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Newsline - February 23, 1996


YELTSIN CALLS FOR REFORM AT LOWER SOCIAL COST IN STATE OF THE NATION ADDRESS.
President Boris Yeltsin stressed the importance of "developing the market and bringing down the social cost of this process" in his annual state of the nation address to the parliament on 23 February, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin said that economic reforms have passed through the stages of liberalization and financial stabilization, and are now entering the third step of stimulating production and investment, increasing productivity, and a complete structural overhaul of the Russian economy. He described the economic situation as "complicated" and said bringing inflation down to less than 25% a year is necessary to end the crisis. He warned that "we are near a dangerous limit beyond which exhaustion and discontent may outweigh patience and hope." In the political sphere, Yeltsin said that his reforms were "the first in Russia to be realized without repression and the destruction of political enemies." -- Robert Orttung

YELTSIN CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT. . .
Yeltsin declared that the government had failed to carry out the social tasks spelled out in his last two addresses. Yeltsin threatened that if the government did not carry out these tasks, he would replace it. He ordered Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin immediately to prepare a presidential decree to compensate people who lost their savings due to inflation caused by the introduction of his reforms. He also called for the establishment of a public-private foundation to help deceived investors. Yeltsin stressed increased housing construction, support for small businesses, and the establishment of an insurance system for deposits in commercial banks. To combat economic crime, Yeltsin proposed tightening up the procedure for registering commerical entities and reforming the "unwieldy and contradictory tax system." He said that the government had failed to implement reform in the agricultural sector in 1995, leading to the dismissal of Agriculture Minister Aleksandr Nazarchuk. He blamed interest groups and a lack of executive discipline for these failures and called on the parliament to pass a land code to allow the buying and selling of land. -- Robert Orttung

. . . REJECTS PULLOUT IN CHECHNYA.
On Chechnya, Yeltsin said that the two commissions on resolving the conflict had sent him recommendations and that a "peaceful resolution would be based on them." In spite of the ongoing fighting, he described his policy as a set of measures based on negotiations and strengthening the legitimacy of Chechnya's government. He rejected negotiations with "bandits" and a withdrawal of troops, saying that this would lead to war throughout the Caucasus, AFP reported. He said that Chechnya should have a special status inside the Russian Federation but did not make clear what this would mean. -- Robert Orttung

CHERNOMYRDIN COMMISSION APPROVES CHECHEN SETTLEMENT BLUEPRINT.
The Russian government commission chaired by Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin that is charged with finding a solution to the ongoing Chechen conflict approved a draft proposal at a 22 February session that comprises unspecified political, economic, social, diplomatic, and military measures to deal with the conflict, ITAR-TASS reported. Details of the draft are to be ironed out within the next few days. Chechen Prime Minister Doku Zavgaev, who attended the meeting, said the plan marks the beginning of "a new stage" in the process of resolving the crisis; he added that it would be "madness" to attempt to negotiate a peace settlement with President Dzhokhar Dudaev. Also on 22 February, Chechen militants blew up the gas pipeline from Chechnya to Dagestan, according to Ekho Moskvy. Meanwhile, sporadic fighting between Russian federal troops and Chechen militants continued near the village of Tsintaroi, Russian TV reported. -- Liz Fuller

YELTSIN TO SUSPEND REGIONAL DISMISSALS.
The upper house of the Russian parliament has asked President Boris Yeltsin to suspend his 21 February decree that ordered the dismissal of the governors of Arkhangelsk and Saratov oblasts, Pavel Balakshin and Yurii Belykh, Russian media reported on 22 February. The governors were sacked for allegedly misusing federal budget allocations (see OMRI Daily Digest, 22 February 1996), but their deputies say the presidential decree misrepresents the situation in their regions. The Federation Council also ordered its legislative committee to consider the constitutionality of the dismissals. According to the Law on the Status of Deputies, a Council deputy can only be dismissed with the Council's permission. The two governors, like most regional executive heads, were appointed directly by the president. Such regional heads make up one-third of the Council. The same day, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin said the president's tough personnel policy will be continued and that "heads will roll," Russian and Western agencies reported. -- Anna Paretskaya

GRACHEV SAYS ARMY WILL NOT ALLOW RUSSIA TO DISINTEGRATE.
Speaking at a 22 February ceremony on the eve of Defenders of the Fatherland Day, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said the military will not allow Russia to be weakened or divided into a "patchwork of small provinces," ITAR-TASS reported. Grachev told the assembled officers that despite its difficulties, the military remains the embodiment of Russian national dignity and power. Lauding the efforts of the Russian military to prevent conflict from spreading from various "hot spots" in Russia and the CIS, the minister expressed hope that the current approach to financing the military would be altered. Speaking after Grachev, First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets called the military a "special concern" of the government, since it is "the only guarantee of Russian national security." -- Scott Parrish

RUSSIA CONCERNED ABOUT JAPANESE MARITIME ZONE.
Foreign Ministry Spokesman Grigorii Karasin expressed concern on 22 February over the publication of maps by Japanese newspapers that include the disputed southern Kuril islands in a proposed Japanese maritime economic zone. The Japanese government recently submitted bills to parliament calling for Japan to ratify the UN Convention on Maritime Law, under which countries can declare a 200-nautical mile economic exclusion zone around their coasts. Although Japanese diplomats have said the published maps are unofficial, Karasin expressed the hope that Japan would "not take any actions which complicate Russo-Japanese relations" in the process of ratifying the UN convention. The two countries have a long-running dispute over the four southernmost Kuril islands, and a fifth round of talks on fishing rights in the surrounding waters ended on 21 February without agreement. -- Scott Parrish

ZHIRINOVSKY ENDORSES BUCHANAN.
Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky hailed Republican presidential candidate Pat Buchanan's victory in the New Hampshire primary, Russian and Western agencies reported on 22 February. In a letter released by his office, the Russian ultranationalist called Buchanan a "comrade-in-arms" and wished him a "convincing victory" in the U.S. presidential elections. -- Scott Parrish

FEDERATION COUNCIL ENDORSES COUNCIL OF EUROPE MEMBERSHIP.
As anticipated, the Federation Council unanimously approved two bills certifying Russia's adherence to the Council of Europe on 22 February, Russian and Western agencies reported. The bills must now be signed by President Yeltsin. The vote clears the way for Russia's formal induction as the council's 39th member. Council of Europe officials told journalists the same day that the induction ceremony is currently scheduled for 28 February in Strasbourg. -- Scott Parrish

MORE ON ALCOHOL PRICE CHANGES.
As of 12 March, vodka and other beverages with a higher than 28% alcohol content cannot be sold to the public for less than 18,400 rubles ($3.85) a liter, Kommersant-Daily reported on 21 February. The minimum retail and wholesale price for spirits imported from outside the CIS is 40,000 rubles ($8.37) a liter. The price increases were mandated by the Economics Ministry on 20 February in an attempt to protect the Russian market from low-quality alcohol products (see OMRI Daily Digest, 21 February 1996). Deputy Economics Minister Sergei Ignatev said the measure should not affect major domestic vodka makers such as Kristall, which produce good-quality spirits. A representative of Kristall's Moscow distillery told Komsomolskaya pravda, however, that the prices of their products would increase by about 20%. -- Penny Morvant

FEDERATION COUNCIL REJECTS RISE IN MINIMUM WAGE, PENSION.
As expected, the parliament's upper house voted on 22 February to reject draft laws raising the minimum pension and minimum wage by 20% as of 1 February, Russian agencies reported. The Federation Council said the country did not have the resources to implement the bills, which were passed by the Duma on 7 February (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 January and 8 February 1996). In the opinion of the council's committees for budget and social policy, increasing wages "on paper" would serve only to irritate the public. A conciliation commission is now being set up to revise the bills. -- Penny Morvant

MIGRATION SERVICE RELEASES 1995 DATA.
According to Federal Migration Service data, 963,000 people migrated to Russia from other CIS republics in 1995, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 February. The service said overall migration was slightly lower than in preceding years, but it noted a rise in in-migration from Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Ukraine. The number of forced migrants also increased by 300,000 during the year, up almost 20% on the number registered in 1994. In addition, the service estimated that about 610,000 people have abandoned their homes in Chechnya, 487,000 of whom were officially registered with the service last year. More than 200,000 refugees from Chechnya are already said to have returned to their homes. The Federal Migration Service has 24 permanent centers for resettling forced migrants and has set up an additional 68 centers in the North Caucasus. -- Penny Morvant

IMF GRANTS RUSSIA $10.2 BILLION LOAN.
The managing director of the IMF, Michel Camdessus, signed a $10.2 billion loan with the Russian government on 22 February in Moscow, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. The step, a major boost for President Yeltsin, will pump $4 billion into the Russian economy this year. The three-year extended fund facility is conditional upon the government increasing tax receipts and removing export duties on oil and gas. Lifting export duties will cause a loss of up to $2.5 billion in government revenue, which will boost the profits of energy companies and cause domestic oil prices to rise. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin told ITAR-TASS there will be "compensation measures" to lessen the impact of the change, "which will not be easy" to devise. Back in November the government announced it would lift energy export duties from 1 January 1996, but this was not done. -- Peter Rutland

CONSTRUCTION MINISTER UPBEAT.
Construction Minister Yefim Basin told an international conference in Moscow that 45 million square meters of housing should be built in 1996, 10% up on 1995, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 February. Only 12% of the expected 10 trillion rubles ($2 billion) investment will come from the state. He said unfinished projects are still a problem, amounting to 97 million square meters. The industry has received $160 million from the U.S. government to build flats for army officers and is negotiating with the World Bank for loans worth $530 million. -- Peter Rutland



TAJIK OPPOSITION LEADER GIVES SPEECH.
Forces loyal to the Tajik opposition are in control of 70% of Tajikistan, United Tajik Opposition (UTO) leader Said Abdullo Nuri stated in a speech broadcast by the Radio Voice of Free Tajikistan on 22 February and monitored by the BBC. Nuri went on to list the areas and the commanders who are in control. Nuri's claims, if true, would mean that the Tajik capital, Dushanbe, is ringed by the opposition except for routes leading westward, toward Uzbekistan. The UTO leader said there are cadres in the southern Kurgan-Tyube area but declined to provide any details as he claimed "they occupy smaller territory" and would be easier to locate. -- Bruce Pannier

PRIMAKOV CONCLUDES CENTRAL ASIAN VISIT.
Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov met with his Uzbek counterpart, Abdulaziz Komilov, and Uzbek President Islam Karimov in Tashkent on 22 February to discuss regional security and sign agreements on migration and the clarification of Foreign Ministry exchanges, Russian and Western sources reported. Karimov said good relations with Russia are a "priority for the Uzbek people," ITAR-TASS reported. He added that the Tajik conflict underscores the need for further integration and development of the CIS, a view he shares with Primakov. It is the second time in as many months that Primakov has visited Central Asia. -- Roger Kangas



KUCHMA ENDS U.S. VISIT.
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma wrapped up his three-day visit to the U.S. on 22 February, international agencies reported. He was promised over $1 billion in financial assistance, making Ukraine the third-largest recipient of American aid after Israel and Egypt. Russia had occupied that position since 1991. The IMF said it will offer Ukraine $900 million in credits this year, $200 million more than it previously promised. Following talks with U.S. President Bill Clinton on Russian- Ukrainian relations, Kuchma said he wished Russian President Boris Yeltsin success in this year's presidential elections, noting the result of the ballot will greatly influence bilateral relations, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 February. -- Ustina Markus

NEW SOCIALIST PARTY TO BE FORMED IN UKRAINE.
Two Ukrainian lawmakers and their supporters have announced they will hold a congress in April to found a new political party, the Progressive Socialist Party of Ukraine, UNIAN reported on 21 February. Natalia Vitrenko and Volodymyr Marchenko were recently expelled from the Socialist Party of Ukraine after criticizing the party and its leader, parliamentary speaker Oleksander Moroz, for deviating from socialist ideas. A number of party members from regional organizations in Sumy, Odessa, and Zaporizhia Oblasts quit in protest and are expected to take part in the founding congress. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

UKRAINIAN COMMUNISTS COLLECT SIGNATURES FOR PLEBISCITE.
The Communist Party of Ukraine is claiming it has collected 2.5 million signatures in support of holding a non-binding referendum on the main provisions of a new constitution, UNIAN reported on 21 February. Organizers are aiming to get the necessary 3 million signatures by 15 March. The Central Election Commission says the initiative violates a year-long moratorium on referendums imposed by the so-called constitutional agreement between the president and a majority of lawmakers. The Communists, however, did not sign that agreement and argue there are no laws against holding non-binding opinion polls. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

BELARUS TO IMPOSE NEW TARIFFS ON IMPORTS.
The Belarusian Cabinet of Ministers is preparing a new list of tariffs for imports, Belarusian Radio reported on 22 February. Last year, it approved a list of tariffs on various imported goods in line with those imposed by Russia. Now the Russian government has drawn up a new list; and under the Russian-Belarusian customs union, Belarus must comply with that list. Juices, beer, shoes, jewelry, watches, TVs and radio will be exempt from tariffs. Foreign Minister Uladzimir Syanko earlier this week said the customs union between Russian and Belarus is not being implemented. Each side has complained that the other is benefiting at its expense. -- Ustina Markus

PRESSURE ON BELARUSIAN INDEPENDENT MEDIA.
The Belarusian independent news agency Belapan and the independent newspaper Svaboda received letters on 14 February from the president's administration breaking off their lease agreements as of 15 February, an RFE/RL correspondent reported on 23 February. Their offices are in buildings belonging to the presidential administration. Although the reason given for breaking the leases was "state needs," no other company occupying the building has had its leased discontinued. This is the latest in a series of moves by the presidential administration impeding the work of independent media. -- Ustina Markus

AMNESTY FOR FORMER LATVIAN COMMUNIST LEADER.
Nine deputies of the Latvian parliament have sent a letter to President Guntis Ulmanis urging him to amnesty former Latvian Communist Party First Secretary Alfreds Rubiks, BNS reported on 22 February. Rubiks was sentenced to eight years imprisonment for plotting the overthrow of the government in 1991. Of the nine deputies, five belong to the National Harmony Party, three to the Socialist Party, and one to the Unity Party. Fourteen deputies of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly from Ukraine, Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Finland, and future member Russia signed a similar appeal to Ulmanis in January. Among them were Russian Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and ultra-nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky. -- Saulius Girnius

FORMER PRESIDENT WALESA TRIES TO UNITE POLISH RIGHT.
Former Polish President Lech Walesa is seeking again to unite leaders of right-of-center political groupings. The first planned
meeting of 15 right-wing opposition leaders did not take place on 1 February because the invited guests did not show up. On 22 February, former Prime Minister and Freedom Union leader Tadeusz Mazowiecki, former Sejm speaker and Christian National Alliance leader Wieslaw Chrzanowski and former Senate speaker Andrzej Stelmachowski met with Walesa. Mazowiecki and Chrzanowski stressed that they did not represent their parties. All four declared that they would seek a rapprochement among Polish politicians who were involved in the movement that followed August 1980 political protests, the Polish press reported on 23 February. -- Jakub Karpinski

CZECH PREMIER IN IRELAND.
Vaclav Klaus on 22 February began a two-day visit to Ireland, CTK reported. He held talks with Irish Prime Minister John Bruton and Foreign Minister Dick Spring. Bruton said Ireland welcomes and supports the Czech Republic's application to join the European Union, Klaus noted that Ireland's chairmanship of the EU in the second half of this year should bring "further signals and steps that will bring us closer to membership of the European Union." Klaus was also due to meet with Irish President Mary Robinson before leaving for a private visit to Britain. -- Steve Kettle

VIENNA RESPONDS TO SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTRY'S NOTE OVER KOVAC JR.
The Austrian Foreign Ministry on 22 February sharply criticized Slovakia for protesting a Vienna court decision to release Slovak President Michal Kovac's son, Slovak and international media reported. The ministry stressed that Austrian courts are independent and that neither the government nor other organs can interfere in their work. It also expressed disappointment that Slovakia made its note public before giving it to Austria, which, it said, was "not in accordance with good neighborly relations." Slovak Foreign Minister Juraj Schenk emphasized that his ministry's note protested not the verdict itself but the court's reasons for handing down such a judgment. He insisted that the exchange of diplomatic notes will not damage bilateral relations. Prosecutor-General Michal Valo said Kovac Jr. will not face arrest upon return to Slovakia. But the Munich prosecutor's office said the international warrant remains valid. -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARY'S EU INTEGRATION COMMITTEE HOLDS FIRST MEETING.
The committee set up to coordinate preparations for Hungary's admission into the EU met for the first time on 22 February, Hungarian dailies reported. The committee is composed of Prime Minister Gyula Horn, Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs, Interior Minister Gabor Kuncze, Industry and Trade Minister Imre Dunai, Justice Minister Pal Vastagh, head of the cabinet's integration working committee Andras Inotai, and state secretary Elemer Kiss. The committee--the highest-level body coordinating EU integration--accepted a schedule and a timetable for accession and discussed key tasks to meet that goal. Of the nine countries in the region with associate membership, only Poland has set up a Ministry for EU Affairs. -- Zsofia Szilagyi



BOSNIAN FEDERAL POLICE ENTER VOGOSCA.
The first of 85 federal police--including ethnic Serbs--deployed to the northern suburb of Sarajevo have found a filthy police station and a population shrunk from 17,000 to about 2,500, Reuters reported on 23 February. UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said of those who left: "They didn't have to go. They were incited to go by their own authorities. They were incited by a regime previously responsible for expelling tens of thousands of people and killing many others." Onasa on 19 February aid there will eventually be 645 federal police under international supervision in the Serb-held suburbs. The federal officers will carry only short-barrel side arms and be deployed to the remaining four suburbs at six-day intervals. -- Patrick Moore

"PALE SPREADS PANIC."
This is the headline in Oslobodjenje on 23 February describing the continuing exodus of Serbs from the Sarajevo suburbs amid brutal winter conditions. The anti-nationalist Serbian Civic Council (SGV) the previous day appealed to the German ambassador to ask the Contact Group countries to send its five ambassadors to the suburbs to try to stop the flight. Onasa also quoted SGV President Mirko Pejanovic as saying that the council has sent representatives to talk to people and dissuade them from leaving. Nasa Borba on 23 February reported a declaration by the Bosnian state presidency urging the Serbs to stay, but Foreign Minister Jadranko Prlic told Vecernje novine that the Bosnian government should have passed an amnesty law earlier to reassure the Serbs. Nasa Borba also quoted Pale's Radovan Karadzic as blaming the international community for not giving the Serbs sufficient guarantees, including their own government and police. -- Patrick Moore

IZETBEGOVIC'S LIFE NOT IN DANGER.
Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic continues to be hospitalized for an unspecified heart problem, but a spokesman for his political party said that the 70 year-old leader's life is not threatened, Onasa reported on 22 February. The authorities appealed for calm and urged people not to go to the hospital where the president is staying. There has been speculation about Izetbegovic's health since he disappeared from view for about a week last year at the height of the allied military offensive against the Serbs. AFP added that Izetbegovic will now take a medically supervised rest and not do any hard work. -- Patrick Moore

IFOR ASKS DELAY IN LIFTING SANCTIONS.
IFOR commander U.S. Admiral Leighton Smith on 22 February asked the UN not to lift sanctions against the Bosnian Serbs until they resume contacts with the international community, international media reported. Under the Dayton peace accord, sanctions should have been lifted one day after the IFOR commander certified that the Bosnian factions have complied with the military aspects of the accord. Smith certified this was the case on 21 February. Meanwhile, the Russians have protested to the UN that sanctions should have been lifted "days ago." -- Michael Mihalka

BELGRADE, PARIS RENEW DIPLOMATIC TIES.
France has said it will appoint a new ambassador to the rump Yugoslavia, Nasa Borba reported on 23 February. The French Foreign Affairs Ministry announced the previous day that Gabriel Keller, currently charge d'affaires in Belgrade, will be upgraded to ambassador. Bogdan Trisunovic has already been approved as Belgrade's ambassador to Paris. France is expected to become the first Western country to appoint an ambassador to the rump Yugoslavia. -- Stan Markotich

SERBIAN RADICAL DENIED VISA TO VISIT THE HAGUE.
Vojislav Seselj, leader of the Serbian Radical Party and accused war criminal, has been denied a visa to visit Holland to testify at The Hague, Nasa Borba reported on 21 February. Seselj has said several times in recent weeks that he wishes to go The Hague to give testimony against Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. He told the press that he had to be officially invited by The Hague to receive a visitor's visa for Holland. The Hague war crimes tribunal has said that it will listen to anyone who wants to testify but that it does not issue invitations. -- Stan Markotich

EASTERN MOSTAR OFFICIALS RESIGN.
Two Muslim municipal officials have resigned in protest over the Rome agreement and changes in EU administrator Hans Koschnick's proposal for the administrative reorganization of the city, Tanjug reported on 22 February, citing the eastern Mostar radio station. Their decision follows the recent resignation of the eastern Mostar mayor Safet Orucevic. Koschnick initially proposed that Mostar consist of three Muslim, three Croatian, and one jointly administered central zone. Croats, however, protested this proposal. The new plan foresees a small central zone. Meanwhile, Mostar radio reported that full freedom of movement has not been implemented because the Croats have not removed barricades and check-points from the streets. -- Daria Sito Sucic

STRIKES IN CROATIA.
Railway workers in Croatia on 22 February went on strike to press for a 100% wage increase, Novi list reported. The government has offered a 7.3% hike. The protest came one day after unsuccessful attempts by the Association of Independent Workers' Union to negotiate a new labor contract with government officials. The head of the union has announced a general strike at the beginning of March, Hina reported. Croatian post and telecommunications workers on 20 February staged a one-day warning strike. -- Daria Sito Sucic

MACEDONIAN PREMIER DEFENDS GOVERNMENT'S RECORD.
Branko Crvenskovski, addressing the parliament on 22 February, defended the recently formed coalition government, which excludes the Liberal Party, (see OMRI Daily Digest, 12 February 1996), MILS reported the same day. The Liberals belonged to the government formed after the October 1994 elections He criticized the Liberals for not exhibiting "a spirit of team work and mutual confidence" and responded to President Kiro Gligorov's criticism of the Liberals' absence by saying that Gligorov was entitled to his own views. Crvenskovski also revealed that foreign-currency reserves totaled $274 million at the end of 1995. He praised Macedonia's relations with the IMF and Paris Club, the low inflation rate, and progress on privatization, stressing the need to arrest the decline in production. -- Michael Wyzan

EIGHT DEAD IN ROMANIAN PLANE CRASH.
A Romanian Antonov-24 aircraft on 22 February crashed near the northwestern town of Baia-Mare, killing all six crew members on board and two workers on the ground, Romanian and international media reported. The aircraft, owned by the Romanian Civil Aviation Authority, was on a test flight. It took off from Bucharest's Baneasa domestic airport and crashed two hours later into a stone quarry 15 km from the Baia-Mare airport control tower. The Romanian Transport Ministry last December ordered checks on the country's aging AN-24s after one crashed in Italy, killing all 49 on board. -- Matyas Szabo

RUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER LOSES COURT CASE IN TIRASPOL.
Pavel Grachev has lost a court case to Col. Mikhail Bergman, former commander of the Tiraspol military garrison, Moldovan and Russian agencies reported on 21 February. The military tribunal of the Russian units stationed in Tiraspol ruled that Grachev's October 1995 order to dismiss Bergman was illegal. It decided that Bergman should be reinstated in his post and that Grachev should pay some 19 million rubles ($4,100) to cover Bergman's expenses and in compensation for "moral prejudice." Grachev's lawyer said he would appeal the decision at the Moscow military tribunal. Bergman, who was one of the closest associates of former 14th Russian Army commander Gen. Aleksandr Lebed, claimed his dismissal was an act of "political revenge." -- Matyas Szabo

BULGARIAN INTERIOR MINISTRY RELEASES LIST OF ALLEGED CRIMINALS.
The Bulgarian Interior Ministry on 22 February released a list of 2,797 people against whom legal proceedings are pending, Kontinent reported the following day. Of these, 482 have already been arrested. Interior Minister Lyubomir Nachev said the list signals his ministry's will to cooperate with the judiciary in the fight against crime. The ministry was asked for such a list by Prosecutor-General Ivan Tatarchev, the National Investigation Service, and the police. Standart reported that police last week started arresting people whose names appear on the list. Meanwhile, former Tsar Simeon II on 22 February told Deutsche Welle that he intends to visit Bulgaria in spring and that he does not rule out running in the presidential elections later this year. -- Stefan Krause

ALBANIA GETS ITS GOLD BACK.
French and Albanian officials on 22 February signed an accord allowing the return of gold worth $30 million to Albania, Reuters reported. The gold was first looted by the Nazis and later seized by the allies to stop it falling into communist hands at the end of World War II. It has since been held at the Bank of England in London under the trusteeship of an Anglo-American-French commission. Albanian Finance Minister Dylber Vrioni said he expected the 1.5 tons of gold ingots and coins to be back in Albania in March. Albania had signed accords with Britain and the U.S last year and had needed only Paris's signature. -- Fabian Schmidt

FRANCE DONATES WHEAT TO ALBANIA.
The French government will donate 3,000 tons of wheat to Albania to prevent a food crisis, Reuters reported on 22 February. Albania's wheat crop in 1995 fell by 35,000 tons to 420,000 tons, half its annual demand. In addition price increases on the world marked have resulted in a shortage of cheap wheat on the Albanian domestic market. The wheat will be shipped to Durres in March. Romania has already donated 10,000 tons of wheat and is expected to send another 24,000 tons by early March. -- Fabian Schmidt

GREECE SEEKS TO BLOCK EU AID TO ANKARA.
Greece on 22 February effectively stalled a 375 million ECU ($485 million) aid package to Turkey, Western media reported. Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos said voting on the package has been taken off the agenda of the EU foreign ministers' council meeting scheduled for 26 February. Greek Prime Minister Kostas Simitis, meeting with German Chancellor Helmut Kohl in Bonn on 22 February, sought German support in Greece's dispute with Turkey over an uninhabited islet. Meanwhile, Ankara responded by recalling its ambassador to Greece, Western agencies reported. Turkish caretaker Prime Minister Tansu Ciller called on countries friendly with Athens and Ankara to dissuade Greece from pursuing the "dangerous path" it has embarked upon. -- Stefan Krause and Lowell Bezanis

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave






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