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Newsline - March 27, 1996


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.
The 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. -- Robert Orttung

RYABOV CALLS FOR LESS FREE AIR TIME FOR PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATES.
Central 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.
The Kemerovo 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 Clarke

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 Morvant

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.
NASA warned 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.
President Nursultan 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.
The Slovak 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 Fisher

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. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

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 Girnius

NEW CHIEF OF POLISH MILITARY INTELLIGENCE APPOINTED.
Polish Defense 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.
All seven 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.
Bosnian Serb 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.
Vuk Draskovic, 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.
Mircea Snegur, 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 Szabo

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

BULGARIAN ROUNDUP.
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




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