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Newsline - March 24, 1995


YELTSIN ORDERS CRACKDOWN ON FASCISM.
President Boris Yeltsin has signed a decree ordering a crackdown on groups fanning social, racial, national, and religious discord in Russia, Interfax and Western agencies reported on 23 March. The decree criticized the performance of the Russian Prosecutor General's Office, the Interior Ministry, the Justice Ministry, and the State Press Committee as "totally unsatisfactory and uncoordinated." The Interior Ministry and Federal Counterintelligence Service were instructed to arrest individuals distributing materials promoting the described activities. The president also ordered the Academy of Sciences to define fascism within the next two weeks so that the laws could be clarified, Reuters reported. Yeltsin's legal aide Mikhail Krasnov said the decree involved no sanctions and merely reflects tough instructions for the ministries. Yeltsin's political opponents believe that he has issued the decree now in order to thwart the efforts of nationalist candidates in upcoming elections. On the same day that Yeltsin issued the decree, Moscow authorities released Alexei Vedenkin, a leader of the extremist Russian National Unity, who was jailed for threatening to kill certain State Duma deputies. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

DUMA SEEKS GREATER CONTROL OVER PRESIDENT.
The Duma Legislation Committee has prepared several amendments to the constitution that will force the president to gain Duma consent in appointing deputies to the posts of prime minister, the ministers of defense, interior, and foreign affairs, and the chief of the Federal Counterintelligence Service, Interfax reported on 24 March. Under the current constitution, the Duma only has the power to confirm the prime minister. The legislation will also make it more difficult for the president to dissolve the legislature, forcing him to first get the approval of the Constitutional Court. The constitutional amendments require a majority of two-thirds in both houses and two-thirds of federation-member legislative bodies for approval. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

"HONEYMOON'S OVER"; LITTLE PROGRESS IN U.S.-RUSSIA RELATIONS.
Talks between U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev ended after two days on 23 March with few results, international agencies reported. Describing the state of U.S.-Russian relations, Kozyrev said, "The honeymoon came to an end but didn't end in a divorce." According to ITAR-TASS, Kozyrev said the issue of NATO expansion was not discussed. Christopher made it clear that the unresolved situation in Chechnya is blocking the possibility of Russia participating in the economic side of the June G-7 meeting to be held in Halifax. Kozyrev said Russian aid to the Iranian nuclear program would continue. The only tangible result of the meeting, intended to pave the way for the Clinton-Yeltsin summit in May, is an agreement to conduct a joint study on nonproliferation. -- Michael Mihalka, OMRI, Inc.

ZYUGANOV SEES GROWING SUPPORT FOR COMMUNISTS.
The results of recent local elections in Dagestan, Tatarstan, Bashkortostan, and the Orel and Vladimir oblasts indicate "a sharp turn to the left in public sentiment," according to Gennady Zyuganov, the leader of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation, Interfax reported on 23 March. Zyuganov said voter turnout in those regions tended to be 10-15% higher than in the 1993 parliamentary elections and the victors were representatives of the local administration or left-wing groups. The triumph of local incumbents is particularly telling because those regions rejected the "Yeltsin-Gaidar" approach to reform and stuck to more conservative values. Valentin Kuptsov, first deputy chairman of the party's Central Committee, predicted the Communists would win 25% of the vote in the December parliamentary elections even though opposition parties will likely have difficulty getting access to the media. -- Robert Orttung, OMRI, Inc.

LESNEVSKAYA DEFENDS RUSSIAN PUBLIC TELEVISION.
President of independent REN Television Irena Lesnevskaya has defended efforts to reorganize Ostankino Channel One into Russian Public Television, Izvestiya reported on 24 March. Lesnevskaya and the heads of other major independent TV companies helped draw up the restructuring plan. Lesnevskaya denied that Russian Public Television was created to profit board members, saying that TV companies would gain "only one thing: our complete independence" from the plan. She also said the continuing controversy over the issue indicated that Russian Public Television director general Vladislav Listev had been murdered to prevent changes at state-run Ostankino, which could easily be "controlled by money or over the telephone." Lesnesvskaya said the decision to ban advertising on Channel One as of 1 April (which many have linked to Listev's assassination) had been a mistake, since advertising revenues help preserve a TV company's financial independence. Having worked at Ostankino for 25 years, Lesnevskaya added, she knew that producers there only possessed "ersatz independence," since Ostankino employs "ten bureaucrats for every creative worker." -- Laura Belin, OMRI, Inc.

CHECHEN COMMITTEE FOR NATIONAL ACCORD REPLACES PROVISIONAL COUNCIL.
The Provisional Council that constituted the main opposition body to Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev has dissolved itself "in the interests of the nation," its chairman Umar Avturkhanov told Interfax on 23 March. It will be replaced by a 45-member Committee for National Accord, also headed by Avturkhanov, which has the blessing of President Boris Yeltsin. The new committee's tasks are "national reconciliation" and the drafting of a new constitution and an election law. Also on 23 March, Russian troops drove Dudaev's forces from the town of Argun, east of Grozny. -- Liz Fuller, OMRI, Inc.

THE NPT AS VIEWED FROM MOSCOW.
Yevgeny Primakov, director of the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service (FIS), made public his agency's analysis of the prospects for the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT) at a 23 March Moscow press conference, ITAR-TASS reported. An international conference opens in New York next month to consider the future of the 25-year-old treaty. ITAR-TASS quoted the report as listing four possible scenarios for the conference: an indefinite extension; an extension for "a considerable period"; an extension for periods of 5-10 years with each subsequent prolongation linked to concrete commitments by the nuclear powers; and no positive results. Primakov said Russia preferred the first scenario but could live with the second. The third he called "unacceptable," while the fourth would be the worst possible result. Primakov praised the NPT for preventing the emergence of another 20 nuclear powers over the past several decades, Interfax reported. He said reports that weapons grade uranium had been smuggled out of Russia were "bluffs" aimed at misleading world opinion. He also denied that Iran possesses nuclear weapons or could create them within five years--a recent claim made by the United States. -- Doug Clarke, OMRI, Inc.

DAVYDOV FEARS CURRENCY DRAIN.
Russian Foreign Economic Ties Minister Oleg Davydov fears a currency drain from Russia worth billions of dollars, Interfax reported on 23 March. Until a new decree to regulate foreign trade and currency accounts is implemented on 1 July, Davydov said there may be "an outburst of capital drain from Russia through the concealment of a portion of export profits in foreign banks." The minister said to curb the increasing flow of capital out of the country, Russia will have "to create a reliable political system, trim annual inflation to 3-4%, and restore or arrange conditions for industries to become profitable." Russian experts estimate last year's capital flight at $2.5-5 billion. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

STATE PROPERTY COMMITTEE TO FACILITATE SALE OF GOVERNMENT SHAREHOLDINGS IN OIL COMPANIES.
Russian State Property Committee Chairman Sergei Belyaev announced that Russia plans to facilitate the sale of government shareholdings in oil companies to local and foreign investors, Interfax reported on 23 March. Speaking at an international conference on the oil sector held in London, Belyaev said Russia should devise a system to sell shares from a government controlled package to benefit oil companies. According to him, companies should be entitled to sell as much as 10% of their shares in addition to the 15% that can be sold to foreign investors under a presidential decree. In a recent interview with the Petroleum Information Agency, Belyaev said the government is discussing a draft decree which would reduce government shareholding in oil companies from 45% to about 25%. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

RUBLE SLIPS 15 POINTS AGAINST DOLLAR.
The ruble slipped 15 points against the dollar closing at 4,841 rubles to $1 in MICEX trading on 23 March, the Financial Information Agency reported. Volume and initial demand were $65 million with a supply of $50.98 million. The Central Bank intervened by selling $14.01 million. -- Thomas Sigel, OMRI, Inc.

LOW TAX REVENUES IN 1994.
The State Tax Inspectorate collected 148 trillion rubles in 1994, 33 trillion short of the target figure, Vladimir Gusev, the head of the inspectorate, told reporters on 23 March. At the same press conference, Tax Police Department head Sergei Almazov said tax evasion is increasing, Interfax reported. He put the number of business people not paying their taxes at 12,000 in 1994 compared with 1,000 in 1993. Incidents of tax evasion increased from 32,000 to 57,000 over the same period, with more than 400 of the 1994 cases involving over a billion rubles, Russian TV reported. There were only 209 convictions. According to Almazov, large scale tax evasion was most prevalent in trading of vehicles, crude oil and petroleum products, non-ferrous metals, consumer goods, and timber. Fishermen and bankers were also cited as notorious tax dodgers. -- Penny Morvant, OMRI, Inc.



KYRGYZSTAN HOPES NEW TRANSPORTATION LINKS WILL HELP ECONOMY.
In a meeting with local industrialists and entrepreneurs on 22 March, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev promised to "support as much as possible" the trade and commercial companies engaged in creating a genuine market system, Interfax reported. With the new Kyrgyz parliament set to hold its first session on 28 March, that could be a preview of Akayev's priorities. The president went on to describe the importance of the new highway from China to Pakistan, which will run through Kyrgyzstan and is scheduled to open this summer, plus a new railway extending to the Persian Gulf through Ashgabat and Bender-Abbas in Iran, which opens next year. Kyrgyzstan, until now, had been off the beaten-path of trade, a factor which contributed to the image of a country with a weak economy. That perception was evident in the reluctance of Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Russia to allow Kyrgyzstan into the customs union during last month's CIS summit. -- Bruce Pannier, OMRI, Inc.


MORE ON TURKISH INCURSION INTO NORTHERN IRAQ.
Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev said he supports the Turkish military operation against the PKK in northern Iraq, the state-run TRT television station reported on 22 March. Meanwhile, UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali warned that the UN relief effort might be adversely affected by the Turkish offensive and urged Ankara to ensure the safety of Kurdish civilians and refugees, Reuters reported on 23 March. German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel, in Ankara for talks between the EU and Turkey, warned that the drive could "severely damage" Turkey's already battered image, while French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe was quoted by Reuters the same day as saying, "If a vote to (to ratify the customs accord) was tomorrow I'm afraid the result wouldn't be positive." Greece, for its part, expressed its deep concern for the first time and urged the EU to take unspecified action. The Russian Foreign Ministry has expressed its hope that military operations will be completed early and "reacted with concern to reports about human casualties, including among the civilian population," Interfax reported on 23 March. In an unconfirmed report broadcast on Kanal-6, the leader of Turkey's Islamist Welfare Party (RP), Necmettin Erbakan, who earlier expressed his support for the incursion, claimed that U.S. and allied overflights over northern Iraq to enforce a no-fly zone provided intelligence to the Kurdish guerrillas so they could escape. He also alleged that the current Turkish administration is under the "influence and control of foreign agents," notably the CIA and Mossad. -- Lowell Bezanis, OMRI, Inc.

CIS

UKRAINE AND RUSSIA REACH DEBT DEAL.
Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets announced that Ukraine and Russia have reached an agreement to restructure Ukraine's debt to Russia, Reuters reported on 23 March. Soskovets said Ukraine will repay $2.5 billion over a twelve-year period, with a two-year grace period, observing that, "The only payment Ukraine is obligated to make by 20 March 1997, is $68 million." He also added that a separate agreement has been reached on Ukraine's $1.7 billion debt to Russia's energy monopoly, Gazprom. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.



VAHI ASKED TO FORM ESTONIAN GOVERNMENT.
President Lennart Meri on 23 March formally nominated Tiit Vahi as his candidate for prime minister, Western agencies report. The 48-year-old Vahi is chairman of the Coalition Party and Rural Union alliance, which won 41 of the 101 seats in the parliament elections on 5 March. Vahi served as prime minister in 1992 and as chairman of the Tallinn City Council from October 1993. He has 14 days in which to form a cabinet and then seven days to submit a list of ministers to Meri, who must approve it within three days. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

LATVIAN DEFENSE MINISTER SACKED.
Latvian Prime Minister Maris Gailis on 23 March fired Janis Arveds Trapans as defense minister in a dispute over how the ministry should be run, AFP reported. Gailis is reported to have been dissatisfied with Trapans' failure to stamp out bullying in the army or to bring even a single company up to combat readiness. Gailis took over the defense portfolio and expects to appoint a new minister "over the next few weeks." -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.

LITHUANIAN LOCAL ELECTIONS.
Elections for 1,132 deputy mandates in local councils of 12 cities and 44 raions will take place in Lithuania on 25 March. A total of 7,327 candidates from 17 political parties and organizations are running. The ruling Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party (LDLP) and the Homeland Union are competing in all 56 districts; the Lithuanian Christian Democratic Party in 55, the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party in 44, the Peasants' Party in 43, and the Lithuanian Freedom League in one. LDLP leaders are predicting that the party, which has very few council seats now, will receive about a third of the votes, BNS reported on 23 March. -- Saulius Girnius, OMRI, Inc.


UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT IN JAPAN.
International media on 23 March reported that Leonid Kuchma and Japanese Prime Minister Tomiichi Murayama have issued a joint statement agreeing to back an indefinite prolonging of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Reuters also reported that Japan offered Kiev a new aid package, including a pledge of "a maximum of $150 million in untied loans through the Export-Import (Exim) Bank of Japan." The credit is contingent on the IMF's approval of a $1.5 billion standby loan to Kiev. Kuchma arrived in Japan on 22 March for a four-day official visit. -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

ECONOMIC NEWS FROM BELARUS.
The Belarusian Ministry for State Property Privatization has announced that only 500 state-owned enterprises are to be privatized in 1995, or 4.39%, according to Interfax on 22 March. But while the Belarusian Statistics Ministry reported that 44% have already been privatized, the State Property Ministry put the number at 10%, or 1,146 enterprises. In other news, Lukashenka passed a decree imposing an additional excise tax on imported liquor and cigarettes in order to increase state revenues. The Economics Ministry is considering raising the price of electricity and implementing energy economizing measures to help pay off the country's $435 million energy debt to Russia. -- Ustina Markus, OMRI, Inc.


POLISH GOVERNMENT BACKS DECENTRALIZATION.
During the new government's first meeting with the 49 voivodship chiefs, public administration chief Marek Borowski announced that the powiat (an intermediary level of local self-government) will be introduced on 1 January 1997. The government headed by Hanna Suchocka had designed the new institution, but implementation was scuttled by Prime Minister Waldemar Pawlak and his Polish Peasant Party (PSL). Borowski's declaration appears to reflect a return to the decentralizing goals pursued by the Solidarity governments from 1989-1993. Borowski said the government's move had the PSL's backing. Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy told the voivods they need not fear a purge and would be judged on the basis of performance rather than political affiliation. Both Oleksy and Borowski stressed the importance of speedy privatization, Radio Warsaw reported. The prime minister is to meet with the Roman Catholic primate, Cardinal Jozef Glemp, on 25 March. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.

NO ROLE FOR WALESA IN WWII CEREMONY?
German Chancellor Helmut Kohl announced on 23 March that Polish President Lech Walesa will not be invited to attend ceremonies in Berlin on 8 May marking the end of World War II. Heads of state or prime ministers from the U.S., Russia, Britain, and France will attend. Kohl implicitly confirmed that Walesa might be invited to a separate event in Germany, but presidential officials indicated that diplomatic negotiations are still under way. Polish participation in the ceremonies will be raised by Foreign Minister Wladyslaw Bartoszewski during his visit to Germany later this month, Radio Warsaw reported. A spokesman noted, however, that Walesa would not demand to go where he had not been invited. Gazeta Wyborcza reported on 24 March that Walesa may choose not to attend any ceremonies marking the occasion outside Poland. -- Louisa Vinton, OMRI, Inc.


CZECH PRESIDENT URGES COALITION PARTIES TO RESOLVE SQUABBLES.
Vaclav Havel, in an attempt to defuse tensions within the government, told Czech Television on 23 March he has urged the four coalition parties to resolve their differences. "I appealed to them to uphold [the coalition agreements] that communication should function in the coalition and that possible tensions should be overcome," Havel said of his individual meetings with the four party leaders the previous day. The main source of current tension is a police investigation into corruption charges against the head of the Civic Democratic Alliance's (ODA) Secretariat. The ODA claims the investigation is politically motivated but has denied it intends to leave the coalition. Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec, a deputy chairman of the dominant Civic Democratic Party (ODS), said the ODA is engaged in political blackmail and is not putting its own house in order, Mlada fronta dnes reports. Havel said the situation was complicated but there was hope the coalition will hold together until next year's general election. -- Steve Kettle, OMRI, Inc.


SLOVAKIA ASKS EBRD TO DELAY DECISION ON MOCHOVCE.
Deputy Premier and Finance Minister Sergej Kozlik has asked the EBRD to delay its decision on granting a loan for the construction of Slovakia's nuclear plant at Mochovce, Sme and Narodna obroda reported on 24 March. The bank was due to take a decision on 27 March. Kozlik said the request was prompted by the European Parliament's 15 March resolution that funding to help complete the plant be delayed until various safety issues are addressed. He also said the Ministries of Economy and Finance have not yet completed their evaluation for financing the project. Nevertheless, Kozlik stressed that the government is committed to finishing the project. Opposition Christian Democratic Movement deputy Mikulas Dzurinda expressed surprise at the government's decision. Russia has also offered to held finance the project. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.

ANOTHER DEMONSTRATION IN BRATISLAVA.
An estimated 8,000 Slovaks on 23 March gathered in Bratislava's SNP square to protest limitations on freedom of speech, Sme reports. Earlier this month, demonstrators in the capital opposed Slovak Television director Jozef Darmo's decision to cancel three satirical political programs. A petition demanding that the programs be reinstated was signed by more than 115,000 people. Ladislav Suty, the organizer of the petition, told the 23 March rally that only one of the conditions set by the protesters has been met, and he noted that opinions differing from those of the government are still not given air time. Slovak President Michal Kovac on 23 March met with representatives of STV to discuss the petition and the campaign in the press against state-run TV. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.


SLOVAK CABINET'S FIRST 100 DAYS EVALUATED.
Slovakia's political parties on 22 March evaluated the government's first 100 days in office, Narodna obroda reported the following day. Christian Democratic Movement Chairman Jan Carnogursky said the cabinet "initiated an unprecedented wave of dismissals," and he criticized the campaign to limit the president's powers. Other opposition parties expressed dissatisfaction with the delay in the privatization program, the governing parties' failure to keep their preelection promises, and purges in the media. Meanwhile, Slovak National Party Deputy Chairwoman Anna Malikova, whose party is a coalition member, stressed that for the first time, the cabinet drafted a budget based on stimulating economic growth rather than on restrictive policies. While describing Slovakia's foreign policy as "very tolerant," she emphasized that the SNP views the signing of the basic treaty between Slovakia and Hungary negatively. -- Sharon Fisher, OMRI, Inc.




BOSNIAN GOVERNMENT FORCES MAKE GAINS NEAR TUZLA.
International media on 24 March report that government troops appear to have made considerable gains in the Majevica hills in recent days. UN spokesmen said they could not confirm whether the mainly Muslim forces had actually taken the key Serbian communications tower at Stolice, but they added it was clear that government troops had advanced about a mile for the first time. The Bosnian Serb news agency SRNA on 23 March denied that Serbian forces had lost any ground. The government's overall goal is to cut the Posavina land corridor linking Serbia with its conquests in Bosnia and Croatia. Meanwhile in New York, Bosnia's ambassador to the UN said that his government is unhappy with UNPROFOR's performance and wants it to carry out its mandate more rigorously. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.

KOZYREV HAS NEW BOSNIAN PEACE PLAN.
Nasa Borba on 24 March reported that Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev, following meetings with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher in Geneva, has said he has a new peace plan for settling conflicts throughout the former Yugoslavia. While Kozyrev gave no details of his new plan, he did indicate to reporters on 23 March that its contents were devised with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and discussed with Bosnian Muslim leaders. Nasa Borba suggests that the plan hinges on Milosevic's recognition of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Croatia in exchange for lifting all international sanctions against the rump Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, The New York Times on 24 March reports that unnamed diplomats claim Milosevic may have no sincere plans to recognize Croatia "because he still has some territorial designs on the country that would involve limited but significant changes in Croatia's borders." -- Stan Markotich, OMRI, Inc.

CROATIAN REFUGEE UPDATE.
The Government Office for Refugees and Displaced Persons puts the current refugee population at 384,409, Hina reported on 21 March. Some 195,802 are from Serb-held areas in Croatia and the rest from Bosnia-Herzegovina. Only 10,000 people have been able to return to their homes in the past two years, but the authorities hope that 50,000 can return to Bosnian government-controlled areas this year. Fewer Bosnian refugees have been arriving lately, but many more displaced persons are returning to Croatia from abroad. Refugee status will be given only to those Bosnians from Serb-held areas. Care for refugees is the second largest item, after defense, in Croatia's state budget. -- Patrick Moore, OMRI, Inc.


WORKERS PROTEST AGAIN IN BUCHAREST.
Thousands of workers demonstrated in Bucharest on 23 March in what union leaders said was a "last warning" to the government to settle demands for wage increases and improved benefits. Reuters reported that some 20,000 workers participated in the protest, the fourth such demonstration in the capital this week. There were also protests in the northeast city of Iasi and elsewhere. National Trade Union Bloc leader Dumitru Costin, in a statement read at the Bucharest rally, said the government had one month to meet the workers' demands, otherwise more street protests would be held. In a related development, Bucharest subway employees announced a two-hour warning strike for 24 March. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION PARTIES APPEAL TO ILIESCU OVER TV COUNCIL STRIFE.
Eight opposition parties have asked President Ion Iliescu to mediate in a dispute over selecting members of the Romanian Television's Administrative Council, Radio Bucharest and Romanian Television reported on 23 March. The parties' appeal to Iliescu comes after the parliament commissions for the arts, culture, and mass media decided on 23 March to annul the elections, held on 25 July 1994, claiming that "non-professional staff" had been allowed to vote. The Free Trade Union of Radio and Television Employees rejected this decision, pointing out that it came long after the elections were held. The two parliament commissions recently rejected the television employees' candidate, philosopher Gabriel Liiceanu, and appointed Romanian Television Director-General Paul Soloc. Liiceanu is a well-known critic of the Iliescu regime. The radio and television trade unions consider the measure illegal, and their leader, Dumitru Iuga, has been on a protest hunger strike for 22 days. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

UPDATE ON STUDENTS' STRIKE IN CHISINAU.
The official Romanian news agency Rompres, citing Moldpres, said on 23 March that the government has agreed to give air time to the student strikers to allow them to make their demands over national radio and television. Minister of Education Petru Gaugaj told Moldovan Television that courses on the history of the Romanians will continue to be offered in schools and universities. The students' initiative to go on strike was welcomed by former parliament chairman Alexandru Mosianu and leader of the opposition Popular Front Iurie Rosca. Mosianu, addressing the protesters, accused the Moldovan leadership of "driving the country into the new empire" of the CIS, Rompres reported. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.


IMF APPROVES STAND-BY CREDIT FOR MOLDOVA.
The International Monetary Fund has approved a $90 million credit for Moldova to be made available over the next 12 months, an RFE/RL correspondent in Washington reported on 22 March. The stand-by credit is aimed at supporting economic stabilization and reform in 1995. The IMF said that structural reforms were "crucial to the ultimate success of Moldova's transition to financial stabilization and a market economy" and that the acceleration of reforms, which began in late 1994, must be sustained for the transformation to succeed. -- Michael Shafir, OMRI, Inc.

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION PROTESTS NEW LAND LAW.
More than 30,000 people on 23 March protested in Sofia against a planned amendment to the land restitution law, international news agencies reported the same day. The rally was organized by the Union of Democratic Forces and the People's Union, the two major opposition forces in the parliament. Under the proposed amendment, land owners wishing to sell their land would first have to offer it to the state, which has two months to decide whether to buy it. They are allowed to sell it to a third party only if the state decides not to buy it. The amendment is expected to be passed by the Socialist majority on 24 March. Yordan Sokolov, leader of the UDF parliamentary faction, was quoted by AFP as saying the UDF would oppose the amendment using "all legal means." Anastasia Dimitrova-Mozer, joint leader of the People's Union, said the new law "threatens the very basis of democracy," as it is "anti-market [and] anti-constitutional." -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.

GREECE ACCEPTS DIRECT TALKS WITH MACEDONIA.
Greece on 23 March formally accepted a UN invitation to hold direct talks with Macedonia in New York on 6 April, AFP reported the same day. Government Spokesman Evangelos Venizelos was quoted by international news agencies as saying that Greece is "prepared to attend...with the embargo in force and with the positions we have stated before." Macedonia had announced on 20 March that it will take part in the talks only if the Greek embargo is lifted. -- Stefan Krause, OMRI, Inc.


GREECE JAILS SUSPECTED MAVI MEMBERS.
Greece on 23 March jailed seven men who were arrested with assault rifles and paramilitary gear near the Albanian border on 19 March, Reuters reported. The four ethnic Greeks from Albania and three Greek citizens from Athens are accused of membership in the terrorist Northern Epirus Liberation Front (MAVI) and of planning a cross-border raid into Albania. The men deny the charges. Meanwhile, investigations have begun into Panayiotis Moulieris, a communications officer in the Albanian embassy in Athens. Moulieris was recalled from Tirana after embassy staff found MAVI pamphlets in his possession shortly before Greek Foreign Minister Karolos Papoulias's visit to Tirana on 13-14 March. MAVI claimed responsibility for a cross-border raid in April 1994 and for the bombing of the Albanian ambassador's car in Athens in 1991. -- Fabian Schmidt, OMRI, Inc.

[As of 12:00 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave




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