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Newsline - May 24, 1996


YELTSIN, YANDARBIEV TO TALK IN MOSCOW.
Acting Chechen President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev agreed on 23 May to travel to Moscow for peace talks with President Yeltsin, Russian and Western media reported. Reuters quoted the head of the OSCE mission in Grozny, Tim Guldimann, as saying that he will accompany Yandarbiev to the talks, which will take place "in the very near future." -- Liz Fuller

RUSSIANS CLAIM BAMUT VICTORY.
The commander of the 58th Army in Chechnya said on 23 May that most of the Chechen separatists entrenched in the former Soviet missile base near Bamut had been killed, ITAR-TASS reported. Lt. Gen. Gennadii Troshev said the "special units" had fought their way into the stronghold that afternoon. Earlier, a military official said that federal troops had seized the strategic heights overlooking Bamut but were not storming the village in order to avoid casualties. In Moscow, a General Staff officer claimed that there were 300 mercenaries fighting in Bamut, part of some 2,000 mercenaries with the Chechen separatists. He said 200 of these were from Afghanistan. -- Doug Clarke

YELTSIN MEETS GROMOV.
President Yeltsin met with Duma Deputy and former Deputy Defense Minister Boris Gromov on 23 May, Russian media reported. The presidential press service said the two men discussed Yeltsin's election campaign, in which Gromov has been playing an active role, but added that they touched upon military reform. ITAR-TASS political commentator Tatyana Zamyatina said that phrase should be viewed as a signal that Yeltsin wants to "prepare public opinion" for Grachev's resignation and replacement by Gromov, who has been one of the most vocal public critics of the current defense minister. She added that Gromov, who commanded the 1989 Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, would be a suitable choice to lead the Russian army out of Chechnya. Gromov's public opposition to the intervention in Chechnya helped precipitate his removal as deputy defense minister in February 1995. -- Scott Parrish

DUMA DENOUNCES CIS LEADERS.
The State Duma adopted a declaration denouncing the endorsement of President Yeltsin by the leaders of several other former Soviet republics at the 17 May CIS summit, Russian media reported on 23 May (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 May 1996). The declaration was sponsored by the Popular Power faction, which is supporting Communist candidate Gennadii Zyuganov for president. -- Scott Parrish

QUALITY OF DUMA'S LEGISLATIVE WORK QUESTIONED.
Aleksandr Shokhin, one of seven deputy chairmen in the State Duma, criticized the poor quality of the Duma's legislative work, Russian media reported on 23 May. He said that only 40 of the 189 draft laws submitted to the Duma by the president and government during the last four months had been passed by 17 May. He added that eight laws submitted to the Duma a year ago or more have never been examined during a plenary session. Furthermore, many poorly drafted laws reach the floor for debate. The next day, Shokhin said the Duma should pass fewer political statements and non-binding resolutions, and concentrate on legislative work, ITAR-TASS reported. On 22 May, President Yeltsin appointed Shokhin, a member of the pro-government Our Home Is Russia faction, to chair the newly created Committee for Coordinating Legislative Activities. -- Laura Belin

LAW ON TRANSFER OF POWER PASSED.
On 24 May, the Duma passed the law on the transfer of power to a newly elected president in the third and final reading (see OMRI Daily Digest, 23 May 1996), ITAR-TASS reported. It now goes to the Federation Council for approval. On the same day, Duma deputies failed for a third time to override the Federation Council's veto of the law on election monitoring. -- Laura Belin

ORT TO SUE IZVESTIYA OVER BRIBE ALLEGATIONS.
The Channel 1 broadcaster Russian Public TV (ORT) and one of its leading journalists, Aleksandr Lyubimov, announced plans to sue Izvestiya for 15 billion rules ($3 million) over a 21 May article alleging that Lyubimov and a producer had demanded $21,000 in bribes from presidential candidate Vladimir Bryntsalov, ORT reported on 23 May. Bryntsalov appeared on the 16 May edition of Lyubimov's show "Odin na Odin" (One on One), along with Vladimir Zhirinovsky. The article cited Bryntsalov's press secretary, but Bryntsalov himself has denied that anyone asked him for money. Lyubimov serves as chairman of the board of directors of the VID television company, which produces "Odin na Odin" and other Channel 1 shows. Both he and Bryntsalov appeared on a list of the 50 most influential entrepreneurs in Russia published in Nezavisimaya gazeta on 22 May. -- Laura Belin

LIVSHITS QUESTIONS COMMUNISTS' ECONOMIC GOALS.
President Boris Yeltsin's economic adviser, Aleksandr Livshits, charged on 23 May that the Communists' inability to define their economic platform is hurting the economy. He said that the Communists must explain their plans for the budget, privatization, Yeltsin's decrees on the economy, treasury bonds, and the agreements Russia has concluded with the IMF "so that a normal person will know if he can live in peace." He said the Communists' commitment to "multiple forms of property" is meaningless, since both the U.S. and Stalin-era Soviet economies could be described in that manner. He denied responsibility for Yeltsin's 30 April decree on "economic security" (see OMRI Daily Digest 3 May 1996), saying obliquely that its author is in charge of "security," not economics. -- Robert Orttung in Moscow

ZHIRINOVSKY APPEALS FOR COMMUNIST VOTE.
Liberal Democratic Party of Russia leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky used his 23 May free airtime slot on Russian TV (RTR) to appeal for support from rank-and-file Communists. He praised ordinary party members and those living outside Moscow and blamed the mistakes of the party on its leadership, particularly former General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. Zhirinovsky reminded the Communists that he supported their coup attempt in 1991 and fought to secure amnesties for the imprisoned Communist leaders following its failure. He described communism as "more theory than practice" and recommended that party members join him. Zhirinovsky promised to stem the current anti-communist feelings in the country. -- Robert Orttung in Moscow

ELECTORAL COMMISSION RELEASES CAMPAIGN FINANCING DETAILS.
The Central Electoral Commission (TsIK) on 23 May released documents on the presidential candidates' current campaign financing, ITAR-TASS and AFP reported. As of 15 May, President Yeltsin had accumulated 7.1 billion rubles ($1.4 million dollars), more than any other candidate. He was followed by Grigorii Yavlinskii (3.62 billion rubles), Vladimir Zhirinovsky (3.27 billion rubles, including 57 million rubles of his own money), and Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov (2.99 billion rubles). Zyuganov leads in campaign expenditures--so far he has spent 1.65 billion rubles for printing flyers and pamphlets and on mass media advertising. Yeltsin has spent 300 million rubles. Millionaire Vladimir Bryntsalov has spent nothing on his campaign. Under electoral law, each candidate is allowed to spend up to 14.43 billion rubles on their campaign. -- Anna Paretskaya

ALTERNATIVE ARMY TV PROGRAM CLOSED DOWN.
The Russian TV (RTR) army program "Aty-Baty" was taken off the air on 19 May, and a Defense Ministry program was shown in its place, Ekho Moskvy reported. The program's producer, Igor Serebryakov, said he had not been notified in advance and received no explanation from the RTR management. Moskovskii komsomolets on 23 May reported that the closure of "Aty-Baty," which has been on air for five years, is an attempt by the ministry to take control of all military programs on both RTR and Channel 1 (ORT). The ministry is already providing ORT with a program called "I serve Russia!"--a direct successor to the Soviet-era show "I serve the Soviet Union!" The same day, Moskovskii komsomolets reported that one of its journalists had been receiving intimidating telephone calls and her apartment was broken into after she wrote a series of articles strongly criticizing top army commanders. -- Anna Paretskaya

ANOTHER REGIONAL OFFICIAL FIRED FOR MISUSING FUNDS.
President Yeltsin issued a decree on 24 May dismissing Aleksei Kulyakov, his special envoy in Stavropol Krai, for misusing state funds, ITAR-TASS reported. Kulyakov was also fired from the post of administration head at the popular spa resort Mineralnye Vody. Four regional governors have already been sacked this year for misusing federal budget funds as part of Yeltsin's pre-election drive to reduce arrears in the payment of wages and social benefits. -- Penny Morvant

FOREIGN POLICY COUNCIL LAUDS CIS INTEGRATION.
In a lengthy set of "theses" published in a supplement to the 23 May edition of Nezavisimaya gazeta, a group of leading Russian analysts, politicians, and businessmen called for intensifying political and economic integration among the former Soviet republics, but said plans to restore the USSR are "utopian." The theses were worked out in a series of meetings sponsored by the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy chaired by Sergei Karaganov, and reflect a broad consensus among a wide swath of the Russian elite, as those signing the document ranged from liberals like Irina Khakamada to nationalist Konstantin Zatulin. While the theses show that many in Moscow want to maintain a "sphere of influence" in former Soviet space, they are also relatively moderate in their policy reccomendations, which focus largely on economic integration, and specifically argue against actions to "force" the pace of integration. -- Scott Parrish

RUSSIAN-ESTONIAN BORDER TALKS ADJOURN.
The seventh round of Russian-Estonian border negotiations closed in Pskov on 23 May without making any significant progress, ITAR-TASS and BNS reported. Although the two sides are reportedly now close to agreement on the location of the border itself, they remain deadlocked over the issue of recognizing the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty. -- Scott Parrish

HELP FOR UNIKOMBANK.
The Moscow Oblast government announced on 23 May that it will take steps to improve the finances of the ailing Ukimobnak, Biznes-TASS reported on 23 May. The Moscow Oblast will appoint Unikombank its sole agent, which means some 15 trillion rubles ($5 billion) in Oblast council spending will be channelled through the bank. In return the Oblast will be given a controlling packet of shares in the bank. On 20 May, the Central Bank appointed a temporary administrator for Unikombank, and is reportedly considering issuing it an emergency loan. -- Peter Rutland

THE FINAL FRONTIER FOR MARKETING.
In a marketing first, a contract for advertising in space has been signed between the Energiya corporation and Pepsi-Cola, Komsomolskaya Pravda reported on 23 May. Russian cosmonauts Yurii Usachev and Yurii Onufrienko will drink a can of Pepsi-Cola before the cameras while in orbit. -- Peter Rutland



TURKEY LOBBIES FOR BAKU-CEYHAN PIPELINE.
Turkish Foreign Minister Emre Gonensay has wrapped up talks in Washington aimed at securing support for a $2.5 billion project to move Caspian Sea oil from Baku to Turkey's Mediterranean port of Ceyhan, Turkish media reported on 24 May. Gonensay's trip was undertaken to shore up what appears to be flagging support for the pipeline project. -- Lowell Bezanis

LATVIAN PRESIDENT CONCLUDES VISIT TO UZBEKISTAN.
Latvian President visited Uzbekistan on 22-24 May to sign several agreements with his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, on economic cooperation and scientific and cultural exchanges, ITAR-TASS and BNS reported. In 1995, Latvian-Uzbek foreign trade amounted to $19 million (up from $13 million in 1994), with Uzbek imports to Latvia making up 75% of that figure. -- Roger Kangas

KAZAKHSTAN SAYS NO RADIOACTIVE MATERIAL SENT TO CHINA.
The Kazakhstani Embassy in Beijing has denied reports that Kazakhstan exported radioactive scrap metal to China, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 May. A complaint was lodged in the Uighur-Xinjiang region when two loads of ferrous and non-ferrous material emitting a "radioactive level exceeding norms" was detected in a shipment coming from Kazakhstan. A Kazakhstani diplomat admitted that his country had shipped scrap metal to China but added that the shipment in question came from a Karaganda plant and not from a random gathering of unchecked scrap metal. -- Bruce Pannier

KYRGYZ-KAZAKHSTANI BORDER POSTS COME DOWN.
In keeping with the recent customs agreement, signed by Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, the latter two countries have begun to take down customs checkpoints along the Kazakhstani-Kyrgyz border, according to RFE/RL. Kyrgyz Prime Minister Apas Jumagulov and his Kazakhstani counterpart, Akezhan Kazhegeldin, attended a tree-planting ceremony at a dismantled checkpoint in the Kyrgyz village of Georgievka. -- Bruce Pannier

KYRGYZ FORCES ON FULL ALERT AT KYRGYZ-TAJIK BORDER.
In response to a 21 May attack on a Tajik Interior Ministry post in the city of Jirgatal, about 25 km south of the Kyrgyz border, units of the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry on the Tajik border have been put on full alert, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 May. A unit in the Gulch-Alaiskiy district and the Osh mechanized rifle brigade are at combat readiness, and officers of the Kyrgyz Defense Ministry have flown to the area to inspect border posts. RFE/RL's Kyrgyz Service reported on 23 May that Kyrgyz Defense Minister Myrzakan Subanov and Foreign Minister Roza Otunbayeva had denied that border forces had been put on alert. -- Bruce Pannier

TAJIK ARMY RECAPTURES NORTHERN HIGHWAY.
Tajik government troops have taken the offensive in fighting with opposition forces along the highway leading northeast to Kyrgyzstan, ITAR-TASS reported on 23 May. Military officials claim government forces now control the cities of Komsomolabad, Garm, Tajikabad, Jirgatal, and the areas immediately surrounding those cities. A military official said opposition casualties were high but did not comment on losses among government forces. -- Bruce Pannier



RESULTS OF MEETING BETWEEN UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT AND RUSSIAN PRIME MINISTER.
Leonid Kuchma and Viktor Chernomyrdin's 23 May meeting in Kyiv netted no new agreements, international media reported. Disagreements still plague the issue of whether Russia can base its share of the Black Sea fleet in Sevastopil, and if Russia will pay Ukraine $450 million in compensation for giving up its tactical nuclear weapons. However, the leaders expressed their satisfaction at the meeting's progress, with Chernomyrdin noting that the agreement was "99.9% complete," Reuters reported. For his part, Kuchma called the meeting "very constructive," NTV reported. It was also decided that Russian President Boris Yeltsin would visit Ukraine after the 16 June election, but no specific date was set. -- Roger Kangas

IMF LOAN TO PAY BACK WAGES IN UKRAINE.
The Ukrainian parliament decided on 23 May to allocate part of the most recent tranche ($900 million) of an IMF loan to pay wage arrears in the country, ITAR-TASS reported. The current debt to workers stands at 177 trillion karbovantsi ($952,637 million). Although the loan was earmarked for economic reform measures, the wage arrears crisis is viewed as an economic priority. It is hoped that such action, as well as President Leonid Kuchma's 22 May meeting in Donetsk with the estimated 1,000 wildcat coal mine strikers, will resolve that crisis. -- Roger Kangas

ESTONIA'S NEW IMF MEMORANDUM.
Basil Zavoico, the IMF representative in Estonia, told BNS on 23 May the republic's new economic policy memorandum pays great attention to the public sector debt that could grow to as much as 4% of the country's GDP. The main problem is the lack of fiscal policy coordination between the central and local governments. He also said the IMF was very satisfied with Estonia's open trade policies and efforts to join the World Trade Organization. He added that the pressure by farmers to introduce high customs tariffs should be resisted since similar tariffs in Latvia and Lithuania were ineffective. The memorandum contains proposals on better support for the farm sector with technical assistance from the EU's PHARE program. -- Saulius Girnius

UKRAINE'S PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN IN LATVIA.
Oleksandr Moroz began a two-day visit to Latvia on 22 May with a meeting with his Latvian counterpart, Ilga Kreituse. He also held talks with Latvian Saeima deputies and Finance Minister Aivars Kreituss. The next day he addressed the Saeima and urged them to grant citizenship to the Ukrainians living in Latvia, BNS reported. He also held talks with Prime Minister Andris Skele and visited the Ukrainian high school in Riga. Moroz expressed reservations about Latvia's desire to join NATO, noting that although he did not object in principle it was necessary to know the tactical and strategic goals of the NATO expansion. -- Saulius Girnius

RUSSIAN DEPUTY PREMIER VISITS LITHUANIA.
Aleksei Bolshakov in Vilnius on 23 May held talks with Foreign Minister Povilas Gylys on the work of the bilateral governmental commission for economic, scientific, and cultural cooperation, BNS reported. Bolshakov also met with President Algirdas Brazauskas and discussed extensively land border issues, while ignoring the disputed oil deposit in the Baltic Sea shelf. Bolshakov acknowledged the problem of illegal migrants, noting that Russia is initiating a conference on migration in Geneva next week. According to Lithuanian presidential advisor Justas Paleckis, Bolshakov gave "no optimistic signs" about the restitution of the Lithuanian embassy buildings in Paris and Rome and the return of money that Lithuanians deposited in the former Soviet Vneshekonombank. Brazauskas said he would consider the Russian request to open more polling stations in Lithuania for the Russian presidential elections. -- Saulius Girnius

POLAND TO BECOME OECD MEMBER.
The Polish Finance Minister Grzegorz Kolodko said on 23 May that Poland was invited to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), with its membership beginning 11 or 12 July, Polish and international media reported. Poland is to become the third Central European country, after Hungary and the Czech Republic, to join the organization of leading industrial nations. The invitation comes after Poland recently passed laws that remove obstacles to OECD membership, including lessening restrictions on foreign acquisition of property. -- Jakub Karpinski

CZECH REGIONAL COURT RULING CHANGED TO RACIAL VIOLENCE BY HIGH COURT.
A Czech High Court on 23 May ruled that the killing of Tibor Berki in Zdar nad Sazavou last May was racially motivated, overturning last fall's verdict of a lower court in Brno, CTK reported. Berki, a Rom, was killed when four Czech youths broke into his house. The youths were overheard in a restaurant before the attack saying they planned to "get some Gypsies." However, the Brno court ruled that the killing was not racially motivated because the attackers were not shouting slurs at the moment of the assault. The new verdict increased the prison sentences of the attackers, but most important, according to the Romany Civic Initiative, the case could serve as a precedent. -- Alaina Lemon

SLOVAK OPPOSITION FAILS TO OUST INTERIOR MINISTER.
The parliament on 23 May gave a vote of confidence to Ludovit Hudek, the first minister in the current government whose dismissal was debated in the legislature, Slovak media reported. In a secret ballot vote, only 60 deputies voted to remove Hudek, 16 less than required. The opposition demanded the vote after a controversial private conversation between Hudek and Slovak Information Service (SIS) director Ivan Lexa was broadcast on private radio (see OMRI Daily Digest, 14 May). Also on 23 May, President Michal Kovac said the report Lexa presented to the parliament the previous day "proved that the SIS is...engaged in unlawful activities," namely following and evaluating the actions of the president, political parties, the church, and journalists. Finally, Michal Kovac Jr. on 23 May filed a complaint against the police's decision to adjourn the investigation into his abduction. -- Sharon Fisher

SLOVAK PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR "CLEAN" HUNGARIAN CONSTITUENCIES.
Meeting with OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Max van der Stoel in Bratislava on 23 May, Vladimir Meciar stated that "creating clean Hungarian electoral districts is in Slovakia's interest," Narodna obroda reported. "The new territorial administration will not influence Hungarian representation in Slovakia's parliament," government spokeswoman Ludmila Bulakova quoted Meciar as saying. Meanwhile, Hungarian minority representatives asked for the OSCE's help in resolving their problems and called the idea of "clean" Hungarian constituencies "nonsense." In other news, Meciar's 17 May interview on Slovak Radio has brought criticism from ethnic Hungarians. "People who are not satisfied here and want to leave must be accommodated," Meciar said. Hungarian Christian Democratic Movement chairman Bela Bugar on 22 May stressed that "every prime minister has the . . . obligation to take steps to make citizens feel at home." -- Sharon Fisher



MLADIC'S WHEREABOUTS NOW UNCERTAIN . . .
According to some media accounts, such as those published in Nasa Borba on 24 May, Bosnian Serb Gen. Ratko Mladic has made a safe return to the Republika Srpska following the funeral services of his colleague and fellow accused war criminal, Bosnian Serb Gen. Djordje Djukic. Onasa, however, reported on 23 May that Mladic was apprehended after the funeral and placed under house arrest in Belgrade. According to OMRI reports from the field, the consensus in Sarajevo is that Mladic has been arrested. Thus far, only IFOR has confirmed Bosnian Serb military reports that say Mladic is back in Republika Srpska. Radio B 92 reported that Milosevic spoke with Mladic on 22 May, urging him to prove his innocence at The Hague. -- Stan Markotich

. . . BUT MLADIC WAS NOT THE ONLY ACCUSED WAR CRIMINAL TO BE SEEN IN BELGRADE.
President of the UN Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, Judge Antonio Cassese, observed in a letter to the UN Security Council that Col. Veselin Sljivancanin, one of three accused in the 1991 massacre of at least 260 Croatian civilians near the town of Vukovar, also attended Gen. Djordje Djukic's funeral. Cassese described Sljivancanin's presence as evidence of "this continuing violation by the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia of its obligation to cooperate with our tribunal," Reuters reported on 23 May.-- Stan Markotich

IS THE U.S. GETTING TOUGH ON KARADZIC?
Washington now says "there is absolutely no deal" over the fate of Bosnian Serb civilian leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, AFP reported on 24 May. This follows several days of guarded or equivocal statements regarding U.S. policy on his future. An unnamed senior official told the New York Times that the U.S. has rejected a suggestion from Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic that Karadzic be allowed to "shed his formal duties and drop from sight" but not be handed over to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia based in The Hague. -- Patrick Moore

BOSNIAN FEDERATION PRESIDENT SAYS MOSTAR ELECTIONS TO BE DELAYED.
Kresimir Zubak said on 23 May that an agreement was reached on the delay of Mostar elections originally scheduled for 31 May, Oslobodjenje reported. He added that elections will take place "before the end of June," but Mostar EU administrator Ricardo Peres Casado must announce a new date. An agreement between the Croatian and Muslim officials that would enable the city's pre-war population to vote either in Mostar or at designated places abroad where they live as refugees should be signed on 25 May. Meanwhile, Peres Casado held talks with both Bosnian President Alija Izetbegovic and Croatian President Franjo Tudjman. While Tudjman was against the election delay, Michael Steiner, the High Representative deputy for Bosnia, said the Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic helped find a compromise, Oslobodjenje reported. Meanwhile, EU officials in Mostar refused to confirm an announcement on the elections' delay, AFP reported on 23 May. -- Daria Sito Sucic

BOSNIAN SERBS VETO CROSS-BORDER BUS ROUTES.
UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said on 23 May that the Bosnian Serb police prevented a bus from the government-held Sarajevo suburb of Ilidza from reaching the Serb-run district of Lukavica. Police said the bus failed to meet "safety standards," but the Bosnian Serb authorities indicated that they intend to ban all such bus traffic between the federation and the Republika Srpska, AFP reported. Janowski said the police claims were "complete nonsense and another example of the hostility of the Republika Srpska authorities to freedom of movement." That principle is a cornerstone of the Dayton agreement, but IFOR has shown little enthusiasm for enforcing it. The bus carried mainly Sarajevo Serbs who wanted to telephone friends or collect pensions. -- Patrick Moore

CROATIAN PRESIDENT'S DAUGHTER SUES PAPER FOR $635,000.
Nevenka Kosutic has sued the independent weekly Feral Tribune for 3.5 million kuna, Reuters reported on 23 May. The paper claimed that she set up a profitable business using government connections. This is but the latest in a series of reports in the independent media that Tudjman's family and friends have enriched themselves while much of Croatia lives in or near poverty. It is also one of many legal moves that seem aimed at bankrupting Feral. -- Patrick Moore

KOSOVARS POSTPONE ELECTIONS.
Shadow-state President Ibrahim Rugova postponed elections planned for 24 May for one year, AFP reported. He set the date for presidential and parliamentary elections for 24 May 1997. No reason was given for the postponement, but a statement by Rugova said the step was taken "in accordance with the constitution" and after consultation with "parliamentary parties." Meanwhile, Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov, in an interview for Nova Makedonija on 24 May, urged a solution to the Kosovo problem, which he said poses a "huge risk for the whole region." The "dream of liberation and unification with Albania" would lead to conflicts in which the Macedonian Albanians would inevitably be involved, Gligorov said. -- Stefan Krause

ROMANIAN ELECTORAL UPDATE.
The National Peasant Christian Democratic Party (PNTCD) went back on its earlier decision to support separate presidential and parliamentary elections in the fall, local media reported on 23-24 May. Emil Constantinescu, a prominent PNTCD leader and the candidate of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) in the presidential elections, also said the CDR will back the raising of the electoral hurdle for the parliamentary elections from 3% to 5%. In other news, the leader of the Party of Civic Alliance (PAC), Nicolae Manolescu, told a press conference he no longer "gives a chance" to the alliance struck by PAC with the Social Democratic Union for the June local elections due to the latter's "repeated political inconsistencies." Finally, a meeting between representatives of the coalition partners, the Party of Social Democracy in Romania and the Party of Romanian National Unity, to decide the future of the conflict-ridden alliance, ended with no results and the decision was deferred to another encounter at party-leadership top level. -- Michael Shafir

U.S. SPECIAL ENVOY IN ROMANIA . . .
Richard Schifter in Bucharest on 23 May discussed with Romanian Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu south-east European economic cooperation matters and bilateral relations between their countries, local media reported on 23-24 May. Schifter is also scheduled to meet President Ion Iliescu and Premier Nicoale Vacaroiu. -- Michael Shafir

. . . ALSO DISCUSSES BALKAN COOPERATION IN SOFIA.
Shifter also on 23 May briefed Bulgarian politicians on a U.S. plan for regional cooperation, international and Bulgarian media reported. The plan includes infrastructure development, energy, and environmental protection. After talks with Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev and Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski, Shifter said there is "full consensus about the American initiative" between the ruling Socialists and the opposition, while Pirinski said the plan coincides to a large extent "with the emerging approach of the Balkan countries." Shifter also discussed the meeting of Balkan foreign ministers scheduled to take place in Sofia on 8-9 June. -- Stefan Krause

PARLIAMENT'S RESOLUTION ON MOLDOVAN PRESIDENT'S MESSAGE.
The Moldovan parliament on 23 May approved its final resolution on President Mircea Snegur's message (see OMRI Daily Digest, 26 April) concerning the socio-political situation in the republic, Infotag reported. According to the resolution, most of the existing economic problems date back to the time before the existing government. "We had to pay a very high price to ensure the stability of the national currency, to stop inflation, and to restructure the country's economy," the document reads. The parliament acknowledged, however, that the government failed to implement its 1994-1997 program and called on it to submit a schedule of clearing wage and pension arrears, as well as to improve the activities of ministries and other state structures mentioned in Snegur's message. -- Matyas Szabo

CIS FINANCE MINISTERS REUNION IN MOLDOVA.
At the initiative of the Moldovan government, CIS finance ministers on 23 May began a reunion in Chisinau, Moldovan agencies reported. The delegations representing 10 CIS countries discussed issues related to regional cooperation, taxation, trade, and banking. Moldova and the Caucasus states opted for a consulting status of the reunion, while Russia wants to set up a permanent council with financed executive structures. Moldovan Finance Minister Valeriu Chitan said some delegations favored radical changes in customs duties. According to Yurii Belousov, first assistant of the CIS Executive Secretary, the meeting was a positive step toward the economic integration of CIS states. -- Matyas Szabo

ALBANIAN HELSINKI COMMITTEE PROTESTS VIOLENCE BEFORE ELECTIONS.
The Albanian Helsinki Committee for Human Rights called on the government to ensure that recent violent incidents are not repeated, Gazeta Shqiptare reported on 24 May. On 22 May, Democratic Party supporters attacked a Socialist Party rally in Durres. According to various eye witnesses, police did not interfere to arrest the culprits who injured a number of Socialists with sticks. Later the electricity in the assembly hall was cut off. Other reports said that windows of the Socialist's cars were smashed at roadblocks. Meanwhile, Deputy Interior Minister Agim Shehu blamed the incidents on agents of the communist-era secret police, saying they were acting on the Socialists' behalf. An OMRI journalist, however, noted a government license plate among cars where one roadblock was being built. A Socialist rally in Tirana the following day and a rally of Democrats in Shkoder ended with no incidents. -- Fabian Schmidt in Tirana

ALBANIAN NATIONAL BANK INTERVENES TO SUPPORT THE LEK.
Following a recent period of rapid devaluation of the lek against the U.S. dollar and other international currencies, the Albanian National Bank has intervened and reduced the amount of money in circulation by buying up large amounts of lek on the free market, Albanian media reported. National Bank director Kristaq Luniku said that "the Bank of Albania has...eliminated unnecessary liquidity on the market." The free market value of the U.S. dollar against the lek fell from 115 on 22 May to only 101 the following day. The official exchange rate fell from 117.5 to 111 lek. Observers said the move is an attempt to maintain a stable lek until elections on 26 May and predicted that the falling tendency will resume again after elections. National Bank governor Kristaq Luniku, however, predicted that the lek will continue to be a stable currency. -- Fabian Schmidt in Tirana

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave





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