News round-up

24 February - 3 March 1997

Russian Anti-monopoly Chief sacked

Leonid Bochin, the former Head of the Russian Anti-monopoly Committee expressed his concerns on 17 February about the Government's commitment to implement the structural reforms the International Monetary Fund (IMF) state are vital for promoting economic growth this year. Mr Bochin, quietly removed from his post last month, stated in a local Moscow newspaper: "What we are now seeing is terrible. We are witnessing the worrying arrival in power of state monopolistic circles. Naturally, in such circumstances it is extremely beneficial to many people to get rid of me and appoint a perfectly loyal and non-confrontational person at the anti-monopolistic committee."

Government officials rejected Mr Bochin's accusations, saying that he was removed from his office precisely because of his ineffectiveness in implementing competition policies.

Romanian PM outlines 'shock therapy'

On national television on 17 February, Victor Ciorbea, the Romanian Prime Minister outlined a "programme of national economic salvation" designed to rescue the country's faltering economy. The plan pledges to slash the budget deficit, rein in inflation, open up foreign exchange markets, and shift the nation's sluggish privatisation programme into high gear. He anticipates the economy would contract by two per cent this year, but the foundations would be laid for an economic rebound in 1998.

Increase in Czech earnings

The Czech Statistics Office (CSU) revealed on that industrial workers earned 17.4 per cent more in nominal terms than in 1995, and spent more in the country's stores and car showrooms. The real wage - the net sum after inflation is taken into account - grew 7.9 per cent throughout 1996, though the average nominal wage remains relatively low at Kc10,461 (£228). Retail sales grew 9.6 per cent last year - rising by 12.5 per cent in December alone - in comparison with 1995. Whilst there are signs that productivity is increasing, it does not appear to be keeping pace with wage growth.

Ukraine concern for Chernobyl

Yuri Kostenko, Ukraine's Environment Minister reminded the G7 nations on 18 February that they had to fulfill a political commitment to fund two new atomic power stations. If they did not, Chernobyl would be kept open. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) is expected to announce soon whether it will proceed with its own share of the completion costs, estimated at US$400 million.

Albanian pyramid chief agrees payback

Vehbi Alimucaj, the President of Vefa, Albania's largest holding company, agreed to pay back small investors following the freeze on their accounts last month. Investors of US$5,000 or less would receive their money within two to three weeks.

Russian communist chief denounces NATO growth

Gennady Zyuganov, Head of the Russian Communist Party, revealed in Washington on 20 February that NATO's expansion plans were the worst mistake in the post-war period. Russia, he said, was "in a difficult phase right now and threatened no-one, making expansion to NATO totally unnecessary". The 16-nation NATO is likely to offer membership to Central European countries at the Madrid Summit in July. The most likely candidates are Poland, Czech Republic and Hungary.

Poland ready for NATO & EU membership

Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, the Polish Prime Minister, said in Brussels on 20 February that his country had fulfilled all the necessary criteria for membership to the EU, NATO and Western European Union: "We intend to join them as soon as we will have such a possibility... for some of us NATO membership will come first."

Russia mourns Deng

President Boris Yeltsin, in a letter of condolence to Beijing expressed his sadness at the death of its political leader, Deng Xiaoping: "It is with deep sorrow that I learned of the passing of China's outstanding state and political figure... the herald and architect of reforms which prompted historic changes in that great and ancient state."

The communist-dominated State Duma (the lower house of Parliament) observed a minute's silence in memory of the man whose policy of economic reform under strict Communist control is the source of much soul searching in a Russia where the arrival of democracy has been accompanied by a collapse in living standards. A leading Communist Valentin Kuptsov said that Deng's example showed to what extent Russia had taken the wrong road: "The main mistake of our reformers was that they ignored all past experience. They have thrown the country into uncertainty, while the Chinese reforms were based on a stable political system."

Duma speaker Gennady Seleznyov, a Communist, was quoted as saying "we must understand that the West is investing generously in the Chinese economy, clearly unconcerned that it is a communist country but rather relying on the stability of its political situation".

Georgian Diplomat charged in death crash

Gueorgui Makharadze, the second highest ranking official at the Georgian Embassy in Washington, was charged on 20 February with the involuntary manslaughter of a 16 year old girl, following a five car accident. Stripped of his diplomatic immunity by Georgian President, Edward Schveradnadze, Mr Makharadze was accused of being twice over the legal alcohol limit by a US attorney.

FBI opens office in Poland

The US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) opened an office in Warsaw on 20 February to co-operate with Polish police in the fight against organised crime. Polish Interior Minister Leszek Miller told a news briefing on Thursday that "this is a testimony to very good relations between the Polish and American police services".

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