IMF APPROVES RUSSIAN LOAN.
As expected, the IMF's executive board
formally approved a $10.1 billion, three year Extended Fund Facility loan to
Russia on 26 March, Western agencies reported. Russia already has $10.8 billion
in outstanding IMF credits. In the past week, Russia agreed to drop a proposal
to raise import tariffs and to resume imports of U.S. chicken--two issues that
could have delayed the loan. The first $340 million tranche could arrive before
the end of this month. The money will come at a crucial time, since the
government is finding it difficult to cover its yawning budget deficit by
issuing securities. The price of treasury bills collapsed 25% this week,
pushing annual interest rates to 120% and causing the cancellation of a $500
million international bond float scheduled for 27 March. Three-month bills
issued now will have to be redeemed after the 16 June presidential election,
which partly explains investor wariness. -- Peter Rutland
ZYUGANOV'S NEGATIVE RATINGS INCREASING.
Communist leader Gennadii
Zyuganov's negative rating among those who have made up their mind in the
presidential campaign rose from 14% to 26% between January and March, according
to the latest VCIOM poll, Kuranty reported on 26 March. The poll asked
"Whom would you not like to see as president of Russia?" It was finished before
the 15 March Duma vote on restoring the Soviet Union. Yeltsin's negative rating
dropped from 43% to 39%. -- Robert Orttung
COMMUNISTS PROPOSE LAW ON THE OPPOSITION.
The Communist head of the Duma
committee on public associations, Viktor Zorkaltsev, has proposed a law that
would protect the rights of the opposition, Kommersant-Daily reported on
26 March. The draft recognizes the opposition as "benefiting society" and
provides detailed protections for its activities, including state funding and
access to the media. The draft law would allow, for the first time, the
possibility of a "shadow cabinet" that could be formed with the support of
one-third of the Duma members and whose leader could participate in government
meetings. The paper speculates that the law is either an attempt to insure the
party's position in case of defeat in the presidential election or an effort to
present a more moderate position to the voters. -- Robert Orttung
PRESIDENTIAL ADMINISTRATION APPOINTS NEW INFORMATION DIRECTOR.
editor-in-chief of Rossiiskie vesti, Valerii Kurcher, has replaced
Sergei Nosovets as the head of the presidential administration's information
directorate, Segodnya reported on 26 March. Kurcher is considered to
have better contacts among democratic-minded journalists and will be able to
establish better relations with the non-communist media during the campaign. --
RYABOV CALLS FOR LESS FREE AIR TIME FOR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES.
Electoral Committee (TsIK) Chairman Nikolai Ryabov called for limiting the free
air-time allotted to presidential candidates on state television (Russian
Public TV, Russian TV, and St. Petersburg Channel 5) from 30 to 10 minutes,
ITAR-TASS reported on 26 March. Television stations are still owed 50-60
billion rubles ($10-12 million) for the air-time they were required to give
electoral blocs competing in the Duma elections, and there is no provision in
the 1996 budget to pay for TV time during the presidential campaign. The TsIK
will issue media guidelines by the end of March. -- Robert Orttung
RUSSIAN TV COMPROMISES WITH REGIONAL BROADCASTERS.
Russian TV has signed
a deal with regional broadcasters to limit the amount of time they pre-empt the
national network in favor of local programming. Local broadcasters will be able
to show their material between 5:20 p.m. and 7:55 p.m. Currently, local
broadcasters pre-empt much more time, Russian TV quoted its chairman, Eduard
Sagalaev, as saying on 26 March. The agreement should also prevent local
stations from pre-empting the free air-time given to presidential candidates.
-- Robert Orttung
STAGED WITHDRAWAL FROM CHECHNYA PLANNED.
Russian Defense Minster Pavel
Grachev said on 26 March that "major combat operations in Chechnya will cease"
once President Boris Yeltsin announces his plan to settle the conflict in
Chechnya, Russian media reported. An unnamed source in the General Staff said
that two brigades of federal troops would remain--one of Internal Troops and
the army's 205th Motor-Rifle Brigade. Yeltsin is expected to unveil his
Chechnya peace plan on 31 March. -- Doug Clarke
OSCE REPORT CONDEMNS CONDUCT OF CHECHEN WAR.
A new report by the head of
the OSCE mission in Grozny, Swiss diplomat Tim Guldimann, accuses the Russian
forces in Chechnya of waging "warfare against the civilian population," NCA
reported on 26 March. The report said Russian forces engage in "wanton
destruction and systematic looting," and extort money from villages in return
for not attacking them. The report also condemned Chechen President Dzhokhar
Dudaev's fighters for repeatedly seizing civilian hostages. -- Peter Rutland
KEMEROVO LEADER MAY BE DEPRIVED OF PARLIAMENT MEMBERSHIP.
Oblast administration has announced that the chairman of the oblast's
legislative assembly, Aman Tuleev, should be stripped of his seat in the
Federation Council, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 March. While Tuleev's term in
office, as well as that of the whole assembly, expires on 27 March, the oblast
Procurator's Office considers him to be a legitimate representative in the
Council after that date. He said he will stay on in both his posts until the
new oblast assembly is elected. The current oblast legislature, however, failed
to set a date for the next election. Tuleev was number three on the Communist
Party list in the December 1995 elections, but declined his seat in the Duma.
-- Anna Paretskaya
BANNED MISSILES WOULD COUNTER NATO EXPANSION.
In a 26 March meeting with
Nobel Peace Prize laureate Joseph Rotblat, Russian Nuclear Energy Minister
Viktor Mikhailov said that NATO's eastward expansion would bring about "a
revision of many agreements on cuts in nuclear arms." ITAR-TASS added that two
specialists from the Arzamas-16 nuclear research center--Igor Andryushin and
Aleksandr Chernyshev--issued a statement warning that if NATO expands Russia
will have to deploy "nuclear air defense and sea-defense weapons on its western
borders, as well as tactical and operational missile systems, including the
Pioner [SS-20] and Oka [SS-23] systems." These two missiles were banned under
the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty. They also said that
Russia would refuse to sign a comprehensive nuclear test ban treaty. -- Doug
UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER IN MOSCOW.
Prime Minister Yevhen Marchuk met
with his Russian counterpart, Viktor Chernomyrdin, in Moscow on 26 March to
prepare for President Yeltsin's 4-5 April visit to Kyiv, Western media
reported. The Yeltsin visit is expected to see the signing of the long awaited
Ukrainian-Russian friendship treaty. The division of the Black Sea fleet, in
particular Russian leasing of shore base facilities, remains the main
outstanding issue, and will be discussed at a meeting of Ukrainian and Russian
defense ministers scheduled for 29 March. Meanwhile, a voluntary organization
called "300 years of the Russian fleet" has launched a national campaign to
raise money from banks and businesses to pay for the completion of eight new
military vessels, including the cruiser Peter the Great, ITAR-TASS
reported on 26 March. -- Peter Rutland
CIS STATES' DEBT TO RUSSIA.
Russian Minister for Cooperation with the
CIS States Valerii Serov noted on 26 March that the CIS states now owe Russia
$9 billion, Russian media reported. They repaid 1 trillion rubles ($200
million) in 1995, and are expected to pay 1.9 trillion rubles in 1996. The $1.4
billion owed by the Belarusian government and private companies to Russia and
the Russian natural gas company Gazprom will probably be written off as part of
the bilateral treaty to be signed on 2 April. Serov also advocated moving
towards a single currency for CIS countries, Reuters reported. The 29 March
summit involving Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan will likely
address debt payment scheduling. -- Roger Kangas
YELTSIN AND NORWEGIANS COMPROMISE ON ARRESTED ENVIRONMENTALIST.
President Boris Yeltsin said in Norway on 26 March that he and Norwegian Prime
Minister Gro Harlem Brundtland had reached an understanding in the treason case
against the former Russian naval officer Alexander Nikitin, Reuters reported.
Nikitin, who worked for the Norwegian environmental group Bellona, helped write
a report on the Russian navy's nuclear pollution in the Kola Peninsula which
the Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) said contained classified
information. Yeltsin said that Russia would drop its complaint against the
Bellona organization, and announced that Nikitin would be allowed to be
defended by a lawyer of his choice. The FSB had previously said that he must
have an authorized lawyer who was cleared for state secrets. The Russian
Constitutional Court was anyway due to rule on this issue on 27 March. In Oslo,
more than 1,000 Norwegians held a rally in support of Nikitin. -- Doug Clarke
AGRARIANS PICKET GOVERNMENT.
About 1,000 agricultural workers from more
than 25 Russian regions picketed the federal government building in Moscow on
26 March to protest the "anti-peasant policies" of the current administration
and demand more financial support for the farm sector. They also called on the
government not to allow the unrestricted sale of land. According to ITAR-TASS,
the protest was organized by the Union of Agroindustrial Complex Workers; the
Agrarian Union of Vasilii Starodubtsev, one of the 1991 coup plotters; and the
Coordinating Council for Collective Actions of Agroindustrial Complex Workers.
Express-khronika reported that the organizers included the hardline
Working Russia movement and the Russian Communist Workers' Party. -- Penny
FORMER DEPUTY HEAD OF ST. PETERSBURG TV ARRESTED IN U.S.
The FBI has
arrested Mikhail Syroezhin, a former deputy head of St. Petersburg TV, on
charges of swindling, theft, and money laundering, ITAR-TASS reported on 26
March. His property, including a $300,000 yacht, has been seized. Criminal
charges were brought against Syroezhin in Russia in January 1995 when St.
Petersburg TV (Channel 5) lost $1.87 million intended to purchase equipment in
the U.S. Syroezhin has denied embezzling the funds. -- Penny Morvant
IVANOVO AIRPORT WORKERS ON HUNGER STRIKE.
Ivanovo Airport has been
paralyzed by the technical staff's eight-day hunger strike, ITAR-TASS reported
on 25 March. The protesters are demanding the payment of wage arrears, a
program to rescue the aviation companies from their current financial
difficulties, and a change in management. Last year, air traffic controllers at
Ivanovo went on an 11-day hunger strike on similar grounds. That protest ended
when the oblast authorities paid wage arrears, canceled debts to power
suppliers, and exempted companies from tax payments until the end of the year.
Steps were also taken to secure the repayment of debts from aviation companies
in Moscow, Krasnoyarsk, and Uzbekistan, but to date little of the debt has been
recovered. Ivanovo Oblast, which is dominated by the textile industry, is one
of Russia's most depressed regions. -- Penny Morvant
EMPLOYMENT SERVICE HEAD LAMENTS LACK OF FUNDS.
A day after figures were
released showing a large jump in the number of registered unemployed in
February, Federal Employment Service head Fedor Prokopov told ITAR-TASS that
mandatory contributions to the Federal Employment Fund must be raised. Prokopov
criticized the Duma's decision to reduce the payroll tax from 2% to 1.5%,
saying that the move, the increase in the number of unemployed, and the failure
of indebted enterprises to pay contributions had left the fund in dire
financial straits. He also recommended that the amount of contributions
transferred by regional branches of the fund to the federal body be raised from
20% to 50% to facilitate the redistribution of money from prosperous areas to
those where unemployment is high. -- Penny Morvant
NASA URGES RUSSIA TO MEET ITS SPACE STATION OBLIGATIONS.
Russia that it risks being excluded from the Alfa international space station
program if it fails to meet its financial obligations, NCA reported on 27
March. NASA officials said that they will give Russia six weeks to do so. The
launch of the first service module for the Alfa orbital station, manufactured
by the Moscow-based Khrunichev space center, is scheduled for November 1997.
NASA is considering withdrawing from the collaborative program because of the
Russian Space Agency's financial problems. -- Natalia Gurushina
LUKOIL AND ARCO SET UP JOINT VENTURE.
Russia's largest oil concern
LUKoil and the U.S. Atlantic Richfield Co. (Arco) will form a new joint venture
in which LUKoil will have a 54% share, Western agencies reported on 26 March.
Arco will provide the venture with a 10-year $3 billion credit. Last autumn,
the U.S. company paid $250 million to acquire LUKoil convertible bonds which
can be exchanged for 6.3% equity stake in the concern. Arco will also
participate in the auction of a further $140 million of LUKoil bonds which will
take place on 29 March. -- Natalia Gurushina
TAJIK GOVERNMENT FORCES ATTACK TAVIL-DARA.
Tajik government warplanes
pounded rebel positions in Tavil-Dara on 26 March, Reuters and NCA reported.
The rebels have occupied the Tavil-Dara region since last October, but weather
conditions had prevented planes from assisting government ground forces in the
area. UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali voiced concern over the
fighting and called on both sides to "comply strictly" with the ceasefire
agreement. Ghali noted that more than 600,000 people in areas of military
conflict in the Central Asian republic are in need of emergency food aid. He
also confirmed that Ramon Piriz Ballon, the UN special envoy to Tajikistan,
will soon be replaced. -- Bruce Pannier
RESULTS OF KYRGYZ HELICOPTER CRASH INVESTIGATION.
Human error was to
blame for the October helicopter crash in Kyrgyzstan which claimed the lives of
15 people, including nine Canadians, according to the Kyrgyz state
investigation commission, NCA reported. The helicopter was carrying employees
of the Kumtor mining operation who had been visiting a gold mining site in the
mountains of eastern Kyrgyzstan. The crew had strayed from the approved flight
path, and should have turned back because of bad weather. -- Bruce Pannier
INCREASE IN MINIMUM PENSION IN KAZAKHSTAN.
Nazarbayev has decreed a 20% increase in the minimum pension to come into
effect on 1 April, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 March. The Ministry of Social
Welfare and oblast leaders have been told to use the Republic Pension Fund to
pay for the increase. The current minimum monthly pension is 320 tenge ($5),
with inflation running at about 20% a year. -- Bhavna Dave
SLOVAK PARLIAMENT APPROVES LAW ON PROTECTION OF REPUBLIC.
parliament on 27 March approved the controversial law on the protection of the
republic by a vote of 77 to 57, Slovak and international media reported. The
new law allows the prosecution of individuals who "spread false information"
that could damage Slovakia's interests or who organize public rallies "with the
intention of subverting the country's constitutional system, territorial
integrity, or defense capability." Critics claim the vaguely worded legislation
allows for arbitrary interpretation and endangers freedom of expression and
assembly. They also fear it will remove Slovakia from the list of front-runners
for EU membership. By approving the law, the parliament ignored protests from
the Catholic Church, trade unions, judges, and civic organizations. The
opposition plans to appeal the law at the Constitutional Court. -- Sharon
SLOVAKIA RATIFIES TREATY WITH HUNGARY.
Just hours after approving the
law on the protection of the republic, the parliament ratified the
Slovak-Hungarian treaty by a vote of 119 to 1 with 19 abstentions, Slovak media
reported. It also adopted two accompanying clauses specifying that the treaty
cannot be interpreted as granting minorities collective rights or the right to
autonomy. The "interpretation" clauses are not binding on Hungary.
Ratification, which was delayed many times because of opposition from the
Slovak National Party (SNS), came more than one year after the treaty was
signed by Slovak and Hungarian Prime Ministers Vladimir Meciar and Gyula Horn.
The SNS in January finally agreed to support the treaty on condition that
several laws were approved, including the one on protection of the republic.
Ethnic Hungarian deputies abstained from the vote, complaining that since the
treaty was signed, the parliament has taken several steps to restrict minority
rights. -- Sharon Fisher
UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS RAISE POVERTY THRESHOLD.
The Ukrainian parliament on
25 March voted to raise the poverty threshold from below 5 million karbovantsi
to 6.8 million karbovantsi ($36) a month, Ukrainian Radio reported. Legislators
ordered the government to find funds to raise pensions and social benefits to
reflect the increase. In other news, President Leonid Kuchma issued a decree
creating a presidential Council on Science and Scientific-Technical Policy to
oversee reforms in science and scientific research. He appointed Volodymyr
Horbulin, secretary of his Security Council, as the new council's chairman. --
UKRAINIAN SECURITY SERVICE MARKS FOURTH ANNIVERSARY.
Top officials at
the Ukrainian Security Service (SSU) marked the service's fourth anniversary by
summing up its achievements in combating organized crime and corruption in the
country, Ukrainian TV reported on 25 March. SSU chief Volodymyr Radchenko said
despite financial constraints, the service last year recovered 23 trillion
karbovantsi ($122 million) in stolen or illicit funds. He also said it
disbanded 450 criminal gangs, uncovered 436 cases of official corruption, and
averted 70 terrorist acts. -- Chrystyna Lapychak
BELARUSIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES BUDGET.
The Belarusian parliament on 26
March approved the 1996 budget, which foresees $3.4 billion in revenues and
$3.9 billion in expenditures, Reuters reported. The $500 million deficit is
equivalent to 3.1% of GDP and exceeds the IMF's recommendation that the deficit
total 2.7% of GDP. The IMF stopped granting credits to Belarus last September.
The finance minister noted that the budget did not include last-minute
additions totaling $480 million in subsidies to the agricultural sector, which,
he said, would raise the deficit to more than 6% of GDP. He said that the
budget was unrealistic and that large-scale printing of new money was likely,
despite the inevitable increase in inflation. -- Saulius Girnius
ESTONIAN FOREIGN MINISTER RECEIVES U.S. ASSURANCES.
Siim Kallas told AFP
on 26 March that he has received strong assurances from top officials in
Washington that Estonia can rely on the U.S. to help protect its sovereignty.
Kallas had complained to Secretary of State Warren Christopher and his deputy
Strobe Talbott on 25 March that Russia has recently become more hostile toward
Estonia. He received a pledge that the U.S. will not recognize a union of
former Soviet republics that was not forged voluntarily. Kallas agreed with the
U.S. view that Estonia will have security guarantees by building closer ties
with NATO and the EU. -- Saulius Girnius
LATVIAN PRESIDENT IN BRUSSELS.
Guntis Ulmanis--accompanied by Foreign
Minister Valdis Birkavs, Defense Minister Andrejs Krastins, and other
ministers--began a four-day visit to Belgium on 25 March. The main purpose of
the visit is to draw attention to Latvia's desire to become a member of NATO
and the EU and to try to speed up the accession talks. Ulmanis stressed this
desire at meetings with NATO Secretary General Javier Solana, European
Commission president Jacques Santer, Western European Union Secretary General
Jose Cutileiro, and other officials, Western agencies reported. -- Saulius
NEW CHIEF OF POLISH MILITARY INTELLIGENCE APPOINTED.
Minister Stanislaw Dobrzanski on 26 March dismissed Gen. Konstanty Malejczyk,
head of the Military Intelligence Service (WSI), and appointed Navy Commander
Kazimierz Glowacki to replace him. Glowacki has worked for the WSI since 1991
and was head of the counter-intelligence department until 1994. Defense
Ministry spokesman Colonel Eugeniusz Mleczak said Glowacki also has had
diplomatic experience in the West and would therefore be a better head of the
intelligence services during integration with European security structures and
NATO. -- Jakub Karpinski
CZECH TRADE DEFICIT CONTINUES TO GROW.
The Czech Republic recorded a
trade deficit of 8.7 billion crowns ($322 million) in February, bringing the
total for the year so far to 15.3 billion crowns ($562 million), Czech media
reported on 27 March. Compared with the first two months of 1995, imports rose
23.5% to 112.2 billion crowns ($4.15 billion), while exports increased by 19.2%
to 96.9 billion crowns ($3.588 billion). Officials said February's figures were
positive, pointing to a significant rise in exports of machinery and motor
vehicles and increased exports to developing countries. Last year's trade
deficit totaled a record 96.7 billion crowns ($3.58 billion). -- Steve Kettle
CONFLICT OF INTERESTS BILL DIVIDES HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT.
Hungarian parliamentary parties seem to disagree over the conflict of interests
bill, currently being discussed in parliament. Hungarian dailies on 27 March
reported that the most contentious issues are when the law should take effect
and whether deputies should be permitted to hold other positions or participate
in business activities. The bill was proposed by five parliamentary parties
after six years of political wrangling, while the Young Democrats were opposed
to it. Most deputies agree that the issue should have been long settled, since
the parliament's reputation has suffered over cases such as "Oilgate," in which
deputies and ministers were accused of involvement in suspicious deals related
to Russian oil shipments to Hungary (see OMRI Daily Digest, 8 December
1995). -- Zsofia Szilagyi
NATO WANTS MUJAHEDEEN OUT OF BOSNIA.
President Alija Izetbegovic has
said in an interview with Focus and in a letter to U.S. senators that
only about 50-60 Iranian and other foreign Islamic fighters remain in Bosnia.
He added that they have taken Bosnian citizenship and become civilians. IFOR
disagrees, however, and says that "small groups" of mujahedeen are still in
place and are mainly involved in training, the International Herald
Tribune reported on 27 March. NATO and the U.S. State Department called on
the Bosnian government to send all foreign forces home "immediately." According
to the Dayton agreement, they were supposed to have gone nearly two months ago.
-- Patrick Moore
ARE RUMP YUGOSLAV TROOPS STILL IN BOSNIA?
Dayton's ban on foreign troops
includes those from neighboring republics of the former Yugoslavia as well. But
OMRI's special correspondent in Sarajevo reported on 26 March that journalists
claim that rump Yugoslav troops are controlling sites of alleged mass graves in
eastern Bosnia. IFOR spokesman Simon Haselock was asked by the journalists to
comment, but he would neither deny their story nor say whether the presence of
Serbian troops represented a violation of Dayton. OMRI's correspondent added
that Russian IFOR soldiers have been intimidating some 4,000 Muslims near
Zvornik in disputed territory and telling them to leave. The Russians also
allegedly told the residents to take down the Bosnian flag, which they called
"Muslim." -- Patrick Moore
SERBS, CROATS REACH AGREEMENT ON PRISONER EXCHANGE.
parliament speaker Momcilo Krajisnik and Bosnian Croat leader Kresimir Zubak
have agreed to free all of each other's prisoners. Zubak said in Pale that the
deal involves the Croatian Community of Herceg-Bosna, the Republika Srpska, and
the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia and will be carried out in two days, Nasa
Borba reported on 27 March. Also in Pale, Bosnian Serb spokesmen told UN
human rights envoy Elisabeth Rehn that the fate of 2,000 Bosnian Serbs remains
unclear in the wake of last fall's allied offensive in western Bosnia. In
Dobrinja, three young Muslim males were arrested on 19 March by Serbs,
Dnevni avaz said on 27 March. And in Grbavica, federal police arrested a
Bosnian Serb interpreter working for the UN police about ten days ago, AFP
reported on 27 March. They did not give any reason for holding the interpreter.
-- Patrick Moore
KARADZIC TO RUN IN REPUBLIKA SRPSKA ELECTIONS?
Republika Srpska Vice
President Nikola Koljevic on 26 March said Bosnian Serb civilian leader Radovan
Karadzic may run in the upcoming elections in the Republika Srpska, Greek and
Western media reported. During a visit to the Greek city of Thessaloniki,
Koljevic said the Dayton accords bar Karadzic from holding office but do not
rule out his candidacy. He added that the Bosnian Serb civilian leadership is
focusing its efforts on Karadzic's candidacy, despite the fact that he has been
indicted as a war criminal by the International Criminal Tribunal for the
former Yugoslavia. "External pressures" will not result in division among the
Bosnian Serb leadership, Koljevic added. He said he will consider running for
the Republika Srpska presidency if asked to do so, but he "will not even think
about it if I am to be Mr. Karadzic's opponent." -- Stefan Krause
SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADER CRITICIZED BY STATE-RUN MEDIA.
leader of the Serbian Renewal Movement (SPO), has become the latest target of a
state-run media campaign. Draskovic recently sent a letter to the Foreign
Ministries of the U.S., Russia, Great Britain, France, Germany, and Italy
alleging that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is consolidating "a
one-party dictatorship" and is waging a campaign of repression (see OMRI
Daily Digest, 15 March 1995). Vecernji novosti on 26 March dubbed
Draskovic a common criminal and called on prosecutors to file charges "to
protect the country from attacks by foreign powers called for [by Draskovic]."
State-run Borba said the letter was "a nail in the coffin of Draskovic's
political ambitions." Nasa Borba on 27 March quotes Draskovic saying the
media campaign was not unexpected. -- Stan Markotich
NEW RADICALS IN MONTENEGRIN LEGISLATURE.
Eight members of the Serbian
Radical Party of Montenegro (SRSCG) took their places in the Montenegrin
legislature for the first time on 25 March. Last spring, members of the
Belgrade-based Serbian Radical Party (SRS) who were loyal to Vojislav Seselj,
flamboyant leader of the SRS and an accused war criminal, had their mandates
revoked. Seselj continues to advocate establishing a centralized Serbian state
and removing any traces of autonomy for Montenegro. The new crop of Radicals
are entering the legislature on the understanding that "there will be no return
to `Seseljism,'" Montena-fax reported on 25 March. -- Stan Markotich
CROATIAN JOURNALISTS PROTEST DRAFT PRESS LAW.
The Croatian Journalists
Society has called the press law submitted to the parliament a threat to free
speech and democracy, Novi list reported on 27 March. The measure, which
was introduced by the governing Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), would
allow government officials to sue journalists who offend them for libel. It
also includes a vague provision allowing journalists to be punished for
reporting "state secrets." The HDZ has near total control of the electronic
media, and the independent mass-circulation press is limited to one daily and
two weeklies. -- Patrick Moore
U.S. REASSURES ROMANIA ABOUT NATO MEMBERSHIP.
U.S. Ambassador in
Bucharest Alfred Moses on 26 March told journalists that there will be "no
ranking, no handicapping" for East European countries applying for NATO
membership, Radio Bucharest reported. Moses was seeking to clarify U.S.
Secretary of State Warren Christopher's speech in Prague last week, which was
widely interpreted in Bucharest as suggesting that Romania may be relegated to
a second tier for NATO membership. Meanwhile, Adrian Nastase, executive
chairman of the ruling Party for Social Democracy in Romania, said that
Romanians should continue to "act as if there were no differences between us
and the others." -- Dan Ionescu
MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT WARNS OF MASSIVE SOCIAL UNREST.
meeting with leaders of the Moldovan National Trade Union Federation on 26
March, said that if the government fails to undertake urgent measures to
resolve outstanding social problems, Moldova will likely suffer massive social
unrest, Moldovan agencies reported. Snegur said that only 31% of the 26,400
registered unemployed receive unemployment benefits. Real wages are decreasing,
and wage arrears now total 2.6 billion lei ($572 million). Snegur had issued a
decree in early February urging the government to pay pension, wage, and other
arrears by 31 March. Meanwhile, trade union leader Ion Godonoga said the
government has failed to honor its agreements with the trade unions. -- Matyas
BULGARIAN CHURCH ABOUT TO SPLIT?
The Bulgarian Orthodox Church is about
to officially split, Bulgarian dailies reported on 27 March. The church split
unofficially in 1992 when the government's Department for Ecclesiastical Issues
declared Patriarch Maksim's election in 1971 invalid and appointed a new synod
under Metropolit Pimen. Maksim and the old synod never recognized this
decision, and the Ecumenical Patriarchate backed them. Pimen's associates on 26
March said they will call a national council in June and form a second Orthodox
church. They also decided to break off talks with Maksim and his supporters and
to ask for registration as a separate church. They expect to be recognized by
other Orthodox churches. -- Stefan Krause
Prime Minister Zhan Videnov and Deputy Prime Minister
and Agriculture Minister Svetoslav Shivarov on 26 March said there is no grain
shortage and that mills and silos are filled with flour and grain, 24 chasa
reported. But millers claim that there is grain for one week only. Videnov
accused private bakeries in Sofia of trying to find excuses for raising bread
prices. In other news, Petyo Blaskov--co-owner of the 168 Hours Press Group,
which publishes Bulgaria's biggest daily, 24 chasa--will run for
president in the upcoming elections, LEFF reported on 26 March. He has the
support of the New Bulgaria party. -- Stefan Krause
ALBANIAN SOCIALIST LEADER FACES ARREST.
Secretary-General of the
Albanian Socialist Party Gramoz Ruci has been charged with ordering the killing
of Albanians fleeing the country in the first half of 1991 and four supporters
of democratic reform in April 1991, Albanian media reported. Ruci was interior
minister from February to June 1991. He is also charged with the destruction of
secret police files. The Prosecutor's Office has asked the parliament to lift
his immunity before it dissolves itself on 3 April, international agencies
reported on 26 March. The charges are made under the so-called "Genocide Law"
passed in September 1995. -- Fabian Schmidt
[As of 1200 CET]
Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave