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Newsline - April 18, 1996


TsIK DENOUNCES MONITORING LAW.
Central Electoral Commission (TsIK) Deputy Chairman Aleksandr Ivanchenko denounced the law on election monitoring that the Duma passed on 17 April, saying that if it is approved by the upper house and signed by the president, "it will disorganize the presidential campaign," NTV reported. He rejected the possibility of falsification, arguing that politicians only use this term when "they feel their chances of winning are not great." The TsIK has consistently rebuffed any attempts to increase societal oversight of its activities, fanning already deeply-ingrained suspicion about its work. The Supreme Court announced on 17 April that it would reinstate its decision to force the TsIK to register the candidacy of Duma member Vladimir Bryntsalov. Ivanchenko also announced that the TsIK would investigate the Yeltsin and Zyuganov campaigns because they are allegedly breaking the law by using state workers to seek votes. -- Robert Orttung

DUMA SEEKS INVESTIGATION OF PARTISAN MILITARY UNITS.
The Duma on 17 April asked the procurator general to look into reports that some political parties have created armed units, NTV reported. Russia's Democratic Choice member Sergei Yushenkov pressed for the inquiry, citing Russian media reports that the Communist Party has 200 armed fighters. Moskovskii komsomolets on 12 April reported that the Communists have 2,000 fighters in Moscow and other forces available outside the capital. -- Robert Orttung

YELTSIN COURTS COSSACKS.
Declaring that Cossacks "will defend the borders and interest of Russia" as in Tsarist times, President Yeltsin on 17 April revealed that he had signed decrees to strengthen the legal provisions for their revival, ITAR-TASS reported. Speaking to a resident of Budennovsk, the site of last year's terrorist attack by Chechen separatists, Yeltsin noted that 300,000 Cossacks live in the North Caucasus. One of the decrees deals with Cossack participation in the civil service, and especially in the Federal Border Guard Service. Another deals with the economic and other benefits that would reward such service, such as free plots of land in border areas, interest-free loans, and tax benefits. -- Doug Clarke

MORE NEGATIVE MEDIA COVERAGE OF ZYUGANOV.
As Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov campaigned in the large Urals city of Chelyabinsk on 17 April, coverage on both NTV and Russian TV called attention to the fact that Zyuganov was turned away from speaking at a factory where Yeltsin recently appeared. However, neither network reported the allegations of local Communists, carried by Reuters, that the factory officials were under pressure from Yeltsin's camp not to receive Zyuganov because they are seeking tax breaks. Few excerpts from Zyuganov's speeches in Chelyabinsk were shown on television, while Yeltsin's visit to Budennovsk on the same day was given extensive coverage. Almost all Moscow-based newspapers reveal an anti-communist bias in election coverage as well, with the exception of openly opposition newspapers such as Sovetskaya Rossiya, Pravda, and Zavtra. -- Laura Belin

SVERDLOVSK RESULTS GOOD OR BAD NEWS FOR YELTSIN?
Most Russian commentators viewed the results of the 14 April regional elections in Sverdlovsk Oblast as good news for President Yeltsin, since parties whose leaders back Yeltsin's re-election won a combined total of almost 50% of the vote to 15% for the Communist Party (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 April 1996). However, a Russian TV commentary broadcast on 17 April suggested that the level of support for the Communists was surprisingly high, given that Sverdlovsk voters have traditionally been "cool" toward the party. The latest VCIOM nationwide poll shows Yeltsin with 18% support to Communist Party leader Zyuganov's 26%. In a hypothetical second round, 28% of respondents said they would back Yeltsin and 29% Zyuganov. However, 40% of those surveyed believe Yeltsin will win the elections, while just 23% believe Zyuganov will win. -- Laura Belin

TURKEY, MOROCCO ON CHECHNYA MEDIATION.
Ankara has played down a suggestion from Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev that it help broker peace in Chechnya's struggle with Moscow, Reuters reported on 17 April. A spokesman for the Turkish Foreign Ministry said Ankara had received "no official information" on the mediation offer and would not adopt a position based on news reports, the Turkish Daily News reported the following day. In response to an earlier suggestion by Yeltsin, Morocco has declared its readiness to act as a mediator, AFP reported on 17 April. Meanwhile, Federation Council Chairman Yegor Stroev discussed Chechnya and Caspian Sea oil with Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz in Istanbul on 15 April, Turkish and Russian media reported. Stroev said he does not think Turkish President Suleyman Demirel will be "interfering" in the Chechen peace negotiations "as Dudaev wants him to." -- Lowell Bezanis

HUMAN RIGHTS ADVOCATE BLASTS WEST ON CHECHNYA.
The well-known human rights campaigner Sergei Kovalev accused the West of deliberately ignoring human rights violations in Chechnya in order to help President Yeltsin gain re-election, Reuters reported on 17 April. Kovalev, in Geneva to address the UN Human Rights Commission, expressed dismay with the West's "pragmatic" policy on Chechnya, which he said is motivated by fear that Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov might become president. He characterized this position as misguided, describing the outlook for human rights in Russia as equally "gloomy" whether Yeltsin or Zyuganov wins. Meanwhile, journalists, politicians, and war critics gathered in Moscow on 17 April at the funeral of Obshchaya gazeta correspondent Nadezhda Chaikova, the 16th journalist killed in Chechnya since fighting began in December 1994, Russian media reported. -- Scott Parrish and Laura Belin

DUMA DENOUNCES ARREST OF AZERBAIJANI OPPOSITION FIGURES.
The State Duma adopted a resolution by a vote of 346-0 with one abstention calling on the government not to extradite former Azerbaijani President Ayaz Mutalibov, Russian and Western agencies reported on 17 April. Former Azerbaijani Defense Minister Rahim Gaziev, also recently arrested in Moscow, has already been returned to Baku. The resolution, sponsored by Popular Power faction leader Sergei Baburin, asked the procurator general to refuse extradition requests aimed at punishing individuals for their political beliefs. The same day, the Duma also passed a resolution, sponsored by ultranationalist Vladimir Zhirinovsky, urging the government to reconsider Russia's adherence to UN economic sanctions against Libya. While the Duma often passes such resolutions, they are non-binding and have only indirect impact on official government policy. -- Scott Parrish

PENSIONS RAISED, BUT PENSION FUND HEAD UNHAPPY.
In line with a recommendation by President Yeltsin, the Duma voted on 17 April to raise the minimum pension by 10% on 1 May to 69,575 rubles ($14) a month, ITAR-TASS reported. The deputies, who had earlier sought a 20% increase, approved the smaller raise two days after Yeltsin hiked the compensation payments that pensioners receive along with their pensions (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 April 1996). Those on the minimum pension will now receive a total of 219,575 rubles in May, up from 138,250. Those on an average pension will receive about 350,000. Funding these increases will, however, pose problems for the Pension Fund. Its head, Vasilii Barchuk, was clearly unhappy about the decisions, saying on 16 April that he anticipated problems in meeting the fund's obligations in May. -- Penny Morvant

DUMA PASSES LAND CODE IN SECOND READING.
The Duma voted on 17 April by 270-23 with three abstentions to pass the Russian Federation Land Code in the second reading, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill, which stresses the importance of land as a natural resource and means of production, provides for various forms of leasing arable land but excludes the possibility of its sale. Aleksandr Kotenkov, Yeltsin's representative in the Duma, condemned the draft, arguing that it contradicts Russian citizens' constitutional right to own land, and indicated that the president would refuse to sign such a version, NTV reported. The Land Code was passed in the first reading on 14 July 1995. A large section of the Civil Code cannot be implemented until the parliament approves a law on land. -- Penny Morvant

NUCLEAR MINISTRY'S MILITARY PRODUCTION DROPS BY 30% IN 1995 AS CONVERSION PROCEEDS.
The implementation of conversion programs resulted in a 30% drop in the military output of companies whose activities are regulated by the Nuclear Energy Ministry, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 April. Due to a lack of federal funding, the ministry's conversion program was largely financed from the industry's $2.5 billion export revenue, especially in such areas as micro-electronics, medical and electronic equipment manufacturing, and optical cables. Of this sum, the ministry has allocated 400 billion rubles ($87.7 million) to security research at nuclear power stations. -- Natalia Gurushina

RUSSIANS DO NOT TRUST NEW $100 BILLS.
Russians are not eager to change their old $100 notes for the new ones, according to a survey published in Izvestiya on 17 April. Some are unwilling to pay the 2% commission (although in practice many banks charge a lower rate), others are put off by the non-appealing portrait of Benjamin Franklin with a "hard stare and contemptuously pursed lips." Russian experts also claim that the new $100 note looks like a black and white photocopy. Also, forged currency detectors used in Russian banks and currency exchange booths are often unable to detect the magnetic strips on the new bills. An additional problem is that many banks in other CIS countries and shop-keepers in countries popular with Russian shuttle-traders ("chelnoki"), such as Turkey, are refusing to accept the new bills. -- Natalia Gurushina

FUEL AND ENERGY COMPLEX'S DEBT TO THE BUDGET TOPPED $5.7 BILLION IN 1995.
Fuel and Energy Deputy Minister Anatolii Kozyrev said the industry's debt to the 1995 consolidated budget was 26 trillion rubles ($5.7 billion), compared with the 65 trillion rubles transferred to the budget that year, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 April. The major reason behind this was customers' non-payments to fuel and energy companies, which reached 105 trillion rubles in 1995. The sector itself owes more than 127 trillion rubles to other industries. Kozyrev also noted that because of non-payments by customers, fuel and energy companies lost 15 trillion rubles in profits over the year. As a result, 24% of the enterprises in the sector were run with losses totaling more than 2 trillion rubles. -- Natalia Gurushina



ANOTHER FORMER LEADING AZERBAIJANI OFFICIAL ARRESTED.
Former Azerbaijan Prime Minister Panah Guseinov was arrested on charges of treason during the night of 16-17 April, Turan reported on 17 April. Guseinov's resignation was one of the first demands made by rebel Colonel Suret Huseinov at the time of the June 1993 coup that led to the ouster of President Abulfaz Elchibey. -- Liz Fuller

GEORGIAN PARLIAMENT ISSUES ULTIMATUM OVER RUSSIAN PEACEKEEPERS.
In an emergency debate on 17 April, the Georgian parliament adopted a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Russian peacekeeping forces from the border between Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia unless their mandate is expanded within the next two months to enable them to protect ethnic Georgian refugees wishing to return to their homes, AFP and Russian media reported. -- Liz Fuller

RFE/RL OPENS TASHKENT BUREAU.
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty announced on 17 April that it had opened a news bureau in Tashkent in a ceremony attended by Uzbek President Islam Karimov, diplomatic dignitaries, and RFE/RL directors. The opening of the bureau comes more than two years after Karimov originally agreed to it; an increasingly tight information policy in Uzbekistan, which outside observers been attributed to the conflict in Tajikistan, is believed to have delayed the government's willingness to follow through on the original agreement. RFE/RL already has a bureau in Bishkek, and Turkmenistan has also signaled its willingness to permit the opening of a bureau in Ashgabat. -- Lowell Bezanis

TAJIKISTAN'S INTERIOR MINISTER NEW CIS TOP COP.
Tajikistan's recently designated interior minister, Sayidamir Zuhurov, was elected chairman of the CIS Interior Minister's Council at a meeting in Dushanbe on 17 April, RFE/RL reported the same day. In a statement to RFE/RL, Zuhurov was upbeat about the implementation of proposals to coordinate efforts against organized crime and weapons and drugs smuggling. -- Lowell Bezanis

KAZAKHSTAN TO INCREASE OIL EXPORTS.
The joint Kazakhstani-U.S. enterprise Tengizshvroil will now be able to export a significantly greater amount of oil through Russian territory every year following an agreement reached between the relevant parties in Russia and Kazakhstan, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 April. Kazakhstan will now be able to export about 4-5 metric tons of oil and gas condensates a year through the Atyrau-Samara pipeline and through the Russian oil company Transneft's system to Europe, which will bring in an extra $450 million. Tengizchevroil's quota of 1 million metric tons of oil and gas a year had forced it to constrain its oil extraction in the Tengiz oil fields due to a lack of other pipelines to export oil. Kazakhstan's oil output increased by 23% in the first quarter of this year. The Kazakhstani government has sold half of its 50% share in Tengizchevroil to Mobil, whereas Chevron retains its 50% share, the Financial Times reported on 18 April.-- Bhavna Dave



BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT DOES NOT SIGN STATE BUDGET.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka has not signed the budget passed by parliament for 1996, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 April. A parliamentary commission for budget, taxation, banking, and finances met to examine Lukashenka's proposed changes to the budget. Lukashenka opposed articles that exempted collective and state farm profits from taxation, claiming this would decrease state budget revenues. Lukashenka also criticized the state budget for more than doubling the parliament's budget and raising the tax rate from 10% to 12%. He also disapproved of parliament's rejection of article 30 that allowed the president to decide his own expenditures within the limits of the budget deficit. The commission will now report back to the parliament, which may still pass the original budget with a two-thirds vote, draw up a new budget, or accept the president's recommendations. -- Ustina Markus

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT DEMOTES FORMER INTERIOR MINISTER.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka issued a decree demoting former Interior Minister Yurii Zakharenka for gross financial improprieties and negligence of duties, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 April. The decree was issued after an investigation revealed that 8.9 billion Belarusian rubles (over $700,000) from the ministry's budget was used to renovate interior ministry hotels after Zakharenka became head of the organization. Lukashenka's decree also charged Zakharenka with "not taking appropriate actions in the fight against crime in the republic." Zakharenka was demoted to the rank of colonel and dismissed from the Interior Ministry. -- Ustina Markus

UKRAINIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES CONSTITUTION.
Ukraine's parliament began debating the draft constitution on 17 April, ITAR-TASS reported. At the end of the session, parliament decided that the draft did not correspond to the principles of Ukraine's 1990 Declaration of Sovereignty.
Western agencies reported that two-thirds of the draft constitution were agreed upon by the majority of deputies, including articles on the president, elections, and government. Communist deputies continue to oppose many articles and to submit proposals to enhance the power of the legislature. The deadline for adopting a new constitution is 8 June, when the one-year constitutional treaty expires. -- Ustina Markus

STRIKES IN DONETSK.
A coal miners' strike in Donetsk is expanding, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 April. The strike, which began at the beginning of the month, now involves 16 mines and 2,000 miners. An unsanctioned meeting on the miners' situation in Toreze took place on 17 April with 3,000 participants. Nonpayment of wages instigated the strike; some miners have not been paid since last September. A massive strike involving hundreds of thousands of miners last winter led to an energy crisis. -- Ustina Markus

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT PASSES LOCAL ELECTIONS LAW.
The Estonian parliament on 17 April passed a new law on local elections that will be held on 20 October, BNS reported. Only citizens of Estonia are allowed to run in the elections, but non-citizens who have lived in the respective municipality for at least five years and have a permanent residence permit will be allowed to vote if they are not in the service of a foreign government. -- Saulius Girnius

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL IN ESTONIA, LATVIA.
Javier Solana flew from Vilnius to Tallinn on 16 April for meetings with President Lennart Meri, Prime Minister Tiit Vahi, and other ministers. Solana stressed that the decision on NATO's eastward expansion would not be influenced by resistance from Russia. The next day he went to Riga where, after talks with leading officials, he said that no decision has yet been made on NATO accepting the Baltic states as new members. He noted, however, that NATO did not want any "gray zones" in European security and that the decision on granting the eleven applicant countries membership would be made at the end of the year, Western agencies reported. -- Saulius Girnius

CZECH PRESIDENT VISITS LITHUANIA.
Vaclav Havel and Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas on 17 April witnessed the signing of a memorandum on liberalizing bilateral trade and an agreement on cooperation in education and science, Radio Lithuania reported. A free-trade agreement was not signed because the Lithuanian Agriculture Ministry opposed the Czech proposal to abolish import duties on food within two years. Havel also met with Prime Minister Mindaugas Stankevicius and Parliament Chairman Ceslovas Jursenas. He was granted an honorary doctorate from the University of Vilnius. On 18 April he is scheduled to travel to Kaunas before departing for Tallinn later in the day. -- Saulius Girnius

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL IN WARSAW.
After visiting the Baltic states, Javier Solana arrived in Poland on 17 April. Solana reiterated that NATO will indeed enlarge, but no dates have been specified and no countries named for the first round of expansion. "NATO has very good bilateral relations with Poland, and we very much hope to expand on these relations in the future," said Solana. Dialogues between NATO and the countries willing to become NATO members will take place throughout 1996. Solana thanked Poland for its participation in the peace-keeping mission in Bosnia-Herzegovina. Solana also met with the Polish Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, but refused to reveal any details on the confidential meeting. -- Jakub Karpinski

POLISH STATE TRIBUNAL BEGINS TRIALS.
The State Tribunal, a body empowered to judge high state functionaries, began its proceedings on 17 April. The defendants are five ministers who held their posts between 1989-1990, including the then Internal Affairs Minister Czeslaw Kiszczak. They are accused of diminishing state tax and custom revenues by allowing the unregulated and illegal import of alcohol and alcoholic beverages. The State Tribunal existed in pre-war Poland and was reestablished in 1982 by Gen. Wojciech Jaruzelski, former First Secretary of the Communist Party. This is the first trial before the State Tribunal since its re-establishment. -- Jakub Karpinski

CZECH PARLIAMENT LEADERS FAIL TO RESOLVE DIFFERENCES.
The leaders of the parliamentary caucuses on 17 April failed to agree on the agenda for the last session of the Czech legislature before the parliamentary elections scheduled for 31 May and 1 June, Czech media reported. The session failed to get under way on 16 April when deputies could not agree on the agenda (see OMRI Daily Digest 17 April 1996). Some 70 draft laws and amendments were to be approved at the session, including the constitutional amendments on the Czech-Slovak border and on subdividing the country into regions. A main point of contention is a draft law on ombudsman, which virtually all parties support except Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party (ODS). ODS leaders have said that introducing ombudsman into the Czech constitutional system would weaken their party's power. The chances of holding the session are now minimal. -- Jiri Pehe

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER IN PRAGUE.
John Major arrived in Prague on 17 April, where he met with Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus and members of his cabinet, Czech media reported. Major expressed support for the Czech Republic's admission into NATO and the EU. Major argued that political and economic preparedness should be the admission criteria for all countries applying for NATO and EU membership. In a press conference after the meeting, Klaus denied reports which claimed Major's visit was intended to lend support to Klaus before the upcoming parliamentary elections. -- Jiri Pehe

SLOVAK PRESIDENT'S SON DENIES HE STAGED OWN KIDNAPPING.
Michal Kovac jr. on 17 April said accusations that he staged his own abduction to Austria last August were "a deception against the public," Narodna obroda reported. Police investigator, Jozef Ciz, told Slovak TV two days earlier that three witnesses confirmed Kovac had planned and carried out a fake kidnapping. Two investigators before Ciz were removed from the case after saying they found evidence that the Slovak secret service was involved in the kidnapping. Slovak TV officials granted Kovac his request for airtime in order to reply to Ciz. Former Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner, head of an independent commission investigating the affair, said a Slovak TV report, which stated that his commission had established that the sacked investigators had falsified testimony, was itself "absolutely false" and he accused the company of "conscious or unconscious disinformation." -- Steve Kettle

HUNGARIAN RADIO, TV ON BRINK OF BANKRUPTCY.
The managements of Hungarian Radio and TV are preparing for drastic austerity measures as the institutions have reached virtual bankruptcy, Hungarian dailies reported on 18 April. While consultations are taking place with the Prime Minister's Office, Hungarian Radio and TV Board Chairman Mihaly Tamas Revesz said on 17 April that a total of 4.5 billion forints ($30 million) in "fast aid" would be justifiable for Hungarian Radio, Hungarian TV, and the TV satellite channel, Duna TV. Hungarian Radio's financial data reveal that the institution faces a 800 million forint debt, while its deficit could reach 3 billion forints by the end of 1996. State subsidies only cover 5% of the radio's expenditures, and not more than half of its funds come from advertisers and sponsors. -- Zsofia Szilagyi



GULF STATES CONTRIBUTE $100 MILLION TO BOSNIAN ARMY.
Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait have pledged a total of $100 million to help train and equip the Bosnian military, AFP reported on 18 April. The pledges were collected by White House aide Thomas "Mack" McClarty on a recent trip to the region, despite European objections. The Arabs had been reluctant to provide funds lest some go to the Croats, but Bosnian envoy Muhamed Sacirbey accompanied McClarty and told the Arabs that there is no alternative to the Croat-Muslim alliance. U.S. President Bill Clinton said he was "deeply gratified by the generosity and understanding" of the Gulf states, a spokesman noted. The Dayton agreement calls for greater military parity between the Croatian and Muslim allies on the one hand and the Serbs on the other, as a deterrent against future aggression. The latest move comes against the background of a U.S. election-year imbroglio over what the White House allegedly knew about Iranian arms deliveries to Bosnia during the war, international media noted. -- Patrick Moore

BOSNIAN DEMOBILIZATION DEADLINE NEARS.
NATO forces in Bosnia are preparing for the next military deadline, which is slated to pass at midnight on 18 April. This will be 120 days after the Dayton agreement was signed and is the deadline for all armies to demobilize their reserves, move their regular forces into barracks, and store their heavy weapons, Onasa reported. IFOR officials told the BBC that they do not expect complete compliance immediately, but feel that all sides are showing good will. One NATO officer said that this is one of the biggest demobilization projects in recent history. IFOR also noted that a shipment of mine detectors is scheduled to arrive on 22 April to help deal with the estimated three million land mines across the country, Onasa added. -- Patrick Moore

BOSNIAN VICE PRESIDENT URGES CROATS TO STAY.
Ejup Ganic told the Croatian daily Vecernji list on 17 April that Muslims and Croats have the same long-term interests and no alternative but to be allies. He urged Croats to remain in Bosnia, an apparent reference to the fact that Croats in some central Bosnian areas under Muslim control have been leaving for Croatian-held regions and for Croatia proper. The same daily on 18 April drew attention to the now decimated Croatian community of Stup near Sarajevo, which wants its Croatian identity affirmed. Croats have lived in central Bosnia since the Middle Ages and boast historic churches and monasteries there, but they lost much land to the Muslims in the internecine war of 1993. They claim that Muslim authorities still discriminate against them despite the Croat-Muslim alliance and that the Muslims often bar Croatian refugees from going home. Bosnian Cardinal Vinko Puljic said that equality is the key to Bosnia's survival, Onasa on 17 April. -- Patrick Moore

GERMANY TO RECOGNIZE RUMP-YUGOSLAVIA.
The German government at a meeting on 17 April concluded that it is ready to recognize rump Yugoslavia as one of the successor states to Yugoslavia, Nasa Borba reported on 18 April. The formal agreement on establishing full diplomatic relations will be presented by a German representative to Belgrade on 18 April. German Interior Minister Manfred Kanther's proposal that recognition would come only when Belgrade agreed to take back 120,000 refugees, including a large number of Kosovo Albanians, was rejected by the German cabinet, the Czech daily Mlada fronta Dnes reported on 18 April. -- Fabian Schmidt

CROATIAN JOURNALISTS CALL FOR PRESS FREEDOM.
The Croatian Journalistic Society and the NGO "Club of Rome" have listed eight demands to ensure that journalists can carry out their work on a professional basis, Novi list reported on 17 April. Their measures include a call for an early court decision on the constitutionality of the new libel law, which is widely seen as an attempt to muzzle criticism of top officials. Three additional points deal with the dailies Novi list and Slobodna Dalmacija, which the journalists say have been the victims of legal manipulation by the governing party. They also demand that electronic media licenses be granted on a clearly defined basis, and that state radio and TV become a publicly owned institution. -- Patrick Moore

ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT APPROVES 1996 BUDGET.
A joint session of Romania's two chamber parliament on 17 April approved the 1996 state budget. The vote was 245 in favor, 168 against. The budget includes a planned deficit amounting to 3.45% of the Gross Domestic Product. The former members of the ruling coalition, the Greater Romania Party and the Socialist Labor Party, voted in favor of the budget. Had they failed to do so, the budget law would not have passed due to votes against it from main opposition parties, Romanian media reported on 17-18 April. -- Michael Shafir

OPINION POLL SHOWS ILIESCU, PSDR LEADING.
A poll conducted from 3-10 April, with a representative sample of 1,114 persons, shows incumbent President Ion Iliescu and the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) leading in presidential and parliamentary election races. The poll was conducted by the Center of Urban and Regional Sociology and was published in the daily Romania libera on 18 April. Iliescu leads the presidential race with 35% of the support, followed by the Democratic Convention of Romania's (CDR) candidate, Emil Constantinescu, who received 19%; Petre Roman, the Social Democratic Union's (USD) candidate, however, is rapidly closing the gap with 15%. Observers now do not rule out the possibility of an Iliescu-Roman race in the second round of the presidential elections. In the parliamentary race, the PDSR is backed by 32%, the CDR by 27% and the USD by 13%. -- Michael Shafir

REPRESENTATIVE OF BULGARIAN CORPORATION COMMITS SUICIDE IN SKOPJE .
Ivo Jancev, the representative of the Bulgarian corporation Multigroup, was found dead in a hotel in Skopje on 12 April, Nova Makedonija reported on 18 April. According to Bulgarian media, Jancev's body did not show any signs of struggle and investigators concluded that Jancev committed suicide. Jancev, who previously worked for the Bulgarian secret service, was buried on 14 April. Demokratsiya on 18 April ran a story, where former secret service colleagues allege that Janev was assassinated. Following the assassination attempt on Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov in October 1995, unconfirmed reports in the Macedonian and Bulgarian press drew a connection between Multigroup and the attack. No evidence was produced and Jancev strongly denied the allegations. -- Ismije Beshiri and Fabian Schmidt

BULGARIAN TSAR MAY VISIT HIS COUNTRY.
The Bulgarian Foreign Ministry said on 17 April that former Tsar Simeon II will be allowed to visit Bulgaria, international media reported the same day. Simeon II was forced by communist leaders to leave the country in 1946. The official announcement requested Simeon II to pledge that he "respects the Bulgarian constitution and the results of the 1946 referendum" which abolished the monarchy. The Foreign Ministry denied allegations that it was delaying an extension of the Tsar's identity card to prevent him from entering the country. Simeon II lives in Spain. He is planning to visit Bulgaria on 25 May. -- Fabian Schmidt

LATE ALBANIAN COMMUNIST DICTATOR'S SON RELEASED FROM PRISON.
Enver Hoxha's son Ilir was released from prison on 17 April, local media reported. Hoxha was accused on 8 June 1995 of "inciting national hatred and endangering public peace, by calling for hatred against parts of the population" and "calling for vengeance." In an interview he gave to the newspaper Modeste he had called the current Albanian leadership a "pack of vandals" and "dark forces". He was also quoted as saying during his trial that "The day will come when all those who have betrayed my father will have to answer for their actions." After his release he claimed he wanted to protect the memory of his father. Enver Hoxha ruled Albania from 1945 until 1985. His wife, Nexhmije, is serving a jail term for abuse of power. -- Fabian Schmidt

MORE ALBANIAN CANDIDATES BANNED FROM RUNNING IN ELECTIONS.
Another ten Socialist candidates have been banned from running in the upcoming elections on 26 May by a government commission screening for past communist involvement, Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 18 April. The total number of candidates excluded is now 63. The commission was created to settle a dispute over two laws - the "verification law" and so-called "Genocide law." The ruling Democratic Party argues that both laws are designed to prevent former high communist officials and former secret police spies from holding public office, but the opposition maintains they are designed to weaken the parliamentary opposition. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Deborah Michaels















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