IMF CHIEF ARRIVES IN MOSCOW.
On 21 February the managing director of the
IMF, Michel Camdessus, arrived in Moscow for talks on a new three year $9
billion Extended Fund Facility loan to Russia. He told Izvestiya of 21
February that "we are close to the final point," in signing the deal. The IMF
is still trying to persuade Russia to lift export duties on oil, currently 20
ECU ($25.60) a ton, although the government is unlikely to budge on this issue.
Western financial markets assume that the loan is a done deal and have already
discounted the loan's formal announcement. -- Peter Rutland
ZYUGANOV BACKTRACKS ON ABOLISHING PRESIDENCY.
The frontrunner in the
presidential campaign, Gennadii Zyuganov, told a group of supporters that his
Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) does not stand for abolishing
the institution of the presidency, but only for "redistributing" the balance of
power between the legislative and executive branches, ITAR-TASS reported on 21
February. The KPRF platform for parliamentary elections, adopted at an August
1995 party conference, called for eventually amending the constitution to
abolish the presidency but using the post during the "transitional period" to
alter the course of reforms. -- Laura Belin
DUMA PASSES BILL ON ELECTION MONITORING IN FIRST READING.
The State Duma
passed in the first reading a draft law on public control over elections and
referendums, which outlines the rights of election observers and would allow
for ordinary citizens, not just representatives of political parties and
organizations, to monitor polling stations and ballot counts, NTV reported on
21 February. Yabloko deputy Viktor Sheinis, one of the bill's authors, told
ITAR-TASS that it would increase public confidence in election results. A
similar measure was rejected 11 times by the last Duma. Also on 21 February,
the Duma adopted a resolution "on the unsatisfactory financing of education and
sciences" by a vote of 320 to one, ITAR-TASS reported. The resolution faults
the government for not fulfilling the budget, the law on education, and a
presidential decree on developing education in Russia. -- Laura Belin
YELTSIN MEETS WITH MEDIA LEADERS.
At a meeting with mass media heads,
President Boris Yeltsin denied rumors of a possible postponement of the
upcoming presidential election. Russian media reported on 21 February that
Yeltsin is confident of winning, possibly in the first round, noting that about
7 million signatures have been collected in support of his candidacy. Despite
Yeltsin's intention to hold meetings with pro-reform parties leaders to unite
the democratic forces before the election and the involvement of former first
Vice-Premier Anatolii Chubais in Yeltsin's election campaign, Yeltsin announced
that he would run as a non-partisan candidate since for him "all voters are
equal." Addressing the journalists, Yeltsin stressed the importance of
objectively covering the election campaign while at the same time affirming his
belief in the constitutional right of freedom of speech. -- Anna Paretskaya
ORT TO TAKE ON NTV'S "ITOGI."
The NTV weekly current events program
"Itogi" (Results), one of Russia's most influential news shows, will have new
competition on Sunday nights from Russian Public TV (ORT), ITAR-TASS reported
on 21 February. The television journalist and Duma deputy Aleksandr Nevzorov
will be the main consultant for the new program, which will replace ORT's
relatively unsuccessful "Voskresenie" (Sunday) on 3 March. Nevzorov's
controversial ORT news magazine "Dikoe Pole" (Wild Field) will be taken off the
air for "at least several months" while he works on this new project. In
October, the Presidential Chamber on Information Disputes recommended that
"Dikoe Pole" be canceled after a show filmed in a women's prison was found to
have violated the prisoners' privacy rights (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 October
1995). Laura Belin
DUMA APPROVES COUNCIL OF EUROPE MEMBERSHIP.
On 21 February, the State
Duma passed a bill, 304-18, endorsing membership in the Council of Europe,
Russian and Western agencies reported. The measure now goes to the Federation
Council, where its rapid approval is expected. In a speech urging deputies to
approve the bill, First Deputy Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov said joining the
council is in Russia's national interest, adding that membership would allow
Russia to better defend the interests of ethnic Russians living abroad,
especially in the Baltic states. Duma International Affairs Committee Chair
Vladimir Lukin assured his colleagues that the benefits of council membership
would more than justify the up to $25 million annual dues which Russia will be
obligated to contribute to the organization. Russia is scheduled to become the
39th member of the council at a 27-28 February ceremony in Strasbourg. -- Scott
YELTSIN APPOINTS NEW BLACK SEA FLEET COMMANDER.
appointed Vice-Admiral Viktor Kravchenko as commander of the Black Sea Fleet,
ITAR-TASS reported on 22 February. Kravchenko replaces Admiral Eduard Baltin,
who was sacked earlier this month (see OMRI Daily Digest, 2 February
1996). Kravchenko, 52, a submariner, has years of experience in the Black Sea
Fleet. He served in a series of posts there following his graduation in 1968
from the Frunze Naval College, eventually rising to become the fleet's Deputy
Chief of Staff. After attending the General Staff Academy, Kravchenko became
First Deputy Commander of the Baltic Fleet in 1990, a post he held until his
current appointment. -- Scott Parrish
YELTSIN SACKS SENIOR OFFICIALS.
In an attempt to improve his standing
with voters ahead of the June elections, President Yeltsin issued decrees on 21
February ordering the dismissal of several federal and regional officials for
misusing federal budget allocations and causing delays in the payment of wages
and pensions, Russian and Western agencies reported. The regional bosses sacked
are Arkhangelsk Oblast Governor Pavel Balakshin, Saratov Oblast Governor Yurii
Belykh, and the presidential envoy in Saratov Vladimir Golovachev. Presidential
economics advisor Aleksandr Livshits said Yeltsin also ordered the dismissal of
senior treasury official Aleksandr Smirnov and federal postal chief Vyacheslav
Polyakov, noting that about half of Russia's post offices have misused money
from the Pension Fund. Yeltsin also reprimanded Gazprom head Rem Vyakherev and
Integrated Energy System chief Anatolii Dyakov for poor control over wage
payments and proposed that they sack some regional representatives. Wage
arrears, now totalling over 20 trillion rubles, have provoked strikes and
angered voters. Yeltsin also signed a decree retiring Yevgenii Bychkov, the
head of the Russian Federation Committee for Precious Metals and Stones
(Roskomdragmet), who is under criminal investigation for embezzlement,
ITAR-TASS reported. Bychkov has been linked to deals that siphoned off uncut
gems worth millions of dollars, but he has denied any wrongdoing. -- Penny
DUMA FLEXES MUSCLES ON ECONOMIC POLICY.
On 21 February,
the Duma overrode a Yeltsin veto of a law tying food prices to farm input
prices and introducing guaranteed prices for farmers, ITAR-TASS reported. The
Federation Council had already approved the law, originally passed by the Duma
in October. Also yesterday, the Duma passed another law on VAT, formerly vetoed
by Yeltsin. The new version removes a VAT waiver for imports of foreign
machinery. -- Peter Rutland
CONGRESS OF SMALL BUSINESSES MEETS.
Addressing the first Russian
congress of small businesses in Moscow on 19 February, President Boris Yeltsin
said "Market relations have taken root in Russian soil and are developing
dynamically," and that "Small businesses mean the creation of a powerful middle
class, without which there can be no stability," the BBC reported the next day.
There were 900,000 small businesses in Russia in 1995 (200,000 of them in
Moscow), a 5% increase over 1994, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 February. They
employed 14 million people (2 million in Moscow) and accounted for 9% of the
country's GDP. However, delegates complained of high taxes and bureaucratic
barriers. A $300 million credit line was opened last year by the European Bank
for Reconstruction and Development. However, only 15% of small businesses were
able to get credits from banks or state funds in 1995. -- Natalia Gurushina
RUSSIA AND AZERBAIJAN
An agreement on economic, scientific-technical and
cultural cooperation between the Kalmyk Republic and Azerbaijan was signed,
Turan reported on 21 February. The agreement is identical to one reached last
week between Azerbaijan and Astrakhan oblast, another subject of the Russian
Federation, the report noted. Meanwhile, on 19 February Radio Baku reported
that railway traffic between Russia and Azerbaijan has been partially restored.
Last December, Azerbaijan requested that Russia lift the restrictions it
imposed on the movement of people and goods the previous year which, according
to Azerbaijani officials, has resulted in the republic losing some $250 million
dollars in trade. -- Lowell Bezanis
TURKEY AND GEORGIA.
Turkish President Suleyman Demirel has offered his
assistance in settling the Abkhaz conflict, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 February
citing Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze's press service. The day before,
Shevardnadze praised Demirel for his support of Georgia's territorial integrity
in his weekly radio address. Meanwhile, Iberia news agency reported that Turkey
has agreed to finance the construction of an oil pipeline to transport
"early-oil" from Baku to the Georgian port of Supsa. A final decision on the
need for the estimated 926 km long pipeline, and its financing, is to be taken
by the Azerbaijan International Operating Company (AIOC) next week, according
to the Turkish press. -- Lowell Bezanis
RUSSIAN EMIGRATION FROM UZBEKISTAN CONTINUES.
In spite of efforts by
both the Russian and Uzbek governments to address the issue of ethnic Russians
living in Uzbekistan, that population still continues to leave the country.
According to Rossiiskaya gazeta on 22 February, the Russian Embassy in
Tashkent issues an average of 130-150 citizenship certificates a day, totaling
more than 170,000 over the past several years. This figure represents a
minority of the estimated 500,000 who have left Uzbekistan for Russia. The
article noted that in addition to Russians, Koreans, Jews, Germans, Bashkirs,
and Tatars are also emigrating. In contrast, about 20 people leave Russia for
Uzbekistan each month to become citizens there. -- Roger Kangas
UZBEK GOVERNMENT TO FUND HAJJ TRAVELERS.
Uzbek citizens planning to
travel to Mecca for this year's hajj are to receive government assistance,
Uzbek television reported on 19 February, as cited by the BBC. According to a
government decree, the Uzbek Muslim Board, in conjunction with the government's
Committee for Religious Affairs, will organize a pilgrimage from Tashkent to
the Muslim holy city. In addition, government ministries will assist in foreign
currency acquisition, health care certification, and the processing of all
necessary paperwork. Uzbekistan Hawo Yollari (Uzbekistan Airlines) will provide
transportation. In recent years, thousands of Uzbeks have taken part in the
pilgrimage, in stark contrast to the several dozen a year permitted during the
Soviet era. -- Roger Kangas
PRIMAKOV CONCLUDES VISIT TO KAZAKHSTAN.
Concluding his one day visit to
Almaty, the Russian foreign minister Yevgenii Primakov assured Kazakhstan that
Russia wants a voluntary CIS integration and not a return to the USSR, Russian
media reported on 21 February. Primakov denied the existence of any major
bilateral disagreements between the countries, though admitted that differences
remain over the status of Caspian and sharing of its resources. Primakov told
Russian Public TV (ORT) that Kazakhstan is most likely to backtrack on its
earlier decision to withdraw its contingent from the CIS peacekeeping forces in
Tajikistan--Russia wants to extend the mandate of the CIS peacekeeping forces.
Both countries agreed to hold joint talks with China on the border issue in
April. Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev announced that President
Yeltsin will visit Kazakhstan either before or after these talks. --Bhavna
The visiting Hungarian president
Arpad Goencz, and a Hungarian trade delegation headed by the industry and trade
minister Imre Dunai held talks with the Kazakhstani deputy prime minister
Akmetzhan Yesimov on 20 February, according to an MTI report monitored by the
BBC. It added that Kazakhstan is seeking Hungary's involvement in projects to
develop the country's railways, health care, and housing and energy sector.
Yesimov and Dunai signed a protocol on intergovernmental trade agreements. They
also discussed the possibility of Kazakhstan supplying gas to Hungary in
exchange for Hungarian involvement in building the Yambrg gas pipeline and the
Tengiz oil refinery. --Bhavna Dave
UKRAINIAN PRESIDENT IN U.S.
Leonid Kuchma and U.S. Vice President Al
Gore on 21 February signed an agreement allowing Ukraine to enter the
commercial satellite launch market, international agencies reported. Ukraine
will be obliged to charge as much as U.S. companies for its launches. The
agreement expires in 2001. Kuchma also addressed allegations that Ukraine was
leasing Antonov cargo planes to Columbian drug traffickers. He said Ukraine had
no control over the leasing of Ukrainian-made aircraft, noting that it was
Columbia's responsibility. He added that the Ukrainian security service has
proposed that it meet with its U.S. counterpart to discuss the issue. Talks
with U.S. President Bill Clinton centered on economic issues, including
compensation for tactical nuclear weapons removed from Ukraine. -- Ustina
UKRAINIAN WORKERS HOLD ONE-HOUR STRIKE OVER LIVING STANDARDS.
eight Ukrainian oblasts halted work for one hour on 21 February to protest
unpaid wages and declining living standards, Ukrainian and international
agencies reported. Leaders of the Federation of Trade Unions claimed 12 million
employees of primarily state-owned coal mines and factories either took part in
or supported the strike. Some 2,000 people held a rally in Dnipropetrovsk. Kiev
did not respond to the protest actions. A two-week strike by coal miners that
was suspended on 16 February cost Ukrainian industry more than 40 trillion
karbovantsi ($215 million). -- Chrystyna Lapychak
CEPA DELEGATION VISIT TO ESTONIA.
A Council of Europe Parliamentary
Assembly delegation were in Estonia from 19-21 February to gather information
for a report about the human rights situation in the country, according to BNS.
Rudolf Bindig, chairman of the CEPA legal affairs and human rights
subcommittee, said Estonia should ratify the European human rights convention
before May, when it will preside over the CE Council of Ministers. He also
noted that the situation in Estonian prisons was improving but was still
unsatisfactory. He proposed that the language tests for naturalization be
simplified and that Estonia draw up a refugees policy more quickly. -- Saulius
LITHUANIAN TROOPS JOIN BOSNIAN PEACEMAKING FORCE.
LITPLA-4, a unit of 34
Lithuanian soldiers, has been stationed about 150 kilometers northwest of Tuzla
as part of a Danish battalion, BNS reported on 21 February. Their assignment
includes the reconstruction of a bridge over the Bosna River and monitoring
traffic crossing it. Similar Estonian and Latvian platoons are scheduled to be
sent to Bosnia as peacemaking forces later this year. -- Saulius Girnius
POLISH FOREIGN MINISTER ON RUSSIA, NATO.
Dariusz Rosati on 21 February
told the Senate Foreign Affairs Commission that regardless of the outcome of
the Russian presidential elections, Russia will oppose NATO expansion but
eventually will have to accept it, since it will need financial support from
western countries. Rosati also noted that allegations against former Prime
Minister Jozef Oleksy, who is suspected of collaborating with Soviet and
Russian secret services, damaged Poland's credibility as a prospective Western
partner. He said it was "unfortunate" that Oleksy had been elected leader of
Social Democracy of the Republic of Poland in January, which forms the core of
the governing coalition. Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz said he did not
agree with Rosati remarks on Oleksy, Polish dailies reported on 22 February. --
CZECHS REJECT NEW U.S. CRITICISM OF CITIZENSHIP LAW.
The Czech Foreign
Ministry on 21 February rejected renewed criticism from the U.S. Congress that
the Czech Republic's citizenship law is discriminatory, Czech media reported.
Leaders of the congressional committee that monitors the 1975 Helsinki accords
said the previous day that the law denies citizenship to thousands of residents
who were Czechoslovak citizens before the split of the country at the end of
1992. They said a recent amendment to the law approved by the Czech government
(see OMRI Daily Digest, 8 February 1996) did not go far enough and urged
Czech authorities to grant citizenship to all long-term residents. A Foreign
Ministry spokesman denied U.S. accusations that the law had overnight created
thousands of stateless people. The head of the parliament's foreign affairs
committee also rejected the criticism. -- Steve Kettle
CZECH SKINHEADS SENTENCED FOR RACIST ATTACK.
A court in Breclav
sentenced a 21-year-old skinhead to six years in jail on 21 February for an
attack on a local Rom in which the victim lost an eye. Three other teenage
skinheads received suspended sentences for attacking Josef Polak and his wife
on a street last October with rubber truncheons. The Romani woman was slightly
injured. Polak's father and other Roma protested inside and outside the
courtroom that the sentences were unjustly light, Mlada fronta Dnes
reported. -- Steve Kettle
CONFUSION IN SLOVAK FOREIGN MINISTRY OVER AUSTRIAN COURT'S RULING.
Slovak Foreign Ministry's reaction to the Vienna court's decision on President
Michal Kovac's son may have been the result of a mistranslation by TASR, CTK
reported on 21 February. The ministry did not wait for official notification of
the ruling but instead sent a diplomatic note to the Austrian charge d'affaires
in Bratislava based on a "news agency report." The ministry protested the
court's accusations about the involvement of state organs in the kidnapping and
demanded that the Austrian Foreign Ministry take action. But some media
representatives present at the hearing said the court spoke of an "abduction by
[Slovak] nationals." Kovac Jr., who says he is innocent in the Technopol fraud,
told Sme on 22 February that he plans to go to Munich to face charges.
-- Sharon Fisher
Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) deputy chairman Pavol
Kanis on 21 February announced that his party must decide soon whether it will
enter the coalition government, possibly before the SDL congress in April.
According to Kanis, the SDL has not received an official invitation from the
ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS). But he claimed that some
members of the SDL, HZDS, and Association of Workers of Slovakia (ZRS) are in
favor of cooperation among the three parties, Narodna obroda reported.
In other news, Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar decided to sue Vladimir Palko of
the opposition Christian Democratic Movement for his behavior during a Slovak
TV discussion program on 18 February. -- Sharon Fisher
NUCLEAR TRAIN ARRIVES IN HUNGARY.
A train carrying used nuclear fuel
rods from the closed nuclear power plant in Greifswald, eastern Germany,
arrived at Hungary's Paks nuclear plant on 21 February, Hungarian dailies
reported the next day. The plant was closed down for safety reasons after
German reunification. Environmentalists criticize the Hungarian authorities'
decision to "buy" the rods from Germany and argue that Paks is not as safe as
is claimed by the plant's management. Paks officials say the fuel rods can be
safely used for one year. The shipment of the "nuclear trash" saves nearly 3
billion forints ($21.5 million) for Hungary. While the nuclear train was en
route from Germany, German authorities mobilized 800 police and border guards
to monitor protests organized by Greenpeace. -- Zsofia Szilagyi
IZETBEGOVIC TAKEN TO HOSPITAL "FOR SUDDEN HEART PROBLEMS".
President Alija Izetbegovic has been taken to hospital because of unspecified
heart trouble. A group of doctors are treating him, and a statement said that
he must be "spared all strain." The 70-year-old leader of the Muslim Party of
Democratic Action is a professional lawyer and lifelong activist for Islamic
causes, for which he was jailed by the communists. Izetbegovic became president
in November 1990 in Bosnia's first postcommunist elections. -- Patrick Moore
BOSNIAN SERBS RESTORE LINKS TO INTERNATIONAL COMMUNITY.
The Bosnian Serb
leadership on 21 February announced it is "reestablishing full cooperation with
representatives of the international community, in accordance with the Dayton
agreement and the results of the Rome summit," SRNA reported. But it continued
to protest the "unprincipled conduct" of the Bosnian government in what it
called the "kidnapping of senior Serbian officers." The Bosnian Serb leaders
demanded the immediate release of the officers. Meanwhile, Carl Bildt, the
international community's chief envoy to Bosnia, met the same day with Bosnian
Serb premier Rajko Kasagic, TANJUG reported. Bildt said he was pleased that
dialogue with the Serbs has been restored, while Kasagic said the work of the
joint commissions will be resumed. -- Michael Mihalka
IFOR CERTIFIES COMPLIANCE WITH DAYTON PEACE AGREEMENT.
U.S. Admiral Leighton Smith on 21 February officially certified that the
"parties to the General Framework Agreement for Peace to be in general
compliance with the military aspects of the (Dayton) peace agreement,"
international media reported. According to UN Resolution 1022, sanctions
against the Bosnian Serbs can be lifted the day after the IFOR commander
informs the UN Security Council that the Serbs have withdrawn from the zones of
separation laid down in the peace accords. -- Michael Mihalka
SERBIAN EXODUS FROM SARAJEVO CONTINUES.
Despite bad weather and calls by
Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic and the anti-nationalist Serbian Civic
Council for them to stay put, residents of five Serb-held suburbs slated to
pass to government control continue to leave. The BBC on 22 February quoted UN
sources as putting the number at 20,000. Two fires are burning out of control
in Vogosca, but the fire department has apparently already left, Reuters said.
"Nervous and upset" people blamed the mayor for not providing them with
adequate transportation and confronted him in an ugly scene. Throughout the
suburbs, banks and schools have closed or are shutting down. NATO
Secretary-General Javier Solana and Nasa Borba blamed the Bosnian Serb
leadership for forcing the exodus of ordinary Serbs. U.S. Secretary of State
Warren Christopher has urged the residents to stay. -- Patrick Moore
BOSNIAN SHORT TAKES.
Some 10,000 Croats and Muslims are expected to
return to Vogosca after it reverts to federal control, Onasa reported on
21 February. A group of 50 federal experts will be sent there to clear mines.
Oslobodjenje wrote on 22 February that many of the Sarajevo Croats who
fled to Mostar and elsewhere during the war have begun to return. But a meeting
of Croatian and Bosnian government officials slated for 26 February has been
postponed. Onasa said that the problems are Bosnian access to the port of Ploce
and the abolition of Croatian visas for Bosnian citizens. The news agency added
that Bosnia's first postwar strike ended when miners accepted assurances that
their January salaries of about DM 80 would finally be paid. -- Patrick Moore
SERBIAN ORTHODOX BISHOP CALLS ON SERBS TO REJECT ETHNIC CLEANSING.
Orthodox bishop for northwestern Bosnia, Hrizostom, urged Serbs to return to
their homes outside the Republika Srbska and reject attempts to settle them in
dwellings of expelled Muslims and Croats. "This is the moment when we decide
whether we will be the beggars of this world, or whether we will return to our
homes as international accords and conventions foresee. [The Pale leaders] are
cheating you when they tell you that they have solved our problems by giving us
burnt and looted homes which belong to others, who are also refugees just as we
are.... The Serb politicans...have used our trust against the interests of
their people." Onasa carried the report on 21 February, citing Belgrade's
Vecernje Novosti. -- Patrick Moore
BELGRADE SEEKS IMF MEMBERSHIP.
The rump Yugoslavia is officially seeking
membership in the IMF, Belgrade TV reported on 21 February. In a letter to IMF
chief Michel Camdessus, rump Yugoslav National bank Governor Dragoslav
Avramovic said "conditions for the normalization of relations between the IMF
and [rump] Yugoslavia have been met.... We believe that we could benefit from
the assistance, experience, and advice of international organizations, above
all, from the IMF." Avramovic also wrote that the rump Yugoslav economy was
undergoing reforms that would result in a broad privatization program and
liberal, free market practices. -- Stan Markotich
CROATIA, BRITAIN SIGN AGREEMENTS.
Croatia and Britain on 21 February
signed agreements on cooperation in air traffic, culture, science, and
education, Novi List reported. Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic
said the agreements signaled "progress in bilateral relations," while British
Foreign Ministry official Nicholas Bonsor said agreements would pave the way
for the cooperation in tourism and the improvement of air traffic between the
two countries. The situation in the region was also discussed, especially
regarding the Rome agreements on Bosnia-Herzegovina. -- Daria Sito Sucic
WAR CRIMES TRIBUNAL INTERVIEWS SERBS IN ROMANIA.
Members of The Hague
International War Crimes Tribunal are in Timisoara to interview people from
Serbia who were detained in Moslem camps during the war in the former
Yugoslavia, Radio Bucharest reported on 21 February. The interviewees
volunteered to testify. Timisoara was chosen "at the request of the Serbian
citizens," who consider the Romanian town near the Serbian border to be "a safe
place, where nothing can happen to them." The findings will be made public once
the interviews are over. -- Michael Shafir
MOLDOVA COMMUTES DEATH SENTENCES.
Death sentences passed on 19 people in
Moldova have been commuted to life imprisonment to meet commitments made when
that country joined the Council of Europe in July 1995, Moldovan and
international agencies reported on 21 February. President Mircea Snegur signed
a decree commuting the sentences. The Moldovan parliament abolished capital
punishment in December 1995. Those to whom the decree applies were sentenced
before then. -- Michael Shafir
BELARUSIAN PRIME MINISTER ENDS VISIT TO SOFIA.
Mikhail Chyhir on 21
February concluded a two-day official visit to Bulgaria, Bulgarian and
international media reported. Chyhir and his Bulgarian counterpart, Zhan
Videnov, signed eight bilateral agreements on trade and industrial cooperation,
including the mutual protection and promotion of investments. They said the
agreements lay the foundation for broad cooperation in a number of areas and
that they expect bilateral trade to increase. Belarus will export more butter,
grain, and car tires to Bulgaria, while Bulgaria will increase its exports of
vegetable oil and pharmaceuticals to Belarus. In 1995, bilateral trade turnover
was $40 million. -- Stefan Krause
BULGARIAN JOURNALISTS RELEASED.
Dimitar Shtirkov and Valentin Hadzhiev,
correspondents in Smoylan for Trud and 24 chasa, on 21 February
were released from detention, 24 chasa reported. Legal proceedings
against them will continue, however. The two journalists were arrested for
libel on 20 February. Regional Prosecutor Slavcho Karzhev, who ordered the
arrests, said he considers his action to conform with Bulgarian law and added
that he will initiate proceedings against the local correspondents for
Duma and Novinar who wrote similar reports. The Union of
Bulgarian Journalists and Svobodno Slovo (Free Speech) have protested
the arrests. Since the fall of the communist regime, several journalists have
been charged with libel. This was the first time that journalists were
arrested. -- Stefan Krause
CROATIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN ALBANIA.
Mate Granic arrived for a two-day
visit to Tirana on 21 February, international agencies reported. Meeting with
his Albanian counterpart, Alfred Serreqi, both sides agreed on the territorial
integrity of all Balkan countries and the inviolability of present borders.
Granic said that Croatia supported the rights of all ethnic minorities in the
Balkans, while Serreqi stressed that the problem of Kosovo could not be reduced
to a question of basic human rights and freedoms. He added that "Kosovo is
[not] only an internal problem of Serbia [but a] a fundamental element of the
crisis in the former Yugoslavia." The two sides agreed on increased economic
and cultural cooperation. Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind,
in Tirana on 21 February, told President Sali Berisha that Britain will raise
its diplomatic representation in Albania from charge d'affaires to ambassador,
AFP reported. -- Fabian Schmidt
GREECE, ALBANIA AGREE ON PRISONER RETURN.
Albanian Justice Minister
Hektor Frasheri and his Greek counterpart, Evangelos Venizelos, meeting in
Athens on 21 February, agreed on the return of some 730 Albanians serving
prison sentences in Greece, Reuters reported. Greece will now speed up the
implementation of an agreement whereby prisoners will serve sentences in
Albanian prisons. The first 70 inmates will be moved to Albania in the next two
weeks. Some 130 of the inmates are juveniles, and another 400 are still
awaiting trial. It is unclear whether the latter will be tried in Greece. There
are no imprisoned Greeks in Albania. Greek prisons are overcrowded. and
tensions between Greek and Albanian prisoners recently resulted in riots. --
Greek Prime Minister Kostas Simitis on 21 February
began a tour of EU capitals in a bid to rally support for his country in the
dispute with Turkey over the islet of Imia/Kardak, AFP reported the same day.
Simitis met with EU Commission President Jacques Santer and Belgian Prime
Minister Jean-Luc Dehaene in Brussels. He told a news conference that Turkey's
position makes it "difficult for us to cooperate so that the customs union
[between the EU and Turkey] functions freely." Meanwhile, Reuters cited EU
sources as saying Greek Foreign Minister Theodoros Pangalos has threatened to
block a vote approving 375 million ECU ($487 million) in EU aid to Turkey.
Turkish Foreign Minister Deniz Baykal said Turkey has fulfilled its commitments
vis-a-vis the customs union, and he called on the EU not to give in to "Greek
blackmail." -- Stefan Krause
[As of 1200 CET]
Compiled by Roger Kangas and Jan Cleave