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Newsline - March 20, 1997


MORE TOUGH RHETORIC ON EVE OF SUMMIT ...
Speaking in Helsinki, where President Yeltsin meets with his American counterpart Bill Clinton on 20-21 March, presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii underlined Moscow's continuing rejection of NATO expansion, which he termed "the West's biggest strategic mistake since the end of the Cold War," international agencies reported on 19 March. Yastrzhembskii said Yeltsin remains convinced that there are not "any concrete reasons" which justify expanding NATO eastwards. He argued that the dispute over NATO expansion has already undermined Russian relations with the West, and said the summit was more likely to produce "gradual progress" on NATO and other issues than any major agreements. -- Scott Parrish

... YELTSIN WARY OF TRADE OFF BETWEEN AID AND NATO EXPANSION.
The U.S. would like the summit to feature new bilateral economic cooperation agreements, which would demonstrate that despite the dispute over NATO enlargement, the U.S. is not seeking to isolate Russia, Reuters reported on 19 March. But Moscow is wary of agreements that might look like a "payoff" in return for acquiescence on NATO expansion. A senior U.S. official told the agency that Washington is prepared to offer "several billion dollars" of additional investment financing to Russia through the Export-Import Bank and OPIC. Raf Sharikov, the editor of Kommersant-Daily, said that at a recent meeting with journalists, Yeltsin reported that Clinton had offered him a $4 billion investment assistance package. Yeltsin said he declined the offer, stressing that he did not want economic talks to undermine negotiations over NATO enlargement. -- Scott Parrish

YELTSIN DECREES CHANGES IN DEFENSE MINISTRY LEADERSHIP.
President Yeltsin has issued a decree abolishing one of five deputy minister of defense positions, but creating two more, including a new first deputy ministerial post, NTV reported on 19 March. The position of deputy defense minister in charge of the Main Military Inspectorate has been abolished, since those functions are being transferred to the new State Military Inspectorate, which is an independent department of the presidential administration (see OMRI Daily Digest, 5 November 1996). Anonymous Defense Ministry sources told the network that the new first deputy minister position is likely to be filled by Col.-Gen. Viktor Chechevatov, currently commander of the Far Eastern Military District, who is widely viewed as a potential successor to Defense Minister Igor Rodionov. -- Scott Parrish

DUMA WANTS MORE ACCESS TO STATE TV.
The State Duma on 20 April passed a resolution asking the Federal Television and Radio Broadcasting Service to change the licensing procedures for Russian TV (Channel 2), requiring it to broadcast dispatches from the legislature's company three times a week (for a total of 105 minutes) during prime time, ITAR-TASS reported. The vote passed with a tally of 293-5, and one abstention. The government's Department of Information and Culture, however, said that the resolution could not be implemented because it violates existing legislation. In particular, the Duma's press service can participate in the development of material for broadcast, but not actually serve as the broadcaster, the executive branch noted. -- Robert Orttung

RUSSIA CANCELS PRODUCTION OF ADVANCED FIGHTER.
Anonymous sources in the former Ministry of Defense Industry told ITAR-TASS on 19 March that since the Russian Air Force cannot afford to buy new planes, the MAPO aircraft company would not put the advanced Multi-Functional Fighter (MFI) into serial production. A prototype of the plane (known as Project 1.42 in the West) has undergone ground tests but not yet flown and is reported to incorporate advances in "thrust vectoring," which would make it highly maneuverable. While research on the MFI project will continue, MAPO will concentrate its production resources on the MiG-35, an improved derivative of the MiG-29M fighter, which is targeted at the export market in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. In 1996, the cash-strapped Russian military did not purchase a single new combat aircraft. -- Scott Parrish

MASKHADOV UNVEILS NEW GOVERNMENT ...
Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov formally appointed several members to his new government on 19 March, Russian and Western agencies reported. Interior Minister Kazbek Makhashev and the head of the Yunko state oil company, Khodzh-Ahmed Yarikhanov, remain in their posts, as do two members of the previous government appointed by pro-Moscow former President Doku Zavgaev. Maskhadov offered unspecified government posts to two close allies of his defeated rival in the presidential election, field commander Shamil Basaev. Isa Astamirov was named minister for the economy, and Akhmed Zakaev, Maskhadov's national security advisor, will simultaneously serve as minister of culture. -- Liz Fuller

... AND ISSUES DECREE RESTRUCTURING MILITARY.
On the same day, Maskhadov issued a decree ordering the creation of a national guard, the structure and size of which remains unclear, ITAR-TASS reported. The guard will be partly made up of young Chechen fighters who formerly served in the field commanders' units that are to be disarmed and dissolved by early April. ITAR-TASS quoted a member of the Chechen general staff as confirming that Chechnya plans to maintain a standing army of 2,000 men, including special task battalions, an armored division, air defense units and a rapid reaction force. On 18 March Radio Rossii quoted the commander of Russia's Interior Ministry troops, Col.-Gen. Anatolii Shkirko, as stating that Maskhadov's decree on the creation of Chechen regular armed forces violates the Russian constitution. -- Liz Fuller

DUMA MOVES TO LIMIT CITY NAME CHANGES ...
The parliament's lower house on 19 March passed a draft law restricting the freedom of local authorities to rename cities, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill states that name changes must be approved by the federal authorities, who must take into account public opinion, and sets out a series of procedures in the renaming process. The move comes two months after Chechnya's outgoing government renamed Grozny, its capital, Dzhokhar-Gala in honor of late Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev. -- Penny Morvant

... CONSIDERS SOCIAL LEGISLATION.
Also on 19 March, the Duma passed on second reading a draft law on the subsistence minimum, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill defines how the subsistence minimum should be calculated and amended and provides for its use in the formulation of regional social programs to assist those on low incomes. The deputies also overcame a Federation Council veto on a draft law setting the basic cost of a minimum consumer basket in 1990. The figure will be used in the calculation of compensation to Russians whose savings were devalued as a result of the economic reforms launched in 1991-1992. The Duma draft put the cost of the basket in 1990 prices at 444 rubles, whereas the government argues that it should be 524 rubles. -- Penny Morvant

LAW ON PRODUCTION SHARING BLOCKED AGAIN.
On 19 March, at the initiative of the Liberal Democratic Party, the State Duma voted 234-127 to postpone a planned discussion of the production sharing law, Russian TV (RTR) reported. The law itself was passed in 1995, but in May 1996 the Duma blocked approval of the government's list of approved deposits, without which the law cannot go into effect. The recent government shuffle, leaving Chernomyrdin as prime minister and Petr Rodionov as fuel and energy minister, does not suggest any radical initiatives from the government will be forthcoming to break the deadlock over energy policy. Energy output continues to fall due to a lack of investment. In the first two months of 1997 oil output fell 2%, gas 1%, coal 4%, and electricity 4%, compared to the same period last year, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 March. -- Peter Rutland

SUPREME COURT REJECTS HIGH-SPEED TRAIN CASE.
The Russian Federation Supreme Court resolved on 19 March not to consider a lawsuit aimed at halting the construction of a high-speed railway line between Moscow and St. Petersburg, declaring that the case is outside its jurisdiction, ITAR-TASS reported. The suit was filed on 27 February by Duma Environmental Committee Chairwoman Tamara Zlotnikova, who has also threatened to appeal to the Constitutional Court. Zlotnikova argues that the project, which would require railway tracks to be laid through a national park, violates several laws and would damage the environment. She has also questioned its estimated cost (75 trillion rubles), arguing that it would cost considerably more to implement. -- Penny Morvant

TAX SERVICE THREATENS BANKRUPTCY ...
On 19 March the State Tax Service threatened bankruptcy proceedings against 90 firms whose tax debts total 35 trillion rubles ($6.1 billion), AFP reported. The list is headed by auto plant AvtoVAZ, which owes 2 trillion rubles, and six oil and gas firms each owing more than 1 trillion rubles. Although the new government has promised to crack down on tax deadbeats, similar threats were made last fall (and the fall before that), but not implemented. -- Peter Rutland

... BUT FACES UPHILL STRUGGLE.
Bankruptcy proceedings rarely produce positive results in Russia. Complete closure of large firms is not an option for political reasons, and bankrupt companies that continue operating skillfully hide their revenues from the authorities. The State Tax Service estimates that only 20-30% of payments to energy suppliers go into the firm's main account, the rest being hidden, Radio Rossii reported on 18 March. Thus, for example, the Chelyabinsk Metal Plant owes 90 billion rubles to the oblast pension fund, and a local arbitration court ordered the "arrest" of its assets on 18 March. Tax inspectors seized finished steel, while managers complained that the steel had already been paid for by a foreign buyer -- which makes one wonder where the money went. The West Siberian railway has filed for bankruptcy against the giant West Siberian and Kuznetsk steel mills in Kemerovo Oblast for unpaid bills, Izvestiya reported on 19 March. The court is considering forcing the plants to issue new shares to cover their debts, but the newspaper asked "what idiot would buy them?" -- Peter Rutland

PYRAMID SCHEME DOCUMENTS GIVEN TO GENERAL PROCURATOR.
The Federal Securities Commission (FKTsB) has passed documentation on the activities of 984 financial companies operating without licenses to the Interior Ministry and the General Procurator's Office, Segodnya and Izvestiya reported on 19-20 March. Among these companies are the infamous financial pyramids MMM and Vlastilina. FKTsB and the federal fund for defending shareholders' rights have also decided to pay compensation to World War II invalids who lost their savings in such pyramid schemes. The fund, which gets 2% of privatization revenue, now has 10 billion rubles ($1.75 million) at its disposal. FKTsB head Dmitrii Vasilev said that the commission made its decision in reponse to the recent events in Albania. -- Natalia Gurushina

CENTRAL BANK'S GOLD RESERVES INCREASE.
The Central Bank (TsB) has accumulated 390 metric tons of gold reserves, or 90% of all gold reserves in Russia, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported on 19 March, citing TsB First Deputy Chairman Sergei Aleksashenko. In 1996, TsB's gold reserves went up by 90 metric tons. Aleksashenko said that the bank aims at increasing reserves by some 25% a year in 1997 and 1998. Experts consider Aleksashenko's statement as a major policy change for Russia, which was selling gold over the last few years in order to finance economic reforms and bring down inflation. Russia's gold output declined from 133 metric tons in 1994 to 101 metric tons last year. -- Natalia Gurushina


NAGORNO-KARABAKH LEADER TO BE APPOINTED ARMENIA'S NEW PRIME MINISTER?
RFE/RL on 19 March quoted deputies of the Armenian parliament as claiming that President Levon Ter-Petrossyan is considering appointing the president of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Robert Kocharyan, as Armenia's new prime minister. Observers note that Kocharyan is currently in Yerevan, holding consultations with senior Armenian officials. Kocharyan, 42, was named president by the Nagorno-Karabakh parliament in late 1994 and was reelected to that post by popular vote in November 1996 elections that were condemned by the international community. Among other candidates to replace Prime Minister Armen Sarkisyan, who resigned on 6 March because of poor health, is controversial Yerevan Mayor and former Interior Minister Vano Siradeghyan. Earlier, Siradeghyan, who is considered by the opposition as one of the main organizers of the alleged 22 September election rigging, told RFE/RL that he will accept the post if offered. -- Emil Danielyan

SADVAL, OPON MEMBERS SENTENCED IN BAKU.
On 18 March, Azerbaijan's Supreme Court handed down sentences of between two and 15 years imprisonment on seven members of the Lezgin separatist organization Sadval on charges of treason, premeditated murder, and the violation of national equality, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 20 March. On 19 March, eleven former members of the OPON special police were sentenced to terms of between five and 13 years for their part in the so-called "coup attempt" by Rovshan Djavadov in March 1995, Western agencies reported. -- Liz Fuller

TURKISH PARLIAMENT SPEAKER IN AZERBAIJAN.
On 19 March, the first day of a two-day visit to Azerbaijan, Turkish parliament speaker Mustafa Kalemli met with his Azerbaijani counterpart Murtuz Alesqerov, who expressed the hope that Turkey would participate actively in the export of Azerbaijan's Caspian oil to the West, Turan reported. Addressing Azerbaijan's Milli Mejlis, Kalemli reiterated that Turkey will not endorse any solution to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict that does not ensure Azerbaijan's territorial integrity, according to ITAR-TASS. In an implicit warning to Moscow to cease its support for exile Kurdish groups with links to the PKK, Kalemli also stressed Turkey's readiness to develop partnership relations with all neighboring countries, especially Russia, on the basis of mutual respect and non-interference in each other's internal affairs. -- Liz Fuller

UIGHUR PROTEST AT CHINESE EMBASSY IN KAZAKSTAN.
A group of some 30 ethnic Uighurs held what was described as a "noisy protest" outside the Chinese embassy in Almaty on 19 March, Reuters reported. The demonstration came in response to reports by the United National Revolutionary Front of Eastern Turkestan (the Uighur independence movement) about the planned execution of two Uighur students in China. The students are charged with rioting in China's western Xinjiang province in February. The Uighurs in Kazakstan claim that hundreds of Uighurs were killed in the rioting. China says the figure was 10 killed and 100 wounded. Protesters outside the Chinese Embassy in Almaty shouted "East Turkestan" and "Allah Akbar" (God is Great) while staff inside the embassy videotaped them. -- Bruce Pannier


BELARUSIAN SOROS FOUNDATION FACES AUDIT.
The Belarusian Security Council set up a commission to audit the Belarusian branch of the Soros Foundation, AFP reported on 19 March. The commission was created days after the director of the branch, Peter Byrne, was barred from re-entering the country because of alleged ties with the opposition. The audit commission is made up of members of the Security Council, the State Control Committee, and the Fiscal Committee. The commission demanded that the foundation hand over various documents. -- Ustina Markus

LITHUANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER ON NATO EXPANSION.
Algirdas Saudargas, speaking at a meeting with North Atlantic Council representatives in Brussels on 19 March, said that at least one of the three Baltic countries should be included in the first wave of NATO's enlargement, BNS reported. "Such a step would ensure that the destiny of the three Baltic states is not hostage to Cold War stereotypes," Saudargas said. Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia have all applied for NATO membership. -- Jiri Pehe

FOREIGN INVESTMENT IN ESTONIA TO CONTINUE.
The director general of the Estonian Foreign Investments Agency, Juri Sakkeus, said the volume of foreign investment should not decline in the next two years, ETA reported on 19 March. Sakkeus noted that the possible investment of $250 million in the Estonian Energy Co. by the U.S. company NRG Energy would be comparable to a normal annual investments volume. Finland and Sweden, with 35% and 24% shares, respectively, are the leading investing countries, followed by Russia and the U.S. From 1992 to the third quarter of 1996, foreign investment totaled 9.3 billion kroons ($775 million). Investment has gone primarily to the processing industry (44.5%), retail and wholesale trade (26%), and transport and communications (16%). -- Saulius Girnius

POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER ON NATO: 'NO PHONY ARGUMENTS.'
Dariusz Rosati spoke on 19 March in Britain with his counterpart Malcolm Rifkind about NATO and EU enlargement. Rosati said NATO enlargement should not be delayed because of pressures from Russia. He asked the West not to accept "phony arguments" from Russia against NATO enlargement. Rosati said Poland has been satisfied so far with progress on NATO enlargement but is concerned that "wrong decisions" could be made at the U.S.-Russian presidential summit in Helsinki that starts on 20 March. Poland opposes the barring from NATO membership of countries that were once part of the USSR, as that would imply that the West recognizes Russia's right to a sphere of influence, which is against the right of states to determine their own foreign policy, Rosati said. -- Jakub Karpinski

POLISH SHIPYARD PROTEST INTENSIFIES.
Police on 19 March forcefully removed some 70 Gdansk shipyard workers occupying the Treasury Ministry building in a protest against the shipyard's closure, Polish and international media reported. Workers' leader Adam Giera was transported unconscious to the hospital. Shipyard workers occupying the Economy Ministry and Labor Ministry buildings left without confrontation. Solidarity trade union leader Marian Krzaklewski said the police action is a "physical attack" on the union that calls for "extreme measures," including a general strike. Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said he will not allow a violation of the law to go unpunished. Before it went bankrupt, the shipyard employed 5,000 people. -- Beata Pasek

CZECH OPPOSITION LEADER ON NATO REFERENDUM.
Czech Parliament Speaker and Social Democratic Party (CSSD) Chairman Milos Zeman, in Warsaw on an official three-day visit, said on 19 March that a referendum on NATO membership in the Czech Republic would not result in rejection of membership. The CSSD favors a referendum on NATO membership. Opinion polls indicate that only one-third of Czechs are in favor of membership, one-third do not know, and one-third are against. "I am a fierce supporter of [Czech] entry into the two organizations [NATO and the EU], but I still support the referendum," said Zeman. He noted that about 160 deputies in the 200-member Chamber of Deputies back Czech entry into NATO and the EU. Zeman is heading a Czech parliamentary delegation to Poland. -- Jiri Pehe

SLOVAK POLITICAL ROUNDUP.
The cabinet on 18 March expressed support for Culture Minister Ivan Hudec and Interior Minister Gustav Krajci, Slovak media reported two days later. Claiming that there have been no limitations on artistic and cultural freedom, the cabinet said that Hudec "consulted all cultural institutions" concerning the transformation process. The cabinet also said that police intervention to remove opposition deputies and actors from the Culture Ministry on 10 May was lawful. At the insistence of the opposition parties, a parliamentary no-confidence vote in the two ministers will take place later this month. Meanwhile, Education Minister Eva Slavkovska dimsissed student protests and said they should address the situation in education rather than in culture. She also asked where the student strike committee gets the money to finance its campaign. -- Sharon Fisher

SLOVAK PRIME MINISTER IN FRANCE.
Vladimir Meciar started his first official visit to France (his first to a Western European country since 1994) on 19 March, CTK and TASR reported. Meciar appealed to French businessmen for greater investment, emphasizing the development of the Slovak economy and highlighting the cheap, skilled work force. Slovak officials signed several protocols for joint ventures with French companies. -- Anna Siskova

HUNGARIAN PREMIER ON EU, NATO.
Gyula Horn on 19 March said that enlargement of the EU and NATO is impossible without Hungary's participation, international media reported. He said a nationwide referendum on joining NATO should be held in the first half of 1999, after the general elections next year. Horn also called for a "treaty-based relationship" between NATO and Russia and "special partnership ties" between NATO and nations that will not be invited to join in the first round. On other matters, Horn noted that while Hungary's bilateral relations with Romania have markedly improved, those with Slovakia are stagnating. Horn referred to Slovakia's domestic political problems and the ongoing trial over a hydroelectric dam on the Danube at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. -- Zsofia Szilagyi


ITALY DECLARES STATE OF EMERGENCY OVER ALBANIAN REFUGEES.
Italy declared a nationwide state of emergency on 19 March to deal with the refugee influx from Albania, AFP reported. In Puglia refugee centers, convents, and churches are overflowing with more than 10,000 Albanians. The authorities have begun sending the refugees to other areas, in the north and center of Italy. The emergency measures, approved by a special cabinet session, will see the government diverting 61 billion lire ($38 million) to help cope with the influx, while limiting residence permits to 60 days. Italy also repatriated some 300 Albanians regarded as "dangerous," most of whom escaped from jail last week. Albanian Prime Minister Bashkim Fino has asked Italy to delay repatriations until Albania has restored its prisons, Germany's ARD TV reported. -- Fabian Schmidt

ITALY CONSIDERS SENDING TROOPS TO ALBANIA.
Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini implied after talks with his Albanian counterpart Arian Starova that Italy may send troops to Albania, saying there is "an urgent need of humanitarian aid ... accompanied by a security force," AFP reported. Dini said "Italy would prefer to act as part of the EU. But we are obviously ready to respond to specific requests in a case of real emergency." AFP quoted "an informed source in Brindisi" as saying that up to 1,000 Italian troops could be sent to Durres to ensure aid is safely distributed. A troop ship with some 300 marines and armored vehicles on board left Brindisi overnight. A helicopter carrier was also ready to leave Brindisi. -- Fabian Schmidt

EU: ALBANIA MUST ESTABLISH SECURITY BEFORE RECEIVING AID.
EU mission leader Jan d'Ansembourg, however, said Albania "has to solve its own problems before we can help." French Foreign Minister Herve de Charette said there is "no question of Europeans intervening with troops to recover arms" from anti-government insurgents. Meanwhile, 15 people, four of them children, were killed on 19 March. Two of the children were killed by siblings playing with guns. The commander of the rebel-held south, Xhevat Kociu, withdrew an ultimatum to President Sali Berisha to resign and said that the 12 rebel-controlled districts will meet on 21 March to chart their next moves. Prime Minister Bashkim Fino, meanwhile, canceled his planned visit to the south after the vigilante group Committee of National Salvation, which supports Berisha, threatened violence against the insurgents and people who negotiate with them. -- Fabian Schmidt

U.S. COMMANDER URGES $2 BILLION FOR BOSNIA FORCE.
Gen. George Joulwan, the commander of U.S. forces in Europe, said on 18 March that the fighting readiness of U.S. troops in Bosnia will suffer if Congress does not quickly approve $2 billion for peacekeeping in Bosnia-Herzegovina, Reuters reported. Joulwan was referring to the increasingly important role of the 100,000 U.S. troops in the region in providing rescue and other services, such as the recent evacuation of hundreds of Americans and other foreigners from Albania. Joulwan said the U.S. can be proud of having few casualties in Bosnia but it also should anticipate the costs of that operation and its effects on readiness to deploy forces elsewhere if needed. -- Daria Sito Sucic

POLL: CROATIA'S RULING PARTY WILL LOSE IN ELECTIONS.
The
Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ) is set to lose its majority in the upper house of parliament and its control of a number of regional councils in the 13 April local elections, according to a poll published in the independent weekly Nacional, AFP reported on 19 March. However, Croatian President Franjo Tudjman remained the most popular presidential candidate, the poll showed. Tudjman had the support of 43.1% of respondents, followed by Zdravko Tomac of the Social-Democratic Party with 10.4%, and Vlado Gotovac of the Croatian Social Liberal Party with 9.3%. The HDZ would win 26 seats in the 68-seat upper house--down from the current 38. Support for the opposition was strong in the capital of Zagreb; in major Dalmatian towns such as Split, Zadar, and Rijeka; and in the industrial town of Karlovac. The HDZ was strong outside of Zagreb and in the former war zones. -- Daria Sito Sucic

BELGRADE UNIVERSITY RECTOR IS OUT.
Dragutin Velickovic has resigned his post at Serbia's leading university, school officials confirmed on 19 March. The announcement led to celebrations among students, who plan a bigger demonstration on 20 March, international news agencies reported. The students have staged protests for 118 days demanding the ouster of Velickovic, who is regarded as a stooge of President Slobodan Milosevic and antagonistic toward the students. The student protests ran parallel to those of the political opposition. The interim rector is Dragan Kuburovic, who was Velickovic's deputy. A new chief administrator will be named on 1 October. Nasa Borba reported on 20 March that the Belgrade University Council held a "stormy meeting" the previous night. -- Patrick Moore

U.S. BLASTS NEW SERBIAN MEDIA LAW.
State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said on 19 March that "instead of passing a new restrictive media law, the Serbian government should encourage independent private media and ensure independent non-partisan management of the state-owned media." He was responding to a recent draft proposal by the authorities to greatly limit private ownership of radio and television. Control of television in particular has been central in enabling President Slobodan Milosevic to maintain his hold on power. His near monopoly has, however, been threatened by the victories of the political opposition in 14 municipalities and by the defection to the opposition of the privately owned BK television station. Milosevic's new information minister, Serbian-American Radmila Milentijevic, has been trying to tighten control over the media. -- Patrick Moore

ZAJEDNO CALLS FOR FORWARD-LOOKING APPROACH IN KOSOVO.
The opposition Zajedno coalition's Kosovo branch said that any political dialogue must be based on a discussion of developments only since 1974, when Kosovo obtained the wide-ranging autonomy that Milosevic subsequently abolished. The Zajedno group likewise warned both the Albanians and the Serbs against belaboring alleged historical injustices prior to 1974, Nasa Borba wrote on 19 March. Dealing with conflicts throughout the Balkans is especially difficult because of a tendency in the region to dwell upon real or imagined grievances from the past rather than looking toward the future. -- Patrick Moore

GREEK FOREIGN MINISTER IN MACEDONIA.
Theodoros Pangalos on 19 March visited Macedonia, the first visit by a Greek cabinet member since Macedonian independence in 1991, Nova Makedonija reported. Pangalos said little about the dispute over Macedonia's name. He noted: "There is a threat of a spreading of the [Albanian] crisis and all efforts are being made to prevent a refugee exodus," and he urged Macedonia to cooperate with Greece in containing the crisis. Pangalos said that Greece had proposed that the EU increase its assistance to Balkan economies. Meanwhile, students holding a hunger strike in Skopje since 3 March to protest a law allowing teaching in Albanian decided on 19 March to halt that strike but to continue protesting. Finally, President Kiro Gligorov addressed parliament on 18 March, criticizing nationalist Macedonian and ethnic Albanian politicians for heightening interethnic tension. -- Michael Wyzan

ROMANIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN BONN.
After Adrian Severin on 19 March met with his German counterpart Klaus Kinkel, a German press release said Bonn will make no commitment to support Romania's integration into NATO before the July summit in Madrid, Romania libera reported. As for the EU, the German communique said: "Candidates for entry have to satisfy certain requirements, which demand extensive adjustments." The Romanian effort to win Bonn's support was behind an invitation by Public Information Minister Radu Boroianu to members of the German minority who left Romania, Reuters reported. Boroianu said earlier this week that "repatriation would involve the right to housing and jobs" and condemned "the criminal cash sale" of ethnic Germans by Romania's ousted communists. -- Michael Shafir

FORMER ROMANIAN PRESIDENT WRITES AGAIN TO CURRENT PRESIDENT.
Ion Iliescu, leader of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), in the second letter this week to Emil Constantinescu, rejected the accusation that his party is "obstructing" urgently needed legislation by boycotting parliament. The letter, carried in the daily Jurnalul national on 20 March, said the PDSR will not obstruct the passing of the budget law. Reacting to Constantinescu's accusations (see OMRI Daily Digest, 19 March), Iliescu says "national interest" cannot be defined outside the framework of "a functioning democratic system and the institutions of the state based on the rule of law"--thus justifying his party's decision to boycott parliamentary debates because of what it regards as abuses by the ruling majority. Iliescu called again on Constantinescu to organize a meeting of the leaders of all parties represented in parliament. Constantinescu said he will convene such a meeting. -- Michael Shafir

MOLDOVAN PARLIAMENT PASSES BUDGET LAW.
The Moldovan parliament on 19 March approved the budget for 1997, Infotag reported on the same day. The sometimes-heated debate on the law started on 7 March. The total budget is 2,246 million lei (some $488 million), 20 million lei higher than the figure proposed by the government and is based on a deficit figure of 330 million lei. The Defense Ministry was allocated 70 million lei, the Interior Ministry 85 million, and the Ministry of National Security 45 million. -- Michael Shafir

COMMISSION FOR TRANSDNIESTER HOLDS FIRST SITTING.
The inter-ministerial commission for Moldova's eastern districts, set up by President Petru Lucinschi to coordinate a single policy toward the breakaway region, held its first meeting on 19 March. BASA-press reported the same day that the chairman of the commission, Presidential Adviser Anatol Taran, said the commission must involve itself in solving the socio-economic problems faced by the Transdniester population in order to gain its trust. -- Michael Shafir

BULGARIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS UPDATE.
The registration period for the 19 April general elections ended on 19 March, paving the way for the campaign to begin, RFE/RL and national media reported. Some 40 parties will run for parliament, but the Central Electoral Commission received 57 applications, as some parties will run both alone and in coalition. In a last-minute move, the Aleksander Stamboliyski Union--an agrarian party and a former coalition ally of the Socialists--decided to run separately, prompting Demokratsiya to write: "the red coalition is dissolving." Party leader Svetoslav Shivarov, an active figure in the former Socialist government, gave no explanation for the move. Former President Zhelyu Zhelev also left a coalition with the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom and registered his own Liberal Forum coalition. The Liberal Forum, though, is unlikely to pass the 4% vote threshold. -- Maria Koinova

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Pete Baumgartner and Susan Caskie




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