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Newsline - March 21, 1996


YELTSIN PLANS CAMPAIGN STRATEGY.
President Yeltsin announced that he will lead a council to coordinate activities for his own re-election campaign, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 March. A number of organizations have been created to help run Yeltsin's campaign, including a "presidential campaign headquarters" headed by First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets and a "movement of public support" for Yeltsin headed by former Chief of Staff Sergei Filatov, but the precise duties of these organizations have never been defined. ITAR-TASS speculated that presidential adviser Viktor Ilyushin is behind attempts to reorganize Yeltsin's campaign apparatus. Meanwhile, VCIOM director Yurii Levada announced that his center's most recent poll shows Yeltsin further narrowing Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov's lead; Zyuganov now beats Yeltsin in a head to head contest by just 37% to 29%. -- Laura Belin

YABLOKO MOTION TO REMOVE SELEZNEV FAILS.
Yabloko Deputy Yelena Mizulina put forward a motion to remove Gennadii Seleznev from the post of Duma speaker, but only 88 deputies voted to put the question on the Duma's agenda, with 207 voting against, Russian media reported on 20 March. Mizulina claimed that Seleznev changed the 15 March resolution denouncing the Belavezha accords before signing it, in violation of Duma procedures. In January, some Russian observers blamed Yabloko deputies for allowing Seleznev to be elected speaker; at that time, Yabloko backed its own candidate Vladimir Lukin for the post rather than Ivan Rybkin, Seleznev's closest rival in the voting. -- Laura Belin

DUMA SAYS YELTSIN REJECTION OF LAWS UNCONSTITUTIONAL.
The Duma passed a resolution charging that Yeltsin's practice of sometimes returning laws passed by the Duma "without consideration" violates Article 107 of the constitution, which stipulates that the president must either sign laws sent to him by parliament or veto them, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 March. Yeltsin occasionally sends bills back to parliament, citing legal flaws within the documents or procedural irregularities in how they were passed. -- Laura Belin

CHERNOMYRDIN: POWER SHARING MAY STOP IF COMMUNISTS WIN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS.
After signing a power sharing treaty with the Komi Republic, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin warned that the signing of such treaties may be brought to a halt if the Communists win the June presidential election, since they support the nationalization of property and strong federal control over the regions, Russian media reported on 20 March. Komi became the 12th federation subject to sign an agreement on power sharing with the federal government. Chernomyrdin and Komi Head Yurii Spiridonov signed a series of agreements relating to Komi foreign trade, international relations, agriculture, energy, budget, and property relations between the republic and Moscow. -- Anna Paretskaya

ST. PETERSBURG MAYORAL ELECTIONS TO BE HELD IN MAY.
The St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly has approved a presidential decree setting 19 May as the date for the city's mayoral elections by a vote of 27-6, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 March. Last week, the legislature failed to approve the decree due to a walkout staged by the Communist deputies (see OMRI Daily Digest, 14 March 1996). This time, the Communist deputies also protested the early date of the mayoral poll, and the Yabloko assembly faction is preparing to appeal the election date change in court. The leaders of both factions are among the mayoral candidates and are unhappy that their campaign time has been shortened. -- Anna Paretskaya

NATO AND RUSSIA SIGN COOPERATION AGREEMENT.
NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana and Russian Minister of Emergency Situations Sergei Shoigu on 20 March signed an agreement on cooperation in dealing with civil emergencies, Russian and Western agencies reported. Solana, on an official visit to Moscow, also met with Defense Minister Pavel Grachev. Grachev announced an agreement "in principle" on establishing a permanent Russian mission at NATO headquarters, and added that "we will find closer forms of cooperation" with the alliance. However, the Russian minister admitted that the two sides still have "different approaches" to the possible eastward enlargement of the alliance. Solana reaffirmed that NATO's decision to expand "had been taken long ago," and would not be affected by either the recent Duma resolution denouncing the Belavezha accords, or the upcoming Russian presidential polls. -- Scott Parrish

RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN COOPERATION COMMISSION MEETS.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Yevhen Marchuk and his Russian counterpart, Viktor Chernomyrdin, co-chaired the first session of the recently-formed bilateral commission in Moscow on 20 March, Russian agencies reported. The session dealt with the draft of the Russian-Ukrainian friendship treaty, the division of the Black Sea Fleet, bilateral economic ties, and other agreements due to be signed during President Yeltsin's scheduled April visit to Kyiv. Afterwards, both leaders said the long-awaited friendship treaty is "practically ready" for signature. On the same day, Vice-Admiral Viktor Kravchenko, newly appointed commander of the Black Sea Fleet, met in Kyiv with the commander of the Ukrainian Navy, Vice-Admiral Volodymyr Bezkorovainy, to discuss the division of the fleet and associated infrastructure, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Scott Parrish

CIA CHIEF WARNS OF POOR NUCLEAR SECURITY IN RUSSIA.
CIA Director John Deutch recently told a Senate committee that security at Russian nuclear facilities is deteriorating, the Voice of America reported on 20 March. He was quoted as testifying that these conditions pose a "serious threat" for the diversion of nuclear technology and fissile materials to countries seeking to develop nuclear arms. He said that while most reports of nuclear materials being smuggled out of Russia have been bogus, some have involved small quantities of weapons-grade nuclear material. He urged continued support for the programs to provide financial and technical assistance to the Russians in this area and warned that a significant diversion of weapons material would create a "crisis of enormous proportions." -- Doug Clarke

JAPANESE FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW.
Yukihiko Ikeda, the first Japanese Foreign Minister to visit Moscow in two years, met with his Russian counterpart, Yevgenii Primakov, and President Yeltsin on 20 March, Russian and Western agencies reported. Ikeda gave Yeltsin a personal message from Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, expressing support for the reform policies of the Russian president. Yeltsin and Ikeda reaffirmed their commitment to the 1993 Tokyo Declaration, which calls for a speedy resolution of the territorial dispute over the four southernmost Kuril islands. Primakov later pledged continued demilitarization of the islands, saying only 3,500 Russian troops are stationed there, a 50% reduction since 1992. Ikeda also co-chaired the first session of a new Russo-Japanese trade commission, at which First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets said agreement had been reached on the use of a $500 million loan that Tokyo had granted Moscow earlier this year. -- Scott Parrish

GREEK FOREIGN MINISTER IN MOSCOW.
Greek Foreign Minister Theodhoros Pangalos met with his Russian counterpart, Yevgenii Primakov, and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin during his 18-20 March official visit to Moscow, Russian agencies reported. Among other issues, Pangalos's discussions focused on the proposed construction of a pipeline for the export of Russian and Caspian oil to international markets via Greece and Bulgaria. The project has hit some snags recently because of a Greek-Bulgarian disputes over the terms of its construction. ITAR-TASS also pointedly noted that Pangalos had expressed reserve about the possible eastward expansion of NATO, saying it would "directly or indirectly have an anti-Russian character." As a NATO member, Greece's approval would be required for the admission of new members. -- Scott Parrish

LEADING ARMS DESIGNER MURDERED.
Leading weapons designer Valentin Smirnov was shot dead in the entrance hall of his apartment block in Yekaterinburg on 20 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Smirnov, one of the designers of the S-300 air defense missile system, headed the Novator military enterprise in the city. A number of other prominent figures in the military-industrial complex have been murdered over the past 18 months, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. -- Penny Morvant

DUMA RAISES MINIMUM WAGE, PENSION.
The Duma voted on 20 March to raise the minimum wage by 20% to 75,900 rubles ($16) a month as of 1 April, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. The bill was unanimously approved in the second and third readings. Ekho Moskvy noted that the deputies had originally sought to raise the minimum wage as of 1 March and that the new version constitutes a compromise measure. Earlier, the Duma also overcame the Federation Council veto on a bill raising the minimum pension by 20% as of 1 March--a decision that provoked a storm of protest in the government. Presidential economics adviser Aleksandr Livshits said it was unaffordable and would result in further delays in pension payments. -- Penny Morvant

FOREIGN INVESTMENT REACHES $7.9 BILLION.
Foreign investment in Russia in 1995 was $2.8 billion, a 180% increase over 1994, Western agencies reported on 19 March, citing the Economics Ministry. The total foreign capital invested in Russia in 1991-1995 now stays at $7.9 billion. In 1995, direct investment accounted for $1.9 billion, portfolio investment for $30 million, and foreign loans for $890 million. Moscow attracted the largest proportion of investment--47%. Oil-producing regions Tatarstan and Tyumen (Siberia) got 5.7% and 3.6% of capital, respectively. U.S. companies provided 29% of investment. They were followed by Swiss (15%) and German(10%) firms. -- Natalia Gurushina



MORE CIS TELEGRAMS TO YELTSIN CONDEMNING DUMA VOTE.
The leaders of eight CIS states have sent official notices to President Boris Yeltsin expressing their opposition to the Russian State Duma's vote denouncing the Belavezha accords, Russian and Western media reported. Armenian President Levon Ter-Petrossyan called on Yeltsin to "take the necessary protective measures" to preserve the CIS, and Uzbek President Islam Karimov stated that the decision is a call to revive a "totalitarian system." Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev and Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev underscored the damage that this action could have on the "current integration" taking place among some CIS states, while Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev focused on the negative effect the vote will have on "democratic reforms." No official telegrams have been sent by Turkmenistan, Belarus, and Tajikistan, although Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov has publicly denounced the Duma's decision in recent interviews. -- Roger Kangas

NIYAZOV IN GEORGIA.
On the last leg of his three-country tour of the Caucasus, Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov arrived in Tbilisi on 19 March for talks with his Georgian counterpart, Eduard Shevardnadze, Western agencies reported. The two leaders reached an agreement the same day to reschedule Georgia's roughly $500 million debt for natural gas over three years, Western agencies reported. The two leaders also issued a joint statement against the Russian State Duma's 15 March decision to revoke the 1991 Belavezha accords, describing it as a "dangerous attempt to restore an anti-democratic totalitarian regime." -- Lowell Bezanis

INDIAN FOREIGN MINISTER CONCLUDES VISIT TO UZBEKISTAN.
Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Kumar Mukerjee wrapped up his three-day official visit to Tashkent on 21 March, during which he signed bilateral accords on trade and technical and cultural exchanges with his Uzbek counterpart, Abdulaziz Kamilov, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 March. Mukerjee stressed the "important strategic role" that Uzbekistan plays in Central Asia. -- Roger Kangas

KAZAKHSTAN REJECTS AMNESTY FIGURES ON EXECUTIONS.
Kazakhstan has rejected an Amnesty International report that there were 101 executions in the country in 1995, Reuters reported on 21 March (see OMRI Daily Digest, 11 March 1996). Mikhail Baranov, head of President Nursultan Nazarbayev's clemency department, said that only 63 people were executed last year, adding that Amnesty had confused the total number of those who were sentenced with the number of actual executions. Baranov said that 2,447 murders were committed in 1995, and that the sharp rise in violent crime justified the death penalty. -- Bhavna Dave



LAWMAKERS BEGIN REVIEW OF NEW UKRAINIAN, CRIMEAN CONSTITUTIONS.
President Leonid Kuchma presented the draft of a new Ukrainian constitution to a special session of parliament on 20 March, Ukrainian and Western media reported. Kuchma called on deputies to work quickly to adopt the draft because Ukraine remains the last of all the former republics without a new post-Soviet basic law. He said the draft was "completely European in letter and spirit and reflected Ukrainian traditions of nationbuilding." Drafted by a special commission consisting of lawmakers, administration officials and legal experts, the document provides for a strong presidency and bicameral legislature. Legislators also began examining the draft of a new Crimean constitution after hard-liners dropped their demand to replace the region's constitution with a charter. The vocal deputies still hope however, to limit the Crimean legislature's authority and the region's autonomy as a whole. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

KUCHMA ORDERS COMPLETION OF VOUCHER PRIVATIZATION BY YEAR'S END.
Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma has issued a decree ordering the completion of his government's voucher privatization scheme by the end of the year, Ukrainian TV reported on 19 March. The decree calls for all privatization certificates for shares in medium- and large-scale state-owned enterprises to be distributed to citizens by 1 July. The decree gives all Ukrainians until 31 December to trade in their certificates for shares in available enterprises. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

ESTONIA INDICTS FIRST SOVIET-ERA OFFICIAL.
The Estonian Security Police on 20 March indicted 85-year old Vasilli Riis for crimes against humanity, BNS reported. Riis was accused of signing the warrants to arrest 340 Estonians, who were later executed, while he was the head of the NKVD Soviet security police on the western island of Saaremaa in the summer of 1941. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to the death penalty or up to 15 years imprisonment. -- Saulius Girnius

NEW LITHUANIAN GOVERNMENT'S PROGRAM APPROVED.
The Seimas on 19 March approved the program of Prime Minister Mindaugas Stankevicius, formally allowing his government to be sworn in, Radio Lithuania reported. Stankevicius said that his cabinet would strive to revive industry, increase tax revenues, improve the investment climate by accelerating the privatization process, and pay off debts for Russian energy. Earlier in the session, the Seimas amended article 47 of the Constitution, allowing the purchase of land by foreigners. The amendment will go into effect only if two-thirds of the Seimas approves it again after 19 June. The prohibition of land sales to foreigners could prevent Lithuania from becoming a member of the European Union. -- Saulius Girnius

CZECH, SLOVAK ARMED FORCES SHORT OF PERSONNEL.
According to the two chiefs of staff, both the Czech and Slovak militaries are undermanned, CTK reported on 19 March. Czech Chief of Staff Jiri Nekvasil and his Slovak counterpart, Jozef Tuchnya, told this to the press after a working meeting in southern Moravia. Nekvasil said that there were almost one-third fewer than the planned 65,000 soldiers in the Czech forces while Tuchnya said that the Slovak military was "deep under the figure" of 47,000 troops it should have. Under the terms of the CFE 1A treaty, the personnel ceilings for the Czech Republic and Slovakia are 93,333 and 46,667 respectively. -- Doug Clarke

SLOVAK PRIME MINISTER VISITS AUSTRIA.
Meeting on 20 March with Austrian officials, Vladimir Meciar said Slovakia's nuclear power plant in Jaslovske Bohunice could be closed by the end of 1999, Slovak media reported. However, he stressed that such a move is linked to the completion of Slovakia's second nuclear plant in Mochovce. Meciar asked Austrian Foreign Minister Wolfgang Schuessel for support in Slovak efforts at EU integration. He also delivered a lecture on the Slovak economy hosted by the Slovak-Austrian Economic Forum and International Vienna Council in which he called for closer bilateral cooperation in infrastructure development. Following Meciar's meeting with Austrian President Thomas Klestil, the presidential office called the talks "purely polite" and gave no further details. -- Sharon Fisher

NO LEAP FORWARD IN HUNGARIAN, SLOVAK FOREIGN RELATIONS.
Although Bratislava is reportedly preparing the ratification of the Slovak-Hungarian treaty, it is simultaneously taking measures that arouse concern among ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia, Hungarian Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs said. He was holding a meeting with his Slovak counterpart Juraj Schenk on 20 March, CTK reported. Kovacs called attention to the Slovak language law, passed last year, and the new administrative division of Slovakia--now being discussed--which will further restrict minority rights of the 600,000 ethnic Hungarians in Slovakia. Kovacs told journalists that Schenk had called his concerns groundless and assured him that the Slovak-Hungarian basic treaty would be ratified soon. -- Zsofia Szilagyi



IFOR TROOPS ENTER SARAJEVO SUBURB.
NATO peacekeepers moved into Dobrinja on 20 March to defuse tensions between Serbs and their Muslim and Croat neighbors, the BBC reported on 21 March. Gunfire and explosions had been reported. The Dayton boundary line between federal and Serb territory there runs right through the middle of two apartment buildings, and there were disputes as to which side owns what. This development reflects the glitches that emerged from the Dayton boundary demarcation maps and the problems of partitioning what had been ethnically mixed territory. The Dayton agreement set up a joint commission to prepare territorial exchanges by mutual consent, but to date there have been no agreements. Elsewhere in Sarajevo, British peacekeepers on 19 March prevented government and Croatian troops from entering two barracks that both were claiming, Reuters noted the next day. -- Patrick Moore

SERBS DEPLOY IN CENTRAL BOSNIA.
Following the withdrawal of federal forces in keeping with the Dayton treaty, Bosnian Serb forces (VRS) entered the "anvil" region around Sipovo and Mrkonjic Grad on 20 March. AFP said that some 1,000 men from the VRS were being monitored by 2,000 IFOR peacekeepers and by NATO air patrols. Serb refugees are returning by the thousands to the area lost to the allied armies last September, and IFOR reports that the situation is peaceful. Nearby, IFOR said some homes belonging to Muslims near Croat-held Jajce went up in flames, Oslobodjenje wrote on 21 March. Onasa added that the peackeepers said the destruction did not appear systematic. The commander of U.S. forces in Europe, Gen. George Joulwan, has become the latest Western official to warn Congress that the "number one issue" facing the peace process is keeping the Muslim-Croat federation together, AFP stated the previous day. -- Patrick Moore

IZETBEGOVIC SAYS ELECTIONS KEY TO DAYTON PROCESS.
Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic is recuperating at home from heart problems but has given a major interview to Focus, its parent publication Dnevni avaz reported on 20 March. He stressed that the cornerstone of the Dayton structure is holding elections later this year, and that if the Serbs block them, his government will withdraw recognition of the Republika Srpska. Turning to the Croats, the Muslim leader said that some were supporters of the Federation but that others were just playing a game, hoping to provoke the Muslims into torpedoing the project first. Addressing American concerns about the Iraninan presence in Bosnia, Izetbegovic said that only 50 ex-fighters are left and that they are all now civilians with families and Bosnian citizenship. He added that the prime minister's recent visit to Iran was linked to the ending of bilateral military relations and that, in keeping with Dayton, such ties would now be purely peaceful. -- Patrick Moore

CROATIA TO BE ADMITTED TO COUNCIL OF EUROPE.
The Political Committee of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly proposed on 19 March that Croatia be admitted to the Council of Europe as a full member, Hina reported. The committee adopted a report on Croatia with 25 votes for, three against and four abstentions, and proposed that Croatia be admitted at the Parliamentary Assembly session scheduled at the end of April. Earlier, Zdravko Tomac, chairman of the Zagreb City Council, on behalf of the councilmen from the seven opposition parties forwarded a letter in which the Council of Europe was urged to accept Croatia. "The Zagreb crisis was no reason for refusing Croatia admittance," the letter said, stating the crisis could be resolved "only if Croatia accepted European standards and was integrated into the European legal system," Hina reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

SADAKO OGATA ANNOUNCES BEGINNING OF REPATRIATION.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees said on 20 March that the UNHCR in the former Yugoslavia is to switch from aid delivery and immediate protection of the victims of war to help in organizing the return of two million refugees to the area, Nasa Borba reported on 21 March quoting Tanjug. "The biggest operation ever undertaken by the UNHCR" will start at the beginning of April, Ogata announced at the session of the UN Committee for Human Rights. Meanwhile, the international community's High Representative Carl Bildt's office on 20 March established a housing commission to help refugees and displaced persons return to their homes, Onasa reported. The commission's mandate is to rule on refugee rights to return and help put them into practice. It will also help refugees to sell, lease or exchange their homes or receive reimbursement. -- Daria Sito Sucic

SERBIAN PARAMILITARY LEADER BUYS RADIO STATION.
Zeljko Raznatovic, alias "Arkan," has bought Belgrade's Radio Pingvin from an Italian businessman and has named it after his paramilitary Tigers. Arkan, an alleged war criminal who is also wanted throughout Europe on murder and other serious charges, said the music-based format of the station will not be changed and will not feature political commentary, AFP reported on 20 March. The new station editor is Borislav Pelevic, a high ranking official in Arkan's ultranationlist political party, the Serbian Unity Party (SSJ). -- Stan Markotich

MILOSEVIC POSTPONES VISIT TO SKOPJE.
Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic on 20 March postponed a visit to Macedonia scheduled for the same day, Nova Makedonija reported. No reason was given for the cancellation, but well informed sources in Skopje were cited as saying that Milosevic might come next week. Milosevic and his Macedonian counterpart Kiro Gligorov had been expected to announce mutual recognition of Macedonia and rump Yugoslavia. -- Stefan Krause

SLOVENIAN JOURNALISTS END STRIKE.
Journalists at the state-backed Radio and Television Slovenija corporation ended their strike for higher wages and improved working conditions for freelancers on 20 March. The staff ended its job action after three days, following a management decision to increase salaries by some 15% effective in April, raising an employee's minimum monthly wage to $1,200, Reuters reported. Strike committee officials said that staff will again strike on 16 April in the event the deal breaks down. -- Stan Markotich

ROMANIAN MINISTERS ON EURO-ATLANTIC INTEGRATION.
Defense Minister Gheorghe Tinca told journalists on 20 March that Romania was firmly committed to join NATO. Radio Bucharest quoted Tinca as saying that Romania's military was interested in establishing very good ties with armies in neighboring countries to promote stability in the region. In a separate development, Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu, who was attending the Prague meeting with Christopher, told Radio Bucharest that he was optimistic about Romania's chances to be admitted to NATO as a full member. Also on 20 March, a Foreign Ministry spokesman said in Bucharest that Romania made "a firm option in favor of integration into the Euro-Atlantic structures, be they political, strategic, or economic." -- Dan Ionescu

STRIKING WORKERS CLASH WITH POLICE IN ROMANIA.
Some 200 workers, demanding the resignation of the Drobeta-Turnu Severin CELROM paper-mill's manager, clashed with riot police, who were called to clear strikers from the factory's gate so that management and non-striking workers could enter, Romanian and international media reported on 20-21 March. A worker said an armored police car broke the gate and some 200 policemen beat the protesters. Several workers suffered injuries. Col. Marian Tutilescu, police chief of the town, said "the workers were waiting for us with clubs and one worker lit two bottles with gasoline and threw them at us." According to him, 11 policemen were slightly injured. CELROM's workers have been on strike since 17 February, accusing the factory's management of fraudulent privatization. -- Matyas Szabo

BULGARIAN MINERS GO ON STRIKE.
Around 11,000 workers at Bulgaria's biggest coal mine went on strike on 20 March, Bulgarian and Western media reported. It is the largest such action since the Socialists returned to power. The miners at the Maritsa Iztok mine, which produces 30% of the fuel used by the country's electricity system, are demanding a 60% pay raise and better working conditions. Officials of the Confederation of Labor "Podkrepa," who organized the strike, said the miners will strike until their demands are met. Miners in other coal mines held mostly short protest strikes in solidarity with their colleagues, and the strike has the support of the ex-communist union as well. Energy Committee head Konstantin Rusinov called the demands unrealistic and said the strikes were a "stab in the back" to the country. Other officials said that power cuts and rationing are possible if the strike goes on until the end of the month. Kontinent on 21 March reported that Bulgaria has enough coal supplies for one week. -- Stefan Krause

BULGARIAN PRESIDENT AGREES TO PARTICIPATE IN PRIMARIES.
Zhelyu Zhelev on 20 March agreed to be the candidate of the Bulgarian Agrarian People's Union (BZNS) in the upcoming presidential elections and to participate in primary elections aimed at finding a common candidate for the opposition, Standart reported. Stefan Savov, chairman of the Democratic Party which together with the BZNS forms the People's Union, said that if Zhelev loses the primaries, his party will stick to the agreement with the Union of Democratic Forces and the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom saying that the opposition will support the winning candidate. In other news, German President Roman Herzog, on the second day of his visit to Bulgaria, met with Prime Minister Zhan Videnov and Deputy President of Parliament Nora Ananieva. Herzog also addressed the parliament and pledged German support for Bulgaria's integration into European structures, Demokratsiya reported. -- Stefan Krause

BULGARIAN SUPREME COURT OVERTURNS BANKS CLOSURES.
The Bulgarian Supreme Court on 19 March stopped "preliminary execution" of the 8 March decision by the national bank (BNB) to remove the licenses of two private banks, Kristalbank and the Private Agricultural and Investment Bank (see OMRI Economic Digest, 11 March 1996), Demokratsiya reported on 21 March. The ruling -- which caught the BNB by surprise -- restores the banks' licenses and renders inoperative the BNB fund that guarantees their 250,000 leva ($3,200) in personal deposits. It also removes the BNB-appointed examiners who had entered the banks to halt their decapitalization. Both banks are insolvent, Kristalbank finding itself in that state for over a year. -- Michael Wyzan

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT AND PARTIES DISCUSS ELECTIONS.
Sali Berisha met with the leaders of eight Albanian parties to discuss the upcoming elections, scheduled for the last week in May or the first weeks of June. The exact date will be announced after parliament has been dissolved on 3 April. Other issues discussed were the construction of the electoral commission and districts, Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 21 March. Opposition politicians had earlier expressed fear that the district boundaries may be drawn in a way that would increase the Democrats' chances of electing direct candidates. They also said that the commissions may manipulate the election results, but Berisha reassured them that the elections will be free and democratic and that the number of voters will determine the size of the electoral districts. The Socialists expressed disappointment that no decision was reached on setting up a commission to verify the credentials of candidates. -- Fabian Schmidt

ALBANIAN FOREIGN POLICY UPDATE.
Greek President Kostis Stephanopoulos arrived for a two-day visit to Albania on 21 March, international agencies reported. Stephanopoulos and his Albanian counterpart Sali Berisha will sign a friendship and cooperation treaty regulating the status of Albania's Greek minority and of illegal Albanian workers in Greece. Stephanopoulos had delayed the visit until Albania agreed to open three Greek schools for its Greek minority. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Chrystyna Lapychak




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