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Newsline - May 20, 1996

The 17 May CIS summit in Moscow ended with a declaration of support for continued political and economic reform in Russia and President Boris Yeltsin's re-election campaign, Russian and Western media reported. Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev called on Russian voters to make the "right decision," while Uzbek President Islam Karimov declared that Yeltsin's opponent, Gennadii Zyuganov, is "completely unacceptable." Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov referred to Yeltsin as a "wise and gifted politician." The 11 non-Russian leaders also rejected any move to restore the Soviet Union. -- Roger Kangas

The CIS leaders agreed to examine a six-part plan to address economic and trade cooperation, military and peacekeeping activities, crime fighting measures, border protection, and greater coordination of foreign policies, ITAR-TASS reported. UN Secretary-General Boutros Boutros Ghali, who addressed the summit, called for the CIS to increase its ties with the UN, noting that CIS peacekeeping in Abkhazia and Tajikistan are "positive examples" of the benefits of regional cooperation. The presidents noted that further cooperation can only take place voluntarily. President Yeltsin and his Kazakhstani counterpart, Nursultan Nazarbayev, stressing that other CIS states are not being pressured to join the Russia-Belarus-Kazakhstan-Kyrgyzstan customs union, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. -- Roger Kangas

Speaking after the CIS summit, President Yeltsin again refused to set a date for his long-delayed visit to Ukraine, Russian media reported on 17 May. Yeltsin reaffirmed that he would only go to Kyiv "for a large-scale political visit" that included the signing of a "comprehensive treaty between Ukraine and the Russian Federation, which does not exist yet." He confirmed that the Black Sea Fleet issue continues to block the conclusion of the treaty, although he expressed hope that the deadlock would be broken soon. Visiting Omsk on 19 May, Yeltsin mildly rebuked Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin said he had advised Lukashenka to release opposition activists arrested during recent anti-government demonstrations. "In Russia and the other CIS countries," said Yeltsin, "people are free to express their opinions and hold meetings." -- Scott Parrish

The State Duma fell short of the 300 votes needed to override the Federation Council's veto of a law on election monitoring, ITAR-TASS reported on 17 May. The law would have allowed private citizens to become election monitors (current law only permits representatives of political parties to do so), and would have allowed local courts to declare an election invalid within their jurisdiction. It also proposed to fund a parallel count in a sample 2% of the districts. The Duma may appeal to the Constitutional Court on the grounds that the law was passed on 17 April but only vetoed by the Council on 15 May. The constitution stipulates that with a few exceptions, laws not reviewed within two weeks by the Council are considered approved and sent to the president. -- Laura Belin

Campaigning in the Siberian regions of Krasnoyarsk and Omsk, President Yeltsin played up his role as a guarantor of stability and a provider for his constituents' needs. In an interview with a Krasnoyarsk television company, Yeltsin promised not to "surrender the strategic, democratic heights" to forces opposing reform, NTV reported on 17 May. He told a group of supporters in Omsk, "I will not allow a civil war under any circumstances," Russian TV (RTR) reported on 19 May. The same day, the president signed a power-sharing agreement with the Omsk Oblast administration, and signed a decree to work out a long-term federal program for the social and economic development of Siberia, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Laura Belin

In a 19 May interview with an Omsk television company, President Yeltsin said he might be willing to appoint "fresher people" to his government in order to increase the public's confidence, ITAR-TASS reported. "Why not take interesting ideas from [Grigorii] Yavlinskii?" he asked rhetorically. The move indicates that Yeltsin is willing to meet some of Yavlinskii's demands for an electoral alliance. He already has gained the backing of most prominent figures in Russia's "democratic" camp. On 18 May, Yegor Gaidar's party Russia's Democratic Choice officially endorsed Yeltsin's re-election bid, Russian media reported. -- Laura Belin

The 18 May edition of Izvestiya published the full text of the letter Yavlinskii gave President Yeltsin during their 16 May meeting, which outlined in detail his "non-negotiable" terms for supporting the president. In addition to calling for an end to the war in Chechnya and significant changes in economic policy, the letter demanded that any decrees on economic and defense policy be signed by the prime minister as well as the president. It also said Yeltsin must accept the resignations of the prime minister, first deputy prime minister, defense minister, and chief of staff by 25 May--terms the president is unlikely to accept. Yeltsin said on 17 May that he had offered Yavlinskii the job of first deputy prime minister, but that Yavlinskii had insisted on more. Appearing on RTR on 19 May, Yavlinskii denied that he was seeking the post of prime minister for himself or issuing an "ultimatum" to Yeltsin. -- Laura Belin

Mayor Anatolii Sobchak and his former first deputy, Vladimir Yakovlev, will face each other in the runoff of St. Petersburg's gubernatorial election after the two finished first and second, respectively, in the first round on 19 May, Russian and Western media reported. Out of a field of 14 candidates, Sobchak received 28.8% to Yakovlev's 21.8%; turnout was about 49%. Four candidates withdrew from the race the day before the election, including local Yabloko leader Igor Artemev who threw his support behind Yakovlev, notorious local ultra-nationalist Yurii Belyaev, and hard-line Communist Yurii Terentev. The runoff is scheduled for 26 May. Sobchak won the 1991 mayoral election in the first round with 66% of the vote. -- Anna Paretskaya

President Yeltsin has reaffirmed his intention to go through with his planned visit to Chechnya, according to Russian TV (RTR) on 18 May. Also on 18 May, pro-Moscow head of state Doku Zavgaev said that key questions relating to the Chechen economy and the 16 June Chechen parliamentary election will be resolved during Yeltsin's visit, NTV reported. On 17 May, the Duma adopted in principle an amnesty for both Russian and Chechen fighters in the Chechen war with the exception of those who perpetrated hostage-takings or terrorist acts, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. During talks at an undisclosed location in Chechnya on 16-17 May, acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev and OSCE Grozny mission chairman Tim Guldimann discussed the possibility of Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev acting as mediator between the Russian government and the separatist Chechen leadership, NTV reported on 18 May. -- Liz Fuller

President Yeltsin has dismissed the administration heads of Vologda and Amur oblasts, Nikolai Podgornov and Vladimir Dyachenko, ITAR-TASS and NTV reported on 17 May. Both governors were sacked for misusing federal budget funds, violating federal legislation, and accumulating wage arrears. Podgornov was already suspended from his post in March. The governors of Saratov and Arkhangelsk oblasts were sacked for the same reason in February. -- Anna Paretskaya

The ongoing espionage row between London and Moscow escalated on 17 May when Russia announced the expulsion of four British diplomats, Russian and Western agencies reported. Russia claims the expelled diplomats were intelligence agents who were implicated by a Russian citizen recently arrested on espionage charges. London immediately retaliated by expelling four Russian diplomats from Britain. Earlier, Russia had threatened to expel up to nine British diplomats, but negotiations appear to have produced a compromise. AFP, citing Interfax, quoted anonymous Russian diplomats as saying Russia regarded the mutual expulsions as closing the incident. However, on 18 May, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Grigorii Karasin called on London to reconsider its "unjustified and unacceptable" decision. -- Scott Parrish

Russia has agreed to forgive $450 million worth of Ukraine's natural gas and oil debts as compensation for the tactical nuclear weapons given up by Ukraine in 1991, Reuters reported on 18 May, citing Ukrainian news agencies. The deal was supposedly struck by Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma following the previous day's CIS summit meeting. The report quoted UNIAN as saying Chernomyrdin made the deal conditional on Ukrainian agreement to Russian proposals on dividing the former Soviet Black Sea Fleet, while citing Interfax as saying no progress had been made on this issue. -- Doug Clarke

Responding to what many view as a campaign maneuver, Communist deputies attacked President Yeltsin's 16 May decree abolishing conscription, Russian agencies reported on 17 May. Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Illyukhin (KPRF)
challenged Yeltsin's authority to decree such a change, arguing that it requires new federal legislation. Lt. Gen. Mikhail Surkov (KPRF), deputy chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, said Russia cannot afford a professional army because every volunteer costs 4-5 times more than a conscript. However, Nikolai Yegorov, head of the presidential administration, contended on 18 May that the financial implications of the decree can be covered by the federal budget. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin commissioned Defense Minister Pavel Grachev and other security ministers to begin preparations for the transition to a professional army. -- Doug Clarke and Constantine Dmitriev

Business and political representatives from 63 regions gathered in Yekaterinburg on 17 May for the opening of the "Russian economic forum," sponsored by Sverdlovsk Governor Eduard Rossel. The meeting formed a new organization, "For the socio-economic progress of Russia," which aspires to represent regional interests in Moscow. Little seems to have emerged by way of concrete proposals, other than the usual calls for tax reform, respect for the law, and compensation for defrauded investors. Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov told the gathering that the presidential election is a "nightmare" for the Russian economy, because it has caused a surge in federal spending, while scaring away foreign investors. -- Peter Rutland

Participants in the CIS summit in Moscow on 17 May endorsed the agreement taken on 16 May by CIS foreign ministers to extend for a further two months the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping troops currently deployed along the border between the breakaway republic of Abkhazia and the rest of Georgia, Western agencies reported. The Georgian parliament has for months demanded, without success, that the peacekeepers' mandate be broadened to enable them to defend ethnic Georgian refugees who wish to return to their homes in Abkhazia. -- Liz Fuller

The Stalinist Communist Party of Georgia decided on 18 May to unite with the Georgian Communist Party, led by Ivane Tsiklauri, and part of the United Communist Party, led by Panteleimon Giorgadze, Iprinda news agency reported same day. The Stalinist party's plenary session also decided that its leader, Grigol Oniani, would work as acting first secretary of the new party's central committee until its first congress, scheduled for 6 September. -- Irakli Tsereteli

President Yeltsin and his Azerbaijani counterpart, Heidar Aliev, signed an agreement in Moscow on 17 May aimed at strengthening border controls between Dagestan and Azerbaijan, AFP reported, citing Interfax. The agreement covers information exchanges; joint measures to fight terrorism, arms and drug trafficking, and illegal immigration into Russia; and the joint training of border troops. It is not clear whether the agreement provides for the deployment Russian troops on Azerbaijani territory. -- Liz Fuller

Sixty-four government soldiers are reported to have been killed during heavy fighting near the town of Komsomolabad in the Tavil-Dara region on 15-16 May, according to NTV. Tajik Interior Ministry troops and members of the CIS peacekeeping force have set up checkpoints on the road from Komsomolabad to Dushanbe. Meanwhile, the demonstrations in the northern Tajik cities of Khojent, Ura-Tyube, Shakhristan, and Isfana appear to have ended, RFE/RL reported on 18 May. The protesters demanded the equal distribution of humanitarian aid, an adequate supply of food, and the removal of local government officials. About 75 officials in the north are reported to have been replaced already. In other news, AFP reported on 19 May that the Tajik opposition has agreed to extend the ceasefire that was due to expire on 26 May. -- Bruce Pannier

Serhii Drahomaretsky and Mykhaylo Myaskovsky, two members of the Ukrainian legislature from the Odessa region, were killed in a car accident outside Kyiv on the night of 16 May, UNIAR and ITAR-TASS reported. Drahomaretsky was the chairman of the Supreme Council Control Commission on Privatization and Myaskovsky, first secretary of the Odessa regional Committee of the Communist Party of Ukraine and a member of the Supreme Council on Foreign Affairs and CIS Relations. The two men were on their way to Odessa to participate in a session of that city's council. -- Roger Kangas

Some 20,000 Tatars demonstrated in the streets of Simferopol on 18 May to mark the 52nd anniversary of Stalin's order to deport them to Central Asia, international media reported. More than 200,000 Tatars have returned to Crimea in recent years, but rally organizers noted that they no longer have a homeland and are a minority in Crimea. Demonstrators called for creating a Crimean Tatar state within an independent Ukraine. Statements were also made in support of Chechen independence, with some demonstrators carrying Chechen flags and portraits of slain Chechen leader Dzhokhar Dudaev. Reuters on 18 May reported that the Ukrainian government has approved an additional $20 million aid package for Tatar resettlement. Ukrainian officials have stressed, however, that the issue should be a policy concern for Russia, Uzbekistan, and other states as well. -- Roger Kangas

Belarusian Popular Front leader Vyachaslau Siuchyk, who has been hospitalized since 15 May owing to kidney failure caused by a hunger strike, was released from prison on 17 May, Reuters reported. Siuchyk has been charged with organizing a rally last month to protest the pro-Russian policies of President Alyaksandr Lukashenka. Those charges have not been dropped, and he has been ordered not to leave Minsk. The Belarus Prosecutor's Office said the release of his BPF colleague Yury Khadyka, who is still on a hunger strike, will be discussed today. Russian President Boris Yeltsin, campaigning in the Siberian city of Omsk on 19 May, said he has had to give Lukashenka a lesson in democracy, adding that he asked him to release all those arrested in connection with the April rally. -- Saulius Girnius

The Patriarchates of Moscow and Constantinople on 16 May agreed to restore relations severed by Moscow after Constantinople announced in February that the Autonomous Estonian Orthodox Church would come under its jurisdiction, Western agencies reported the next day. The Constantinople patriarchate agreed to impose a four-month moratorium on its jurisdiction declaration. During this period, congregations in Estonia will have to decide to which patriarchate they wish to belong. The decisions of those congregations that have already made a decision will remain in effect. Although 54 of the 84 congregations have expressed support for Constantinople, more than two-thirds of believers belong to those favoring Moscow. -- Saulius Girnius

Latvia's Unity Party (LVP) on 17 May decided to revoke its earlier decision to quit the ruling coalition, BNS reported. Chairman Alberts Kauls, whose firing as agriculture minister prompted the party's decision to quit, is a member of a commission set up to meet with Prime Minister Andris Skele to discuss the LVP's conditions for remaining in the coalition. Those stipulations include allowing the LVP to retain the Agriculture Ministry, transferring the Hipoteku un Zemes Banka to the Agriculture Ministry's jurisdiction, reorganizing the ministry, and protecting local market from foreign agricultural imports. -- Saulius Girnius

The first part of the Sixth Congress of the Lithuanian Democratic Labor Party (LDDP) on 18 May elected Seimas Chairman Ceslovas Jursenas as the party's new chairman, RFE/RL's Lithuanian Service reported the next day. Jursenas defeated Seimas Agriculture Committee Chairman Mykolas Pronckus by a vote of 330 to 82. Former chairman Adolfas Slezevicius resigned in February after being dismissed as prime minister. Jursenas said the party faces a serious challenge in the upcoming parliament elections in October Current budgetary problems could force the government to make unpopular decisions, and candidates should be willing to admit the party's mistakes, he noted. The second part of the congress, to be held in September, will decide which members run in the elections. -- Saulius Girnius

Polish Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko on 17 May announced Poland will receive an invitation in July to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Formal membership is to be granted in October, Rzeczpospolita reported. At a press conference in Warsaw on 17 May, Kolodko said Poland has met all the conditions for membership, except for passing new legislation on a banking code of secrecy and on allowing financial authorities to have access to companies' book-keeping accounts. A bill on both matters was recently adopted by the lower house of the parliament and is expected to be approved by the Senate soon. Kolodko said OECD membership will be a "giant step toward the European Union." -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

According to a recent opinion poll conducted by the Warsaw-based CBOS agency, the popularity of the Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) is increasing. Of those respondents who said they would vote if elections were held now, 23% opted for the former Communists, who are also a member of the ruling coalition. In March and April, 19% favored the SLD. The CBOS commented that the party appeared to have recovered from the negative impact of the spy allegations against its leader, former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy. The poll also revealed that 13% of potential voters would support the right-wing Movement for the Reconstruction of Poland and 12% would cast their ballot in favor of the Polish Peasant Party. The centrist Union for Freedom (UW), now the biggest opposition party in the parliament, received 8% support and the Solidarity Union 10%. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

The Prague-based Citizen's Solidarity and Tolerance Movement (HOST) has issued a report on the state of Romani education in the Czech Republic, CTK reported on 17 May. The report's main criticism is that the government has failed to address inequities in the education system. An earlier press release from HOST revealed that the 80-page report targets seven areas: de facto segregation in special schools, where Roma are labeled retarded; violence against Romani children; teachers' lack of response to racism in class; lack of funding for Romani education; lack of access for Roma to higher education; the absence of Romani teachers; and the lack of state resolve to address the situation. -- Alaina Lemon

The family of Robert Remias, who was killed in a car explosion on 29 April, has accused the Slovak secret service (SIS) of being responsible for his death, Slovak and international media reported. Remias's parents told the media that their son--a friend of a key witness in the case of the abduction of President Michal Kovac's son--had been shadowed by the SIS constantly in the days leading up to his death. They accused SIS Director Ivan Lexa of hiding the truth about Kovac Jr.'s kidnapping and having their son's death on his conscience, adding that Prime Minister Vladmir Meciar also bore responsibility. The Slovak government has brought charges against two priests and a journalist who, at a memorial service for Remias last week, publicly accused the SIS and government circles of murdering him. -- Steve Kettle

Aleksii II on 17 May began a four-day visit to Slovakia, Slovak and international media reported. On 19 May, he conducted a service in the east Slovak town of Presov, which was attended by more than 20,000 people, including President Michal Kovac. The Moscow patriarch also dedicated a church in Michalovce and held a memorial service in Svidnik for 4,000 Soviet soldiers who died during the liberation of Slovakia in World War II. -- Steve Kettle

With no compromise reached between the coalition parties over Gyula Horn's plan to set up a central investigative office to curb black economy activity, tension between the Socialist Party and the Alliance of Free Democrats (SZDSZ) is increasing, Hungarian dailies reported on 18 May. Unconfirmed reports suggest that Interior Minister Gabor Kuncze (SZDSZ) is considering resigning if he is unable to push through his version of the plan, Magyar Hirlap reported on 20 May. Last week, Kuncze vetoed Horn's proposal, but the premier is insisting on going ahead with the costly plan. The SZDSZ stressed again that it is in favor of improving the efficiency of existing organizations instead of setting up a new office. A similar coalition dispute occurred last fall when the SZDSZ refused to approve Horn's plans to create new positions in the government and to introduce personnel changes. Horn was eventually forced to withdraw those plans. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic announced this weekend that he was giving up some of his duties as Bosnian Serb president to concentrate on such domestic issues as refugees and the economy, international and local agencies reported on 19 May. Karadzic delegated some of his powers, including contacts with the international community, to Vice President Biljana Plavsic, a hard-liner known as the "Iron Lady of the Bosnian Serbs." While the rump Yugoslav news agency Tanjug reported that Karadzic has stepped down as Bosnian Serb president, the Bosnian Serb agency SRNA reported that he has only delegated some of his functions. Meanwhile, the international community's High Representative for Bosnia Carl Bildt visited Pale on 19 May to clarify controversial reports on Karadzic's resignation. He noted that Karadzic appeared to be withdrawing from "public life," AFP reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The Bosnian Serb parliament on 18 May endorsed Karadzic's dismissal of Rajko Kasagic, the moderate Bosnian Serb prime minister supported by the international community (see OMRI Daily Digest, 16 and 17 May 1996). Deputies also approved his replacement by Gojko Klickovic, a hard-liner who oversaw the exodus earlier this year of the Sarajevo Serbs, which was marred by massive looting and arson, AFP reported on 18 May. In his first statement to reporters, Klickovic opposed setting up a single Bosnian state, which is stipulated in the Dayton peace accord. AFP on 19 May quoted him as saying that "integration within Bosnia is out of the question." Klickovic also said that the Bosnian Serb people will "never allow" Karadzic to be sent for trial to The Hague-based war crimes tribunal because "there is no reason for him to go there." -- Daria Sito Sucic

The scenes of the past weekend were familiar to those who have long followed the Bosnian conflict: an international negotiator met in a series of sessions with Bosnian Serb leaders, Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, and then the Bosnian Serbs again. He never received a direct answer to his main demand--in this case, that Karadzic be dumped as president--but rather a series of promises that seemed to go at least part way to achieving that end. Bildt was told, among other things, that Karadzic would "be neither seen nor heard," that a referendum would be held, and that Plavsic would take over his international obligations. Karadzic, however, has no foreign duties because no representative from abroad is supposed to meet with the indicted war criminal. The Dayton agreement, moreover, says clearly that he has no political future and that Milosevic is obliged to help hunt him down and bring him to justice. Much of Bosnian opinion regards the latest moves from Pale as "cosmetic," Oslobodjenje reported on 20 May. -- Patrick Moore

The anti-nationalist Serbian Civic Council (SGV), which remained loyal to the Bosnian government throughout the war, says that several legal difficulties stand in the way of Serbs wanting to live in Sarajevo again. Many of these people were among the 60,000 who were pressured by the Bosnian Serb authorities into abandoning their flats and houses earlier this year but who now want to go back after spending months in makeshift camps. The SGV says that they have difficulty in obtaining Bosnian passports and that their flats have been occupied by Muslim refugees from Srebrenica and Zepa, Onasa noted on 18 May. A group of independent intellectuals charged that all three sides are practicing "silent ethnic cleansing" and point to Sarajevo, Banja Luka, and both parts of Mostar as examples, Oslobodjenje noted on 20 May. Elsewhere, the SGV joined Muslim parties in criticizing the current election rules for Mostar, saying that they make it impossible for 90% of the Serbs from there to vote because refugees are barred from the ballot. -- Patrick Moore

Bosnian Serb Gen. Djordje Djukic died in Belgrade's military medical academy on 18 May. According to a statement issued by the Bosnian Serb military authorities, Djukic died after "being ill and exhausted by the trial in The Hague," Reuters reported. He was 62 years old and had appeared before the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia on charges relating to his role in the 43-month siege of Sarajevo. The general, who had pleaded not guilty, was released by The Hague on compassionate grounds and allowed to return to his family in Belgrade. A doctors' report concluded that Djukic's terminal pancreatic cancer had reached an advanced stage. Djukic, a logistics officer, was captured by the Bosnian government on 30 January 1996. -- Stan Markotich

John Paul II concluded his first-ever visit to Slovenia on 19 May by celebrating Mass in Maribor with an estimated 120,000 worshippers. The previous day, he celebrated his 76th birthday in the nation's capital. Slovenian political leaders thanked the pontiff for supporting Slovenia's independence, noting that the Vatican was among the first states to recognize Slovenia as an independent country. Finally, John Paul donated $50,000 to the Roman Catholic Church in Slovenia to enable it to assist refugees from the wars throughout the former Yugoslavia, international media reported on 18 May. -- Stan Markotich

Bulgaria's ongoing financial and economic crisis peaked yet again on 17 May when two banks were placed under the Bulgarian National Bank's administration, Bulgarian media reported. BNB Governor Lyubomir Filipov announced that the First Private Bank and the state-controlled Mineral Bank were being "placed under special supervision owing to the real possibility of insolvency." Meanwhile, local media reported that consumers triggered a panic on what was dubbed "Black Friday," trying to withdraw all assets from the defunct banks. The following day, Kontinent reported that following the banks' insolvency, a major restructuring of the banking system cannot be avoided. Premier Zhan Videnov, speaking on state TV and radio, pledged financial reforms and asked for "backing from the whole of society." The government has already drawn up a plan for economic reform, including the closure of some 64 unprofitable firms. -- Stan Markotich

Safet Zhulali arrived in Athens on 19 May for talks with his Greek counterpart, Gerassimos Arsenis, and President Kostis Stephanopoulos, AFP reported. The talks are to focus on military cooperation within the framework of NATO's Partnership for Peace. Zhulali will also visit Greek military facilities. Meanwhile, hundreds of Albanian immigrants began returning from Greece to vote in the 26 May elections; their number is expected to increase by the thousands. The Greek police have supplied them with special border-crossing permits, and travel agencies have increased the number of buses traveling to Albania and reduced fares. Some 250,000 Albanian immigrants are currently working in Greece. Finally, Albania and Greece on 17 May signed a framework agreement on legalizing the status of the mostly illegal immigrants. It will take effect in September, after four Greek-language schools have opened in southern Albania. -- Fabian Schmidt

Albanian Socialist Party leader Fatos Nano has sent a letter to Albanian dailies urging voters to oust the Democratic Party in the elections, Reuters reported on 19 May. Nano said the Socialists will guarantee "liberty and security." He accused President Sali Berisha of abusing his powers and of running a "banana republic." Nano still has three years to serve for misappropriating funds, but the Socialists say he is a political prisoner. Meanwhile the Democratic Party organized a pop music and fashion show spectacle for 30,000 people at a Tirana stadium on 19 May. The same day, the road to Shkoder was blocked for hours by demonstrators hoping to prevent Socialist leaders from going there, but none of those leaders showed up. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave