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Newsline - April 5, 1996


CONVENTIONAL ARMS TALKS IN VIENNA COLLAPSE.
Russian objections have torpedoed multilateral discussions in Vienna on creating a new international regime to control worldwide exports of arms and weapons technologies, Western agencies reported on 4 April. Russia, wary of interference in its arms trade, rejected a U.S. proposal that members of the new regime, called the Wassenaar agreement (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 December 1995), give early notification of arms sales. While U.S. officials blamed Russia for the deadlock, it should be noted that France also had objections to the U.S. initiative. It is also ironic that the U.S. emerged from the talks looking like an advocate of arms control, since it exported about $29 billion worth of arms in 1995--about 10 times more than Russia. -- Scott Parrish

YELTSIN STUMPS IN COMMUNIST STRONGHOLD.
President Boris Yeltsin arrived in Belgorod on 4 April to launch his re-election campaign, with promises of financial support for local farms and factories, Russian TV reported. Yeltsin said that the "most complicated and difficult" period of reform is over and that he would now focus on social programs and raising the level of production, ITAR-TASS reported. The Communist Party won 32% in the December Duma election's party-list voting and the city elected former USSR Prime Minister Nikolai Ryzhkov. Yeltsin said that Ryzhkov and his Duma colleague Valentin Varennikov, a 1991 coup plotter, should be imprisoned, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. -- Robert Orttung

BABURIN BACKS ZYUGANOV.
Nationalist Sergei Baburin, after considerable vacillation, announced that his Russian All-People's Union will back Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov in the June presidential election, ITAR-TASS reported. More than 70 organizations have now signed on to Zyuganov's "popular-patriotic bloc." In the Duma campaign, Baburin formed an alliance with Ryzhkov in the Power to the People bloc and faced a Communist opponent in his successful bid to win a seat in Omsk. Meanwhile, former USSR President Mikhail Gorbachev turned in 1.4 million signatures to the Central Electoral Commission to register as a presidential candidate, Radio Rossii reported. -- Robert Orttung

DUMA PREPARES LAW ON THE TRANSITION OF POWER.
The Duma is working on a law that will regulate the two months between the presidential election and the time when the new president takes his oath of office, Izvestiya reported on 5 April. The sharpest dispute is over whether the president should renounce his party membership. The Communists and Vladimir Zhirinovsky are strongly against such a requirement. Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev refused to renounce his Communist Party membership after gaining his new position. -- Robert Orttung

SHOTS FIRED NEAR YELTSIN HOME.
An unidentified gunman fired three shots on 3 April in the vicinity of President Yeltsin's home in the Moscow suburb of Krylatskoe, Russian and Western media reported the next day. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov also live in the same six-story apartment bloc alongside Yeltsin. On 4 April, ITAR-TASS reported that St. Petersburg has the highest crime rate in Russia, with 77 businessmen and more than 50 criminal gang members killed last year. -- Peter Rutland

DUMA COMMISSION BLASTS PRIVATIZATION.
The Audit Chamber set up last October by the Duma has prepared a report condemning the privatization program launched in 1992, Russian and Western media reported on 4 April. Veniamin Sokolov, the head of the commission, said on Russian Public TV (ORT) that the privatization was based on a succession of unclear laws, decrees, and regulations--each of which contradicted those that went before. He said it was a violation of national interests and a vehicle for extensive corruption, and called for the reversal of some of the privatizations. Sokolov passed on to the procurator-general evidence of alleged wrongdoing by Petr Mostovoi, the head of the Federal Insolvency Administration, and Alfred Kokh, deputy head of the State Privatization Committee (GKI), NTV reported. The loan/share auctions conducted last November-December look particularly vulnerable to reversal. -- Peter Rutland

TATAR PRESIDENT TO MEDIATE WITH DUDAEV?
Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev is prepared to meet with an emissary of Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev to discuss the implementation of President Yeltsin's Chechen peace proposals, NTV reported after 3-4 April meetings in Kazan between Shaimiev and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. On 4 April, Yeltsin signed a decree on the composition of the government commission that will monitor the implementation of his peace plan; it includes Shaimiev, the chairmen of both chambers of the Russian parliament, Security Council Secretary Oleg Lobov, and the president of Kabardino-Balkariya. Meanwhile, a Russian SU25 military aircraft was shot down over the village of Goiskoe in southern Chechnya on 4 April by what Russian military sources identified as a U.S. made Stinger missile, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. -- Liz Fuller

RUSSIA BLASTS UN REPORT ON CHECHNYA.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Karasin criticized the recent UN report on human rights in Chechnya (see OMRI Daily Digest, 3 April 1995) as "incorrect," Russian and Western agencies reported on 4 April. The report, citing non-governmental human rights agencies, focuses on the excessive use of force by federal troops in the breakaway republic. AFP quoted Karasin as complaining that the report failed to note that separatist fighters "resorted to outright terror" and "violated the peace accords," a reference to the failed 30 July military agreement. Karasin also complained that the report ignored what he termed an "intensive dialogue on the issue between Russia and the UN Commissioner for Human Rights." -- Scott Parrish

BORDER DEMARCATION COMMISSION MEMBER RESIGNS.
Maj. Gen. Valerii Rozov, chairman of the Russo-Chinese border demarcation commission for Primorsk Krai, resigned on 4 April, saying he could not supervise the transfer of "strategically important Russian lands" to China, ITAR-TASS reported. The commission is demarcating disputed segments of the border along the Tuman River under a May 1991 Soviet-Chinese agreement which calls for the transfer of about 1,500 hectares of disputed territory to China. Rozov said Russia had an "indisputable right" to the territory, where the location of nine border markers has yet to be determined, adding that its transfer to China would undermine Russia's position in the Asian-Pacific region. The resignation is embarrassing for Russia, as Yeltsin is scheduled to visit China on 24 April. -- Scott Parrish

CIS MEETINGS IN DUSHANBE, MOSCOW.
The heads of the CIS security services met in Dushanbe on 4 April for discussion that focused on cooperation in fighting drugs and arms smuggling and coordinating information-gathering procedures along the lines of Interpol, Russian media reported. The meeting was chaired by Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) Director General Mikhail Barsukov, who also met privately with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov, RFE/RL reported on 3 April. No details of their discussion were available. In other CIS news, foreign economic ministers of the member states met in Moscow on 4-5 April to discuss the parameters of a free trade zone, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Roger Kangas

SUPREME COURT OVERTURNS YELTSIN DECREE ON NUCLEAR WASTE DISPOSAL . . .
The Supreme Court has settled the dispute between the Nuclear Energy Ministry and Greenpeace by overturning the presidential decree that allows nuclear waste to be imported into Russia, Ekho Moskvy reported on 4 April. The construction of the nuclear waste disposal plant in Krasnoyarsk (Siberia) is not finished yet, and the ministry needs to find an additional $4 billion to do so. The ministry hoped to get credits in countries that intended to use the plant, allowing them to store their nuclear waste in Russia in the meantime. The Supreme Court ruled that it would be possible to import nuclear fuel to Russia if a relevant international agreement is signed. -- Natalia Gurushina

. . . WHILE CONSTITUTIONAL COURT OVERRULES APARTMENT TAX.
The Constitutional Court overruled the Moscow authorities' decision to impose special taxes on apartment owners in the capital, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 April. The authorities levied a lump-sum tax of 500 times the minimum wage on any person buying a flat in Moscow who did not already have a resident permit for the city. The court also ruled unconstitutional the introduction by the Moscow region authorities of a `license fee for the right to migrate to the Moscow region.' -- Natalia Gurushina

DUBININ ON THE RUBLE, UNION WITH BELARUS.
Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin told ITAR-TASS in Paris on 5 April that the ruble will soon become convertible for current operations, as the remaining restrictions on currency transfers will be lifted. He also said that the new relationship with Belarus "must not result in a weakening of the Russian ruble." He expects the exchange rates of the Belarusian ruble and the Russian ruble to be tied, in a manner similar to the European Monetary System. Russia will not shore up the Belarusian currency: Minsk must pursue the policies necessary to maintain the value of the Belarusian ruble. Meanwhile, in Moscow it was announced that inflation in March is just 2.8%--the same as in February. On 4 April, the ruble was trading at 4,873 to the U.S. dollar. -- Peter Rutland

PROPOSAL TO TIGHTEN CONTROL OF BANK ACCOUNTS.
By the end of March, tax arrears to the federal budget had risen to 41 trillion rubles ($8.4 billion), Segodnya reported on 4 April. The problem is partly that firms hide their revenues through barter and cash transactions, and partly that tax service efforts to seize funds in firms' bank accounts are not effective. Two new draft presidential decrees have been prepared that will force firms to have a single bank account for all current operations. However, the Central Bank is objecting, on the grounds that a court might find this a violation of current banking legislation. -- Peter Rutland

TELECOMMUNICATIONS PROJECTS ON HOLD.
It looks increasingly unlikely that the ambitious 50/50 project to modernize the Russian telephone network will actually move forward. France Telecom, which together with U.S. West and Deutsche Telecom launched the project in October 1994, is now pursuing the more modest task of installing new card phones in Moscow, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported on 4 April. The company has already installed 300 new phones in Moscow hotels and metro stations, one of which was ceremonially used by Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov to call his Paris counterpart. Meanwhile, the Italian firm STET, which in December 1995 backed out of its contract to buy a 25% stake in Svyazinvest, reiterated its willingness to renew negotiations about the acquisition. -- Natalia Gurushina

ROADS OFF LIMITS.
As usual, some 43,000 km of main roads and 477,000 km of local roads will be barred to trucks until 15 May, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 April. The Transport Ministry imposes the restrictions during the spring thaw to keep the roads in usable condition. -- Peter Rutland



ARMENIAN COMMUNISTS NOMINATE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE.
A recent plenum of the Central Committee of the Armenian Communist Party nominated the party's senior secretary, Sergei Badalyan, as its candidate for the 21 September presidential election, Pravda reported on 4 April. A former first secretary of the Yerevan Gorkom, Badalyan was elected first secretary of the party when it split following the failed coup of August 1991. On 3 April, the Armenian parliament adopted a law on the presidential election, Noyan Tapan reported the same day. -- Liz Fuller

KAZAKHSTAN'S PARLIAMENT PASSES A LAW ON PUBLIC ORGANIZATIONS.
Kazakhstan's parliament passed a law defining the rights and permitted activities of public organizations, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 April. Details of are not yet available. Omirbek Baigeldiyev, the chairman of the Senate stated that the new law will regulate relations between public organizations and government organs and will serve as a basis for further legislation. The parliament is expected to pass a law regulating the activities of political parties and trade unions. Kazakhstan's existing laws that curtail the freedoms of organizations have been criticized by the opposition and independent media. -- Bhavna Dave

KAZAKHSTANI COURT FINES SUPPORTERS OF DUMA BELAVEZHA DENUNCIATION.
A number of people in Kazakhstan who staged rallies on 16-17 March in support of the Russian State Duma's resolution denouncing the Belavezha accords have been fined for organizing "unsanctioned meetings," ITAR-TASS reported on 4 April. Among those fined were Boris Godunov, chairman of the Almaty City Committee on human rights, and Petr Khalov, the chairman of the Almaty Workers' Movement. Kazakhstan's procurator-general said that calls for a restoration of the USSR contravene the republic's constitution, and instructed all oblast procurators to take legal action against such activities. As a follow up, the oblast justice administration of East Kazakhstan issued an order banning the activities of local branches of the groups Russkaya obshchina, Slavic Culture, and Lad, organizations which claim to promote the interests of the local Russian population. The Pavlodar Oblast authorities are considering the dissolution of the local Communist Party organization. -- Bhavna Dave

U.S. AMBASSADOR CALLS FOR CLOSER CENTRAL ASIAN TIES WITH NATO.
U.S. Ambassador to NATO Robert Hunter said in Almaty on 4 April that NATO wants to step up its cooperation with the former Soviet Republics in Central Asia. Reuters quoted him as saying it is in Western interests to "reach out to the countries in the region." He noted that while Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan had joined the Partnership for Peace program, none had yet sent a full-time military representative to the partnership coordination cell in Mons, Belgium. He said that he expects Kazakhstan to be the first to do so. -- Doug Clarke



BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT THREATENS TO EXPEL DIPLOMATS.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka threatened on 4 April to expel diplomats who attended mass rallies denouncing his pro-Russian policies, international media reported. Some 20,000 people demonstrated in Minsk on 2 April against the recently signed union treaty with Russia. Lukashenka also vowed to withdraw accreditations from journalists who covered the events. He said he had started "active talks" with Russian TV channels whose journalists covered the rally. "These journalists will not be working here for many more days," he said. Lukashenka added that Belarus has asked a number of countries to recall diplomats from Minsk for organizing the demonstrations. He did not name those countries but noted that, in his view, those diplomats had "violated the laws of our country." -- Jiri Pehe

UKRAINE APPROVES CRIMEAN CONSTITUTION BUT REJECTS "SEPARATIST" ARTICLES.
The Ukrainian parliament on 4 April approved the new Crimean constitution but rejected 20 articles it considers "separatist," UNIAN reported. Those articles provide for "internal Crimean citizenship" and symbols of sovereignty such as a Crimean flag, emblem, and anthem. The constitution gives Crimea an autonomous status but states that it is an "integral part of Ukraine." It was adopted in November by the Crimean parliament but had also to be approved by the Ukrainian legislature. Crimean deputies must now reconsider and resubmit the articles to Kiev for approval. Crimea, whose population is two-thirds ethnic Russian, has repeatedly threatened to break away and join Russia since Ukraine became independent in December 1991 -- Jiri Pehe

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT AMENDS MEDIA BILL.
The Lithuanian parliament on 4 April voted to allow information about the private lives of politicians to be made public, BNS reported. Article 8 was changed to read that such information can be published if it has a bearing on public life. The vote took place during debates on the media bill that started two months ago. Deputies had initially attempted to prevent the publication of details about their and other officials' private lives. Journalist criticized this stand, accusing them of trying to limit freedom of expression for the sake of protecting their own reputation. The amended article won support from all parties in the parliament. -- Dan Ionescu

ASIAN MIGRANTS END HUNGER STRIKE IN LITHUANIA.
The Foreign Ministry on 4 April announced that a group of Asian asylum-seekers who began a hunger strike three days ago have ended their protest, Reuters reported. The 44 refugees, who arrived in Lithuania via Belarus, launched their protest at a camp at Visaginas to back claims for refugee status. They had threatened to commit mass suicide if their applications were not accepted. According to U.N. officials, there are some 500 refugees stranded in Lithuania and hoping to reach the affluent Scandinavian states. -- Dan Ionescu

RUSSIAN DEPUTY PREMIER IN POLAND.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Davydov, on an official visit to Warsaw from 1-4 April, met with Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz and Foreign Trade Minister Jacek Buchacz to discuss developing bilateral trade, Polish and international media reported. Buchacz said Poland was interested in buying fighter airplanes from Russia, while Davydov said that Polish and Russian banks will help exporters in each country. The two sides also discussed waiving visas for Poles and Russians wishing to visit each other's country. Other possible areas of cooperation are the construction of a Paris-Moscow highway and a gas pipeline from the Yamal peninsula to Germany. Russia is Poland's third-largest trading partner, after Germany and Italy. -- Jakub Karpinski

PREPARATIONS FOR KWASNIEWSKI'S VISIT TO MOSCOW.
Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 4 April met with opposition party leaders to seek advice on his visit to Russia from 8-11 April. Bronislaw Gieremek, head of the Sejm International Affairs Committee, said he should present Poland's position on NATO enlargement very clearly. Before going to Moscow, Kwasniewski will visit Katyn, site of the 1940 massacre of Polish officers. -- Jakub Karpinski

EU COMMISSION CHIEF IN PRAGUE.
Jacques Santer on 4 April said negotiations with the Czech Republic and other candidates for EU membership could begin in early 1998, Czech media reported. At a seminar in Prague, Santer warned Czech politicians who have criticized aspects of the EU's functioning not to be skeptical and said that joining the EU must be based on enthusiasm for membership. He said the process of harmonizing laws with EU norms will be "long and sometimes difficult," but it must be carried out without interruptions. After meetings with President Vaclav Havel and Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, Santer praised the Czech Republic's reforms, stressing that they have taken place without causing political or social instability. -- Steve Kettle

SLOVAK OFFICIALS DEFEND LAW ON PROTECTION OF REPUBLIC.
Foreign Minister Juraj Schenk on 4 April criticized the EU for knocking the law on the protection of the republic "before it came into force." Following a meeting with three EU envoys, Schenk told TASR that he regrets that the EU expressed an opinion without first giving Slovakia the chance to make its views known, thus violating the EU association agreement. Meanwhile, Deputy Premier Jozef Kalman said pressure from EU leaders "must be considered [to represent] their point of view." New U.S. Ambassador to Slovakia Ralph Johnson, sworn in on 4 April, promised that the U.S. will closely follow developments in Slovakia and point out any deviations from the path toward integration with Western structures. -- Sharon Fisher

SLOVAK TV CONTINUES CASE AGAINST PRESIDENT'S SON.
Slovak TV (STV) on 4 April featured an interview with Ladislav Matt, a witness in the Technopol fraud, in which Michal Kovac Jr. is implicated. Matt, a former Technopol manager, said the director-general allowed him to conclude contracts that cost the firm $2.3 million. In connection with those contracts, he named Marian K., against whom Technopol filed a lawsuit one year ago, Michal Kovac Jr., and President Michal Kovac. Matt is the latest in a series of witnesses who have appeared on STV claiming that the kidnapping was a fake and giving details of Kovac Jr.'s alleged involvement in the Technopol fraud. -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARY REJECTS SLOVAK INTERPRETATION OF BASIC TREATY.
The Hungarian government on 4 April told Slovakia that the exchange of ratification documents on the bilateral treaty will not take place if Slovakia attaches its so-called "interpretation" clauses, MTI reported. State Secretary at the Foreign Ministry Istvan Szent-Ivanyi said Hungary has already informed the Slovak government of its decision. Szent-Ivanyi warned that attaching interpretation clauses is "virtually unprecedented in international law." The Slovak parliament approved an addendum last week that includes a unilateral interpretation of the Slovak-Hungarian treaty. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

HUNGARY TO PRIVATIZE ROYAL GRAND HOTEL, AMUSEMENT PARK.
Hungary is to sell Budapest's century-old Royal Grand Hotel and amusement park, Hungarian media reported on 5 April. The four-star Royal Hotel, once the biggest hotel in the Austro-Hungarian empire, is up for sale at a provisional price of $6.8 million. It has been closed since October 1991 pending renovation. Following two unsuccessful attempts to sell it, the buyer is now obliged only to preserve its facade. The amusement park, located in the City Park, is to be sold because the municipality lacks funds to modernize it. -- Zsofia Szilagyi



IFOR SAYS NO MORE FIXED CHECKPOINTS IN BOSNIA.
NATO peacekeepers have said that all fixed control posts have been removed in northwestern Bosnia around Banja Luka, Prijedor, and Bihac, and in central Bosnia around Travnik. Mobile checkpoints are still allowed, provided they do not stay in one place for more than 30 minutes, Onasa news agency reported on 4 April. It is unclear what has happened to the control posts around Mostar in Herzegovina. The Dayton treaty is quite specific about the need for freedom of movement across Bosnia, but IFOR at first said it would not do "police work," even though the international police force was greatly understaffed and unable to do its job. IFOR recently changed its position and has removed checkpoints. -- Patrick Moore

REACTIONS TO U.S. SECRETARY OF COMMERCE'S DEATH IN CROATIA.
Bosnian media responded to Ron Brown's death in a plane crash outside Dubrovnik, Croatia, on 3 April by noting he was at the center of reconstruction efforts and that it will not be easy to find someone to replace him. The Croatian government ordered flags flown at half-mast and entertainment shows canceled following the crash, in which 35 people are reported to have died. The Bosnian and Croatian prime ministers said their respective countries had lost a friend, local news agencies reported. The crash in heavy rain may have been caused by the malfunction of a rudder, which has happened before on Boeing 737s. Croatian officials said that the crash could not be blamed on air safety standards in their republic, Slobodna Dalmacija wrote on 5 April. The Serbian daily Nasa Borba said that pilot error was the most likely cause and that gunfire could be ruled out. -- Patrick Moore

KARADZIC TURNS DOWN OFFER OF ASYLUM IN MONASTERY.
Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic has declined an offer of refuge by the Serbian Orthodox Shilandar monastery on Mt. Athos, which enjoys extraterritorial status. The leadership of the church proposed that the internationally wanted war criminal become a monk there, AFP on 5 April quoted the Montenegrin weekly Monitor as saying. Karadzic, a licensed psychiatrist, said he intends to set up a private mental hospital with his wife, who is a doctor, and his daughter, who studies medicine. -- Patrick Moore

ANOTHER OPPOSITION LEADER FALLS FOUL OF SERBIAN PRESIDENT?
Zoran Djindjic, leader of the Democratic Party, appears to be the latest target of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's crackdown on the opposition. Tanjug on 3 April reported that the Belgrade District Public Prosecutor's Office has requested that an investigation be launched into Djindjic in connection with a short piece he placed in the daily Telegraf accusing Serbian government ministers of abusing their official position to buy wheat at very low prices and then sell it for a huge profit. The prosecution claims that Djindjic committed a "criminal offense against the reputation of the Republic of Serbia." -- Stefan Krause and Stan Markotich

GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER REPLIES TO SERBIAN OPPOSITION LEADER.
Klaus Kinkel, in a reply to a letter sent by Serbian Renewal Movement leader Vuk Draskovic to several foreign ministers (see OMRI Daily Digest, 27 March 1996), said the democratization of rump Yugoslavia is a precondition for its readmission into European structures, Nasa Borba reported on 4 April. He said that it was particularly important that democratic institutions be established and human and minority rights respected. Klaus also noted that Germany and its EU partners see certain developments in rump Yugoslavia as "incompatible with the obligations your country undertook within the framework of the peace and stabilization process." -- Stefan Krause

CROATIA WANTS NO REGIONAL GROUPINGS.
Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic told his visiting Albanian counterpart, Alfred Serreqi, that Croatia wants good relations with all countries in the region, including rump Yugoslavia. He stressed, however, that Zagreb does not want "any [regional] association, nor will [it] join any kind of Balkan conferences," Vecernjli list reported on 4 April. Croatia, like Slovenia, has repeatedly pointed out since 1991 that it wants nothing to do with any grouping that smacks in any way of being some kind of new Yugoslavia. Granic added that Croatia's "basic strategic goal is to join the Euro-Atlantic political and security associations." It also wants "direct relations with the EU" rather than any regional grouping, which Croatia regards as a half-way house. The two men discussed bilateral relations, with Serreqi paying "special attention to the Kosovo question." -- Patrick Moore

ROMANI ELECTION ALLIANCE FORMED IN ROMANIA.
The Roma Party of Romania announced last week that it and 11 other Romani organizations have agreed to run on joint lists in the local elections, Radio Bucharest reported on 2 April. The groups will compete as the Roma Alliance. Gheorghe Raducanu, executive chairman of the Roma Party, said that any other Romani parties who wish to join have until 9 April to do so. The local elections are expected to take place in May. -- Alaina Lemon

MOLDOVAN COURT RULES AGAINST SNEGUR.
Moldova's Constitutional Court has ruled that President Mircea Snegur's dismissal of Defense Minister Pavel Creanga last month was illegal, international agencies reported on 4 April. Under the constitution, cabinet members can be fired only by the premier or through a vote in the parliament. Snegur's legal adviser said after the court's ruling that Creanga was now "free to return to office." Creanga said the decision was a "victory of the truth." Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli commented that he thanked God that no bloodshed was caused by Snegur's decision, although "we were only inches away from it." -- Michael Shafir

ROVER CLOSES BULGARIAN PLANT.
Rover Group on 4 April announced that it will stop assembling automobiles at its Bulgarian plant, RFE/RL and Reuters reported. Rover owns a 51% stake in Rodacar, Bulgaria's only car maker. The other 49% is held by Daru Group, which has been experiencing severe financial difficulties. The plant, located in Varna, was opened less than seven months ago. Rover was the biggest foreign investor in Bulgaria outside the food sector. A Rodacar spokesman said, "We were led to believe that we could rely on government support in setting up our plant here, but that support failed to materialize." -- Stefan Krause

BULGARIAN PRIVATIZATION DEADLINE EXTENDED.
The Bulgarian parliament on 4 April voted to extend the deadline for selling privatization vouchers, RFE/RL reported. The initial deadline was 8 April, but legislators decided to extend it by one month because so far vouchers have been bought by only 18.4% of those eligible to do so. Some 1,063 companies are to privatized. Also on 4 April, Industry Minister Kliment Vuchev returned from a three-day visit to Slovenia where he signed a protocol on economic and trade cooperation. Other economic agreements with Slovenia will be signed soon, Vuchev said. -- Stefan Krause

BULGARIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN GREECE.
Georgi Pirinski, on an official visit to Athens, held talks with his Greek counterpart, Theodoros Pangalos, on 4 April, RFE/RL reported. Pirinski also met with Prime Minister Kostas Simitis, President Kostis Stephanopoulos, and Parliament President Apostolos Kaklamanis. Pirinski and Pangalos discussed the Burgas-Alexandroupolis oil pipeline, the proposed meeting of Balkan foreign ministers in Sofia, and closer economic cooperation. Pirinski said he believes Greece and Bulgaria are ready "to discuss [the pipeline] constructively." Pangalos assured Pirinski that the Greek parliament will ratify bilateral accords on the use of water from the River Mesta/Nestos and on the opening of new border crossings, which the Bulgarian parliament ratified last month. -- Stefan Krause

ALBANIAN PRESIDENT KICKS OFF ELECTION CAMPAIGN.
Sali Berisha on 4 April kicked off the parliamentary election campaign by addressing a congress of his Democratic Party, Reuters reported. Berisha urged Albanians to support the Democrats, which he called "the locomotive of the development of democracy, a market economy, and the country's integration in Europe." He said that if the Democrats win the elections, they will cut taxes and privatize banks, mines, the oil sector, hydroelectric power stations, and telecommunications within two years. -- Stefan Krause

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave






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