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Newsline - March 7, 1996


U.S. BLASTS HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD IN CHECHNYA.
In its annual human rights report, the U.S. State Department said Russia's record remained uneven, "with reversals and worsening in some areas, most notably in the conduct of the war in Chechnya," according to Reuters. The report noted numerous killings and other serious human rights violations in Chechnya but said those committed by federal forces "occurred on a much greater scale than those of the Chechen separatists." It added that security forces elsewhere in Russia were increasingly targeting citizens from the Caucasus for "arbitrary searches and detention on the pretext of maintaining public safety." The report found that the media generally functioned unhindered but noted a few exceptions. It also criticized the dismissal of former Human Rights Commissioner Sergei Kovalev, cited reports of prison inmates dying due to torture by security forces, and noted the continuation of "hazing" in the military. -- Penny Morvant

YELTSIN: MEDIA SHOULD BE "SOOTHING" DURING CAMPAIGN.
President Yeltsin said the mass media should be "soothing" during the upcoming "turbulent period" of the presidential campaign, since "society faces hard times," ITAR-TASS reported on 6 March. In February, Yeltsin sacked Russian TV Chairman Oleg Poptsov, prompting fears that he will tighten control over the media during the campaign. The Central Electoral Commission has not yet adopted regulations on campaign coverage, but it is reportedly considering rules to prohibit journalists on state-owned media from commenting on candidates or asking questions during debates. -- Laura Belin

YELTSIN VOWS TO SAVE RUSSIA FROM TERROR.
Speaking to a conference on legal reform in the Kremlin, President Yeltsin said he intends to win the June presidential elections to protect Russia from "the terror of arbitrary rule, lawlessness, and mass repressions," which he said would return if the Communists gained power, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 6 March. Yeltsin's main rival, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, criticized the president for belatedly realizing the need to introduce legal order in Russia, NTV reported. Meanwhile, First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets told ITAR-TASS that Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Yarov will go on leave from the cabinet in order to run Yeltsin's campaign headquarters. Soskovets said he may also go on leave for a month or so later this spring. He added that Yeltsin will announce his election program at a 22-23 March conference, and the program will be "significantly different" from his recent "state of the nation" address to parliament (see OMRI Daily Digest, 23 February 1996). -- Laura Belin

MORE COMPETITION ON THE WEEKLY NEWS MAGAZINE MARKET.
Vladimir Gusinskii's Most Group, which already finances the Segodnya newspaper and NTV, has teamed up with the U.S. magazine Newsweek to launch a weekly news magazine in Russia, to be called Itogi, (Results or Summing Up), ITAR-TASS reported on 6 March. The first issue will appear in May and will be distributed in Moscow and other large cities. About 15% of the material in the magazine will be translated from Newsweek, and the rest will be produced by Russian staff. In January, the weekly magazine Ponedelnik (Monday) was launched with money from U.S. and Dutch investors. Ogonek, Russia's most popular weekly magazine, is 100% financed by Russian investors. Kommersant-weekly, which is also influential despite its smaller circulation, is said to have both Russian and foreign investment. -- Laura Belin

DUMA CONDEMNS DESECRATION OF SOVIET FLAG. . .
The Duma passed a resolution on 6 March condemning any desecration of the flag of the former Soviet Union, Russian and Western agencies reported. The resolution was in response to a TV report on 3 March showing a member of an anti-fascist youth committee wiping his feet on the flag. It and a flag of Nazi Germany were placed at the entrance to a Moscow hall where a national youth conference was in progress (see OMRI Daily Digest, 4 March 1996). A sign read, "Democrats wipe their feet here." The resolution, supported by 289 deputies, called on the Procurator-General's Office to "institute criminal proceedings against hooliganism as regards historical symbols of our country." -- Penny Morvant

. . .WHILE CONSTRUCTION WORKERS WANT SOVIET-ERA NAME OF METRO STATION CHANGED.
Workers rebuilding the Christ the Savior Cathedral in Moscow have asked Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov to rename a metro station near the construction site, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 March. The station is currently called Kropotkinskaya after Petr Kropotkin, an anarchist who supported the October Revolution. The station was first called the Palace of the Soviets, as it was supposed to serve a giant public building of the same name to be built on the site of the original cathedral, which was torn down by the authorities in the 1930s. When the project fell through and a swimming pool was built instead, the station was renamed so as not to remind people of the failure. -- Penny Morvant

REGIONAL PARTY ORGANIZATIONS UNITE FOR PRESIDENTIAL CAMPAIGN.
An association of left-wing patriotic forces and an alliance of pro-reform organizations have been created in Krasnodar Krai, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 6 March. The "Fatherland" movement, which unites the krai-level organizations of the Communist Party (KPRF) and the hardline Communist Workers Party and United Workers Front, backs the nomination of KPRF leader Gennadii Zyuganov for the presidency. The krai organizations of Yabloko, Svyatoslav Fedorov's Party of Workers Self-Government, and Yegor Gaidar's Russia's Democratic Choice united in support of the candidacy of Grigorii Yavlinskii. The same day, Segodnya reported that a movement called "For the revival of the Urals" has been formed by branches of various left-wing parties in Chelyabinsk to support Zyuganov. -- Anna Paretskaya

KOMI DEFENDS RIGHTS OF NORTHERN MIGRANTS.
Komi Republic head administrator Yurii Spiridonov has formally requested that the Constitutional Court defend the constitutional rights of migrants from the north, mostly pensioners heading south for their retirement, Russian TV reported on 6 March. The request was sparked by the fact that some regional administrations in Russia have been charging immigrants from the north up to 30 million rubles ($6,500) for permanent residency papers. The 1996 federal budget has allotted the Komi Republic 300 billion rubles ($62 million) under a program to aid resettlement. By 2005, 148,000 people are slated to be moved out of the area. -- Anna Paretskaya

PLANS FOR A NEW CONFEDERATION.
First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets said on 6 March that President Boris Yeltsin will announce "plans for movement toward a confederation of Russia, Belarus, and Kazakhstan" on the eve of the fifth anniversary of the [1991] referendum on the preservation of a unified state," ITAR-TASS reported. This will probably take place at a pre-election meeting in Moscow which Yeltsin will address on 22 March. CIS integration will be the central theme in the campaign of both leading presidential candidates. -- Peter Rutland

CIS TO HAVE COMMON AIR DEFENSE SYSTEM.
The members of the CIS Interstate Economic Committee on 6 March signed an agreement on the "establishment and development" of a common air defense system, ITAR-TASS reported. All 12 CIS member states are involved in the system. including Ukraine, which is cooperating but has not formally joined its ranks. Money will be allocated for extending the system to Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Armenia, and Tajikistan, and a transnational company ("Granit") will be formed to manufacture equipment. -- Roger Kangas

LIGHTS OUT IN THE FAR EAST.
A 12 hour power shutdown in Primorskii Krai triggered street protests on 6 March, blocking the center of Vladivostok for several hours, ITAR-TASS reported. The government forbids the national electricity producer, EES, from cutting off certain categories of consumers--about 25% of the total - even if they do not pay their electricity bills. As a result, by the beginning of January EES was owed some 42 trillion rubles ($8 billion) by customers, with debts rising by 5 trillion a month, Rabochaya tribuna claimed on 5 March. This in turn meant that the regional energy company Dalenergo could not pay its coal suppliers, who halted deliveries, causing the power shutdown. -- Peter Rutland
EUROPEAN LOANS FOR RUSSIA.
German and French banks announced on 6 March that they will provide Russia with more than $3 billion in new loans, Reuters reported. A consortium of German banks led by Deutsche Bank will lend DM 4 billion ($2.7 billion), mainly in the form of export credits, while France will provide two billion francs ($400 million). The money will start to be released in the next few months, supplementing the first payments of the $10.2 billion IMF loan announced last month. EBRD President Jacques de Larosiere said that he was "very optimistic about Russia," AFP reported the same day. European support for Yeltsin may be connected to the question of NATO expansion. On 5 March, in a speech to the German parliament, President Roman Herzog had appealed to his "Russian friends" not to see NATO expansion as a threat. -- Peter Rutland

AEROFLOT LEASES MORE AIRBUSES.
Aeroflot Russian International Airlines announced on 6 March that it would be leasing four more widebodied A310s from the French producer Airbus Industrie, ITAR-TASS reported. The planes are equipped with engines from the U.S. firm Pratt and Whitney. Russia acquired five airbuses, its first foreign planes, in 1992. Uzbek Air and Sakha Air each has two A310s. Meanwhile, in Irkutsk customs officials seized a Boeing 757 leased to Air Baikal (a Russian-U.K. joint venture), demanding a $25 million import duty, the Wall Street Journal reported on 6 March. This despite the fact that the Gore-Chernomyrdin commission had agreed at its 30 January meeting to exempt leased U.S. aircraft from import tariffs. -- Peter Rutland

DUBININ WARNS FOREIGN BANKS.
Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin said that restrictions may be reimposed on foreign banks operating in Russia, Radio Mayak reported on 6 March. He said that the spread of foreign banks threatens the interests of Russian banks. He also complained that Russian banks are treated as "mafia" outlets and are denied access to banking in foreign countries. President Yeltsin had banned new foreign bank branches from taking on Russian clients in November 1993, but he relaxed these restrictions in June 1994 after pressure from the EU. Russia now has 10 fully-owned and 50 partly-owned foreign banks, whose capital accounts for only 5% of total bank assets. -- Natalia Gurushina and Peter Rutland



FIVE ARRESTED AT UNAUTHORIZED RALLY IN GEORGIA.
Law-enforcement officials arrested five supporters of former Georgian President Zviad Gamsakhurdia at a 5 March rally in Tbilisi, Iprinda news agency reported. About 80 supporters of the former president and members of other non-parliamentary opposition parties participated in the rally outside the Georgian parliament building to protest the adoption of a law on the privatization of arable land. Police made the arrests when the protesters refused to disperse. -- Irakli Tsereteli

AZERBAIJANI PARLIAMENTARY OPPOSITION FAILS TO FORCE VOTE OF NO CONFIDENCE.
National Independence Party of Azerbaijan (NIPA) Deputy Chairman Nazim Imanov's 6 March proposal that the Azerbaijani Milli Mejlis (People's Assembly) debate a vote of no confidence in the government failed to win the necessary majority, Turan reported. Previously considered a "loyal opposition party," the NIPA has hardened its opposition to President Heidar Aliyev since the November 1995 parliamentary elections. -- Liz Fuller

MORE CABINET MINISTERS SACKED IN UZBEKISTAN.
President Islam Karimov dismissed two more ministers on 6 March, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 March. Adbulkhosim Mutalov was relieved of his duties as deputy prime minister and head of the state grain company Uzdonmakhsulot. Last December, Mutalov was demoted from prime minister to deputy prime minister (see OMRI Daily Digest, 22 December 1995). Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Paigin was also dismissed from his post as chairman of the state-owned agricultural machinery company Uzselkhozmash. In a cabinet meeting last month, Karimov criticized the government for failing to make Uzbekistan self-sufficient in grain production. Water Conservation Minister Rim Giniyatulin was promoted to deputy prime minister on 5 March, Reuters reported. -- Roger Kangas



UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN DENMARK.
Hennadii Udovenko ended an official visit to Denmark on 5 March by signing several agreements with his Danish counterpart Neils Petersen, Radio Ukraine reported. Among those signed were a protocol on cooperation between the countries' foreign ministries and a treaty on preventing double taxation. Udovenko said Ukraine discussed expanding cooperation and seeking advice from Denmark in the spheres of energy, oil and gas exploration, agriculture and food processing, as well as European security. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

UKRAINIAN COAL MINERS REJECT GOVERNMENT OFFER.
In a meeting with Deputy Prime Minister Vasyl Yevtukhov, leaders of Ukraine's coal miners' unions rejected the government's offer of shares in the state-owned mines to cover the back wages still owed them, Ukrainian TV reported on 6 March. The miners requested instead that they be paid in household appliances, such as refrigerators, washing machines and vacuum cleaners, produced by largely still state-owned factories. Yevtukhov said payment in appliances instead of stock was "more complicated," but he would explore the option. The miners suspended a two-week-long strike on 16 February to negotiate payment of the wage arrears. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT PROGRAM.
Prime Minister Mindaugas Stankevicius presented his government's program to the Seimas on 6 March, Radio Lithuania reported. He said that the main goals were maintaining the stability of the litas and reducing inflation. The program calls for reducing state expenditures and debts, introducing tax concessions for local and foreign businessmen, and increasing energy prices. The ruling Democratic Labor Party expressed its support for the program while the major opposition parties in the Seimas noted that it differed little from that of the previous government and that they would vote against it. The Seimas is required to approve or reject the program within 30 days. -- Saulius Girnius

BELARUS PLANS TO BUILD NUCLEAR POWER PLANT.
Energy Minister Valyantsin Herasimau said on 5 March that Belarus had revived plans to have a nuclear power plant in operation by 2005, Reuters reported the next day. Before the 1986 Chornobyl disaster, the republic was planning to build two nuclear plants, but one site was converted to a gas-fired station and plans for the other were abandoned. Gerasimov noted that Belarus imports 85% of its fuel from Russia and 25% of its electricity from Russia and Lithuania. Belarus is also planning to increase energy conservation, find new home-produced energy sources, use a broader range of Russian oil companies, and possibly import gas from Turkmenistan. -- Saulius Girnius

BELARUS TO HELP BELGRADE.
During the visit of rump Yugoslav President Zoran Lilic to Minsk on 6 March, Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka pledged to assist in the country's economic recovery, ITAR-TASS reported. He said that Belarus would provide "not only peaceful products, but also the means necessary to ensure the inviolability and integrity of Yugoslavia." Lukashenka said the presidents saw "eye to eye" on all issues: a series of bilateral agreements were signed. -- Peter Rutland

NEW PRO-WALESA MOVEMENT IN POLAND.
A movement called "Solid in Elections" was established on 6 March by former President Lech Walesa's election activists in various Polish provinces, Polish media reported the next day. The founders declared that "the Republic's good currently requires consolidation of all pro-Walesa political forces" because convergence of power in the hands of one post-communist formation poses a threat to socio-political reforms in the country and "leads to the elimination of Catholic, national, and patriotic values from public life." -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

NATO HOPEFULS TO MEET IN PRAGUE.
The foreign ministers of 12 Central and East European countries will meet with U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher in Prague on 19 March to discuss European security, Czech and international media reported. The meeting was announced by Czech Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec after he returned from Moscow, where he and his Russian counterpart, Yevgenii Primakov, discussed Russian objections to the enlargement of NATO. Following the Prague meeting, Christopher is due to travel to Moscow. Along with Christopher and himself, Zieleniec said the foreign ministers of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia, and Albania have been invited to the Prague talks. -- Steve Kettle

U.S. STRESSES ROMANI DISCRIMINATION IN CZECH REPUBLIC AND HUNGARY...
The U.S. Department of State, in its 1995 human rights reports issued on March 6, singled out prejudice against Roma as the main area of concern. In the Czech Republic, the report recognized that courts proceeded "with more vigor" than before as the government publicly condemned racially motivated attacks. It said, however, that Roma are still vulnerable to serious racial prejudice and attacks which the authorities have not been able to suppress, and that the law on citizenship has left 10--24,000 people, mostly Roma, without citizenship. The report also said that, while Hungary has been pursuing parliamentary democracy, discrimination against Roma still exists. Some in Eastern Europe argue that the West should also look to its own treatment of minorities, which undermines the efficacy of the issued reports. -- Alaina Lemon

...ALSO CRITICIZES SLOVAK HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD.
The State Department report on Slovakia said the government's actions in 1995 gave rise for concern, Reuters reported. While recognizing Slovakia's overall respect for human rights in 1995, the report noted that "disturbing trends away from democratic principles emerged," including "politically motivated dismissals of public officials, intimidation of opponents of government policy, police misuse of authority, and interference with the electronic media." It pointed to suspected involvement of the Slovak Information Service in the kidnapping of the president's son, the use of police to spy on leading opposition politicians, and the harassment by police of a senior clergyman. The report also expressed concern about the lack of protection for Roma against discrimination, the situation of the Hungarian minority, and some isolated cases of anti-Semitism. -- Sharon Fisher

SLOVAK ROUNDUP.
Police on 6 March questioned the president's son for the first time in connection with his alleged involvement in the $2.3 million fraud involving the Slovak firm Technopol, Slovak media reported. Michal Kovac Jr.'s lawyer, Jan Havlat, expressed satisfaction that his client was finally able to defend himself, and he noted that the possibility of taking Kovac into custody was not discussed. In other news, the European Human Rights Commission on 6 March rejected a complaint against Slovakia by two Slovak emigrants who claimed their human rights were violated by a decision to make permanent residence in Slovakia a condition for the restitution of property taken by the state under the Communist regime. Party of the Democratic Left deputy Robert Fico, who defended Slovakia in the case, said the country had won its first dispute in Strasbourg, TASR reported. -- Sharon Fisher



BOSNIAN ELECTIONS MAY BE DELAYED.
Robert Frowick, head of the OSCE mission and in charge of organizing free elections in Bosnia, said they may not be able to go ahead as planned by the Dayton peace accord owing to a lack of good faith, Nasa Borba reported on 7 March. Frowick admitted an absence of pluralistic parties in Bosnia and the danger that indicted war criminals, such as Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic and military commander Ratko Mladic, would hamper the process. He told NATO-country ambassadors that he was working on a detailed document outlining all the hurdles needed to be overcome before elections may be held. These include access to free media for all candidates, along with free movement across the country. As the two biggest problems, Frowick named resettling refugees and the media. Meanwhile, a total of 32 political parties are reported as registered in Sarajevo, Onasa reported on 6 March. -- Daria Sito Sucic

IFOR CHIEF WARNS ABOUT CROAT-MUSLIM FEDERATION.
Bosnian federal president and Bosnian Croat leader Kresimir Zubak appeared on 6 March to distance himself from his earlier harsh words on the future of the federation that Slobodna Dalmacija had reported, Onasa stated. The NATO commander in Bosnia, U.S. Admiral Leighton Smith, however, remains openly pessimistic about the future of Croat-Muslim cooperation, the VOA said on 7 March. AFP quoted the admiral as saying that Mostar is evidence of the deep-set problems of the partnership, which has yet to take root at either the political, military, or people-to-people levels. He predicted things will go from bad to worse in the spring. Former Bosnian Prime Minister and now opposition politician Haris Silajdzic issued similar warnings, saying that the politicians responsible for the Croat-Muslim war of 1993 must go if trust is to be rebuilt. Vecernje novine ran the report on 7 March. -- Patrick Moore

PEACEKEEPERS TO PROTECT SITES OF WAR CRIMES IF ASKED.
IFOR is currently carrying out about 300 civilian construction projects in Bosnia, including repairing bridge links between that republic and Croatia at Brcko and elsewhere, news agencies reported on 6 March. A NATO spokesman in Brussels said that the peacekeepers will now consider on an individual basis requests to guard suspected sites of war crimes to prevent tampering with evidence, especially if the request comes from the international tribunal in The Hague. The 60,000-strong force will still give priority to its military duties as set down in the Dayton agreement. NATO has drafted some new guidelines for IFOR, but it is not clear if they will enable the peacekeepers to become more active in catching or detaining war criminals. Reuters noted that Washington has agreed to the guidelines. A diplomat said the new measures are not a case of "mission creep" but of mission evolution. -- Patrick Moore

BOSNIAN-IRANIAN IMBROGLIO CONTINUES.
Serbian propaganda has long stressed alleged links between the Bosnian Muslim leadership and international Islamic fundamentalism represented by Iran. Washington, moreover, has been concerned about any continued presence of Iranian fighters or other agents in the embattled republic. The matter has resurfaced in the wake of Prime Minister Hasan Muratovic's visit to Tehran and of U.S. media reports that Bosnian troops are being trained in Iran. Onasa wrote on 6 March that the Bosnian army press office has officially denied those stories, but the VOA on 7 March quoted the Washington Post as outlining extensive military links between the two countries. Onasa wrote that Bosnia had succeeded in keeping both Iran and the U.S. as allies, but Vecernje novine objected to "friendly persuasion" by the Americans and Europe -- including Croatia -- against Sarajevo's links to Tehran. Iran has pledged to help Bosnia rebuild, as have its rivals Turkey and Saudi Arabia. -- Patrick Moore

CROATIA AND THE COUNCIL OF EUROPE.
The president of the committee for democracy, human rights, and humanitarian issues of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe has proposed that talks on Croatia's membership in the CE be postponed for another year, Nasa Borba reported on 7 March. The reasons given were "the Croatian president's latest anti-democratic actions." The report said that "since Krajina was retaken, Franjo Tudjman has been increasingly far away from the European democracies' social values,"including a disregard for the opposition and critical media, his own family's accumulation of wealth in the privatization process, manipulating election rights, protecting war criminals, and silence over attacks on the EU administrator in Mostar. The report concluded by expressing fears that the Croatian president is ready to turn the country into a dictatorship for his own purposes. -- Daria Sito Sucic

BELGRADE'S STUDIO B WINS INTERNATIONAL SUPPORTERS.
Nasa Borba on 7 March reports that the EU has sharply criticized the Serbian government for its recent take-over of Belgrade's only politically independent television broadcaster, Studio B. According to the report, actions such as the Serbian regime's against the independent media may contribute to a strain on "the development of future relations between the EU and the countries of the region." In a related story, the same daily reports on how the citizens and residents of Belgrade continue to suffer from an information blackout and exposure to regime-controlled and manipulated programming. "Of the 11 television stations which can be viewed in [and around] the territory of Belgrade, five broadcast nothing but films and music shows," Nasa Borba observes. -- Stan Markotich

SLOVENIAN-ITALIAN RELATIONS UPDATE.
Ljubljana dailies on 6 March reported that a controversy between Italy and Slovenia centering on the issue of property ownership may be resolved in the very near future owing to a compromise suggested by Spanish mediation. Reports suggest Rome is satisfied with the Spanish proposals, and that Ljubljana appears inclined to accept them. Beta reports that the Italian side has insisted that foreigners who lived in Slovenia before 1991 be allowed to purchase and own real estate, a move that would enable Italians who left immediately following World War II to once again own property in Slovenia. -- Stan Markotich

STRIKERS BLOCK SUBWAY TUNNEL IN BUCHAREST.
Some 1,000 metro workers on 6 March blocked a downtown station and the subway tunnel in Bucharest to protest their union leaders' decision to suspend a strike started on 4 March, Romanian media reported. The strikers ignored a Supreme Court ruling of the same day ordering them to call off the action because it was seriously harming the national economy. The strike has affected up to one million commuters in Bucharest, forcing them onto packed buses and trams. The strikers are demanding a 28% pay rise and better working conditions. The government agreed to continue negotiations with the unions over those demands. -- Dan Ionescu

NEW COMMUNICATIONS MINISTER APPOINTED IN ROMANIA.
President Ion Iliescu installed Ioan Ovidiu Muntean as Romania's new communications minister on 6 March, Romanian and international media reported. The 48-year-old Muntean formally joined the chauvinistic Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) on the eve of his appointment and is replacing Adrian Turicu of the same party, who was dismissed in January. Muntean's appointment ends a political dispute between the PUNR and the Party of Social Democracy in Romania, both members of the government coalition. -- Matyas Szabo

BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS CALL FOR CABINET RESHUFFLE.
24 chasa on 7 March cited an unnamed member of the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party's (BSP) executive as saying that a cabinet reshuffle will "with certainty [take place] by the end of March." A plenary meeting of the BSP Supreme Council, its coalition partners, and the parliamentary faction scheduled for 10 March will officially authorize BSP Chairman and Prime Minister Zhan Videnov to make the changes "he considers necessary." BSP Deputy Chairman Georgi Parvanov told Standart that the plenary meeting will propose "concrete changes." Videnov's other deputy, Yanaki Stoilov, told the BSP daily Duma that "changes in the interior ministry, the financial, and the economic team are necessary." -- Stefan Krause

BULGARIAN CURRENCY PLUNGES.
The lev on 6 March lost heavily against the U.S. dollar, Duma and Pari reported. With a Bulgarian National Bank (BNB) fixing of 77.783 leva to the dollar, trading began at around 78-79 leva, but soon passed the 80 leva barrier. At an exchange rate of 82 leva in the early afternoon, the banks stopped trading, but exchange offices were selling the U.S. currency for 85--86 leva later the same day. The BNB did not intervene. According to a dealer cited by Kontinent, "fear and pessimistic projections make people buy" U.S. dollars. Other dealers, however, said there is no objective reason for the fall of the lev or that it is due to speculation. Also on 6 March, the new prime interest rate of 49% became effective. Many exchange offices on 7 March temporarily refused to conduct any trade because of the uncertainty, international media reported. -- Stefan Krause

MACEDONIAN PARLIAMENT ELECTS NEW SPEAKER.
The Macedonian Parliament on 6 March elected Tito Petkovski as its new chairman, MIC reported. Petkovski replaced Stojan Andov, who announced his resignation on 23 February to protest a new government coalition that no longer includes his Liberal Party. Petkovski is a member of the Social Democratic Union of Macedonia, the biggest party in the parliament and the government. Some 79 deputies supported his candidacy, five voted against him, while the 29 deputies of the Liberal Party abstained. -- Stefan Krause

BOMB EXPLODES IN ALBANIAN PORT CITY.
A five-kilo TNT bomb hidden in a dustbin exploded in Durres at midnight on 5 March, AFP reported. The incident caused no casualties. Police arrested several people in connection with the blast, which blew out windows on both sides of one of the city's main streets. One of the arrested persons reportedly had a Scorpion automatic weapon and a gun, but police released no further details. On 26 February, a bomb killed four people in Tirana and dailies reported about more minor explosions in subsequent days, including one in a dustbin in Shkoder. The government accused former communist agents of planting the Tirana bomb. -- Fabian Schmidt

TURKEY'S 53RD GOVERNMENT.
President Suleyman Demirel on 6 March
approved a minority conservative government to be headed by former Premier Mesut Yilmaz, Western and Turkish media reported the same day. Yilmaz, chairman of the Motherland Party (ANAP) told the press the 53rd government will be one of "reform and change" and said a transparent and honest state would be "one of the highest priorities" of the new government. He also noted that formulating the cabinet list of 33 members was achieved with great difficulty. Turkey's foreign minister to-be is Emre Gonensay, a former special adviser to outgoing Prime Minister Tansu Ciller. The government must now win a parliamentary vote of confidence, tenatively scheduled for 12 March. -- Lowell Bezanis

--Compiled by Victor Gomez and Steve Kettle



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