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Newsline - March 14, 1996


FEDERAL FORCES POUND BAMUT.
Russian aircraft and artillery bombarded rebel positions near the western Chechen village of Bamut on 13 March, Russian and Western agencies reported. Military spokesmen refuted earlier reports that the Chechen fighters in Bamut had taken federal troops hostage and had threatened to shoot them if the village were attacked. Meanwhile, sporadic fighting continued in Grozny, where Russian troops told AFP that about 400 servicemen had been killed in the recent fighting, many more than the official death toll of 79 reported by Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov. -- Scott Parrish

DUDAEV: RADUEV, MASKHADOV STILL ALIVE.
In an exclusive telephone interview with RFE/RL, separatist Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev refuted recent reports that field commander Salman Raduev had been killed and Chechen Chief of Staff Aslan Maskhadov seriously wounded. Dudaev said both Raduev and Maskhadov would be willing to meet with Russian officials to confirm his claims. He added that the recent Chechen attack on Grozny had been "revenge" for Russian violence against the Chechen people. Meanwhile, in Moscow, the State Duma defeated a proposal by Deputy Konstantin Borovoi to grant Dudaev amnesty. Borovoi argued that negotiations with Dudaev are the only way to resolve the conflict. -- Scott Parrish

YELTSIN AT ANTI-TERRORISM SUMMIT.
Addressing a 13 March meeting of world leaders in Sharm-el-Sheik, Egypt, President Boris Yeltsin condemned terrorism and called for united action by the international community to oppose it, Russian and Western agencies reported. Yeltsin denounced Chechen President Dudaev as a "criminal" disguising himself as a "freedom fighter." In an oblique request for support in Chechnya, the Russian president declared that "terrorism is the same everywhere," and contended that "double standards cannot be tolerated" in the struggle against it. While in Egypt, Yeltsin also met with U.S. President Bill Clinton. -- Scott Parrish

DUMA QUESTIONS YELTSIN'S SIGNATURE COLLECTION.
The Duma has asked the Procurator General's Office to look into how President Boris Yeltsin's campaign has collected signatures, Radio Rossii reported on 13 March. According to Sergei Filatov, one of Yeltsin's top campaign organizers, 8 million signatures have already been collected supporting the president. There have been numerous allegations, however, that workers in the Railways and Communications Ministries were forced to sign the petitions by their superiors (see OMRI Daily Digest, 15 February 1996). -- Laura Belin

ZYUGANOV FIRST TO RECEIVE CAMPAIGN FUNDS.
Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, the first registered presidential candidate, became the first to receive 150 million rubles ($31,000) from the Central Electoral Commission for his campaign fund, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 13 March. The commission will give all registered candidates an additional 50 million rubles later in the campaign. -- Laura Belin

OUR HOME IS RUSSIA TO PUBLISH WEEKLY NEWSPAPER.
The pro-government Our Home Is Russia (NDR) movement will launch its own weekly newspaper by the end of March, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 March. The paper will be a supplement to the official government newspaper Rossiiskaya gazeta, which has a circulation of about 500,000, and extra copies will be distributed by regional NDR branches. According to Segodnya on 13 March, NDR claims to have branches in 86 regions of the Russian Federation, but insiders say only 40 of those are "active." -- Laura Belin

LEBED PROPOSES COMMISSION ON CAPITAL FLIGHT.
Duma member and presidential candidate Aleksandr Lebed offered to help create and lead a federal commission to track down and return money that has been taken out of Russia illegally during the last several years, Russian media reported on 13 March. Earlier, Izvestiya reported that a government representative had offered the post to Lebed in what appeared to be an attempt to co-opt him (see OMRI Daily Digest, 12 March 1996). Lebed told RFE/RL that with the help of Interpol, he could return about $10 billion to Russia. -- Laura Belin

YAVLINSKII IN RACE TO STAY.
Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii told supporters at Moscow's Dom Kino that he will not withdraw his candidacy for president and will not cooperate with the so-called "third force" alliance, which may nominate either Aleksandr Lebed or Svyatoslav Fedorov, Russian media reported on 13 March. Portraying himself as the only viable alternative to President Yeltsin and Communist leader Zyuganov, he declined to say whom he would support if those two candidates face each other in the second round of presidential elections. Yavlinskii also said he will continue to push for a vote of no confidence in the government; so far Yabloko has collected only 58 of the 90 deputies needed to put a confidence vote on the Duma's agenda. -- Laura Belin

FASCISTS SENTENCED IN YAROSLAVL.
A Yaroslavl court sentenced two members of the neo-Nazi group Werewolf Legion, including its leader Igor Pirozhok, to five- and nine-year prison terms for murder and stirring up ethnic hatred, the first guilty verdicts ever brought under Article 74 of the Criminal Code (inciting ethnic hatred), NTV reported on 13 March. Pirozhok admitted to Izvestiya that his group commits terrorist acts against "Jews, communists, and democrats." -- Laura Belin

DEFENSE MINISTRY COLLEGIUM SUPPORTS GRACHEV.
The Collegium of the Defense Ministry issued a statement of support for Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, Ekho Moskvy reported on 13 March. The statement comes on the heels of confusion over a reported meeting of the collegium earlier this week (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 March 1996). -- Constantine Dmitriev

DUMA OVERRIDES FEDERATION COUNCIL VETO ON PENSION HIKE.
The Duma on 13 March overrode the Federation Council veto on a bill raising the monthly minimum pension to 75,900 rubles as of 1 March, ITAR-TASS reported. President Yeltsin is unlikely to sign the bill, however, since the government has argued consistently that there are not enough funds available to finance such an increase (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 January and 8 and 23 February 1996). -- Penny Morvant

DECREE ON POWER-SHARING SIGNED.
President Boris Yeltsin signed a decree on power-sharing between the federal and regional authorities on 12 March, ITAR-TASS reported. The decree sets out the conditions and procedures for signing individual power-sharing agreements with the federation's subjects. Under the decree, such agreements cannot change the constitutional status of federation members or violate the supremacy of the federal constitution. -- Anna Paretskaya

MAYORAL ELECTIONS IN ST. PETERSBURG SCHEDULED FOR MAY.
President Yeltsin has set 19 May as the date for the mayoral election in St. Petersburg, Russian media reported. Although St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak supports the presidential decree, the city legislative assembly failed to approve it at a 13 March session because the Communist deputies, who oppose early mayoral elections, staged a walkout causing the assembly to lose its quorum, NTV reported on 13 March. Earlier this year, the city legislature voted to hold the poll on 16 June along with the presidential election. -- Anna Paretskaya

TRIAL BALLOON ON NATO EXPANSION?
Russian Ambassador to the Czech Republic Aleksandr Lebedev told CTK on 13 March that Russia is prepared to hammer out a compromise on the question of NATO expansion. The Russian diplomat suggested that while Moscow could not accept the extension of NATO military infrastructure into Eastern Europe, it could live with the enlargement of NATO's political institutions and even accept the extension of certain military guarantees by NATO to the East European states. His comments resemble recent remarks made by Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, who suggested a compromise on NATO expansion might be possible if NATO agreed to refrain from deploying military forces on the territory of new members. -- Scott Parrish

RUSSIA SIGNS MILITARY PACT WITH COLOMBIA.
Russia and Colombia signed an agreement on military and technical cooperation in Bogota on 12 March, ITAR-TASS reported the following day. The agency reported that the pact was the first of its kind between Russia and a Latin American state. The five-year agreement calls for Russia to supply Colombia with arms, ammunition, and other military equipment as well as license Colombian firms to produce Russian-designed weapons, Reuters reported on 13 March. -- Doug Clarke

DUMA RESPONSE TO LAND DECREE.
Agrarian Party deputies in the Duma submitted a draft law on land on 13 March that bars foreigners from owning land and puts a two year moratorium on the resale of land which was given free to farm workers, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 March. The draft is a response to the land decree that President Yeltsin issued on 7 March. The Duma also instructed one of their committees to investigate the constitutionality of Yeltsin's decree. The Russian Constitution (part 3, article 36) states that the use of land is regulated by federal laws. Also on 13 March, the Agrarian Party announced that it is revoking the membership of Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zaveryukha. -- Peter Rutland

CHERNOMYRDIN VISITS KHRUNICHEV SPACE CENTER.
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin visited the Khrunichev space scientific-industrial center in Moscow on 13 March, ITAR-TASS reported. The government owes the space industry nearly 437 billion rubles ($91 million). The federal financing of the space program continues to slide--the 1996 space budget is only 1.5 trillion rubles. In these circumstances, budgetary funds form only 30% of the Khrunichev center's revenue. The remainder comes from commercial launches of Russian and foreign satellites, and from participation in international space programs, such as the construction of Alfa orbital station modules. The center manufactures Russia's most powerful rocket booster Proton, and the new boosters Rokot and Angara. -- Natalia Gurushina



U.S. DELEGATION SEEKS RESOLUTION TO NAGORNO-KARABAKH CONFLICT.
Representatives of the Clinton administration, including Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott and Deputy National Security Adviser Sandy Berger, are scheduled to meet with Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev and Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan in an effort to resolve the two countries' ongoing dispute over Nagorno-Karabakh, ITAR-TASS and Western media reported on 13 March. A resolution to the dispute could facilitate oil pipeline deals in the region. The same day Karen Baburjan, the chairman of the self-proclaimed Nagorno-Karabakh Republic, was replaced by Arthur Tavmosian, Radio Mayak reported. -- Roger Kangas

IMF LOAN TO AZERBAIJAN.
The IMF will extend an enhanced structural adjustment facility loan of $80 million to Azerbaijan, ITAR-TASS reported following a meeting between Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev and IMF Managing Director Michel Camdessus in Baku on 12 March. An additional $260-$350 million will be made available when Azerbaijan completes its economic restructuring plan. Camdessus was positive about the recent turnaround in the Azerbaijani economy, noting that the monthly inflation rate had fallen from 50% to 2.5% over the past year. -- Roger Kangas

MUTINEER APPOINTED TO PRESIDENTIAL GUARD.
Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, commander of the Tajik Army's First Brigade has been appointed deputy head of the presidential guard, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL reported on 13 March. Khudaberdiyev made news in late January when he captured the city of Kurgan-Tyube and advanced to within 15 km of the Tajik capital Dushanbe (see OMRI Daily Digest, 31 January 1996). -- Bruce Pannier

NAZARBAYEV FORMS NEW MINISTRY OF SCIENCES, SUPREME COURT COUNCIL.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 11 March merged the National Academy of Sciences, Kazakh Academy of Agricultural Sciences, and the Ministry of Science and New Technologies to create a new Ministry of Sciences and Academy of Sciences, ITAR-TASS reported. Vladimir Shkolnik, the former minister of science, will head the new ministry. Nazarbayev also created a Supreme Court Council with himself as its chairman. The council will comprise the chairman of the Constitutional Council, the head of the Supreme Court and some of its members, the rector of the Law Institute, two parliamentary deputies, and representatives of oblast, city, and regional courts. -- Bhavna Dave

TOP SECRET KAZAKHSTANI MAP SEIZED IN MOSCOW.
Customs officials in Moscow seized a box labeled "top secret" which contained maps showing the location of gold and silver mining sites in Kazakhstan, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 March. The box was on its way to a private address in the U.K. from Kazakhstan. -- Bhavna Dave

BBC TO BEGIN BROADCASTING ON MEDIUM WAVE IN UZBEKISTAN.
An agreement reached between the BBC and the Uzbek Ministry of Communication on 12 March will permit the radio station to broadcast on medium wave in the country, RFE/RL reported the next day. Until now, BBC listeners in Uzbekistan have been able to receive programming in Uzbek, Russian, and English on shortwave only. The agreement represents a slight relaxation of Uzbekistan's strict information policy that makes it difficult to receive any foreign broadcasting. Later this month, RFE/RL is expected to open an office in Tashkent. -- Lowell Bezanis and Roger Kangas



NEW UKRAINIAN CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF APPOINTED.
President Leonid Kuchma has issued a decree appointing Lt.-Gen. Oleksandr Zatynaiko as chief of the general staff of Ukraine's armed forces, Ukrainian Radio reported on 12 March. The position also carries the rank of first deputy defense minister. Zatynaiko has been acting chief of staff since Kuchma dismissed Anatolii Lopata from the post last month. Defense Ministry spokesman Valerii Korol on 13 March said the army would be trimmed down from its current size of 420,000 to 350,000 by the end of the year, Reuters reported. This means Ukraine's army will no longer be Europe's second largest; rather, it will occupy fourth place after Russia, Germany, and France. -- Ustina Markus

UKRAINE CUTS SUBSIDIES FOR RENTS, UTILITIES.
Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Pynzenyk said Ukraine this year will cut subsidies for consumer rents and utilities by 20%, Ukrainian agencies reported 12 March. He added that the government is planning to eliminate these subsidies altogether in 1997. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

TV DEBATE OVER RUSSIAN-BELARUSIAN ACCORDS.
Syarhei Kalyakin, head of the Party of Communists of Belarus, and Mykola Statkevich, head of the Social Democratic Hramada, took part in a Belarusian TV debate on 12 March over President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's recent visit to Russia. Kalyakin said he did not feel agreements reached during the visit infringed on Belarusian sovereignty, since they were not of a political nature. Statkevich responded that this argument, which has also been made by the Belarusian press, appears logical. But he stressed that the creation of supranational structures and the presence of foreign troops on Belarusian territory--which are ignored by the press--do present a threat to the country's sovereignty. -- Ustina Markus

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT'S CENTER CAUCUS SPLITS.
Seven of the 16 members of the Center Party on 13 March decided to form a new liberal-centrist caucus, ETA reported. They back current party head Andra Veidemann, who is opposed by supporters of former party chairman Edgar Savisaar. Savisaar resigned as interior minister and chairman in the fall over his alleged involvement in the secret taping of conversations with other Estonian officials. Veidemann said that all the caucus members will remain in the party until it holds its congress on 30 March. -- Saulius Girnius

FORMER LATVIAN NKVD HEAD DIES IN PRISON.
Alfons Noviks, head of the NKVD Soviet security police in Latvia from 1940 to 1953, died in prison of 12 March, Western agencies reported the next day. A Riga court sentenced the 88-year-old Noviks to life imprisonment on 13 December 1995 for crimes against humanity. He was convicted of being one of the chief organizers of mass deportations, persecutions, and murders of thousands of Latvians. -- Saulius Girnius

POLISH PARLIAMENTARY COMMITTEES TO CONSIDER LIBERALIZING ABORTION LAW.
The parliament on 13 March sent a bill liberalizing the anti-abortion law to legislative committees for further discussion, Polish media reported. Parliamentary committees for social policy, justice, and human rights will examine the draft law, which would allow women to terminate a pregnancy up to the 12th week if they are in a difficult social situation or have financial problems. Gazeta Wyborcza on 14 March reported that a group of some 150 pro-life activists staged a demonstration outside the parliament. The current law, which has the support of the Roman Catholic Church, provides for two-year prison sentences for doctors who perform abortions. Polish women have had to seek terminations either abroad or illegally in Poland. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

POLISH FILM DIRECTOR DIES.
Krzysztof Kieslowski on 13 March died of a heart attack following by-pass surgery, Polish and international media reported. Born in 1941, Kieslowski attended Poland's Lodz Film School and was a student of renowned Polish director Andrzej Wajda. He was best known for his trilogy Three Colors--Blue, White, Red, which explored contemporary moral dilemmas. In 1994, Kieslowski announced he was giving up filmmaking, but he was later reported to have envisaged a return to directing. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

SLOVAK OPPOSITION TO COOPERATE.
Slovak opposition parties on 13 March announced they will not call the extraordinary parliamentary session on which they had agreed two days earlier. Instead, they will try to expand the session beginning on 20 March by seven points, Slovak media reported. Those points will deal mainly with the kidnapping of President Michal Kovac's son, the role of the Slovak Information Service, and privatization. Democratic Party chairman Jan Langos noted it is the "first time ever" that opposition parties have agreed on a joint strategy. The session promises to be a stormy one, since topics of discussion proposed by the coalition include the territorial administration bill, the law on the protection of the republic, and the Slovak-Hungarian treaty. -- Sharon Fisher

SLOVAKS SUPPORT RATIFICATION OF TREATY WITH HUNGARY.
A FOCUS poll carried out in mid-February showed that 50.8% of Slovaks favor the Slovak-Hungarian treaty, while 15.5% are opposed and 33.7% are uncertain or uninterested, Narodna obroda reported on 14 March. Ethnic Hungarians were most likely to favor the treaty, while supporters of the Association of Workers of Slovakia and the Slovak National Party were most likely to reject it. In other news, Hungarian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Istvan Szent-Ivanyi has said the draft law on Slovakia's new territorial arrangement conflicts with the treaty. Szent-Ivanyi's Slovak counterpart, Jozef Sestak, denied those claims in an interview with Pravda on 14 March. -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARY APPROVES SOCIAL SECURITY BUDGET.
The Hungarian parliament on 12 March approved Hungary's 1996 social security budget, Reuters and AFP reported on 13 March. The budget aims to cut the social security deficit for 1996 to 17.8 billion forints ($122 million) from 47.2 billion last year. Officials said the budget complies fully with IMF conditions and that the country's overall budget deficit should fall to below 4% of GDP. The government plans to reduce the shortfall in the social security budget by collecting unpaid contributions; but this could increase the budget deficit, since state-owned firms reportedly owe most of the arrears. -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES LAW AGAINST RACIAL INCITEMENT.
The parliament on 13 March approved an amendment to the Penal Code allowing courts to take more powerful action against extremists, AFP reported. Under the new law, anyone who incites hatred against any national, ethnic, racial, religious, or social group is subject to imprisonment of up to three years. Ethnic violence is punishable by up to five years in jail. The bill, which was approved by a margin of 212 to eight with 44 abstentions, follows the recent acquittal of two Hungarian neo-Nazi leaders. -- Sharon Fisher



TENSIONS BETWEEN CROATIAN, MUSLIM POLICE IN ILIDZA.
The mainly Muslim federal police on 12 and 13 March turned back from Ilidza detachments of Croatian police from Kiseljak, AFP reported. The ostensible reason was that the Croats were wearing their own blue uniforms instead of the federal green, Oslobodjenje pointed out on 14 March. The real problem, however, is underlying mistrust or even bad faith. Mladen Tolo, the Croatian commander of Kiseljak's police and one of those turned away, said: "This means there is no federation. The [Muslims are] not accepting us as partners and allies." This is the second transfer of a Sarajevo suburb from Serbian to federal control that has been marked by tensions between the Croatian and federal police. -- Patrick Moore

VIOLENCE AGAINST SERBS IN ILIDZA.
Muslim gangs from Sarajevo continue to terrorize the Serbs who resisted arson and intimidation from their own side to stay in their homes in Ilidza, the BBC reported on 13 March. There has been some increase in police protection, but over 100 cases of actions against Serbs have been reported. Muslims have been telling Serbs they intend to move into their homes, and many Serbs have fled or are wondering what to do next, Reuters noted. The key issue for IFOR is to prevent a repeat in Grbavica of the events of recent days in Ilidza. Crack French and Italian patrols have accordingly been stepped up in Grbavica, the next suburb slated to pass to federal control. Reports are nonetheless already coming in of Serbian "intimidation squads" on the move, AFP stated. -- Patrick Moore

FRANCE, SERBIA OPPOSED TO LIFTING ARMS EMBARGO.
The ban on light arms sales to the former Yugoslav republics was lifted on 14 March in keeping with the Dayton agreement. The aim of the American architects of the treaty was to allow the Muslims and Croats to achieve some kind of parity with the heavily armed Serbs and thereby deter the latter from new aggression. U.S. officials said they plan to go ahead with a military assistance plan costing some $700-800 million, AFP reported. Rump Yugoslav President Zoran Lilic said, however, that "it would be unreasonable while the peace process is in progress to undertake to arm any party." Serbia's traditional ally, France, has taken a similar view; and Foreign Ministry spokesman Yves Dutriaux told reporters that "France has two priorities in the region, stability and reconstruction. Rearmament is not a priority." This view will be represented by the EU at the 15 March conference in Ankara on arming the federation. -- Patrick Moore

SARAJEVO MAYOR RESIGNS OVER CANTON ISSUE.
Tarik Kupusovic has resigned over the Sarajevo authorities' decision to make the city a canton, Oslobodjenje and Onasa reported. The Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) says it considers Sarajevo's cantonal arrangement unconstitutional, but Omer Ibrahimagic, president of the city commission in charge of transforming Sarajevo into a canton, has said it is in accordance with the federal constitution. Ibrahimagic noted that under the new arrangement, the mandates of the old city assembly deputies and officials, including that of the mayor, cease to exist. Meanwhile, the HDZ has appealed to Croatian President Franjo Tudjman for support in protecting Bosnian Croat political and national interests. It has also urged Croatian officials in the Bosnian Federation to halt their involvement in implementing the civilian part of the Dayton peace accord. -- Daria Sito Sucic

OIC PLEDGES TO HELP BOSNIA.
An Islamic aid mobilization group on 12 March pledged to help Bosnia in its reconstruction and in pursuing trials of war criminals, Onasa reported, citing Reuters. The pledge came after a two-day meeting of the 51-nation Organization of Islamic Conference (OIC). The OIC said the Islamic contribution would be within the framework of the Dayton peace accord, and it asked OIC member states to actively contribute to the rehabilitation and reconstruction of Bosnia. In another development, Russia has said it disapproves of the U.S. decision to grant military aid to the Bosnian Federation. It noted that it will not take part in the 15 March Ankara Conference on military aid for the Bosnian Federation, which is sponsored by the U.S. -- Daria Sito Sucic

SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADER ON CROATIAN, RUMP YUGOSLAV RELATIONS.
Leader of the Democratic Party of Serbia (DSS) Vojislav Kostunica on 13 March said that relations between Croatia and rump Yugoslavia "certainly must be normalized." He stressed, however, that any improvement in bilateral relations would entail addressing "the question of the remaining Serbs in Croatia as well as those Serbs who left Croatia," Beta reported. Kostunica also commented that Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic had no intention to discuss the topic with Croatian officials. Kostunica alleged that the interests of the Serbs outside the rump Yugoslavia were being harmed by Western powers, notably the U.S. -- Stan Markotich

MONTENEGRINS WARY OF SERBIAN "LINGUISTIC OCCUPATION."
The Montenegrin PEN club's committee for the use of language and history of literature on 11 March protested what it dubbed the "Serbianization" of the Montenegrin language. According to the Club, the preference given to the Ekavian variant of the language--which is spoken in Serbia--over the local Montenegrin Ijekavian is clear evidence of creeping "Serbianization." Montena-fax quoted club members as saying that since "1989, there has been a grave process of linguistic Serbianization in Montenegro--clearly under way in [many walks of] life, in the military, police, political, cultural, and economic occupation of Montenegro." -- Stan Markotich

ROMANIAN BANKING SCANDAL.
The Romanian National Bank has dismissed 10 executives from a leading commercial bank, the Cluj-based Dacia-Felix, and assumed direct supervision over it. Romanian TV on 13 March said bank president Ioan Sima, its vice presidents, and the entire administrative council were dismissed and banned from holding leading positions in the banking system for the next five years. Dacia-Felix was accused of "grave" irregularities, especially in credit operations and hard-currency transactions. National Bank Governor,Mugur Isarescu told Adevarul on 14 March that the losses of the bank currently amount to 800 billion lei ($300 million). -- Michael Shafir

HUNGARIAN MINORITY PARTY IN ROMANIA TO APPEAL TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE.
Iuliu Vida, leader of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) caucus in the Chamber of Deputies, said the draft law on local administration adopted by the chamber on 12 March will have a negative impact on the right of minorities to safeguard their national identity. Vida told a press conference that the UDMR will appeal the bill before the Council of Europe. The legislation stipulates that the Romanian language must be used at local council meetings even in regions where the majority is not Romanian. He said there were no other legal venues to appeal the bill, since it cannot be taken to the Constitutional Court, Radio Bucharest reported on 13 March. -- Michael Shafir

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT, OFFICIALS DISCUSS CORRUPTION.
Mircea Snegur on 13 March discussed with senior Interior Ministry officials ways to combat corruption, BASA-press and Moldpres reported. Snegur said that corruption had spread to most branches of the administration. He added that his "declaration of war" on corruption has resulted in a "political offensive" against him. Meanwhile, the government's Commission for Foreign Trade Regulation rejected accusations made by Snegur during a recent parliamentary debate on corruption. The president had claimed that the commission authorized the export of "huge quantities" of sun-flower seeds and non-ferrous metals under dubious circumstances. -- Steliana Hanganu

BULGARIA, SLOVENIA AGREE TO BOOST COOPERATION.
Slovenian President Milan Kucan and his Bulgarian counterpart, Zhelyu Zhelev, meeting in Sofia on 13 March, agreed to improve cooperation between their countries, Bulgarian and Western media reported. They also agreed to sign accords on protection of investments and on avoiding double taxation. Kucan said that while Slovenia supports Bulgaria's initiative for a meeting of Balkan foreign ministers, it will attend only as an observer because "Slovenia looks at the Balkans through the eyes of a Central European country." Kucan also met with Prime Minister Zhan Videnov and Parliamentary President Blagovest Sendov. In other news, Videnov on 14 March began a two-day official visit to Russia, Duma reported. -- Stefan Krause

GREECE, BULGARIA DISAGREE OVER OIL PIPELINE PROJECT.
Greece and Bulgaria disagree over which companies should take part in a $700 million oil pipeline project, Reuters reported on 13 March. The pipeline will have a capacity of 600,000 barrels a day and will transport Russian crude oil from the Bulgarian port of Burgas to the Greek harbor town of Alexandroupolis. It will be built and operated by a Russian-Bulgarian-Greek company. Sofia wants fewer Greek construction firms involved, while Athens reportedly has promised a big share of the spoils to private Greek firms. Bulgarian Deputy Prime Minister and Construction Minister Doncho Konakchiev said feasibility studies and economic reports must be completed before deciding which companies take part. -- Stefan Krause

ONE ALBANIAN DROWNS, 30 MISSING AFTER BOAT CAPSIZES.
One Albanian drowned and another 30 are missing after a boat capsized near Otranto, Zeri i Popullit reported on 14 March. The group came from Maqella in the Dibra region and wanted to illegally immigrate to Italy. The accident is the latest in a series of maritime accidents. Small motor boats crossing the Adriatic are mostly overfilled, and fires often occur, since the boats carry additional fuel in canisters. -- Fabian Schmidt

UPDATE ON ALBANIAN JOURNALISTS' TRIALS.
Populli Po chief editor Arben Hasani was fined $1,000 on 12 March for publishing an article saying that the Kosovars brought drugs and prostitution to Albania, Koha Jone reported. The cultural organization Kosova brought the charges against Hasani. On 18 March, he is to stand trial again--this time on charges of reporting incorrect information. The Albanian secret service SHIK claims that Hasani wrongly reported that a policeman in Shkoder had accused SHIK of involvement in the killing of a local opposition politician. Meanwhile, Koha Jone chief editor Aleksander Frangaj went on trial on 13 March for publishing an article about alleged corruption among police officers in Gjirokastra. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave




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