SITUATION REMAINS TENSE IN GROZNY.
The situation remained tense in
Grozny overnight, according to a government press service report cited by
Interfax. Snipers and small groups of militants systematically fired on federal
troops, but no losses were sustained. Representatives of Russian troops and
leaders of Chechen mountain clans met in Tolstoi-Yurt 22 February. The Chechens
reported weakening support for Dudaev and growing friction among the different
clans. At a Moscow news conference, Col.-Gen. Vladimir Semenov,
commander-in-chief of Russian Ground Forces, said most of the soldiers involved
in the Chechen fighting had less than one year of experience because senior
soldiers were being demobilized. On 23 February, Yeltsin signed a decree giving
the Chechen Republic special representation in his administration. The document
claimed that the step was necessary to coordinate the activities of federal and
republican bodies until representative bodies are set up in Chechnya. In
Stavropol, Cossack leader Ataman Viktor Sharkov said Shelkovskaya and Naurskaya
Raions should be transferred to the jurisdiction of Stavropol Krai. The
districts were part of the krai until 1957. He said if that was accomplished,
the Cossacks would send their troops there to protect the population and
rebuild the economy. In particular, he stressed the need to protect the Russian
population there from Dudaev's men. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.
NEW PARLIAMENTARY FACTION FORMS.
Vladimir Kvasov, Vyacheslav Smirnov,
Viktor Mashinsky, Yevgeny Gusarov (former members of New Regional Policy), and
Vladimir Bauer (a former leader of Russia's Choice) announced the formation of
a new parliamentary faction, Duma-96, which intends to contest the December
elections, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 24 February. So far the group
has 23 members, short of the 35 required for official registration. The leaders
are recruiting members among deputies representing single-member districts
because they have a specific electorate and are more likely to be reelected.
According to sources within the Duma, two other deputies' groups are in the
process of formation, and in several cases the names on their lists coincide
with the names on the Duma-96 list. According to Grigory Tomchin, of Russia's
Choice, the recent explosion of new deputy factions is a result of the
politicians' desire to gain reelection, rather than a reflection of differences
within the existing factions, Interfax reported. He claimed that deputies from
single-mandate districts will not be reelected because of general
dissatisfaction with the Duma's work. It will be more difficult to win seats
from party lists because Yeltsin's proposed legislation envisions only 150
seats for parties, rather than the previous 225. The deputies are trying to
create new lists so that they will be among the top ten names on their party's
list. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.
POLTORANIN: PRESS FREEDOM VIOLATED IN RUSSIA.
The freedom of Russia's
media is threatened, according to Mikhail Poltoranin, chairman of the State
Duma press and information committee. Poltoranin blamed two trends for the
recent violations: the declining economic independence of the press, and the
government's creation of "unconstitutional organs of control" over the
electronic media, Ostankino TV reported on 23 February. In 1994, Poltoranin
tried unsuccessfully to set up regulatory bodies for the media outside the
government. Although the Duma passed three of his committee's proposed media
laws, all were vetoed or ignored by President Yeltsin. -- Laura Belin, OMRI,
YELTSIN'S POPULARITY AT NEW LOW.
Only 9% of Russians now approve of
President Boris Yeltsin's performance, according to recent surveys by the
All-Russia Center for the Study of Public Opinion. Two-thirds of those surveyed
say Yeltsin should not run for re-election next year, western agencies
reported. Only 4% of respondents believe Yeltsin has managed the Chechen crisis
well. In addition, 57% believe the president should resign. -- Laura Belin,
YELTSIN VETOES LAW ON MINIMUM WAGE.
President Yeltsin has rejected a
draft law to raise the minimum wage to 54,100 rubles a month, Interfax reported
on 23 February. In a letter to Duma Chairman Ivan Rybkin, Yeltsin said the law
would cost an additional 159 trillion rubles and would lead to a sharp
reduction in spending on social, investment, and other important programs.
Yeltsin's economic adviser, Aleksandr Livshitz, said the presidential
administration had drafted a decree containing measures to support those on low
incomes in case the president rejected the draft. The veto, which had been
widely expected, removes a major obstacle to a 6.25 billion standby loan from
the IMF. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.
NORWEGIANS SAY FIRE BROKE OUT ON RUSSIAN MISSILE SUBMARINE.
Norwegian environmental organization Bellona has claimed that a fire recently
broke out aboard a Russian ballistic missile submarine on patrol in the Barents
Sea, forcing the boat to return to port for repairs, Aftenposten
reported on 22 February. The giant Typhoon-class missile submarine suffered a
fire in its electrical system and returned to its base at Nerpichya Guba, in
the Kola peninsula's Zapadnaya Litsa fjord on 11 February, Reuters reported.
The account said the fire did not lead to any radioactive leaks. When on
patrol, the Typhoon carries 20 SS-N-20 ballistic missiles, each armed with 10
individual nuclear warheads. "The general decay in Russia's military forces has
also affected the bases in Litsa Fjord. Five of the six Typhoon submarines are
currently in port undergoing repairs," Aftenposten reported. In a
related development, Admiral Felix Gromov, chief of the Russian Navy, reported
on 23 February that three foreign submarines had recently been detected in the
Norwegian and Barents seas near Russia's border, Interfax reported. -- Doug
Clarke, OMRI, Inc.
CHERNOMYRDIN ORDERS TIGHTER NUCLEAR SECURITY.
Prime Minister Viktor
Chernomyrdin has ordered tighter security at Russian nuclear facilities to
prevent thefts of radioactive materials, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 February. He
made the decision despite Interior Minister Viktor Yerin's claim that not a
single milligram of weapons-grade nuclear material had disappeared from the
facilities. Yerin, however, admitted that 80% of the police check points at
nuclear projects lacked the equipment to detect nuclear materials. Valery
Menshchikov, a Security Council expert, said there is an "enormous amount" of
fissile nuclear material at Russian storage facilities. As an example, he said
that near Tomsk there are 23,000 containers filled with plutonium-239 and
enriched uranium inside "a normal building which offers no protection against
external sources of damage as, for example, the fall of an aircraft." -- Doug
Clarke, OMRI, Inc.
MOSCOW CALLS FOR INDEFINITE PROLONGATION OF NPT.
Russia has called for
the indefinite prolongation of the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty at the
April-May review conference, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 February. Grigory
Berdennikov, Russia's permanent representative to the UN Conference on
Disarmament, called on other countries to "take the same stand." He said that
would provide "a guarantee of irreversibility for the process of nuclear
disarmament rather than a mandate for the nuclear powers' interminable
possession of nuclear arms." He said Russia is seeking the total elimination of
nuclear weapons. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.
YELTSIN TO PERSONALLY OVERSEE ARMY REFORMS.
President Yeltsin has
announced that he will personally oversee army reform, Interfax reported on 23
February. At the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow during a wreath-laying
ceremony, he said, "Chechnya proved once again that we are dragging our feet
with army reform. The matter cannot be dragged out anymore as the army is
beginning to crumble." Meanwhile, service chiefs said the army and the navy are
pressing ahead with reforms which will give them modern, mobile, and
well-equipped units, despite economic limitations, ITAR-TASS reported. They
said that although Russia's military doctrine is peaceful, the defense of the
fatherland would require a military that is capable of repulsing enemy attacks.
However Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said, "If there is money, there will be
reforms. If there is no money, no reforms will go ahead," Ekho Moskvy reported.
-- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.
CHERNOMYRDIN ANNOUNCES FRESH ECONOMIC REFORMS.
Prime Minister Viktor
Chernomyrdin announced that the Economics Ministry will present a government
program addressing economic reform for 1995-97 by 15 March, Interfax and
Western sources reported on 23 February. Chernomyrdin noted the importance of
creating financial stabilization, achieving stable low inflation rates, and
improving the environment for both domestic and foreign investors. Steps must
be taken to modernize the economy, consolidate the industrial infrastructure,
and boost exports. Chernomyrdin said 60 major bills must be approved by the
State Duma, including those concerning effective state property control,
joint-stock companies, banks, the stock market, tax reform, investment
incentive, stage two of the privatization campaign, and private real estate
guarantees. The prime minister said the government must approve the bills
before 12 December when parliament's mandate expires. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI,
DRAFT LAND CODE TO BE SUBMITTED TO STATE DUMA.
The State Duma agrarian
committee has completed the draft of Russia's Land Code and will submit it to
the Duma Council for consideration, Interfax reported on 23 February. The
agrarian committee chairman, Alexei Chernyshyov, said the draft is based on
decrees presented by the government and Russia's Choice deputies. The Land Code
establishes state, municipal, and private forms of ownership for land. It also
allows foreigners to be participants in land transactions provided they rent
land plots. The draft provides for strict control and tough restrictions on
deals concerning agricultural land, including a moratorium on the sale of
certain land plots. The majority of collective and Soviet farms have been
reorganized into joint-stock companies, cooperatives, and associations and the
land has become "the property of common ownership," he said. To date, more than
20 million hectares of land have been handed over to 44 million city and
village families for ownership, gardening, and other purposes. -- Thomas Sigel,
MINERS POSTPONE STRIKE ULTIMATUM TO 15 MARCH.
Vitaly Budko, chairman of
the Coal Industry Workers' Union, announced that the union has decided to give
the government until 15 March before staging an all-out strike, agencies
reported on 23 February. The miners had earlier said they would picket
government buildings at the end of February and go on strike on 1 March, if the
government did not pay wage arrears. Budko said if a payment schedule could be
agreed on before mid-March, there would be no need for a national protest. He
said the government had taken steps "that make it possible to hope that the
miners demands will be met in full," Interfax reported. Budko also said the
union's ruling body had called on miners in Vorkuta to cancel their planned
regional strike called for 1 March and to act jointly with the union. Yury
Vishnevsky, the Vorkuta miners' leader, said his men would decide on 27
February whether to go ahead with the strike on 1 March. -- Penny Morvant,
SEMENOV DOUBTS CIS AIR DEFENSE SYSTEM POSSIBLE SOON.
Semenov, commander of Russia's Ground Forces, told Interfax on 23 February that
he doubts a joint CIS air defense system could be set up any time soon. He said
the elements of the old system were still intact in Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan,
but added "everything is in shambles" in Transcaucasia--Georgia, Armenia, and
Azerbaijan--where the 19th Air Defense Army used to be stationed. He said it
would be very costly to restore the system. As an alternative, he proposed a
territorial air defense system based on mobile air defense and ground units. --
Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.
POLISH CABINET LINEUP SETTLED.
Sejm speaker and prime minister candidate
Jozef Oleksy announced on 23 February that the new cabinet lineup is complete
and prepared for submission to the Sejm. The current education minister,
Aleksander Luczak, of the Polish Peasant Party (PSL) will serve as the sole
deputy prime minister, but without portfolio. Grzegorz Kolodko of the
Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) will lose his post as deputy prime minister but
will stay on in the cabinet as finance minister and head of the government's
economic committee. According to Gazeta Wyborcza, Kolodko will also be
appointed to oversee the consolidation of the government ministries. No other
names are to be disclosed until after Oleksy meets with President Lech Walesa
on 27 February. But both major dailies quoted leaked lists indicating that
Oleksy has opted to exclude from the new cabinet the three most controversial
PSL ministers: Agriculture Minister Andrzej Smietanko, Foreign Trade Minister
Leslaw Podkanski, and Michal Strak, chief of the public administration. The PSL
proposed multiple candidates for each of "its" ministries, apparently to burden
Oleksy rather than the party leadership with excluding the compromised
ministers. SLD officials indicated that Oleksy's candidates for defense and
foreign affairs are not those backed by Walesa. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.
HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT APPOINTS MINISTERS, NATIONAL BANK HEAD.
February President Arpad Goncz appointed Lajos Bokros Finance Minister, Tamas
Suchman Minister without portfolio in charge of privatization, and Gyorgy
Suranyi head of the Hungarian National Bank, MTI reported. All three named
financial stabilization, cuts in expenditure, market liberalization, the
acceleration of privatization and fight against the black market economy as
their priorities during parliamentary hearings on 22 February. The appointments
were greeted both inside and outside Hungary as a major step towards restoring
international confidence in the commitment to reform and foreign investment of
the government of Gyula Horn. -- Edith Oltay, OMRI, Inc.
KUCHMA AIDE WARNS OF DANGER OF POWER VACUUM IN CRIMEA.
Hrynyov, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma's top advisor on regional matters,
has warned that the current political deadlock within the Crimean Parliament,
as well as between the Crimean legislature and the president, could lead to a
dangerous power vacuum that could allow organized crime groups to yield more
influence on the peninsula, Interfax-Ukraine reported on 23 February. During
his visit to Simferopol, Hrynyov told Interfax that he feared that the power
struggle between Crimean President Yury Meshkov and parliament could lead to
either Meshkov's resignation or the legislature's dissolution, leaving Crimea
vulnerable to increasingly powerful and dangerous organized crime activity. The
aide said that closer political and economic cooperation between Crimea and
Ukraine could help improve the region's ailing economy. With that in mind, the
Ukrainian government has signed a forward contract with the Crimean government
for the purchase of this year's grain harvest with a 50% advance payment to
help finance the spring sowing. Recently, Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma
issued a decree granting Crimea budgetary autonomy, and allowing the Crimean
government to keep all the tax revenues collected for use in the region. --
Chrystyna Lapychak, OMRI, Inc.
"WHAT THE PRESIDENT MEANT TO SAY."
A Belarus government spokesman in
Minsk said on 23 February that Belarus had no intention of abandoning the CFE
agreement on conventional arms reductions in Europe and that President
Alyaksandr Lukashenka's 17 February announcement of a halt in the destruction
of weapons required by the treaty was prompted by a lack of money and not by
concern over NATO's expansion. The spokesman explained that because of the
large amounts of ex-Soviet equipment in Belarus it had to spend more than the
U.S., Britain, and France combined to meet the treaty limits. While it had
received a large amount of money for this purpose last year from the U.S., the
spokesman said this had not been enough. However Lukashenka denied this
interpretation the same day. Interfax quoted him as making it clear his
decision was motivated by a "visible imbalance of forces in the world" rather
than a lack of funds. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.
LUKASHENKA ON BELARUSIAN PRESIDENTIAL LAW.
The Belarusian parliament
continues to disagree with President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's amendments to the
Law on the Cabinet of Ministers and President, Interfax and Belarusian Radio
reported on 22 February. Lukashenka is seeking to amend the article in the law
which allows a popular referendum to dismiss the president. He says that the
constitution already allows for the dismissal of the president under a variety
of circumstances and therefore a referendum is unnecessary and
unconstitutional. Lukashenka also seeks to change the article which states that
in the event of the president's disability, power would be transferred to the
chairman of the Supreme Soviet and only revested with the president once
parliament has received a report on his recovery. According to Lukashenka,
there is nothing in the constitution addressing the temporary disability of the
head of state. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.
UNEMPLOYMENT GROWS IN SLOVAKIA.
Slovakia's unemployment rate grew by
0.6% in January to reach 15.2%, Narodna obroda reported on 23 February.
A total of 387,086 people were registered as unemployed at the end of the
month. In 11 districts the unemployment rate was above 20%, in 14 it was higher
than 15%, and only 3 districts had a rate lower than 10%. The highest rate
(28.9%) was in the district of Rimavska Sobota, while the lowest (5.1%) was in
Bratislava. Of total unemployed, 48.9% were women. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI,
CZECH-SLOVAK CLEARING AGREEMENT TO BE CANCELED BY END OF YEAR.
visit to Slovakia on 23 February, Czech Deputy Premier and Finance Minister
Ivan Kocarnik said the clearing agreement between the Czech Republic and
Slovakia will be stopped by the end of 1995 and the two countries will trade in
convertible currency, Sme reports. Kocarnik nonetheless confirmed his
interest in the continuation of the customs union. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI,
LAST SESSION OF CURRENT ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT.
The parliament, elected in
September 1992, held its last session on 23 February, Interfax and BNS
reported. Holding further sessions would have been a great hindrance for many
deputies who are seeking reelection on 5 March. Prime Minister Andres Tarand
noted that the parliament had been very productive, adopting 426 laws and 100
decisions, declarations, and appeals in two and a half years. He said that a
recent poll had indicated a positive attitude among Estonians toward the
government and parliament and more confidence in the future. By a 52-1 vote
(with two abstentions) the parliament approved a law on foreign loans and their
state guarantees. The law states that foreign loans in one year can not exceed
15% of the year's budget and the sum total of foreign loans must not exceed 75%
of budget revenues for the fiscal year. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.
LITHUANIAN PREMIER PRESS CONFERENCE.
Prime Minister Adolfas Slezevicius
devoted his attention on 23 February to two main issues: his trip the next day
to Moscow and "deprivatization," an RFE/RL correspondent reported. Agreements
on mutual travel, border crossings, and customs cooperation will be signed
during his meeting with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. The talks
will also deal with border delimitation, return of Lithuanian embassy buildings
in Paris and Rome, long term agreements on purchasing oil and gas from Russia,
and other issues. Slezevicius also noted that he was opposed to the Seimas'
decision to include the Ignalina atomic power plant and Kedainiai chemical
plant in the list of enterprises not to be privatized until the year 2000.
Similarly, he opposes the no-confidence motion against Industry and Trade
Minister Kazimieras Klimasauskas that the Seimas commission for investigating
economic crimes is intending to initiate for not taking a stand in the
Kedainiai plant's earlier privatization. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI,
MACEDONIAN STUDENTS PROTEST AGAINST ALBANIAN UNIVERSITY.
Macedonian students demonstrated in front of the parliament building in Skopje
on 23 February against higher education being taught in the Albanian language,
AFP reported the same day. The students argued that teaching in Albanian serves
as a pretext for the breakup of Macedonia. Following the police crackdown on a
self-proclaimed Albanian-language university on 17 February, police arrested
more Albanian activists on 22 February. The former leader of the Party of
Democratic Prosperity (PPD) and a founder and current leader of the Party for
the Peoples Union, Nevzat Halili, and a professor at the Albanian-language
university, Musli Halimi, were arrested, the Macedonian-Albanian newspaper
Flaka reported on 23 February. Meanwhile, the current leader of the PPD,
Abdurrahman Aliti, met with British ambassador to Macedonia Tony Milson,
Flaka reported on 24 February. Milson stressed that a policy of dialogue
will bring results and praised the contribution of the PPD in averting the
conflict. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.
WASHINGTON ANNOUNCES THE "FRIENDS OF THE FEDERATION."
Secretary of State Richard Holbrooke said that a new international group has
been set up to support the joint Croat-Muslim federation in Bosnia-Herzegovina,
Nasa Borba reported on 24 February. The "Friends of the Federation" will
have their work cut out for them, and Novi list cites Bishop Pero Sudar
as saying that Croats are being driven from their apartments in Sarajevo by
Muslims and not given new housing. The Muslims are also having problems with
the UN, which has now accused their military of conducting "an orchestrated
campaign of harassment" against UNPROFOR, although government forces have not
been as obstructive as the Serbs. News agencies also report that government and
Serb officials met at Sarajevo airport on 23 February for a second day of
apparently inconclusive meetings about humanitarian and other practical
questions, as well as about the fighting in the Bihac pocket. -- Patrick Moore,
CROATIAN CATHOLIC CHURCH SLAMS GOVERNMENT ATTEMPTS TO CO-OPT IT.
list on 24 February reprints a commentary from the latest issue of the
Roman Catholic Church's weekly Glas Koncila. The editorial takes to task
unnamed officials of the government or the ruling Croatian Democratic Community
(HDZ) for trying to use Catholicism as part of a "state ideology." The author
notes that Christianity cannot be a political ideology and that democratic
countries do not need official ideologies. The commentary particularly takes
issue with those who have said that the church should not preach "love thine
enemy" under the present circumstances in Croatia. On the contrary, while
Croatian Catholics should defend their country out of patriotism, the article
continues, they must never hate their enemies but rather love them as brothers.
The commentary reflects views typical of Pope John Paul II and especially of
Croatia's Cardinal Franjo Kuharic, who has kept a healthy distance from the
government and openly criticized its war against the Muslims in 1993. The HDZ's
attempts to use Catholicism for its own ends have struck many observers as
bizarre, since President Franjo Tudjman is not know to be a particularly
religious man and since his party contains agnostics, atheists, Jews, Muslims
and others who reject the idea of making the HDZ a Christian democratic party.
-- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.
HELP FOR NASA BORBA.
Nasa Borba reported on 23 February
that on the previous day the Executive Commission of the European Union
allocated some $120,000 in assistance to Nasa Borba, an independent
daily, so that it may acquire much-needed newsprint. The aid is slated to be
directed through the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ),
headquartered in Brussels. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.
ROMANIAN-HUNGARIAN BASIC TREATY NEGOTIATIONS.
Radio Bucharest reported
on a Romanian Foreign Ministry press release on 23 February that said
"significant progress" had been made at the latest round of high-level
negotiations in Bucharest on the basic treaty with Hungary. The ministry said
the two sides had also come closer to an agreement on the article concerning
the rights of national minorities. This article had been one of the main
stumbling blocks in the negotiations. The Romanian side has submitted new
proposals which will be discussed at the next high-level meeting, most likely
next week in Budapest, according to the press release. -- Michael Shafir,
VAN DER STOEL IN BUCHAREST.
The OSCE High Commissioner on National
Minorities, Max van der Stoel, met on 23 February with Prime Minister Nicolae
Vacaroiu, Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu, the chairmen of the two houses of
Romania's parliament, Adrian Nastase and Oliviu Gherman, as well as Viorel
Hrebenciuc, the secretary of the government in charge of the Council on
National Minorities. Radio Bucharest and Romanian Television reported that
Melescanu told his guest about the progress in the negotiations with Hungary on
the basic treaty. Max van der Stoel said he was under the impression that the
efforts "necessary for a Romanian-Hungarian dialogue are being intensified" and
expressed his hope that these will also bear fruit. After the Vacaroiu-van der
Stoel meeting, the government spokesman said they had discussed, among other
things, the pending education law's provisions on teaching in the languages of
national minorities. The Hungarian minority says the law (which has been passed
by the Chamber of Deputies and is to be discussed in the Senate) is
discriminating. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.
MARTINEZ IN CHISINAU.
The president of the Parliamentary Assembly of the
Council of Europe, Miguel Angel Martinez, arrived in Chisinau on 22 February
for a one-day visit, Western and Romanian media reported. In an address to the
Moldovan parliament, Martinez said Moldova's candidacy for the Council of
Europe will be examined "in the first quarter of this year," Reuters reported.
Martinez also said the constitution adopted by Moldova in July 1994 laid a
solid framework for a democratic state, giving priority to human rights. He
said Moldova's approach to national minorities could serve as a model for other
former Soviet republics and for the former Yugoslavia. Martinez also met
Moldovan President Mircea Snegur, Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli, the chairman
of the parliament, Petru Lucinschi, and Foreign Minister Mihai Popov. Martinez
met also with the chairman of the Supreme Soviet of the self-styled
Transdniester republic, Grigore Marcuta. Reuters quoted Martinez as telling the
Moldovan parliament that Russia could join the Council of Europe only if it
proved it dealt with human rights in a "civilized way." he said the crisis in
Chechnya has "had a negative impact on the timetable of Russia's accession" to
the Council. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.
UDOVENKO VISITS MOLDOVA.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko
began a two-day visit to Moldova on 23 February. Quoting Moldpres, Radio
Bucharest said on 23 February that Udovenko told his Moldovan hosts that
Ukraine will not obstruct the transit of the 14th army troops and munition
through its territory. However, he added that the transit is linked to
"complicated matters," such as ecological problems, but also security problems
posed by the arsenal and munition of the Russian army. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI,
HOLBROOKE VISITS SLOVAKIA, ROMANIA.
U.S. Assistant Secretary of State
Richard Holbrooke visited Slovakia and Romania February 23 to discuss NATO
enlargement issues, Reuters reports. After meeting Slovak president Michal
Kovac in Bratislava, Holbrooke told reporters "I must stress that the United
States considers central Europe of great importance for stability throughout
Europe." In Bucharest, he praised Romania's role as a an "active participant"
in NATO's Partnership for Peace program. He also discussed the U.S. plan to
have NATO offer Russia "a security framework that we see parallel with NATO
expansion." He stressed that this plan "would not give Russia veto power over
NATO." Holbrooke further said that NATO would be sending a team to Eastern
Europe to discuss expansion. Radio Bucharest reported that Holbrooke was
"delighted" with the U.S. strategic relationship with Romania, thought
political relations were "quite good," but was disappointed with the state of
economic relations where American investments were lagging behind those in
Hungary and the Czech Republic. He blamed the slow privatization process for
this state of affairs. -- Michael Mihalka and Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.
BULGARIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES RESTITUTION LAW.
The National Assembly on 23
February passed an amendment to the restitution law, which provides that
tenants can stay another three years in restituted property,
Demokratsiya reported the following day. Some 130 of the 240 deputies
voted for the bill. The amendment had already been passed on 9 February, but
President Zhelyu Zhelev had rejected it on 22 February (see 23 February OMRI
Daily Digest). Demokratsiya wrote that the Socialist Party "blocks
restitution for three more years," while Trud assesses that "the new
prolongation of the restitution law does not solve the problem." -- Stefan
Krause, OMRI, Inc.
GREEK POLICE DETAIN ALBANIAN IMMIGRANTS.
Greek border guards detained
and expelled 2,929 illegal Albanian immigrants between 17 and 21 February,
Western agencies reported on 22 February. That is an average of some 600
Albanians expelled every day. According to Greek officials the expulsions are a
reaction to an increased influx of illegal Albanians via the snowbound
mountainous area since milder weather allowed people to cross the unmarked
border. According to Greek estimates about 300,000 Albanians work illegally in
Greece. Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias is expected to discuss a
possible regulation of seasonal work for Albanians in Greece with his Albanian
counterpart, Alfred Serreqi, during his visit to Albania in March. -- Fabian
Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.
[As of 12:00 CET]
Compiled by Victor Gomez and Pete Baumgartner