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Newsline - February 17, 1997


RUSSIA RESERVES RIGHT TO USE NUCLEAR WEAPONS.
In an interview on Russian Public TV (ORT) on 15 February, Andrei Konovalov, president of the Institute of Strategic Evaluation, confirmed that the new military doctrine being prepared by the Security Council does allow for Russia to be the first power to use or threaten to use nuclear weapons in certain circumstances--for example, to prevent the expansion of a regional conflict in which Russian conventional forces were engaged. The USSR publicly renounced the first use of nuclear weapons in 1982, but Russia revoked this commitment in the military doctrine it adopted in 1993. Konovalov thus confirmed the statement of Ivan Rybkin (see OMRI Daily Digest ,12 February 1997) which drew criticism from other administration officials. -- Peter Rutland

NATO EXPANSION DEBATE HEATS UP: PRIMAKOV ...
Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov told NTV on 16 February that he hopes to reach agreement with NATO to limit new cross-border troop deployments in East Europe within the framework of a renegotiation of the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe. He reiterated that Russia is looking for a binding treaty and not a loose commitment to cooperate. Primakov denied that he was "anti-Western," but said that the formation of "a mighty armed fist near our borders" was a potential threat. He said "Indeed, we cannot now send our tanks, and will never do so, I hope, to stop NATO expansion." He added "We would like NATO to transform itself gradually into a political structure with mainly peace-keeping functions." On 15 February an article in the government newspaper Rossiiskie vesti condemned the recent visit of NATO General Secretary Javier Solana to the Caucasus as "a blatant invitation to the CIS countries to join [NATO]" and prevent their cooperation with Russia. -- Peter Rutland

... ALBRIGHT, ZHIRINOVSKY.
In an interview broadcast on NTV on 16 February, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright said NATO "is not an alliance against Russia, but an alliance for stability for Europeans, including Russians." She described George Kennan's criticism of NATO expansion as an example of "old system thinking," since it assumed NATO was still carrying out its Cold War role. Izvestiya published on 15 February an article by German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel and his French counterpart Herve de Charette in which they tried to persuade Russians to see NATO expansion as part of the emergence of a new European security architecture, as evidenced by the strengthening of the EU and OSCE. On 15 February around 100 people gathered near the U.S. Embassy in Moscow to protest NATO expansion. Vladimir Zhirinovsky told the crowd that "The United States, the world's last great power, is about to repeat the mistakes of Napoleon and Hitler," Reuters reported. -- Peter Rutland

CHECHNYA REJECTS YELTSIN'S CALL FOR RUSSIA-CHECHNYA POWER-SHARING TREATY.
Russian President Boris Yeltsin has created a commission headed by Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin to prepare by 31 March a draft treaty on the division of powers between Moscow and Chechnya, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 February, quoting the Russian Presidential Press Service. Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov told ITAR-TASS the same day, however, that "such a treaty is out of the question" and that relations between Russia and Chechnya should be based on international law in compliance with the Khasavyurt agreements signed on 31 August. Under the terms of those agreements, the final decision on Chechnya's future political status is deferred for up to five years. -- Liz Fuller

MASKHADOV BEGINS TO FORM NEW GOVERNMENT.
Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov dissolved the government on 16 February but asked the ministers to continue performing their duties until the new cabinet is unveiled, Russian media reported. Maskhadov will hold the post of prime minister and commander in chief of the Chechen armed forces; there will be no defense minister. Former Information Minister and defeated presidential candidate Movladi Udugov will be offered the post of foreign policy issues minister and Musa Doshukaev will be named first deputy prime minister, a post he held under deceased President Dzhokhar Dudaev. NTV on 13 February quoted Maskhadov as saying that field commander Shamil Basaev, who polled 22.7% in the presidential elections, would be invited to join the new government in an unspecified capacity. -- Liz Fuller

MINIMAL TURNOUT IN SECOND ROUND OF CHECHEN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS.
Repeat elections took place on 15 February for the 58 seats not filled in the first round of elections on 27 January to the new 63-member Chechen parliament, Russian and Western media reported. Voter turnout was less than 30% in most districts, but the Electoral Law requires a minimum turnout of 50% and the vote may therefore be declared invalid, according to Radio Rossii. Twenty-six more deputies were elected, bringing the total to 31, which is below the minimum 33 required for a quorum. AFP quoted Interfax as stating that there would be a third round of voting in two months. -- Liz Fuller

ZYUGANOV PREPARES FOR PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS.
At a gathering to address the results of the Popular-Patriotic Union's first six months on 14 February, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov called on his supporters to begin preparing for new presidential elections. NTV, however, pointed out that the Communists will not push very hard for new elections because they fear that former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed may win. The meeting adopted a statement saying that the State Duma would block START-2 ratification if NATO went ahead with its expansion plans. Zyuganov urged his supporters to follow an "evolutionary path" and to work toward the establishment of a new TV network. -- Robert Orttung

DUMA PASSES LAW ON AMENDING CONSTITUTION.
The Duma passed a new draft of a law defining a procedure for amending the Russian constitution on 14 February in a vote of 281-48 with no abstentions, RIA Novosti reported. President Yeltsin had vetoed an earlier version. Aleksandr Kotenkov, the president's representative to the parliament, said that the president would veto the law again since he believes the procedures the Duma proposed are "unconstitutional," Radio Rossii reported. -- Robert Orttung

THINK-TANK SEES ARMY AS THREAT TO RUSSIA.
A report issued by the non-governmental Council for Foreign and Defense Policy describes the current state of the Russian army as a "catastrophe, which could soon become a national catastrophe" if the government does not act quickly, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 14 February. The report asserts that the underfunded army long ceased to be a guarantee against external threats and warns that without reform it could collapse or break up into armed groups that survive by selling arms or carrying out armed robberies. There could even be a military coup, which could lead to a dictatorship or civil war, the report argues. Russian Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, scheduled to meet Yeltsin on 17 February to discuss funding problems, has issued a series of dire warnings in recent weeks about the state of the army, Reuters and RFE/RL reported. -- Penny Morvant

LEBED IN PARIS.
Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed started a private five-day trip to France on 16 February, AFP reported. In an interview with Le Figaro of 17 February, Lebed predicted that the Russian political system will collapse within a year. He warned that moves to prevent fresh elections should President Yeltsin be forced to resign could lead to social conflict within Russia that could trigger a "third world war." Lebed will meet with the speakers of both houses of the French parliament, with officials at the Foreign Ministry, and with various political party leaders. This is Lebed's fourth trip to the West since October 1996. NTV reported that Lebed had to cancel his planned visit to Napoleon's tomb after undergoing medical treatment for a stubbed toe. Lebed's rival, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, is currently in the middle of a four-day official visit to Madrid and Lisbon. -- Peter Rutland

INVESTMENT DECLINED IN JANUARY.
The volume of domestic investment in the Russian economy in January totaled 18 trillion rubles, a 9% decline over the same period a year earlier, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 February. The volume of industrial investment went up by 4% compared with January 1996, and the construction and technical reconstruction of industrial objects absorbed 62% of all investment. Investment in objects of the social sphere, however, fell by 4%. An 8% reduction was recorded in housing construction (0.4 million sq. m). The continuing decline in investment is largely due to drastic cuts in federal investment programs, high interest rates for banking credits, and the fact that higher returns are possible on the market for state short-term securities (GKOs). -- Natalia Gurushina


RULING PARTY LEADER ON ARMENIA'S 1997 BUDGET.
The chairman of the ruling Armenian Pan-National Movement (HHSh), Ter-Husik Lazaryan, said the government's 1997 draft budget has placed the HHSh-led Hanrapetutyun (Republic) bloc--which holds an overwhelming parliamentary majority--in a "difficult situation," Noyan Tapan reported on 14 February. Lazaryan said that several provisions in the proposed budget contradict the electoral platforms of both the Hanrapetutyun bloc and President Levon Ter-Petrossyan. He called on the government to "either come up with a new platform...or stick to the existing one." Lazaryan added that Prime Minister Armen Sarkisyan has agreed to attend a 17 February meeting of the bloc's parliamentary faction. He also admitted that the bloc's electoral promises to establish two electrical power plants in the country are "impossible to fulfill." -- Emil Danielyan

ARMENIA DENIES RECEIVING ILLEGAL ARMS SHIPMENTS FROM RUSSIA.
The Armenian Foreign Ministry on 15 February issued a statement refuting a claim made at a press conference in Moscow on 14 February by Russian Minister for Relations with the CIS Aman Tuleev that over the past year Russia has illegally supplied Armenia with 270 million rubles ($50,000) worth of weapons, Noyan Tapan reported. Tuleev said that he had asked Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and the secretaries of the Russian Security and Defense councils, Ivan Rybkin and Yurii Baturin, to investigate the shipments, but Baturin reportedly told Interfax that he had received no such request from Tuleev. Moskovskii komsomolets similarly claimed on 14 February that in 1995-1996 Russia had supplied Armenia with 84 T-72 tanks, 50 armored combat vehicles, and spare parts worth 7 billion rubles. -- Liz Fuller

NATO COMMANDER IN BISHKEK DISCUSSES CENTRASBAT '97.
A NATO delegation headed by Supreme Allied Commander John Sheehan arrived in Bishkek on 15 February for talks with the defense ministers of Kyrgyzstan, Kazakstan, and Uzbekistan, RFE/RL reported. The discussions focused on preparations for military excercises slated to take place in September to improve interaction between the 1996-established Central Asian Battalion, Centrasbat, NATO units, and PfP member countries in carrying out peacekeeping and humanitarian operations. -- Lowell Bezanis

REACTIONS TO EVENTS ON CHINESE BORDER WITH KAZAKSTAN.
Ethnic Uighurs residing in Kazakstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey have harshly condemned Beijing's crack down on violent separatist riots among Uighurs in China's Xinjiang province in early February, according to Western media. Three Uighur exile groups based in Kazakstan, the United Association of Uighurs, the United National Revolutionary Front, and the Organization for Freedom of Uighuristan, have declared their intention to unite and form the Uighuristan movement. The groups also said on 14 February that contrary to official Chinese statements, the riots in Xinjiang have spread from the city of Yining to Kucha, Shaghiar, and Khotan. Three Uighur protest marches have taken place in Turkey over the past week, according to Turkish media reports. On 17 February, some 300 people, mainly ethnic Uighurs, picketed the Chinese Embassy in Bishkek, RFE/RL reported. An estimated 200,000 Uighurs reside in Kazakstan and 50,000 live in Kyrgyzstan. -- Lowell Bezanis

TAJIK HOSTAGE CRISIS WINDING DOWN?
Face to face talks between Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and representatives of hostage-taker Bakhrom Sadirov aimed at resolving the Tajik hostage crisis began in Obi Garm on 17 February, RFE/RL reported the same day. On 16 February, the crisis appeared to be winding down as the kidnappers released five hostages: a Swiss UN military observer, a UNHCR worker of unknown nationality, a Tajik interpreter, and two Russian journalists. Another of the hostages, Tajik Security Minister Saidamir Zukhurov, is to be released during the talks. The other five remaining hostages, including UN workers, are to be released "no matter what the outcome of the talks," Russian media sources reported. The reports seem to indicate that future guarantees for the safety of the hostage-takers are being discussed at Obi Garm. The rebels explained that the reason they had reneged on the all-for-all deal late last week was that the Tajik government had only granted free passage from Afghanistan to Tajikistan to 35 of their supporters rather than the 40 they were supposed to have delivered. -- Lowell Bezanis


ROUNDUP OF GEORGIAN PRESIDENT'S VISIT TO UKRAINE.
Eduard Shevardnadze ended an official two-day visit to Ukraine on 14 February, Ukrainian and international agencies reported. Shevardnadze and his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma signed nine documents on cooperation, including agreements on double taxation, trade and economic cooperation, and cooperation over customs and border issues. Trade between Ukraine and Georgia is expected to reach $500 million this year, up from $180 million in 1996. Talks also touched on cooperation over energy supplies. Ukraine is interested in a project to modernize an oil pipeline from Azerbaijan to Georgia. Ukraine produces pipes and other equipment for the gas and oil industries. Both presidents voiced skepticism over the viability of the CIS. -- Ustina Markus

UKRAINIAN PARTIES CHOOSE ELECTORAL PRIORITIES AND ALLIES.
Ukrainian Communist Party leader Petro Symonenko, speaking at his party's closed session, said the Communists would form an electoral alliance with other leftist forces, such as the Socialists and the Peasants' Party, Ukrainian television reported on 15 February. The same day, the centrist pro-presidential movement New Ukraine held its fifth congress in Kyiv. The leader of the movement, presidential administration head Yevhen Kushnaryov, warned against the growing influence of the left, Russian television reported. Kushnaryov said New Ukraine considers Russia and other CIS countries Ukraine's long-time partners. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for 1998; the presidential election follows in 1999. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

PRESIDENT FIRES MINISTERS.
Kuchma fired Agriculture Minister Anatolii Khorishkov and Deputy Transportation Minister Leonid Zheleznyak on 14 February, international agencies reported. Although he did not connect the sackings to corruption, Kuchma announced the action at a meeting of a presidential committee on organized crime and corruption. In early February he had said his government was going to crack down hard on corruption, which had "infected a significant part of the state apparatus." -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

IMPRISONED BELARUSIAN EX-BANK CHIEF TAKEN TO HOSPITAL.
Former head of the National Bank of Belarus Tamara Vinnikova was taken from her prison cell to the hospital on 14 February, Reuters reported. Vinnikova was fired by President Alyaksandr Lukashenka a month ago and imprisoned on charges of causing damage to the state during the time she headed Belarusbank. In solitary confinement since her dismissal, she had appealed to be released on health grounds and promised not to leave Minsk. The court rejected her appeal on 14 February, but her condition worsened the same day, so she had to be moved to the hospital. Vinnikova has maintained that she is not guilty. -- Ustina Markus

BELARUSIAN YOUTH MARCH AGAINST PRESIDENT.
Over 3,000 people, mostly students, held an unauthorized demonstration on 14 February in downtown Minsk to protest President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's authoritarian rule and his pro-Russian policies, international agencies reported. The demonstrators delivered a petition to the embassies of some Western countries, criticizing the restoration of the "Soviet empire." The rally ended outside the television tower, where police dispersed the crowd with tear gas and truncheons. At least 30 demonstrators were reported arrested. Meanwhile, the Institute of Sociology of the state-funded Academy of Science reported that, in a recent public opinion poll, 83% of respondents supported Lukashenka's pro-Russian policies and 55% backed his way of handling corruption. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

POLISH INTERNAL AFFAIRS MINISTER ON RUSSIAN SABOTAGE.
Zbigniew Siemiatkowski said in Rzeczpospolita 15 February that Russian secret agents are preparing "provocations" to sabotage Poland's efforts to join NATO and the EU. Siemiatkowski said that the Russians had been stepping up their diplomatic contacts with politicians from Poland's ruling and opposition parties, there had been attempts to seize large sections of the Polish economy with Russian capital, and there was a Russian offensive in political and media circles. He said Polish counterintelligence is particularly aware of Russian activities and that no political orientation, including his own Democratic Left Alliance, is immune to Russian efforts at infiltration. He also cited Russian pressure to establish a military base in Latvia and said Russia is behind the recent Lithuanian bank crisis. Siemiatkowski left on 16 February for a four-day visit to Germany to discuss cooperation between the Polish and German secret services. -- Jakub Karpinski

EU URGES SLOVAKIA TO PASS MINORITY LANGUAGE LAW.
European Commissioner Hans van den Broek on 13 February warned Slovakia that it must respect democracy and human rights if it hopes to remain in the running for EU membership, Reuters reported the next day. The statement followed talks in Brussels with Slovak Deputy Premier Katarina Tothova. Although he welcomed the parliament's rejection of the penal code amendment on the protection of the republic, van den Broek said the cabinet's failure to submit a minority language law -- despite its promise to do so following the state language law's approval in November 1995 -- remained a major EU concern. During a Slovak TV debate on 16 February, Slovak National Party deputy Jozef Prokes said a minority language law is currently being prepared, CTK reported. -- Sharon Fisher

SLOVAK PRIME MINISTER INSISTS ON BANK PRIVATIZATION.
Vladimir Meciar on 14 February announced that the government will ask President Michal Kovac to return the law on state-owned strategic companies to the parliament for reappraisal, CTK reported. The law, approved on 13 February, prevents the privatization of the four biggest Slovak banks until 2003 and was supported by the opposition and by the Association of Workers, a junior partner in the ruling coalition. Stressing that the privatization of banks is essential, Meciar said he plans to connect the vote on the bank privatization law with a vote of confidence in his government. He said his government had promised the OECD that it would end the current ban on bank privatization, which lasts until late March. Party of the Democratic Left deputy chairwoman Brigita Schmoegnerova said Meciar is misinterpreting the OECD membership conditions for Slovakia. She offered to hold a public discussion with Meciar on those issues. -- Anna Siskova

HUNGARIAN RULING PARTY BEGINS ELECTION PREPARATIONS.
During a weekend meeting of top officials from the Socialist Party, Prime Minister Gyula Horn warned that unjustified internal disputes are damaging the party's image, Hungarian media reported on 17 February. The Socialists discussed how to alter their tone to appear as an authentic left-wing party for next year's parliamentary elections. The party's executive board said recently there are three reasons for the party's falling popularity: price increases, the privatization scandal involving consultant Marta Tocsik, and internal party disputes. The latest opinion polls, conducted by Sonda Ipsos, put Horn in 25th place in popularity. Young Democrat Tamas Deutsch, who chairs the commission on Tocsik, rose to second place, behind President Arpad Goncz. Meanwhile, statistics released on 14 February showed that real wages fell by 5.4% last year. According to Napi Gazdasag, inflation is expected to reach 16%-19% in 1997. -- Sharon Fisher


EXPLOSIONS CONTINUE IN MOSTAR.
Seven explosions rocked the Croat-controlled part of the divided Herzegovinian city on 14 February in a terror campaign against minority Muslims, AFP reported citing SFOR. The next morning, two mortar rounds were fired at the Muslim half of the city but injured no one. Use of mortars represents a serious escalation of violence in the unstable Muslim-Croat federation, which has recently been shaken by serious conflicts between the two peoples. Of 35 Muslim families that were expelled from their homes in Croat-held west Mostar last week, only 16 have returned with the help of SFOR and the UN police, a UN spokesman said on 15 February. In other news, the overnight curfew in the federation was abolished on 14 February after more than four years, Oslobodjenje reported. But federal Interior Minister Mehmed Zilic said a curfew will remain in effect in Mostar "until the tensions calm down." -- Daria Sito Sucic

DUBIOUS SETTLEMENT OF THE BRCKO DISPUTE.
International mediator Roberts Owen on 14 February put off a settlement of the thorny Brcko issue until 15 March 1998 (see OMRI Daily Digest, 14 February 1997), news agencies reported. His interim solution is to leave the Serbs in charge of the river port while creating the office of "international supervisor" to monitor the return of Croat and Muslim refugees and economic reconstruction. It is not clear exactly what powers this new official will have or how he or she will enforce compliance. Owen's program guarantees freedom of movement and the right of refugees to go home, but those provisions are already included in the Dayton agreement and have been neither respected nor enforced. -- Patrick Moore

MIXED RECEPTION OF BRCKO DECISION.
U.S. special envoy John Kornblum said that Owen's package was "definitely enough" to prevent fighting from starting again, news agencies reported on 14 February. The international community's High Representative Carl Bildt warned, however, that "it is sometimes easier to write a thing in a Washington law firm than to do it on the ground" and added that the reconstruction of Brcko will cost at least $200 million. The Bosnian Serb member of the joint Bosnian presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik, was skeptical of Owen's plan, but Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic was more upbeat, saying the decision opens the way to investment and prosperity. Bosnian Muslim leader Alija Izetbegovic said Owen's announcement "is not justice, but a step toward justice." Other Muslims and Croats were more optimistic, saying the plan gives them direct access to what had been Serb-held territory. In short, persons on both sides of the former front line could view the glass as half empty or half full. -- Patrick Moore

KLEIN SAYS MOST SERBS WILL STAY IN EASTERN SLAVONIA.
The UN administrator for eastern Slavonia, Jacques Klein, said only about 15,000-20,000 of the 120,000 Croatian Serbs living in eastern Slavonia would leave for neighboring Serbia, Reuters reported on 16 February. Eastern Slavonia is the last Serb-held region slated to revert to the Croatian government's control. "[Those who will leave] are Serb nationalists who simply cannot live in a Croatian Catholic state -- and they include war criminals, people with guilty consciences," Klein said. The UN Transitional Authority in Eastern Slavonia said some 650 Serb households have left the area since June 1996, 450 of them in the first half of February alone, following the UN Security Council's backing of the Croatian government's letter of intent for peaceful reintegration. But more than 40,000 Serbs have meanwhile obtained Croatian citizenship papers in order to vote and keep their property and jobs. -- Daria Sito Sucic

SERBIAN POLITICAL OPPOSITION CALLS HALT TO DEMONSTRATIONS.
Leaders of the Zajedno coalition on 15 February said they will suspend the marathon mass demonstrations for three weeks to allow the ruling Socialists time to ease restrictions on state media, international media reported. The decision followed the government's recognition of opposition wins in the 17 November municipal elections. Democratic Party leader Zoran Djindjic, addressing some 10,000 people in downtown Belgrade on 15 February, said: "Our three goals were getting back our election victory, achieving a freeing-up of the media, and fair electoral conditions prior to the next voting. We achieved the first, but not the other two. ... We'll give [the Socialists] three weeks, until March 9, and see what happens." Zajedno has said that it will call for renewed demonstrations should the government continue to conduct itself in bad faith. In other news, on 16 February, UN human rights envoy Elisabeth Rehn met with Serbian opposition leader Vesna Pesic and with peaceful protesters beaten by police. -- Stan Markotich

STUDENTS, TRADE UNIONISTS CONTINUE TO DEMONSTRATE.
Student and independent labor leaders have continued with street protests despite the Zajedno announcement, Nasa Borba reported on 17 February. An estimated 5,000 students gathered in downtown Belgrade the previous day to demand the sacking of the pro-government, hard-line rector of Belgrade university and the indictment of those responsible for the electoral fraud. Meanwhile, Serbian Premier Mirko Marjanovic has met with the leaders of state unions, notably those representing elementary and secondary teachers, over demands for increased pay. But independent labor leaders such as Jagos Bulatovic have said that the government negotiations will not be binding on independent teachers, who reserve the right to continue with their protests and job action, Radio Index reported. -- Stan Markotich

AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL CONDEMNS TORTURE IN KOSOVO.
Amnesty International on 16 February called for an end to the torture and abuse of political detainees in Kosovo. The human rights organization mentioned one case of a prisoner who had recently disappeared in police custody and said it was "concerned that courts in Kosovo province frequently have based their verdicts against ethnic Albanians ... on statements which defendants have retracted in court, claiming they had been obtained by force." Police say they are holding 66 people accused or suspected of terrorist attacks in Kosovo this year. Kosovo Albanian officials said they have a record of 55 held in custody after police operations against the Kosovo Liberation Army. Several released prisoners said they had been beaten and tortured with electric shocks. -- Fabian Schmidt

ROMANIAN COALITION PARTY SPLITS.
A dissenting wing of the National Liberal Party-Democratic Convention (PNL-CD), which is a member of the Democratic Convention of Romania (CDR) and of the ruling coalition, on 15 February suspended party chairman Nicolae Cerveni, Romanian television reported. The dissidents oppose a protocol on unification Cerveni signed with several liberal parties that are not members of the CDR. They also reproach Cerveni with having failed to forcefully promote members of the PNL-CD for ministerial posts. In response, Cerveni said the 14 dissidents will be expelled from the party at a meeting of its National Council, scheduled for 22 February. Among the dissidents is Sorin Stanescu, minister of youth and sports. -- Dan Ionescu.

MOLDOVA RECALLS AMBASSADOR TO BONN.
President Petru Lucinschi recalled Moldova's ambassador to Germany, Infotag reported on 14 February. The decree had already been signed in January but was only recently published. Ambassador Alexandru Burian was involved in a conflict with the leadership of the Foreign Ministry in the second half of 1996, when he alleged that there were violations linked to the opening of a consular office in Frankfurt. Tapes of telephone conversations between the ambassador and the presidential office in Chisinau were leaked and broadcast in what some observers considered to be an attempt to embarrass former President Mircea Snegur. A special commission set up to investigate the affair recommended sacking Burian but Snegur did not follow the commission's recommendations. -- Dan Ionescu

BULGARIAN UNION OF DEMOCRATIC FORCES BECOMES PARTY.
The Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), during its ninth National Conference on 15 and 16 February, decided to turn the SDS into a single party rather than an alliance of so far 15 member organizations in light of the upcoming elections and a likely SDS-led government, Kontinent and Duma reported. The parties making up the SDS will be transformed into associated organizations within the new party. In addition, SDS Chairman Ivan Kostov was re-elected by a near-unanimous vote, and an 11-member National Executive Council was elected to run the SDS. Candidates for the upcoming parliamentary elections will be elected in U.S.-style primaries. The SDS will propose common candidates with other opposition parties. -- Stefan Krause

BULGARIAN SOCIALISTS FACE DISASTER IN APRIL ELECTIONS.
A poll published in the Bulgarian Socialist Party's (BSP) daily Duma on 17 February suggests that the Socialists could suffer a humiliating defeat in the 19 April elections. According to the nationwide poll conducted in late January, the BSP would garner only 12% as opposed to 43% for the SDS. The People's Union would get 2%, well under the 4% threshold needed to gain parliamentary representation. The mainly ethnic-Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom would get 4%, and the Bulgarian Business Bloc 7%. Just 7% would go to all other parties. Some 23% of respondents said they will not vote. Meanwhile, the BSP Supreme Council elected party leader Georgi Parvanov as head of the party's election campaign center. Former Interior Minister Nikolay Kamov, former Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski, and former parliamentary Economics Commission Chairman Nikola Koychev will be his deputies. -- Stefan Krause

ALBANIAN PROTESTS CONTINUE.
Sporadic violence and anti-government demonstrations continued throughout the weekend in Vlora, Fier, and Saranda but were quieter than in previous weeks, Reuters and AFP reported. No riot police were seen, in a new strategy by the government not to oppose marches outside the capital. In Tirana, however, police put on a show of force to prevent a rally called by the opposition Forum for Democracy on 16 February from taking place. Meanwhile, Vlora Mayor Gezim Zile called on the government to resign, the first Democrat leader to do so. President Sali Berisha acknowledged that the government had committed errors and had warned the public too late about the dangers of pyramid investment schemes. But he said responsibility also lies with the investors. He stressed that the state has no intention of taking the debt on its shoulders. -- Fabian Schmidt

CRIME SPREADS IN VLORA, ALBANIA.
Five men were wounded, four of them seriously, in gang violence in Vlora in recent days, according to the Interior Ministry. The men, aged between 17 and 28, suffered knife and gunshot injuries. A flourishing trade in illegal immigrants, prostitutes, and drugs has sprung up since police pulled out on 11 February, AFP reported. Smugglers have recovered 135 boats confiscated by police a year ago. Around 50 have been patched up and are commuting to Italy two to three times a day. Greek border guards have been placed on maximum alert in the mountainous border region. Greece has sent a police helicopter and two warships to the border.
Meanwhile, the Albanian Defense Ministry has begun legal action for libel against a journalist of The Independent who wrote an article alleging the ministry was involved in arms trafficking and linking the government to organized crime. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Susan Caskie




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