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Newsline - February 24, 1997


YELTSIN SAYS HE HAS RECOVERED.
President Boris Yeltsin, appearing in public for the first time in more than a month, said on 23 February that he had completely recovered his health and now just needs to regain his strength, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin, who laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Moscow to mark Fatherland Defenders' Day (formerly Soviet Army Day), attacked the State Duma's attempts to unseat him on health grounds as useless, emphasizing "I am a fighter and I remain one." He depicted the Duma's resolution demanding a report on his health by 1 March as a political, communist campaign for which deputies would have to pay. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski

YELTSIN, ALBRIGHT ON NATO.
At the Fatherland Defenders' Day ceremony, Yeltsin said "We are opposed to NATO enlargement. Our task now is to stall it as long as possible," Reuters reported. He expressed the hope that a compromise could be reached with President Bill Clinton at the summit planned for 20 March in Helsinki. There was no sign of a positive Russian response to the new proposals offered by U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright during her 20-21 February visit to Moscow, although she said "important progress" had been made, Western agencies reported on 21 February. The Albright visit produced no breakthrough in US-Russian relations -- but no breakdown, either. Kommersant-Daily commented on 22 February that "the sides confined themselves to presenting the already known positions." -- Peter Rutland

PRIMAKOV IN BRUSSELS.
Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov, who described Albright as "an iron lady but a constructive lady," traveled to Brussels on 23 February for talks with NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana. The two men issued a joint statement, saying that "progress has been made, but differences remain," AFP reported. Primakov proceeded to Norway on 24 February for a two-day visit. ITAR-TASS complained that a forum on U.S.-European relations organized in Brussels on 23 February by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, and chaired by Zbigniew Brzezinski, did not include any representatives from Russia, although persons from Ukraine were invited. -- Peter Rutland

RODIONOV BLASTS NATO.
Addressing a meeting of senior retired officers on veterans day, Defense Minister Igor Rodionov said that if "NATO comes closer to the Russian border, there is a very real risk that efforts will be made for external controls over Russian nuclear weapons," Reuters and ITAR-TASS reported. Rodionov accused NATO of "making all possible effort to deprive Russia of its strategic nuclear weapons." and said that "the Americans are driving a wedge between Russia and Ukraine." By 2000, he said, "our country's defenses will be in ruins" if nothing is done. Rodionov accused Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin of "disinformation" over the state of the armed forces, and repeated the warning that "Russia could lose control of its nuclear arms" due to breakdowns in the command system. On 21 February at Yeltsin's request, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin toured the strategic nuclear forces command center at Odintsevo, near Moscow, and pronounced it "reliable," AFP reported. -- Peter Rutland

ARMY UPBEAT ABOUT BOSNIAN MISSION.
Col.-Gen. Leontii Shevtsov, Russian commander in Bosnia, gave a positive evaluation of his experiences with the NATO force to Russian Public TV (ORT) on 22 February. He said "if Bosnia hadn't happened, it would have had to be invented," in order to promote mutual understanding between the U.S. and Russian militaries. Shevtsov said it would be a good idea for Russia to join NATO because, "like in Spain," it would help deter generals from launching a coup. Meanwhile, NTV carried a report on 22 February from the Pechora early warning radar station, saying that the system was still functioning and had even paid salaries for December. The situation at the nearby AWACs aircraft base was rather grimmer: no flights have been launched since early December. -- Peter Rutland

DUMA CONSIDERS BANNING ORT CORRESPONDENT.
The Duma on 21 February voted 307-4 in favor of a draft resolution to ban Russian Public TV's (ORT) correspondent Pavel Ryazantsev from reporting on the lower house for a month because of his report on the Duma's debate about a law on pornography, AFP reported. A final decision is expected in March. Duma member Stanislav Govorukhin said the report made the members look like "absolute idiots," NTV reported. ORT responded that its correspondent was being criticized for using excerpts from the deputies' speeches in his broadcast. Chairman of the Union of Russian Journalists Vsevolod Bogdanov said that the authorities have no right to deny sources of information to journalists, ITAR-TASS reported. The Duma has long criticized the country's largest broadcaster for its pro-presidential bias and the way it was partially privatized. -- Robert Orttung

DUMA FAILS TO SOLVE HOUSING ISSUE.
The Duma could only muster 259 votes, well short of the 300 needed, to override a Federation Council veto of a bill that would have given each deputy approximately $60,000 to buy an apartment in Moscow, Russian TV reported on 22 February. Yabloko member Yurii Nesterov spoke against the bill because it would let the deputies keep the apartments even after their terms are finished. The parliamentarians do not have sufficient housing now because many of the former members of the Duma refuse to give up their employer-provided apartments (see OMRI Daily Digest, 21 January 1997). -- Robert Orttung

STAVROPOL COURT FINDS PRO-YELTSIN VOTE RIGGING.
A Stavropol court fined three election workers in the Grachevskii Raion of Stavropol Krai for stuffing the ballot box with at least 1,000 false ballots in favor of Yeltsin during the presidential elections, Kommersant-Daily reported. Grachevskii was the only raion in the krai in which Yeltsin won, arousing suspicions among communist poll watchers. Grachevskii Business Manager Lidiya Burimovaya must pay 7 million rubles ($1,200), while the other two must pay 4 million each. Although there have been many allegations of illegalities during the elections, this case is the only one that has been successfully litigated. It will not affect the overall election results. NTV claimed that newly-elected Stavropol Governor Aleksandr Chernogorov, a communist who has poor relations with Moscow, initiated the case after long complaining about wrongdoing. He has already replaced the Grachevskii raion leadership. -- Robert Orttung

KULIKOV: METALS INDUSTRY UNDER THREAT.
Most of Russia's aluminum industry is run by large criminal groups, Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov told the Duma on 21 February. He said that virtually all aluminum deals at plants in Krasnoyarsk and Bratsk are controlled by gang leaders, ITAR-TASS reported. There has been considerable media coverage of the "aluminum mafia" in recent weeks--in particular, of the dealings of the Chernyi brothers' Trans-seas Commodities company, in which former First Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Soskovets has been implicated (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 January 1997). Kulikov called for the establishment of a state commission to investigate violations in the privatization of metallurgical enterprises and the creation of large production complexes to unite mining and processing companies and electricity suppliers in an attempt to curb illegal transactions. Kulikov also asserted that Western producers are attempting to force Russia out of the aluminum market and called for protectionist policies. -- Penny Morvant

THREE ASSISTANTS TO DUMA DEPUTIES HAD CRIMINAL RECORDS.
Three parliamentary aides, killed in separate attacks since November 1996, had links with the criminal world, Moscow government official Anatolii Petrov said in a letter to Duma deputies on 21 February. He said the three aides, all of whom worked for Vladimir Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democratic Party, had criminal records or were active members of criminal gangs, ITAR-TASS reported. Petrov proposed that the Duma adopt legislation on deputies' assistants in order to tighten up the selection process. -- Penny Morvant

1996 BUDGET FIGURES.
According to the government's Working Center for Economic Reform, 1996 budget revenue totaled 279 trillion rubles ($49 billion, or 12.4% of GDP) and expenditures 353 trillion rubles (15.6%), ITAR-TASS reported on 21 February. The budget deficit reached 74.3 trillion rubles (3.3% of GDP), up from 3% in 1995 but still lower than the expected 3.85%. Under IMF methodology, the deficit was estimated at 174 trillion rubles, or 7.7% of GDP, compared to the expected level of 6.8%. Some 55% of the deficit was financed through domestic borrowing through the sale of state short-term securities. The remaining 45% was financed via external borrowing. Meanwhile, First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin said that the IMF may continue to freeze the January and February tranches of the $10.1 billion extended facility fund due to poor tax collection in January. -- Natalia Gurushina

DUMA PASSES LAW ON FOREIGN INVESTMENT.
The Duma passed on first reading a new law on foreign investment in Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 February. The law says that foreign and domestic investors should be treated in the same way, guarantees a stable economic environment for foreign businesses for the first five years of their operations in Russia, and protects them from nationalization. The Duma also passed a bill listing the economic sectors where foreign participation will be limited. They include the defense industry and railways. Foreign investment in Russia in 1996 topped $4.5 billion, of which some $1.2 billion was direct investment. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Davydov said that Russia may postpone further liberalization of foreign trade until it completes restructuring of industry, which could take five to six years, ITAR-TASS reported on 21 February. -- Natalia Gurushina

CORRECTION:
An item in the OMRI Daily Digest of 21 February 1997 described the Ukrainian Orthodox Church-Kyiv Patriarchate as the second-largest church in Ukraine. According to opinion surveys, it is judged to have the largest number of adherents.


SENIOR OFFICIAL IN AZERBAIJAN'S RULING PARTY ASSASSINATED.
Ziya Buniyatov, First Deputy Chairman of New Azerbaijan (Yeni Azerbaycan), was killed on 21 February, Russian and Western media reported. An orientalist, Bunyatov received the top Soviet decoration, Hero of the Soviet Union, for his service in World War II. Buniyatov, 75, was a member of parliament and vice president of the Academy of Sciences. He was shot twice and stabbed four times in what the authorities have described as a likely contract murder. Further details have not been released. -- Lowell Bezanis

ARMENIA, IRAN TO CONNECT POWER GRIDS.
Armenia's Deputy Energy Minister Karen Galustyan said on 22 February that Iran and Armenia will soon connect their power grids over the Arax river which separates the two countries, AFP reported. Galustyan said that work is complete on the Armenian side and is almost finished on the Iranian side. According to Galustyan, tests of the new link will be carried out in early March. AFP also quoted the Iranian state news agency as reporting that, following the recent visit to Yerevan by Vice President Hasan Habibi, Iran will supply Armenia with 200 megawatts of electricity a day beginning in late March. -- Emil Danielyan

NAZARBAYEV'S TIMELY TRIP TO CHINA.
Kazakstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev held talks in Beijing with his Chinese counterpart Jiang Zemin on 21 February, international media reported. The two discussed expanding trade ties and involving Chinese companies in exploiting and transporting Kazakstan's hydrocarbon reserves. Earlier media reports that the two would discuss separatist violence in Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Province in early February were denied by Kazakstani officials reached by RFE/RL on 22 February. Nazarbayev initially arrived in south China on 12 February for an earlier unannounced holiday and to receive what was termed preventative medical treatment. He was the first foreign dignitary to stand beside Zemin after the latter replaced deceased Chinese supremo Deng Xiaoping. -- Lowell Bezanis

UZBEK ROUNDUP.
Uzbek human rights activist and freelance RFE/RL correspondent Albert Mousin was detained on 24 February by Moscow police at the request of Uzbek authorities, RFE/RL reported the same day. Moscow police say Mousin is charged with "intentionally spreading falsehood undermining the state and society" under article 191 of Uzbekistan's legal code. In other news, Coca-Cola oE>ned its third plant in Uzbekistan on 21 February, RFE/RL reported. At the opening of the $10 million plant in Namangan, a company representative announced plans to build yet another, this time near Tashkent, at an estimated cost of $55 million. -- Lowell Bezanis

TAJIKS REACH ACCORD IN MESHED.
The 20-21 February talks between the government and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) in Meshed resulted in an accord on the composition of the new 26- member National Reconciliation Commission, RFE/RL reported on 21 February. The 50-50 split they agreed to leaves no place for any so-called Third Forces as earlier foreseen in UN-sponsored drafts. It appears the sides registered progress toward a formal power sharing agreement as well: 30% of all local and republican posts are slated to go to the UTO, RFE/RL reported. How the remaining 70% is to be divided up remains unclear, however. In the latest twist, presidential press spokesman Zafar Saidov on 24 February said one of the "Third Forces," the strongman in control of Tursun Zade and its lucrative aluminum plant, Mahmud Khudaberdiyev, will participate in the next round of inter-Tajik talks, slated for 26 February in Moscow. -- Lowell Bezanis

TRILATERAL TALKS IN TEHRAN.
A trilateral economic commission meeting attended by Iran, India, and Turkmenistan reached agreements on several joint projects, international media reported on 22 February. Among other plans announced, gas is to be transferred from Turkmenistan to India, a shipping repair installation built on the Iran-Turkmen Caspian border, and a textile factory will be built in Meshed, Iran. The sides also agreed to include Georgia in the commission. The present commission was established in 1995. -- Lowell Bezanis


UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT SETS UP POLITICAL COUNCIL.
Leonid Kuchma has signed a decree setting up a presidential Political Council, Ukrainian TV and ITAR-TASS reported on 21 February. The council is an advisory body whose task is to ensure that the views of the country's political forces are taken into account when state policy is being decided. The members of the council are leaders of nine centrist political parties. Former Deputy Premier Oleksander Yemets has been appointed secretary of the council as well as presidential adviser for political and legal issues. Yemets is one of the leaders of the pro-presidential centrist bloc Nova Ukraina. Meanwhile, current Deputy Premier Viktor Pynzenyk has said that corruption among government officials is slowing the reform process, Reuters reported on 22 February. One of the strongest advocates of reform in Ukraine, Pynzenyk also criticized the parliament for dragging its heels on the passage of a reform package submitted in November. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

UPDATE ON UKRAINIAN-NATO RELATIONS.
U.S. representative Porter Goss, visiting Ukraine this weekend as a member of a congressional delegation, said NATO will offer Ukraine special status at the July summit in Madrid launching the expansion of the alliance, AFP reported on 22 February. The previous day, ITAR-TASS reported that the Party of Citizens of Ukraine have decided to establish an anti-NATO "club," along the lines of the one in the Russian State Duma. The Ukrainian club opposes both NATO expansion and Ukraine's membership in the alliance. Meanwhile, a demonstration of 500 people took place in Sevastopol on 23 February to protest relations between Ukraine and NATO. Radio Mayak reported an anti-NATO demonstration also took place in Simferopol. Demonstrators demanded that the Crimean authorities stop the alleged secret talks on making Sevastopol a base of the U.S. Seventh Fleet. -- Ustina Markus

EMPTY-POTS DEMONSTRATION IN MINSK.
Several hundred women marched through downtown Minsk on 22 February to protest plummeting living standards, international agencies reported. To stress their plight, they banged on empty cooking pots as they made their way through the capital's streets. The demonstration was organized by the previously unknown Working Women's Organization and was backed by the Belarusian Popular Front. Demonstrators blamed Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka for falling living standards and demanded his resignation. The police stood by but did not try to break up the rally. Also on 22 February, ITAR-TASS reported Belarusian Defense Minister Alyaksandr Chumakau as saying the reorganization of the armed forces into an army composed of 113,000 troops had been completed. That statement contradicts previous statements on the size of Belarus's armed forces. Last year, the armed forced were reported to be around 70-80,000 strong. -- Sergei Solodovnikov and Ustina Markus

BELARUS IMPOSES VAT ON UKRAINIAN GOODS.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 21 February signed a decree imposing an unspecified VAT on Ukrainian goods imported into Belarus, Ukrainian and Belarusian Radio reported. The decree is aimed at bringing Belarus's legislation into line with Russia's. Goods produced jointly by Belarus and Ukraine will not be affected by the new decree. Trade between the two countries stood at $1.5 billion in 1996, with Kyiv registering a surplus. The following day, AFP reported that Lukashenka has once again railed against Russia over the customs union. He was quoted as saying he will scrap plans for closer integration if Russia does not dismantle customs controls on the Belarusian-Russian border. -- Ustina Markus

BRITISH AID TO JOINT NAVAL UNIT OF BALTIC STATES.
British Deputy Defense Minister Frederick Howe, at the start of his three-day visit to Lithuania, said that his country supports setting up Baltron, a joint Baltic destroyer squadron, BNS reported on 21 February. Britain will assist in the training of seamen and donate some equipment, while Germany, the U.S. and several Nordic countries have also promised to offer help. Howe met with Defense Minister Ceslovas Stankevicius, armed forces commander in chief Gen. Jonas Andriskevicius, and members of the Seimas National Security Committee. -- Saulius Girnius

LITHUANIAN SEIMAS SPEAKER IN POLAND.
Vytautas Landsbergis, addressing the Sejm in Polish on 21 February, proposed talks on setting up an interparliamentary body that would meet regularly for consultations and long-term cooperation. He told a news conference later that such a body might consist of 20 delegates from each country's legislature, but he added that it was up to the two parliaments to work out the details. Landsbergis also criticized Russian efforts to block NATO enlargement, noting that Lithuania, like Poland, wants to be admitted to NATO and the EU. Recalling the many historical links between Lithuania and Poland, he urged the two countries to put aside differences in the pursuit of common goals. -- Jakub Karpinski

POLISH PRIME MINISTER AT NATO HEADQUARTERS.
Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz visited NATO headquarters in Brussels on 21 February to meet with the ambassadors of the alliance's member countries. He said Poland expects to be invited to attend NATO's July summit in Madrid, and he urged Western countries not to cut a deal with Russia over the heads of other countries. Any deal with Moscow, he argued, should be "transparent" and should take into account the concerns of non-members. Poland would not accept any arrangement making it a "second-class" member of the alliance, Cimoszewicz said. -- Jakub Karpinski

CZECH PRESIDENT CRITICIZES NATO.
Vaclav Havel, in his weekly radio address on 23 February, argued that current problems over NATO expansion can be attributed partly to the West's indecisiveness. "In a way, the West is now reaping the fruits of its own indecisiveness. Four years ago, Russia was basically indifferent to whether NATO would expand," Havel commented. He noted that Boris Yeltsin had taken a "liberal attitude" toward the question of NATO expansion during his visit to Prague in 1993. At that time, the Russian president had said that the Czech Republic was a sovereign state and that Russia had no right to prevent it from entering any international organization. According to Havel, the West's conservatism and its inability to deal with challenges posed by the Iron Curtain's fall had "directly prodded Russia into beginning to resist NATO expansion." -- Jiri Pehe

SLOVAK THEATER EMPLOYEES TO GO ON STRIKE.
Slovak theater employees on 22 February went on strike to protest the Ministry of Culture's failure to meet trade union demands, Slovak media reported. The unions demanded one week ago, among other things, that state-run theaters become independent legal entities and that theater directors be selected in open competitions. Many of the theaters taking part in the strike are government-funded. Premier Vladimir Meciar, speaking on Slovak Radio on 22 February, said the strike violated agreements with the government and called the unions' demands "purely political." He suggested that theater employees set up their own private theaters so that they themselves can decide "about everything, including economic questions." -- Jiri Pehe

SLOVAK PETITION DRIVE FOR DIRECT PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS DRAWS TO CLOSE.
The petition drive for a referendum on whether the Slovak president should be elected directly ended on 23 February, Slovak media reported. Organized by seven opposition parties, the drive lasted for 46 days. One week ago, the petition committee announced that it had already collected more than the 350,000 required signatures. The coalition parties are opposed to a referendum, saying it is illegal to try to change the constitution through a plebiscite. But the opposition parties want a vote on direct presidential elections to take place in June. -- Jiri Pehe

HUNGARIAN FARMERS LAUNCH PROTEST.
The National Federation of Hungarian Farmers have started a three-day protest today against tax and social insurance laws that took effect on 1 January, Hungarian media reported. The decision to stage the protest came after the federation broke off talks with Finance and Agriculture Ministry officials at the end of last week. The farmers intend to block roads in 200 locations throughout the country. Meanwhile, the government has renewed its offer to reach a compromise on several parts of the law but has ruled out revoking the law. -- Zsolt Mato

ANOTHER VICTIM OF HUNGARIAN PRIVATIZATION SCANDAL.
Sandor Puskas, president of the supervisory board of the State Privatization and Holding company (APV), submitted his resignation on 21 February, Vilaggazdasag reported. Board members requested that he resign after it was revealed that he had attended all APV meetings discussing the hiring of Martha Tocsik, the independent expert who received a record consultancy fee. The State Auditing Office, which has the power to appoint the APV supervisory board chief, has not yet named Puskas's replacement. Board members have said they would like to see Jozsef Saling, a board member representing the Interest Coordination Council, as the next president. -- Zsolt Mato


MONTENEGRIN PREMIER SLAMS SERBIAN PRESIDENT.
Montenegrin Premier Milo Djukanovic, in an interview with the weekly Vreme on 21 February, heaped criticism on Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, saying the Serbian president is "incompetent" to lead the country. "Milosevic is a man whose politics are obsolete, [and he] is incapable of making a strategic assessment of the challenges facing our state. It would be politically wrong to keep him in any political position in Yugoslavia," said Djukanovic. Milosevic, meanwhile, has used state television to fire back at his critics. One day after the Vreme interview, one TV commentary dubbed Djukanovic a traitor, saying the Montenegrin premier is bent on jeopardizing national interests. -- Stan Markotich

MYSTERIOUS DEATH IN KOSOVO PRISON.
The pro-Milosevic Belgrade daily Politika Ekspres reported on 24 February that the 30 year-old ethnic Albanian Besnik Restelica died in police custody recently because he hanged himself in his cell. The paper suggested he feared reprisals from his own people after having confessed to the involvement in the clandestine Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK). Members of the Albanian community, however, said the young man had been tortured to death as part of a tough crackdown on suspected members of the UCK, international news agencies wrote. Meanwhile, the National Movement for Liberation of Kosovo (LKCK) has called for an "armed uprising" against Serbia. It also attacked the ethnic Albanian political establishment for its "pacifist politics which are in the interest of Serbia and not of their own people," AFP wrote. -- Patrick Moore

ANOTHER ATTACK ON SFOR IN MOSTAR.
In an second attack on the NATO-led Stabilization Force within two days, assailants threw a hand grenade at an Italian armored vehicle in Mostar on 21 February, international agencies reported. Four Italian soldiers traveling in the vehicle at the time of the attack were unhurt. A NATO spokesman said the identity of the assailants, who escaped by car, was unknown. Following the first attack (see OMRI Daily Digest, 21 February 1997), the SFOR commander in Mostar, Gen Yves le Chatelier, said he would use the 10,000 men under his command to "do whatever is necessary to remove all forces that threaten us," AFP reported. Meanwhile, Valentin Coric, the Croatian police chief
in Mostar, has said that charges have been filed against 11 prominent Muslims in connection with Muslim-Croatian clashes in the city earlier this month. -- Daria Sito Sucic

CROATIA URGED TO PROTECT ALL REMAINING SERBS.
U.S. Ambassador Peter Galbraith said that the reintegration of eastern Slavonia into Croatia will succeed only if Serbs all over Croatia feel secure, Novi List wrote on 23 February. He said that Croatian Serbs and Croats alike should be able to return to their homes anywhere in Croatia in safety. Galbraith also urged the reintroduction of the Serbs into the political process, which Zagreb has already promised it will do. -- Patrick Moore

TUDJMAN TO SEEK RE-ELECTION AS PRESIDENT.
The ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) announced at its annual congress on 23 February that Croatian President Franjo Tudjman will run in the presidential elections scheduled for later this year, Vecernji list reported on 24 February. The pro-government daily Vjesnik commented last week that Tudjman's candidacy demonstrates that the Croatian leader "has recovered from his illness very well, is in good health, and has reached his former condition". Tudjman, reported to be ill with cancer, will run for his third term in office. As founder and leader of the HDZ, he won the first democratic elections in Croatia some seven years ago. -- Daria Sito Sucic

FRENCH PRESIDENT IN ROMANIA.
Jacques Chirac, during a state visit to Romania on 21-22 February, held talks with his Romanian counterpart, Emil Constantinescu, Premier Victor Ciorbea and other senior Romanian officials, including former President Ion Iliescu, international media reported. Chirac is the first foreign head of state to pay an official visit to Romania since the victory of democratic forces in the November 1996 elections. Talks focused on Romania's efforts to join European and Euro-atlantic structures and how to boost bilateral trade and French investment in Romania. Chirac repeated his country's support for Romania's integration into NATO in the first wave of admissions. -- Dan Ionescu

ROMANIAN NATIONALIST LEADER OUSTED, EXILED KING'S CITIZENSHIP RESTORED.
The Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) on 22 February ousted its leader, Gheorghe Funar, blaming him for the party's poor showing in the November elections, Radio Bucharest reported. Valeriu Tabara, a former agriculture minister, has been elected interim president until the party's national convention, scheduled for next month. He said the party will change its anti-Hungarian nationalist stance. Meanwhile, the Romanian government has restored the citizenship of former King Mihai and his family, international media reported on 21 February. In a first reaction, the royal household said the act was contributing to "national reconciliation" at a time when "sacrifices are demanded of all Romanians." Mihai, who lives in Switzerland, has announced he will pay a six-day visit to Romania beginning 28 February. -- Zsolt Mato and Dan Ionescu

BULGARIA'S EURO-LEFT ELECTS LEADERSHIP.
The 3,000 or so members of the new Euro-Left party have elected a 20-strong political council and Alexander Tomov as party chairman, Reuters and Duma reported. Tomov is chairman of the Civic Union of the Republic (GOR), one of the three groups that belong to Euro-Left. The other two groups are the Movement for Social Humanism and a group of Bulgarian Socialist Party deputies opposed to former Premier Zhan Videnov, who recently left the party. Euro-Left espouses the principles of social democracy and aims at membership in the Socialist International. It will participate in the campaign for the April parliamentary elections. -- Maria Koinova

WORLD BANK RECOMMENDATIONS TO BULGARIA.
During his visit in Bulgaria on 23 February, World Bank Director for Southeastern Europe Kenneth Lay said that speeding up reforms was the only way to solve the current economic crisis in Bulgaria. He recommended the liberalization of fuel and grain prices and the lifting of import and export duties on grain as a way to avert shortages. Lay also said that the World Bank is ready to grant another loan to help the unemployed after the closure of unprofitable enterprises. According to 24 Chasa, he also commented that the government could sell off 100% the Bulgarian Telecommunications Company if the highest possible price were to be paid. -- Maria Koinova

TURKEY TO EXPEL BULGARIAN TURKS.
Turkey plans to expel an estimated 200,000 Turkish Muslim Bulgarian citizens who do not have the proper documentation to reside in Turkey, Western media reported on 21 February. Balkan Muslim emigre groups in Turkey are asking the Turkish Interior Ministry to review the expulsion decree, which is due to go into effect on 1 April. -- Lowell Bezanis

PROTESTS CONTINUE IN ALBANIA ...
At least 5,000 people staged a peaceful, if noisy, protest in the southern port of Vlora on 23 February, Reuters reported. It was the 19th straight day of demonstrations there following the collapse of several pyramid schemes in which many Albanians lost their life savings. The protesters on 21 February rejected an offer by President Sali Berisha to compensate them with assets from a local salt mine and gas station. The next day, a state commission announced that investors in the collapsed Gjallica scheme would get only a fraction of their money back. The pyramid, which had attracted much money in Vlora, had $145 million in debts but only $28 million in assets. The protesters also expressed their support for 53 hunger-striking students, who have blockaded themselves in the university since 20 February to demand the resignation of the government of Prime Minister Aleksander Meksi. -- Patrick Moore

... WHILE BERISHA LASHES OUT AT FOES.
Berisha has meanwhile continued to give speeches across the country in connection with his expected re-election to the presidency in March. His return to office seems a foregone conclusion, since the president is elected by the parliament, which is controlled by Berisha's Democratic Party (PD). Speaking in Shkoder on 22 February, he repeated his charge that "the communists" are trying to foment unrest as a means to retake power. He earlier slammed 14 members of his own party, including former cabinet ministers who had joined in the calls for Meksi to resign, the BBC reported. German media noted that the government has taken an increasingly shrill tone against Voice of America and Deutsche Welle's coverage of the disturbances. -- Patrick Moore

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Jan Cleave




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