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Newsline - March 26, 1996


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. -- Robert Orttung

ZYUGANOV OPPOSED DECISION TO VOTE ON USSR RESTORATION.
Communist leader 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.
Leningrad 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 Rutland

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.
The Supreme 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 Gurushina

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 Fuller

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.
Kazakhstani President 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."
Central Asian 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. -- Roger Kangas

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 Pannier



UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS APPROVE PEACEKEEPERS FOR EASTERN SLAVONIA.
The 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.
Three Ukrainian 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. -- Jakub Karpinski

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 SON.
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. -- Sharon Fisher

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 same
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 Szilagyi



HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON PLEDGES AID TO HELP REBUILD BOSNIA.
The U.S. 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 Markotich

"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.
A 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

GREEK-TURKISH UPDATE.
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




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