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Newsline - March 11, 1997


GOVERNMENT RESTRUCTURING BEGINS.
President Boris Yeltsin issued a decree on 11 March instructing Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to suggest within one week which deputy prime ministers and ministers should be sacked, and who should replace them, ITAR-TASS reported. The number of first deputy prime ministers will be reduced from four to one (Anatolii Chubais, who was appointed on 7 March). The number of deputy prime ministers -- currently, nine -- will also be reduced. Those government members whose ministries or agencies are to be restructured or eliminated must resign. -- Laura Belin

KULIKOV ON THE OFFENSIVE ...
First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Kulikov published an open letter on 10 March in which he replied to charges leveled by David Reuben, chairman of Trans-World Metals, in an open letter carried by Western newspapers on 7 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Reuben accused Kulikov of using corruption charges and a media smear campaign to try to renationalize aluminum plants which had partial foreign ownership. Kulikov said that he was neither opposed to foreign ownership nor private property, but was investigating accusations of money-laundering and other possible crimes "in cooperation with Interpol and U.S., Canadian, and British law enforcement agencies." Kulikov said the tax advantages enjoyed by foreign companies on the Russian market, such as VAT exemption on alumina imports, "condemn tens of thousands of Russian citizens involved in alumina production to poverty and deprivation." -- Peter Rutland

... BACKGROUND TO KULIKOV-REUBEN EXCHANGE.
Critics accuse Kulikov of dredging up old charges from 1994 in a bid to discredit the political camp of Aleksandr Korzhakov and Oleg Soskovets, who supervised the privatization of the aluminum industry, as noted in Itogi on 4 March. Others accuse the UK-based Trans-World Metals of illegally moving profits out of Russia through "transfer pricing" in the import and export of aluminum, as argued in Nezavisimaya gazeta of 6 March. Russian aluminum exports totaled some $3.9 billion last year. The situation is complicated by the fact that other Western investors are trying to dislodge Trans-World Metals from their dominant position on the Russian market (see OMRI Daily Digest, 7 March 1997). The Reuben letter has given Kulikov an opportunity to portray himself as a defender of market reform in a situation where, in Kulikov's words, "mafia-like structures are monopolizing and destroying the market." -- Peter Rutland

CHECHEN INTERIOR MINISTRY: "NO BOMB ATTACK AGAINST BASAEV."
A Chechen Interior Ministry spokesman said on 10 March that, contrary to Russian media reports, an explosion on 9 March close to the Grozny headquarters of field commander Shamil Basaev was caused by the accidental detonation of a small quantity of explosive material and not by a bomb, according to Reuters. Also on 10 March, Radio Rossii reported that Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov has issued two decrees suspending broadcasting by private TV companies, allegedly in order to prevent the spread of pornography and the moral degradation of youth, and introducing compulsory licenses for broadcast media outlets. -- Liz Fuller

NATO-RUSSIA UPDATE.
Citing anonymous NATO diplomats, Reuters reported on 10 March that Russia and NATO are edging toward a deal under which Moscow will accept a limited eastward expansion of the alliance. The main sticking point in the ongoing talks between Moscow and NATO is reportedly Russian insistence that no NATO military installations be constructed on the territory of new members, a condition the alliance refuses to accept. However, echoing the tone of a report issued the same day by the Stockholm Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), Western diplomats contended that Moscow has accepted expansion, but is simply angling for the best possible deal. After NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana left Moscow for a tour of Central Asia, NATO Assistant Secretary-General Gebhart von Moltke remained behind to continue negotiations on the text of the proposed Russia-NATO charter. -- Scott Parrish

IZVESTIYA: MILITARY HAS RESERVES FOR REFORM.
Citing documents it received from anonymous military officers, Izvestiya on 11 March argued that the military wastes hundreds of millions of rubles annually because of inefficient duplication of weapons systems, training facilities, and command staff. By eliminating such duplication, the paper said, the military could find resources to launch a serious reform program without an increase in the military budget. For example, the paper attacked the current policy of maintaining separate Air Defense Forces and Air Defense Forces of the Ground Troops, each with its own command structures, incompatible weapons systems, independent weapons development and procurement, and training facilities. It blamed duplication on the narrow bureaucratic interests of the military leadership, implicitly criticizing Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, who contends the military budget must be increased if reform is to proceed. -- Scott Parrish

STRATEGIC ROCKET FORCES COMMANDER ON START II.
In an interview published in the 10-16 March edition of the weekly Interfaks-AiF, the commander of the Strategic Rocket Forces, Army General Igor Sergeev, said that despite its shortcomings "there is no alternative" to ratifying the START II arms control treaty. The 1993 treaty has been ratified by the U.S. Senate, but not by either house of the Russian assembly, both of which must approve it before it can enter into force. Sergeev endorsed the idea of extending the term for implementing the treaty from 2003 to 2006 or 2007. Some of the treaty's Russian opponents have argued that it would be too expensive to implement in just a few years. Sergeev also linked ratification of START II with strict American adherence to the 1972 ABM treaty. Moscow and Washington have a long-standing disagreement over the interpretation of that treaty. -- Scott Parrish

GERMAN TOXIC WASTE INTERCEPTED.
A five-truck convoy carrying 108 metric tons of liquid sodium cyanide was intercepted by the Federal Security Service (FSB) in the Smolensk region on 11 March, ITAR-TASS reported. The convoy had originated in Germany and claimed to be en route to Tajikistan, although the report suggested its actual destination was somewhere in Russia. It had taken back roads to avoid customs posts on the Russo-Belarusian border and had penetrated 120 kilometers into Russia. The trucks were returned to Belarus. -- Peter Rutland

PRESIDENTIAL DECREE ISSUED ON UDMURTIYA.
A presidential decree signed on 10 March orders the State Council of the Republic of Udmurtiya to abide by a 24 January Constitutional Court ruling, which struck down portions of the April 1996 Udmurt law on state institutions. The decree instructs local legislatures that were disbanded and heads of local administration who were forced to resign after April 1996 to resume their duties, ITAR-TASS reported. The decree also declares invalid organs of government formed and acts of the State Council adopted on the basis of the Udmurt law. Russia's Procurator General is instructed to hold Udmurt officials legally responsible if they do not implement the Constitutional Court decision. The refusal of the State Council to abide by the court ruling is a prime example of what concerned federal officials have called "legal separatism" in the Russian regions. -- Laura Belin

CORRUPTION IN THE TAX POLICE.
Maj.-Gen. Vladimir Shlyk, the head of the department of internal security in the Federal Tax Police Service (FSNP), complained in an interview that although "one hears about the problem of corrupt officials all the time" from politicians, there is still no law on corruption, nor an independent agency to deal with it, Nezavisimoe voennoe obozrenie reported in its 7 March issue. Shlyk, a 25-year KGB veteran, noted that the Duma has passed three anti-corruption bills, but none of them made it into law - the last was vetoed by President Yeltsin in 1995. The FSNP is responsible for rooting out corruption in the State Tax Service and Tax Inspectorate. In 1996 101 tax officials were convicted of corruption, up from 54 in 1995, and including three district tax inspectorate directors. Shlyk noted that criminal gangs are making determined efforts to penetrate the tax police, even trying to recruit cadets at their academy. -- Peter Rutland

ILYUSHIN BLASTS REGIONS FOR PENSION ARREARS.
First Deputy Prime Minister Viktor Ilyushin criticized regional authorities for reducing their contributions to the state Pension Fund recently by as much as 40-50%, ITAR-TASS reported on 10 March. The largest reductions were made by Kareliya, Khakassiya, Buryatiya, Yakutiya (Sakha), the Altai and Krasnoyarsk krais, and the Arkhangelsk, Kostroma, Kurgan, Kemerovo, Magadan, Sakhalin, Sverdlovsk, and Tyumen oblasts. The fund has received only 11 trillion rubles ($1.93 billion) of the expected 12.5 trillion rubles for current pension payments. Ilyushin noted that each time the federal government steps in to bail out the Pension Fund and promises to pay overdue pensions, the regions allow their arrears to the fund to rise. -- Natalia Gurushina


SARKISYAN RESIGNATION UPDATE.
Armenian presidential spokesman Levon Zurabian told journalists on 10 March that President Levon Ter-Petrossyan would not yet accept the resignation, tendered on 6 March, of Prime Minister Armen Sarkisyan, ITAR-TASS reported. Sarkisyan, who is recuperating from surgery in London, is reportedly determined to step down as he considers that the state of his health precludes his continuing to discharge his duties. -- Liz Fuller

SHEVARDNADZE ON RUSSIAN-GEORGIAN RELATIONS.
Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, in his regular Monday radio broadcast on 10 March, said that relations with Russia "remain, as before, the key question for Georgian foreign policy," ITAR-TASS reported. Shevardnadze professed incomprehension at Russian opposition to the burgeoning Uzbekistan-Azerbaijan-Georgia-Ukraine axis, arguing that cooperation between CIS member states benefits the CIS as a whole. He also pleaded yet again that the mandate of the Russian peacekeeping troops in Abkhazia, which expired on 31 January and is due to be renewed at the CIS summit later this month, should be amended to allow the force's deployment throughout Gali raion, home of many of the ethnic Georgians who fled Abkhazia in 1993, and as far north as the river Galidzga. -- Liz Fuller

TALIBAN ACCUSES TAJIKISTAN OF MEDDLING.
The Taliban religious movement in Afghanistan sent a note to the UN complaining of rival military factions using bases in Tajikistan, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported on 10 March. According to the Taliban, Afghan Gen. Ahmad Shah Masoud, the right-hand man of ousted President Burhanaddin Rabbani, has established a safe haven at the southern Tajik city of Kulyab. The Taliban claim helicopters ferry weapons from this base into Afghanistan to help in the fight against Taliban forces which are slowly moving northward. According to a 10 March broadcast from the Kabul Voice of Radio Shari'a, Tajikistan is working in coordination with the Russian Federation "for the purpose of intensification of the war against the Islamic State of Afghanistan." Tajik presidential spokesman Zafar Saidov dismissed the allegations, saying the government of Tajikistan has never allowed foreign forces to use its country as a base. -- Bruce Pannier

RED CROSS RETURNS TO TAJIKISTAN.
Just over one month after the organization pulled out most of its workers from the country, the Red Cross began operations in Tajikistan again, according to a 10 March report from ITAR-TASS. Workers delivered food to people in the Vanch Valley and set out for the Tavil-Dara area, the scene of intense fighting during most of 1996. The Red Cross announced its temporary departure in early February when two of its employees were taken hostage along with UN workers and Russian journalists. -- Bruce Pannier

KAZAKSTANI PRIME MINISTER FACES DEADLINE.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 10 March issued a deadline for Prime Minister Akezhan Kazhegeldin to solve the wage and pension arrears problem, RFE/RL and Reuters reported. "I give April 10 as the deadline," Nazarbayev said at a meeting of the government; by then Kazhegeldin must "tell how he will resolve the problem--or leave." Arrears amount to well over $500 million, which Nazarbayev feels is contributing to his unpopularity. Nazarbayev also promoted the head of the Semipalatinsk region, Galymzhan Zhakiyanov, to the new post of head of the Agency for Control of Strategic Resources. Zhakiyanov will keep track of trade in oil, grain, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, and the pipeline network. In another appointment, former oil and gas minister Nurlan Balgimbayev now heads the new state Kazak Oil company. Both Balgimbayev and Zhakiyanov are seen as opponents of Kazhegeldin. -- Bruce Pannier

RESULTS IN GEHRING MURDER INVESTIGATION.
Russia's NTV on 10 March released the details of the investigation of the murder of American journalist Chris Gehring in the Kazakstani capital Almaty on 8 January (see OMRI Daily Digest ,10 January 1997). The report claimed the perpetrators made a video confession of the crime. The three men said they stole Gehring's key and entered his apartment looking for hard currency. When they were unable to find any money they decided to wait for Gehring to return. They admitted to torturing Gehring, tying him up and cutting his throat, then stealing a telephone answering machine and computer. One of the criminals was apprehended as he attempted to sell the answering machine. Gehring was working for Internews, helping independent media in Central Asia. -- Bruce Pannier

TURKMENISTAN'S OIL AND GAS LAW.
Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov signed what was termed the Republican Law on Hydrocarbon Resources on 7 March, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. The document defines the republic's hydrocarbon resources as national property; the right to own and manage them belongs to the Cabinet of Ministers. It also recognizes the validity of contracts for production sharing, defines ownership rights for trunk pipelines, and sets out financial and tax regulations, according to a BBC-monitored Turkmen Television report. -- Lowell Bezanis


RUMORS OF UKRAINIAN PREMIER'S REMOVAL.
Rumors that Pavlo Lazarenko's days are numbered have increased as he enters his eighth month in office, Ukrainian Radio reported on 9 March. The rumors, which began as soon as he assumed the premiership, stem more from his involvement with various firms that have profited under his premiership than from shortcomings in economic reform. Observers say President Leonid Kuchma's postponement of his annual parliamentary address from 14 to 21 March is intended to give him room to maneuver. Other signs that Kuchma is distancing himself from the current government are the recent dismissals of the finance and agricultural ministers and the president's decision to ask former Donetsk Governor Volodymyr Shcherban, rather than Lazarenko, to attend his meeting with Gazprom head Rem Vyakhirev. Observers also point to Lazarenko's cutting short his vacation by two weeks and his recent public statements stressing that he and Kuchma are of one mind over policy. Parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz on 10 March spoke out in defense of Lazarenko, saying there are few changes when premiers are replaced. -- Ustina Markus

RUSSIAN DELEGATION IN BELARUS.
A Russian parliamentary delegation arrived in Minsk on 10 March to take part in the third round of interparliamentary talks on Russian-Belarusian integration, Russian agencies reported. State Duma speaker Gennadii Seleznev and the rest of the 55-strong delegation met with Seleznev's counterpart, Anatol Malafeyev. Seleznev said he wanted closer bilateral relations not only in words but in tangible deeds. The interparliamentary groups have to elect a new chairman to replace the Belarusian speaker of the 1996 parliament, Syamyon Sharetsky, since he is not a member of the new Belarusian legislature. So far, the only aspect of integration partly implemented is the customs union. No progress has been made on unifying the countries' transport and energy systems. -- Ustina Markus

MORE DEMONSTRATIONS IN MINSK.
Despite the lack of progress toward Russian-Belarusian integration, 5,000 people rallied in the Belarusian capital to protest that goal, international agencies reported on 10 March. Their protest was timed to coincide with the arrival of the Russian delegation. Authorities gave permission only to a token 40 people to picket on the square outside the parliament. Security forces called on demonstrators to disband; when this did not happen, they clashed with the protesters. An unspecified number of demonstrators were arrested and beaten by the police. -- Ustina Markus

BELARUSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN LITHUANIA.
Ivan Antanovich told his Lithuanian counterpart, Algirdas Saudargas, on 10 March that Belarus will soon allocate funds for demarcating the countries' joint border. He added that Minsk will also start negotiations on an agreement on the readmission of illegal migrants and on joining the 1963 Vienna Convention on civil responsibility in the event of a nuclear disaster, Radio Lithuania reported. Lithuania submitted a draft readmission agreement in the fall, but Belarus has yet to respond to it. The foreign ministers, however, rejected Moscow's recent offer of tripartite talks on readmission. Owing to Belarus's failure to sign the convention, Sweden has not yet sent assistance to improve the safety of the nuclear power plant at Ignalina. -- Saulius Girnius

LATVIAN LOCAL ELECTION UPDATE.
Voter turnout in the 9 March local elections was 56.8% (52.3% in cities and 60% in rural areas), BNS reported the next day. The extreme left Social Democratic Party (SDP), which is not represented in the Saeima, won 13 of the 15 seats on the Daugavpils council. It was also the surprise winner in Riga, chalking up 11 of the 60 seats. A total of 17 parties won seats to the Riga council, and it is likely that rightist parties will have the senior posts. In Liepaja, the rightist Liepaja's United Election List won nine of the 15 seats, while the SDP was able to secure only 2. Victorious Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs will retain the post he has held since 1988. -- Saulius Girnius

NEW CHIEF OF GENERAL STAFF IN POLAND.
President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 10 March recalled Gen. Tadeusz Wilecki as chief of General Staff. Wilecki was nominated to that post in August 1992 by Kwasniewski's predecessor, Lech Walesa. He is replaced by Gen. Henryk Szarecki, who was commander in chief of the Silesian Military District from 1987 to 1989 and since then has been deputy chief of General Staff. Szarecki has recently worked in the presidential State Security Bureau (BBN). Wilecki was believed to be opposed to civilian control over the army and knew, at least during Walesa's term as president, how to take advantage of political configurations. The opposition claimed that Kwasniewski's decision was taken under the influence of the co-ruling Democratic Left Alliance. Kwasniewski, however, said the decision to recall Wilecki was his personal one and that he had consulted only with Defense Minister Stanislaw Dobrzanski. -- Jakub Karpinski

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT IN CZECH REPUBLIC.
Emil Constantinescu, after meeting with Czech President Vaclav Havel in Prague on 10 March, said Romania is fully prepared to join NATO in the first wave. Havel assured Constantinescu that the Czech Republic supports Romanian efforts to become a NATO member. Constantinescu also met with Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus, who later praised the Romanian government's decision to immediately launch radical economic reforms. Klaus said that political determination and strength were needed to implement such reforms, adding that the Romanian president displays such determination. Constantinescu and parliamentary speaker Milos Zeman told journalists after their talks that the Czech Republic and Romania support each other's membership in Euro-Atlantic organizations. Constantinescu visited RFE/RL headquarters in Prague today. -- Jiri Pehe

SLOVAK ACTORS, OPPOSITION DEPUTIES OCCUPY CULTURE MINISTRY.
Some 100 striking theater employees and 20 opposition deputies on 10 March held a sit-in at the Culture Ministry, vowing not to leave until they were received by Culture Minister Ivan Hudec, Slovak media reported. The actors' strike began on 28 February to protest government interference in theaters' affairs. About two-thirds of Slovakia's theaters are currently involved. Hudec left the building, refusing to sign an agreement with the demonstrators, who, he said, "were always opposed to Slovak independence." The police eventually succeeded in removing the protesters, although they reportedly had to use force against them. The protesters later returned to the ministry and spent the night there. They left the ministry this morning to present their demands to the government, TASR reported. -- Sharon Fisher

SLOVAKIA NEXT IN LINE FOR OECD MEMBERSHIP.
Donald Johnston, secretary-general of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, said on 10 March that Slovakia should be the next OECD member, Reuters reported. Although there are several other applicants, "there are no other imminent members except for Slovakia," Johnston said during a visit to Helsinki. He added that the examination process for Slovak membership is "quite far advanced." The Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland have already joined the organization. OECD Legal Department head Christian Shricke said there are still problems that need to be addressed in Slovakia. "We encouraged authorities to proceed expeditiously with the privatization of remaining state-owned assets in particular in the financial sectors," Shricke said. Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's statement in late January that bank privatization is a condition for OECD membership sparked controversy. The opposition and the Association of Workers, the junior coalition party, support a bill that would delay the privatization of Slovakia's four largest financial institutions until 2003. -- Sharon Fisher

HUNGARIAN PARLIAMENT DEBATES THE "OILGATE" REPORT.
Legislators on 10 March began debating the final report of the parliamentary commission investigating the "Oilgate" affair, Hungarian media reported. The report gives the findings of a 16-month investigation into alleged conflict of interests arising from deals linked to Russia's repayment of its debt to Hungary in 1994-95. It states that Imre Dunai, then state secretary and later minister of industry and trade, should be held responsible for offering contracts to the Moscow-based Hungarian Finance and Trade company, headed by Andras Dunai, who is his son. The commission also found that links between Socialist politicians and various business interest groups were "inordinately" close. After the "oilgate" scandal erupted in December 1995, deputies gave priority to the passage of a conflict of interests bill. There were heated debates in the parliament, but the bill was eventually passed and signed into law by President Arpad Goncz last week. -- Zsofia Szilagyi


ALBANIAN SITUATION REMAINS TENSE.
Rebels in parts of southern Albania are continuing to demand the resignation of President Sali Berisha as a precondition for calling a halt to the fighting. Greek TV on 10 and 11 March reported that since Berisha offered to form a government of reconciliation and to make other concessions, including an extension of the general amnesty, several more towns in southern Albania have fallen to the rebels. Berat, Kelcyra, Kucova, Permeti, Polican, and Skrapar are now in rebel hands, while some unconfirmed reports say fighting has broken out in Lushnja and Gramsh. But rebel leaders controlling the port of Vlore have reportedly accepted Berisha's concessions, following what may have been mediation and encouragement from Rome. Meanwhile, Berisha continues to meet with opposition leaders in an effort to find a candidate for the premiership acceptable to all parties. -- Stan Markotich

INTERNATIONAL SUPPORT FOR BERISHA.
Meanwhile, Danish Foreign Minister Niels Helveg Petersen, who is currently head of the OSCE, said the president's concessions are "a resolute and positive response," AFP reported on 11 March. He urged rebel fighters to turn in their weapons immediately. U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns commented, "We join our European partners in welcoming the agreement between President Berisha and the opposition in Albania." Inside the country, one unidentified official of the Socialist Party predicted that the danger of civil war has passed. He said the rebels are tiring and are now "waiting to see the make-up of the new government," AFP reported. -- Stan Markotich

MACEDONIA ASKS UN NOT TO WITHDRAW TROOPS.
Pointing to the dangers posed by the ongoing turmoil in Albania, the Macedonian government on 10 March asked UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan to stop withdrawing UN soldiers from the country's border with Albania, Nova Makedonija reported. The first of three UN observer posts on that frontier was closed on 3 March as part of the reduction of soldiers in Macedonia from 1,050 to 750 (see OMRI Daily Digest, 5 March 1997). Meanwhile, Sonja Nikolovska--owner of Bitola-based TAT, Macedonia's largest savings house--was arrested on 7 March and charged with forging documents, tax evasion, and abuse of office. Last week, the national bank suspended the operations of TAT, which had DM 104 million in deposits--some DM 40 million of which has disappeared--and at least 23,000 clients. -- Michael Wyzan

TRIAL OPENS ON WAR CRIMES AGAINST BOSNIAN SERBS.
The UN Criminal Tribunal for former Yugoslavia on 10 March began its first case involving alleged offenses against Serbs during the Bosnia war, AFP reported. Three Muslims and one Croat were charged with murdering and torturing Serb prisoners at the Celebici camp near Konjic, southern Bosnia, between May and December 1992. Zejnil Delalic, Hazim Delic, and Zdravko Mucic, who were supervising camp guards and others in a position to ill-treat detainees in Celebici, did nothing to stop the atrocities. The fourth man, Esad Landzo, has been charged with carrying out five murders and with torturing a number of prisoners. In other news, tribunal spokesman Christian Chartier said the verdict on Bosnian Serb Dusan Tadic, the first suspect tried for war crimes in former Yugoslavia, will be delivered the last week of April. -- Daria Sito Sucic

NEW MEDIA LEGISLATION IN SERBIA?
Information Minister Radmila Milentijevic has proposed new legislation regulating media, Vecernje novosti reported on 11 March. Under the new bill, no more than 20% of all dailies could be privately owned and private television and radio stations would be allowed to broadcast only to 25% of the population. State-run television and radio, which remain firmly in the grip of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic, will continue to broadcast to the entire population. Milentijevic defended her legislative proposal, saying it meets "European standards." -- Stan Markotich

CROATIA WANTS TO RESUME ARMS SALE TO KUWAIT.
Croatian Prime Minister Zlatko Matesa was in Kuwait last weekend where he began talks on resuming sales of Croatian-made military hardware to Kuwait, Hina reported on 9 March. Defense Minister Assistant Vladimir Zagorec said Kuwait was interested in resuming cooperation in tank and ship construction. Croatia exported arms to Kuwait when it was part of former Yugoslavia. As such, it also inherited a $200 million debt to Kuwait. Matesa proposed that Croatian debts to Kuwait be transformed into Kuwaiti investment in Croatian economy, in line with an agreement with the Paris Club. Croatia and Kuwait on 8 March signed an agreement on boosting and protecting foreign investment. -- Daria Sito Sucic

ROMANIAN PREMIER ON RELATIONS WITH HUNGARY.
Victor Ciorbea, on the eve of his visit to Hungary, said he expects legislation on local administration and education to be amended soon to meet Hungarian ethnic demands, Radio Bucharest reported on 10 March. Ciorbea said the local administration law should provide for bilingual signs and the education law should lift "restrictions" on instruction in national minority languages. Ciorbea also said that Gyorgy Tokay, a member of the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania (UDMR) and the head of the department for national minorities within the premier's office, will be among the visiting Romanian delegation. He added that the UDMR's participation in the government coalition is "necessary and useful" and "contributes to internal stability." -- Michael Shafir

ROMANIAN BISHOP ADMITS COOPERATION WITH SECURITATE.
Orthodox Bishop of Banat Nicolae Corneanu, in an interview with the daily Romania libera on 10 March, admitted he cooperated with Nicolae Ceausescu's secret police, international media reported. He said that, under pressure from the Securitate, he signed an order in 1981 excommunicating five dissident priests, Since the fall of communism, Corneanu has been considered one of the more courageous bishops. He often adopted positions that opposed Ion Iliescu's regime, including favoring extending an invitation to former King Mihai to visit Timisoara. -- Michael Shafir

TIRASPOL SUSPENDS COLLABORATION WITH OSCE MISSION.
The Tiraspol authorities have suspended collaboration with the OSCE permanent mission in the separatist Transdniester region, Infotag reported on 10 March. Valerii Litkai, who is "foreign minister" in the region, told the agency that the decision follows a report by Donald Johnston, head of the mission, submitted to the OSCE council
in Vienna in February. He said that, in the wake of the report, the mission's activities in the Transdniester has become "inexpedient." Earlier this month, the breakaway region's delegation to the Joint Control Commission refused to participate in a commission meeting to protest criticisms made by Johnston in his report (see OMRI Daily Digest, 5 March 1997). -- Michael Shafir

INFLATION IN BULGARIA CONTINUES TO SKYROCKET.
The consumer-price index rose in February by 242.7%, Bulgarian newspapers reported on 11 March. Inflation for the first two months of 1997 amounts to almost 393%, compared with 311% for 1996 as a whole. Prices of imports are decreasing, as the lev continues to strengthen (the exchange rate today is 1646 lev to $1). The IMF is projecting 1,150% inflation and an average exchange rate of 2,000 lev to $1 for 1997, Duma reported. The fund insists that the budget deficit should not exceed 2% of GDP, while the government argues for 5-6%. Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandar Bozhkov said on 10 March that Bulgaria will not agree to granting Russia a concession to build a gas pipeline through Bulgaria, RFE/RL reported. The government argues that the previous government's decision to grant such a concession was made in haste. -- Michael Wyzan

SEPARATE ELECTORAL LISTS FOR BULGARIAN PARTIES.
Ahmed Dogan, leader of the predominantly ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedoms (DPS), and Ivan Kostov, head of the Union of Democratic Forces (SDS), agreed on 10 March to have separate electoral lists in the April general elections, Trud reported on 11 March. The SDS and the People's Union, the other major anti-communist grouping, agreed last week on a common list (see OMRI Daily Digest, 6 March 1997). Dogan argues that it would be better if the SDS did not have an absolute majority in the next parliament, lest it become intoxicated with its success and suffer the same fate as the Socialists, who ruled until February. Meanwhile, a Gallup poll conducted earlier this month revealed that 81% of respondents had confidence in President Petar Stoyanov, while 68% backed Premier Stefan Sofiyanski. -- Michael Wyzan

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Jan Cleave




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