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Newsline - March 25, 1996


NEW PLAN FOR BELARUS AND RUSSIA TO MERGE.
Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and his Russian counterpart, Boris Yeltsin, met in Moscow on 22 March and agreed to move forward with closer integration of their two countries. They will meet again on 2 April to sign a treaty, but the precise nature of the proposed new relationship is unclear. Although both states will retain their sovereignty, Lukashenka said he wanted "a real union with supranational institutions and a common budget" for some joint projects, AFP reported. When journalists asked Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to clarify the proposal, he said "personally, I like the word `union,'" ITAR-TASS reported on 23 March. However, speaking on NTV on 24 March, Yeltsin's security adviser, Yurii Baturin, said "no-one is talking of a new state," and added that in his view there will be no need to amend the Russian constitution. (See related story in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE part) -- Peter Rutland

YELTSIN ON RELATIONS WITH CIS.
As he left Moscow on 25 March to begin his two day visit to Norway, President Yeltsin said that the treaty that will be signed with Belarus on 2 April will "deepen integration" but not create a "unified state," ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin said that he will visit Kyiv on 4 April, and commented that Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma "wants to draw closer to him (Yeltsin), but something is preventing him. I want to find out what it is in the course of my visit." On 29 March, the presidents of Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan are scheduled to sign an agreement on deeper integration. It is unclear how this will relate to the new treaty with Belarus. -- Peter Rutland

REACTIONS TO BELARUS PROPOSAL.
Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov and nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky reacted positively to Lukashenka's proposal for closer integration, Reuters reported on 24 March. However, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii described the plan as a "pre-election absurdity." It is the budgetary implications of the cooperation with Belarus that cause the most concern: the 27 February agreement under which Russia canceled Belarusian debts drew strong criticism. By pushing ahead with the integration issue, Yeltsin has stolen the thunder from the Communists' 15 March Duma vote denouncing the dissolution of the Soviet Union. -- Peter Rutland

CHERNOMYRDIN: DELAY OF ELECTIONS "IMPOSSIBLE."
Commenting on growing speculation in the Russian media that the authorities may be plotting to delay the June presidential elections, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin announced that any delay of the elections is "impossible" because it would "plunge Russian into instability," ITAR-TASS reported on 23 March. Presidential legal adviser Mikhail Krasnov had hinted on 21 March that the elections could be postponed if "a crisis emerges in the country." -- Laura Belin

HOW INDEPENDENT IS NTV?
Igor Malashenko, president of Russia's leading private television network, NTV, joined the council to promote President Yeltsin's re-election and attended its first meeting on 23 March, Russian media reported. The other members of the council are Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Yeltsin's chief of staff Nikolai Yegorov, top bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov, presidential aide Viktor Ilyushin, Federal Security Service Director Mikhail Barsukov, Deputy Prime Minister Yurii Yarov, campaign organizer Sergei Filatov, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, and Yeltsin's daughter Tatyana Dyachenko. NTV prides itself on its editorial independence and came under pressure from the authorities in 1994 and 1995, particularly for its coverage of the military campaign in Chechnya. -- Laura Belin

RUSSIAN FORCES STEP UP OPERATIONS IN CHECHNYA . . .
Russian forces continued their campaign of systematic air and artillery bombardment on 23 and 24 March of villages in western and southern Chechnya that have allegedly served as rebel strongholds, Russian and Western media reported. Stary Achkoi, Orekhovo, and Bamut (the site of a former strategic missile base) have been under assault for the past week. Attacks will also be launched on Vedeno and Nozhai-Yurt in the southeast, according to a Russian military spokesman cited by AFP on 24 March. Russian forces agreed to a ceasefire in Goiskoe, Alkhazurovo, and Komsomolskoe in the Urus-Martan district on 24 March in order to allow civilians to leave. After a peace treaty was signed with the village of Goiti in the same district on 22 March, 2,000 women and children were evacuated. However, men were not allowed to leave but will be put through "filtration camps." -- Peter Rutland

. . . IN THE NAME OF PEACE.
Pro-Moscow Chechen leader Doku Zavgaev claimed on 22 March that "about half of the population centers of Chechnya have signed tripartite agreements on peace and cooperation" with his government and the Russian forces, ITAR-TASS reported. Under such agreements, residents agree to disarm and to bar rebel fighters from their village. In return, federal troops promise not to raze it to the ground. Meanwhile, Russian troops in Grozny prepared for expected rebel attacks, and on 23 March a Russian convoy was fired on. Trigger-happy soldiers shot up several cars in central Grozny, killing four civilians, Russian media reported. Two officials were killed in a similar incident across the border in Dagestan. Meanwhile, five of the 26 Russian construction workers who were kidnapped in January escaped from Saroi on 24 March, ITAR-TASS reported. They said they had been beaten and forced to dig trenches. -- Peter Rutland

FEDERATION COUNCIL REFUSES TO EXPEL DISMISSED GOVERNORS.
The Federation Council has refused to remove Pavel Balakshin and Yurii Belykh, former governors of Arkhangelsk and Saratov oblasts, from their positions as deputies in parliament's upper house, Russian TV and Segodnya reported. President Yeltsin dismissed Balakshin and Belykh from their posts as governors in February for misuse of federal budget allocations (see OMRI Daily Digest, 22 February 1996). Other Council members have criticized the presidential decision and used a loop hole in the law on Council membership to keep the two former governors in parliament. Meanwhile, Yeltsin issued a decree temporarily dismissing Vologda Oblast Governor Nikolai Podgornov for abuse of office and misuse of federal funds. -- Anna Paretskaya

TATAR PRESIDENT RE-ELECTED.
Mintimer Shaimiev, the 59-year-old president of Tatarstan, was re-elected on 24 March with a voter turnout of about 75%, Russian and Western media reported. Shaimiev was the sole candidate on the ballot; two other candidates failed to collect the 50,000 signatures required to register and the Tatar Communist Party nominee, factory director Ramil Gabdurakhmanov, withdrew from the race just before the registration deadline. Gabdurakhmanov said many of his supporters had been intimidated by their employers for backing a Communist candidate. The Russian constitution prohibits candidates from running unopposed, but the Tatar constitution does not. The Tatar opposition claims that elections were illegal and has lodged a protest with the Russian Central Electoral Commission. -- Anna Paretskaya

DAGESTANI CONSTITUTIONAL CRISIS RESOLVED.
The Dagestani Constitutional Assembly, which convened on 22 March, voted 176-61 to extend the term in office of the State Council--the highest republican executive body--for two more years, ITAR-TASS and Nezavisimaya gazeta reported. Dagestan's parliament voted to extend the State Council's term last week, sparking a constitutional crisis in the republic (see OMRI Daily Digest, 22 March 1996). The Constitutional Assembly was not authorized to prolong the government's term, but on the eve of its session, parliament amended the constitution to give the assembly that power. -- Anna Paretskaya

PRIMAKOV BACKS LINK BETWEEN PRISONER RELEASE, AID TO BOSNIA.
At the Contact Group's Moscow 23 March meeting, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov backed the idea of making a planned 12-13 April conference of aid donors to Bosnia in Brussels contingent on the release of POWs by all sides, ITAR-TASS reported. In his address to the Contact Group's Moscow meeting, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin warned that peace "is not yet irreversible" and real reconciliation a long way off. Chernomyrdin said that the history of the Bosnian crisis demonstrates the need for a strong OSCE. Russia has been anxious to host a meeting of the group to emphasize that its role in the peace process is not weakening, NTV reported. -- Robert Orttung

CHRISTOPHER, PRIMAKOV TALKS PRODUCE LITTLE VISIBLE PROGRESS.
Two days of meetings between U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher and Primakov produced little visible progress on such issues as NATO expansion and Chechnya, NCA reported. However, the talks were held in a cordial atmosphere and Christopher described Primakov as his "new friend." The discussions focused on the 19-20 April G-7 meeting on nuclear safety and non-proliferation planned for Moscow. Meanwhile, the Duma decided not to consider a Communist sponsored proposal to condemn Christopher for "interfering in Russia's internal affairs" after he criticized the Duma vote to restore the Soviet Union as "highly irresponsible." -- Robert Orttung

DAVYDOV MEETS GADDAFI.
Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Davydov met with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi on 23 March to discuss improving Russian-Libyan relations. In a note to the Libyan leader, President Boris Yeltsin "reiterated Russia's support in facing the unjust measures" imposed by the UN, Reuters reported, quoting Libyan sources. The UN Security Council imposed sanctions on Libya in April 1992 for failing to hand over suspects in the bombing of a Pan Am airliner over Lockerbie, Scotland. Since then, Russia has lost $2-8 billion in trade, ITAR-TASS claimed. Libya owes the former Soviet Union $3.5 billion, the agency reported. The Soviet Union was Libya's main arms supplier. -- Robert Orttung

ENVIRONMENT MINISTER POSITIVELY APPRAISES ARCTIC CONFERENCE.
Russian Environment Minister Viktor Danilov-Danilyan praised the work of the third conference on environmental protection strategies in the Arctic Ocean that closed in Canada on 21 March, ITAR-TASS reported. The conference, attended by ministers from all eight polar states, focused on issues such as environmental monitoring and conservation. Noting that some delegations had favored mentioning Russian nuclear waste dumping in the conference's final declaration, Danilov-Danilyan said Russia had stopped dumping nuclear waste in Arctic waters in 1993 but would only join the London convention on radioactive waste after nuclear processing facilities in Murmansk have been expanded. -- Penny Morvant

YELTSIN RETURNS MINIMUM PENSION BILL.
President Yeltsin on 23 March returned without consideration a Duma bill raising the minimum pension by 20% as of 1 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin said that under Article 124 of the Russian constitution legislation requiring expenditure from the federal budget can only be introduced after review by the government and that on this occasion the Duma had failed to follow the correct procedure. The Duma has criticized as unconstitutional Yeltsin's practice of returning bills without signing or vetoing them. -- Penny Morvant

ECONOMIC PERFORMANCE STILL SLUGGISH.
In the first two months of 1996, GDP fell by 3% and industrial production by 5% over the same period last year, according to Goskomstat figures reported by AFP on 22 March. However, real income rose by 3% and real wages by 9%, while the number of people living below the poverty line fell 22% from its peak in February 1995, to 37 million. These contradictory results--falling output and rising living standards--may be in part due to the problems faced by Goskomstat in collecting data on the informal economy. -- Peter Rutland

ATLANTIS DOCKS WITH MIR STATION.
The U.S. shuttle Atlantis with six crew members on board docked with the orbital station Mir on 24 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Atlantis delivered 1,620 kg of scientific equipment as well as food and fuel. This is the third docking between a U.S. space shuttle and Mir. These missions--six more are planned--lay the groundwork for the construction of the international space station Alfa, which is expected to start in November 1997. Alfa's first module will be manufactured at the Khrunichev space center in Moscow. NASA astronaut Shannon Lucid will remain on Mir for 140 days. -- Natalia Gurushina



SHOOTING IN ABKHAZIA OVER BLOCKADE.
Russian border guards and Abkhaz forces exchanged warning shots following an attempt by the Russians to guide a Turkish commercial vessel away from the port of Sukhumi and toward the Georgian port of Poti for customs inspection, Russian media reported on 22 March. On 20 March, Russian vessels had forced a Ukrainian ship to dock at Poti. According to a Russian-Georgian agreement, all ships sailing to Abkhazia must first pass through an inspection in Poti. In retaliation, on 23 March the Abkhaz government cut off electricity to the Russian coast guard base in Ochamchire, and Abkhaz soldiers have blocked supplies heading for Russian border units. Both the blockade of Sukhumi and the Abkhaz ban on supplies to Russian units were lifted following a 24 March meeting of Russian Federal Border Guards Director Andrei Nikolaev with Abkhaz President Vladislav Ardzinba in Sochi, Russian media reported. -- Irakli Tsereteli

ETHNIC TENSION IN NORTH KAZAKHSTAN.
Ethnic relations in northern Kazakhstan are "tense," according to a Russian TV report on 24 March. Russians wearing Cossack uniforms or Chechens are frequently harassed by the Kazakhstani Interior Ministry. The head of the Chechen community in North Kazakhstan said the Kazakh militia view all Chechens as "bandits." Meanwhile, in Moscow members of the Congress of Russian Communities and the Russian-Serb Brotherhood Society burnt effigies of President Nursultan Nazarbayev on Smolensk Square, Ekho Moskvy reported on 23 March. -- Bhavna Dave

COMMUNIST PARTY OF KAZAKHSTAN FACES BAN FOR PRO-SOVIET RALLIES.
The Kazakhstani Interior Ministry has threatened to ban the Communist Party of Kazakhstan for holding a series of unauthorized rallies in support of the Russian State Duma's resolution denouncing the Belavezha accords, Kazakhstani Commercial TV reported on 21 March. The Communist Party organized rallies in Almaty, Karaganda, Uralsk, and Semipalatinsk on 17 March, the anniversary of the 1991 referendum on preserving the Soviet Union. An unidentified Interior Ministry official said the organizers may face fines, administrative arrests, or even criminal prosecution. -- Bhavna Dave

CENTRAL ASIAN SECURITY CONCERNS.
CIS peacekeeping forces ended a three-day exercise in Tajikistan in an effort to improve communication and cooperation among the various units, according to a 23 March Tajik Radio report cited by the BBC. Russian, Tajik, Uzbek, and Kyrgyz units took part in the exercise. In an interview on Uzbek TV 1 on 23 March, Uzbek President Islam Karimov reiterated that such measures are in line with the CIS integration process and rejected any discussion of a USSR revival. Regional cooperation will also be discussed at a conference that opened on 25 March in Bishkek under the sponsorship of Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev's International Strategic Research Institute and the George Marshall International Security Research Center, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 23 March. -- Roger Kangas



TENS OF THOUSANDS DEMONSTRATE IN MINSK AGAINST UNION WITH RUSSIA.
In the largest demonstration in Belarus since 1991, tens of thousands of Belarusians marched in the streets of Minsk on 24 March protesting the agreement on union with Russia, scheduled to be signed on 2 April, Western agencies reported. The demonstration, initially called to mark the 78th anniversary of the creation of the Belarusian People's Republic (which lasted for only nine months), turned into a protest against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, who is a fervent advocate of union with Russia. After police barred the demonstrators from gathering outside the parliament, they marched to the television station to demand air time. The riot police broke up the demonstration by using tear gas and batons. (See related story in Russia part) -- Saulius Girnius

UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT WRAPS UP SWISS VISIT.
Leonid Kuchma, at the end of his two-day visit to Switzerland, signed a joint communique with Swiss President Jean Pascal de la Miro on expanding ties between the two countries, Ukrainian and Western media reported on 22-23 March. Kuchma also met with UN High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata, who expressed an interest in helping Ukraine obtain international aid for the resettlement of Crimean Tatars on the Black Sea peninsula. Kuchma also discussed Ukrainian cooperation with UN Human Rights Commissioner Jose Ayala Lasso and addressed Geneva's international conference center on Ukraine's place in Europe. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENTARY LEADERS REJECT BID FOR RESOLUTION ON RESTORING USSR.
The Presidium of the Ukrainian legislature has rejected a bid by 49 leftist lawmakers to introduce a vote on a resolution to restore the Soviet Union, Ukrainian radio reported on 22 March. The parliamentary leaders said the draft resolution resembled the recent decision by the Russian State Duma to repeal the 1991 accord that created the CIS. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

ESTONIA PROPOSES COMPROMISE ON SEA BORDER WITH LATVIA.
The Estonian Foreign Ministry on 22 March proposed a compromise solution to settle the dispute on fishing rights in the Gulf of Riga, BNS reported. It suggested that Estonia and Latvia have exclusive fishing rights within 12 nautical miles of their coastlines. In areas where the coastlines are less than 24 miles apart, a midpoint line would demarcate the border. Other areas are to be regarded as common fishing territory. Estonia also suggested that a joint commission be set up to determine how many vessels can use the joint areas and what their capacity can be. The Latvian Foreign Ministry said its experts are studying the proposal and will respond at the next round of talks. No date has yet been set for those discussions. -- Saulius Girnius

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT RETURNS FROM SOUTH AMERICA.
Algirdas Brazauskas on 24 March returned home from a 12-day visit to South America, Radio Lithuania reported. He met with the presidents and other officials of Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, and Venezuela to discuss opportunities for greater cooperation in trade. A three-year economic and commercial cooperation accord was signed with Venezuela establishing a bilateral commission that is to facilitate trade and the establishment of private financial institutions and companies in both countries. Brazauskas has been criticized for making the trip at a time when Lithuania is experiencing severe financial difficulties. -- Saulius Girnius

POLISH PREMIER CONCLUDES ASIAN VISIT.
Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, at the end of his visit to Malaysia, signed several agreements in principle on trade between the countries' private sectors, Polish and international media reported on 25 March. He said that Poland wants greater economic cooperation with Southeastern Asia in order to diversify its trade, currently dominated by European partners. The Polish business delegation accompanying Cimoszewicz also met with Malaysian counterparts to discuss possible joint ventures. Trade between Malaysia and Poland amounted to $120 million in 1995. -- Jakub Karpinski and Dagmar Mroziewicz

CZECH HEALTH WORKERS STAGE TWO-DAY STRIKE.
Czech doctors, nurses, and other health service workers began a two-day strike on 25 March to press for higher pay and reform of the health service, Czech media reported. The leader of the doctors' union organizing the protest said the strike aimed to highlight the government's failure in health policy, and would not affect patients. The largest doctors' organization did not join the strike, which will culminate in a mass rally in downtown Prague on 25 March. In a separate protest, some 200 private ambulance operators drove in slow convoy through Prague on 24 March to demand higher fees for their services. -- Steve Kettle

CZECH CANDIDATE DEMOTED FOR "NO ROMA" SIGN.
The Free Democrats-Liberal National Social Party (SD-LSNS) has responded to a public outcry over a "No Roma" sign posted by one of its candidates in the upcoming general elections, CTK reported on 22 March. Rudolf Baranek, chairman of the Czech Association of Entrepreneurs, was moved from second to fifth place on the party's election list for southern Moravia, below Romani businessman Karel Holomek, after putting up a sign barring Roma from his hotel in Breclav. The Romani Democratic Congress on 21 March had demanded that the SD-LSNS leadership remove Baranek entirely from the list, while President Vaclav Havel the previous day had called the sign "scandalous." A Mlada fronta Dnes commentator observed that similar signs can be found throughout southern Moravia but that no one pays attention until a deputy candidate puts one up. -- Alaina Lemon

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVES ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM.
The parliament on 22 March approved a draft on the country's new territorial administration, which is to be implemented on 1 July, Slovak media reported. The plan provides for eight regions and 79 districts but does not define their areas of competence. Democratic Party chairman Jan Langos stressed the plan is supported by neither the opposition, the Association of Slovak Towns and Villages, nor citizens. Ethnic Hungarian leaders have threatened to call a referendum on the issue, accusing the government of seeking to ensure that Hungarians do not form more than 30% of the population in any region. Following opposition complaints about plans for Kosice to be a single district, Slovakia's second biggest city was divided into four districts. -- Sharon Fisher

SLOVAK PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR CONSTITUTIONAL REVISION.
Vladimir Meciar told a Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) conference on 23-24 March that there is need for changes to the Slovak constitution, Slovak media reported. He said the main issue to be decided is whether Slovakia is to have a parliamentary or presidential system or one based on a chancellorship. Noting that within two years the HZDS will be transformed into a party, Meciar called for changes in the electoral system to ensure the emergence of two main political forces, one of which would be the HZDS. He said that the new system would be either a first-past-the post or a mixed one, adding that the current system of proportional representation was "unsuitable." The conference's 223 delegates unanimously re-elected him as chairman. -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARY TO JOIN OECD THIS WEEK.
The OECD on 22 March announced that it has invited Hungary to join the organization, Hungarian media reported. The membership documents are to be signed on 29 March. Industry and Trade Minister Imre Dunai said OECD membership will result in better credit ratings by international financial circles, improved prospects for foreign investment in Hungary, and valuable market information. Negotiations on Hungary's OECD membership started in fall 1994. Since then, the country has made significant amendments to regulations on environmental protection, taxation, and foreign exchange policy. -- Zsofia Szilagyi



HAGUE TRIBUNAL INDICTS FOUR FOR CRIMES AGAINST SERBS.
The International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on 22 March issued indictments against three Muslims and one Croat, Onasa reported. They are charged with murdering, torturing, and raping Serbian prisoners in 1992 in the Celebici camp following the fall of Konjic. This marks the first time that the court has indicted persons for crimes against Serbs and the first time that any Muslims have been formally charged. To date, 46 Serbs and seven Croats have been indicted, but only two Serbs are actually being held on such charges. A court spokesman said that investigations will continue and that this will not be the last of indictments for crimes against Serbs, the International Herald Tribune noted on 23 March. The Serbs have charged the tribunal with singling them out for punishment, while the Croats have said that The Hague turns a blind eye to Muslim crimes. -- Patrick Moore

CONTACT GROUP THREATENS TO STOP AID UNLESS PRISONERS RELEASED.
The foreign ministers of the Contact Group on Bosnia, following their meeting in Moscow on 23 March, warned that an aid conference scheduled for 12-13 April will not take place unless remaining prisoners of war are released, international and local media reported. The Bosnian factions agreed in Geneva the previous week to release all POWs by midnight on 23 March. More than 100 were released on 24 March but another 100 remain in custody. Meanwhile, French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette said his country may revise its attitude toward the Bosnian peace process because he saw the situation in Bosnia as shifting from "the logic of peace to the logic of separation." -- Michael Mihalka

SERBIAN RADICALS PUT EXPANSIONIST AIMS ON HOLD?
The Serbian Radical Party (SRS) decided at a recent meeting that the party will endorse the consolidation of Serbia's jurisdiction over Serb-held territory. Nasa Borba on 25 March said the SRS has not abandoned the aim of a greater Serbia but considers consolidating control over the Republika Srpska to be the most important aim in the foreseeable future. The SRS noted that "in these times, it is of utmost importance to protect what's left; and as for the return of...lost parts of the Republika Srpska and Serbian Krajina, that will have to wait for a change of regime in Serbia and for a change in the balance of power...within the international community." -- Stan Markotich

SERBIA'S ARKAN REFUSES TO RECOGNIZE HAGUE-BASED TRIBUNAL.
Leader of the paramilitary Tigers and accused war criminal Zeljko Raznatovic, alias Arkan, is the latest Serbian ultranationalist to refuse to recognize the legitimacy of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. Nasa Borba on 25 March reported that Arkan responded to a question about his view on possibly being sent to the court to answer allegations of war crimes by saying he does not accord the Hague any legitimacy since it "tries only Serbs." Arkan also said that his Serbian Unity Party (SSJ) supports the establishment of a professional Serbian army and police whose members would be trained in the Kosmet community of Glogovac, "where only two Serbs happen to live." -- Stan Markotich

ALBRIGHT IN MACEDONIA.
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Madeleine Albright on 23 March stressed U.S. support for Macedonia and praised both its progress toward democracy and its treatment of minorities, international agencies reported. At the inauguration of the U.S. embassy in Skopje, Albright read a letter from U.S. President Bill Clinton calling the opening of the diplomatic mission "a clear demonstration of U.S. support and a strong symbol of our closeness." The U.S. recognized Macedonia in February 1994 but delayed opening an embassy in Skopje until Greece and Macedonia signed an interim accord. Albright also held talks with President Kiro Gligorov and visited U.S. soldiers stationed in Macedonia as part of UNPREDEP. -- Stefan Krause

ROMANIAN RULING PARTY BREAKS WITH LAST ALLY.
The Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) on 22 March announced it has split with its last alliance partner, the chauvinistic Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR), Romanian and Western media reported. The announcement came one day after the PUNR denounced the adoption of a law allowing the creation of political parties based on ethnicity, which, it said, "legalized separatism." The PDSR rejected the accusation, saying that the PUNR's "anti-Hungarian stand was harmful for Romania." Earlier last week, the PDSR broke with the neo-communist Socialist Labor Party, having parted from the extremist Greater Romania Party last October. The PDSR no longer has a majority in the parliament and is politically isolated. Presidential and parliamentary elections are to be held in six months. -- Dan Ionescu

LEBANESE PREMIER IN ROMANIA.
Rafik-al-Hariri on 24 March concluded a four-day official visit to Romania aimed at strengthening economic ties between the two countries, Romanian and Western media reported. Hariri and his Romanian counterpart, Nicolae Vacaroiu, discussed Lebanese participation in privatization projects in Romania. Hariri promised to encourage Lebanese banks to invest in Romania and to cooperate with Romanian banks. Lebanese businessmen have helped set up some 2,000 companies in Romania since early 1990. -- Dan Ionescu

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT RETURNS LAW ON LAND SALE.
A draft law allowing the sale of farm land sparked heated debates in the Moldovan parliament on 22 March, Moldpres reported. The law has the strong support of President Mircea Snegur and has become a bone of contention between Snegur's Party of Revival and Conciliation and the ruling Agrarian Democratic Party (PDAM). Snegur, who attended the 22 March session, urged the deputies to pass the bill as soon as possible. But the parliament, which is dominated by the PDAM and its far-leftist allies, voted by 63 to 19 to return the draft to the parliamentary commissions. -- Dan Ionescu

BULGARIAN OPPOSITION PICKS PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES.
The Union of Democratic Forces (SDS) on 24 March nominated Petar Stoyanov as its candidate in the upcoming presidential elections, Kontinent reported. The Bulgarian Agrarian People's Union (BZNS) nominated incumbent President Zhelyu Zhelev. Candidates are expected to participate in primaries aimed at finding a joint opposition candidate. Zhelev was the only BZNS candidate, while Stoyanov easily defeated Aleksandar Yordanov and Asen Agov, receiving about three thirds of the vote. SDS chairman Ivan Kostov had called on the BZNS to support the SDS candidate in return for the post of vice president. -- Stefan Krause

ALBANIAN SOCIALISTS HOLD PRE-ELECTION PARTY CONGRESS.
The Albanian Socialist Party pledged to bring new impetus to the country's market reforms and guarantee human rights at a pre-election conference held this weekend, Reuters reported on 24 March. Deputy leader Servet Pellumbi said his priorities are to build a Western-style democracy, to stamp out corruption, to raise employment, and to create a higher standard of living. Pellumbi accused the ruling Democrats with failing to rejuvenate the economy. During the last four years of Democratic rule, however, the unemployment rate fell from over 30% to 13.4% and the average monthly income increased to $85. Some 65% of the enterprises are now in the private sector. -- Fabian Schmidt

ALBANIAN COMMUNIST-ERA SCHOLARS STRIPPED OF THEIR TITLES.
Some 120 scholars who received academic titles for writing papers in line with communist ideology will be stripped of the "Candidate to Sciences" designation awarded to them by the communist regime, international agencies reported. The government decision affects papers written on the dictatorship of the proletariat, the class struggle, collectivization, and the theories of Enver Hoxha, Mao Zedong, Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Stalin. The scholars have been offered the opportunity to reclaim their titles within 6 months by writing on other topics. The awarding of titles such as professor and doctor before 1990 is also to be reviewed. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave




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