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Newsline - March 25, 1997

Earlier this month, members of Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko movement refused to join the cabinet, saying that the government was not committed enough to revising economic policy. However, the appointment of First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov last week revived speculation that some State Duma deputies from the Yabloko faction may accept cabinet posts, and Yavlinskii and Nemtsov are still holding negotiations, ITAR-TASS and NTV reported on 24 March. Yavlinskii, who worked closely with Nemtsov in 1992 on economic reforms implemented in Nizhnii Novgorod, has said he will support Nemtsov's efforts, even if Yabloko members do not join the cabinet. Nezavisimaya gazeta noted on 22 March that the Kremlin and the government are interested in securing the support of the Yabloko Duma faction, and Nemtsov is interested in building his own "team" within the cabinet. -- Laura Belin

Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on 24 March submitted to parliament his list of nominations for the new government, which he will head, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, Chechen Deputy President Vakha Arsanov claimed that the so-called "party of war" in Moscow had recruited Chechen renegades to perpetrate terrorist acts in three Russian cities in order to torpedo the ongoing peace talks, according to ITAR-TASS and Reuters. On 23 March NTV summarized an address by Maskhadov to the Chechen people calling for the mobilization of all national forces to consolidate peace and build an independent state. Maskhadov further claimed that unidentified foreign intelligence services are spreading rumors that a coup will take place in Chechnya on 1 April, and warned the population not to give in to "provocations." He also denied rumors of a struggle for power between himself and prominent field commanders. -- Liz Fuller

Agriculture Minister Viktor Khlystun on 24 March criticized Yeltsin's decision to include the State Fishing Committee in his ministry as part of an effort to streamline the government. He charged that the decision would destroy the system for managing the fishing industry, ITAR-TASS reported. Khlystun pointed out that the government had tried a similar move in 1992, but had to separate the fishing industry after only four months. Regional leaders in Primorskii Krai and Kamchatka also protested the decision. -- Robert Orttung

Addressing the fifth congress of the Agrarian Party of Russia (APR), party leader Mikhail Lapshin called for directing more bank capital toward the agrarian sector and sharply reducing food imports in order to revive agricultural production, ITAR-TASS and NTV reported on 22 March. Delegates passed resolutions opposing the sale of farmland and calling on agricultural workers to participate in the nationwide protest planned for 27 March. Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov was a guest at the APR congress. Having fared poorly in the December 1995 parliamentary elections, the Agrarians depend on Duma deputies elected from Communist ranks to maintain the 35 deputies needed for a registered Duma faction. -- Laura Belin

U.S. President Bill Clinton has come under fire from conservative critics who accuse him of having abandoned the Baltics by not including them in the first round of NATO expansion, and of having made too many concessions to Russia in restricting work on ABM technologies. In Russia, most centrist commentators have reacted with cautious approval to President Boris Yeltsin's diplomacy at Helsinki. Director of the USA-Canada Institute Sergei Rogov, writing in Nezavisimaya gazeta on 25 March, noted that Russia had no chance of stopping NATO expansion and praised Yeltsin for avoiding a "senseless confrontation." However, Izvestiya on 25 March warned that the summit left many crucial differences unresolved, hidden within the "matrioshka" of the five agreements. -- Peter Rutland

Indian Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda arrived in Moscow on 24 March for two days of talks, ITAR-TASS reported. He is expected to sign a $2 billion deal for delivery of two VVER-1,000 light-water reactors to India. The deal was initially planned in 1988, but delayed due to disagreements over payment arrangements. Later this year Russia will begin delivery to India of seven cryogenic kick (fourth) rocket stages which will be used for satellite launches. The rocket stages will cost $150 million. After U.S. complaints, Russia withdrew an earlier $800 million plan to sell India the technology to make the cryogenic boosters. This month Russia also began delivery of Su-30 MK fighter jets to India under a $1.8 billion contract signed in November 1996. -- Peter Rutland

Also on 24 March Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen began a four day visit to Moscow, aimed at preparing for the Russo-Chinese presidential summit scheduled for April. Due to a mix-up Qian was left waiting by his hosts for 20 minutes at Sheremetevo airport, Reuters reported. Deputy Foreign Minister Grigory Karasin said that at the summit Russia, China, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Kazakstan intend to sign a treaty on the reduction of military forces along their mutual borders, ITAR-TASS reported. According to a poll by the Beijing Public Opinion Institute, 40% of Chinese think that relations with Russia are more important than relations with Japan or the U.S., although 46% thought all three countries were of equal importance, ITAR-TASS reported on 25 March. 19% approved of the changes in Russia since 1991, 35% disapproved, and 25% thought the changes would not last. -- Peter Rutland

The Volgograd City Council, a majority of whose members are communists, demanded that the oblast executive ban a local theater production of Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita, ITAR-TASS reported on 24 March. The council members believe that the story about an affair between a 12-year-old girl and an old man is "amoral" and would corrupt the city's youth. A local youth theater is sponsoring the production. -- Robert Orttung

The Russian Health Ministry said on 24 March that about 65 people in every 100,000 are suffering from tuberculosis, a 10% increase in comparison with last year, ITAR-TASS reported. The number of deaths from tuberculosis has risen by almost 90% over the past five years. TB rates are particularly high in Tyva and the Koryak Autonomous Okrug (three times the national average) and in Buryatiya, Dagestan, North Ossetiya, the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, and Kurgan Oblast (almost twice the national average). Those most at risk from the disease include prisoners, migrants, "shuttle-traders," and the homeless. TB rates in prisons and penal colonies are more than 40 times the national average. -- Penny Morvant

Moscow's police chief, Lt.-Gen. Nikolai Kulikov, has issued an order prohibiting the capital's policemen from concluding private agreements to guard businesses or their employees, Kuranty reported in its issue of 19-25 March. The decision followed the discovery that a Moscow police unit had been guarding a leading organized crime figure. After the murder on 23 January of Vladimir Naumov, a businessmen and prominent member of the Koptevo criminal gang, investigators found that he had been guarded by a Moscow spetsnaz (special-designation) unit in their off-duty hours. Many former law enforcement personnel are involved in private security, while others moonlight in the sector to boost their income. -- Penny Morvant

The State Statistical Committee (Goskomstat) reported GDP growth of 0.1% in January and 0.9% in February. However, Reuters reported on 17 March that the apparent upturn may be due to a change in Goskomstat methodology. Goskomstat increased its estimate of shadow economy activity for 1997 from 20% to 25% of GDP - but did not adjust upwards the 1996 figures. This allegation was confirmed in a Financial Times article on 25 March, which noted that without the alteration reported GDP would have fallen by 6% in January. The Financial Times said that the new methodology would have produced a figure of 5% growth for February, which was so unbelievable that the figure was adjusted downwards. Russian GDP has been falling for the past seven years; the World Bank predicts the fall will cease this year, but does not expect positive growth till 1998. -- Peter Rutland

Many of Russia's government ministries have surprisingly low budgets and staffing levels, according to Profil no 10. The journal examines the spending on ministry bureaucracies in the 1997 budget. The State Tax Service takes up a huge 4.8 trillion rubles out of the total budget for civilian ministries of 11.6 trillion rubles ($2 billion). The tax service will also get an additional 1.5 trillion rubles from a special fund. Second in line is the Finance Ministry, with 2.6 trillion rubles, followed by the Presidential Administration with 824 billion. The foreign ministry will spend 113 billion rubles, the justice ministry 52 billion. Many ministries have extremely low administrative budgets - the health ministry budget is 13 billion rubles ($2.3 million), the State Property Committee 9 billion, the communications ministry 7 billion. -- Peter Rutland

The Constitutional Court has rejected the petition filed in February by representatives of the Komi Republic, Irkutsk Oblast, Altai Krai, and Volgograd and Vladimir oblasts, in which they argued that the tax law forbidding local authorities from introducing their own taxes contradicts the Russian constitution, ITAR-TASS and Kommersant-Daily reported on 21-22 March. The government has prepared a new draft of the tax code which envisage a drastic cut in the number of taxes (from some 200 to just over 30). The court confirmed the legitimacy of these restrictions and ruled that regions only have the right to impose those taxes that have been specifically allowed by the federal government. -- Natalia Gurushina

The Central Bank (TsB) has decided to lower obligatory ruble reserve requirements for commercial banks effective 1 May, Kommersant-Daily reported on 22 March. Requirements on deposits of up to 30 days, those of 31-90 days, and of over 91 days will go down from 16% to 14%, from 13% to 11%, and from 10% to 8%, respectively. This measure should help the government to place 10-15 trillion rubles of long-term federal bonds (OFZs) with commercial banks in order to raise money for repaying wage and pension arrears. At the same time, the TsB increased requirements on foreign currency deposits (from 5% to 6%), attempting to reduce the dollarization of the economy. This step, however, may weaken the position of banks specializing in foreign trade operations. -- Natalia Gurushina

Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze argued in his traditional Monday radio interview on 24 March that the upcoming CIS heads of state summit should either broaden the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping forces deployed in Abkhazia to enable them to protect the Georgian population more effectively, or comply with the Georgian parliament resolution calling for their withdrawal, Reuters reported. Both the Turkish Ambassador in Tbilisi, Tofik Okiazus, and Georgian presidential press secretary Vakhtang Abashidze have rejected the claim by Russian State Duma deputy Sergei Baburin that Turkey has moved troops closer to its border with Georgia in anticipation of the deployment of a NATO peacekeeping force in Abkhazia, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 21 March. Meeting two weeks ago with a delegation from the Turkish parliament, Shevardnadze had proposed that Turkey take a more active role in resolving conflicts in the Caucasus, and Abkhazia in particular. -- Liz Fuller

Aliyev IN KYIV.
On arrival in Kyiv on 24 March for a two-day official visit, Azerbaijan's President Heidar Aliyev held talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma on bilateral cooperation, the planned Transcaucasus transport corridor, European security, and the future of the CIS, ITAR-TASS reported. Aliyev subsequently told journalists that after the existing Baku-Batumi oil pipeline is repaired and extended to the Georgian Black Sea port of Supsa in 1998, Azerbaijan's Caspian oil will be shipped from Supsa to Ukraine for export to the West. Azerbaijani and Ukrainian representatives signed a series of bilateral inter-governmental agreements including several on military cooperation, but Ukrainian Foreign Minister Henadii Udovenko stressed that the latter are not directed against any third country. -- Liz Fuller

President Levon Ter-Petrossyan on 24 March introduced newly appointed Prime Minister Robert Kocharyan to the government members, Armenian and Russian media reported. Ter-Petrossyan said that Kocharyan's "popularity, efficiency and ability to get things done" were the reasons for his choice. He said the appointment of the Nagorno-Karabakh leader will not change Armenia's economic strategy, arguing that his country remains committed to democracy and free-market reforms. Also, according to Radio Rossii, Foreign Minister Aleksandr Arzumanyan claimed that Yerevan will not take a harder line at the negotiations on the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict's settlement as a result of the change of prime ministers. Vazgen Manukyan, the leader of the Armenian opposition, told NTV that Kocharyan's appointment is "absurd" as it will create additional problems for Armenia regarding Nagorno-Karabakh. -- Emil Danielyan

On 24 March it was announced that Central Asian Petroleum (CAP), a subsidiary of the Indonesian Setdco Group, has won a 60% stake in Kazakstan's largest oil company, Mangistaumunaigaz, Reuters reported. Mangistaumunaigaz produced six million metric tons of oil, about one third of the Kazak total, and 1.8 billion cubic meters of gas in 1995. CAP offered $250 million, outbidding five other minor challengers. Analysts were concerned that major Western oil companies stayed away from the sale, suggesting that they do not trust the Kazakstan government to clearly define the assets and liabilities of the firms up for sale. -- Peter Rutland

The U.S. State Department has issued a statement condemning the expulsion of Serge Aleksandrov, first secretary of the U.S. embassy in Minsk, following his detention on 23 March after he observed clashes between demonstrators and police, international agencies reported. Spokesman John Dinger said the U.S. is considering retaliatory measures. U.S. ambassador to Belarus Kenneth Yalowitz protested the incident to the "highest level" of Belarusian authorities."
The Belarusian Foreign Ministry has issued a statement saying that "S. Aleksandrov's activities fall outside the 1961 Convention on Diplomatic relations." Law enforcement agencies in Belarus say they possess materials proving that Aleksandrov is a career CIA officer working under cover. Meanwhile, President Alyaksandr Lukashenka said it is important to increase cooperation with the U.S. during a meeting with new Belarusian Ambassador to the U.S. Valery Tsepkalo. He said that despite some difficulties in relations, there is no anti-American campaign in Belarus and that the expulsion of a U.S. diplomat was aimed against a specific person. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

Ivan Pashkevich, deputy head of the president's administration, issued an order on 23 March banning NTV, ORT, and Russian television (RTR) from broadcasting footage from Belarus, NTV and ORT reported. The following day, security guards prevented Russian journalists from entering the television building in Minsk. The same day, Belarusian authorities stripped NTV correspondent Aleksandr Stupnikov of his accreditation. The reason given for this move was Stupnikov's "deliberate distortion of information" when reporting on the situation in Belarus. Belarusian authorities have been complaining about Russian journalists' coverage of Belarus since last year, and NTV has been singled out on several occasions for criticism. -- Ustina Markus

Ukraine's government has set up an oversight council to tackle the country's economic crisis, international agencies reported on 24 March. The council is headed by leading reformist Deputy Premier Viktor Pynzenyk and will deal with tax reform, wage and pension arrears, and government bureaucracy. The move follows President Leonid Kuchma's sharp criticism of Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko's government in his annual address to the nation and parliament on the weekend. Kuchma has appointed liberal economist Volodymyr Lanovyi to head the State Property Fund, Ukrainian TV reported. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

Lennart Meri on 24 March attended the opening of the Estonian embassy in Tokyo, the country's first-ever diplomatic mission in Asia, BNS reported. He also held talks with several ministers and bankers on boosting economic cooperation. Two days earlier, he met with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto. After that meeting, he said an agreement on avoiding double taxation would help improve economic ties. Meri is scheduled to be received by Emperor Akihito today. -- Saulius Girnius

Preliminary results show that only six out of 24 parties running in the 23 March local elections failed to gain seats, Radio Lithuania reported the next day. Turnout was 39.9%, down 4% on the 1995 elections. The ruling Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) won 34% of the vote, up 6% on 1995, but its coalition partner, the Christian Democratic Party, received 13%, down 3%. The opposition Democratic Labor Party won 15% of seats, down 5 points on its 1995 showing. In by-elections for four parliamentary seats, the Election Action of Lithuania's Poles won one seat outright and has two candidates in the second round of voting. Turnout of less than 40% invalidated the vote in the Naujoji Vilnija district of Vilnius. -- Saulius Girnius

Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz and Andrzej Wiercinski, responsible for liquidating the Gdansk shipyard, have agreed on a possible way to prevent the company's demise, Polish media reported on 25 March. A tender for the shipyard has been issued and its sale already announced in Rzeczpospolita and Lloyd's List. If no buyer is found, the shipyard will build five ships for a new joint venture set up by Pomorski Bank Kredytowy, the Szczecin shipyard, and Polish Steamship Co. Some 2,000 of the 3,800 employees would be given jobs. Each of the five ships would require state subsidies worth $4 million. According to preliminary estimates, the shipyard had losses totaling 90 million zloty ($29 million) last year. -- Beata Pasek

Some 50,000 people took part in an hour-long march in Krakow on 24 March to protest the murder of 24-year old Jagiellonian University student Michal Lysek, Polish media reported on 25 March. Lysek was beaten to death by two teenagers earlier this month. Student organizations in Krakow organized the march.
Andrzej Koj, rector of the Jagiellonian University, said "we want to show our unrelenting protest against the increasing brutality of criminals, ineffectual prosecution, and flagrant violation of the law without any consequences." He remembered two students who were also murdered recently. The new penal code, adopted by the Sejm last week,
broadens the right to self-defense. -- Beata Pasek

Mlada fronta Dnes today quotes parliament deputy Jozef Wagner as saying that the government is no longer a minority one. Wagner was recently expelled from the opposition Social Democratic Party (CSSD) after voting for the government's 1997 budget proposal. The right-of-center three-party coalition emerged from the June 1996 elections just two seats short of an absolute majority. Tomas Teplik, another CSSD deputy expelled from the party, announced recently he would support the ruling coalition. The coalition now has 101 votes in the 200-member lower chamber as well as a comfortable majority in the Senate. -- Jiri Pehe

At a meeting with President Michal Kovac on 24 March, Slovak theater representatives decided to end their nearly month-long strike, Sme reported. Kovac said he supported the theaters but expressed regret that performances had been canceled. He challenged theater employees to change their form of protest and renew performances. Theater workers will return to work on 26 March, although a strike warning will continue and audiences will be informed of the actors' demands during performances. Actor Stefan Bucko explained that "our gesture is an expression of good will to finally reach a dialogue and resolve our problems." The next round of tripartite talks between the cabinet, employers, and theater unions is scheduled for later this week. -- Sharon Fisher

Slovakia on 24 March began presenting its case at the International Court of Justice at The Hague in the dispute with Hungary over the Gabcikovo-Nagymaros dams, Reuters reported. Slovakia believes the Gabcikovo dispute was caused by Budapest's failure to meet its legally binding commitments laid out in the 1977 treaty. It accuses Hungary of invoking environmental concerns to obscure legal issues. The Slovaks want Hungary to pay damages, arguing that Budapest's decision to halt construction of the Nagymaros dam caused environmental problems because of the reduced water flow. The 1977 treaty was negotiated by the Czechoslovak and Hungarian governments, but Hungary suspended work on its companion dam in Nagymaros in 1989. -- Anna Siskova

Two staff members of the Intelligence Office were dismissed on 24 March following reports that the office collected information on Socialist deputies without informing either Minister for Secret Services Istvan Nikolits or the parliament's National Security Committee, Hungarian dailies reported. According to Vilaggazdasag, the office was investigating alleged links between organized crime groups and Ferenc Baja, environment minister and a Socialist Party leader. Those under investigation also included Laszlo Pal, former industry and trade minister and now president of the Hungarian Oil Company, parliamentary speaker Zoltan Gal, and deputy Tibor Bajor. Nikolits had ordered the investigation last week on suspicion of breach of state secrets. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

The EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels on 24 March, failed to agree on a joint force to provide security to aid workers in Albania, international media reported. Italy, Greece, and France said they would provide troops for such a force, but the other EU member states made clear they would not. Turkey has also offered to send troops. German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel said the EU was ready to provide aid and that security would be provided by individual states on a voluntary basis. He added that the OSCE should coordinate the operation. But his French counterpart, Herve de Charette, insisted that the EU take a leading role and proposed that the UN Security Council issue a mandate for intervention. The EU foreign ministers are scheduled to discuss the issue with Albanian Premier Bashkim Fino in Rome today. -- Fabian Schmidt

Fino and Italian counterpart, Romano Prodi, have agreed to coordinate efforts to stem the flow of emigrants across the Adriatic Sea, international media reported on 24 March. The number of refugees now exceeds 12,000. The Italian navy began returning all unauthorized ships by towing two trawlers with refugees back to Albania. But later the same day, another Albanian boat with several hundred refugees docked in Brindisi, while an Italian air force transport plane brought six tons of emergency medical aid for the northern part of the country. Meanwhile, the world-famous ruins at Butrint have been looted and vandalized, Reuters reported on 24 March. Doors to the museum and archaeological storerooms have been smashed and some statues stolen. -- Fabian Schmidt

Alija Izetbegovic, chairman of the Bosnian presidency, has urged U.S. Defense Secretary William Cohen to accelerate a U.S.-sponsored program to arm and train Bosnia's Muslim-Croat federation, AFP reported on 24 March. Izetbegovic said only 20% of the program has been implemented so far. The Bosnian president also asked Cohen to put more pressure on the Serbs to reduce weapon stocks in keeping with an arms control agreement. He underscored the need to send war criminals Radovan Karadzic and Ratko Mladic to The Hague, saying that, otherwise, there will be "no real peace in Bosnia." Meanwhile, Haris Silajdzic, Muslim co-chairman of the Bosnian government, warned in Egypt of the risk to stability in Bosnia and the whole region if U.S. troops pull out. Cohen has said that U.S. troops will leave Bosnia in mid 1998 even if war breaks out again. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The Bosnian Serbs on 23 March agreed to allow the deployment of 200 unarmed UN policemen in the disputed town of Brcko, in northern Bosnia-Herzegovina, AFP reported. Bosnian Serb Interior Minister Dragan Kijac said the UN police will work with local Serb police to "strengthen security in the region." But Bosnian Serb President Biljana Plavsic has rejected the idea of a joint Serb-Muslim force in the town, saying it was "out of question." Brcko is claimed by both Bosnian entities and was the only issue unsolved in the Dayton peace accord. A final decision on who will rule the town has been postponed until March 1998. Meanwhile, Brcko will remain under the Serbian administration but also under international control. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Following a ruling by the Economic Court in Belgrade in favor of independent BK Television and against the Serbian Post, Telephone, and Telegraph (PTT) , the station resumed broadcasting to southern Serbia for the first time since 20 March, Nasa Borba reported on 25 March. The PTT had denied BK use of the Avala-Jastrebac relay line on the alleged grounds of unpaid bills and licensing irregularities. As a result, BK's range was limited to the Belgrade and Novi Sad areas (see OMRI Daily Digest, 24 March 1997). BK Television returned to the airwaves with a vengeance by hosting a round table on media freedom on 24 March. Zajedno coalition leader Vuk Draskovic said that demonstrations would resume unless there were media freedom, and all opposition leaders backed Radical Party leader Vojislav Seselj's call for complete privatization of the media. The regime has recently spoken about the need for change, but its proposed media law aims at more restrictions rather than at liberalization. -- Patrick Moore

Croatian and Italian experts met on 24 March in the Croatian port of Split to discuss Croatia's $35 million debt to Italy, Vecernji List reported. Croatian Deputy Foreign Minister Hido Biscevic offered to pay one half in cash and the other half in stocks from the portfolio Croatia's Privatization Fund, which consists of state-owned hotels and other tourist facilities. But Italy rejected the proposal saying the whole debt should be paid in real estate. The debt originates in the post-war period, when Yugoslav partisans recaptured areas in the northern Adriatic Istrian peninsula from the Italian fascist state and expelled the ethnic Italian minority from Istria. A treaty between former Yugoslavia and Italy on settling territorial and material disputes was never fully implemented. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Javier Solana, at the beginning of his two-day visit to Macedonia, met with President Kiro Gligorov, Premier Branko Crvenkovski, Foreign Minister Ljubomir Frckovski, and Defense Minister Blagoj Handziski to discuss the situation in the Balkans and NATO enlargement, Nova Makedonija reported on 25 March. Solana noted Macedonia's "very positive" contribution to NATO's Partnership for Peace program but did not comment on Skopje's desire to join NATO. Solana said he and Gligorov did not discuss the possibility of replacing UNPREDEP forces currently stationed in Macedonia with NATO troops. Solana's visit is the first by a NATO secretary-general to Macedonia. -- Stefan Krause

Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea met with his Spanish counterpart, Jose Maria Anzar, in Madrid on 24 March, Radio Bucharest reported. They discussed Romania's application for integration into NATO and the EU, which Spain supports. Later that day, he addressed a meeting of European Christian Democratic and Popular parties in Lisbon, talking on NATO's expansion to the East. Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Adrian Severin was in Brussels to attend the third session of the Romania-EU Association Council and an EU meeting on the organization's enlargement. He urged the union to open talks with all applicants at the same time, Reuters reported. Finally, Radio Bucharest reported on 25 March that former King Mihai arrived in London to begin his role as "ambassador of Romanian interests," promoting that country's admission to NATO. He met with Prince Charles and is scheduled to have lunch with Queen Elizabeth today. -- Michael Shafir

A Bucharest court on 24 March overturned a lower court ruling whereby two journalists were found guilty of "offense to authority," RFE/RL and Romanian TV reported. Sorin Rosca Stanescu and Tana Ardeleanu had claimed that former President Ion Iliescu was recruited by the KGB while studying in Moscow in the 1950s. Stanescu, chief editor of the daily Ziua, writes today that the latest ruling is correct, but he says he is not satisfied because the Penal Code article under which he and Ardeleanu were sentenced remains valid. Stanescu challenges Iliescu to sue for libel as an individual rather than hiding behind the Prosecutor-General's Office. The prosecution has 10 days to appeal the sentence. -- Michael Shafir

Vladimir Voronin, leader of the Party of Moldovan Communists, addressed the party's third congress in Chisinau on 22 March, BASA-press and Infotag reported. He said the Communists should start preparing for the next elections and do their best to shorten the life of the present government. Meanwhile, the two rival wings of the Moldovan Social Democratic Party held parallel congresses in Chisinau on 22 March, Infotag and BASA-press reported. The wing led by Anatol Taran, special advisor to President Petru Lucinschi, adopted a resolution establishing a United Social Democratic Party of Moldova. The rival congress of the wing led by Oazu Nantoi appealed to center-left formations to form a coalition for the next parliamentary elections. The congress elected Andrei Turcanu chairman of the party and Nantoi chairman of its political council. -- Michael Shafir

Almost all northern chapters of the mainly ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom (DPS) met in Razgrad on 24 March to support the local DPS branch's proposal to form a DPS within the United Democratic Forces (ODS), Standart reported. The DPS leadership recently decided not to join the ODS, opting instead to form a Union for National Salvation (SNS) with the monarchists and other forces. Participants of the Razgrad meeting called DPS leader Ahmed Dogan's decision "disastrous" for the DPS. Ivan Kostov, leader of the Union of Democratic Forces, the biggest group within the ODS, said the ODS's door remained open to Dogan, 24 chasa noted. Meanwhile, former Tsar Simeon II decided to openly support the SNS. Just two weeks earlier, Simeon indirectly called on his followers to vote for the ODS. -- Stefan Krause

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Steve Kettle and Jan Cleave