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Newsline - March 22, 1996


YELTSIN AIDE HINTS ELECTION COULD BE POSTPONED.
President Yeltsin's top legal adviser, Mikhail Krasnov, did not rule out the possibility that presidential elections scheduled for June could be postponed if "a crisis emerges in the country," Russian media reported on 21 March. A legal expert for the Constitutional Court speculated that the Federation Council, which is empowered to set presidential elections, might also have the right to postpone them in a "crisis situation," but this is a gray area since the Duma has never passed a federal constitutional law on emergency situations, Radio Rossii reported. -- Laura Belin

DUMA CONCERNED ABOUT "UNOBJECTIVE COVERAGE" ON STATE TELEVISION.
The State Duma has invited Russian Public TV (ORT) Director-General Sergei Blagovolin and Russian TV Chairman Eduard Sagalaev to discuss the problem of "unobjective coverage of the parliament's activities" on the nation's top two television channels at a 22 March Duma session, Russian media reported on 21 March. News coverage on the 51% state-owned Channel 1 broadcaster ORT is considered generally pro-government. The fully state-owned Channel 2 broadcaster Russian TV has been considered more neutral in the past, but some have charged that it has become more slanted toward the executive since President Yeltsin replaced the station's chairman, Oleg Poptsov, with Sagalaev in February (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 February 1996). -- Laura Belin

ZHIRINOVSKY'S PARTY LOSES ANOTHER LEADING MEMBER.
Aleksandr Vengerovskii, the chairman of the Duma subcommittee on foreign intelligence activities, announced that he is voluntarily leaving Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 March. He did not give a reason for his departure. Before the December elections, Vengerovskii was one of five deputy speakers in the Duma and held the title of LDPR deputy chairman. In early 1994, the LDPR lost Duma Deputy Viktor Kobelev, Zhirinovsky's 1993 campaign manager. Then-chairman of the Geopolitics Committee Viktor Ustinov left the LDPR in early 1995. -- Laura Belin

GORBACHEV FORMALLY ANNOUNCES PRESIDENTIAL BID.
Mikhail Gorbachev formally announced that he was running for president in St. Petersburg on 21 March, Russian and Western media reported. Gorbachev discounted his very low ratings in opinion polls, saying more than a million signatures have been collected supporting his candidacy. He said voters need a third option besides President Yeltsin and Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov, and he did not rule out cooperation with the so-called "third force" group of eye surgeon Svyatoslav Fedorov, Aleksandr Lebed, and Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii. -- Laura Belin

YELTSIN SLAMS MINIMUM WAGE HIKE.
President Yeltsin described the Duma's 20 March decision to raise the minimum wage by 20% as of 1 April as "an undisguised populist step," Russian agencies reported on 21 March. Presidential press secretary Sergei Medvedev said that such an increase would undermine efforts to pay off wage arrears--one of Yeltsin's main pre-election promises. The government estimates that the raise would cost the budget an additional 643 billion rubles ($128 million). Medvedev said Yeltsin might not veto the bill but simply send it back to the Duma on the grounds that financial questions must be discussed with the government before being voted on in the parliament. -- Penny Morvant

CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS IN DAGESTAN.
A constitutional crisis has broken out in Dagestan over a parliament decision to extend the term in office of the State Council--the highest executive body in the republic--by another two years, Radio Mayak and Ekho Moskvy reported on 21 March. Dagestan's constitution does not allow for any extensions of executive terms in office. The Constitutional Court, however, ruled that the decision was constitutional. Several organizations held protest rallies in the Dagestani capital Makhachkala, while the chairman of the Union of Russia's Muslims, Nadir Khachilaev, announced that his group now opposes the present leadership of Dagestan. Khachilaev said the State Council is composed of former Communist Party nomenklatura and must be reformed. The parliament intends to amend the constitution in order to overcome the crisis. -- Anna Paretskaya

RUSSIAN COSSACKS TO SUPPORT YELTSIN FOR RE-ELECTION.
Cossack unit leaders have called on their subordinates to back President Yeltsin in the June presidential election, Russian TV reported on 21 March. Sergei Dontsov, a member of the presidential Council on Cossack Affairs, Sergei Dontsov, said he was sure that the Cossack electorate, numbering 5-7 million people, will cast their votes for Yeltsin since he helped restore the Cossacks as a social group. On the same day, thirteen of the 78 presidential candidates declared so far--all marginal figures--threw their support behind President Yeltsin to create a "united front" for "constructive forces," ITAR-TASS reported. -- Anna Paretskaya

YELTSIN MEETS NATO GENERAL SECRETARY.
Javier Solana met with President Yeltsin, Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, and Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 21 March to discuss NATO-Russia cooperation and the possible eastward expansion of the alliance, Russian and Western media reported. Yeltsin struck a tough stance, saying that Primakov had previously expressed Russian objections to NATO enlargement "too mildly," and promising "to more harshly formulate our position." Solana subsequently admitted that two days of talks in Moscow had not produced any softening of Russian opposition to NATO's plans to accept new members, although he said Russia had agreed to an individual participation plan for 1996 under NATO's Partnership for Peace program. He reiterated that enlargement would proceed despite Russian protests. -- Scott Parrish

DUMA CHAIRMAN BLASTS CHRISTOPHER.
Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev attacked U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher's criticism of the Duma resolutions denouncing the Belavezha accords, Russian and Western agencies reported on 21 March. Seleznev said that Christopher, who on a recent visit to Kyiv termed the Duma resolutions "highly irresponsible" (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 March 1996), had "crudely interfered in the internal affairs of Russia." He added that the Duma would on 22 March consider a resolution censuring Christopher, who on 21 March arrived in Moscow for an official visit and a meeting of the international Contact Group on the former Yugoslavia. Seleznev announced that the Duma had postponed its reconsideration of the resolutions until sometime in early April. -- Scott Parrish

RUSSIA WILL TRAIN IRANIAN NUCLEAR SPECIALISTS.
Russia will soon sign a contract to train Iranian nuclear specialists at the Kurchatov Institute in Moscow, Russian and Western agencies reported on 21 March. Andrei Gagarinskii, an institute spokesman, told ITAR-TASS the contract provides for the training of several dozen Iranian technicians in the operation of the planned VVER-1000 reactor which Russia is constructing at Bushehr, in southern Iran. The Bushehr project, where preliminary construction is already underway, will be among the topics raised by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher during his two-day visit to Moscow beginning on 21 March. -- Scott Parrish

YELTSIN SIGNS DECREE ON SPRING DRAFT.
President Yeltsin launched the spring draft with a call for 200,000 Russian citizens, born between 1969 and 1978, to be inducted into the armed forces in April-June 1996, NTV reported on 21 March. Meanwhile, draft-dodging remains a serious problem which has grown worse due to the unpopular Chechen conflict. The acting military commissar of Moscow, Viktor Bespalchikov, admitted that 5,500 Muscovites attempted to evade the draft during 1995 and only about 10,000 conscripts were drafted from Moscow that year, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 March. Bespalchikov also expressed concern that every third draftee was not medically fit for military service. -- Constantine Dmitriev

RUSSIAN ARMY DESTROYS ITSELF IN CHECHNYA.
Moskovskie Novosti on 21 March contended that the Russian army in Chechnya has reached a point of "complete disintegration," and described Russian soldiers there as spending most of their time in a drug or alcohol-induced haze. The article reported "fragging" incidents where soldiers shot superior officers who attempted to discipline them. It also charged that bribery and corruption were rampant among federal troops in the republic. Meanwhile, on 22 March the North Caucasus military district commander, Col. Gen. Anatolii Kvashnin, told ITAR-TASS that a high-ranking federal commander in Chechnya has been arrested on charges of "criminal connections with Chechen separatists." -- Doug Clarke and Constantine Dmitriev

ATTEMPT ON LIFE OF STAVROPOL DEPUTY MILITARY COMMISSAR.
Colonel Andrei Yanenko, deputy military commissar in Stavropol Krai, was seriously injured on 21 March when a bomb went off in his car, ITAR-TASS reported. Local police said it was too early to say whether the attack on Yanenko was connected with Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev's threats to carry out further terrorist attacks in Russia. Stavropol Krai has been the site of numerous terrorist attacks in recent years, including the Budennovsk hostage crisis. -- Penny Morvant

MiG-MAPO EQUIPS TRAINING PLANES WITH FRENCH ENGINES.
The MiG-MAPO design bureau has started test flights of its new training-fighter Mig-AT, equipped with jet engines produced by the French "Snecma" corporation, Finansovye izvestiya reported on 21 March. Russian military experts say that South Africa, India, the U.S., and other countries may be interested in the new $12 million aircraft. In addition to possible exports, the Russian Defense Ministry also plans to replace its aging fleet of L-29 and L-39 Czech-made trainers with the new MiG-AT planes. -- Constantine Dmitriev

PROTECTION FOR DEPOSITORS AND INVESTORS.
President Yeltsin ordered federal agencies on 21 March to come up with concrete proposals to protect depositors and investors within two months, Radio Rossii reported. The same day, Pavel Medvedev, chair of the Duma sub-committee on bank legislation, said that steps will soon be taken to create a federal depositor insurance fund, ITAR-TASS reported. In November 1995, the Duma passed legislation on the compulsory insurance of bank deposits, but Yeltsin declined to sign it into law. The plan is for depositors to receive 90% compensation, up to a sum equal to 250 times the minimum wage (about 19 million rubles, or $3,750). Sberbank, which holds 70% of personal savings, is not involved, since its deposits are already guaranteed by the state. -- Peter Rutland

CONCERN OVER FOOD SUPPLIES.
On 20 March, the Federation Council discussed the alleged threat to Russia's "food security" posed by the growing dependence on imported food, Rossiiskaya gazeta reported. Yevgenii Savchenko, the chair of the council's Agricultural Policy Committee, estimated that more than one third of Russia's food needs were met by imports in 1995. According to ITAR-TASS of 20 March, agricultural subsidies in 1995 amounted to 6.7 trillion rubles ($1.4 billion) from the federal budget and 14 trillion from local budgets, roughly equal to 7.5% of total farm revenue. Deputy Agriculture Minister Vladimir Shcherbak said his ministry is hoping for 13.2 trillion from the federal budget in 1996. -- Peter Rutland



ABKHAZ LEADER SUPPORTS RESTORATION OF USSR.
Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba declared that Abkhazia would support the restoration of the former USSR, provided this did not mean Abkhazia's return into Georgia, Iberia news agency reported on 19 March. Ardzinba said the Abkhaz people had been against the break-up of the Soviet Union and have done everything in their power to keep it. Meanwhile, the Abkhaz parliament is scheduled to convene for an emergency session on 22 March to demand the withdrawal of Russian border guards from Abkhazia, Russian media reported on 21 March. Parliament Speaker Sokrat Dzhindzholia said the session has been called in reaction to a decision by Russia and Georgia to subject all Sukhumi bound ships to customs and border controls in the Georgian port of Poti. -- Irakli Tsereteli

NEW STOCK EXCHANGE TO OPEN IN UZBEKISTAN.
Uzbekistan is preparing to open a stock exchange in the capital Tashkent, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 March. The refurbished former Svetlov concert hall in the center of the city will be home to a securities exchange, real estate traders, the national investment fund, and the national securities depository. There are 80 offices for brokers, 12 with computer links to Uzbekistan's oblast centers, and a satellite link. The exchange is reportedly the first of its kind in the CIS. -- Bruce Pannier

CIS MUSLIMS WELCOME THE NEW YEAR.
Muslims in the republics of the CIS celebrated the beginning of the Islamic New Year, Nawruz, on 21 March. Azerbaijan was the exception, marking the event on 20 March, according to Turan. The day is timed to coincide with the first day of spring and typically features national games and performances of folk songs by national troupes. The holiday was among the first officially reinstated by the governments of the largely Muslim republics in Central Asia and Azerbaijan after becoming independent in 1991. -- Bruce Pannier



UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT INITIALLY APPROVES AMENDED CRIMEAN CONSTITUTION...
Ukrainian lawmakers gave their initial approval to an amended draft of a new Crimean constitution, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported on 21 March. However, deputies removed 20 articles of a total 136 in the draft, which they deemed as separatist. Although most deputies reversed their opposition to a constitution for the region, instead of a charter, they removed all references to Crimea as a "republic." The parliament postponed a debate on the issue of Crimean citizenship for a second reading. Crimean legislators dropped their demand that the new regional basic law be approved by Kyiv by 31 March, but are pressing the Ukrainian legislature to give its final approval before a new Ukrainian constitution is adopted. Members of both assemblies made plans to hold talks within a week to reconcile their differences. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

...AND ENDORSES KEY POINTS OF 1996 BUDGET.
The Ukrainian Parliament voted on 21 March to approve key sections of a 1996 budget, including targets on inflation and a deficit sanctioned by the IMF, Reuters reported. Lawmakers endorsed a budget deficit of 6.2% of GDP and a 40% annual inflation rate, removing the last obstacle for Ukraine to obtain the final installment of a $1.5 billion standby loan from the IMF. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

UKRAINIAN-RUSSIAN PIPELINE TALKS BREAK DOWN.
Ukraine has accused Russia of reneging on a compromise deal and causing the latest round of talks between the two countries over transit tariffs through the Druzhba pipeline to collapse, Reuters reported on 21 March. The Ukrainian delegation complained that the Russian representatives backed out of the deal they had themselves proposed on transit fees for Russian oil being pumped through Ukraine to Eastern Europe. The Ukrainian said they would continue to charge Russia $5.20 per ton of oil, the price it unilaterally set on 1 January over Russian objections. In other news, President Leonid Kuchma and Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko arrived in Geneva on 21 March for a two-day official visit to Switzerland. In a speech there, Udovenko called on Russia to ratify the START II agreement on nuclear disarmament, already ratified by the U.S. Senate. He said Ukrainian disarmament under the START I treaty was running ahead of schedule. However, a top Ukrainian security advisor, Volodymyr Horbulin said on 20 March that Ukraine would be unable to complete its dismantling of nuclear missiles by June, as the U.S. had hoped., due to logistical reasons. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

BELARUS PARLIAMENT TO DISCUSS CIS INTEGRATION.
Deputies in the Belarus parliament on 20 March voted overwhelmingly in favor of a motion proposed by the Communists to debate closer integration with other CIS republics, Western agencies reported. The motion was prompted by the recent Russian Duma denunciation of the Belazheva accords that formed the CIS. The debate is scheduled for 22 March when Russian Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev will be visiting Minsk. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is going to Moscow that day to discuss with Russian President Boris Yeltsin the integration of Belarus into Russia. -- Saulius Girnius

BALTIC PRESIDENTS CONDEMN RUSSIAN DUMA VOTE.
Presidents Lennart Meri (Estonia), Guntis Ulmanis (Latvia), and Algirdas Brazauskas (Lithuania) issued a joint statement on 21 March denouncing the Russian Duma vote on 15 March repealing the agreement that formed the CIS, Reuters reported. The statement was sent to the leaders of Russia, the U.S., and European Union member states. The presidents stressed the need to respect international law and supported statements by U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Russian President Boris Yeltsin against the decision. They noted that even though Moscow had recognized the independence of the Baltic states before the CIS was formed, efforts to reconstruct the Soviet Union would likely increase tensions with Russia. -- Saulius Girnius

HEALTH CARE SPENDING TO BE REDUCED IN LITHUANIA.
Lithuanian Health Minister Antanas Vinkus said on 21 March that a variety of measures would be taken to reduce expenses this year because his ministry has received less than half of the funds it expected thus far from the state budget, Radio Lithuania reported. A one litas ($0.25) fee would be charged for visits to polyclinics and patients in hospitals would be asked to pay 5 litai a day for so-called "hotel services." Expensive operations such as heart transplants would no longer be allowed. Efforts would be made to try to reduce the length of hospital stays by at least two days. -- Saulius Girnius

NON-GUILTY VERDICT QUASHED IN PRIEST SLAYING CASE IN POLAND.
The Warsaw appeals court quashed on 21 March the acquittals of two former generals, Wladyslaw Ciaston and Zenon Platek, accused of ordering the murder of Father Jerzy Popieluszko by three political police officers in October 1984. Father Popieluszko had delivered pro-Solidarity and anti-violence sermons in a Warsaw church during his "masses for the Fatherland" there beginning in October 1981. Ciaston was deputy minister of internal affairs (MSW) in charge of the political police. Platek was director of department IV of the MSW in charge of the clergy. The not-guilty verdict, citing "benefit of doubt," during the 1994 Ciaston and Platek trial was appealed by the auxiliary prosecutors, lawyers on behalf of the Popieluszko family. Ciaston and Platek will face a new trial, Polish dailies reported on 22 March. -- Jakub Karpinski

MARCH IN WARSAW PROTESTS VIOLENT CRIME.
Some 25,000 people marched in silence with black flags in Warsaw on 21 March to protest rising violence and mourn its most recent victim, a 20 year old Warsaw Technical University student Wojciech Krol, shot by escaping criminals on 17 March on a street near the school. Krol was in the way of two robbers running across the street following a robbery. The Warsaw march was the third anti-crime protest in the past month. Thousands protested the murders of a student in Gdansk in February and of a 12-year-old boy in Lodz in March. At the end of the Warsaw march, students handed a petition to the government, protesting against "widespread impunity of criminals." -- Jakub Karpinski

POLAND SETTING UP STRUCTURES TO SPEED NATO INTEGRATION.
Following a recent similar move by the Czech Republic, the Polish government has announced plans adapt its bureaucracy to better focus its preparations to join NATO, the U.S. Army Times news agency reported on 21 March. New teams are to be formed with the Defense and Foreign Affairs ministries. The former will oversee Poland's political integration into the alliance while the latter will work on making Poland's military strategy, structure, and technology compatible with NATO. The teams are to be in operation by the end of April. -- Doug Clarke

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT SESSION CONTINUES.
The parliament on 21 March approved laws which raise the minimum wage to 2,750 crowns ($91.67) from 1 April and pensions by 12% from 1 June, Narodna obroda reported. Discussions also began on the controversial territorial arrangement bill, which Interior Minister Ludovit Hudek said was "appreciated" by Council of Europe experts. The previous day, the parliament passed a law providing for protection of bank deposits equal to up to 30 times the average monthly salary. All Slovak banks will be required to contribute annually to the Deposit Protection Fund, while foreign banks must do so if deposit protection in their country of origin is lower than that in Slovakia. The opposition failed to expand the session's agenda to include discussion of the Slovak Information Service and privatization. Attempts to withdraw the bills on the protection of the republic and territorial administration were also rejected. -- Sharon Fisher

UPDATE ON CASE OF SLOVAK PRESIDENT'S SON.
Ladislav Pittner, a Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) deputy and former interior minister, announced on 21 March that his independent commission investigating the kidnapping of Michal Kovac Jr. is ready to present its partial findings, Narodna obroda reported. Pittner, who is assisted by former Slovak Information Service counter-intelligence director Igor Cibula, said the findings will be announced during a KDH meeting on 25 March and will include the names of those who pulled Kovac Jr. from his car. Also on 21 March, Slovak Television (STV) featured an interview with a "secret witness" in the kidnapping case, who said he "participated in the so-called kidnapping" and called it "a fake." Police investigator Jozef Ciz told STV that he will check the evidence presented by the witness, saying he has "fulfilled his civic duty." -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARY TO FURTHER REDUCE STATE DEBT.
Hungary will repay $4.5 billion in foreign debt this year--before its deadline--thus bringing the state debt to around $9 billion by end 1996, the lowest in more than a decade, National Bank (MNB) Governor Gyorgy Suranyi said, Napi Gazdasag reported on 22 March. Rather than buying back state bonds, the MNB will amortize loans accompanied by early repayment clauses, such as those from international financial institutions. According to Suranyi, it is the country's high, $11 billion foreign currency reserves that allow for the early repayment. Also, Suranyi said he is considering cutting the monthly forint devaluation rate, which now stands at 1.2%. -- Zsofia Szilagyi



ALBRIGHT STONED IN VUKOVAR.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright was jeered by Serbs yelling "you fascist" during her visit to Vukovar to discuss the future of eastern Slavonia with Serb rebel leaders. Serbs then pelted her motorcade with rocks, damaging the vehicles but causing no injuries to Albright or her party, the Czech daily Mlada fronta Dnes reported on 22 March. She played down the incident but reminded the rebel leaders that all sides are expected to respect the conditions of the agreement reached last fall in Dayton between the Serbian and Croatian presidents, Nasa Borba noted. That pact provides for a return of the last rebel-held part of Croatia to Zagreb's sovereignty within two years. Local Serb leaders have been encouraging Serb refugees to settle there and hinting that they will hold a referendum on any return to Croatian authority, all of which is counter to the agreement. -- Patrick Moore

WAR CRIMES HEARINGS ON VUKOVAR HOSPITAL MASSACRE BEGIN...
Croatian media reported that the war crimes hearings against three ex-Yugoslav army officers by The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia began on 20 March. Mile Mrksic, Miroslav Radic and Veselin Sljivancanin are charged over ordering the deaths of 261 non-Serb patients in a Vukovar hospital in November 1991. However, they cannot be tried in absentia. In another development, the war crimes tribunal announced the opening of offices in Belgrade and in the area of Republika Srpska, to enable its prosecutors to interview victims and witnesses in Serb areas, AFP and Onasa reported. Meanwhile, war crimes tribunal said it would make important announcements on 22 March, signaling new indictments, Onasa reported a day earlier. -- Daria Sito Sucic

...AS RUMP YUGOSLAVIA STILL SHIELDS ITS WAR CRIMINALS.
Despite insisting that it intends to cooperate fully with the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, mounting evidence continues to suggest that Belgrade is providing refuge for suspected war criminals. On 21 March Belgrade's independent Radio B92 reported that not only is Veselin Sljivancanin, one of three Yugoslav army officers indicted in November 1995 for allegedly playing a role in the shooting killings of at least 260 civilians in the Croatian city of Vukovar in 1991, sheltered by rump Yugoslav authorities, but that he has been rewarded. According to the report, Sljivancanin was recently promoted from major to colonel and re-posted in Belgrade. -- Stan Markotich

TUDJMAN VETOES YET ANOTHER OPPOSITION CANDIDATE IN ZAGREB.
Croatian President Franjo Tudjman on 21 March blocked a third nominee for mayor of Zagreb put forward by the opposition-dominated city council. The council had earlier passed a vote of no-confidence in Tudjman's own appointee, and now has nominated its fourth candidate, former Liberal leader Drazen Budisa, Novi list reported the next day. The imbroglio is seen as a test case for Croatian democracy, since the seven-party opposition coalition controls 60% of the council, Nasa Borba noted. Tudjman argues that he cannot tolerate "enemies of state policy" running Zagreb and that he has the right to confirm the mayor in office. Tudjman's own party has warned him to be more reasonable, however, since the deadlock will force new elections that polls suggest will make the opposition even stronger despite a government attempt at gerrymandering, Reuters said. Novi list added that opposition leader and council president Zdravko Tomac has written the Council of Europe calling for Croatia's admission to that body, but that Tudjman's party has objected to this letter and called for Tomac to go. -- Patrick Moore

SLOVENIAN MEDICAL PROFESSIONALS ON STRIKE.
Slovenia's doctors and dentists went out on strike on 21 March, demanding a 25% wage hike. Union officials have pledged that the job action will continue until the demand is met, Reuters reported. A specialist currently earns an average monthly salary of 114, 000 tolars ($860). The doctors' and dentists' strike started one day after journalists from the state-supported Radio and Television Slovenija company ended their walk-out. -- Stan Markotich

ROMANIA'S DEFENSE COUNCIL ON NATO INTEGRATION.
President Ion Iliescu on 21 March presided over a meeting of the Supreme Defense Council (CSAT), Romania's main security watchdog, Radio Bucharest reported. The CSAT examined the pace of a sweeping reform of the national army aimed at making it more compatible with NATO standards. It also approved that a Romanian delegation discuss the possible expansion of the alliance at NATO's headquarters in Brussels later this year. An Iliescu spokesman on the same day described Bucharest's efforts to join NATO as Romania's "only strategic option." In a related development, Radu Timofte, the chairman of the Senate's defense commission, stated that, under the current political and economic circumstances in Europe, Romania's failure to join NATO would amount to "a disaster." -- Dan Ionescu

MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT MAY BE IMPEACHED
Infotag on 21 March quoted Nicolae Andronic, deputy chairman of the Party of Revival and Conciliation in Moldova, as saying that the parliamentary majority is considering the possibility to impeach President Mircea Snegur. Andronic suggested that the current majority, dominated by the Agrarian Democratic Party, was posing a threat to the Moldovan society by fostering political instability. The statement is part of a war of words triggered by the dismissal of Defense Minister Pavel Creanga last week. Snegur's military adviser Alexandru Gorgan denied on 20 March that a split occurred in the army following Creanga's dismissal and accused Premier Andrei Sangheli of instigating Creanga to disobey the president, who is also supreme commander of the army. -- Dan Ionescu

BULGARIAN GOVERNMENT, MINERS REACH SETTLEMENT.
A two-day strike in the Maritsa Iztok coal mines ended on 21 March after the government's Energy Committee and the Confederation of Labor "Podkrepa" agreed to higher wages and other benefits, Duma reported. The miners in Bulgaria's biggest mine will receive at least 35% higher wages in 1996 than in 1995. and those in other mines would obtain a 30% increase. They had demanded a 60% raise. Earlier that day, Energy Committee Deputy Chairman Rumen Ovcharov said electricity rationing would have to be introduced by the end of the week if the strike continued. He called the strike "politically motivated." Standart, citing a secret service report to Prime Minister Zhan Videnov, alleged that the influential business conglomerate Multigroup was behind the strikes, hoping to profit from eventual imports of Russian electricity, but "Podkrepa" leader Konstantin Trenchev dismissed the charges and said the strike was a strictly unionist matter. -- Stefan Krause

GERMAN PRESIDENT ENDS VISIT TO BULGARIA.
Roman Herzog on 21 March ended a three-day official visit to Bulgaria, Western media reported. He pledged support for Bulgaria's economic reforms, but urged Sofia to create favorable conditions for foreign investment. Herzog also called on Bulgaria to close down the nuclear power plant at Kozloduy, saying "reactors which can not be modernized should be closed down as soon as possible," while Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev stressed Bulgaria's wish to modernize the reactors and asked for EU help. Herzog said Germany and NATO are opposed to a new defense pact in Eastern Europe as proposed by Russia last year. The same day in a radio address, Zhelev said restoring the Soviet Union would be dangerous for Russia and the rest of the former East Bloc. He said Bulgaria "must finally submit its application for [NATO] membership." -- Stefan Krause

ALBANIA, GREECE SIGN FRIENDSHIP TREATY.
Greek President Kostis Stephanopoulos and his Albanian counterpart Sali Berisha signed a friendship and cooperation treaty on 21 March, international agencies reported. They pledged to "respect human rights and those of minorities." Stephanopoulos, who is scheduled to visit the Greek minority on 22 March said Athens "does not want to use it to attack Tirana." Berisha said he had received "assurances" that Athens would consider legalizing the status of 300,000 illegal Albanian immigrants to Greece as soon as possible. Both sides also decided to boost their military and economic ties and to open new border crossings. Greece will open a consulate in Korca and Stephanopoulos inaugurated a new department of Greek literature at the Albanian national library in Tirana. Greece also pledged to support Albania's EU association and both sides will cooperate in environmental protection and the fighting organized crime. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Chrystyna Lapychak






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