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Newsline - May 17, 1996

The presidents of Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus met on 16 May and signed an integration agreement that covers 35 points, including tariff regulation, the unification of foreign currency control, and statistical accounting, RFE/RL and ITAR-TASS reported. On 17 May, the four presidents met with the other CIS leaders to discuss the 1996-1997 integration measures, and declare their "support of the democratic process in Russia," a veiled show of support for President Yeltsin. Their agenda also included an extension of the CIS peacekeeping mandate in Abkhazia, which was decided at the CIS foreign ministers meeting on 16 May. -- Roger Kangas

In a dizzying policy reversal, President Yeltsin on 16 May issued a decree ordering the gradual transformation of the Russian military into an all-volunteer force, Russian media reported. The decree calls for conscription to end by the spring of 2000, and orders the government to develop plans--including changes in the 1997 budget--to attract volunteers to military service. Yeltsin previously supported retaining conscription and had even vetoed efforts by the Duma to reconsider the April 1995 law lengthening the service term from 18 months to two years. In a separate decree, Yeltsin also ordered that only volunteers be sent to combat zones, like Chechnya. Yeltsin's about-face seems designed to help his re-election campaign, although Boris Gromov, a former deputy defense minister who now actively supports Yeltsin's re-election, denied any link with the upcoming election. -- Scott Parrish

After a second meeting with President Boris Yeltsin in less than two weeks, Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii said he would continue to campaign as an independent candidate, NTV reported on 16 May. Yavlinskii added that Yeltsin supports many of Yabloko's positions, including a wide-ranging personnel shakeup to include Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev, and First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets, a reduction in the powers of the presidency, direct negotiations with the Chechen separatists, and major corrections to the course of economic reforms. Presidential spokesman Sergei Medvedev's description of the meeting as reported in ITAR-TASS was vague and did not mention the personnel changes. ITAR-TASS commentator Tamara Zamyatina argued that the Kremlin's negotiations with candidates Yavlinskii, Aleksandr Lebed, and Svyatoslav Fedorov are aimed at gaining their support during the runoff, when they could have a "decisive influence" on the outcome. -- Robert Orttung

Addressing voters in the Kuzbass region (Kemerovo Oblast), presidential candidate Svyatoslav Fedorov said a new government should be formed after the first round of the presidential election and should include communists, socialists, and representatives of the "bourgeois" strata of society, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 May. In a 15 May campaign address on Radio Mayak, monitored by the BBC, Fedorov outlined his plans to reorganize the economy on the model of "private workers' collectives," in which workers would manage their own enterprises. Labor productivity could rise by a factor of 10 under such a system, he argued, and taxes paid to the government by profitable collectives could be spent on the elderly, education, and health care. Because he believes workers should control the output of their own labor, Fedorov described himself as a "real Marxist" in an interview published in Rabochaya tribuna on 17 May. -- Laura Belin

Reaction was mixed among the leading candidates to Svyatoslav Fedorov's proposal that President Yeltsin appoint a coalition government of national trust and unity (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 May 1996). Gennadii Zyuganov said a new cabinet should be appointed by the winner after the election, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 May. In contrast, Vladimir Zhirinovsky suggested that Yeltsin should share power immediately with his rivals, after which all other candidates should withdraw from the upcoming election. Zhirinovsky said his Liberal Democratic Party of Russia would request the "power ministries"--Defense, Interior, and Federal Security Service--and possibly also the Finance Ministry, Reuters and AFP reported. -- Laura Belin

Communist Party (KPRF) leader Gennadii Zyuganov campaigned in President Yeltsin's home town of Yekaterinburg on 16 May, where he accused the authorities of spreading lies about him and the state of the country, Russian media reported. According to Radio Rossii, Zyuganov said an unsigned document purporting to be the KPRF's secret economic program, published in the 15 May Komskomolskaya pravda, was a "falsification." KPRF member Valentin Varennikov, who was involved in the August 1991 coup and now chairs the Duma's Veterans' Affairs Committee, caused a stir in March when he said the Communists have an unpublished "maximum plan." Zyuganov has consistently refuted Varennikov's statements. -- Laura Belin

The Central Electoral Commission (TsIK) criticized Pravda, Sovetskaya Rossiya, Pravda Rossiya, and Russkie vedomosti for beginning campaign agitation in support of Communist candidate Gennadii Zyuganov earlier than provided for by law, ITAR-TASS reported 16 May. It also accused the pro-Yeltsin Stavropolskaya pravda of the same offense, and accused the anti-communist Ne dai bog (God Forbid!) of lacking the proper publication information in its masthead. The commission accused Zyuganov and Vladimir Zhirinovsky of using their status as Duma members to gain access to regional air time in Voronezh Oblast and Altai Krai. Mikhail Gorbachev also allegedly received illegal air time in Buryatiya. The TsIK also criticized Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov and St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak for supporting Yeltsin's campaign without resigning their positions. Members of the commission debated whether Yeltsin's numerous recent trips around the country counted as campaign activity without coming to a conclusion. -- Robert Orttung

President Yeltsin issued a decree on 16 May on gradually reducing the use of the death penalty in Russia, international agencies reported. When Russia joined the Council of Europe in February, it obligated itself to abolishing capital punishment within three years, and the council urged Russia to place an immediate moratorium on executions. Citing high crime rates and prison overcrowding, however, Russian officials have said that the country will not give in to foreign pressure on this issue, and Yeltsin's decree falls short of the council's recommendations. It gives the government a month to draft a bill on Russia's adherence to the European Convention on Human Rights. It also recommends that the parliament consider reducing the categories of crimes subject to the death penalty and gives the Interior Ministry three months to submit proposals on ensuring that conditions for prisoners facing execution or serving life sentences meet UN standards. -- Penny Morvant

President Yeltsin won the voting sponsored by the Round Table of Moscow Democratic Parties held on 15-16 May to identify a single candidate from the democratic camp, ITAR-TASS reported 17 May. There were 1,469 participants in the elections which were announced in Moskovskii komsomolets. Yeltsin won 73% of the vote, Yavlinskii 12%, Gorbachev 5.7%, Lebed 4.8%, and Fedorov 4.3%. The results have only symbolic significance since the sample of participants is not representative of Moscow and the December Duma election showed that the preferences of Moscow voters differ from those of voters outside the capital. -- Robert Orttung

Visiting UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali met with President Yeltsin on 16 May to discuss conflict resolution in the CIS and Russia's role in the international organization, Russian and Western agencies reported. Yeltsin emphasized Russia's continuing political and financial support for the UN, and urged the UN not to "underestimate" Russian peacekeeping operations in the CIS. Moscow has sought, unsuccessfully, to gain UN sponsorship of operations like the one in Tajikistan. In a 15 May speech to the Russian Duma, Boutros Ghali praised Russia's "working for peace and security" but omitted any reference to the ongoing Chechen conflict. The warm atmosphere of the visit may reflect an implicit quid pro quo: Yeltsin's wants international support for his re-election, while Boutros Ghali may need Russian backing if he decides to seek a second term as secretary-general. -- Scott Parrish

Participants in the Free Press Congress organized by Russia's Union of Journalists and attended by more than 250 journalists declared that attacks on press freedoms are continuing in Russia and they may result in the introduction of new censorship regulations, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 May. They claim that certain forces within the country's power structure are trying to prevent the development of politically free and financially independent media. In another conference in Moscow to mark the 20th anniversary of the Moscow Helsinki Group, activists voiced concern about unlawful, undemocratic trends in Russian government policies, the BBC reported, citing a 14 May Interfax report. They also criticized the war in Chechnya, the remilitarization of the country, government pressure on the media, "a secrecy mania" among government bodies, the radical expansion of police powers, the failure to carry out judicial reform, and the state of prisons. Radio Rossii contended on 16 May that all of these points have been addressed in President Yeltsin's pre-election platform. -- Anna Paretskaya and Penny Morvant

President Yeltsin signed a decree on 17 May authorizing the payment of compensation to depositors who are more than 80 years old and lost their savings in the 1991-92 inflation, ITAR-TASS reported. The pensioners will be compensated on a sliding scale up to 1,000 times their initial deposit, with a maximum payment of 1 million rubles ($200). A new Federal Social State Fund for the Defense of Depositors and Shareholders was formed at the beginning of May, Izvestiya reported on 15 May. It is headed by Dmitrii Vasilev, the head of the Federal Securities Commission, and includes representatives from the State Privatization Committee, the Russian Federal Property Fund, and three public associations representing defrauded investors. At the government meeting on 16 May, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin castigated Vasilev's commission for failing to stop fraudulent operations, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. Chernomyrdin said that 70% of the financial companies currently in operation lack licenses. The IMF has given $31 million to be used to compensate investors. -- Peter Rutland

On 16 May, it was announced that Russia will switch from the "ruble corridor" to a sliding exchange rate, Russian media reported. Each day at 10 a.m., beginning on 17 May, the Central Bank will announce selling and buying rates, based on prevailing market rates and allowing a slow daily devaluation at a pace slightly below domestic inflation. The current corridor of 4,550-5,150 rubles/$1 formally expires on 30 June. The ruble now trades at 4,970/$1: had the corridor continued, the 1 July band would have been 5,000-5,600 rubles and the 31 December band 5,500-6,100 rubles. The introduction of the sliding rate is in effect a continuation of the existing corridor approach rather than a new departure. The government has shown that it can stabilize the value of the ruble despite worrying trends in fiscal policy and the securities market. -- Peter Rutland

Central Bank head Sergei Dubinin also announced that Russia will move to full current account convertibility, in conformity with Article 8 of the IMF Charter. Presidential aide Aleksandr Livshits said joining Article 8 will attract foreign investors, because otherwise Russia is regarded "as belonging in a second class of states," Russian TV (RTR) reported on 16 May. In fact many countries, such as China, have succeeded in attracting foreign investment without having fully convertible currencies. -- Peter Rutland

Russia's trade turnover reached $34.9 billion in the first quarter of 1996, increasing by 10% over the same period last year, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 May. Total exports went up by 12% to $21 billion, while total imports rose by 8% to $14 billion. There was a 29% in Russia's exports to CIS countries (which now stands at $4.5 billion), and a 55% increase in imports ($4.6 billion). Russia's major trade partners in the first quarter of the year were Ukraine (13% of the trade turnover), Germany (9%), Kazakhstan (6%), and the U.S. (6%). -- Natalia Gurushina

On the sidelines of the CIS summit, on 16 May representatives of Russia, Georgia, and North and South Ossetiya signed a memorandum intended to expedite a settlement of the continuing standoff between the Georgian authorities in Tbilisi and the breakaway region of South Ossetiya, Russian and Western media reported. Under the terms of the agreement, which was mediated by Russia and the OSCE, Georgia and South Ossetiya renounce the use or threat of force political and economic pressure against each other. -- Liz Fuller

Demonstrations entered their fifth day in the northern city of Khojent on 16 May, with new rallies taking place in the cities of Shakristan and Isfana, Russian and Western media reported. The protesters are demanding more representation for northerners in the regional governments as well as greater economic rights. RFE/RL reported that approximately 300 members of the Presidential Guard has been sent from Dushanbe to Khojent, where an estimated 10,000 people are participating in the demonstration. Meanwhile, fighting continued in the Tavil-Dara region, as opposition forces advanced to the city of Komsomolabad, NTV reported. Russian Defense Minister Pavel Grachev has stressed that Russian peacekeepers will not become involved in the conflict. -- Roger Kangas

Kazakhstan has decided to resume oil exports to Russia's Yukos-owned refineries in Samara, ITAR-TASS reported on 16 May. The head of Yukos described the agreement as the first step toward his company's expanded role in Kazakhstan's oil sector. Meanwhile, talks are underway in Ankara between the U.S. firm Chevron and Turkish officials, Reuters reported the same day. It appears that Chevron, while indicating it is prepared to discuss all options including the Baku-Ceyhan pipeline, is attempting to persuade Turkey to permit Tengiz oil to pass by tanker through the Turkish Straits. Earlier in the week, company representatives told a pipeline conference in Istanbul that full-stream Tengiz output could add one tanker (with a capacity up to 150,000 metric tons) to daily traffic in the Bosporus. In other news, Mobil Corporation announced that it had paid $1.1 billion for a 25% interest in the Tengiz oil field, AFP reported on 16 May. -- Lowell Bezanis

The Ukrainian government passed a resolution increasing state support for the ailing coal sector, UNIAN reported on 13 May. The resolution calls for a revision of the state budget, raising subsidies for loss-making mines to 35 trillion karbovantsi ($189 million). The move was apparently made to head off a threatened miners' strike over unpaid wages. Meanwhile, the Ukrainian parliament has amended a law on the privatization of small- and medium-scale state enterprises aiming to encourage the privatization of food-processing plants, construction firms, some transportation industries, retail trade outlets, local utilities, and municipal services, UNIAN reported on 15 May. Lawmakers voted to continue allowing local authorities to sell off property that falls under their jurisdiction. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Belarusian Popular Front (BPL) leader Vyacheslau Svichyk, who was imprisoned for allegedly organizing a demonstration on 26 April in Minsk against the pro-Russian policies of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, was hospitalized on 15 May after losing consciousness and suffering from kidney failure, Reuters reported. Svichhyk, 34, and his BPL colleague Yuriy Khadyka, 57, had been on a hunger strike since two days after their arrests. About a fourth of the members of the Belarusian parliament have signed a petition for their release, as did 5,000 protesters in Minsk on 14 May. -- Saulius Girnius

The Estonian parliament on 16 May voted unanimously to approve amendments to the local elections law as requested by President Lennart Meri, ETA reported. Meri on 7 May refused to sign the law because it required graduates of non-Estonian language schools wishing to be political candidates to pass oral and written Estonian language examinations, which he said contradicted the Estonian Constitution. The amended law still requires candidates to sign a statement asserting their proficiency in Estonian but does not require proof beforehand. Members of the Russian caucus abstained in the vote, saying the language requirement should be abolished completely. -- Saulius Girnius

Vladimir Pozdorovkin, First Secretary of the Russian Embassy in Vilnius, was shot in the left hip on 15 May by a 24-year old man who spoke unaccented Russian and was attempting to steal the embassy's Volvo-940 car, BNS reported. The Russian Foreign Ministry sent a protest note to its Lithuanian counterpart asking for an investigation into the attack and assurance of the embassy personnel's safety. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Karasin described the incident as an attempted car theft, refuting an ITAR-TASS report that described it as an assassination attempt. -- Saulius Girnius

Polish opposition parties on 16 May criticized Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski's project to form a cross-party National Security Council, Polish and international media reported. Kwasniewski wanted opposition leaders to join the body as a sign of broad national consensus on foreign policy matters, including rapid entry into NATO and the EU. The cross-party council would also help Kwasniewski's efforts to present himself as a president of all Poles, not tied just to the ruling Democratic-Left Alliance. A leader of the Freedom Union, Janusz Onyszkiewicz, said that the council would not work in the form the president proposed. Poland's 1992 interim constitution called for a security council that would advise the president on steering internal and external security policy. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

Former Polish President Lech Walesa began a 15-day speaking tour of Britain and the U.S. on 16 May during which he will press for rapid decisions on NATO and EU membership for Poland and other Eastern European countries, Polish and international media reported. Walesa has speaking engagements in Leeds and at the Cambridge Union. He is due to meet with members of the Polish community in London before leaving for the U.S. where on 3 June he will meet with U.S. President Bill Clinton at the White House. He is also scheduled to inaugurate the Lech Walesa Latin American University in Miami and visit former U.S. President George Bush at his home in Maine. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

Marking Hungary's first racial crime verdict, the Supreme Court has convicted a self-described Nazi for stabbing another man while using anti-Semitic language, domestic and international media reported on 16 May. The Hungarian man was sentenced to two years in prison for the 1994 incident that took place on the 15 March commemoration of Hungary's 1848 revolution. Radical right-wing groups have in recent years used national holidays for extremist demonstrations. Under the newly tightened legislation, racist crimes and inciting racial hatred can be punished with up to three-years imprisonment. Previously, the courts applied other provisions of the penal code, such as disturbing peace or grievous bodily harm, claiming racial crime verdicts implied restrictions on free speech. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The Israel Aircraft Industries on 16 May announced it could bring Hungary's MiG fighter jets up to NATO standards for $130-$150 million, less than a tenth the price of buying new aircraft, Reuters reported. Israel hopes this offer will win out over the Swedish and American competing proposals to sell Hungary Western-made planes (see OMRI Daily Digest, 13 May 1996). The Israeli proposal to rebuild 28 of Hungary's aging MiG 21s would permit Hungary, which faces severe financial difficulties, to delay purchasing new fighters while still bringing the MiGs up to NATO standards. Israeli officials said the price for upgrading the MiGs was about 9% that of buying Swedish-made Gripens and just under 14% of the cost of upgrading American Lockheed F-16s, considered the main contenders for Hungary's jet fighter deal. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Slovenian Premier Janez Drnovsek on 16 May broke up the coalition alliance between his Liberal Democratic Party (LDS), which holds 30 seats in the 90-seat parliament, and the Christian Democratic Party (SKD), which has 15 seats, Radio Slovenija reported. This move followed a no-confidence vote in Foreign Minster and LDS member Zoran Thaler. The vote, supported by the SKD, was split 48-26, with Thaler tendering his resignation in the wake of the result. Thaler had come under increasing criticism in recent months, with Christian Democrats questioning his general level of competence and claiming he failed to improve ties with Italy and to bring Slovenia closer to EU membership. However, Drnovsek said on 17 May he will try to maintain the working relationship with the SKD. -- Stan Markotich

The international community has strongly criticized the 15 May dismissal of moderate Bosnian Serb Premier Rajko Kasagic by Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic. NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana met on 16 May with Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic urging him to see to it that Kasagic remain Prime Minister, Nasa Borba reported on 17 May. Meanwhile, Milosevic told U.S. government officials he would ignore the dismissal, Reuters reported on 16 May. Both Serbian and rump Yugoslav governments condemned the dismissal, calling it "illegal, null and void." High Representative for Bosnia Carl Bildt and Kasagic himself issued on 16 May a joint statement saying they will continue to work together to break the forces of isolationism that threaten implementation of the peace agreement. Kasagic said that Karadzic was not a "legitimate leader" of Bosnian Serbs because "he had not been elected by people as called for in the constitution but by a self-proclaimed parliament." -- Daria Sito Sucic and Stan Markotich

At the conclusion of meetings in Washington D.C. to shore up the shaky Croat-Muslim federation, federal Vice President Ejup Ganic again demanded that IFOR capture indicted Bosnian Serb war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Gen. Ratko Mladic, while the U.S. maintained that Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic is responsible for arresting and handing them over to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, AFP reported on 17 May. Diplomats in Sarajevo are nonetheless considering pursuing Karadzic given his role in the current Bosnian Serb power struggle and the growing feeling that there will be no free elections while he remains free. Meanwhile in The Hague, the indicted Bosnian Serb Goran Lajic told the court that he is not guilty and that the case against him is one of mistaken identity. -- Patrick Moore

Viktor Ivancic and Marinko Culic, two editors from the independent Croatian satirical weekly Feral Tribune, will be the first journalists tried under a new press law that forbids journalists to "offend" leading officials, Novi List reported on 17 May. The Prosecutor-General's Office on 16 May sent the journalists a court summons. They are accused of making Croatian President Franjo Tudjman "an object of libel and slander." Many international media organizations, political forums, and the Croatian opposition parties have condemned the law, which in the case of these journalists stipulates a maximum sentence of one year imprisonment for libel and up to six months for slander, Novi list reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The Croatian Foreign Ministry issued a statement that "the Republic of Croatia confirms its commitment to the process of democratic development, thereby respecting the Council of Europe's criteria and norms," Reuters reported on 16 May. This is the first official comment on the Council's 14 May decision to block Croatia's admission, over which the Croatian statement also "expressed regret." The Council's move is widely viewed in Croatia as an attempt to hold the country to higher standards than those required of some member states like Russia, Romania, or Albania (see OMRI Daily Digest, 15 May 1996). Those who hold this opinion say Croatia is being "punished" by Britain, France, and their allies for regarding the U.S., and not the EU, as its main partner. An editorial in the pro-government daily Vjesnik on 17 May said that Croatia wants eventual "entrance into Europe" but that its chief interest now is in close ties with the U.S. In Washington D.C., Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic said that Croatia will "fulfill all its obligations [toward the council] in the required time." He went on, however, to deny charges made by that body that the Croatian government controls the media, has violated democratic principles regarding the Zagreb city government, and shelters indicted war criminals. -- Patrick Moore

Slobodan Milosevic met Klaus Kinkel on 16 May to discuss bilateral relations and Belgrade's commitment to the Dayton peace process, particularly Belgrade's willingness to cooperate with the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Tanjug reported. Kinkel also met with his Belgrade counterpart, Milan Milutinovic, who raised the issue of the Serb refugees from Bosnia and Croatia in rump Yugoslavia. Milutinovic said he hoped Germany might use its influence to help Belgrade integrate into international organizations such as the UN and the IMF.-- Stan Markotich

Macedonian Foreign Minister Ljubomir Frckovski has asked UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali to extend the mandate of the UN peacekeeping troops for another year. The current mandate is due to expire at the end of May, AFP reported on 16 May. Frckovski said the situation in the former Yugoslavia remains unstable despite the Dayton peace accord and added that Macedonia is unable to defend its borders. The UN force, which has been in Macedonia since 1992, includes 500 U.S. troops and 500 soldiers from Nordic countries. -- Fabian Schmidt

Romanian President Ion Iliescu and rump-Yugoslavia's President Zoran Lilic on 16 May signed in Belgrade a bilateral basic treaty, Romanian and international media reported. The document was initialed last month in Bucharest by the two countries' foreign ministers and emphasizes Belgrade and Bucharest's desire to integrate in European structures. The Romanian media played up the event, saying that the document is the first of its kind signed by rump Yugoslavia and that Iliescu is the first president to visit the federation since the cease-fire. Iliescu is scheduled to meet federal Prime Minister Radoje Kontic, as well as Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. -- Matyas Szabo

With local elections scheduled for next month and against the background of repeated clashes between the two, the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PSDR) on 16 May decided to "start procedure" for breaking the alliance with its last coalition partner, the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR), domestic media reported. On 22 March the PSDR had already announced this intention, but nothing was concretely done to implement it. The coalition accord between the PSDR and the PUNR stipulates several steps before the alliance can be dissolved. Also on 16 May, Premier Nicolae Vacaroiu, hitherto officially a non-party affiliated technocrat, joined the PSDR and was immediately elected vice-chairman of the party, Romanian and international media reported. -- Michael Shafir

On the eve of the CIS summit in Moscow, Mircea Snegur met with Boris Yeltsin mainly to discuss the situation in Moldova's breakaway Dniester region, Romanian media reported on 16 May. The two presidents agreed the existing problems should be resolved in the spirit of the Moldovan-Russian-Ukrainian joint declaration on the Dniester issue. They also discussed better economic cooperation within the CIS. -- Matyas Szabo

Zhelyu Zhelev on 16 May criticized the Bulgarian Socialist Party government, saying its strategy to reform the economy and steer the country away from impending financial and economic ruin lacked vision. He said that, "The controversial statements by representatives of the government...give the impression that they are launching structural reforms without a clear concept," Reuters reported. Presidential spokesman Valentin Stoyanov added on Zhelev's behalf, "It is disconcerting that decisions related to structural reform are taken in the dark, in closed party plenums without dialogue between state institutions and political forces." -- Stan Markotich

Albanian Foreign Minister Alfred Serreqi will visit Athens on 17 May to sign a number of bilateral agreements with his Greek counterpart, Theodoros Pangalos, including one regulating the status of illegal Albanian immigrants to Greece, Albania reported. Some 330,000 Albanians are currently estimated to do seasonal work in Greece, but large numbers of them are expected to return for the 26 May Albanian elections. The foreign ministers are also to sign an agreement opening consulates in Thessaloniki and Korca. -- Fabian Schmidt

Democratic Alliance (AD) parliamentary candidate Blendi Gonxhe accused a police chief of beating legislator Ridvan Peshkepia. Police allegedly detained Peshkepia while searching his car. Gonxhe also said that five AD members were arrested by police after a rally in the Tirana Student city, Reuters reported on 16 May. He alleged plain-clothed officers also beat up an AD candidate and an accompanying journalist in the south and charged police with obstructing the party's campaign rallies there. The Interior Ministry denied the allegations and accused the AD of using dirty campaign tactics, including provoking incidents with the police, to win votes in the May 26 elections. A statement from the ministry said, "The leaders of the AD cannot help but demonstrate this kind of behavior which is more characteristic of villains than of politicians." -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Deborah Michaels