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Newsline - March 19, 1997


NEW APPOINTMENTS TO CONTINUE.
First Deputy Prime Minster Anatolii Chubais told NTV on 18 March that "unexpected and quite significant changes" may occur in the government's composition over the next several weeks. Several slots remain to be filled, such as that of Minister for Foreign Economic Relations. Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told ITAR-TASS on 19 March said that First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov is considering who to appoint to supervise social affairs and monopoly policy, and suggested that some "professionals" from Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko party may be persuaded to join the government. -- Peter Rutland

OPINIONS DIFFER OVER CABINET CHANGES.
The recent reshuffle marks a defeat for First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, argues Nikolai Vardul in Kommersant-Daily on 18 March. He says it was Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin and not Chubais who recruited Nizhnii Novogorod Governor Boris Nemtsov and who insisted on the removal of Chubais's ally, banker Vladimir Potanin. Chubais was unable to persuade some key reformers, such as Ella Pamfilova, to join the administration, and "it suddenly turns out that Russia's No. 1 administrator does not have a strong team of his own." In contrast, Otto Latsis, writing in Izvestiya on 19 March, argues that Nemtsov's appointment "doubles the chances of success in the next phase of reform" because Nemtsov is a partner, and not a counterweight, to Chubais. Latsis suggests there was a serious effort to push out ministers who were seen as representatives of industrial and financial lobbies. -- Peter Rutland

NEMTSOV'S AGENDA.
Boris Nemtsov laid out his economic ideas in a February interview, published in Izvestiya on 19 March. Nemtsov noted that subsidies for housing and utilities cost the nation 100 trillion rubles ($18 billion) in 1996 -- more than the entire defense budget -- and ate up 22% of the Nizhnii Novgorod Oblast budget. He called for competition in the provision of services, the formation of tenants' cooperatives, and the installation of meters. (All these ideas are part of the World Bank's housing reform program for Russia.) Nemtsov acknowledged that this will take several years, and that immediate rate hikes would be counterproductive. The state should set a single tariff for the electricity grid and railways to stop their monopolistic overpricing, and then encourage private firms to compete to supply power and freight service. He said there was no need for a "revolution" with Gazprom "since its prices are substantially below world levels." He favors mandatory personal income declarations, prison for tax dodgers, and an end to channeling budget funds through "authorized" banks. He said "The country is now facing a choice. Last year it was between the prison and the barracks. Now it is between mafia capitalism and a normal market in a democratic society without a giant gulf between the rich and poor." -- Peter Rutland

LIVSHITS TO ADMINISTRATION, POTANIN BACK TO BANKING.
Former Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Aleksandr Livshits will now join the presidential administration as deputy chief of staff for economic issues, NTV reported on 18 March. Prior to his appointment in August 1996, Livshits had served as presidential economics advisor. Livshits found himself embroiled in clan battles between various financial-industrial groups, and proved unable to tackle the slump in tax revenue. Former First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Potanin was the only former minister to hold a press conference after the cabinet reshuffle. He said he will return to head the powerful Oneksimbank, the position he resigned from on 15 August. -- Robert Orttung

IGNATENKO LEAVES GOVERNMENT BUT STAYS AT ITAR-TASS.
Vitalii Ignatenko put a positive spin on his removal from the government and the liquidation of the post of deputy prime minister in charge of media issues. Ignatenko told ITAR-TASS on 18 March that during the last two years he had helped create a "legislative and financial basis" for the media, eliminating the need for further government supervision of media activities. Ignatenko will continue to head the ITAR-TASS news agency, a job he has held since 1991. -- Laura Belin

KOMSOMOLSKAYA PRAVDA TO SELL 20% STAKE TO ONEKSIMBANK.
The board of directors of the daily Komsomolskaya pravda (KP) has decided to sell a 20% equity stake in the paper to Oneksimbank, ITAR-TASS and Kommersant-Daily reported on 18-19 March. KP directors say they need additional financial resources. Originally, the stake was supposed to be sold to gas giant Gazprom, but this deal fell through. The decision to sell the stake, however, was opposed by the majority of KP's editorial board. Chief Editor Valerii Simonov believes the sale threatens the paper's editorial independence. -- Natalia Gurushina

RODIONOV: SHAKEUP OF TOP BRASS IMMINENT.
Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, who appears to have survived the ongoing cabinet reshuffle, told journalists on 18 March that "some generals" who "are engaged in activities incompatible with military service," would soon be sacked, ITAR-TASS reported. While he did not mention any names, Rodionov said he expected President Yeltsin to sign a decree soon confirming the dismissal of Army General Vladmir Semenov, the commander of the ground forces. Semenov has been suspended from duty since last November, when Rodionov accused him of misconduct. Semenov himself issued a statement the same day complaining that in the four months since Rodionov leveled charges against him, the defense minister neither substantiated them nor met with Semenov to explain them. -- Scott Parrish

RUSSIA CRITICIZES GERMANY ON DESERTERS, U.S. ON BELARUS.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Andreev denounced as "politically motivated" the recent decision by Bonn to grant asylum to Soviet Army deserters (see OMRI Daily Digest, 27 February, 1997), ITAR-TASS reported on 18 March. Andreev said that granting asylum to the some 600 soldiers, who deserted from former Soviet troops based in Germany until 1994, was an admission that Germany was responsible for their decision not to return to Russia, saying he hoped Bonn did not aim at encouraging desertion. Russia had requested the soldiers' extradition, saying many had committed other crimes. Andreev also panned American policy toward Belarus as "erroneous and counterproductive," saying attempts to "artificially isolate" Minsk could generate "political tension." He said Moscow is "astonished" at Washington's criticism of Russo-Belarusian integration efforts, since the U.S. supports economic integration in Western Europe. -- Scott Parrish

YELTSIN VETOES LAW ON CONSTITUTIONAL AMENDMENT PROCEDURE.
President Yeltsin vetoed a law outlining the procedure for adopting constitutional amendments, which was passed by the Duma in February after the president vetoed an earlier version, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 March. A statement issued by the presidential press service claimed the law was unconstitutional but did not specify which articles it contradicted. The constitution stipulates that amendments must be approved by a two-thirds majority in the Duma, a three-fourths majority in the Federation Council, and by legislatures in at least two-thirds of Russia's 89 regions. A federal law such as that which Yeltsin vetoed is needed to specify procedural details. -- Laura Belin

GOVERNMENT PREPARES FOR DAY OF ACTION.
On 18 March, less than two weeks before a nationwide day of protest organized by the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR), Prime Minister Chernomyrdin ordered regional leaders to personally conduct negotiations with union representatives and employers to find ways to reduce social tension and to report back to Moscow on a daily basis, ITAR-TASS reported. Cherno-myrdin stressed the need to tackle wage arrears, which total about 50 trillion rubles. FNPR Deputy Chairman Aleksei Surikov said the same day that the protest would go ahead on 27 March despite the recent government reshuffle, but Labor Minister Gennadii Melikyan said the FNPR would not call for the resignation of the government. Such calls are, however, likely to be heard in some regions. -- Penny Morvant

CHECHEN PARLIAMENT ELECTS SPEAKER.
After several inconclusive rounds of voting, on 17 March the new Chechen parliament elected field commander Ruslan Alikhadzhiev as its speaker, ITAR-TASS reported. Alikhadzhiev, a member of the Chechen National Independence Party, was characterized by a colleague as "a decent man with a higher economic education." Addressing the parliament session, President Aslan Maskhadov urged deputies to draft and enact urgently needed legislation. Also on 17 March, the leader of the Terek Cossack army sent a letter to Maskhadov requesting a meeting to discuss stabilizing the situation in the North Caucasus and protecting ethnic Russians in the region from terrorism, according to ITAR-TASS. Plans for staging terrorist attacks were confiscated from a group of Chechen militants, subordinate to field commander Salman Raduev, who were detained on the border between Chechnya and the rest of the Russian Federation, Rabochaya tribuna reported on 18 March quoting local media in Krasnodar krai. -- Liz Fuller

CONFUSION OVER ALLEGED ASSASSINATION ATTEMPT IN CHECHNYA.
Chechen Security Council Secretary Akhmed Zakaev told ITAR-TASS on 18 March that a bomb explosion in central Grozny the previous day had been intended to kill acting First Deputy Prime Minister Movladi Udugov. Udugov, however, denied having been in the vicinity at the time of the explosion. Also on 18 March, a Russian military helicopter patrolling the border between Chechnya and North Ossetiya was fired on from Chechen territory, Reuters reported. No one was injured. -- Liz Fuller

PLANE CRASHES EN ROUTE TO TURKEY.
About 50 passengers and crew were killed when a Russian airliner en route to Turkey crashed near Cherkessk in southern Russia on 18 March, international agencies reported. The plane, a Stavropol Airlines AN-24, crashed half an hour after taking off from Stavropol for the Turkish city of Trabzon. Officials said most of the passengers were Russian "shuttle traders" traveling to Turkey to purchase consumer goods for resale at home. Safety standards have fallen since the Soviet monopoly Aeroflot was split into numerous smaller domestic companies, some of which take shortcuts in maintenance and safety standards. -- Penny Morvant

BUS BOMBERS SENTENCED.
The Supreme Court of Kabardino-Balkariya on 17 March convicted two brothers for the June 1996 bombing of a bus in the republic's capital, Nalchik, in which six people were killed, Russian agencies reported. The brothers received relatively light sentences -- seven and seven and a half years -- because they are minors. -- Penny Morvant

RUSSIA-IRAQ ECONOMIC RELATIONS GET NEW BOOST.
Iraq's government gave Russia most-favored-nation status in selling Iraqi crude oil in exchange for food and other humanitarian products, agencies reported on 18 March. Under the U.N. food-for-oil deal, Iraq can sell $2 billion worth of oil every six months. Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Petr Rodionov, who heads the Russian delegation at the meeting of the Russian-Iraqi committee for economic cooperation in Baghdad, encouraged Russian companies (which expressed interest in selling some 100,000 tons of wheat, 50,000 tons of sugar, as well as spare parts for power stations to Iraq) to increase the supply of goods to Iraq. He noted that so far they have failed to realize the full potential of the food-for-oil deal. -- Natalia Gurushina


INDEPENDENT UNIONS FACE HARASSMENT IN KAZAKSTAN.
The 19 March edition of Nezavisimaya Gazeta reports that the independent trade union (NPTsK) president of Kazakstan, Leonid Solomin, has been charged under Kazakstan's criminal code for "engaging in an illegal hard currency operation." The charge stems from Solomin's wages being paid in hard currency, which is against Kazak law. The paper points out that this is the latest of several actions against independent trade unions made by the government's Committee for National Security (KNB). The leader of the Karaganda NPTsK, Rahim Uteuov, said the KNB uses criminal proceedings to intimidate non-Kazaks, and that Kazaks who participate in unions are branded "traitors." -- Bruce Pannier

KAZAKSTAN TO PULL OUT OF CUSTOMS UNION?
Gani Kasymov, chairman of the State Customs Committee of Kazakstan, said "the economic security of the state is suffering" due to "the huge amount of contraband goods brought in," Reuters reported on 18 March. Kasymov complained that "There is no point carrying out internal economic reforms if the length and breadth of our borders are so porous." It appears that Kazakstan may be planning to withdraw from the custom's union with Russia, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus, although Almaty does not want to be blamed for the union's collapse. -- Bruce Pannier

BORDER GUARD CHIEF IN KYRGYZSTAN.
The head of the Russian Federal Border Guard Service, Gen. Andrei Nikolaev, held talks with Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev and Security Minister Myrzakan Subanov on 18-19 March, according to Russian sources. A protocol between Kyrgyzstan and Russia on financing the border guards in Kyrgyzstan was signed. Also agreed to was use of Kyrgyz air bases for operations by the Border Guards in Tajikistan. -- Bruce Pannier

THE DEATH PENALTY IN CENTRAL ASIA.
The Kyrgyz daily Vechernyy Bishkek on 7 March released figures on the number of executions in five Central Asian states for 1996. According to the article, Kyrgyzstan executed 41 people in 1996 and pardoned one. Kyrgyzstan is the only Central Asian state not to employ the death penalty for drug related offenses and will lower the number of crimes punishable by death from 16 to five. Kazakstan executed 42 people but has also lowered crimes punishable by death from 17 to six. The number of executions in Turkmenistan could only be estimated but the article put it at around 400. Uzbekistan also does not publish figures but uses the death penalty for "crimes against peace and security." Tajikistan officially executed 20 people last but the newspaper noted this was a dubious figure. -- Bruce Pannier


MORE ON BELARUSIAN EXPULSION OF U.S. CITIZEN.
President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said the expulsion of the director of the Belarusian branch of the Soros Foundation, Peter Byrne, was not done "spontaneously" and was not directed against Washington, NTV reported on 18 March. He said Byrne is not permitted to re-enter the country because his activities in Belarus were incompatible with his status. Soros Foundation spokesman Syarhei Lyaushunou said he disagrees with the Belarusian authorities' belief that the foundation is working to destabilize the republic under the guise of offering humantarian aid, Belarusian television reported on 17 March. Belarusian television cited grants given by the Soros Foundation to members of the opposition as evidence that the foundation was operating against the state's interest. The report said opposition leader Yuryi Khadyka received $19,500 in a grant last year, the wife of an NTV correspondent received $7,105, and the wife of an RFE/RL correspondent got $6,990. (See "RUSSIA CRITICIZES GERMANY ON DESERTERS, U.S. ON BELARUS," in Russian part for more on Belarus.) -- Ustina Markus

DEMONSTRATIONS IN UKRAINE.
Separate demonstrations by both left-wingers and nationalists were held in Ukraine on 18 March, international agencies reported. Several thousand protesters gathered outside the Crimean government building in Simferopol to protest NATO expansion and urge integration with Russia. At the same time, tens of thousands of left-wingers protested in major cities throughout the country over the country's economic situation and the chronic wage arrears. The leftist protests were matched by protests staged by national democrats, who called for the removal of ex-communists from positions of power and a ban on the Communist Party. Rukh leader Vyacheslav Chornovil said the protests were prompted by economic, not political, motives. Kyiv owes 2.7 billion hryvnyas ($1.5 billion) in back wages and pensions. Leftists criticize the measures taken to reform the economy for causing economic hardship, while nationalists blame government corruption and leftists for blocking economic reform and causing the economic hardships. -- Ustina Markus

UKRAINE AND IMF, WORLD BANK.
An IMF delegation arrived in Ukraine for further talks on a $2.5 billion-3 billion extended fund facility, Reuters reported on 18 March. The disbursal of the credits has been held up because Ukraine's parliament and government have not agreed on a 1997 budget. A few days before the delegation's arrival, a strange manifesto condemning the IMF was distributed in Ukraine's parliament, Den reported on 14 March. It warned that IMF policies could lead to a global financial apocalypse and called on U.S. President Bill Clinton to help. The document was disseminated by the International Schiller Institute, an anti-IMF group set up in 1965 in the U.S. Ukrainian deputy Natalya Vitrenko has been working on the International Schiller Institute's behalf in Ukraine. In other news, the World Bank approved a $120 million credit to Ukraine to support a guaranteed facility to encourage foreign investment, AFP reported on 18 March. -- Ustina Markus

LATVIAN PRESIDENT IN DENMARK.
Guntis Ulmanis, on an official visit to Denmark, said on 18 March he is concerned that the interests of the Baltic countries be observed during the ongoing NATO enlargement debate between the Western countries and Russia, BNS reported. Speaking at the Danish Foreign Policy Association, Ulmanis said he fears that important decisions on the Baltic states' security could be made behind their backs. He said that Latvia is sure that Denmark will support the proposal to include the Baltic battalion in NATO forces as an integrated part. -- Jiri Pehe

COMMON LIST IN POLISH SENATE ELECTIONS.
Leaders of Solidarity Electoral Action (AWS) and the Movement for Poland's Reconstruction (ROP) agreed on 18 March to present common candidates to the Senate in the upcoming parliamentary elections. Both parties will first elaborate lists of candidates on the local level and if agreement is not reached the lists will be sent to Warsaw where negotiators from both the ROP and AWS will establish a common list. Local agreements with other parties, in particular the Polish Peasant Party and Freedom Union, "are not excluded," according to the ROP vice president, former Internal Affairs Minister Antoni Macierewcz. AWS is recently leading public opinion polls in popularity. -- Jakub Karpinski

UKRAINIAN PRIME MINISTER IN POLAND.
Pavlo Lazarenko and his Polish counterpart Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz signed on 18 March a package of economic agreements including a medical industry cooperation agreement and an agricultural cooperation program. The two said both governments expect at least a $500 million increase in bilateral trade in 1997. During talks with President Aleksander Kwasniewski on 18 March, Lazarenko spoke of the joint declaration the two presidents plan to sign in May during Kwasniewski's visit to Ukraine. "This document will be of historic importance for both peoples," Kwasniewski said. The document will avoid mentioning concrete events from the often troublesome history of mutual relations, Polish media reported. -- Jakub Karpinski

CZECH FOREIGN MINISTER SUMMONS RUSSIAN AMBASSADOR.
Josef Zieleniec summoned Nikolai Ryabov on 18 March to tell him that his recent statements had "seriously harmed Czech-Russian relations," Czech media reported. The Russian ambassador to Prague said on Russian television NTV on 16 March that the Czech Republic's entry into NATO would threaten key Russian-Czech bilateral agreements. He warned that Russia might revise economic agreements with the Czech Republic, including those on gas and nuclear energy supplies. Later Ryabov said that his statements were misrepresented and that he did not think they contained any threat to the Czech Republic. -- Jiri Pehe

KING OF NORWAY IN PRAGUE, GAS DEAL CONCLUDED.
King Harald and Queen Sonja arrived in Prague on 18 March for a three-day state visit, Czech media reported. President Vaclav Havel said after his meeting with the king that the Czech Republic will begin buying natural gas from Norway. Havel said King Harald's visit speeded up negotiations on gas deliveries from Norway. He added that the recent threats by Russia's ambassador to Prague that Czech membership in NATO could have a negative impact on Czech-Russian trade, especially on the supply of Russian natural gas, influenced the decision. The Czech Republic is completely dependent on Russia for natural gas. -- Jiri Pehe

MORE PROTESTS IN SLOVAKIA.
Some 2,000 students from the Trnava University joined protested on 18 March outside the government's headquarters in Bratislava, Slovak media reported. The students say a government plan to build a new university in Trnava threatens the existence of Trnava University, which is currently short of money. Many lecturers at Trnava University are known to be opposed to Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. Like their Bratislava colleagues in the last few days, the students in Trnava also voiced support for striking actors in Slovakia. Eight trade unions in the country, representing 250,000 workers, have also threatened to go on strike. The head of Slovakia's Confederation of Trade Unions, Ivan Saktor, said the strike will occur if Meciar's government does not show more willingness to talk with its opponents. -- Jiri Pehe

HUNGARIAN FARMERS CONTINUE BLOCKADE THREAT.
A Hungarian farmers' union on 18 March maintained its threat to block border crossings if the government does not agree to its demands, despite warnings that such action would be illegal, Reuters and Hungarian media reported. Representatives of the farmers' union METESZ sent an ultimatum to the government the previous day, saying they will block border crossings and roads to the capital unless their demand for unconditional tax relief for farmers earning less than 1.5 million forints ($8,500) a year is met. A February demonstration sparked a series of farmer protests over income and social security tax increases for farmers. The government made concessions to the farmers who have since formed METESZ. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

HUNGARIAN SOCIALISTS: SEPARATE PRIME MINISTER AND PARTY PRESIDENT POSITIONS.
The so-called social democratic and left-wing leaders within Hungary's senior coalition Socialist Party are scheduled to meet this week to hammer out a joint stance in favor of separating the posts of prime minister and party president, Hungarian media reported on 19 March. Both positions are held by Gyula Horn. The issue has been long debated in the largely heterogeneous Socialist caucus. According to the daily Vilaggazdasag, the group would welcome both Foreign Minister Laszlo Kovacs and former Prime Minister Miklos Nemeth for the post of prime minister. -- Zsofia Szilagyi



ALBANIAN REBELS THREATEN TO ELECT OWN PRESIDENT.
Gjirokastra rebel leader Agim Ghozita, a former army general, told Reuters on 18 March that if President Sali Berisha does not resign, the southern Albanian insurgents will elect their own presidential council to challenge him directly. Ghozita said the rebels want a political, not a military, solution. He added he is willing to work with the new government only if it stops all cooperation with Berisha. But Prime Minister Bashkim Fino of the Socialist Party rejected that demand. Berisha has pledged to step down if his Democratic Party loses elections scheduled for June. In Gjirokastra, gunmen raided the city's main bank on 18 March and seized all the money. In Tirana, the restoration of normal life continued as the government announced Rinas airport will reopen on 20 March. -- Fabian Schmidt

REFUGEE CRISIS WORSENS.
More than 2,500 people arrived in Italy on 18 March, bringing the number of refugees there to nearly 10,000, according to the UNHCR. A derelict freighter with some 100 people on board ran aground south of Durres. The exodus is apparently largely organized by the Albanian mafia, which charges between $500 and $1,000 per person for passage to Italy. Italy's chief anti-Mafia prosecutor, Pier Luigi Vigna, said the exodus might include criminals freed during the recent armed anarchy. CNN showed footage of Italian border guards collecting dozens of machine guns from arriving refugees. Marine insurance writers in London effectively declared the area a war zone liable to increased premiums. Italy on Wednesday expelled by helicopter 135 refugees it deemed dangerous. -- Fabian Schmidt

INTERNATIONAL EFFORTS TO SOLVE FINANCIAL CRISIS.
New Albanian Finance Minister Arben Malaj told the EU fact-finding mission on 18 March his country needs at least $300 million to prevent economic collapse. He said the country faces a food crisis because looters have stolen government food reserves. In Geneva, the International Red Cross appealed for 15 million Swiss francs ($11 million) to assist Albania with food and medicine. The sum would cover urgent needs for three months. Some Albanian leaders renewed an appeal for Western countries to send troops to help the government restore order, but EU mission head Jan D'Ansembourg ruled that out. Greek Economy Minister Yannos Papandoniou said Greece will guarantee a $75 million loan with favorable conditions to Albania once the situation has normalized. The loan will help provide partial compensation to people who lost savings in failed pyramid schemes and will assist the financial system, Reuters reported. -- Fabian Schmidt

CROATIA GIVES FINAL AMNESTY LIST TO EASTERN SLAVONIA SERBS.
The UN Transitional Administration in eastern Slavonia has handed over to local Serb leaders Zagreb's final list of persons who will not be given amnesty for alleged war crimes, Vecernji list reported. The cases of those not mentioned on the 150-name list will be handled according to the amnesty law passed by the Croatian government last year. Neither party is happy with the list: Croats find it too short and Serbs too long. -- Daria Sito Sucic

CROATIAN HARDLINER NEW PRESIDENT OF BOSNIAN FEDERATION.
Former federation Defense Minister Vladimir Soljic, a Croat, was elected on 18 March by the federation parliament as the new president of Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation, local media reported. Soljic replaced Kresimir Zubak, now the Croatian member of Bosnia's collective presidency. Ejup Ganic, a Muslim, was retained as federation vice president. Both men are elected on behalf of their respective national parties, the Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) and the Muslim Party of Democratic Action (SDA). Meanwhile, Haris Silajdzic, one of the Bosnian government co-chairmen, criticized the OSCE's work in Bosnia and asked that the organization name those responsible for the third postponement of Bosnia's local elections, Oslobodjenje reported on 19 March. In other news, a Bosnian Serb woman on 18 March testified at the Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia about atrocities done by Muslim guards to Serbian prisoners of the Celebici prison camp in 1992, international media reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

SERBS IN ZAIRE.
The International Herald Tribune reported on 19 March that "brokers with connections to President Slobodan Milosevic's government have made deals to supply the embattled Zairian military with men and equipment." The article added that the authorities in Belgrade and in Pale make big money from equipment sales, while the soldiers are very well paid by Yugoslav standards. The federal Yugoslav Foreign Ministry denies any official link to the deals with Zaire, but the article cites numerous examples of government connections to the African enterprise. -- Patrick Moore

SERBIAN OFFICIALS UNDER PRESSURE FOR FAIR ELECTIONS.
German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel told Serbian opposition leader Vuk Draskovic that the Serbian authorities must not hinder opposition-controlled local governments or the media if they want to rejoin the OSCE. He added that the authorities must also launch a "constructive dialogue" with the opposition, Nasa Borba reported on 19 March. Meanwhile in Vienna, another opposition leader, Vesna Pesic, threatened a boycott of the presidential and legislative elections slated for later this year if there is no level playing field. She said the opposition wants not only free media but also a special electoral commission to make sure that the vote is free and fair, AFP reported. -- Patrick Moore

MONTENEGRIN GOVERNMENT: LETTER WAS FAKED.
Montenegrin authorities denied a report in Belgrade and U.S. dailies that Prime Minister Milo Djukanovic had written two members of the U.S. Congress to criticize federal Yugoslav policies in Bosnia and Kosovo. The Montenegrin spokesmen said that the letter was faked, AFP reported. Tensions between Podgorica and Belgrade are nothing new and have become increasingly public in recent weeks, but the alleged Djukanovic letter was particularly sharp in its criticism. -- Patrick Moore

PARLIAMENTARY UPHEAVAL IN ROMANIA.
The Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) said in a letter to President Emil Constantinescu that it will boycott parliamentary debates in protest against what it called non-respect of parliamentary procedure and a purge of the state administration, Romanian media reported on 17-18 March. PDSR leader and former President Ion Iliescu asked Constantinescu to mediate. Deputy PDSR leader Adrian Nastase said the way that the parliamentary immunity of Greater Romania Party (PRM) leader Corneliu Vadim Tudor was lifted was only one of the reasons for the decision. The PRM is also boycotting the debates, while representatives of the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) announced they will be present in the house but will not participate in debates. The PUNR is protesting against the removal from the parliamentary agenda of their proposed amendment to the land-ownership law. Constantinescu said the boycott is irresponsible but that he is willing to mediate if the three parties take "national priorities" into consideration. The ruling majority has the votes to pass legislation in the opposition's absence. -- Michael Shafir

FOREIGN INVESTORS CAN OWN LAND IN ROMANIA.
The Chamber of Deputies on 18 March passed legislation allowing foreign investors to own land, Radio Bucharest reported. An identical bill was approved last month by the Senate and will become law when President Emil Constantinescu signs it. The bill was approved in the absence of opposition representatives, who are boycotting the debates. In other news, the EU finance ministers on 17 March authorized the second installment of a loan approved back in 1994 as financial assistance. The installment ($80.5 million) had been withheld because of the previous government's evasive reform implementation. The EU said the loan has been authorized in recognition of the new government's "courageous" reform drive. -- Michael Shafir

ROMANIAN-MOLDOVAN INTER-MINISTERIAL COMMITTEE MEETING.
The seventh session of the joint Romanian-Moldovan inter-ministerial committee was held in Bucharest on 17 March, Romanian national television reported on the same day. Romanian Foreign Minister Adrian Severin and Moldovan Deputy Premier Ion Gutu signed a protocol providing for free-trade zones in border regions, as well as accords on environment protection and education. Radio Bucharest reported that Severin spoke of extending regional border co-operation to include Ukraine as a third party to new Euro-regions. -- Michael Shafir

IMF STANDBY FOR BULGARIA BRINGS ADDITIONAL NEW LOANS.
EU External Affairs Commissioner Hans van den Broek said on 18 March in Sofia that additional lending worth $400 million-500 million will likely be forthcoming from the EU and the rest of the G-24, Reuters reported. On 17 March, Bulgaria had reached two agreements providing credits worth about $617 million -- $510 million in a standby credit and $107 million from a special facility for importing grain. The Open Society Foundation has offered $25 million for importing food and medicine, RFE/RL reported on 16 March. Leaders of all main political parties, including the recently ousted socialists, on 18 March pledged to support the tough conditions underlying the standby deal. Those conditions involve enterprise restructuring and privatization and tough budgetary discipline. -- Michael Wyzan

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Pete Baumgartner and Susan Caskie



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