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Newsline - March 13, 1996


CONFUSION SURROUNDS DEFENSE MINISTRY MEETING.
Contradicting earlier media reports, unidentified sources in the Defense Ministry claimed on 12 March that the ministry's collegium did not meet the day before and did not issue a statement rejecting criticism of Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, ITAR-TASS and Ekho Moskvy reported (see OMRI Daily Digest, 12 March 1996). Grachev's aides prepared the collegium's statement as well as telegrams supporting the minister from various units, the sources claimed. Only the air force commander supported the statement, but the commanders of other branches did not, AFP reported. Although the statement appeared in a number of newspapers, including Nezavisimaya gazeta and Krasnaya zvezda, ITAR-TASS withdrew its story less than 90 minutes after it appeared, saying it was "mistaken." Presidential spokesman Sergei Medvedev said he had no confirmation of plans to remove Security Council Chairman Oleg Lobov and replace him with Grachev. -- Robert Orttung

CHERNOMYRDIN DISTANCES HIMSELF FROM FEDERAL MILITARY ACTIVITIES IN CHECHNYA.
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's press secretary, Viktor Konnov, rejected criticism from Duma member Sergei Kovalev over the bombing of rebel Chechen forces in Bamut , saying Kovalev should direct his questions to the ministers of defense and interior, the so-called power ministers, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 March. The power ministers are directly subordinated to the president, not the prime minister, who has sought to resolve the conflict through negotiations. Meanwhile, a group of Duma deputies is heading toward Bamut to act as negotiators and defend the lives of POWs in the village. -- Robert Orttung

YELTSIN ON COUNCIL OF EUROPE.
At a meeting with the 12 Federal Assembly deputies who will represent Russia in the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly, President Yeltsin urged the speedy ratification of the council's four basic conventions, Russian and Western media reported on 12 March. Yeltsin said Russia had "earned" council membership by making progress on democratization and human rights, but contended that Russia cannot immediately implement the council's standards, such as abolishing the death penalty. He also urged the deputies to vigorously defend the rights of ethnic Russians in the Baltic and CIS states. Apparently referring to the Chechen conflict, he told them to "resolutely rebuff attempts to pressure Russia, interfere in its internal affairs, and apply double standards." These remarks provoked a rebuke from Leni Fischer, speaker of the council's Parliamentary Assembly, who said "human rights are never a domestic issue." -- Scott Parrish

GORBACHEV HAS ONE MILLION SIGNATURES.
Former Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev has collected the 1 million signatures necessary to run in the June presidential election, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 12 March. Raisa Gorbachev, however, is trying to talk her husband out of participating in the campaign, ITAR-TASS reported. Eye surgeon Svyatoslav Fedorov has amassed 900,000 signatures and Viktor Anpilov, of the Russian Communist Workers' Party, has 500,000. Commentators do not think any of these candidates has a serious chance at winning the presidency, since an effective campaign will cost an estimated 30 billion rubles ($6.25 million), of which the government will only provide 200 million rubles, Radio Rossii reported. -- Robert Orttung

YEGOROV INITIATOR OF GOVERNMENT PURGES?
Izvestiya has obtained a report prepared for President Yeltsin by Chief of Staff Nikolai Yegorov that seems to confirm rumors that Yegorov is one of the government's most ardent proponents of a cabinet reshuffle. The report blames the country's wage arrears on former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, saying he gave an oral order that tied up federal budget money in commercial banks; reports to this effect have already appeared in the mass media. The report also accuses the Finance Ministry and the Federal Treasury of "corruption and abuse of power on a giant scale" and proposes that Yeltsin take "adequate measures" to resolve the problem, Izvestiya reported on 13 March. -- Anna Paretskaya

COURT: CANCELLATION OF REGIONAL ELECTION WAS UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
The Kostroma Oblast Court has ruled that the oblast legislature violated the constitution when it canceled regional elections, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 March. The election was supposed to take place in March when the Oblast Duma's term expires, but the legislature extended its term in office until December 1997, arguing that it was acting in accordance with a September 1995 presidential decree. Earlier this year, the Novgorod Oblast Court ruled that Article 1 of the decree--which sets December 1997 as the date for regional legislative elections--contradicts the constitution and requested that the Constitutional Court examine the decree (see OMRI Daily Digest, 5 February 1996). -- Anna Paretskaya

VREMYA ADOPTS NEW LOOK.
The Soviet-era evening news program "Vremya," which was revived several years ago on Russian Public TV, adopted a new format on 11 March. The show will have a more "energetic rhythm" according to its producer Kseniya Ponomareva. The revamp includes an updated version of Georgii Sviridov's well-known melody, electronic graphics, and a studio specially created for it, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Robert Orttung

PRESIDENTIAL DECREE BOLSTERS FOREIGN MINISTRY.
President Yeltsin has issued a decree charging the Foreign Ministry with overall coordination of Russian foreign policy, ITAR-TASS reported on 12 March. Presidential spokesman Sergei Medvedev said the decree aims to ensure that all government agencies "adhere to a single position" on foreign policy issues. He complained that on occasion "some institutions" issued foreign policy statements that had not been cleared with the Foreign Ministry, causing confusion about the position of the Russian government. Medvedev admitted that previous presidential decrees had already given the ministry this coordinating function but said the ministry will now monitor statements made by government officials "more intensively." He also contended that the new decree would not undermine the Presidential Foreign Policy Council, which was created in December reportedly because former Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev failed to coordinate policy effectively. -- Scott Parrish

RUSSIA LIFTS ARMS EMBARGO ON FORMER YUGOSLAVIA.
President Yeltsin signed a directive on 12 March gradually lifting the arms embargo against the states of the former Yugoslavia, Russian and Western agencies reported. The directive, which presidential spokesman Sergei Medvedev described as linked to the implementation of the Dayton accords and associated UN resolutions, allows Russia to begin military-technical cooperation talks immediately with the former Yugoslav states, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Croatia, Macedonia, Slovenia, and rump Yugoslavia. After 14 March, Russia will be permitted to sell "defensive" weapons to these states, and after 11 June, all restrictions on military sales to the region will end, provided the UN secretary-general certifies that all warring parties have complied with the terms of the Dayton accords. While consistent with Dayton, the announcement appears designed to suggest to domestic audiences that Yeltsin is pursuing an independent course in the Balkans. -- Scott Parrish

POWER CUTS, PROTESTS IN FAR EAST.
Authorities in the Far East have cut energy supplies to almost all factories in the region because of growing power shortages, Western agencies reported on 11 March. Only vital facilities and companies are exempt. A regional official said the measure is intended to soften the impact of the shortages on the local population, who have had to live with severe power cuts for several weeks. Two factors are behind the problem. The federal government owes the region about 1 trillion rubles ($208 million) in fuel subsidies, which power companies need to pay for coal. Local energy consumers are also behind in payments, sending the power producers even deeper into debt. Also in Primorsk Krai, workers from two military-industrial plants in Bolshoi Kamen blocked the railway between Vladivostok and Nahodka for an hour on 12 March to protest wage arrears. -- Penny Morvant

ALCOHOL TAKES TOLL ON RUSSIAN MEN.
Fifty percent of men and 30% of women aged between 30 and 50 have experienced liver or heart problems as a result of chronic heavy drinking or have suffered alcohol poisoning, Aleksandr Nemtsov of the Alcohol Policy Center told ITAR-TASS on 12 March. Nemtsov said alcoholism is increasingly affecting the working-age population. On 12 March, the minimum retail price of a bottle of Russian or CIS-produced vodka or other spirits rose to 18,400 rubles ($3.80) a liter, while the minimum price for spirits imported from outside the CIS went up to 40,000 rubles ($8.30). ITAR-TASS said the increase does not affect brandy. -- Penny Morvant

FEDERAL MIGRATION SERVICE TO BUILD HOUSING FOR REFUGEES.
The Federal Migration Service of Russia (FMS) plans to spend 37% of the 2.2 trillion rubles ($458.3 million) that it was allocated in the 1996 federal budget on new housing for refugees and forced migrants, ITAR-TASS reported on 11 March. According to FMS spokesman Andrei Sarychev, another 25% will be spent on refugee reception centers and 20% on interest-free loans for refugees. Sarychev said that the 1996 budget is not sufficient to resolve the housing problem of refugees and forced migrants and added that it will take 10-15 years to build enough apartments given the slow pace of housing construction in Russia. Meanwhile, the FMS has to supply 130,000 refugees from Chechnya with housing. -- Constantine Dmitriev

NEW TAX CHIEF.
President Yeltsin replaced the director of the State Tax Service, Vladimir Gusev, with First Deputy Finance Minister Vitalii Artyukhov on 12 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Artyukhov will also assume the rank of deputy prime minister, of which there are currently seven. Born in 1944, Artyukhov graduated from a mechanics institute and worked in urban transport and the Automobile Ministry for 20 years. From 1988-91 he was deputy head of the financial department of the Supreme Soviet, and then first deputy transport minister, until his appointment to the Finance Ministry in January 1995. Russian Public TV (ORT) reported that Gusev will stay on as Artyukhov's deputy. -- Peter Rutland

REASONS FOR GUSEV'S REMOVAL.
Gusev's removal is presumably connected to the fact that budget receipts for the first two months of this year were only one third of the planned level (OMRI Daily Digest. 29 February 1996). Part of the problem is the persistence of special tax breaks, which Finance Minister Vladimir Panskov estimated will cost the budget 20 trillion rubles ($4.1 billion) in lost revenue this year, Rossiiskaya gazeta reported on 6 March. A leading beneficiary of such privileges is the monopoly Gazprom, which is allowed to place some of its profits into a tax-exempt investment fund. On 11 March, the Duma unanimously approved a bill removing all of Gazprom's tax privileges, Kommersant-Daily reported. A similar measure was introduced by Russia's Choice deputies in October 1995, but it made no progress because deputies could not pinpoint exactly what tax privileges Gazprom enjoys. -- Peter Rutland

EFFORT TO FREEZE FUEL PRICES FOR FARMERS.
One of Russia's largest oil companies, YUKOS, and Menatep bank will cooperate with the government's program to keep fuel prices for farmers unchanged during the spring sowing season, Segodnya and ITAR-TASS reported on 13 March. They will create a new financial-industrial group, Agropromresurs, to supply fuel to farms in nine provinces of European Russia. YUKOS earlier announced plans to raise fuel prices by 17-25% to offset increases in depreciation charges and property tax due to the mandatory reevaluation of the industry's assets. The government subsequently agreed to postpone the revaluation until the summer; hence YUKOS's cooperation in the farm program. -- Natalia Gurushina



RUSSIAN LANGUAGE GIVEN OFFICIAL STATUS IN KYRGYZSTAN.
Kyrgyzstan's parliament, the Jogorku Kengesh, has passed a proposal granting the Russian language official status in the republic, RFE/RL reported on 11 March. The issue now goes before the Kyrgyz Constitutional Court, but the court's approval is seen as only a formality. While the Kyrgyz constitution guarantees the right of people to use their own language in the country, the acceptance of Russian as an official language has been a sensitive issue. The government wants to emphasize its independence from Moscow but cannot afford to alienate the republic's Russian-speaking population, who make up the bulk of the country's skilled workforce. -- Bruce Pannier



UKRAINE CUTS POWER TO 7,000 ENTERPRISES.
Ukraine's Energy Minister Oleksii Shcheberstov on 12 March said power has been cut to 7,000 factories that have failed to pay their electricity bills, Reuters reported. Shcherberstov said more than 40,000 enterprises have outstanding bills amounting to $980 million, meaning that 30% of all electricity and 50% of heating had been supplied for nothing. He stressed that the energy ministry could not "carry such a burden for very long." The country's energy suppliers have been under great strain because of unusually cold temperatures, a coal miners' strike, and Russia's decoupling Ukraine from their joint power grid after Ukraine began using more than its normal share of electricity. -- Ustina Markus

FATAL MINE ACCIDENTS IN UKRAINE.
Two fatal accidents took place in Ukraine's coal mines within two days, international agencies reported. Eight miners on 11 March were killed and four injured after a fire trapped them 900 meters below ground in Luhansk. The following day, two miners died when a rock collapsed in another mine in Luhansk. Ukraine's mines have the highest accident death rate in the world. In 1995 alone, more than 300 miners were killed. So far this year, 40 have died in accidents at the workplace. -- Ustina Markus

DUTCH PRIME MINISTER IN KIEV.
Wim Kok arrived in the Ukrainian capital on 12 March for a three-day official visit, ITAR-TASS reported. Kok met with President Leonid Kuchma and signed a joint declaration on improving bilateral cooperation between Ukraine and the Netherlands. Kok said that on Ukraine's behalf, he would work with international financial organizations, especially the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the World Bank. -- Ustina Markus

BELARUSIAN MILITARY REDUCTIONS.
The Belarusian military, already halved since independence, is to be reduced by another third to 60,000 servicemen and officers, Russian Public TV reported on 12 March. The military will be used exclusively for the defense of the republic and headed by the General Staff. There will be only two branches: ground and air defense forces. Previously, an air assault force had been envisaged. Some garrisons are being merged, while others will be evacuated. During the Soviet era, Belarus was the most-militarized republic in the USSR. -- Ustina Markus

GERMAN, DANISH SUPPORT FOR BALTIC STATES' MEMBERSHIP IN EU.
German and Danish Foreign Ministers Klaus Kinkel and Niels Helveg Petersen, following a meeting at Flensburg on 11 March, said that the European Union should be expanded to include Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, Western agencies reported. Kinkel noted: "We are of the opinion that the Baltic states must become members of the EU as soon as possible." -- Saulius Girnius

FINNISH DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS ESTONIA.
Anneli Taina, during her visit to Estonia on 11-12 March, held talks with her Estonian counterpart, Andrus Oovel, President Lennart Meri, and defense forces commander Johannes Kert, BNS reported. The defense ministers reached an agreement to resume training Estonian officers in Finland and sending Finnish officers to Estonia as military advisers. Former defense forces commander Aleksander Einseln reduced military ties because Finland did not meet NATO standards. Taina also discussed regional security questions and developments in Russia as well as visiting the training center at Paldiski. -- Saulius Girnius

POLISH PRESIDENT INTERVENES IN AUSCHWITZ SUPERMARKET ROW.
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 12 March criticized the proposed construction of a shopping center opposite the gate of the Auschwitz death camp, Polish and international media reported. Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz the same day urged the town council to reconsider the decision to grant permission for the project, while Culture Minister Zdzislaw Podkanski asked the authorities to immediately suspend construction of a mini-mall near the former Nazi camp. The government had said it could not interfere because local authorities had already given the go-ahead for the store. The Culture Ministry is to set up a special commission to examine the legality of the planned supermarket. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

CZECH PRESIDENT WARNS OF "NEW MUNICH."
Vaclav Havel on 12 March called on the West to reject Russian threats and expand NATO, international agencies reported. "The internal transformation of NATO and its enlargement is a matter that concerns us, the whole of Europe, and indirectly the entire world, to the same extent," he said in a speech to the outgoing Czech parliament. U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher is due to discuss European security with Central and East European foreign ministers in Prague next week. Havel said Czechs had already experienced the limits of European democracy and its concessions to evil and warned: "This `Munich' danger is again hovering over Europe." Czech media largely ignored this part of Havel's 40-minute speech, concentrating on his evaluation of the work of the parliament and political parties over the past four years. -- Steve Kettle

SLOVAK PRESIDENT EXPLAINS REJECTION OF AMBASSADOR.
Michal Kovac on 12 March issued a statement explaining his rejection of Labor and Social Affairs Minister Olga Keltosova as ambassador to the UN (see OMRI Daily Digest, 8 March 1995). He noted that in "democratic countries with normally functioning relations between constitutional institutions," such a proposal would be discussed with the head of state before being publicized. He criticized the cabinet's view that Keltosova is "the only possible candidate" and that Slovakia's success or failure in gaining the position of U.N. chair is linked with her appointment. "This view deeply underestimates the level of other qualified citizens of this country," Kovac stressed. The cabinet responded to Kovac's statement by saying it "confirms [his] inability to be guided in his decisions by the political interests of Slovakia." -- Sharon Fisher

SLOVAKIA SEEKS TO BOOST TRADE WITH RUSSIA.
Economy Minister Jan Ducky on 12 March announced the cabinet's approval of measures aimed at expanding exports to Russia, Slovak media reported. He noted that Slovakia's annual trade deficit with Russia is more than $1 billion because of reliance on the country's raw materials. Proposed measures include the establishment of a free trade zone and the creation of a special export-import bank. -- Sharon Fisher



ILIDZA AFTERMATH.
Bosnian federal officials on 12 March followed their police into the fourth formerly Serb-held Sarajevo suburb to change hands. They were joined by hundreds of Croats and Muslims who had been expelled from their homes during the war, the BBC reported. These ordinary citizens often found their dwellings destroyed and protested to the international community's High Representative Carl Bildt that nothing had been done to guard their property, Oslobodjenje added on 13 March. The UN police reported complaints "every five minutes" of looting and intimidation directed against the few remaining Serbs. IFOR earlier refused to help protect those Serbs against Serbian gangs and arsonists, but it is now sending in additional forces to help the police. -- Patrick Moore

SARAJEVO BECOMES CANTON, DESPITE CROATIAN DISAPPROVAL.
Sarajevo authorities on 11 March set up the Transitional Assembly of the Sarajevo Canton without the consent of Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) councilors Oslobodjenje reported. The HDZ councilors said they did not want the Sarajevo canton to be established without consultations at the federal level, Hina reported on 12 March. Sarajevo Mayor Tarik Kupusovic adjourned the council session when he realized the federal partners were opposed to setting up the canton, but 37 councilors went ahead and set it up in his absence. Kupusovic said that he could not accept such a canton neither as mayor nor as a Sarajevo citizen. The new canton governor argued that it had been necessary to set up a functioning city structure in time for the elections. -- Daria Sito Sucic

NATO CONCERNED ABOUT RISING CROAT-MUSLIM TENSIONS...
NATO spokesman Brigadier Andrew Cuming has warned of serious problems in the valleys of central Bosnia. He noted that a situation is emerging there similar to that which preceded the internecine conflict of 1993. Muslims and Croats are setting up checkpoints in places like Jajce, Vitez, and Kiseljak, AFP reported on 12 March. Such controls violate both the letter of the Dayton treaty and the spirit of the federation. Cuming added that IFOR commander Admiral Leighton Smith "read out the riot act" to Croatian leader and Federation President Kresimir Zubak and to Federation Vice President Ejup Ganic to urge them to defuse the tensions. -- Patrick Moore

...WHILE UN SECRETARY-GENERAL WARNS OF CROATIAN-RUMP YUGOSLAV CLASH.
Boutros Boutros Ghali on 12 March said he is worried about a possible military clash between Croatia and the rump Yugoslavia over the Prevlaka peninsula, Nasa Borba reported. The two countries have been disputing ownership of the peninsula.
Boutros Ghali said it was important for both sides to strengthen their cooperation with UN Military Observers (UNMOP) on the ground to enable the latter to monitor the demilitarization of Prevlaka. He added that many violations of the Prevlaka agreement have been reported and are threatening to increase tension. Boutros-Ghali underscored the need to have UNMOP remain on the peninsula until the two sides are cooperating better or some other organization takes over monitoring the demilitarization operation. -- Daria Sito Sucic

BOSNIAN SERB GENERAL SLAMS KARADZIC.
General Milan Gvero, deputy commander of the Bosnian Serb army (VRS), has sharply attacked the civilian chief, Radovan Karadzic, Nasa Borba reported on 13 March. In the latest installment of public in-fighting between Pale and its generals based at Han Pijesak, Gvero claimed that Karadzic tried "to undermine" the VRS command structure but did not succeed. Karadzic was allegedly preparing for the eventuality that his party would lose in the upcoming Bosnian elections. The general also accused Pale of a series of grave mistakes, such as courting the political opposition in Belgrade at a time when the Bosnian Serbs were financially dependent on the Belgrade government. Gvero argued that Pale neglected the financial needs of the military and favored the civilian police at the army's expense. -- Patrick Moore

BELGRADE TO COOPERATE ON WAR CRIMES ISSUE?
U.S. war crimes investigator John Shattuck on 12 March met with Radoslav Kremenovic and Drazen Erdemovic, the accused war criminals who were arrested by Serbian police in Novi Sad on 3 March (see OMRI Daily Digest, 8 March 1995), Nasa Borba reported. Shattuck, who also met with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, said he believed that rump Yugoslavia was growing more cooperative on the war crimes issues and that Kremenovic and Erdemovic would be turned over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Meanwhile, the tribunal's chief prosecutor, Justice Richard Goldstone, told Reuters Television that "We seem to be getting assistance [from Belgrade] more than obstruction at the moment." -- Stan Markotich

SERBIA OPPOSES SLOVENIA'S DEAL WITH CREDITORS.
Belgrade has said it is fully prepared to launch a legal challenge to a recent deal between Slovenia and its private creditors, Reuters reported on 12 March. Under the terms of the deal, Slovenia has agreed to pay 18% of the $4 billion commercial debt incurred by Yugoslavia prior to its breakup. Serbia's objections center on the allegation that the deal excludes rump Yugoslav creditors. Reuters quoted one banker involved in negotiating with Slovenia as saying that "If Serbia pursues this challenge, I think they can say good-bye to relations with the international financial community for a very, very long time." -- Stan Markotich

MACEDONIA CONTINUES TO CLAIM YUGOSLAV INHERITANCE.
Macedonian Foreign Minister Ljubomir Frckovski has said it is "unacceptable" that Belgrade is trying to secure Macedonian agreement that the two states have no financial claims on each other, AFP reported on 12 March. Frckovski noted "that would mean Macedonia renouncing its share of the heritage of the previous (Yugoslav) state which is its by right." He added that the problem of succession rights was complicating mutual recognition and normalization of relations between Belgrade and Skopje. Belgrade has recognized Slovenia and Bosnia but still refuses to recognize Croatia and Macedonia. In January, it adopted a tentative outline agreement on recognizing Macedonia but said it would fix a later date for signing an accord. -- Fabian Schmidt

UPDATE ON BUCHAREST SUBWAY STRIKE.
The Romanian government has begun firing those Bucharest subway employees who have not signed a declaration of intent to return to work, Romanian media reported on 12 March. More than 800 workers have signed the government ultimatum, but the rest are intent on continuing the strike and continue to block tunnels. The government said the dismissed personnel will be replaced by trained railroad workers who lost their jobs earlier. It has also taken measures to improve the Bucharest bus transportation system. -- Michael Shafir

ROMANIAN POLITICAL LEADER CALLS FOR TALKS WITH HUNGARY TO BE SUSPENDED.
Gheorghe Funar, leader of the Party of National Unity of Romanians (PUNR), has called for the suspension of parleys with Hungary on the pending basic treaty, Radio Bucharest reported on 12 March. His appeal came after a meeting between the PUNR leadership and Virgil Magureanu, director of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI). Magureanu told the PUNR that the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania has made all the necessary preparations for declaring autonomy. The meeting was criticized by Senator Vasile Vacaru, chairman of the parliamentary commission supervising SRI activities, who said Magureanu should report only to the commission. -- Michael Shafir

SNEGUR, SMIRNOV MEET AGAIN.
Moldovan President Mircea Snegur and the leader of the breakaway Transdniester region, Igor Smirnov, held further talks in Tiraspol on 11 March on granting the region a special status. Radio Bucharest, citing Chisinau TV, said Snegur accepted Smirnov's demand for independent foreign economic relations, a separate constitution and separate state symbols, and three state languages (presumably Russian, "Moldovan," and Ukrainian). But the talks on the special status of the Transdniester have not been concluded, and Chisinau continues to demand the sole right to representation in foreign relations. -- Michael Shafir

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT ATTACKS GOVERNMENT.
Zhelyu Zhelev on 11 March accused the government of communist-era secrecy and an arrogant disregard of other state institutions, Reuters reported the following day. He added that Prime Minister Zhan Videnov had a Stalinist notion of the state being identical with his Bulgarian Socialist Party. Zhelev was responding to the closed-door plenary meeting of the BSP and its coalition partners on 10 March (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 March 1996), at which Zhelev was described as an "anti-state symbol." The president noted that important economic ties with foreign countries have been neglected because Videnov has banned his ministers from joining Zhelev's delegation on visits abroad. Presidential advisers say the lack of ministers in Zhelev's entourage is undermining Bulgaria's bid to participate in the reconstruction of the former Yugoslavia. -- Stefan Krause

BULGARIAN ROUNDUP.
Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski on 12 March responded to Greek Development Minister Vaso Papandreou's proposal to establish a Balkan council by saying it is "a bit premature" to talk about institutionalizing Balkan cooperation, Bulgarian media reported. Slovenian President Milan Kucan arrived in Sofia on 12 March for a two-day official visit. He called on all sides in the former Yugoslavia to work for the full implementation of the Dayton accords and to "realize the necessity to live in peace," international agencies reported. Bulgaria and Slovenia are preparing accords on trade cooperation, mutual protection of investments, and avoiding double taxation. Meanwhile, Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) Chairman Ivan Kostov on 12 March was authorized by the SDS National Coordinating Council to sign an agreement with other opposition forces on primary elections aimed at finding a joint presidential candidate, Trud reported. -- Stefan Krause

GREECE TO MEDIATE IN BULGARIAN-ROMANIAN BRIDGE DISPUTE.
Greece will mediate in the dispute between Bulgaria and Romania over the location of a second Danube bridge linking the two countries, Reuters reported. Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Construction Minister Doncho Konakchiev on 12 March told an economic forum in the Greek city of Thessaloniki that the foreign ministers of the three countries will meet in the Bulgarian town of Varna on 16-17 March. Greece unsuccessfully tried to broker a compromise in August 1995. Sofia and Bucharest so far have failed to agree on a site for the bridge (see OMRI Daily Digest, 12 June and 10 August 1995). Konakchiev said Bulgaria has proposed to Romania that two bridges be built, but he did not say how they would be financed. The cost of constructing one bridge is estimated at $320-445 million. -- Stefan Krause

ALBANIAN JOURNALIST FINED FOR INCITING TERRORISM.
Populli Po journalist Ylli Polovina has been fined 30,000 lek ($300) by a Tirana court for inciting terrorism, Reuters reported on 12 March. Polovina was arrested after the fatal Tirana car bombing on 26 February. Severel months earlier, he had written an article in November 1995 saying terrorist attacks such as that which injured Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov on 3 October, could also happen in Albania. Polovina said he will appeal the sentence and claimed he was the "victim of a political scheme." Three international journalists' organizations and the Association of Professional Journalists had called for Polovina's release. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave




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