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Newsline - March 3, 1997

Following another one-day round of negotiations in Grozny, Security Council Secretary Ivan Rybkin and acting Chechen First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov announced on 2 March that the federal government and Chechnya may sign a treaty "on peace and agreement" during the first ten days of this month, Russian TV reported. Rybkin said that a "centuries-old confrontation" is "coming to an end." The agreement provides for Chechnya to remain within the ruble zone, but the two sides announced no other provisions. NTV quoted early critics of the new agreement as pointing out that Chechnya wants independence from everything but the budget. While acknowledging that advances have been made, Udugov stressed that the question of whether Chechnya will be independent remains unresolved, "slowing the whole process of negotiations." -- Robert Orttung

President Boris Yeltsin on 28 February ordered the Foreign Ministry to sign Protocol 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which outlaws capital punishment, international agencies reported. When it joined the Council of Europe on 28 February 1996, Russia undertook to sign Protocol 6 within a year and to ablolish the death penalty within three. Yeltsin also instructed the Justice Ministry to work out measures to bring about the "step by step" abolition of the death penalty in practice, but he set no timetable. Before capital punishment can be abolished, the parliament must amend current legislation, including the new Criminal Code. There is considerable support for capital punishment in the Duma, which has still not passed legislation placing a moratorium on executions. Although Russia committed itself to an immediate moratorium when it acceded to the Council of Europe, executions continued until August. -- Penny Morvant

Yeltsin, in his 6 March address to the State Duma, will announce that he and his Belarusian counterpart, Alyaksandr Lukashenka, have agreed to hold simultaneous national referenda on accelerating Russian-Belarusian integration, Reuters reported on 1 March, citing Interfax. Quoting anonymous sources in Yeltsin's administration, the agency said Yeltsin will argue that the current state of "semi-unification" between the two countries is more expensive than fuller economic and political integration. The report gave no details and no date for the proposed referenda. Yeltsin proposed such referenda in a January letter to Lukashenka (see OMRI Daily Digest, 14 January 1997). To date, bilateral declarations and agreements on Russian-Belarusian integration have had little effect in practice. -- Scott Parrish

Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov on 2 March briefed Yeltsin on his recent visits to Brussels, Oslo, Copenhagen, and London, international agencies reported. Primakov said "progress" had been made on the proposed Russia-NATO charter, but he and Yeltsin agreed that any such agreement must not only address Russian "concerns" but be legally "binding," which alliance leaders have balked at. Yeltsin also ordered Primakov to visit Washington to finalize preparations for the 20-21 March U.S.-Russian summit in Helsinki. Addressing the Royal Institute of International Affairs in London on 28 February, Primakov argued that Western policies aimed at expanding NATO and hampering CIS integration were damaging Russia's relations with the West. He added that Moscow wants a moratorium on NATO enlargement. The alliance is moving ahead with plans to accept new members by 1999. -- Scott Parrish

Federation Council Speaker Yegor Stroev, rumored to be a possible candidate for prime minister, announced that he has no desire to leave his current posts as governor of Orel Oblast and head of the upper house of parliament, Russian media reported on 28 February. Stroev's comments fueled speculation that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin will keep his job in the reshuffle expected on 6 March. Meanwhile, at a 28 February conference of his Reforms--New Course movement in Togliatti (Samara Oblast), former Federation Council Speaker Vladimir Shumeiko called on Yeltsin to dissolve the State Duma along with reshuffling the government. Shumeiko had reportedly been considered for Chernomyrdin's job, but his latest suggestion infuriated Duma deputies, who would have to confirm a new prime minister. Shumeiko could still be tapped to head Yeltsin's administration, should Anatolii Chubais take up a cabinet post. -- Laura Belin

The Democratic Party of Russia (DPR) replaced its leader, Sergei Glazev, with 45-year-old Viktor Petrov, chairman of the party's Rostov regional organization, ITAR-TASS reported 28 February. Petrov described the DPR as "a party of strong regional organizations" but called for a new program and set of parties rules to be adopted in May. Glazev did not seek another term, saying he was too busy as the head of the Federation Council's Information and Analytical Department. Another visible DPR leader, the Duma member and filmmaker Stanislav Govorukhin has also quit the party, which has been in crisis since its founder, Nikolai Travkin, resigned as leader in late 1994. -- Robert Orttung

Former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed appeared in Chelyabinsk to found a regional branch of his Russian People's-Republican Party (RNRP), Russian media reported on 1 March. The RNRP, which is being organized by Lebed's Honor and Motherland movement, will hold its nationwide founding congress later this month; it has already established branches in Nizhnii Novgorod, Krasnoyarsk Krai, and Bashkortostan. Also on 1 March, the Honor and Motherland headquarters in Zlatoust (Chelyabinsk Oblast) were burned to the ground in a suspected arson attack, ITAR-TASS reported. Meanwhile, the Congress of Russian Communities (KRO), on whose ticket Lebed campaigned for the State Duma in 1995, held a conference in Moscow on 1 March. KRO leader Dmitrii Rogozin told ITAR-TASS that he would have to study the program of Lebed's new party before he could determine how closely they would cooperate in the future. -- Laura Belin

Irkutsk Governor Yurii Nozkikov has ordered that the oblast stop making payments to the federal budget as of 1 March, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 March. The money will be allocated to the oblast budget to pay wages in the social sector. Wage arrears in the oblast have reached 2 trillion rubles ($360 million). Nozhikov's move follows a trip to Moscow last week in which he met with federal officials, including Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, and made demands totaling some 3 trillion rubles, Radio Rossii reported. -- Robert Orttung

Earl Pitts, the former FBI counterintelligence officer arrested last December on charges of selling classified information to Russian and Soviet agents from 1987 to 1996 (see OMRI Daily Digest, 19 December 1996), pleaded guilty on 28 February to two espionage charges, Reuters reported. In a plea bargain negotiated with federal prosecutors, ten other charges against Pitts were dropped in exchange for his admission of guilt. Pitts still faces the possibility of life imprisonment when sentenced later this month. The plea bargain allows the government to avoid a trial in which classified information might have been disclosed. -- Scott Parrish

About $2.5 million of U.S. aid for Russia was stolen at London's Heathrow airport last week, British police said on 2 March. The money was seized from a high-security cargo compound on 25 February while awaiting transfer from a New York flight to a plane bound for Moscow, international agencies reported. The cash was in one of four bags, containing a total of $10 million. The Mail on Sunday said the money, in high denomination dollar bills, came from the Republic National Bank of New York and was being sent to the Moscow-based Tokobank as part of U.S. aid to Russia. On 3 March, however, the U.S. embassy in Moscow denied that USAID money had been stolen, AFP reported. "This story, as reported, is not credible," an embassy press release said. -- Penny Morvant

The Central Bank (TsB) will introduce a new 500,000-ruble ($90) bank note on 17 March, ITAR-TASS and Kommersant-Daily reported on 28 February-1 March. This move appears to confirm the TsB's promise not to carry out monetary reform in the near future. The new bill will feature a portrait of Peter the Great, a metallic strip intended to prevent counterfeiting, and special signs for visually-impaired people. It will first be introduced in the Far East and northern Russia. -- Natalia Gurushina

Personal savings kept in the Sberbank savings bank totaled 97.6 trillion rubles ($17 billion at the current exchange rate) in January, up 13% over December 1996, ITAR-TASS reported on 28 February, citing the State Statistical Committee (Goskomstat). The average personal savings deposit increased from 381,100 rubles in December to 429,800 rubles in January. The state-owned Sberbank holds 76% of all personal savings held in Russian commercial banks. -- Natalia Gurushina

Russian oil companies are considering building a new 250 km eastern branch of the Perm-Saratov-Novorossiisk pipeline that will avoid Ukrainian territory, Segodnya reported on 28 February. Russian firms have to pay Ukraine $2.5 for each metric ton of oil transiting the Dnieper pipeline, which runs to the Russian port of Novorossiisk. In 1996, Russia paid Ukraine $200 million in oil transit fees, $75 million on the Dnieper line and $125 million on the Druzhba line, which carries oil to Slovakia and Western Europe. Russian TV (RTR) noted on 27 February that 90% of Russia's freight imports come through ports in the Baltic states, which means an estimated loss to Russia of $10 billion a year in revenue. Three new ports are to be constructed in Leningrad Oblast as well as an oil facility at Ust-Lug and a natural gas outlet at Primorsk. -- Peter Rutland

The Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC) will spend $315 million on the construction of a pipeline from Baku to Supsa on the Georgian Black Sea coast, Russian and Western media reported on 28 February. Construction is to begin immediately and is scheduled to be completed by December 1998. The pipeline will carry an estimated 115,000 barrels a day of so-called early oil. Early oil is supposed to start flowing through the "northern route" to the Russian port of Novorossiisk in 1997. -- Lowell Bezanis

The presidents of all five Central Asian States met in Almaty on 28 February to discuss the desiccation of the Aral Sea, RFE/RL reported the same day. Following the summit, Kazakstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev said the World Bank will spend $2.5 million on a pilot project to help persons living near the sea. Each republic will allocate 0.3% of its national income to the International Aral Sea Salvation Fund. Uzbek President Islam Karimov is to head the fund over the next three years. It was also agreed in Almaty to urge the UN to proclaim 1998 the year of environmental protection in Central Asia. -- Lowell Bezanis

The Central Asian presidents also discussed Afghanistan, although Nazarbayev stressed "no special decision" was taken. They expressed concern over developments there, while Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov and his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, went further, saying they feared a Taliban spring offensive that could destabilize Central Asia, international media reported. Karimov was quoted by AFP as saying the Uzbek military has been put on alert. The five leaders also unanimously urged all interested countries to support their concept of a nuclear weapon-free Central Asia, Russian media reported on 28 February. -- Lowell Bezanis

Tajik government and United Tajik Opposition (UTO) representatives remain "far apart" on key military problems, Russian media reported on 2 March. The key sticking point in the Moscow talks is the size of the opposition forces to be integrated with those of the Tajik government. The UTO wants platoons and companies integrated, while the government wants groups of only 5-10 men. Meanwhile, owing to a lack of ammunition and food, fighting between UTO and pro-Sadirov forces in the Ramid Gorge seems to have temporarily ceased, RFE/RL reported. The Tajik Foreign Ministry has protested to Russia over what it called the anti-Tajik campaign waged by the Russian media, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 March. Dushanbe called on Moscow to curb the campaign of "purposeful disinformation." Finally, the death toll from the typhoid fever outbreak in Tajikistan has risen to over 80, Reuters reported on 28 February. -- Lowell Bezanis

Ukrainian First Deputy Foreign Minister Anton Buteiko and his Romanian counterpart Dumitru Ceausu initialed a draft of a basic treaty on friendship and cooperation, AFP reported on 1 March. No date has been set for the signing of the treaty, but Romania has been under pressure to conclude the accord in order to qualify for the first wave of NATO expansion. The two main obstacles to the treaty have been Romania's demand that Ukraine condemn the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentropp Pact that made Romania give up territory in favor of the Soviet Union (Kyiv refused to do so because it argued it could open the way for future claims to Ukrainian territory) and the issue of the Romanian minority in Ukraine. Ukraine accepted Romania's demands regarding the minority question, while Bucharest backed away from its insistence that the 1939 pact be condemned. -- Ustina Markus

A gathering to mark the 930th anniversary of the founding of Minsk turned into a demonstration against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka, Reuters reported on 2 March. The rally took place one day after the announcement that Russia and Belarus had agreed in principle to hold simultaneous referendums on integration (see related story in Russian section). Between 3,000 and 5,000 people participated in the demonstration and marched to the parliament building. No serious clashes were reported and the protesters disbanded after reaching the parliament. -- Ustina Markus

Leonid Gorbenko, the administrative chief of the Kaliningrad Oblast, on 28 February discussed economic and cultural relations with Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas, Prime Minister Gediminas Vagnorius, and Economy Minister Vincas Babilius, Radio Lithuania reported. Gorbenko was heading a delegation of officials and businessmen at the first Lithuania-Kaliningrad economic cooperation conference. He called for lowering the cost of transit shipping through Lithuania in order to help both the Kaliningrad and Klaipeda ports. He also noted that a Lithuanian language course will be instituted this fall at the University of Kaliningrad. -- Saulius Girnius

Valerii Serov held talks with his Latvian counterpart Anatolijs Gorbunovs and President Guntis Ulmanis in Riga on 27-28 February, ITAR-TASS and BNS reported. Serov and Gorbunovs agreed that the first full meeting of an intergovernmental Latvian-Russian commission -- chaired by the two men -- will meet in Moscow in April. The commission will discuss a range of bilateral issues including transport, trade, and educational and cultural cooperation. Serov called for granting Latvian citizenship to Russians living in Latvia and no new cuts in education in the Russian language. -- Saulius Girnius

During 24-28 February Sejm and Senate proceedings on the draft constitution, 200 Polish parliamentarians (out of 560) proposed 482 amendments to the draft constitution elaborated by the parliamentary commission. Several Polish politicians commented on recent Solidarity pronouncements on the constitution draft (see OMRI Daily Digest, 28 February 1997). The co-ruling Democratic Left Alliance rejects the priority of "natural law" over man-made law. The Polish Peasant Party and the Freedom Union said they are ready to accept the reference to the Polish nation in the preamble. According to a Demoskop poll conducted on 6-11 February and published by Gazeta Wyborcza on 1 March, 75% of respondents declared their intention to participate in the constitutional referendum and 51% said that the two drafts -- one endorsed by parliament and the other by Solidarity -- should be submitted to a referendum (the current law provides only for submitting the parliament's draft to a referendum). Each of the drafts enjoyed 22% support in the poll. -- Jakub Karpinski

On 28 February three people: poet, translator, and essayist Stanislaw Baranczak, theater director Jerzy Grotowski, and poet/essayist Zbigniew Herbert received the Great Prize for 1996, awarded by the Polish Culture Foundation, Polish media reported. Baranczak was a member of the opposition
Worker's Defense Committee in the 1970s. He currently teaches Polish literature at Harvard University. With great understanding of the linguistic aspect of poetry, he translated many English language poets into Polish. Grotowski was active in Poland in Opole and Wroclaw until the 1980s, experimenting in new theater forms with his Laboratory Theater (later he also worked abroad). One of his best known performances is Apocalypsis Cum Figuris (1968-1974). Herbert, author of classical and reflexive poetry, is considered by some the greatest living Polish poet and a possible candidate for the Nobel prize. -- Jakub Karpinski

Czech police on 28 February arrested extreme-right Republican Party Chairman Miroslav Sladek only hours after the parliament had lifted Sladek's and two other Republican deputies' immunity from prosecution, Czech media reported. The fact that police took Sladek into custody before prosecutors received a copy of the parliament's resolution stripping him of immunity has caused an uproar among deputies. Parliament Chairman Milos Zeman asked Internal Affairs Minister Jan Ruml to explain the police action; Ruml admitted the police had acted improperly. Sladek, who received a suspended two-year prison sentence a year ago, is now charged with spreading racial hatred in connection with public statements he made during German Chancellor Helmut Kohl's recent visit to Prague. Sladek said that not enough Germans were killed during World War II. -- Jiri Pehe

During a TV debate on 2 March, Slovak National Party (SNS) Chairman Jan Slota said Slovakia would have to "keep its mouth shut" if it joined NATO, CTK reported. Slota, whose party is a junior partner in the ruling coalition, added that entering the alliance would cost billions and could ruin Slovakia's finances. Meanwhile, opposition Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) deputy Pavol Kanis said NATO membership is the best solution for Slovakia. Although most SDL deputies voted in favor of holding the controversial NATO referendum, Kanis called the plebiscite "absurd." He pointed out that if Slovakia is not accepted to NATO, its international position would worsen. In other news, the SNS has invited French National Front Chairman Jean Marie Le Pen to Slovakia. Slota will soon meet Le Pen in Strasbourg to discuss cooperation between the two parties. -- Anna Siskova

Fifteen of Slovakia's 21 theaters went on strike on 28 February, while other theaters remained on strike alert, Slovak media reported. The theaters are protesting government cultural policy. According to Association of Slovak Theater Unions Honorary Chairman Vladimir Durdik, the Culture Ministry broke off the dialogue with theater unions two years ago. Confederation of Trade Unions Deputy Chairman Jozef Kollar warned that the strike could spread to such sectors as Danube shipping, mining, and the defense industry. In other news, President Michal Kovac on 28 February appointed Lubomir Dobrik as a Constitutional Court judge. Kovac was required to pick one of two candidates nominated by the parliament last month -- Dobrik and ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) deputy Jan Cuper. Dobrik said he gave up his HZDS membership before taking the oath. -- Sharon Fisher

Rumors that Hungary's second largest retail bank is going bankrupt caused thousands of deposit holders to rush to Postabank branches on 28 February, withdrawing 21 billion forints ($131 million) and sending the stock exchange's BUX Index down 140 points, Hungarian media reported on 3 March. Postabank and National Bank of Hungary (MNB) officials immediately assured depositors that the rumor was a false alarm and that the bank's healthy liquidity will allow it to meet its obligations. MNB also said that its resources will be made available to ensure the cash flow, if necessary. Suspecting a political plot behind the false alarm, Finance Ministry State Secretary Laszlo Akar said it was no coincidence that the panic was timed to coincide with the farmers' demonstrations and that the secret service will investigate the origins of the rumor. Postabank manages about 200 million forints in individual savings. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The opposition Democratic Forum wrapped up a two-day national convention on 2 March, concluding that it will sign an election agreement not only with the opposition Young Democrats but also the Christian Democrats, Hungarian dailies reported. Party President Sandor Lezsak defined the Democratic Forum as a national centrist party that identifies itself with Christian values. The party called on the cabinet to urgently solve problems in agriculture, recently highlighted by a farmers' road blockade in eastern Hungary. In January, the Democratic Forum and the Young Democrats announced that they intended to field joint candidates in the 1998 general elections, which was followed by a Christian Democrat-Smallholders Party cooperation pact. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Albanian government declared a state of emergency on 2 March in response to the violence that erupted throughout the country after 28 February, when protests against the collapse of several get-rich-quick pyramid schemes turned violent. At least 14 people have been killed, and an estimated 150 were injured, international media reported. The hardest hit region was the southern part of the country, and shooting broke out in several cities as protesters continued their calls for the resignation of President Sali Berisha and his government and early elections. Rampaging protesters ransacked symbols of authority, plundered arms depots, and publicly destroyed police property. According to some eyewitness reports, local civilian police offered little resistance, themselves possibly big losers in pyramid scheme investments. -- Stan Markotich

Sali Berisha's summer residence in Vlora was the site of mass looting over the weekend, CNN reported on 3 March. An announcement that the government of Premier Alexander Meksi would tender its resignation failed to calm the public ire. And in the latest development, AFP, citing local reports, said on 3 March that the country's parliament has ordered "armed rebels" to surrender their weapons by 2 p.m. CET that same day or face reprisals from the country's security forces. The decision follows the 2 March declaration of a state of emergency and also includes a provision for press censorship. -- Stan Markotich

The UN spokeswoman in Belgrade, Susan Manuel, said on 28 February that more than 1,800 Serb families have reportedly left eastern Slavonia for Serbia in February, AFP reported. The Association of Serb refugees in Banja Luka said that around 800 eastern Slavonian Serbs moved to the Bosnian Serb entity last month, Oslobodjenje reported on 3 March. Most were Croatian Serbs who fled to eastern Slavonia from other parts of Croatia. They are now settling in the Brcko area in northern Bosnia, which is a matter of dispute between Bosnian Serbs and the Croat-Muslim federation. Meanwhile, Serb officials in eastern Slavonia said they will hold a referendum on 6 April over the Croatian government's plans to divide the territory into two administrative districts once it returns to Zagreb's control, AFP reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The Mostar branch of the ruling Croatian Democratic Party (HDZ) in Bosnia-Herzegovina on 2 March rejected the UN police report on violent Muslim-Croat clashes earlier this month, saying it was "incomplete, one-sided and tendentious," Oslobodjenje reported. Mostar Croat authorities also repeated that they will not arrest the three police officers named by the UN as suspects in the 10 February
shooting of unarmed Muslims, AFP reported. According to Colum Murphy, a spokesman for the High Representative's office,
one of the suspects is missing. Mostar Croat claims to have detained
19 other suspects in the Mostar incident. But no international official has seen any of the allegedly arrested criminals. Meanwhile, Croatia said it had arrested a second suspected gangster leader from Mostar, Vinko Martinovic, following last week's arrest of former Bosnian Croat warlord Mladen "Tuta" Naletilic. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The president of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia, Zoran Lilic, and the Serb member of Bosnia's three-man presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik, signed a pact on 28 February establishing "special ties" between Belgrade and Pale, local and international media reported. Under the agreement, the two parties are to establish a joint council in charge of economic cooperation and creating a single market. The council will also deal with regional security, crossing of state borders, citizenship, and coordinating foreign policy. The agreement said the two parties will not allow a third party to use their territories to conduct acts of aggression against the other. Bosnia's presidency chairman Alija Izetbegovic strongly criticized the pact and accused Krajisnik of overstepping his authority by signing it. Izetbegovic said the agreement shows the Belgrade regime "has not given up its claims on Bosnia-Herzegovina," AFP reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

On 28 February the board of the independent weekly NIN voted to oust its editor in chief, Dusan Velickovic, local independent media reported. NIN, which broke with the pro-regime Politika publishing house in 1994, and whose market share has been rising steadily, may be the latest target in a government offensive to reassert its control over the media. Velickovic has remarked "my replacement reminds me of the stealing of votes in the last [17 November] local elections." Finally in other news, over 1,000 instructors, professors, and researchers formed an alternative administration of higher education on 2 March in Belgrade, the latest step in their campaign for academic freedom. -- Stan Markotich

Visibly overwhelmed by emotion, King Mihai, who was forced to abdicate in 1947, on 28 February began a six-day visit to his country one week after his Romanian citizenship was restored. At the airport he was handed his new passport in the presence of several government members who welcomed him "privately." International media reported that the crowds welcoming the former monarch were substantially smaller than those during his 1992 visit. On 1 March he was received by Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea, whom he told the occasion was "not merely a visit, but a return home." The former monarch said that the government's economic measures were painful but absolutely necessary. On 2 March he attended a church service conducted by Orthodox Patriarch Teoctist. A spokesman for the king said he intended to move back to Romania but he must "enjoy all the advantages that he had had in the past." For that purpose, talks are underway with the authorities on providing him with a residence. -- Michael Shafir

Some 20 generals and other high police officers were replaced on 28 February following the dismissal of Gen. Costica Voicu as head of police the previous day, Romanian media reported on 1 March. In an interview for Romanian national television on 28 February, Interior Minister Gavril Dejeu said the changes were needed because the officers had failed to properly fight corruption and organized crime. He said not all the officers replaced were considered incompetent -- some will be serving in other posts -- but all had obviously failed in their primary task. -- Michael Shafir

The joint Moldovan-Ukrainian commission on economic and commercial cooperation agreed at its 27-28 February meeting in Chisinau to draft a list of "principles" for setting up a customs union between the two states at an unspecified date in the future. Moldovan agencies reported on 28 February that the document also deals with the avoidance of double taxation and with facilities for transiting goods. The commission also approved a number of accords for cooperation on border-zone settlements, joint controls at the border crossings, as well as a protocol on Moldovan property in Ukraine. The documents will be signed during President Leonid Kuchma's visit to Moldova on 11-12 March. -- Michael Shafir

Petar Stoyanov on 28 February met his Czech counterpart Vaclav Havel in the latter's first official function since undergoing a lung cancer operation in December, international media reported. Referring to the Czech Republic's economic reforms, Stoyanov said "Your success is an inspiration for us." During his two lectures later that day Stoyanov said that the country's interim government will break with the communist past and will deepen the structural reforms to "the point of no return." Concerning the government's statement that Bulgaria is determined to join NATO, Stoyanov pointed out that despite Bulgarians' very "deep emotional relationship" with Russians, Bulgaria's policy will be decided in Sofia and in no other capital in the world. -- Maria Koinova

Upon his return from France, Interim Premier Stefan Sofiyanski told reporters on 2 March that he has won a commitment from Paris to support Bulgaria's request for rescheduling its debt to the Paris Club of government creditors, AFP reported. Sofiyanski also added that he had asked the Paris Club to roll over about $50 million owed this year, saying Bulgaria's payments had been timely until recently, but that the current economic crisis has prevented it from meeting the latest deadlines. Sofiyanski added that French Premier Alain Juppe said he would help Bulgaria win new credits with the Paris Club and the International Monetary Fund. -- Stan Markotich

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Jan Cleave and Sava Tatic