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Presidents of Bulgaria, Latvia and Estonia in Brussels

Brussels, Mar 26 (RFE/RL) - Bulgaria's President Zhelyu Zhelev stood next to NATO Secretary General Javier Solana yesterday in Brussels to praise the western military alliance. Zhelev said NATO, as well as the European Union (EU), should open their doors to the post-communist countries of Eastern Europe. Latvia's President Guntis Ulmanis and Estonia's President Lennart Meri were also in Brussels to meet and talk to NATO and EU officials.

Each of these presidents is an advocate of his country's early admission to NATO and the EU. And each wanted to demonstrate and emphasize his country's readiness to enter the western institutions.

Zhelev also used the occasion to criticize last week's vote in Russia's State Duma on the CIS-USSR issue. He said that it has shown the reason for Bulgaria to strive hard for Nato membership. Ulmanis and Meri made similar comments.

Zhelev and Ulmanis today met Jose Cutileiro, Secretary General of the Western European Union - then, one by one, Ulmanis, Meri and Zhelev met the President of the European Commission, Jacques Santer, and the EU minister responsible for relations with Eastern Europe and the CIS, Hans van den Broek. Each of the presidents will visit the European Parliament.

Zhelev, Ulmanis and Meri presented a range of statistics to demonstrate how well their countries are advancing toward membership in the European structures.

Bulgaria is considered among the least likely of the Eastern European countries to be considered for either NATO or EU membership anytime soon. Citizens of Bulgaria and Romania still require visas for travel to EU countries.

EU officials have showed concern about Bulgaria's Socialist government's economic policies. They have decried stagnant privatization and the slow pace of reform. Zhelev himself yesterday said that Bulgaria's government "lives in the past," having pursued a return to collective farms and new restrictions on the media.