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Newsline - March 20, 1996

Samara Oblast Governor Konstantin Titov, one of the leaders of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin's Our Home Is Russia bloc in the December State Duma campaign, said that if the Duma does not reverse its decision to denounce the Belavezha accords, the Federation Council should postpone the presidential elections, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. Moscow Oblast Governor Anatolii Tyazhlov supported the proposal, asking, "what kind of president does [Communist leader Gennadii] Zyuganov want to be and of what country?" St. Petersburg Mayor Anatolii Sobchak, Voronezh Oblast Governor Aleksandr Kovalev, and Rostov Oblast Governor Vladimir Chub, also backed the move, Russian TV reported. However, only 46 members supported including the idea of postponing the elections on the agenda. President Yeltsin's representative to the Council, Anatolii Sliva, said the president "has nothing to do with" the proposal to postpone the elections, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Robert Orttung

At President Boris Yeltsin's request, the Federation Council asked the Duma 19 March to review its 15 March decision to restore the Soviet Union and "thoroughly analyze the possible consequences" of such a move, ITAR-TASS reported. The request was supported by 116 members of the upper house, while 10 voted against and three abstained. The written appeal stated that the Duma vote could create difficulties in achieving the "noble goal" of speeding up CIS integration. -- Robert Orttung

The presidents of Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan are scheduled to meet in Moscow on 29 March to sign an agreement on "closer cooperation," Russian and Western media reported. The details of the agreements have not been divulged, although Nezavisimaya gazeta noted on 15 March that the idea for the summit was first raised during Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev's January meeting with President Boris Yeltsin. During his meeting with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Yeltsin said other CIS member states would be welcome to sign the accord, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 March. A member of Yeltsin's staff told RFE/RL on 19 March that it will be some kind of "confederation accord"; however, officials in Kazakhstan and Kyrgyzstan have avoided the word "confederation" so far. -- Roger Kangas

Communist presidential candidate Gennadii Zyuganov on 19 March suggested that if elected he might abrogate some international treaties Russia has signed, AFP reported. Zyuganov said that his party is "considering breaking international treaties illegally signed." He did not specify what agreements he had in mind, but said that his party is unhappy with the situation in Estonia, where he claimed ethnic Russians cannot "speak in their native language" or own property. -- Scott Parrish

On 19 March, the pro-Moscow Chechen Supreme Soviet addressed a statement to Russian President Boris Yeltsin accusing Russian federal troops of engaging in looting, pillaging, and reprisals against the civilian population during the recent hostilities in Grozny, Samashki, and Sernovodsk, NTV reported, citing Interfax. The Chechen government asked Yeltsin to take measures to protect the civilian population. Russian troops commander Lt. Gen. Vyacheslav Tikhomirov denied the allegations. Meanwhile, Russian forces continued their offensive against Chechen militants reportedly holed up in the villages of Bamut, Orekhovo, and Samaskhi. In Moscow, Russian presidential press secretary Sergei Medvedev said on 19 March that details of the financing of the presidential peace plan for Chechnya are being finalized, as are arrangements for the redeployment of federal forces and Interior Ministry troops in Chechnya and elsewhere in the North Caucasus in order to enable local authorities "to respond adequately to unexpected developments," Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. -- Liz Fuller

On his first official visit to Moscow as President of Georgia, Eduard Shevardnadze met with Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, but demonstratively canceled a scheduled meeting with State Duma Chairman Gennadii Seleznev, Russian and Western media reported on 19 March. Shevardnadze blamed his tight schedule for the cancellation, but Seleznev angrily attributed it to the Duma's recent resolution denouncing the Belavezha accords, saying the incident could threaten pending Duma ratification of bilateral agreements. After meeting with Yeltsin, Shevardnadze called for a special CIS summit to discuss the Duma resolution, a move Yeltsin supported. The two leaders also agreed on new measures to implement the 19 January CIS decision to pressure Abkhazia to negotiate with Tbilisi. Chernomyrdin and Shevardnadze earlier signed bilateral agreements covering trade, television broadcasts, and extradition, while the Georgian and Russian defense ministers also signed three military accords. -- Scott Parrish

The State Duma approved a concept of state nationalities policy on 19 March, which is based on the notion of Russian unity and takes into account both the state's interests and the interests of Russia's peoples, ITAR-TASS reported. The concept was put forward by Nationalities Minister Vyacheslav Mikhailov. The Duma recommended that a Nationalities Council be created consisting of state officials and members of public organizations. The council would work on legislation to help safeguard the civil rights of Russian citizens living in other countries of the former Soviet Union. -- Anna Paretskaya

The most probable outcome of the presidential elections is that no candidate will win, Moskovskie novosti reported, citing experts at the Independent Institute of Social and Ethnic Studies. A poll of more than 2,000 respondents conducted by the institute found that almost none of the candidates that are capable of making it to the second round would receive more votes than those cast in a special procedure that allows Russians to vote "against all candidates." In order to win in the second round, a candidate must receive more votes than the total votes cast against both candidates. Grigorii Yavlinskii is the only candidate who has a chance of winning more votes than the "against all" vote against almost any candidate he might face in the second round of the election. However, if the second round of the election pits President Yeltsin against Yavlinskii, 45% of the respondents said they would reject both candidates, while just 35% would cast votes for Yavlinskii and 20% for Yeltsin. -- Anna Paretskaya

The Primorsk Krai Duma has requested that the Constitutional Court review the constitutionality of the 1991 Soviet-Chinese border agreement, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 March. Annoyed that the agreement has resulted in the transfer to China of about 1,500 hectares of disputed territory, Primorsk legislators and Governor Yevgenii Nazdratenko contend that the 16 May 1991 Russian Federation Supreme Soviet resolution endorsing the section of the treaty that defined the eastern segment of the Russo-Chinese border was unconstitutional. Under article 104 of the pre-1993 RSFSR constitution, they argue, only the Congress of People's Deputies could approve changes to Russia's borders. They also contend that the treaty violated provisions of the June 1990 Russian declaration of sovereignty, requiring that all territorial changes be approved in a national referendum. -- Scott Parrish

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has ordered the creation of a government commission to investigate the possibility of establishing additional naval bases in Russian ports on the Black Sea, ITAR-TASS reported on 18 March. The commission, chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Aleksandr Kazakov with Navy chief Admiral Feliks Gromov as deputy chairman, will examine proposals to base warships in Novorossiisk, Tuapse, Sochi, and Gelendzhik. It is to issue its report in the second quarter of this year. -- Doug Clarke

Several gunshots were fired into the apartment of Russian Central Bank Chairman Sergei Dubinin on 18 March, Russian and Western agencies reported. No one was injured in the attack, but it is the first time in recent memory that such a high-ranking federal government official has been threatened. Dubinin's deputy, Konstantin Lubenchenko, speculated that the assault was meant to intimidate his boss, while Izvestiya on 20 March quoted Sergei Yegorov, the president of the Association of Russian Banks, as saying that the Central Bank may have "aroused the displeasure of criminal structures...because it is constantly revoking the licenses of commercial banks that have broken the regulations." According to the association, there were 30 attempts on the lives of bankers in 1994. -- Penny Morvant

Aleksandr Khandruev, the first deputy chairman of the Central Bank of Russia (TsBR), told the European Banking Forum in Prague on 19 March that the bank will continue its tight monetary policy. He admitted that commercial banks have sprouted "like mushrooms" since 1991, but argued that registration rules are now so tight that it is "practically impossible" to get a license. Only one new bank was registered in the first two months of 1996, and ITAR-TASS reported on 19 March that in future banks will not be allowed to open branches without TsBR approval. Khandruev said that legislation facilitating the closure of insolvent banks is still lacking, forcing the TsBR to rely on such measures as the voluntary merger of ailing banks. Many observers are concerned that the flood of promissory notes being issued to cover firm debts may reignite the inflationary spiral. Khandruev merely noted that supervising these instruments is the responsibility of the Finance Ministry, not the Central Bank. -- Peter Rutland

Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Davydov confirmed on 19 March that from 1 July the Russian government will remove all export restrictions, including tariffs, registration, and quality testing, ITAR-TASS reported. The IMF made the liberalization measures a condition for its $10.2 billion Extended Fund Facility, announced last month. On 25-27 March the Council of Directors of the IMF will meet and are expected to formally approve the loan. The government seems to have backed away from its earlier announcement of a general increase in import tariffs. Davydov said some will be lowered, some raised, and the average will stay at 13%. Davydov added that the ruble corridor will be maintained until hard currency reserves reach the level of $20 billion (they are currently $13 billion). -- Peter Rutland

The Azerbaijani Milli Mejlis (parliament) unanimously adopted a statement at its session on 19 March reserving the right to quit the CIS in the event that the Russian State Duma adopts a further decision denouncing the Belavezha accords, Turan reported. Former Azerbaijani President Ayaz Mutalibov committed his country to CIS membership in December 1991, despite a vote against it by the existing parliament. The parliament subsequently voted not to ratify the country's CIS membership; it then reversed that decision in September 1993, following the election of President Heidar Aliev. -- Liz Fuller

Continuing his tour of the Transcaucasus, Turkmen President Saparmurad Niyazov arrived in Yerevan for talks with his Armenian counterpart, Levon Ter-Petrossyan, on 19 March, Armenian media reported. The two leaders signed several agreements, including a state credit for the supply of Turkmen gas to Armenia, an agreement on the encouragement and mutual protection of investments, and a deal governing the exchange of juridical information, Noyan Tapan reported. The agency noted that Armenia's debt for gas supplied in 1993-94 has been transformed into a five-year credit and Ashgabat will provide 1.7 billion cubic meters of gas to Armenia in 1996 (100 million more than last year). The two presidents denounced the Russian State Duma's recent decision to revoke the 1991 Belavezha accords as a "blatant attempt at ideological revanchism." It was Niyazov's first public response to the Duma's resolution. -- Lowell Bezanis

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Aleksei Bolshakov held talks with Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev and his counterpart, Nigmatzhan Isingarin, in Almaty on 19 March on preparing a large-scale package of agreements to deepen integration in the defense, socioeconomic, and humanitarian spheres, Russian media reported on 20 March. Both sides signed a protocol on cooperation in the fields of energy, electricity, and railroad transport. Disagreements persist over the lease of the Baikonur cosmodrome and a number of other military sites in Kazakhstan to the Russian Defense Ministry, Radio Rossii reported on 19 March. Isingarin admitted that no agreement has yet been reached between KAZCHROM and the Russian metallurgical complex on the supply of chrome ore, oil, and gas from Kazakhstan to Russia, due to competition between the two countries on the international market. -- Bhavna Dave

Vaclav Havel and Aleksander Kwasniewski on 19 March urged the West not to delay the enlargement of NATO because of Russian objections, Czech and international media reported. "Prolonging the process of expansion on the part of the Western side could strengthen the radical groups in Russia," Kwasniewski told a joint news conference after the two presidents met for the first time in the Czech town of Nachod, close to the Polish border. Havel said he could not imagine Russia becoming a member of NATO, rather a "future partner;" but Kwasniewski said that integrating postcommunist countries into organizations like NATO and the European Union should eventually extend as far as to Russia. Havel said he would explain the Czech Republic's stance on NATO to U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher, who arrived in Prague on 19 March and the following day is due to discuss European security with the foreign ministers or their deputies from 12 Central and East European countries that are seeking to join NATO. -- Steve Kettle

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher wrapped up his visit to Ukraine by denouncing the Russian Duma's recent decision to revoke the 1991 accord creating the CIS as "highly irresponsible" and reaffirmed his country's support of Ukrainian independence, RFE/RL and Ukrainian agencies reported on 19 March. Following talks with Ukrainian leaders, Christopher said the U.S. does not want to see Ukraine become a Russian satellite. President Leonid Kuchma and Foreign Minister Hennadii Udovenko expressed eagerness to expand ties with NATO in response to the Russian Duma's resolution They said they would like to formalize their relationship with NATO with a charter or treaty, although they still oppose full membership. Christopher praised Kyiv's progress in nuclear disarmament and reforms, including its formal submission of a new draft constitution to parliament on 19 March. He also pledged $10 million in medical aid in light of the 10th anniversary of the nuclear accident at Chornobyl in April. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 19 March dismissed Mikalai Halko, the editor of the largest daily in Belarus, Narodnaya Hazeta, for "a failure to carry out his duties," Reuters reported. Halko had been in his job for only a year. Lukashenka had dismissed his predecessor and the editors of other newspapers, including some that are now being printed in Lithuania. Lukashenka was probably displeased with the paper's criticism of the state of the media in Belarus and of his efforts to unite the country with Russia. Opposition parliament deputies said the dismissal indicated Lukashenka's desire to crush what was left of the free press. -- Saulius Girnius

Latvian and Lithuanian delegations, meeting in Jurmala on 18-19 March, agreed on the general principles for resolving their maritime border dispute, BNS reported. They also signed a protocol on abidance with the UN convention on maritime law, international law, and earlier bilateral agreements. Latvian delegation head Juris Sinka said the talks proceeded in a friendly atmosphere and he hoped that an agreement could be signed at the next round of talks in Vilnius on 22-23 April. Latvian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins noted that Latvia was preparing to set a provisional sea border with Estonia to protect Latvia's fishing interests. He said Estonia's rejection of a Latvian proposal to define a "gray area" in which both countries could fish had prompted this action, which is intended to speed up negotiations. -- Saulius Girnius

Polish Public TV's (TVP) nine-person supervisory council has refused to accept the resignation tendered last month by TVP director Wieslaw Walendziak (see OMRI Daily Digest, 29 February 1996). Five council members voted in favor of the resignation, one vote short of the number required by the TVP statute. Walendziak is disliked by the ruling left-wing politicians, but remains popular among the Polish public: 61% of respondents consider him a good director, according to a Polish Public Opinion Research Center (OBOP) poll, conducted on 8-12 March. -- Jakub Karpinski

Polish Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz ended a two-day official visit to Indonesia on 19 March, which included meetings with Indonesian President Suharto and other officials. The two sides agreed to boost cooperation in coal mining, modernizing Indonesian shipping facilities and generating electric power, as well as in the aircraft industry. Trade between the two countries is valued at about $150 million a year. Next, Cimoszewicz arrived in Bangkok on 20 March for a two-day visit to Thailand, which is expected to focus on bolstering economic ties. It is the first visit of a Polish premier to Thailand since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1972, Polish and international agencies reported. -- Jakub Karpinski

A Free Democrats-Liberal National Social Party candidate in southern Moravia, Rudolf Baranek, has promised to take down a sign barring Roma from his hotel in Breclav, CTK reported on 19 March. The sign read, "Because of repeated stealing, access is banned to those of Romani nationality" (see OMRI Daily Digest, 19 March). Baranek and Jiri Dienstbier, a party co-chairman, have been criticized by civil-rights organizations such as Citizen's Solidarity and Tolerance Movement (HOST) for claiming on television that the sign was not racist. Dienstbier is a former Czechoslovak dissident and a signatory of Charter 77. HOST said that people like Dienstbier, who defended Roma before 1989, .are "less willing now to take effective steps against racism." -- Alaina Lemon

Representatives of Slovak trade unions, employers' groups, and the government on 19 March signed the trilateral General Agreement for 1996, Praca reported. The agreement represents the starting point for bargaining and enables unions to participate in the drafting of legislation. Wage increases proved to be a sticking point between unions and employers; however, Confederation of Trade Unions chairman Alojz Englis voiced satisfaction with the agreement, which secures growth in real wages by at least as much as last year. In other news, representatives of the KOVO trade union on 18 March criticized the law on the protection of the republic, which is on the agenda of the parliament's current session. They expressed fear that the law would pose a serious threat to democracy and could be used against trade union officials. -- Sharon Fisher

On the eve of the opening of the March parliament session, opposition parties on 19 March held a secret meeting to discuss a common strategy aimed at bringing privatization controversies and the Slovak Information Service's alleged involvement in the kidnapping of President Michal Kovac's son on to the agenda, Slovak media reported. Although evidence against the SIS exists, current police investigator Jozef Ciz has been reluctant to use it, claiming that former SIS agent Oskar F.'s testimony is of questionable value since he was issued a presidential pardon. Rejecting Ciz's claims, Kovac on 19 March said the pardon was granted only for specific crimes and would not free him from possible charges of providing false witness. In other news, in an interview with Sme on 18 March, an anonymous judge provided proof that the SIS led the attempt to discredit Banska Bystrica Bishop Rudolf Balaz last summer. -- Sharon Fisher

Crowds in a festive mood came from the rest of Sarajevo into Grbavica on 19 March to mark the reunification of the city and inspect their flats, CNN reported. A wreath was laid atop Mt. Trebevic, the former excursion site just above the city from which the Serbs shelled Sarajevo during their four-year siege, Sky News added on 20 March. Strict controls are in effect to prevent the activity of Muslim gangs that marred the transfer of Ilidza, Nasa Borba said. IFOR confirmed that government troops have pulled out of the Marshal Tito barracks as they were required to do following the Serbian army's departure from the suburbs. The reunification of Sarajevo marks the end of the military disengagement stage of the peace process, which will now focus on reconstruction, elections, the return of refugees, and other civilian issues. Some 90 days after the Dayton agreement came into effect, the republic is now fully divided into the Federation and the Republika Srpska. -- Patrick Moore

Gojko Susak has been operated on at the Walter Reed Army Hospital in the U.S., AFP said on 20 March, quoting Globus. The Croatian Defense Ministry refused to comment, although rumors of Susak's hospitalization in the U.S. have been circulating for at least a week. He is one of the most powerful men in Croatia because of his key office, his close relationship with President Franjo Tudjman, and his prominence among the influential "Herzegovinian lobby" in political and economic life. -- Patrick Moore

Three Bosnian war crimes suspects were arrested in Germany and Austria on 17 March, AFP reported. The Austrian interior ministry said the men, held in Vienna and Munich, will not be identified until they are charged, which indicates that neither is on The Hague-based International Criminal Tribunal list of war-crimes suspects. Bosnian Serb media identified one of them as a Bosnian Croat, arrested for alleged atrocities against Serbs, and the other as Muslim, wanted for the same reason. The Hague-based tribunal spokesman Christian Chartier said that a third suspect arrested in Germany matched the description of one of its indicted suspects. He is suspected of mistreating inmates in a prison camp in Bosnia in 1992. His ethnicity was not revealed, but the court statement said the camp housed mainly "non-Serbs." Meanwhile, Croatia's foreign minister told Vjesnik that Bosnian Croat General Tihomir Blaskic, indicted for crimes against humanity, would surrender to the tribunal, while the Serbian President also promised to transfer to The Hague two Serbs suspected of war crimes. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Muslims and Croats agreed to resume joint police patrols in Mostar after suspending them for several hours following a series of arrests carried out by both sides over the weekend, AFP reported on 18 March. EU police spokesman said the police officers agreed to resume their patrols after Muslims and Croats arrested over the weekend were released. Three Muslims were arrested on 16 March in the Croat part of the city following a blast that destroyed a shop. Two Croat truck drivers were arrested in the Muslim part of the city. Despite an agreement on reunification of the city reached during the Geneva 17 March summit, Croats and Muslims maintained their police barricades, AFP and Nasa Borba reported on 19 March. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Michael Weninger, Austria's charge d'affaires in Belgrade, said on 19 March that Vienna has taken steps to upgrade relations with rump Yugoslavia to ambassadorial level. Nasa Borba on 20 March reported that he did, however, stress that the appointment of an ambassador shall be linked to regional developments. The chargee said Vienna, following the lead of the European Union, is ready to extend full diplomatic recognition "just as soon as mutual recogniton between [rump] Yugoslavia and Macedonia takes place." -- Stan Markotich

Slovenia's Ecological Movement, supported by Greenpeace, began to collect petition signatures on 19 March in a bid to try to force the government to close down the country's only nuclear plant, Krsko. If 40,000 signatures are collected by 17 May, the environmentalists will be able to force a referendum on the plant's closure. One Greenpeace representative observed: "In 10 years Slovenia would be able to replace the energy which is produced by the nuclear plant, mainly by new small gas and hydro power plants and by household efficiency programmes." Last year neighboring Croatia said it would give up its claims to the plant and its resources and not protest its closure on condition that Zagreb is fully compensated. Efforts in 1995 in the Slovenian legislature to close the plant failed due to lack of support. Reuters carried the story. -- Stan Markotich

The ruling Party of Social Democracy in Romania on 19 March stated that although the Russian Duma's recent resolution denouncing the breakup of the Soviet Union cannot have any direct legal or political consequences, it may represent an infringement on the sovereignty of the newly independent states, including Moldova. Opposition parties expressed fear that Russia might return to a policy of spheres of influence and endanger the independence of former Soviet bloc states, Romanian and international media reported on 18-19 March. Adrian Severin of the Democratic Party said the logical consequence of Duma's decision was "Russia's return to an imperial formula and to an authoritarian rule." Dinu Zamfirescu, leader of the Liberal Party `93, expressed astonishment over President Ion Iliescu's lack of response to the Duma decision. -- Matyas Szabo

The parliament's two chambers on 19 March passed in joint session a long-delayed Political Parties' Law, Radio Bucharest reported. The law allows parties set up on ethnic criteria to function in Romania. Its draft -- and especially the provisions regarding the financing of political organizations and the functioning of ethnic parties -- aroused heated debates in Romania. Parliament eventually adopted a more conciliatory version, proposed by the Chamber of Deputies. Parliamentarians representing the extreme nationalist Party of Romanian National Unity and Greater Romania Party, and the neo-communist Socialist Labor Party voted against ethnic parties. Petre Turlea, an independent, described those parties as "racist by definition" and "non-constitutional." Romanian TV said that, if not attacked at the Constitutional Court, the bill is going to be promulgated by President Ion Iliescu. -- Dan Ionescu

The situation has remained calm in Chisinau as the country awaits a Constitutional Court ruling on the legality of Defense Minister Pavel Creanga's dismissal last week. The move has provoked a serious political crisis in the Republic of Moldova that ended in a war of words between President Mircea Snegur and his opponents. Meanwhile, Igor Smirnov, the president of the self-proclaimed Dniester republic, expressed concern over the situation in Moldova, BASA-press reported on 18 March. He said recent developments signaled "a split among the top leadership in Chisinau." Smirnov on 16 March had discussed the crisis by telephone with Moldovan Premier Andrei Sangheli and Parliament Speaker Petru Lucinschi, and met the same day in Tiraspol with the Russian Ambassador to Moldova, Aleksandr Papkin, in the presence of Gen. Valerii Yevnevich, commander of the Russian troops headquartered in Tiraspol. -- Dan Ionescu

Roman Herzog arrived in Sofia on 19 March for a three-day official visit, Bulgarian and Western media reported. After meeting with Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev, Herzog said Germany will help Bulgaria during its "difficult transition phase." He also pledged German support if Bulgaria wants to join the EU and NATO. Herzog also proposed German help for the reconstruction of Bulgaria's dilapidated nuclear power plant at Kozloduy, considered a safety risk by the West. Addressing the parliament on 20 March, Herzog said the road to EU membership will be "long and hard." On 19 March, both sides signed a cultural agreement which among others provides for mutual recognition of university degrees. Germany is the biggest foreign investor in Bulgaria, providing nearly half its foreign capital. -- Stefan Krause

Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economic Development Rumen Gechev on 19 March announced that the government will auction off some of the country's largest state-owned companies this year, Western media reported. Gechev declined to list all enterprises, but he said they include a 25-30% share in the national telecommunications company and the Sodi works in Devnya, one of the world's largest producers of calcined soda. Gechev said that if Bulgaria does not have several big privatization deals in 1996, it will not be able to service its debts. According to Gechev, Bulgaria spent 10% of last year's budget to service foreign debt, and another 39% to keep loss-making enterprises going. He said that the government and the Bulgarian business community are "displeased with the quite low level of foreign investment" but admitted that the cabinet failed to create favorable conditions in 1995. -- Stefan Krause

German Minister of Economic Cooperation and Development Carl Dieter Spranger arrived for a two-day visit to Albania on 19 March, the Albanian language service of Radio Deutsche Welle reported. Spranger told Albanian President Sali Berisha that he was impressed by the progress of reform in Albania and assured him that the German government will support the economic development of Albania and help it reach an association agreement with the European Union. It is his third visit to Albania since 1992. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Chrystyna Lapychak