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Newsline - March 6, 1997


YELTSIN CALLS FOR "ORDER," CRITICIZES GOVERNMENT ...
The need to establish "order based on law" was the prevailing theme of President Boris Yeltsin's annual address to the parliament on 6 March -- his first major policy speech since his long illness. Yeltsin distributed a 66-page text to the parliament, and delivered a 30-minute speech in the Kremlin which was televised for the parliamentarians. Yeltsin said he is dissatisfied with the government and will announce changes in its lineup soon, Russian and Western agencies reported. (Anatolii Chubais evaded journalists' attempts to confirm an Ekho Moskvy report that he had already been appointed first deputy prime minister, ITAR-TASS reported.) Yeltsin also criticized proposed constitutional amendments, saying the parliament should first "learn to respect" the constitution and pass all the federal constitutional laws called for in the document. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov told AFP that Yeltsin's speech made him feel "ashamed," as it contained no specifics on how to solve key problems. -- Laura Belin

... DISCUSSES CHECHNYA ...
Yeltsin admitted that the top political leadership made mistakes in Chechnya and that the conflict has inflicted a deep wound on Russian society and tremendous damage on the economy. He noted that a decision on Chechnya's independence has been put off until 2001 to allow emotions to abate, but he stressed that the negotiation process will continue. The Chechen conflict showed that the country has weak state institutions and suffers from the fragmentation of power and society, the president said. The main lesson to be drawn from the conflict, he added, is "Russia needs order." -- Robert Orttung

... FOREIGN POLICY ...
Yeltsin repeated his "profoundly negative view" of NATO expansion, saying "times are getting critical for Europe." He argued that "without Russia, and even more so against her," it would prove impossible to create "an effective system of security." He reiterated Moscow's demand that any Russia-NATO charter take the form of a legally binding international treaty. Emphasizing that he will strive for "cooperation between equals" at his meeting with U.S. President Bill Clinton later this month, Yeltsin cautioned that no one country should be allowed to dominate international affairs. He termed fostering integration with Belarus "the most important direction" in Russian foreign policy in 1997. -- Scott Parrish

... MILITARY REFORM ...
Yeltsin declared that he will soon make "a decision in principle" on the direction of military reform, describing its goal as the creation of a smaller, more efficient military that maintained Russia's capability to deter potential aggressors. He said reform will downsize and improve the professionalism of the military, streamline the number of service branches, reduce the number of ministries with uniformed servicemen, and create new mobile forces in each of Russia's eight military districts. Calling for technological modernization, he admitted that the Russian military lags five to fifteen years behind its Western counterparts in some areas. -- Scott Parrish

... AND ECONOMICS.
Yeltsin's address contained few new economic ideas but was rather a catalog of ills and an affirmation of the importance of continuing reform and implementing existing policies. Yeltsin called for a balanced budget by 1999, excluding the costs of debt servicing, and said he intends to take the drawing up of the budget under his "personal control." He called, predictably, for a crackdown on corruption and lamented the fact that "the criminal world has openly challenged the state and launched into open competition with it." -- Peter Rutland

EFFORTS INTENSIFY TO FIND JOURNALISTS KIDNAPPED IN CHECHNYA.
Russian officials and journalists continued to seek information on the whereabouts of four Russian journalists taken hostage in Grozny on 4 March. The four include an ITAR-TASS correspondent and three employees of Radio Rossii. According to initial reports, only two journalists had been captured. The Federal Security Service claimed to have preliminary information on where the journalists are being held, while executives from ITAR-TASS and Radio Rossii flew to Grozny to coordinate the search efforts. Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has ordered his deputies to take all steps to find the journalists, Radio Rossii reported. Komsomolskaya pravda on 6 March argued that the authorities will be unable to accomplish much and that the correspondents' freedom will have to be bought. -- Robert Orttung

DUMA CONCERNED ABOUT TV COVERAGE.
The State Duma has affirmed its decision to strip Russian Public TV (ORT) correspondents of their accreditation for one month as punishment for biased coverage, Russian media reported on 5 March. An ORT commentator complained of "political censorship," saying the Duma's own legal experts had found that the action violated Russian media law. Glasnost Defense Foundation head Aleksei Simonov called on all Russian journalists to impose a one-month news blackout on the Duma in solidarity with their ORT colleagues, according to ITAR-TASS. Also on 5 March, Deputy Prime Minister Vitalii Ignatenko and new Russian TV (RTR) Chairman Nikolai Svanidze appeared in the Duma to dispel rumors that part of RTR may be auctioned off. In late 1994, Russia's Channel 1 broadcaster Ostankino was transformed into Russian Public TV (ORT), and 49% of the company's shares were sold to select investors. -- Laura Belin

FEDERATION COUNCIL APPROVES TROPHY ART LAW.
By a vote of 140 to 0 with one abstention, the Federation Council has approved a law laying claim to artworks seized by Soviet troops in Germany at the end of World War II, Russian and Western media reported on 5 March. The new legislation states that such works of art belong to the Russian Federation and are compensation for the massive losses sustained by Russia during the war. Last July, the Federation Council rejected a similar bill. Yeltsin must now sign the new law for it to go into force. Deputy Culture Minister Mikhail Shvydkoi said he believed Yeltsin would not sign it "in order to save Russia from the complications" that would follow. Russia and Germany have been disputing ownership of so-called trophy art since the breakup of the Soviet Union. -- Jan Cleave

IRAQI-RUSSIAN RELATIONS.
During his 5 March meeting with Iraqi Deputy Prime Minister Tariq Aziz, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said that the UN economic embargo imposed on Iraq after its 1990 invasion of Kuwait should be lifted as soon as Iraq implements UN Security Council disarmament resolutions, Russian and Western agencies reported. Primakov said he hopes that the upcoming April report of the UN special commission on Iraqi disarmament will resolve outstanding problems. But on 3 March, the UN Security Council, which includes Russia, voted to extend the embargo for another two months, after the commission reported it still cannot verify that Iraq has destroyed its stockpiles of nerve gas and ballistic missiles. Iraq owes Russia an estimated $7 billion, which cannot be repaid until the embargo is lifted. -- Scott Parrish

TAX BREAK FOR FOREIGN INVESTORS.
The Federation Council on 5 March approved amendments to article 5 of the law on value-added tax, removing VAT from equipment imports for foreign investors, ITAR-TASS reported. The agency also reported that the government has issued a decree laying down the procedure for implementing the state monopoly on alcohol, which Yeltsin announced in December 1996. Licenses will be issued by the Federal Service for the State Monopoly on Alcohol, and quotas will be allotted to Federation subjects. The fulfillment of quotas will be monitored by the Ministry of Agriculture and Food, which is the responsibility of Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Zaveryukha, an ally of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin. -- Peter Rutland

CHERNOMYRDIN SIGNS DECREE ON MANAGING STATE DEBT.
Chernomyrdin has signed a decree on creating a unified system of managing Russia's domestic and external debt, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 March. The decree aims at reducing debt-servicing costs by increasing the proportion of longer-term securities. The Finance Ministry will also have the right to repurchase state securities. The government on 3 March issued short-term state securities (GKOs) with a face value of 262.2 trillion rubles ($46 billion). It is also trying to persuade commercial banks to accept 10-15 trillion rubles of long-term federal bonds (OFZs) at a 20-25% rate of interest to pay wage and pensions arrears. However, if such an issue is placed with Russian commercial banks, they are likely to demand a reduction in the obligatory reserve requirements. -- Natalia Gurushina

GOVERNMENT INTRODUCES NEW DEBT-RESTRUCTURING PLAN.
Chernomyrdin has signed a decree on restructuring companies' debts to the federal budget, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 March. If a company's debt is smaller than its equity capital, it will be asked to float additional share issues equal to the size of the debt; those shares will then be transferred to the state. If the debt is larger than the equity capital, the company will have to transfer to the government 50% of shares plus one. In the latter case, shares will be held by the State Property Committee, which will have the right to sell them if companies do not meet current obligations to the budget. Repayment of the debt's principal and interest will be spread over five and 10 years, respectively. As of 1 January 1997, companies owed 62.1 trillion rubles ($11 billion) to the federal budget. -- Natalia Gurushina

SCIENTISTS PROTEST WAGE ARREARS.
Scientists from the Russian Academy of Sciences demonstrated against wage arrears near government headquarters in Moscow, Russian TV (RTR) reported on 5 March. They urged the government to reconsider financing for science and to grant some tax concessions to producers of goods that make use of advanced scientific methods. They also want scientists to have the status of civil servant. The previous day, St. Petersburg scientists and research workers called on Yeltsin and Chernomyrdin to change the official attitude toward science and education, ITAR-TASS reported. The federal budget owes scientific institutions some 3 trillion rubles ($ 530 million) in back wages and unpaid research grants. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski


MANUKYAN TAKES RESPONSIBILITY FOR POST-ELECTION UNREST IN YEREVAN.
Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Vazgen Manukyan has said in a letter addressed to the procurator-general that he was responsible for the 25 September attack on the parliament building, Ekho Moskvy reported on 5 March. The attack followed reports of widespread election-rigging in favor of incumbent President Levon Ter-Petrossyan. Manukyan argued that it would be "logical" to conduct criminal proceedings against him but not against the rank-and-file opposition activists who went on trial last month on charges of inciting mass disorder. Manukyan demanded the release of the defendants and expressed readiness to testify "only in court." -- Emil Danielyan

RUSSIAN WEAPONS TO ARMENIA VIA IRAN?
Top security officials told the Azerbaijani parliament on 4 March that Iran is the conduit for Russian weapon supplies to Armenia, Russian media reported. They claimed that heavy arms, 30 anti-aircraft systems, and 1,000 Strela-2 and Strela-3 missiles have been transported by ship across the Caspian Sea and over land from Iran to Armenia. Last week, Yerevan denied earlier charges of illegally receiving weapons from Russia. In related news, the Azerbaijani parliament has drafted a statement calling on the Russian Duma to identify and punish those responsible for weapons transfers. -- Lowell Bezanis

TBILISI JUDGE FOUND DEAD IN HIS APARTMENT.
Vakhtang Alania, the 43-year-old chairman of a Tbilisi district court, was found shot dead in his apartment, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 March. Investigators suggest that the judge committed suicide but do not discount other scenarios. Georgian media reports that Alania had debts totaling $5,000 and had recently said he wanted to commit suicide. -- Emil Danielyan

KYRGYZ PLANT TO REFINE KUMTOR GOLD.
Jalgap Kazakbayev, director of the Kara-Balta state mining company, and Leonard Homenyuk, president of Kumtor Operating Company, have signed an agreement whereby gold extracted at Kumtor will be refined at the Kara-Balta complex, RFE/RL reported on 5 March. KOC is a joint venture between the Kyrgyz government and the Canadian company CAMECO. Some 12 tons of gold are expected to be refined at Kara-Balta this year. There are believed to be 500 metric tons of gold at the Kumtor site. Earlier reports that gold would be refined abroad led to an outcry from opposition groups in Kyrgyzstan. -- Naryn Idinov

ROUTING PROBLEMS FOR TURKMEN GAS.
The U.S. is attempting to foil plans, initialed last year, to transport Turkmen natural gas to Turkey across Iran, AFP reported on 5 February. Washington has threatened to impose an embargo on Botas, Turkey's state pipeline company, if it goes ahead with the deal. The U.S. has also declared its support for an alternative plan to transport natural gas beneath the Caspian Sea to Turkey and European markets via Azerbaijan and Georgia. Meanwhile, Turkmenistan is pressuring Kazakstan to repay $24 million in debts for electricity supplied in 1995-96, ITAR-TASS reported on 5 March. -- Lowell Bezanis


UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN CANADA.
Hennadii Udovenko was in Ottawa on 5 March for an official visit, international agencies reported. Udovenko met with his Canadian counterpart Lloyd Axworthy, Defense Minister Doug Young, and Prime Minister Jean Chretien. NATO expansion was the main issue of discussion, and Axworthy told Udovenko he hoped an agreement could be reached between NATO, Russia, and Ukraine before the July summit in Madrid. Udovenko said he did not view NATO as a threat to Ukraine, and that Kyiv's relations with NATO would develop irrespective of Moscow's relations with the alliance. He also called for increased foreign investment, and criticized Russia for not fully accepting Ukraine's independence. -- Ustina Markus

UKRAINIAN MINERS THREATEN ALL-OUT STRIKE.
Coal miners are on the brink of a mass strike, Ukrainian and Russian media reported on 5 March. The leaders of the three biggest mining trade unions plan to stop work on 20 March, protesting wage arrears, which currently stand at 1.5 billion hryvnyas ($800 million). Most miners have not been paid for the last seven months, some since 1995. About 20 pits stand idle daily due to wildcat strikes. The situation is exacerbated by the imminent closure of 75 to 150 mines, which will lead to mass unemployment. The head of the Independent Union of Miners, Mykhailo Volynets, said 25 pits were closed in 1996. Coal Industry Minister Yurii Rusantsov has offered to resign, Ukrainian television reported on 3 March. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

UKRAINIAN, SLOVAK PREMIERS MEET.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko met with his Slovak counterpart Vladimir Meciar on 6 March in Uzhorod, ITAR-TASS reported. Talks focused on NATO expansion, building a highway between the two countries, and cooperation between the Slovak Economics Ministry and Ukraine's Machinery Ministry. Trade between Ukraine and Slovakia stood at $418.3 million in 1996, a 36.6% increase over 1995. The two plan to liberalize trade further between themselves. Talks also touched on the issue of Ukrainian workers in Slovakia. According to unofficial statistics, up to 30,000 Ukrainians work illegally in Slovakia. -- Ustina Markus

BELARUSIAN PRESIDENT RESTRICTS PUBLIC GATHERINGS.
Alyaksandr Lukashenka issued a decree on 5 March banning all demonstrations directed against the ever-controversial new constitution, ITAR-TASS reported. The decree was meant to put an end to the "orgy of street democracy" in Minsk, a reference to persistent demonstrations by his critics. The decree prohibits demonstrators from using unregistered flags or symbols at rallies, and defines the distance demonstrators must keep from public buildings and transport facilities. The opposition has been predicting that a new wave of demonstrations would begin this spring, and the decree appears to be a preemptive measure against such rallies. It also proclaims 2 April, the day of the signing of the Treaty on Friendship and Cooperation with Russia, a national holiday. -- Ustina Markus

BELARUS DENIES RUSSIA'S CONTRABAND CHARGES.
Belarusian officials dismissed charges by the Russian Customs Committee that large quantities of goods are being smuggled through Belarus into Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 March. The response from Belarusian officials followed Russia's decision to restore checkpoints on the Belarus-Russian border as of 10 March. The First Deputy Chairman of the Belarusian Customs Committee, Vikentiy Makarevich, said that Russia's claims are groundless as Belarus's borders are under strict control. Belarusian officials also said that the move violates the customs union between Russian and Belarus. Official Belarusian media are meanwhile concerned by the fact that the issue has surfaced ahead of the meeting of the two countries' presidents, set for 7 March in Moscow. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

ESTONIA'S TRADE DEFICIT FALLS IN JANUARY.
The State Statistical Department announced that the foreign trade deficit in January was 1.17 billion kroons ($88 million), a sharp decline from December's 2 billion kroons deficit, ETA reported on 5 March. Imports totalled 3.61 billion kroons of which 55.2% came from European Union countries and 17.7% from CIS countries. Exports were valued at 2.44 billion kroons of which 48.9% went to EU countries and 24.2% to CIS countries. Imports were valued at 3.61 billion kroons, of which 55.2% came from EU countries and 17.7% from CIS countries. Industrial machines and equipment accounted for 24.6% of imports and 18.4% of exports, followed by food products with 18.8% of imports and 18.0% of exports. -- Saulius Girnius

BUS DRIVERS STRIKE IN SOUTHERN POLAND.
Bus drivers blocked crucial traffic intersections in Silesia on 5 March, crippling traffic in Poland's most industrialized and densely populated region. The drivers demand wage increases of 40%, more resources for municipal transport, and the modernization of a car park. Buses surrounded the Katowice governor's office, which was picketed by drivers. Governor Eugeniusz Ciszak, who represents the government in the province, met with the strikers. He appealed to towns' administrations and transport companies for negotiations with the drivers, Rzeczpospolita reported on 6 March. -- Jakub Karpinski

CZECH SENATE APPROVES CZECH-GERMAN DECLARATION.
The upper chamber of the Czech parliament on 5 March approved the Czech-German declaration, Czech media reported. The measure, already signed by both governments in January and approved by Germany's parliament and the Czech lower house, was approved by 54 votes to 25. Most Social Democratic Party (CSSD) deputies voted against the pact after the Senate rejected a preamble demanded by the CSSD. In the declaration, Bonn expresses its regret for the 1938-1945 occupation of the Czech lands and Prague its sorrow for excessive brutality in the expulsion of ethnic Germans after World War II. The German parliament approved the declaration quickly but the debate in the Czech lower house was stormy, lasting several days before the accord was approved by a large majority. In his first-ever speech to the Senate, President Vaclav Havel urged the upper house to approve the accord to ensure good relations with Germany. -- Jiri Pehe

CZECH LOWER CHAMBER CHAIRMAN IN BRUSSELS.
Milos Zeman told European Parliament Chairman Jose Maria Gil-Robles on 5 March that in the eastward expansion of the European Union the "role of parliaments will be bigger than that of governments," Czech media reported. Zeman attended a meeting of Gil Robles and the chairmen of parliaments of ten EU associate countries. "Legislative adaptation is the essence of EU integration ... If we are to adapt our legislation to EU standards, this will certainly be a task for parliaments, not cabinets," Zeman told CTK after the meeting. Zeman and his counterparts agreed that parliaments should launch a coordinated campaign explaining EU membership, "which would define not only the advantages, but also honestly point to the risks, problems and costs involved." What matters is to "prevent disillusions" such as those experienced by Austrians, he added. -- Jiri Pehe

SLOVAKIA LIKELY TO HOLD TWO REFERENDUMS AT ONCE.
Slovak President Michal Kovac on 4 March said he will probably call the referendums on NATO integration and on the direct election of the president on the same day, CTK and TASR reported. Kovac argued that Slovakia cannot economically afford to hold the referendums separately. Also on 4 March, Kovac received the representatives of the petition committee for direct presidential elections, who handed him the lists with more than 521,580 signatures. Kovac commented that the high number of signatures indicates that the referendum is "a way of enhancing democracy." The president must call a referendum within 30 days of receiving a petition with at least 350,000 signatures. -- Anna Siskova

SLOVAK PRIME MINISTER CALLS FOR TALKS WITH OPPOSITION.
Speaking on a Slovak TV program on 5 March, Vladimir Meciar called for talks with the opposition on bank privatization, CTK reported. On 13 February, the opposition voted with the Association of Workers -- a junior coalition partner -- to ban the privatization of Slovakia's financial institutions until 2003. Although President Michal Kovac returned the bill to the parliament at the government's request, it could easily be approved again. Meciar claimed that his government currently does not know of anyone who would be interested in privatizing a Slovak bank, and he called on the opposition to put forward proposals. Although the issue has brought the government to a crisis, Meciar insists on moving forward with bank privatization. In other economic news, the National Bank of Slovakia on 5 March presented year-end economic results, TASR reported. Annual inflation grew 5.4%, GDP growth reached an estimated 6.8%, foreign currency reserves totaled $3.5 billion, and the trade deficit was 64.5 billion crowns ($2 billion). -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARY CONTINUES PRESENTING ITS CASE AT THE HAGUE.
Hungary's legal representatives opened up a barrage of legal arguments on 5 March against the Gabcikovo hydropower project built by Slovakia, after it unilaterally diverted the Danube in 1992, Hungarian media reported. Boldizsar Nagy argued that the project called "C version" is essentially different from the power plant system that Hungary and Czechoslovakia agreed to build in their 1977 intergovernmental treaty. Nagy thus rejected the Slovak argument that Slovakia merely tried to complete construction of the original project after Hungary backed out in 1989. Hungary's representatives criticized the Slovak use of what they called inappropriate words in the Slovak legal document. Gyorgy Szenasi, Hungary's chief representative, said that Hungary has filed a list of words used by the Slovaks that includes "grotesque, nonsense, twaddle, perverse and ridiculous," Magyar Hirlap reported. -- Zsofia Szilagyi


IS ALBANIAN CRISIS SPINNING OUT OF CONTROL?
Armed revolt against the government of President Sali Berisha continues throughout southern Albania, with violence and armed clashes reportedly escalating in frequency and intensity. In one episode on 5 March, government MiG-15 warplanes released at least several bombs near a house in the village of Delvina, situated in a predominantly ethnic Greek region of the country, international media reported. While casualty estimates were unavailable, the event prompted officials in neighboring Greece to urge the Albanian authorities to refrain from using force against Albania's ethnic Greek community. For their part, Albanian Defense officials have categorically denied the charge that any order was given to bomb protesters. -- Stan Markotich

DEATH TOLL RISES.
Meanwhile in Vlora, a rebel stronghold, at least another seven people have been killed in shooting incidents since early on 5 March, AFP reported the next day. The death toll in that town now stands at 25 since violence erupted on 28 February when rioters looted a military depot. In another serious development, a steady stream of people is moving from the south to the north in an effort to escape the violence. Pitched battles of short duration have been reported in several locations, such as a 5 March incident near the Vjosa River, where rebels, situated on a mountain ridge, pounded government troops with heavy artillery. In another development, some members of the military have been seen defecting to the rebel side, CNN reported on 6 March. Dutch Foreign Minister and current European Union President Hans van Mierlo is slated to travel to Tirana on 7 March for meetings with government and opposition officials. -- Stan Markotich

BOSNIAN SHADOW GOVERNMENT FORMED.
Bosnian opposition parties and political associations from both Bosnian entities -- the Republika Srpska (RS) and the Bosnian (Muslim-Croat) Federation -- on 4 March formed a shadow government in a bid to offer a political alternative to the paralyzed central institutions, international and local media reported. The shadow government premier, Sejfudin Tokic, a Muslim from the Union of Bosnia's Social-Democrats, said the five ministry cabinet will try to convey a message to ordinary Bosnians that there is an alternative to nationalism, Reuters reported. Tokic' s deputies are Miodrag Zivanovic from the RS Social-Liberal Party and Zeljko Ivankovic from the Croatian Peasant Party. Zivanovic rejected criticism that it was too early to start an alternative government at the time when the official one has not yet begun to really work, Oslobodjenje reported on 5 March. -- Daria Sito Sucic

COHEN MAKES CLEAR U.S. TROOPS WILL NOT PROLONG STAY IN BOSNIA.
U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen said on 4 March that American soldiers would leave Bosnia-Herzegovina for good in mid-1998, Reuters reported. "I can't make it any clearer," Cohen said, adding that the U.S. was determined to leave even if war breaks out again. But he underscored that strong police forces and an intensified civilian effort will be needed in Bosnia. Meanwhile, deployment of an international police force in the disputed town of Brcko in northern Bosnia will be discussed at a meeting of key nations in Vienna on 7 March, AFP reported. Countries involved in the discussions favored increasing the numbers of the existing UN police force, although its mandate so far has proved to be insufficient to enforce political decisions. -- Daria Sito Sucic

BOSNIAN CROATS SUSPENDED MOSTAR POLICE CHIEF, THREE POLICEMEN.
The Interior Minister of the Herzegovina-Neretva canton, Valentin Coric, suspended west Mostar police chief Marko Radic for obstructing the investigation into the 10 February incident that resulted in one death and more than 30 injuries, Hina reported on 5 March. Coric also temporarily suspended the three police officers singled out in the UN report for participating in a shooting at an unarmed Muslim crowd. The UN has requested that the three men be arrested. "Suspension alone is not good enough," said the UN police spokesman in Bosnia, Liam McDowall. -- Daria Sito Sucic

BOMB BLASTS IN KOSOVO.
Four persons were reportedly injured in Kosovo's capital, Pristina, on 5 March when a bomb exploded, Nasa Borba reported the following day. According to eyewitnesses, the device was placed in a garbage container beside a monument to Serbian language reformer Vuk Karadzic, near the local university. A second bomb was disarmed without incident, Tanjug reported, but Reuters quoted a local Serbian official saying another device went off in Prizren, and that it too was in a garbage container beside a monument to a Serbian national icon (King Dusan). Police authorities have said they suspect the Kosovo Liberation Army as being behind the incidents. -- Stan Markotich

TUDOR TO SAVE HIS PARLIAMENTARY IMMUNITY?
By a vote of seven to six, the judicial commission of the Senate on 5 March recommended that the parliamentary immunity of the leader of the extreme nationalist Greater Romania Party (PRM), Corneliu Vadim Tudor, should not be lifted, Radio Bucharest reported. Tudor lost his immunity in the former legislature, but was re-elected a senator in November. The Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), which had then been the main promoter of lifting Tudor's immunity for "insult to authority" in denigrations targeting former President Ion Iliescu, is now opposing the initiative, courting the collaboration of the PRM in the opposition. The lifting of the immunity was requested by Minister of Justice Valeriu Stoica because of a libelous article published by Tudor some years ago, that targeted practically all prominent personalities in the democratic opposition. One member of the ruling coalition on the commission voted against the recommendation in the secret vote. The final decision is to be reached by the Senate plenum, but without the support of the PDSR the coalition falls short of the two-thirds majority needed for lifting the immunity. -- Michael Shafir

KING MIHAI ENDS VISIT TO ROMANIA.
King Mihai on 5 March ended his first visit to Romania since regaining his citizenship, Radio Bucharest reported. Before leaving the country, Mihai met with Foreign Minister Adrian Severin, who said the former monarch's mission to support Romania's NATO integration bid is to be considered as "official, but not formal." Mihai's visit stirred widespread controversy in Romania, with opposition parties warning that the constitutional order was in danger. Some analysts, however, interpreted the public's mild reaction as dismissing any possibility of a return to a monarchy in Romania. -- Zsolt Mato

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT ELECTS CHAIRMAN.
The leader of the Democratic Agrarian Party of Moldova, Dumitru Motpan, on 5 March was elected chairman of the parliament, Moldovan and Western agencies reported. Motpan, who ran unopposed, was supported by 55 of 104 deputies; of the 76 deputies who cast a ballot, 21 deputies voted against him. He replaces Petru Lucinschi, who was elected president in January. Following Lucinschi's election, Motpan stood for the post but at that time (also in January) he failed to garner the minimum 53 votes and had a counter-candidate, Dumitru Diacov, the legislature's deputy chairman and a supporter of Lucinschi. Motpan's mandate runs out in early 1998, when new parliamentary elections are due. -- Michael Shafir

PARTIES PREPARE FOR GENERAL ELECTIONS IN BULGARIA.
The Central Electoral Commission on 4 March opened the procedure for registration for the 19 April parliamentary elections, RFE/RL and local media reported. All 205 sanctioned parties are eligible to compete, but it is expected that no more than 60% of them will register. The first registration day began with a "scandal," as three parties wanted to have green ballot paper. In other news, after almost a month of intensive debates, the anti-communist Union of Democratic Forces and People's Union managed to come to an agreement for having a joint list of candidates, RFE/RL reported on 5 March. The mainly ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom -- the third member of the formation that ousted Socialists from power with street demonstrations in January -- has not yet signed the agreement, but is expected to do so on 7 March. -- Maria Koinova

STRENGTHENING OF BULGARIAN LEV CAUSING CONCERN.
The Bulgarian National Bank raised its official fixing for the lev to 1,667.1 per dollar on 6 March from 2,045.5 the day before and as high as 2,936.7 on 14 February. Businessmen are criticizing the lev's rejuvenation, arguing that it is wreaking havoc with contracts that assumed a weaker currency, according to Trud on 6 March. The newspaper's economic commentator argued that the rise in the lev results from administrative measures. He said a further collapse is inevitable once large buyers of hard currency like the Neftohim refinery return to the foreign-exchange market to repay the debts they are building up. Meanwhile, the daily Pari reported that an agreement with the IMF will be ready on 6 March. -- Michael Wyzan

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Jan Cleave and Pete Baumgartner




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