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Newsline - March 11, 1996


CHECHEN MILITANTS RETREAT FROM GROZNY.
After five days of bitter fighting throughout Grozny, Russian media reported on 11 March that Chechen forces loyal to President Dzhokhar Dudaev had split into small groups and retreated to the outskirts of the city where fighting was continuing, but that the city center was "quiet." Casualties on both sides run into the hundreds. Oil storage tanks at the Lenin oil refinery are reportedly ablaze and electricity and water supplies have been disrupted. Meanwhile, on 8 March Russian federal troops succeeded in retaking the border village of Sernovodsk, and the local population is beginning to return to their homes. -- Liz Fuller

SOSKOVETS OUTLINES YELTSIN CAMPAIGN THEMES.
Imbuing economic reform with greater social support, strengthening Russian statehood, and fighting crime will be the main themes of President Boris Yeltsin's re-election platform, First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets, the head of the coordinating council for the campaign, said 9 March. To counter the "opposition's baseless criticism of everything the government does," the president will try to explain to Russians how the government's actions promote stability, he said. The government is taking measures to promote domestic production and resolve the enormous wage arrears problem while still trying to secure financial stabilization, Soskovets told ITAR-TASS. -- Robert Orttung

POLITICIANS WOO FEMALE VOTERS.
President Boris Yeltsin courted Russia's female voters on 8 March, extolling women as the source of goodness, love, and peace in a televised speech to mark International Women's Day. His rival for the presidency, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, bestowed flowers and champagne on women reporters and spoke about his home life at a news conference on 7 March. Hard-line communists decried the effect of reform on women at a small rally in Moscow on 8 March, Russian and Western agencies reported. Working Russia leader Viktor Anpilov contended that only Soviet power can return respect and equality to women, who he claimed have been turned into "slaves" by the current regime. He went on to urge voters in the capital to back Olga Sergeeva of the Russian Communist Workers' Party in the city's mayoral elections on 16 June. -- Penny Morvant

NIZHNII NOVGOROD GOVERNOR CONFIDENT OF COMMUNIST VICTORY.
Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov said that he believes a Communist candidate will win the June presidential elections due to the pro-reform parties' failure to rally around a single candidate, NTV and Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 10 March. Nemtsov added that he does not think a Communist victory would be a catastrophe, saying the country's independent media and political opposition and the influence of Western countries will be stabilizing factors. Last week, Nemtsov said he would not run for the presidency and proposed that limits be imposed on presidential powers (see OMRI Daily Digest, 8 March 1996). -- Anna Paretskaya

ABSENCE OF REGIONAL POLITICS DESTABILIZES RUSSIA.
The absence of a state regional policy in Russia is one of the most destabilizing factors in the country, according to experts from the Center of Research on Federalism. Historically, regional policy consisted of agreements between the central and regional elites. The center's specialists say that all of the Russian Federation's subjects should be treated equally regardless of their size or status in order to preserve Russian unity, Russian TV reported on 10 March. -- Anna Paretskaya

NORWAY DOUBTS RUSSIA CONDUCTED NUCLEAR TEST.
Refuting recent allegations in the U.S. media, Norwegian Foreign Minister Bjoern Tore Godal said on 9 March that his government has uncovered no evidence that Russia conducted a secret underground nuclear test at its Novaya Zemlya test site in January, ITAR-TASS reported (see OMRI Daily Digest, 8 March 1996). Godal declared that it was "impossible" for a test to occur at Novaya Zemlya without Norway detecting it. Scientists from the Norwegian Radiation Safety Institute and Norwegian Seismological Service confirmed that they were unaware of any evidence that such a test--even of very low yield--had taken place. The Novaya Zemlya test site is located on a remote island off the north coast Russia, about 1,000 km away from Norway. -- Scott Parrish

YELTSIN TO CO-SPONSOR ANTI-TERRORISM SUMMIT.
President Yeltsin will address the opening session of the scheduled 13 March anti-terrorism summit in the Egyptian resort of Sharm-el-Sheikh, Russian and Western agencies reported. Presidential spokesman Sergei Medvedev said Yeltsin, along with U.S President Bill Clinton and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, would co-chair the meeting. The 31-state gathering aims to boost the stalled Middle East peace process, of which Russia is a co-sponsor. Iran, Iraq, and Libya have condemned the meeting; Syria also may not attend. Medvedev noted that Russia is eager to help combat the "evil" of international terrorism. Russia was embarrassed on the eve of the meeting, however, by the 8 March hijacking of a jetliner in Cyprus by a Turkish national, who said he wanted to attract attention to the ongoing Chechen conflict. -- Scott Parrish

HEALTH MINISTRY ON CONTINUING EFFECTS OF CHORNOBYL CATASTROPHE.
Health Ministry experts said on 9 March that about 800,000 Russian children were affected by the 1986 Chornobyl nuclear disaster and are under medical surveillance, Russian and Western agencies reported. About 3,000 children have been hospitalized and another 70,000 are said to have received medical treatment. The ministry noted an increase in diseases of the endocrine gland and in tumors among women and children living in affected areas. About 7,000 Russian towns were contaminated by radioactivity as a result of the Chornobyl accident. -- Penny Morvant



Aliyev IN TBILISI.
Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev arrived in Tbilisi on 8 March for an official three-day visit that had been postponed several times before, Russian and Western media reported. Aliyev and his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, signed a 15 agreements on friendship and cooperation plus a declaration on peace, stability, and cooperation throughout the Caucasus. Of particular importance was an agreement signed by representatives of Azerbaijan, Georgia, and the Azerbaijani International Operating Company (AIOC)--the steering company representing a consortium of 10 Western oil companies involved in exploiting three Caspian oil fields--to export part of the oil via Georgia. The AIOC vice-president told AFP, however, that agreement has not been reached on financing the Western pipeline, which is unlikely to be fully operational before September 1997; the first early oil is due to be exported in late 1996. -- Liz Fuller

DELEGATION FROM NAHICHEVAN IN ANKARA.
A high-level delegation from Nahichevan, an autonomous region of Azerbaijan, is in Ankara for talks focused on economic and trade issues, Zaman reported on 11 March. To date, Nahichevan, which shares an approximately10 km-long border with Turkey, has used $19.6 million of a $20 million line of credit extended to the region by Turkey's Eximbank. The delegation, led by Nahichevan's Ali Majlis (parliament) Chairman Vasit Talibov, includes other officials responsible for the region and republic's foreign economic relations. -- Lowell Bezanis

KYRGYZSTAN TO RECEIVE MORE FUNDING FROM U.S.
U.S. presidential adviser James Collins said U.S. aid to Kyrgyzstan this year will reach at least the 1995 level of $50 million, according to a Radio Rossii report from 9 March. Collins said the continued aid is a demonstration of U.S. satisfaction with Kyrgyzstan's progress in democratic reforms, adding that the Central Asian republic is a leader among CIS countries in this regard. -- Bruce Pannier

U.S.-UZBEK RELATIONS IMPROVING.
Uzbek President Islam Karimov received official notification from U.S. President Bill Clinton on 8 March that the U.S.-Uzbek Bilateral Investment Treaty has been submitted to the U.S. Senate for ratification, ITAR-TASS reported. Signed on 16 December 1994, the treaty states that both sides agree to international law standards on property expropriation and compensation, free transfer of funds for investment, and "fair, equitable, and most-favored-nation treatment." Until now, some U.S. investors were concerned about the absence of a legal framework for recourse in Uzbekistan. In addition, Clinton stressed the importance of the military conversion commission that was in Tashkent last week (see OMRI Daily Digest, 8 March 1996). In contrast to past criticisms of Uzbekistan, Clinton said that "our two countries can work together" and that "Uzbekistan can play a key role" in Central Asia. -- Roger Kangas

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CRITICIZES KAZAKHSTAN.
Amnesty International has criticized Kazakhstan for executing 101 people last year, ranking the state of 17 million among countries such as China, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria which have the highest numbers of death penalties, Reuters reported on 9 March. No executions have taken place this year due to bureaucratic obstacles, according to the Amnesty report. Human rights groups criticized the Kazakhstani government last year for allegedly screening videotapes of executions on the state TV channel in order to deter criminals; the screenings later turned out to be a hoax. An Interior Ministry spokesperson told Reuters that the death penalty is justified by the level of violence and the high crime rate in Kazakhstan. Local human rights organizations have called for a moratorium on executions while a review of the country's criminal code is carried out. -- Bhavna Dave

NAZARBAYEV APPOINTS TWO NEW REGIONAL HEADS.
Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev appointed Serik Umbetov and Umirzak Uzbekov as the new heads of the Almaty and Taldy Kurgan oblasts respectively, Kazakhstani TV reported on 6 March. Uzbekov replaces the previous head, Serik Akhimbekov, who became the new agriculture minister last week. In an address carried by Uzbek TV and monitored by the BBC on 7 March, Nazarbayev called on the new head of the Almaty Oblast to promote economic recovery and combat the growing crime wave in the region. The state treasury provides 50% of the Almaty Oblast's budget. -- Bhavna Dave

POLITICAL GROUPS AND SOCIAL MOVEMENTS SIGN AGREEMENT IN TAJIKISTAN.
Thirty-four officially registered organizations in Tajikistan signed a social accord in Dushanbe on 9 March, NTV reported. Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov said the agreement will achieve "peace as well as public and ethnic concord in society, ensure human rights and freedoms, and secure the supremacy of the constitution and accepted norms of international law." In a likely reference to splinter groups of the United Tajik Opposition, Rakhmonov also added that Tajikistan's judiciary will soon allow formerly banned parties that revise their charters to be registered in the country. Meanwhile, the head of the Tajik Party for Political and Economic Revival, Mukhtor Babayev, was gunned down in his car by unknown assailants on 8 March in the north of the country. Police are investigating the murder. -- Bruce Pannier



CRIMEA GIVES UKRAINE ULTIMATUM ON CONSTITUTION.
Crimea has given the Ukrainian parliament a 31 March deadline to ratify its constitution, international agencies reported on 11 March. The new Crimean basic law preserves Crimean autonomy. During an emergency session, Crimean deputies threatened to call a region-wide referendum on Crimea's status or bring back the separatist 1992 constitution, banned by Ukraine in March 1995, if Ukrainian lawmakers fail to approve the new constitution. The draft was approved by the Crimean assembly in November, but Ukraine has postponed a vote on the document. Meanwhile, it has completed a draft of a new Ukrainian constitution further limiting the region's autonomy. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

UKRAINE REVEALS DETAILS OF SERIOUS RADIATION LEAK AT CHORNOBYL.
The Ukrainian Environment Ministry has revealed details of a serious radiation leak that occurred on 17 November 1995 inside the Chornobyl nuclear power plant, international and Ukrainian agencies reported. The incident, which registered three on the international scale of one to six, took place when a nuclear fuel rod split open while Reactor No. 1 was being refueled. The reactor hall was reportedly contaminated. Details of just how serious the incident was emerged only last week after the ministry received a new report from nuclear specialists, Ukrainian officials said. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

WORLD BANK OFFERS ASSISTANCE FOR LATVIAN EDUCATION REFORM.
Lars Jerling, World Bank Baltic regional mission head, has offered Latvia assistance from the bank's experts in preparing educational reforms, BNS reported on 9 March. The bank will also help attract foreign investors after the government approves an education reform program. The program is to include setting up professional education establishments meeting the requirements of the labor market, raising the qualifications of teachers, and improving the network of educational establishments. -- Saulius Girnius

LITHUANIAN CONSERVATIVES CONVENE IN VILNIUS.
The 2nd Congress of the Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) took place on the weekend, Radio Lithuania reported. The 600 delegates approved a campaign program for the fall parliament elections. Speakers predicted that the ruling Democratic Labor Party will be defeated and that the Conservatives will form a new government, probably together with the Christian Democrats. The congress reelected Vytautas Landbergis as chairman and Gediminas Vagnorius as board chairman. -- Saulius Girnius

WARSAW COURT SENTENCES STALIN-ERA TORTURERS.
The Warsaw Municipal Court on 8 March sentenced former secret security officers to prison sentences for mistreating members of the political opposition from 1944-1953, Polish media reported. The trial began more than two years ago. Col. Adam Humer, aged 79, was found guilty of torturing prisoners and was sentenced to nine years in prison. Eleven other officers received prison sentences of between two to eight years. The verdict is subject to appeal. Prosecutor Robert Szustakiewicz said that, despite the time lag, punishment must not be lenient because the accused had been sending people to their death on a daily basis. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

POLAND TO HAVE A GERMAN CEMETERY.
Poland is to build a cemetery for 30,000 German soldiers who died during World War II, Polish and international media reported on 9 March. The cemetery is to be built by the German-Polish foundation Reconciliation and a German association dedicated to burying war dead, Meanwhile, Auschwitz survivors and Jewish leaders are angry about plans to build a supermarket and restaurant opposite the Nazi death camp, Gazeta Wyborcza reported on 11 March. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

POLES UNEASY ABOUT PROPOSED RUSSIAN CORRIDOR LINK WITH BELARUS.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin's plan to build a highway and railroad linking the enclave of Kaliningrad with Belarus via Poland (see OMRI Daily Digest, 28 February 1996) is causing considerable unease among Poles. The Polish government says neither Moscow nor Minsk has so far consulted Warsaw about the project. Gazeta Wyborcza on 11 March quotes the Kaliningrad mayor as denying that no one from the oblast has held talks with the Polish authorities. He said that the Kaliningrad population is against such "extra-territorial" transport links. After Lithuania drastically raised its transit charges last year, Russia has been seeking alternative routes for trains and goods vehicles bound for Belarus. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

RUSSIAN INVESTMENT FUND CRASHES IN CZECH REPUBLIC.
Alim Karmov, owner of the Russian investment fund Futurum, which operates in the Czech Republic, has announced that the company cannot make payments to its 2,000 clients, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 March. The fund, set up in 1993, has attracted more than 200 million crowns ($7.4 million) in deposits. Futurum, claiming its activities were backed by one of Russia's largest financial groups, promised its clients a 25% annual return on their investment. In an interview with Lidove noviny on 11 March, Karmov said the investors' money will be returned in six months. -- Natalia Gurushina

CZECH, SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET.
Josef Zieleniec and Juraj Schenk, meeting in Bratislava on 8 March, said that ties remain strong between the former Czechoslovak federation partners, Slovak and international media reported. Discussions focused on bilateral relations and integration into Western organizations, including objections voiced by Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov during his recent visit to Slovakia and Zieleniec's visit to Moscow last week. "Both countries have similar, if not identical, priorities in their foreign policy, mainly when it comes to EU and NATO membership," Schenk stressed. Zieleniec noted that since 1993, the two countries have signed 60 intergovernment treaties and 70 other accords at various levels, adding that bilateral relations could still be further intensified. This was Zieleniec's first official visit to Bratislava. -- Sharon Fisher

SLOVAK ROUNDUP.
The Slovak cabinet on 7 March approved a draft law on the protection of the republic, Sme reported two days later. Organizers of public rallies "aimed at subverting the constitutional system, territorial integrity, or defense capability of the republic or [at] destroying its independence" can be sentenced to between six months and three years in prison. Those who "damage the interests of the republic" by spreading "false" information can be jailed for up to two years. Hungarian Christian Democratic Movement deputy Gyula Bardos told Reuters that the bill's approval is evidence that "the radicals are holding the upper hand in the government." In other news, former Prime Minister Jozef Moravcik on 9 March was re-elected chairman of the opposition Democratic Union. -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARIAN JEWS PROTEST ACQUITTAL OF NEO-NAZIS.
Almost 2,000 Jews on 10 March protested a municipal court's acquittal of two Hungarian neo-Nazi leaders six days earlier, AFP reported. Albert Szabo and Istvan Gyorkos admitted to organizing lectures for skinheads in which they denied that 6 million Jews were killed during World War II. They also praised Hungarian pro-Nazi leaders and anti-Semitic figures. The judge ruled that "such views can be expressed as part of the freedom of speech." Prime Minister Gyula Horn on 6 March said he was shocked by their acquittal but added that the court ruling must be respected. He also said that he hoped the parliament will soon pass legislation to allow courts to take more powerful action against extremists. Some 600,000 Hungarian Jews were killed in or on the way to Nazi concentration camps during World War II. Only 80,000 live in Hungary today. -- Sharon Fisher



BOSNIAN SERBS SET FIRE TO SARAJEVO SUBURB.
A BBC reporter has said that Ilidza--the Sarajevo suburb slated to revert to government control on 12 March--is "burning." The Bosnian Serbs have instituted a "scorched earth policy" after cutting off essential services, including fire-fighting. Intimidation to force people to leave is widespread, although some mainly elderly people have barricaded themselves in their flats in the hope of staying. The arsonists have torched not only schools and public buildings but also apartment blocks, including those with people still in them. IFOR on the weekend finally stepped up patrols and rescued some people trapped in burning flats, but the peacekeepers said it is not their job to fight fires. They reported to have stood back while buildings burned down. The international police force said it has no power to arrest the arsonists, and the Serbian police said they are "too scared" to go out onto the streets amid scenes of violence and chaos. -- Patrick Moore

SERBIAN SOLDIERS CONFIRM MASSACRE, THEN DISAPPEAR.
An ethnic Croat serving with Bosnian Serb forces in Srebrenica last summer has said he witnessed the murder of at least 1,200 Muslim prisoners after the town fell. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung on 9 March quoted Drazen Erdemovic as telling Le Figaro that he took part in the killings, as did a friend of his who confirmed that the massacres had taken place. Both men were then arrested by the Serbian police in Vojvodina on 3 March, and nothing has been heard of them since. The U.S. has demanded that Serbia free them so that they can testify before the war crimes tribunal in The Hague. Meanwhile, that court on 8 March issued an international arrest warrant for Krajina Serb leader Milan Martic for ordering a deadly rocket attack on Zagreb last year. Martic is living in Banja Luka on Bosnian Serb territory. -- Patrick Moore

BRITISH DAILY IDENTIFIES MAN BEHIND VISEGRAD KILLINGS.
A Bosnian Serb named Milan Lukic was responsible for the murders of hundreds of Muslims from Visegrad after the historical town on the Drina fell to the Serbs in 1992, The Guardian reported on 11 March. Victims were killed, mutilated, and thrown off the Ottoman bridge, which was the centerpiece of Ivo Andric's Nobel Prize-winning novel Bridge on the Drina. Lukic is not wanted by The Hague and is reportedly working in a cafe in Obrenovac, Serbia. AFP said that the article also revealed that a concentration camp existed at nearby Uzamnica and that torture was frequent there. -- Patrick Moore

BOSNIAN SHORTS.
Some 7,000 Muslim civilians in the Bosnian federation have still not been allowed to return to their homes in Croat-held Kulen Vakuf. AFP on 11 March quoted Bosnian radio as saying that the deadline agreed to in Rome passed the previous night. The same news agency reported on 10 March that Bosnian TV has shown the first footage in weeks of President Alija Izetbegovic, who is in the hospital with heart problems. He has written to the international community's High Representative Carl Bildt and IFOR commander Admiral Leighton Smith to protest attempts at settling Sarajevo Serbs in the strategic Brcko area, the fate of which will be determined later by international arbitration, Nasa Borba noted. -- Patrick Moore

RALLIES IN BELGRADE . . .
Some 50,000 people took part in rally in Belgrade on 9 March to commemorate the fifth anniversary of demonstrations in which some 100,000 had demanded the resignation of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, Nasa Borba reported on 10 and 11 March. Vuk Draskovic, head of the Serbian Renewal Movement, Zoran Djindjic, leader of the Democratic Party', and Vesna Pesic of the Serbian Civic League were the key organizers of the event. They called for an end to Milosevic's rule and pledged to cooperate in upcoming elections. Scuffles with some demonstrators were reported, but police kept a lower profile than in 1991, when at least two persons died. -- Stan Markotich

. . . WHILE STATE-RUN MEDIA TURN DEAF EAR.
Most state-run media either played down or ignored the 9 March demonstration, BETA reported. Radio and Television Serbia reported only that the noon rally was delayed by half an hour because the organizers were "waiting for more people to show up." BETA also reported that the most comprehensive coverage was provided by the independent Radio B92, which ran a special program on the background to the rally and reported the full texts of the opposition leaders' speeches. -- Stan Markotich

BUCHAREST SUBWAY STRIKE ESCALATES.
Striking subway workers in Bucharest on 9 March threatened to resign en masse and file requests for emigration with Western embassies, Romanian and Western media reported. The threat came after management of the state-run railroad company released a communique saying employees refusing to go back to work or obstructing the subway's day-to-day running would be fired. Premier Nicolae Vacaroiu the previous day had made a similar statement. The subway workers have been striking since 4 March for more pay and better working conditions. -- Dan Ionescu

TWO DETAINED FOR NUCLEAR SMUGGLING IN ROMANIA.
Romanian police on 8 March said they were holding two people on suspicion of smuggling radioactive material, including uranium, Reuters reported. A spokesman said police had arrested two men who were in possession of 82 kg of unspecified radioactive material, including low-grade uranium. It was alleged that they also had secret documents from the Oravita mine, where they work. The spokesman added that, according to preliminary investigations, the two planned to sell the radioactive material and copies of important documents to an unidentified foreigner for some 10 million lei ($3,450). Since 1989, Romania has witnessed a surge in uranium trafficking, mostly from Ukraine. In most cases amounts have been small and materials have not been of bomb-making grade. -- Dan Ionescu

ROMANIA SENDS MILITARY ENGINEERS TO BOSNIA.
Romania on 8 March dispatched a sapper battalion to Bosnia, Reuters and Radio Bucharest reported. The 200-strong unit joined the NATO-led multi-national peacekeeping force in Bosnia. Romanian Defense Minister Gheorghe Tinca said the unit will take part in road building and disarming mines. In 1994, Romania became the first East European country to sign up for NATO's Partnership for Peace program. -- Dan Ionescu

BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS MEET IN SOFIA.
The Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) and its coalition partners--the Bulgarian Agrarian People's Union "Aleksandar Stamboliyski" and the Political Club "Ekoglasnost"--held a plenary meeting on 10 March to assess the first year of BSP Chairman Zhan Videnov's government, Standart reported. The Socialists gave a positive overall rating but asked the government to take measures against crime, examine its privatization policy, and complete land reform. Speakers criticized several ministers, but the party leaders refused to discuss personnel questions. Former Prime Minister Andrey Lukanov said he has proof that the party--and hence the state--has merged with the structures of the Interior Ministry. He added that this signals the "return of Stalinism" in Bulgaria. -- Stefan Krause

TRIAL OPENS AGAINST FORMER BULGARIAN DICTATOR'S SON-IN-LAW.
The trial against Ivan Slavkov, chairman of both the Bulgarian Olympic Committee and Soccer Association and son-in-law of former communist dictator Todor Zhivkov, opened on 11 March. Slavkov is accused of misappropriating state funds and of illegal possession of firearms. The investigation against Slavkov began in 1990, but Prosecutor-General Ivan Tatarchev launched court proceeding against him after he was elected head of the Soccer Association. According to 24 chasa, Slavkov repaid the sum of 14,410 leva (then around $14,000) before he was charged with misappropriation. The daily also maintained that the illegal firearms are a collection of sports guns. -- Stefan Krause

BULGARIAN NATIONAL BANK CLOSES TWO PRIVATE BANKS.
The Bulgarian National Bank on 8 March closed two private banks, Pari reported. As of 31 January, the Private Agricultural and Investment Bank had amassed losses of 795 million leva ($10.3 million). It had not submitted its accounts for 1993 or 1994, nor had it made the required provisions against bad loans. Kristalbank, which registered losses of 437 million leva, had also been unable to make adequate provisions against debtors. Depositors in the two banks will benefit from the BNB's decision earlier this month to raise the maximum individual saving deposit that is 100% guaranteed from 50,000 leva to 250,000, 24 chasa reported. Deposits of more than 250,000 leva will be compensated after all other creditors are paid off. -- Michael Wyzan

TWO NEW POLITICAL PARTIES IN ALBANIA.
The Albanian Ministry of Justice on 9 March registered two new parties--the pro-monarchist Triumph of Legality and Ideals of December, international agencies reported. This brings the number of parties founded since 1990 to 38. The ministry had earlier refused to register the Islamic Democratic Union and the right-wing Party of National Restoration. The Supreme Court, however, overruled the ban on the Nationalists but concluded that Albanian law "forbids the creation of political parties on the basis of religion." The creation of a communist party has been banned since 1992 as anti-constitutional. -- Fabian Schmidt

EU GRANTS WHEAT AID TO ALBANIA.
The EU is to send wheat worth 1.2 million ECU ($1.5 million) to Albania, international agencies reported. Since January, there has been a shortage of cheap wheat in Albania, which has been relying on foreign aid to subsidize bread prices. The country has signed contracts with Romania, the U.S. and France for wheat imports, most of which will be sold on the general market. The EU wheat aid, however, is to go to orphanages, hospitals, schools, and needy individuals. -- Fabian Schmidt

U.S. CRITICIZES ALBANIA'S HUMAN RIGHTS RECORD.
The annual State Department human rights report on Albania said there was evidence of police beatings, pressure on the judiciary, and press restrictions, Reuters reported on 8 March. The report acknowledged that the government of President Sali Berisha generally respected human rights but concluded that serious problems remained, such as prolonged pre-trial detention, poor prison conditions, and occasional restrictions on press and speech freedom. It added that the judiciary is subject to political pressure. The report also criticized the imprisonment of Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano, saying his case was "handled by inexperienced, poorly trained and underfunded investigators, prosecutors and judges in a highly charged political atmosphere." "Many observers believe that Nano was incarcerated because he was President Berisha's principal political opponent," the report noted. -- Fabian Schmidt

GREEK POLITICIANS DISCUSS MACEDONIA.
Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos on 8 March said Greece is close to reaching a decision on its position over the name of Macedonia and that "decisions have to be taken in Skopje and Athens," Western agencies reported. He said relations with Macedonia "are going from good to excellent," adding that the Greek government will take a decision after talks with all political parties. Prime Minister Kostas Simitis reportedly has asked to meet with Miltiadis Evert, leader of the main opposition party New Democracy, and with Antonis Samaras, chairman of the nationalistic Political Spring party. Evert has not clarified his party's position, while Samaras is opposed to any compromise on the name issue. Meanwhile, informed Greek sources say Athens might accept New Macedonia as a compromise name. -- Stefan Krause

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave




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