7 group of industrialised countries and greater financial assistance from the West.

MPs leave Polish opposition party

Six MPs walked out of Poland's largest opposition party, the Freedom Union, aiming to form a new centre-right group with the labour union Solidarity. One of the MPs is credited with saying that the Freedom Union has no chance of winning elections due in 1997.

Central Asian states seek closer ties

The leaders of Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan and Uzbekistan signed a Treaty boosting co-operation between them. The Treaty is intended to boost economic co-operation, but the three also agreed on military support for each other if any of the countries came under threat.

Moskvich escapes bankruptcy

The Federal Bankruptcy Agency failed to secure the bankruptcy of the Moskvich car company in Russia when the Moscow Arbitration Court rejected its suit. The enterprise, groaning under US$400 million-worth of debt, will now be rehabilitated; it plans to repay the debt in 18 months. The company also faces a serious debt problem in unpaid wages.

Don't trust the bank

A poll by the Institute for Public Opinion Research indicated that over 50 per cent of Czech nationals distrust the country's banks. As in other post-Communist states, Czech banks have been through a rocky few years: eight Czech banks fell in 1996 alone, and 11 have crashed since 1989.

Slovene bank looks to London listing

Slovenia's second largest bank, SKB Banka, announced that it was planning a listing on the London Stock Exchange. The listing would be the first overseas exchange listing for a Slovenian company. SKB, which is 15 per cent-owned by the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD), made healthy profits last year, and its share price has risen on the expectation of a listing. It now requires the approval of the Slovene Central Bank.

Net closes on Russia

In an unprecedented step, America Online cut access to Russian Internet users in response to fraud and non-payment of subscription fees. The move was the first time that the company, the world's largest online provider, had blocked access to an entire country.

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