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Newsline - April 30, 1996


CHECHNYA: WHO'S IN CHARGE?
Although the Chechen constitution stipulates that parliament chairman Yakhyat Idigov should take over as acting president following the still unconfirmed killing of Zelimkhan Yandarbiev, the various Chechen field commanders object to this, according to Russian TV (RTR). Chechen military intelligence chief Abu Movsayev told Turan on 29 April that Moscow plans to eliminate the entire pro-Dudaev Chechen political leadership. The secretary of the Russian government commission to implement President Yeltsin's peace plan, former Federal Security Service head Sergei Stepashin, told ITAR-TASS that military commander Shamil Basaev is a "highly undesirable" negotiating partner. The widow of slain President Dzhokhar Dudaev appealed to Turkish President Suleyman Demirel on 29 April for support in launching a new Chechen peace initiative, AFP and Zaman reported on 30 April. Also on 29 April, the Russian military extended for 48 hours its ultimatum to rebel Chechen forces to leave the besieged town of Shali, ITAR-TASS reported on 30 April. -- Liz Fuller

YELTSIN TO HOLD CONSULTATIONS WITH RIVALS.
Presidential aide Georgii Satarov told ITAR-TASS on 29 April that President Yeltsin will hold a series of consultations in response to the appeal by 13 leading bankers and entrepreneurs for a "political compromise" before the June presidential election. Satarov said representatives of Gennadii Zyuganov's Communist Party of the Russian Federation will be invited to take part in the consultations. Meanwhile, in an interview with the French newspaper Le Figaro, reprinted in Rossiiskie vesti on 30 April, Yeltsin warned that ideas advocated by Zyuganov's party present a threat to "Russia, Russians, and the international community," and that a Communist electoral victory would bring back the "iron curtain." -- Laura Belin

ZYUGANOV CHALLENGES YELTSIN TO LIVE DEBATE.
In response to the 13 entrepreneurs who published a recent appeal for a political compromise, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov released an open letter challenging President Yeltsin to a live television debate on the most important issues facing Russia. In the letter, published in Sovetskaya Rossiya on 30 April, Zyuganov also called for three measures to strengthen political stability: amending the constitution to reduce the president's "extraordinary" powers; increasing the authority of the parliament to oversee the government's actions; and holding direct elections of all heads of local administrations after the presidential election. -- Laura Belin

BEREZOVSKII CALLS FOR DELAY OF ELECTIONS.
Logovaz Director Boris Berezovskii, who is also deputy chairman of the board of Russian Public TV (ORT), told RFE/RL on 29 April that the June presidential election should be delayed or canceled, and President Yeltsin should invite Gennadii Zyuganov to join the government instead. Berezovskii signed the recent appeal of 13 entrepreneurs warning that Russian society is deeply split and the presidential election could lead to civil war. In March 1995, he was among those who called for postponing State Duma election, scheduled for December 1995, until 1997, but that vote was held on time. -- Laura Belin

CAMPAIGN IN PRESS BEGINS.
The officially registered presidential candidates were allowed to start publishing campaign materials in the press on 29 April, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. Candidates will not be given free space for advertisements, but they may buy up to 10% of the volume of any publication, as long as the advertisement clearly indicates in whose interest the space was purchased. All registered parties and candidates were given free column space in state-owned or municipal newspapers before the December parliamentary elections, but most papers were never reimbursed by the Central Electoral Commission for printing costs. Campaigning on radio and television will begin on 14 May, and the last day for campaigning in the press or electronic media will be 14 June. -- Laura Belin

FILATOV, SOBCHAK TRADE ENDORSEMENTS.
Appearing at a St. Petersburg congress of President Boris Yeltsin's supporters, top campaign aide Sergei Filatov said Yeltsin supports current Mayor Anatolii Sobchak in the upcoming St. Petersburg gubernatorial election, while Sobchak said he will vote for Yeltsin, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 April. The St. Petersburg vote was initially scheduled for 16 June, the same day as the first round of the presidential election, but a March presidential decree moved the date to 19 May (see OMRI Daily Digest, 21 March 1996). The president's camp may have feared that a higher turnout in St. Petersburg, a stronghold for Yabloko, would benefit Grigorii Yavlinskii in the presidential race. The mayoral election in Moscow, where Yeltsin is more popular than in St. Petersburg, is scheduled for 16 June. -- Laura Belin

TATARSTAN TV WORKERS PROTEST CENSORSHIP.
Fifteen employees of the state-owned Tatarstan TV station began a two-day hunger strike on 26 April in protest against the company's "conservative" methods, saying they are reminiscent of the "period of stagnation," ITAR-TASS reported. In an interview with Ekho Moskvy, one of the protesters claimed that the company's management is practicing censorship by canceling all programs that feature people or views not to the liking of the authorities. On 12 March, a group of editors and producers published a statement in the local press and sent a letter to Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev expressing their dissatisfaction with the management style. Subsequently, the authors were threatened with dismissal and "a repressive regime" was instituted against them. Tatarstan TV is widely regarded as one of the most tightly controlled regional TV networks, consistently following a pro-Shaimiev and pro-Yeltsin line. -- Penny Morvant

U.S. HIKES VISA FEES FOR RUSSIANS.
The U.S. Embassy in Moscow announced an increase in visa fees for Russian applicants in retaliation for recent Russian hikes in visa charges for Americans, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 April. Starting on 1 May, a multiple-entry U.S. visa valid for one year will cost $150, while a three-year multiple-entry visa will cost $450. Similar visas had previously cost $60 and $120 respectively. Single-entry one-year visas, which had cost $20, will no longer be available. Embassy spokesmen acknowledged that the increased fees would be very expensive for average Russians, but said that U.S. law required visa fees match those of other countries. The U.S. fees could be lowered if Russia reduces its charges, they added. -- Scott Parrish

JAPAN, RUSSIA SIGN DEFENSE AGREEMENT.
Japanese Defense Agency Director-General Hideo Usui and his Russian counterpart, Pavel Grachev, signed a military cooperation protocol in Moscow on 29 April, Russian and Western agencies reported. The agreement calls for advance notice of military exercises, and also provides for exchanges of information, training missions, and naval port visits. Usui, the first Japanese defense chief to visit Russia since World War II, also met with Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov to discuss bilateral relations and Asia-Pacific security. Usui told ITAR-TASS he viewed his visit as "productive," and hoped that the establishment of personal contacts with his Russian colleagues would boost bilateral ties. A member of Usui's delegation suggested that Japan is considering purchasing advanced fighter technology from Russia, and is "particularly interested" in the SU-27. -- Scott Parrish

RUSSIA PROTESTS EXCLUSION FROM LEBANON MONITORING FORCE.
The Russian Foreign Ministry criticized the omission of Russia from the multilateral force that will monitor the recently-concluded ceasefire in southern Lebanon, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 April. The ministry argued that Russia's exclusion demonstrates a "clear underestimation" of Russian efforts in the region and its role as a co-sponsor of the Middle East peace process. It added that Russia had made a "weighty contribution" to hammering out the ceasefire, and would fully support its implementation. However, it noted that Russia views the agreement as merely temporary, and hopes that full-fledged talks will resume soon, with the goal of restoring Lebanon's territorial integrity and securing a stable regional peace. Moscow's attempts to use the recent crisis to regain a significant role in the region have so far proven fruitless. -- Scott Parrish

ENERGY WORKERS PROTEST IN KOMI AND PRIMORE.
Energy workers in Komi, who last received their wages in December, are cutting back power supplies to consumers who have failed to pay their bills, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 April. Komienergo is owed more than 1 trillion rubles ($203 million) by consumers and cannot afford to pay its workers or purchase fuel. Meanwhile, about 1,000 employees of the Vladivostok power plant demonstrated outside the Primorskii Krai government building to protest wage arrears, Russian TV (RTR) reported. The power company Dalenergo is also owed 1 trillion rubles, much it from the military and the defense industry. The perpetual payments crisis in the energy sector has resulted in frequent power cuts in the krai. -- Penny Morvant

"GENERAL DIMA" GOES ON TRIAL.
The trial of controversial lawyer Dmitrii Yakubovskii, charged with involvement in the theft of valuable ancient manuscripts from the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg, opened in the city on 29 April, ITAR-TASS reported. Yakubovskii, or "General Dima" as he is often called, was arrested on 20 December 1994 and has been held in the Kresty pre-trial detention center. In 1993, Yakubovskii helped gather evidence against Yeltsin's political rivals, including then Vice President Aleksandr Rutskoi. He was also involved in investigating corruption in the Western Group of Forces stationed in eastern Germany. The trial was adjourned until 13 May to give Yakubovskii time to read the 33 volumes of case files. -- Penny Morvant

ADVISER TO ST. PETERSBURG MAYOR INJURED IN ACID ATTACK.
Aleksandr Yurev, head of the political psychology faculty of St. Petersburg University, was hospitalized on 29 April after a masked man threw acid in his face, NTV reported. The attack occurred at Yurev's home, when the professor, expecting students, opened his front door. Yurev, an adviser to St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, had been working on the latter's campaign for the gubernatorial election scheduled for 19 May. He also served occasionally as an adviser to Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. A member of the government apparatus quoted by ITAR-TASS ruled out any link between the attack on Yurev and the murder of Chernomyrdin's personal physician on 26 April. -- Penny Morvant

ARMY HOUSING SHORTAGE CONTINUES.
Deputy Defense Minister Col. Gen. Anatolii Solomatin said on 26 April that 117,400 army personnel are without housing because of a lack of funds, ITAR-TASS reported. Another 58,000 army families are in need of better housing, while 152,000 soldiers in the reserve are on the waiting list. Solomatin said that the state military housing program for 1996-1997, which envisages the construction of 50,000 apartments, will not fully resolve the problem and that in the first quarter of this year the program received only half the funds originally planned. Feeding the army also continues to be a problem. Rear Forces Col. Gen. Vladimir Churanov told the Duma on 27 April that the army had used up 40% of its emergency food rations, Russian TV (RTR) reported. -- Penny Morvant

PROBLEMS FUNDING NEW TEXTBOOKS.
Education Minister Yevgenii Tkachenko told ITAR-TASS on 29 April that his ministry will spend 500 billion rubles ($100 million) on 100 million new textbooks by the start of the next school year. However, so far the Finance Ministry has only released 100 billion rubles, so Tkachenko's ministry has taken a three month, 170 million ruble loan from three commercial banks in order to keep to the printing schedule. -- Peter Rutland



CHINA, CENTRAL ASIANS JOIN FORCES.
China has reached an understanding with Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and unspecified "others" to combat separatist, terrorist, and fundamentalist activities, Reuters reported on 29 April. Further details of the agreement mentioned by Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen during an interview the same day were not revealed. Any such arrangement is likely aimed at keeping a tight rein on the Uighur Muslim minority in Xinjiang. Estimates on the size of the Uighur minority range from 7 million to 22 milion. In April, an Uighur group in Kyrgyzstan, Ittipak, was banned for three months; Kazakhstan announced it was "totally opposed" to any efforts to stoke nationalism in China's "northwest"; and China outlawed the independent publication of books or cassettes on Islam. -- Lowell Bezanis

NAZARBAYEV RAISES CONCERN OVER INTERNAL STABILITY.
In an address to the Assembly of the Peoples of Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced that his government is drafting a new security law designed to thwart "forces and personalities within the republic" that threaten Kazakhstan's statehood, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 April. Nazarbayev emphasized the need to "display more care" for the country's stability and inter-ethnic relations, and criticized those who would like to see a return of the Soviet Union. Nazarbayev did not specify which individuals or groups the new law would target. The assembly, which opened its third session on 29 April, operates on a voluntary basis and its 327 members represent the more than 40 different national cultural centers in Kazakhstan, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. This session is also scheduled to address the 29 March integration treaty with Russia, Belarus, and Kyrgyzstan. -- Roger Kangas

THE STATE OF KYRGYZSTAN'S NATIONAL GUARD.
The commander of Kyrgyzstan's National Guard, cited only as A. Chotbayev, gave an alarming assessment of his troops in an article published in Vechernyaya Moskva on 26 April. According to Chotbayev, a study of 112 conscripts in the guard conducted by doctors and psychiatrists in December 1995 showed that only 14 of them do not suffer from "deep psychological problems"; nine out of 10 were not in sufficient physical shape to serve; 45 exhibited learning deficiencies; and 19 were considered "debilitated." Chotbayev said most of Kyrgyzstan's more competent youths tend to avoid service by entering college or business. He noted that between 1994 and the first quarter of 1996, 709 officers, warrant officers, and sergeants had been convicted of military crimes. He described the national guard as "an army of workers, peasants, and criminals." The National Guard was created after 1991; Kyrgystan has stated that it will not establish a fully-fledged army. -- Bruce Pannier



UPDATE ON UKRAINIAN CONSTITUTIONAL DEBATE.
Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz said a national referendum was unnecessary to adopt the constitution and it would cost 10 trillion karbovantsy ($52 million), Ukrainian radio reported on 29 April. Meanwhile, Halyna Freeland, the director of a Ukrainian legal foundation, dismissed criticism that the draft constitution was solely the president's creation, pointing out that a constitutional commission made up of 10 people--four appointed by the president, four by parliament, and two by the judiciary--were responsible for the draft. She added that the draft guarantees both legal and political rights, such as the right to vote and freedom of speech. -- Ustina Markus

DEMONSTRATORS' TRIALS BEGIN IN BELARUS.
Two leaders of the Belarusian Popular Front (BPF), Yuriy Khodyka and Vintsuk Vyechorka, were charged on 29 April with "instigating mass disorder" by starting a hunger strike to protest their arrest, RFE/RL reported. BPF spokesman Anatoliy Shahun said the arrests were the beginning of a crackdown against the party, which authorities have blamed for organizing the mass march on the 10th anniversary of Chornobyl. The march was also a protest against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. A number of other democratic parties and organizations were, in fact, also active in organizing the demonstration. -- Ustina Markus

BELARUS MISSES SECOND CFE DEADLINE.
Belarus failed to destroy all its excess conventional weapons by the extended deadline of 26 April, Belapan reported the same day. The original deadline to meet the requirements of the Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty had been 16 November 1995. Belarus was granted an extension, but when this second deadline passed, Belarus still had 104 armored combat vehicles to destroy. An official of the Defense Ministry, Maj.-Gen. Yuryy Partnow, said that Belarus will be in full compliance with the treaty by the mid-May review conference in Vienna. He also said that Belarus was considering transferring this excess equipment to other countries, as it had done when it supplied 100 T-72 tanks to Hungary. -- Doug Clarke

DIPHTHERIA CASES ON THE RISE IN BELARUS.
Over the past five years, the number of diphtheria cases in Belarus has risen twelve fold, ITAR-TASS reported on 29 April. In 1994, 230 diphtheria cases were reported. This jumped to 322 cases in 1995. A mass vaccination campaign is scheduled from 13-23 May. -- Ustina Markus

ESTONIAN PARLIAMENT STRIPS MEMBER OF IMMUNITY.
The parliament on 29 April voted unanimously to strip deputy Heiki Kranich of his parliamentary immunity, ETA reported, He is accused of misuse of power in 1992 when, as head of the now defunct West Estonian Bank's Haapsalu branch, he allegedly interfered in several bank customers' financial deals. Kranich, the deputy chairman of the Reform Party caucus, called the charges "groundless," however he said the loss of immunity was necessary so that the case can be taken to court. -- Saulius Girnius

RUSSIAN DUMA DEPUTIES VISIT LATVIA.
Vladimir Lukin, the Chairman of the Russian Duma's International Affairs Committee, headed the first official Duma delegation to Latvia since Latvian independence. During the two-day visit that ended on 29 April, the delegation met with representatives of the Saeima, as well as Foreign Affairs and Environmental Protection Ministers Valdis Birkavs and Maris Gailis. Lukin charged that the human rights of Russian-speaking residents in Latvia were not properly observed and criticized the imprisonment of Alfred Rubiks, the Latvian Communist Party's former First Secretary. Lukin said it was clear that Latvia would not become a NATO member soon and its efforts to join the organization only deteriorate relations with Russia. He added that the Russian presidential elections would not seriously influence relations between the two countries. -- Saulius Girnius

LITHUANIAN PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN PRAISES VISIT TO BELARUS.
Ceslovas Jursenas said on 29 April that he hoped his visit to Belarus on 26-27 April will serve to expand the countries' bilateral relations, BNS reported. He exchanged copies of the ratified border agreements with his Belarusian counterpart, Syamyon Sharetsky, which should spur the signing of an agreement on the return of illegal immigrants. He assured Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka and Foreign Minister Uladzimir Syanko that Lithuania would support Belarus's efforts to join the Council of Europe. Jursenas said that the police violence against demonstrators and the arrests of opposition leaders in Minsk that occurred after their meeting will not change his pledge. -- Saulius Girnius

JOURNALISTS LEAVE WARSAW PAPER.
The Warsaw daily Zycie Warszawy that has been in opposition to the post-communist coalition in power in Poland since 1993 was sold to a businessman, Zbigniew Jakubas. Jakubas declared that the political line of the paper needs to be changed. On 29 April, 29 journalists left the paper claiming that changes in Zycie Warszawy are part of the ruling coalition's offensive against the independence of the Polish media. All the members of the paper's editorial board and all journalists from the domestic political department quit. In other media news, Rzeczpospolita on 30 April announced that Polish TV's new board intends to change directors in the TV Information Agency. -- Jakub Karpinski

EX-COMMUNIST SPY ON EX-PREMIER OLEKSY . . .
Gen. Marian Zacharski, who accused former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy of espionage, said on 29 April that he stood by his accusation even though military prosecutors decided to drop the case. Himself a communist-era super-spy, Zacharski was sentenced in the U.S. to life imprisonment and then released in 1985. He said in a TV interview that he was "hurt" by the prosecutor's allegations that he had been guided by personal animosity because Oleksy had refused him a government post. He added that the State Protection Office (UOP) had carefully scrutinized and had not questioned the evidence that he and his fellow officers gathered. -- Jakub Karpinski

. . . AND OTHER COMMENTS ON THE CASE.
Gen. Gromoslaw Czempinski, former UOP chief, said that the decision to turn Oleksy's case over to the Prosecutor's Office was premature.
The chief of the Presidential Chancellery, Danuta Waniek, said she found the document in which former President Lech Walesa ordered former Minister of Internal Affairs Andrzej Milczanowski to turn the case over to the Prosecutor's Office, Rzeczpospolita reported on 30 April. -- Jakub Karpinski

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL IN PRAGUE SAYS NO NEW MEMBERS THIS YEAR.
Javier Solana arrived in Prague on 29 April and told Czech leaders that NATO will not admit new members at its December 1996 Council of Ministers meeting, Mlada Fronta Dnes reported. He said, however that NATO will devote 1996 to "individualized dialogues with potential members" and these dialogues will lead to a decision in December on whom to later admit. The Czech Republic is to start such "an individualized dialogue" with NATO in May. -- Jiri Pehe

NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL BEGINS VISIT TO SLOVAKIA.
Javier Solana on 29 April arrived in Bratislava for a 24-hour visit to discuss NATO expansion, Slovak media reported. A bill on NATO enlargement drafted by the U.S. Congress mentions only the Czech Republic, Poland, and Hungary as member candidates, however, Solana told Slovak TV that "a consensus of all 16 members" will ultimately determine new NATO membership. He stressed that no country has been deleted from the list of candidates, but he called on Slovakia to prove that it is "a democratic country" that respects the same values as NATO member states. -- Sharon Fisher

FORMER U.S. ASSISTANT SECRETARY OF STATE IN HUNGARY.
Richard Holbrooke, during a private visit to Hungary, met on 29 April with Hungarian Prime Minister Gyula Horn, international media reported. Discussions focused on regional security issues and Hungary's role in Bosnian peace efforts. Holbrooke, who continues to serve as an advisor to U.S. President Bill Clinton, gave Horn a report on discussions between the U.S. and Russia on NATO expansion in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE, RFE/RL reported. They discussed the option to restrict new NATO members to an undefined "political" wing of the organization with no military connections. The talks were part of on-going consultations with all countries that have applied for membership. -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARIAN NATIONAL BANK TO CUT PRIME RATE.
The Hungarian National Bank on 29 April announced a 1% cut in the prime interest rate effective on 1 May, Hungarian media reported. The bank said economic and financial developments have allowed the reduction, from 27% to 26%. In other news, a Central Statistical Office report showed that consumer prices rose at an annual rate of 27.6% in the first quarter of this year. -- Sharon Fisher



TWO DEAD AND FIVE WOUNDED AS SERBS AMBUSH MUSLIMS.
At Lukavica near Doboj, a group of mainly young Muslim adults on 29 April sought to avoid an IFOR roadblock designed to keep the Serbs and Muslims apart and ran through a mine field. Serbs ambushed the Muslims at the other end, and the combination of weapons and mines left two Muslims dead and five wounded, CNN and the International Herald Tribune reported on 30 April. Elsewhere, angry elderly Serbs smashed the windows on buses taking Muslims to visit graves near their former homes in Trnovo, south of Sarajevo in Bosnian Serb territory, the BBC reported on 29 April. Similar incidents took place the previous day when Muslims tried to travel to gravesites around Bosnia for the Bairam holiday. In these cases, the Serbs successfully blocked the Muslims' entry while IFOR troops looked on. The Dayton agreement specifies that there is to be freedom of movement and that refugees have the right to go home. -- Patrick Moore

IFOR TOLD NOT TO ARREST WAR CRIMINALS.
Dutch IFOR troops have been specifically ordered by their British commanders not to arrest war criminals, the Rotterdam paper NRC Handelsblad stated on 29 April. The story emerged during a visit to Bosnia by Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van Mierlo, who reportedly said that justice will never be done in Bosnia and that he agreed with the order. A debate has been going on since last summer in the Netherlands over the allegedly cowardly behavior of Dutch UNPROFOR troops at Srebrenica. Last August, the largest single atrocity in Europe since World War II took place there when Serbs massacred at least 5,000 Muslims. IFOR commander, U.S. Adm. Leighton Smith, said that it is not his men's business to catch war criminals: "Hold those who signed [the] Dayton [agreement] responsible [for arresting Bosnian Serb leaders Radovan Karadzic, Gen. Ratko Mladic and others] and get off IFOR's back," the International Herald Tribune reported on 30 April. The peacekeepers' mandate is not to hunt down war criminals but to detain them if they come into contact with them. -- Patrick Moore

BOSNIAN PRIME MINISTER SAYS SOME IFOR MUST GO AFTER DUMPING WASTES.
Bosnian Prime Minister Hasan Muratovic visited an IFOR waste dump near Olovo in the U.S. zone in central Bosnia and said that the commanders of the unit responsible must leave the country at once. He charged the units with vandalism by contaminating two hectares of fertile soil and polluting the Stupcanica river, Onasa reported on 29 April. Muratovic added that the damage must be corrected and implied that the U.S. firm involved in waste control in the area was dumping dangerous wastes brought in from elsewhere. There have been periodic reports in the local media suggesting that the peacekeepers have seriously damaged the environment. -- Patrick Moore

RUMP YUGOSLAVIA URGES THE INTERNATIONAL COURT OF JUSTICE TO DROP SUIT.
At the latest round of hearings against rump Yugoslavia for its alleged involvement in genocide, Belgrade's representative, Rodoljub Etinski, urged the International Court of Justice to drop the case, saying his country had nothing to do with the war in neighboring Bosnia. He described the conflict as a civil war fought between rival Muslim, Croat, and Serbian factions. He also said Bosnia seceded illegally from the Yugoslav federation, violating the rights of ethnic Serbs there, which should disqualify the case from the Court's hearings. Bosnian Ambassador to the UN Muhamed Sacirbey countered Etinski, saying that Belgrade played a significant role in the war and violated the 1948 Genocide Convention by arming and supporting rebel Serbs, Reuters reported. He added that Belgrade's support for the Dayton peace accord does not exempt rump Yugoslav officials from justice. -- Stan Markotich

RUMP YUGOSLAVIA CANCELS DEBT TALKS.
Rump Yugoslavia's debt negotiating team, led by federal Finance Minister Jovan Zebic, abruptly canceled a 29 April New York meeting with representatives of the London Club of Bankers, Nasa Borba reported the following day. The meeting was to have focused on the distribution of assets among the successor states of socialist Yugoslavia. Representatives of international banks were reportedly stunned by Belgrade's cancellation. Zebic forwarded a letter to his team stating that "conditions are not yet opportune [for talks]." -- Stan Markotich

SERBIA REFUSES ALBANIAN CITIZENS RIGHT TO RETURN.
The Serbian Helsinki Committee accused Serbian authorities of refusing rump-Yugoslav citizens of Albanian origin entry into the country, Reuters reported on 29 April. The committee pointed out that the Albanians had valid passports. The protest was issued after a group of 11 Kosovar Albanians were refused entry at the Pristina airport. They were re-directed to Belgrade's airport and also refused entry there. Similar cases have been reported since December 1995. In other news, Kosovar Shadow State Prime Minister Bujar Bukoshi sent a letter to EU President Susanna Agnelli warning that the increasing violence in the region may force ethnic Albanians to "take additional measures" to defend themselves. He urged the EU to apply pressure on Belgrade to "stop its provocations." -- Fabian Schmidt

BULGARIAN PRIME MINISTER RULES OUT RUSSIAN VETO ON NATO EXPANSION.
Zhan Videnov on 29 April said Russia cannot be allowed to veto former Socialist countries' aspirations to join NATO, AFP reported. On the first day of a two-day visit to Vienna, Videnov said that Bulgaria does not see Russia as a potential threat to its national security, but that NATO enlargement and the building of a new European security system are "processes in which no country should veto anything." Videnov warned that NATO enlargement should be "very well thought-out beforehand" so as not to create a "deficit in security or new tensions." Videnov added that there is no prospect of Bulgaria joining Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan in a process of closer association with Russia. -- Stefan Krause

MEDIA LICENSES TO BE REVIEWED IN BULGARIA.
The Committee for Posts and Telecommunications (KPD) on 29 April announced that all private and foreign TV and radio stations, cable networks, and providers of other related services will have to apply for new licenses by 5 July, Demokratsiya reported. The KPD will reconfirm or revoke existing licenses within six months after the deadline. A government decree empowers KPD to restrict licenses "for reasons connected to public interest" and revoke them "in the case of actions violating public interest." The decree also lets KPD Chairman Lyubomir Kolarov personally decide which licenses are renewed. Informed sources say that some cable TV network operators will lose their licenses. RFE/RL and Darik Radio may also not receive renewals because of the stations' critical positions on the Socialist government. -- Stefan Krause

NEW PRICE HIKES IMMINENT IN BULGARIA.
The government on 29 April decided to raise the prices of petroleum, oil, and natural gas by 1-13%, Demokratsiya and Pari reported. The new prices become effective on 1 May. The same day, electricity prices will go up by 41%. Standart reported that a 15-20% price increase for drinking water is also expected to be announced this week. Chairman of the National Commission for Prices Dimitar Grivekov told 24 chasa that the new fuel prices are due to high crude oil prices on the international market and the strong U.S. dollar. Meanwhile, Krastyo Petkov, chairman of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions in Bulgaria, in a letter to Prime Minister Videnov published in Trud, blamed the cabinet, writing it has "led Bulgaria into new financial bankruptcy." -- Stefan Krause

ALBANIAN FLEET ON STRIKE IN DURRES.
Albanian trade fleet workers in Durres have gone on strike, demanding 20% of the profit from a recent sale of 25 ships. The sale was a step toward privatizing the fleet, but the workers are claiming profit-sharing rights as shareholders in the fleet. Head of the government privatization agency, Niko Glozheni said the law is unclear on the workers' share-holding rights. The workers are now demanding that the State Control Commission investigate the case, Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 30 April. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Deborah Michaels





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