YELTSIN CONSIDERED CLOSING DUMA.
The extremist newspaper Zavtra ,
quoting sources close to the presidential administration, charged that
presidential security adviser Yurii Baturin drafted decrees disbanding the
State Duma and banning the Communist Party of the Russian Federation following
the State Duma's vote to restore the Soviet Union. Baturin denied that he had
prepared such decrees, although he admitted there was a discussion among the
president's aides, NTV reported on 24 March. The disbanding option was quickly
dismissed as "dangerous and provocative" and the president decided instead on
proposing a bill to confirm Russia's legal status and international
commitments. -- Robert Orttung
OPPOSITION DUMA LEADERS APPEAL TO MILITARY.
The initiators of the Duma's
15 March decision to denounce the treaty disbanding the Soviet Union, including
Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov and Liberal Democratic Party leader
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, issued an appeal to servicemen of all ranks in
Sovetskaya Rossiya on 26 March. The appeal warns the military to be
"vigilant" against attempts at provocation. It reminds them that the Russian
constitution prohibits the use of the military against its own people and its
elected officials and warns them not to bring the "black shadow of shame" on
the Russian army. The appeal suggests that the military will play a greater
role in politics if tensions between the president and Duma intensify. --
ZYUGANOV OPPOSED DECISION TO VOTE ON USSR RESTORATION.
Zyuganov opposed the decision to denounce the Belavezha accords in the Duma on
15 March rather than later in the year, according to the anti-communist
Izvestiya on 26 March. The decision was allegedly made by the Communist
Party's Central Executive Committee--the analog of the politburo--in Zyuganov's
absence under the chairmanship of Valentin Kuptsov, and was presented to the
party leader as a fait accompli. Zyuganov wanted to wait until after the
presidential election to act on restoring the USSR. Zyuganov's plans, however,
divided the party leadership and Kuptsov acted to subordinate Zyuganov to the
party's more hardline faction, the paper claims. -- Robert Orttung
DUMA PASSES LAW ON HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONER.
The Duma passed on 23
March in the second reading the draft law on Russia's human rights
commissioner, Russian TV reported. The bill has been under discussion for more
than two years, but three earlier attempts to pass it at the second reading
failed because of disagreement over how the commissioner should be appointed.
The latest draft stipulates that the nomination of candidates to the post must
be approved by a two-thirds majority in the Duma but that the appointment must
be approved by only a simple majority. -- Penny Morvant
LENINGRAD OBLAST GOVERNOR TO JOIN CITY AND OBLAST.
Governor Aleksandr Belyakov has proposed that the oblast be administratively
united with its capital, St. Petersburg, one of two Russian cities that is a
separate federation subject, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 March. Belyakov plans to
promote his proposal by running in St. Petersburg's mayoral elections on 19
May. If elected, he said he will keep his post as oblast governor, which he
said does not violate the Russian constitution. Belyakov added that the Our
Home Is Russia bloc will back his candidacy. -- Anna Paretskaya
KALMYKIYA TO BUILD "CHESS VILLAGE."
The republic of Kalmykiya has
contracted a Turkish company to build a "chess village" in the republic's
capital Elista, ITAR-TASS reported. The village, consisting of an 8,000-seat
"chess palace," four-star international hotel, and other structures, will
accommodate some 10,000 people expected for the International Chess
Federation's (FIDE) 67th Congress and the 33rd World Chess Olympic Games in
1998. Kalmykian President Kirsan Ilyumzhinov was elected FIDE chief in November
last year. In 1993, Gari Kasparov, who had wrested the world title from
Anatolii Karpov eight years before, helped found the rival Professional Chess
Association. Karpov is now the FIDE champion. -- Anna Paretskaya
YELTSIN VISITS NORWAY.
In Norway for an official visit on 25 March,
President Boris Yeltsin suggested that East European states could become
political members of NATO without joining its military structures, Western
media reported. Yeltsin referred to this as the "French example." His two
previous planned trips to Norway, in July and November 1995, were canceled due
to ill health. Norway shares a 200 km border with Russia, and has grave
concerns over Russian industrial and nuclear pollution in the Arctic region.
Yeltsin will also discuss the demarcation of their respective territory in the
Barents Sea. Norway is thought to be one of the NATO members (along with
Greece) that is most skeptical about NATO expansion. The approval of all 16
NATO member states is required before new entrants can be added. -- Peter
CONTINUING UNCERTAINTY OVER BELARUS TREATY.
The terms of the treaty
which Belarus and Russia will sign on 2 April remain obscure despite efforts by
Yeltsin administration officials to clarify the issue. Dmitrii Ryurikov,
Yeltsin's foreign policy adviser, said on 25 March that the pact to be signed
on 29 March with Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgystan will have a purely economic
character, while the 2 April treaty with Belarus will pursue "deeper
integration." He said the 29 March pact will include a payments union and will
be open for other nations to join. However, he compared the 29 March pact to
the European Union--which other Yelstin officials have used as an analogy for
the 2 April Belarus treaty. -- Peter Rutland
UN HUMAN RIGHTS MEETING.
The head of the Russian delegation to the UN
Human Rights Commission in Geneva, Grigorii Lukyantsev, complained at the
body's latest session about a "new form of racism," ITAR-TASS reported on 25
March. Lukyantsev said that xenophobia is also a problem in democracies, and
criticized "quiet discrimination" against ethnic minorities in the name of
"historical injustice." This was an implied reference to the treatment of
Russian minorities in Estonia and Latvia. -- Peter Rutland
UKRAINIAN AIRCRAFT FORCED DOWN IN RUSSIA.
Russian air defense detected
an incursion by a Ukrainian military aircraft into Russian territory on 24
March, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. The IL 76 aircraft was forced to land
at Rostov na Donu. A Russian General Staff spokesman described the incident as
a "grave violation of international agreements," since he claimed no flight
plan had been filed or prior authorization sought. Ukraine is not a formal
member of the unified CIS air defense system, but it does participate on an
informal basis, and is expected to sign an agreement with the CIS on this
subject in the near future. -- Peter Rutland
DISPUTES OVER FISHING GROUNDS INTENSIFY.
Russia and Japan failed to
agree on conditions for Japan's salmon and trout fishing in Russian territorial
waters near the southern Kuril Islands, Western agencies reported on 23 March.
The talks may resume in April. Russia is also involved in disputes over fishing
quotas in the Atlantic and North Pacific. Russia challenges the International
Commission on Fishing in the Northwestern Atlantic's decision to cut its
fishing quota from over 60% in 1995 (50-55,000 metric tons) to 24% this year.
Meanwhile, representatives of 400 Russian trawlers asked the government to cut
quotas for foreign vessels in the North Pacific, ITAR-TASS reported on 23
March. -- Natalia Gurushina
YELTSIN ISSUES DECREE ON HOUSING CONSTRUCTION.
In another attempt to
stimulate the housing market, President Yeltsin issued a decree on 23 March
instructing the government to prepare a federal program on individual housing
construction, ITAR-TASS reported. The aim of the program, entitled "My Home,"
is to reduce the cost of one square meter of living space to no more than
double the average monthly per capita income in a given region and to
facilitate long-term credit for construction projects. Yeltsin also urged the
passage of legislation exempting people building homes from housing taxes until
loans are paid off. Yeltsin issued a decree authorizing mortgage lending at the
end of February. -- Penny Morvant
UNEMPLOYMENT INCREASES SHARPLY IN FEBRUARY.
The number of people
officially registered as unemployed with the Federal Employment Service reached
2.57 million on 1 March after a 6.2% jump in February, Russian agencies
reported on 25 March. The registered unemployed now constitute 3.5% of the
working population. The situation is worst in Ingushetiya and Ivanovo Oblast,
with registered unemployment rates of 23% and 13%, respectively. According to
Goskomstat, the total number of jobless at the beginning of March was 6.24
million, or 8.5% of the country's workforce. -- Penny Morvant
SUPREME COURT REINSTATES FIRED DEPUTY EDUCATION MINISTER.
Court ruled on 12 March to reinstate a deputy education minister who was sacked
in October 1992, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 March. The court ruled that the
government's dismissal of Yevgenii Kurkin for alleged abuse of office was
unlawful and that he should be paid his salary for the past two and a half
years. According to Kurkin, the court cleared him of suspicion that he used his
office for commercial ends. -- Penny Morvant
BUY ONE, GET ONE FREE.
Shopkeepers in Kamchatka have come up with a
novel way of getting around the new minimum price on imported vodka. Since 12
March, the minimum price for a liter of vodka imported from outside the CIS has
been set at 40,000 rubles. ($8.25). Fearing that a sudden price hike would lead
to a sharp drop in vodka consumption, traders in Kamchatka are handing out a
free bottle with every liter purchased at the new price of 40,000-50,000
rubles, ITAR-TASS reported. This practice is likely to continue as long as old
stocks last. -- Penny Morvant
NAKHODKA FREE ECONOMIC ZONE GETS STATE SUPPORT.
The Finance Ministry
will allocate $25 million annually for the development of the free economic
zone in Nakhodka, a port on the Sea of Japan port, Russian Public TV (ORT)
reported on 25 March. Japanese businesses have allocated $81 million for the
development of the free economic zone. President Yeltsin on 11 March authorized
the building of a Russian-Korean industrial park in Nakhodka. -- Natalia
RUSSIA AND THE U.S. REACH AGREEMENT ON POULTRY EXPORTS.
Russia and the
U.S. have ended their dispute over chicken exports, ITAR-TASS reported on 26
March. U.S. Vice President Al Gore's office announced that "Russia recognized
that the U.S. inspection system and the American poultry itself are fully
acceptable for the Russian market." Russia agreed to allow any chicken
shipments that left the U.S. before 20 March to enter the country. The U.S.
promised to modify its control procedures to include joint spot inspections of
poultry plants, and to impose additional testing requirements on poultry
producers. In 1995, exports to Russia were worth $550 million and accounted for
33% of all U.S. chicken exports. -- Natalia Gurushina
ILIESCU IN YEREVAN.
Romanian President Ion Iliescu arrived in Yerevan on
25 March on the first leg of a tour of the Transcaucasus, Western and Armenian
agencies reported. Iliescu and his Armenian counterpart, Levon Ter-Petrossyan,
signed eight bilateral agreements on cooperation in economic issues, tourism,
air and freight transport, taxation, and engineering, plus a consular
agreement. The two leaders had signed a bilateral treaty on friendship and
cooperation when Ter-Petrossyan visited Bucharest in September 1994. -- Liz
AKAYEV GRANTS LOCAL GOVERNORS MORE POWERS.
Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev
on 23 March granted additional powers to the heads of local administrations
(akims), ITAR-TASS reported on 23 March. Akims will now be able to suspend any
decisions by local self-government bodies or enterprises that contradict the
decisions of the central authorities. Any appointments to local bodies made by
central authorities will now require the approval of the akims, except for
appointments to the posts of judge, prosecutor, or state security agency heads.
In addition, akims will also carry greater personal responsibility for the
"socioeconomic development of the territory," prompt payment of pensions and
wages, and combating corruption. -- Bhavna Dave
KAZAKHSTAN BANS ENTRY OF "UNDESIRABLE" PEOPLE.
Nursultan Nazarbayev ordered a ban on all flights from the North Caucasus to
Kazakhstan until order is restored following what he described as the
"uncontrolled entry of foreigners" and "evil-doers" into the country, according
to a 21 March Kazakhstani TV report monitored by the BBC. Nazarbayev told a
meeting of the Kazakhstani Security Council that Kazakhstan has recently taken
in nearly 5,000 Chechens, who "break public order and commit crimes, instead of
thanking Kazakhstan." Relations between Kazakhs and Chechens have been tense,
particularly in the eastern and northern provinces. Although the majority of
the Chechens who were deported to Kazakhstan in 1944 have returned to Chechnya,
about 40,000 still remain in Kazakhstan. -- Bhavna Dave
CAR PRODUCTION IN UZBEKISTAN.
The South Korean Daewoo Corporation
officially opened a plant in Tashkent on 25 March, NCA reported. The first
products of the joint-venture will be vans, with cars scheduled for regular
production by July 1996. It is expected that the plant will produce 30,000 cars
and vans this year, with a full capacity production rate of 200,000 vehicles
per year. In addition, while 80% of the parts are currently imported, the
company plans to produce 70% of the parts locally by 2000. Last year, the
German company Daimler-Benz expanded vehicle production at its Urgench plant.
-- Roger Kangas
CENTRAL ASIAN LEADERS REACT TO BELARUS-RUSSIAN "MERGER."
leaders have reacted negatively to the recent meeting of the Belarusian and
Russian presidents (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 March 1996), Reuters
reported on 25 March. Kyrgyz presidential spokesman Kamil Bayalinov said that
his country would "never support" plans for political reunification with
Russia. Tajik presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov also rejected full political
unification if it compromises political sovereignty. Kazakhstani First Deputy
Prime Minister Nigmatzhan Isingarin called Lukashenka's description of the pact
"incomprehensible." Instead, Isingarin promoted President Nursultan
Nazarbayev's "Eurasian Union," and noted that Nazarbayev and Kyrgyz President
Askar Akayev will be in Moscow on 29 March for a summit on regional
integration. There was no immediate reaction from the Turkmen government. --
TAJIK OPPOSITION RELEASES NEW PUBLICATION.
The Tajik opposition has
launched a weekly newspaper that will carry reports on political, social, and
cultural issues, as well as on the condition of Tajik refugees living in
northern Afghanistan, according to a 23 March Radio Free Tajikistan broadcast
monitored by the BBC. United Tajik Opposition leader Said Abdullo Nuri
contributed an article and gave an interview in the first edition. -- Bruce
UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS APPROVE PEACEKEEPERS FOR EASTERN SLAVONIA.
Ukrainian parliament has agreed to dispatch 500 soldiers to serve as UN
peacekeepers in Serb-controlled eastern Slavonia, Reuters reported on 25 March.
Defense Ministry officials said the troops will be based near Vukovar and
equipped with 11 tanks and 16 helicopters. Communist deputies opposed the
decision. Ukrainian servicemen have been eager to join UN forces in the former
Yugoslavia, where their wages are substantially higher than the $8 per month
they earn at home. Ukraine has about 500 troops in Croatia and another 500 in
the NATO-led IFOR mission in Bosnia. -- Chrystyna Lapychak
CONSOLIDATION OF UKRAINIAN CENTRISTS CONTINUES.
political parties have formed a new political alliance called Mist
[Bridge], Radio Ukraine reported on 22 March. The center-right Democratic Party
of Ukraine, the centrist Social-Democratic Party, and the center-left Labor
Party support democratic and free-market reforms but also favor maintaining a
social safety network. Another center-right party, the Christian Democrats,
announced it was joining several civic organizations in another political
alliance, the Christian-Social Union, Ukrainian TV reported on 22 March. They
are joined by the All-Ukrainian Association of Entrepreneurs as well as several
similar regional groups. Recently, a new centrist caucus, Social-Market Choice,
was formed. Its 31 members, which include former President Leonid Kravchuk and
other well-known figures, is now the second-largest caucus after the
Communists. -- Chrystyna Lapychak
BELARUS SIGNS INTERIM TRADE AGREEMENT WITH EU.
Belarusian Prime Minister
Mikhail Chyhir signed an interim trade accord with the EU in Brussels on 25
March, Western agencies reported. The accord implements the economic aspects of
a broader partnership agreement signed last year with the EU before that
agreement is ratified by all 15 EU states. EU Commissioner for Foreign Affairs
Hans van den Broek said the EU had hesitated to sign the trade accord because
of doubts about the progress of political and economic reforms in Belarus. He
added that he hoped the signing of the agreement would "contribute to the
preservation of Belarus's independence and sovereignty." Chyhir noted that
increased trade with the West would help Belarus pay its enormous debts to
Russia for oil and gas. -- Saulius Girnius
ESTONIAN PRESIDENT IN BENELUX COUNTRIES.
Lennart Meri arrived in Holland
on 25 March at the start of a three-day visit to the Benelux countries, ETA
reported. He met with Prime Minister Wim Kok and Queen Beatrix to discuss the
EU and its future development. Kok noted the importance of bilateral relations
in preparing for EU enlargement and offered help for training Estonian
officials. Meri is scheduled to meet with European Commission President Jacques
Santer and European Parliament President Klaus Haensch in Brussels today. He is
also to hold talks with NATO Secretary General Javier Solana and Belgian Prime
Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene. -- Saulius Girnius
DIPLOMATIC INCIDENT BETWEEN LITHUANIA, ICELAND.
The decision of the
Lithuanian Agricultural Bank to order the trawler Vydunas to return to
Klaipeda has created a diplomatic incident, Radio Lithuania reported on 25
March. In March 1994, the ship was leased for five years to an Icelandic
fishing company. The bank claims that the firm owes it more than $500,000 and
ordered its Lithuanian captain to return home. The firm denies it has any such
debt. Four of the 63-man crew are Icelandic citizens who radioed to the police
alleging that they were being held hostage. Lithuanian and Icelandic diplomats
have discussed the matter and hope that it will be settled when the ship docks
in Klaipeda on 27 or 28 March. -- Saulius Girnius
QUEEN ELIZABETH II IN POLAND.
The British monarch arrived in Poland on
25 March, Polish and international media reported. She laid a wreath at the
Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and met with Polish pilots who fought in the 1940
Battle of Britain and other war veterans who were under British command. She
also paid tribute at a memorial to Warsaw Jews who died in the Holocaust. At a
reception at the presidential palace, the queen said: "We strongly support the
enlargement of the European Union and NATO. We welcome your aspirations to join
these institutions." On 26 March, she will visit Cracow and fly to Prague. --
THOUSANDS JOIN CZECH DOCTORS' STRIKE RALLY.
Doctors, nurses and other
workers from around 130 of the Czech Republic's 200 state-run hospitals on 25
March joined a two-day strike to demand higher wages and protest the
government's health policy, Czech media reported. Reduced services were
maintained at all hospitals. According to police estimates, 16,500 people
attended a mass rally in the center of Prague, making it one of the biggest
strike protests in recent years. The strike was organized by the Doctors' Trade
Union Club, whose chairman David Rath told the demonstrators the rally should
demonstrate to the government how strong support was for the health worker's
demands. They are pushing for a 40% wage increase and changes in the financing
of the state health service. Rath said protest action would continue after the
end of the strike on 26 March, possibly including another strike on 15 May--the
official start of the parliamentary election campaign. -- Steve Kettle
SLOVAK COMMISSION SAYS SECRET SERVICE INVOLVED IN KIDNAPPING OF PRESIDENT'S
An independent commission chaired by Christian Democratic Movement
(KDH) deputy Ladislav Pittner on 25 March accused the Slovak Information
Service of kidnapping President Michal Kovac's son, Sme reported.
Pittner, a former interior minister, announced the commission's preliminary
conclusions at a KDH meeting, saying the final results should be available next
month. He gave the first names and last-name initials of SIS agents who
allegedly prepared and participated in the kidnapping, specified their tasks,
and described the cars they used. The commission also found that several of the
police officers currently working on the case have criminal records. In other
news, Kovac Jr. on 25 March filed a lawsuit against the "secret witness" who
recently appeared on Slovak TV to allege that the kidnapping was staged. --
SLOVAK BISHOPS PROTEST DRAFT LAW ON PROTECTION OF REPUBLIC.
A group of
Catholic bishops on 25 March sent a letter to "the government, the parliament
and the nation" expressing opposition to the draft law on the protection of the
republic, Slovak media reported. The bishops warned that the bill compares to
the 1948 law "based on which hundreds of thousands of innocent people were
convicted, imprisoned, and tortured, sometimes to death." If passed, the
amendment would put policemen, public prosecutors, and judges in the
position "as the criminals of totalitarianism," they stressed. Protests
against the bill have recently come from the Association of Slovak Judges, the
Slovak Helsinki Committee, and Greenpeace. -- Sharon Fisher
HUNGARIAN PRESIDENT IN EGYPT.
Arpad Goncz arrived in Cairo on 25 March
to hold talks with his Egyptian counterpart, Hosni Mubarak, Hungarian dailies
reported. The two leaders discussed boosting economic ties as well as the
situation in Bosnia-Herzegovina and the Middle East. Egyptian officials said
Egypt hoped to redress the imbalance of annual bilateral trade, which is
currently $27 million in Hungary's favor. The two countries are to sign accords
on economic, legal, and scientific cooperation and on fighting organized crime.
This is the first visit by a Hungarian president to Egypt since the two
countries established diplomatic relations more than 40 years ago. -- Zsofia
HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON PLEDGES AID TO HELP REBUILD BOSNIA.
first lady visited Tuzla on 25 March and met American IFOR soldiers, Bosnian
government officials, and Bosnian women who suffered during the war. Ms.
Clinton promised $25 million to rebuild damaged homes and provide work for the
huge number of unemployed, whose ranks have further swelled with
demobilization. She talked with Vice President Ejup Ganic, who is filling in
for ailing President Alija Izetbegovic, about reconstruction, reintegration,
women's affairs, and respect for human rights, about freedom to express
different religious and cultural traditions, Onasa reported. -- Patrick Moore
NEW MOSTAR ADMINISTRATOR UNBURDENED BY HISTORY.
EU foreign ministers on
25 March endorsed the appointment of Spain's Ricardo Perez Casado to replace
Hans Koschnick as administrator in Mostar. He is a socialist politician from
Valencia who is better known as a businessman, Onasa reported. The news agency
added that Perez "admitted he does not know much about issues in Bosnia and
Mostar, which is regarded in Brussels as a comparative advantage, because the
new administrator will be more efficient in solving unfinished tasks in Mostar
by not being burdened with the past." Perez enters a complex environment that
has no fewer than seven police forces, AFP noted on 26 March. Elsewhere in
Mostar, the Croats freed 10 Serbian prisoners, the International Herald
Tribune reported. -- Patrick Moore
BRAWL BETWEEN BACKERS OF KARADZIC, MILOSEVIC.
Supporters of Bosnian Serb
leader Radovan Karadzic lobbed a tear gas grenade into a meeting of the
Socialist Party of the Republika Srpska (SPRS), which is the Bosnian branch of
the ruling Serbian party of President Slobodan Milosevic. The incident took
place on 24 March in the small town of Blatnica southwest of Doboj, AFP on 26
March quoted Radio Belgrade as saying. Among Karadzic supporters were local
police officials. Several people were injured and some had to be taken to the
hospital. Milosevic backers said that this was not the first such incident and
that Karadzic's people are trying to intimidate the opposition in the run-up to
the elections. The SPRS stated that it will file a formal complaint with the
OSCE. -- Patrick Moore
RUMP YUGOSLAV-TURKISH RELATIONS ON THE MEND.
Ankara and Belgrade are
preparing to upgrade bilateral relations, and may restore ambassadorial ties
next month. Beta on 25 March quoted an unnamed official as saying that
"establishing relations at the ambassadorial level may come as early as April.
After that, [Turkish] President Suleyman Demirel is expected to include
Belgrade as one of his planned stops during his [June] tour of the republics of
the former Yugoslavia." Relations between Turkey and rump Yugoslavia have
recently been strained and acrimonious over disagreements related to the war in
Bosnia-Herzegovina. -- Stan Markotich
INTERNATIONAL INVESTORS IN BELGRADE.
A group of U.S. bankers arrived in
the rump Yugoslav capital on 25 March. Reports did not specify which
individuals or companies are involved, by Tanjug suggested that Citibank,
Chemical and Standard Bank, and Saloman Brothers are among the firms
represented. Federal rump Yugoslav Finance Minister Jovan Zebic hinted that
Belgrade wants to persuade the bankers to invest in rump Yugoslavia's recovery.
After emerging from meetings with the group, he observed that rump Yugoslavia
is aware of "the need for an international financial injection." -- Stan
"ECOLOGICAL CATASTROPHE" OFF CROATIAN COAST.
The state-owned oil company
INA dumped between 100 and 150 metric tons of waste oil into Bakar Bay, a
branch of the Adriatic south of Rijeka. The incident took place on 18 March and
led to a protest by local mayors, the pro-government daily Vjesnik
reported on 26 March. One of the mayors demonstrated how a stone thrown into
the bay floated on the slick. Damage is estimated at DM 6 million. INA is known
as a sinecure for politicians from the governing Croatian Democratic Community,
and the mayors said it had become "a state within a state." The area is part of
the Kvarner region that includes the nearby island of Krk and some of Croatia's
best-known tourist resorts. -- Patrick Moore
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT, OPPOSITION LEADER CLASH OVER TIES WITH RUSSIA.
presidential spokesman has rejected accusations by Emil Constantinescu, leader
of the opposition Democratic Convention of Romania, that Ion Iliescu is
promoting pro-Russian policies. In a communique published in Cronica
romana on 26 March, the President's Office expressed "surprise" at
Constantinescu's remark last week recalling that Iliescu had signed a treaty
with the now defunct Soviet Union some five years ago. That move was widely
seen as an attempt to place Romania in Russia's sphere of interests. The Soviet
Union's demise prevented the treaty from being ratified. But the Romanian
opposition has continued to suspect Iliescu--a student in Moscow in the early
1950s--of pro-Russian sentiment. -- Dan Ionescu
BULGARIAN PRESIDENT IN BELGIUM.
Zhelyu Zhelev on 25 arrived in Belgium
for a three-day official visit, 24 chasa reported. Zhelev said only NATO
can guarantee Bulgaria's security and the irreversibility of its democratic
changes. He added that no country outside the alliance should have the right to
block NATO expansion. Referring to the Russian State Duma's resolution on 15
March denouncing the dissolution of the Soviet Union, Zhelev said it only
reaffirms the intention of countries wanting to join NATO. Zhelev held talks
with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana and Belgian Prime Minister Jean-Luc
Dehaene. He also addressed the North Atlantic Council. -- Stefan Krause
RUSSIAN DUMA DELEGATION IN SOFIA.
A delegation from the Russian State
Duma, headed by Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, arrived in the Bulgarian capital on
25 March for a three-day visit, Trud reported. Seleznev accused Zhelev
of "getting all worked up" about the 15 March Duma resolution without having
read the document first. At the same time, he hailed Prime Minister Zhan
Videnov for intensifying Russian-Bulgarian relations, Kontinent noted.
After meeting with Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski, Seleznev admitted Russia
can not prevent any country from joining NATO, but he repeated Moscow's
anti-expansion position. -- Stefan Krause
ARE RELATIONS BETWEEN TIRANA, ATHENS STILL TENSE?
Greek Defense Minister
Gerasimos Arsenis has said he will not attend a Balkan conference on security
policy in Tirana later this week, Albania reported on 23 March. Albanian
Defense Minister Safet Zhulali has invited his counterparts from the U.S.,
Bulgaria, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, and Italy to take part in the meeting.
Arsenis argued that the conference has been hastily organized and complained
that Belgrade has not been invited. His announcement is seen as an indication
that Greek-Albanian relations remain strained, despite Greek President Kostis
Stephanopoulos's recent visit to Tirana. Outstanding unresolved issues are
opening Greek schools in southern Albania and practical steps by Athens to
legalize Albanian immigrants. -- Fabian Schmidt
LARGE FIRE DESTROYS MILITARY DEPOT NEAR TIRANA.
A large fire has
destroyed an army depot in Ndroq, 18 kilometers south west of Tirana. The depot
belonged to an air defense unit, Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 26 March.
Some toxic material was stored at the depot. No injuries or casualties have
been reported. -- Fabian Schmidt
Greece on 25 March said that Turkish Prime
Minister Mesut Yilmaz's proposal for negotiations to settle the Greek-Turkish
dispute over Aegean islets was "insufficient," Western agencies reported. Greek
government spokesman Dimitris Reppas said Turkey must take the first step to
quell tensions between Athens and Ankara before dialogue can be reopened.
Yilmaz on 24 March proposed that Greece and Turkey sign a declaration of
friendship and cooperation and work out military confidence-building measures.
He said Turkey will agree to any mutually-acceptable form of settling disputes,
including mediation by a third party. This is the first time Ankara hinted at
the possibility of arbitration by the International Court in The Hague, which
Greece has proposed several times. -- Stefan Krause
[As of 1200 CET]
Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave