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Newsline - March 18, 1996


DUMA DENOUNCES BELOVEZHSK ACCORDS.
The Russian State Duma passed a Communist-sponsored resolution, by a vote of 250-98, renouncing the RSFSR Supreme Soviet decision of 12 December 1991 to abrogate the 1922 treaty forming the USSR, Russian and Western media reported on 15 March. The Duma then passed a second resolution, 252-33 with five abstentions, affirming the "legal force" of the 17 March 1991 referendum on the preservation of the USSR, in which 71% of those voting in Russia supported retaining the union. Together, the Duma resolutions assert that the USSR legally continues to exist, and reject the December 1991 Belovezhsk accords that formed the CIS. The Communist Party of the Russian Federation, the Agrarian Party, and the Popular Power faction supported the resolution. Yabloko, Our Home Is Russia, and several members of the Russian Regions faction opposed it. Repeated attempts to push similar resolutions through the previous Duma had failed. -- Scott Parrish

REACTION TO DUMA DENUNCIATION.
President Boris Yeltsin immediately denounced the Duma resolutions as "scandalous" and unconstitutional, Russian and Western media reported on 15 March. The president accused the Communists of attempting to torpedo the June presidential elections by triggering an international crisis. Yeltsin's representative to the Duma, Aleksandr Kotenkov, said the resolution lacks legal force, as the earlier decision to dissolve the USSR can only be repealed by a new federal law, requiring passage by both houses of the Federal Assembly and signature by the president. Following negative international reaction, Yeltsin ordered Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov to inform foreign states and international organizations that the Duma resolution would not affect Russia's international obligations. The U.S. and Germany also criticized the resolution. In Moscow, liberal commentators said it demonstrated the "opportunism" and "hypocrisy" of the Communist-led opposition. -- Scott Parrish

COMMUNISTS RALLY IN MEMORY OF SOVIET UNION.
After the Duma voted on 15 March to declare the dissolution of the Soviet Union invalid, about 1,000 Communists rallied in Moscow to mark the fifth anniversary of the referendum that supported keeping the USSR together, Western agencies reported. About 76% of the Soviet citizens who voted on 17 March 1991 favored maintaining the territorial integrity of the USSR. The rally attracted fewer people than a similar one at the same time last year despite the Duma resolution. -- Penny Morvant

PROCURATORS FIND EVIDENCE OF FORCED SIGNATURES FOR YELTSIN.
Deputy Procurator General Vladimir Davydov informed the Duma that his office has found evidence of officials unlawfully pressuring voters to sign petitions supporting President Yeltsin's re-election bid, Russian media reported on 15 March. Davydov singled out the Communications Ministry, the State Committee for Metallurgy, and the East Siberian and Volga railroad administration, but he did not say whether the officials involved would be prosecuted. Central Electoral Commission secretary Aleksandr Veshkyakov suggested amending the electoral law to prohibit signature collections at workplaces. Organizers of Yeltsin's re-election campaign announced last week that they had already collected 8 million signatures supporting the president, far more than the 1 million required to win a spot on the ballot, even if many are ruled invalid. -- Laura Belin

ZYUGANOV UNVEILS ELECTION PLATFORM. . .
Communist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov unveiled his election program at a 17 March rally in Moscow, Russian and Western agencies reported. If he comes to power, Zyuganov promised among other things to guarantee all citizens the right to work, increase wages and pensions, compensate those whose savings were eroded by inflation, end the war in Chechnya, strengthen the ruble, and establish a state monopoly on trade in goods "of strategic significance" within a "mixed economy." He denounced the Belovezhsk accords that brought an end to the USSR but promised not to "threaten anyone's sovereignty" if he were elected. Like the KPRF election platform approved before the Duma elections, Zyuganov's platform does not contain the words "Leninism," "communism," or "nationalization." -- Laura Belin

. . .AND PICKS UP MORE ENDORSEMENTS.
Zyuganov was backed on 15 March by Workers' Russia leader Viktor Anpilov and Union of Officers head Stanislav Terekhov, who on 4 March had refused to sign a pact supporting him as the sole candidate of left-wing and "patriotic" forces, Russian TV reported. More surprisingly, former Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi appeared at the 17 March KPRF rally; he said he would support Zyuganov despite his differences with the communist program because the people chose the KPRF in December elections, according to ITAR-TASS. (Rutskoi had earlier joined the "third force" group, which was formed to find an alternative to Yeltsin or Zyuganov.) Meanwhile, the latest VCIOM poll shows Zyuganov with 25% support and beating all other major presidential contenders in a head to head contest, NTV reported. However, Yeltsin appears to be narrowing Zyuganov's lead; the same poll measured his support at 15%. -- Laura Belin

CHECHEN HUMAN RIGHTS ACTIVIST WOUNDED IN TURKEY.
Sait-Emin Ibrahimov, a former transport minister in the rebel Chechen government, was stabbed near Taksim Square in Istanbul on 16 March, Western agencies reported the next day. Hospital officials said the three wounds he received were not life threatening. Living in Istanbul since March of last year, Ibragimov has been leading the Turkey-based Human Rights Committee which releases information on alleged crimes by Russian troops in Chechnya. Ibragimov said he has received threats warning him to "not get involved with peace" ever since he published a book entitled "The State of the World," Reuters reported. -- Lowell Bezanis

RUSSIA AND BULGARIA SIGN ECONOMIC ACCORDS.
Wrapping up a two-day official visit to Moscow, Bulgarian Prime Minister Zhan Videnov signed six economic cooperation agreements with his Russian counterpart, Viktor Chernomyrdin, Russian and Western agencies reported. The agreements cover bilateral ties in the energy, forestry, and agricultural sectors, as well as the sale to Bulgaria of Russian tanks and armored vehicles. The two leaders emphasized that continued conflict in Chechnya and the Caucasus would not affect their plans to possibly export Russian and Caspian oil to world markets through Bulgaria. Videnov later met with President Yeltsin, and ITAR-TASS reported that they agreed on the need to create a new European security system that does not draw "new lines of division" in Europe, an oblique criticism of NATO expansion, which Videnov opposes. -- Scott Parrish

WASHINGTON ASKS MOSCOW ABOUT NUCLEAR TEST.
According to a senior U.S. diplomat, Washington has asked Moscow for "clarification" of whether Russia conducted a nuclear test in January in violation of a voluntary moratorium that has been in effect since 1992, AFP reported on 17 March. On 7 March, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry told Congress that some evidence suggested Russia carried out a small-scale nuclear test at Novaya Zemlya, following allegations published in The Washington Times (see OMRI Daily Digest, 8 March 1996). Russian officials have denied that a test was conducted. -- Constantine Dmitriev

NUCLEAR REACTOR SHUT DOWN AFTER SECOND ACCIDENT THIS YEAR.
Operations at a nuclear reactor at the Dimitrovgrad research center in Central Russia have been suspended indefinitely after the second accident there in less than two months, Russian and Western agencies reported on 15 March. The decision was made after an air conditioner inside the reactor building caught fire. According to ITAR-TASS, no one was exposed to radiation. At the end of January, a defective valve in the reactor led to the release of a cloud of radioactive vapor that contaminated the area around the facility. -- Penny Morvant

SOROS TO HELP RUSSIAN UNIVERSITIES LINK UP TO INTERNET.
Billionaire financier and philanthropist George Soros will give $100 million to help 30 regional Russian universities link up to the Internet, Russian and Western agencies reported. The program was announced after a meeting between Soros and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin in Moscow on 15 March. The Russian government will provide telecommunications resources. In recent years, the Soros Foundation has donated $200 million to support science, culture, and education programs in Russia. -- Penny Morvant

TRADE DISPUTES OVER CHICKEN, VODKA.
On 16 March, the ban on imports of U.S. chickens, announced a month ago by Russia's head veterinarian, Vyacheslav Avilov, went into effect. This occurred despite earlier reports that Russia had agreed to drop the ban (see OMRI Daily Digest, 6 March 1996) . On 18 March, EU Foreign Affairs Commissioner Hans van den Broek arrives in Moscow, and he is expected to protest the 12 March decision to set a minimum price for EU vodka imports at $8.2 per liter, while imports from the CIS can be sold for $3.8. -- Peter Rutland

LEGAL CHALLENGE TO LOAN/SHARE AUCTIONS.
The Procurator General's Office is preparing to challenge the legality of last fall's 12 share-for-loan auctions in the Arbitration Court, Segodnya reported on 15 March. The purchase of Yukos shares by five companies formed only days before the auction (such as ZAO Laguna), with financial backing from Menatep Bank, is to be one of the issues raised. The procurator will argue that the list of firms should have been fixed by the government, not by the State Property Committee, according to President Yeltsin's original August 1995 decree, and that the procedure for running the auctions was not registered with the Justice Ministry. Radio Rossii reported on 16 March that the Chelyabinsk procurator is investigating the theft of 22 billion rubles ($4.5 million) received from the sale of shares in Magnitogorsk metal combine. -- Peter Rutland



CENTRAL ASIAN REACTIONS TO RUSSIAN DUMA'S CIS DECISION.
Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev said the Russian State Duma's resolution to declare the dissolution of the USSR unconstitutional is "conducive to a sharp destabilization," noting that it could, in the end, destroy Russian statehood, according to a 17 March press release cited by the BBC. Uzbek Radio reported that Uzbekistan's Oliy Majlis (parliament) condemned the measure in a 16 March vote, with speaker Erkin Khalilov declaring that the Duma had "grossly infringed on the political states of sovereign Uzbekistan. Official statements from Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan stressed the internal nature of the vote, saying that it would not affect their own state sovereignty, ITAR-TASS reported. Reaction was similar in the Transcaucasus, with Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan calling the vote a "provocation" and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze stating that the vote "could only harm" the integration of the CIS states, RFE/RL reported on 15 March. -- Roger Kangas

PRICE HIKES, SACKING IN TURKMENISTAN.
Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov raised bread prices 150% and sacked the governor [hakim] of Mary province [vilayet], Kurban Orazov, on 15 March, Western media reported the same day. Orazov will be replaced by Deputy Prime Minister Amannazar Ilamov. According to Reuters, Niyazov was shown on state television threatening to dismiss officials who fail to provide the population with "adequate food." There have been sporadic and unconfirmed reports of popular protests at bread shortages in Turkmenistan and several regional officials have lost their jobs recently. After Niyazov sacked 10 of 50 local administration heads for failing to meet state orders for wheat supplies in August 1995, it has become apparent that last year's grain harvest fell short of officially reported totals. -- Lowell Bezanis

KYRGYZ ARMY BESET BY ECONOMIC, ETHNIC PROBLEMS.
The Kyrgyz army is beset by illiteracy, poor health, low pay, and regionalism, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 14 March. A number of first-year conscripts weigh only 45-50 kg, instead of the standard weight requirement of 60-70 kg. The average pay of an officer is only a fifth of what the Russia Border Troops earn; whereas the 10 som monthly pay of a conscript is equivalent to the price of a tube of toothpaste. It quoted Colonel Talgarbek Ismailov, the military commissar of Naryn region in Central Kyrgyzstan, as saying in an interview with Respublika that "tribalism" is a key problem in the Kyrgyz army, as officers from the north are reluctant to serve in the south. -- Bhavna Dave



UKRAINIAN OFFICIAL GIVES CHORNOBYL SARCOPHAGUS 10-15 YEARS.
Ukrainian Environment Minister Yurii Kostenko says the steel-and-concrete tomb encasing the ruined Chornobyl nuclear reactor will last only another 10-15 years, UNIAN reported 16 March. That is half the time originally estimated, Kostenko said, and hastens the need to extract the damaged reactor's remaining 200 tons of nuclear fuel and 3,000 tons of water. The official said the process of removing the waste could cause some radioactive leakage and threaten the Dnipro River. Kostenko also said there was no sense in continuing the resettlement of people still living in contaminated areas to other regions because the radioactivity had decreased and government funds would be better spent on cleanup, improved medical care, and applying alternative farming methods. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

FEW BLACK SEA FLEET PERSONNEL CHOSE UKRAINE.
Of the more than 1,500 Black Sea Fleet officers whose posts were cut since the first of the year because of a staff restructuring program, only 70 have opted to transfer to the Ukrainian navy, a spokesman for the fleet's press center told the Unian news agency on 15 March. He also said that only 280 of the 1,420 warrant and noncommissioned officerswho have lost their jobs chose to switch. -- Doug Clarke

UKRAINE REACTS TO DUMA DECISION TO REVOKE CIS ACCORD.
Ukrainian leaders sharply criticized the Russian Duma's decision to repeal the 1991 Belovezhsk Accords, which created the CIS, Ukrainian and international agencies reported. President Leonid Kuchma said that although the decision has no legal consequences, the body's disrespect for and questionable intentions toward Russia's neighbors poses a threat to them and the world community. He said Ukrainian independence was based on the results of a December 1991 referendum -- when over 90% of the population approved the split with Moscow -- not on the CIS accord. Kuchma said the Duma decision had, however, "placed a mine under the CIS." Leaders of Ukraine's national-democratic parties condemned the decision as a political ploy by Russia's communists to incite leftist unrest in Ukraine and other former republics. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT COMMENTS ON DUMA VOTE.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka made a reserved but generally positive comment on the Duma decision denouncing the 1991 accords abolishing the USSR. "Regrettably," he said 15 March on Russian TV, "the former union cannot exist now." He asserted that he would cooperate with everyone favoring a new union and that the shape of this union would depend on the positions of the parliaments and presidents of the participating states. He noted that the union could be even closer than before. -- Saulius Girnius

RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH RALLY IN ESTONIA.
Archbishop Kornilii of Tallinn led a procession of Orthodox believers in the Estonian capital on 16 March protesting the decision of the Constantinople patriarch in February to take theEstonian Apostolic Orthodox Church under his jurisdiction. ETA estimated the number of participants to be 7,000-10,000, while ITAR-TASS put the number at 15,000.The protesters asserted that the Orthodox Church in Estonia should remain under the Moscow patriarch. They fear that the transfer from Moscow'sjurisdiction could lead to the loss of church property and of the right to pursue their religious beliefs. No incidents were reported during the hour-and-a-half-long march. -- Saulius Girnius

POLAND FIRM ON NATO DESPITE MOSCOW SECURITY-GUARANTEE OFFER.
Poland rejected Russia's suggestion of a security guarantee from Moscow on 15 March and said it intends to go ahead with seeking full NATO membership, Polish and international media reported the next day. Gazeta Wyborcza on 18 March reported that Washington also rejected the idea of a U.S.-Russian joint security guarantee for Poland. President Aleksander Kwasniewski told visiting Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov that while Poland fully intended to join NATO, it also wishes to maintain good relations with Russia. Although Primakov reaffirmed his country's opposition to an enlargement of NATO, the two sides declared success in warming recently frosty relations. The countries have decided to seek liberalization in trade and business and are working on a military agreement facilitating arms trade. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

PRIMAKOV SAYS OLEKSY WAS NOT A SPY.
Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, who headed Moscow's intelligence services in 1991-1996, said on 15 March that former Polish Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy, accused by the security services of spying for Moscow, has had no links with Russian intelligence. Gazeta Wyborcza on 16 March quoted Primakov as saying that there had been no operational file on Oleksy and therefore no "secret-agent relationship" with him. Military prosecutors are to decide next month whether to bring charges against Oleksy, who has denied all spying allegations but resigned from office (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 January 1996) when prosecutors began a probe. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

CZECH JUNIOR GOVERNMENT PARTIES RISE IN POLL.
The two junior members of the Czech governing coalition, the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) and the Christian Democratic Union-Czechoslovak People's Party (KDU-CSL), are gaining support as the late-May parliamentary elections approach, according to a poll published on 16 March. The ODA's rating rose from 6.4% in February to 9.3% in the poll conducted by STEM, and the KDU-CSL went from 7.8% to 8.9%. The Civic Democratic Party, led by Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, fell slightly to 28.3%, while the opposition Social Democrats rose marginally to 20%. According to the poll, only two other parties are likely to win seats in the next parliament: the Communists with 8.7% and the extreme-right Republicans with 5.6%. Up to 25% of voters are, however, still undecided, Mlada fronta Dnes reported on 18 March. -- Steve Kettle

CZECH MiG-29s FOR POLISH HELICOPTERS.
The Czech Republic will receive 11 Polish-built Sokol helicopters in the last quarter of this year in exchange for MiG-29s that were part of the Czech air force, CTK reported on 8 March. The agency quoted the Defense Ministry as saying the helicopters would be used for medical services. When Czechoslovakia split up, the Czech Republic received 10 MiG-29s, but the ministry decided they were too expensive to operate and maintain. -- Doug Clarke

SLOVAK PRIME MINISTER DEFENDS PENAL-CODE AMENDMENT.
Vladimir Meciar on 15 March told Slovak Radio that his government's controversial bill on the protection of the republic is needed "to protect the foundations of Slovakia, its sovereignty, territorial integrity, security, and constitutional system." He said comparable laws are in effect in such countries as Germany, Austria, France, Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, the Czech Republic, and Hungary. "Anyone who rejects the bill and considers it undemocratic is also attacking the legal arrangements of these other countries," Meciar stressed. He said the bill is intended "to protect the state from anarchy and upheaval. It is not an interference in personal freedom, the right to one's opinion, the right to expression, and the right to a political position." Critics fear that the bill, which is on the parliament's agenda this month, will be used against journalists and ethnic Hungarian politicians. -- Sharon Fisher

IMF APPROVES LONG-AWAITED LOAN FOR HUNGARY.
The International Monetary Fund board unanimously endorsed a $387 million standby loan for Hungary on 15 March, Hungarian media reported. The decision carries great significance for Hungary, as it acknowledges the results of a strict austerity program and is expected to enhance foreign investors' confidence in Hungary. The IMF agreement removes the last barrier to the country's Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development membership -- on which an official decision is expected within two weeks. Meanwhile, preparations are well under way for a nearly $200 million World Bank loan to finance reform of Hungary's banking sector and accelerate privatization. The IMF agreement was effectively a precondition for the long-term World Bank loan, which would carry a 15-year repayment period at low interest. The loan would be the first part of a larger credit package of up to $400 million-$500 million, with the second part geared toward state-budget reform. -- Zsofia Szilagyi



ARSON AND LOOTING IN GRBAVICA.
Bosnian Serbs continued over the weekend to torch and trash the last of the Sarajevo suburbs slated to pass to federal control on 19 March. In an apparently unique move against the vandals, IFOR soldiers detained a total of 12 suspected arsonists. The peacekeepers then handed them over to Serbian police, however, and the police released the men, Reuters reported on 17 March. Federal firefighters who had come to Grbavica to control the blazes were forced out by Serbian grenade attacks on 16 March. Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic condemned the destruction and called for protection for Serbs wanting to stay in their homes. In any event, Onasa said on 17 March that Serbs will be able to return to their government-owned flats any time up to six months after fleeing them. -- Padraig O'Moore

DIVISIONS DEEPEN IN BOSNIA.
Former Bosnian Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic said on 17 March that the work of the international community in Bosnia to date was actually helping to reinforce divisions rather than promote a unified state. The previous day, the international community's high representative, Carl Bildt, had also pointed out the dangers of increasing ethnic polarization. News agencies further reported that Muslims have been preventing Croatian refugees from returning to their homes in Bugojno. Federal President Kresimir Zubak said that it will take three to four years to make the federation work, Reuters noted on 17 March. Western officials, moreover, are concerned about recent moves by the Muslim leadership that seem aimed at setting up a Muslim ministate rather than a real multi-ethnic polity, the International Herald Tribune reported on 16 and 18 March. -- Padraig O'Moore

BOSNIAN SHORTS.
Near Mostar, Croatian police allowed Muslims to visit graves on Croat-held territory, ending a blockade, news agencies reported on 17 March. Meanwhile, IFOR is preparing across Bosnia for the last stage of mutual land transfers between the Muslim-Croat federation and the Republika Srpska on 19 March. In Ankara, the Bosnia "Train and Equip" Donors Conference ended with only the U.S. and Turkey pledging definite amounts to build the federal army. Washington offered $100 million and Ankara $2 million, the Turkish Daily News reported on 16 March. -- Padraig O'Moore

SERBIAN PRESIDENT TO VISIT SKOPJE.
Slobodan Milosevic will visit Skopje on 20 March to announce diplomatic recognition of Macedonia, international media reported on 17 March, based on Vecer and Foreign Ministry sources.Vecer reported that during his visit Milosevic will "announce the normalization of relations" between rump Yugoslavia and Macedonia, while Foreign Ministry sources said Macedonian Foreign Minister Ljubomir Frckovski will visit Belgrade on 21 March to sign documents on mutual recognition. -- Stefan Krause

RUMP YUGOSLAV OFFICIAL'S `SUCCESS' WITH BOSNIAN SERBS.
Mihailo Milojevic, the head of rump Yugoslavia's chamber of commerce, has said that his recent visit to the Republika Srpska was "most successful" and that there would in the very near future be development of economic links between Belgrade and the Bosnian Serbs. While declining to give many specifics, Milojevic did say that his Bosnian Serb hosts were interested in reopening the Bijeljina-Sid and Ruma-Sabac-Zvornik railway links with rump Yugoslavia as well as establishing regular flights between Belgrade and Banja Luka. No concrete agreements on restoring the communication links were reached, but Milojevic stressed that they would be "soon," SRNA reported on 15 March. -- Stan Markotich

COUNCIL OF EUROPE SETS CRITERIA FOR CROATIA'S ADMISSION.
The
Council of Europe's Political Committee has sent Croatia a 21-item list of admission criteria that is to be signed by Croatian President Franjo Tudjman and Croatia's parliamentary chairman by 19 March if Croatia is to enter the organization in April, Croatian media reported on 14 and 15 March. The list was detailed and specific, including references to freedom of the media and democracy in electing the mayor of Zagreb. -- Daria Sito Sucic

PRESIDENTS OF BOSNIA, CROATIA, SERBIA MEET WITH CHRISTOPHER.
U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher is to chair a meeting of the five-nation Contact Group on Bosnia on 18 March in Geneva, also to be attended by Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic; his Croatian counterpart, Franjo Tudjman; and Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic, representing President Alija Izetbegovic, Nasa Borba and AFP reported. Russia's mission spokesman on 16 March said a Russian representative would not attend the U.S.-convened meeting in Geneva ahead of the Moscow Contact Group meeting next week, calling it hastily arranged and unnecessary. Christopher confirmed that Russia would not take part in the Geneva meeting but played down the importance of its absence, AFP reported. Christopher reportedly was set to discuss with the Balkan leaders the forthcoming elections in Bosnia, issues of free movement, and the prosecution of war criminals, as well as the presence of foreign forces on the ground. -- Daria Sito Sucic

ZHELEV WANTS HEADS OF BULGARIAN NATIONAL BANK EXECUTIVES.
Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev, at a meeting on 14 March with newly appointed Bulgarian National Bank Governor Lyubomir Filipov, demanded that four of the bank's top executives be replaced. The most prominent names mentioned were Kamen Toshkov, head of banking supervision, and Stoyan Shukerov, chief of foreign-currency operations. Zhelev charges these figures with exercising little control over the banking system and lending large amounts of money to selected struggling banks, contributing to the decline of the lev. In other economic news, the International Monetary Fund and World Bank concluded a round of talks with the government on 14 March without agreement on a new standby loan, Duma reported. However, the government is taking measures to demonstrate its seriousness on structural reform, announcing the official closing of 30-40 loss-making enterprises. According to the World Bank, losses at state enterprises are 20% of GDP. -- Michael Wyzan

BULGARIAN, ROMANIAN, GREEK FOREIGN MINISTERS MEET.
Georgi Pirinski, Teodor Melescanu, and Theodoros Pangalos met in Varna on 16-17 March, Bulgarian and Western media reported. The three officials discussed the location of a second Danube bridge linking Bulgaria and Romania but failed to reach a decision. The EU is willing to finance the construction, but Sofia and Bucharest cannot agree on a site. They also talked about transport, telecommunication, and energy projects, including the planned oil pipeline from Burgas in Bulgaria to Alexandroupolis in Greece, and agreed to set up a regional center for coordinating infrastructure projects in the Balkans. Melescanu and Pangalos backed a Bulgarian initiative to host a meeting of all Balkan foreign ministers aimed at promoting regional cooperation and stability. Greece said it will support Bulgaria's and Romania's wishes for parallel negotiations for EU membership with all associated members from Eastern Europe. -- Stefan Krause

DEFENSE MINISTER'S DISMISSAL SPARKS POLITICAL CRISIS IN MOLDOVA.
President Mircea Snegur's decision to dismiss Defense Minister Pavel Creanga sparked a new political crisis in Moldova, Moldovan and Western agencies reported. Snegur on 15 March appointed General Tudor Dabija as acting defense minister to replace Creanga, whom he had accused of corruption. Creanga initially resisted the president's order and refused to leave his ministry's headquarters. Special troops were deployed around the ministry for several hours. A provisional solution to the conflict could be brokered only after the parliament convened in an emergency session, attended by Snegur, representatives of the Constitutional Court, the general prosecutor, and the military. All sides agreed to let the high court decide whether the firing had been legal. The tug of war over Creanga's fate once more brought into the open a long-simmering conflict between Snegur and the ruling Agrarian Democratic Party. -- Dan Ionescu

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY, NEO-COMMUNISTS END ALLIANCE.
The ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) and the Socialist Labor Party on 16 March formally ended their political alliance, Romanian and Western media reported. The announcement came after a meeting of the parties' chairmen, Oliviu Gherman and Ilie Verdet, respectively. The two leaders were quoted as saying that they parted because their alliance did not work anymore. The PDSR, which denounced its alliance with the ultranationalist Greater Romania Party in October last year, has only one ally left, the Party of Romanian National Unity, but relations between the two are also deteriorating. Observers of the Romanian scene see the PDSR's efforts to rid itself of its former nationalist and neo-communist allies as aimed at improving the party's image both at home and abroad. -- Dan Ionescu

ETHNIC HUNGARIANS IN TRANSYLVANIA CELEBRATE 1848 REVOLUTION.
Some 8,000 ethnic Hungarians on 15 March gathered in the town of Sfantu Gheorghe to mark the anniversary of a short-lived anti-Austrian revolution in 1848, Radio Bucharest and Western media reported. The meeting was attended by leaders of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR), representatives of the Hungarian Embassy in Bucharest, and guests from Hungary. Similar rallies took places in several towns in Transylvania, where most of Romania's 1.6 million Hungarians live. Meanwhile, Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu was quoted as saying that Romania wants to get a long-delayed treaty with Hungary signed before this year's presidential and general elections. A bilateral treaty is vital to both countries' ambitions of joining Euro-Atlantic structures. -- Dan Ionescu

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT CANCELS FINE FOR KOHA JONE EDITOR.
Sali Berisha has canceled a court fine imposed on Koha Jone Editor in Chief Aleksander Frangaj, international agencies reported on 17 March. Frangaj was fined $1,000 for publishing a false report under a disputed press law (see OMRI Daily Digest, 15 March 1996). In unrelated news, Human Rights Watch published its annual report on Albania. It concludes that, five years after the first free post-communist elections, the citizens of Albania are still plagued by serious human rights violations, such as restrictions on freedom of expression and association, manipulation of the legal system, and violence by the police. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Tim Rostan




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