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Newsline - April 9, 1996

A senior officer of the Federal Tax Police Service has been arrested for allegedly demanding a $200,000 bribe from a commercial company, NTV reported on 5 April. Federal Security Service officers arrested Colonel Pavel Glebov and Andrei Shavaev, a former KGB officer who currently heads the private security agency Academy of Economic Security, as they were accepting $38,000 in bribes, ITAR-TASS reported. Corruption in state bodies is rampant, but few bribe-takers are punished despite the current high-profile anti-corruption campaign. -- Penny Morvant

President Boris Yeltsin addressed a congress of his supporters on 6 April but will wait until next month to release his program, ITAR-TASS reported. Yeltsin explained the delay as a way to prevent his opponents from "distorting or using" his program. Instead, Yeltsin stuck to broad themes of the family, fighting crime, ending the war in Chechnya, and strengthening CIS integration. Yeltsin said that he would win so that "these elections will not be the last," Russian TV reported. He added that he is dissatisfied with his campaign staff and would personally take charge while placing financial questions in the hands of Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, Ekho Moskvy reported. Yeltsin also announced that Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev and Kazakhstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev are beginning to set up negotiations as intermediaries with Chechen rebel leader Dzhokhar Dudaev. -- Robert Orttung

Liberal Democratic Party leader Vladimir Zhirinovsky became the third officially registered presidential candidate on 5 April, Reuters reported. Zhirinovsky came in third in the 1991 presidential voting with 6 million votes, 8% of the total, and his party won almost 8 million votes (11%) in the 1995 Duma elections. He is running at less than 10% in recent opinion polls. -- Robert Orttung

The Duma endorsed the 2 April union agreement between Moscow and Minsk by a vote of 320-8 with five abstentions on 5 April, RFE/RL reported. Although Grigorii Yavlinskii's Yabloko initially criticized the agreement, it joined in supporting the treaty. The Duma and Federation Council have yet to formally ratify the treaty. -- Robert Orttung

General Mikhail Kolesnikov, the Russian armed forces chief of staff, issued a directive on 8 April restricting visits of politicians to military units, ITAR-TASS reported. The directive is based on Article 18 of the defense law which prohibits "any form of political agitation, including pre-election agitation, on the territory of units and formations for the armed forces." A source in the Defense Ministry was said to have told the agency that the directive was brought about because of recent instances in which deputies with military rank have used their status to ask commanders to let them address their troops. -- Doug Clarke

Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 8 April rejected Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev's offer of direct peace talks with the Russian leadership, Russian and Western agencies reported. Fighting continued on 5-7 April in southern Chechnya; on 7 April, the head of the North Caucasus Military District, Col. Gen. Anatolii Kvashnin, said that over the previous seven days more than 100 Russian troops had been killed. On 7-8 April, Russian forces launched a full-scale offensive against the settlements of Vedeno and Dargo in southeast Chechnya. On 8 April, Chechens demonstrated in Grozny and Shali to demand the withdrawal of Russian troops from Chechnya. On 6 April, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliyev rejected as slanderous and totally unfounded allegations that Chechen aircraft belonging to Dudaev had carried out the bombing of Shaladzhi on 2-3 April from airfields on Azerbaijani territory, Radio Rossii reported. -- Liz Fuller

St. Petersburg mayoral election candidates Aleksei Levashov and Igor Artemev have decided to contest the city legislature's decision to change the election date from 16 June to 19 May in the municipal court, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported on 6 April. They claim that a shorter election campaign will only benefit Mayor Anatolii Sobchak. The City Legislative Assembly voted to change the election date after President Yeltsin set 19 May as the election date in March (see OMRI Daily Digest, 14 March 1996). -- Anna Paretskaya in Moscow

Aleksander Kwasniewski began a three-day visit to Russia by laying a wreath at a memorial in Smolensk Oblast marking the site at Katyn where 15,000 Polish officers were executed in 1940 by the Soviet political police, Russian and Western agencies reported on 8 April. Kwasniewski said the site should be not just a "wound" but also a "memorial" so that "such things may never happen again" between Russia and Poland. Krasnaya zvezda reported that Moscow hopes the visit will thaw bilateral relations, which have been strained by the issue of NATO expansion. Despite political differences, ITAR-TASS reported on 6 April that Russo-Polish trade totaled $3.5 billion in 1995. Russia ran an $800 million trade surplus with Poland, with oil and gas accounting for 74% percent of its exports. -- Scott Parrish

Lloyd Axworthy met with his Russian counterpart, Yevgenii Primakov, and Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to discuss NATO expansion, Arctic regional cooperation, and nuclear safety, Russian and Western agencies reported on 8 April. Primakov said that although he and Axworthy agreed on the need to find a mutually acceptable compromise, Canada and Russia remain divided on the issue of NATO expansion. Axworthy invited Primakov to Canada later this year for the signing of an agreement founding a new multilateral Arctic Council, on which he said "almost full agreement" had been reached. AFP reported that the two leaders had agreed on the terms of several unspecified bilateral nuclear cooperation agreements. Under a 1994 agreement, Canadian specialists are already helping upgrade safety at Russian nuclear plants. -- Scott Parrish

The independent French television channel TF1 on 6 April charged that Russian weapons bought by the French government were delivered by Russia to the Bosnian Serbs to secure the release of two French pilots shot down over Bosnia last August, theLondon Times reported on 8 April. Colonel Vladimir Kulich, a member of the Russian foreign intelligence agency, claimed to have been involved in the negotiations. The French Defense Ministry has denied that the Bosnian Serbs were compensated for the release of the pilots. -- Doug Clarke

The U.S. State Department on 4 April removed Russia from the International Traffic in Arms Regulations (ITAR) proscribed list. In a statement issued by Glyn Davies, acting press spokesman, the department said the step is in line with the Clinton administration's policy to update U.S. laws and regulations to reflect the end of the Cold War. Accordingly, it will no longer be U.S. policy to "deny licenses or other approvals for exports and imports of defense articles and defense services destined for or originating in Russia." In the future, each request for such license or approval will be analyzed carefully on a case-by-case basis and will no longer be automatically disapproved. -- Doug Clarke

Russia has launched a U.S.-built satellite for the first time, ITAR-TASS reported on 9 April. The telecommunications satellite Astra-1F, built by General Motors' Hughes unit at the request of the Societe Europeenne des Satellites, was launched by the Proton-K booster rocket from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan. The launch cost $60 million and is part of the $1 billion deal signed by Khrunichev space center and the International Launch Services, a joint-venture set up in 1993 by Khrunichev with the Energiya corporation and the U.S. Lockheed-Martin group. The program envisages 20 more unmanned flights by the year 2000. -- Natalia Gurushina

Following the March onslaught on wage arrears, President Yeltsin has now pledged to eliminate pension arrears by the end of April. According to ITAR-TASS, Yeltsin issued a decree on 8 April ordering the government to grant a six-month loan of 4 trillion rubles ($818 million) to the Pension Fund. Presidential economics adviser Aleksandr Livshits said the money for the loan would come from operations on the short-term bond market and tax revenue. The state owes pensioners more than 6 trillion rubles in overdue payments (see OMRI Daily Digest, 3 April 1996). -- Penny Morvant

Continuing his emphasis on social issues ahead of the presidential elections, Yeltsin also decreed the partial restoration of savings wiped out by inflation as a result of the economic reforms begun at the end of 1991. The decree orders the government, the Central Bank, and Sberbank to draw up a federal program within three months on a mechanism to repay savings devalued between 1991 and 1995. The total Sberbank debt is estimated at 800 trillion rubles ($160 billion) in current prices. Livshits said that compensation payments will begin to be paid in 1997 in a process that will take decades to complete. -- Penny Morvant

President Yeltsin has decreed that supporting small businesses should become a government priority, Finansovye izvestiya reported on 9 April. The decree promises 500 billion rubles ($102 million) for investment credits to small businesses, and $200 million worth in guarantees to foreign companies that open credit lines to small businesses in Russia. The Federal Fund for Small Business Support should receive 5% of the privatization revenue annually, which means that in 1996 small companies should get 707 billion rubles (in 1995 small businesses received 50 billion rubles from this source). Small businesses in Russia repeatedly complain that high taxes and interest rates make it very difficult for them to survive. -- Natalia Gurushina

President Yeltsin signed a decree on 4 April merging Gazprom's special tax-exempt "stabilization fund" with the general federal budget, Segodnya reported the next day. This was one of the conditions for the $10.1 billion loan the IMF granted in March. However, at the same time Yeltsin took other steps to compensate the gas monopoly, such as cutting the duty on pipe imports and lowering the gas excise duty by changing the basis upon which it is calculated. -- Peter Rutland

Uzbek Prime Minister Utkir Sultanov met with his Kyrgyz and Kazakhstani counterparts, Apas Jumagulov and Akezhan Kazhegeldin, in Tashkent on 5 April to sign 12 cooperative accords, Radio Rossii reported on 6 April. They discussed energy and water resource management, transportation and communication links, and drug smuggling. In a 6 April interview with Pravda vostoka cited by the BBC, Uzbek President Islam Karimov said the recent Moscow treaty signed by Russia, Belarus, Kyrgyzstan, and Kazakhstan would "not damage" cooperation among the three. Meanwhile, a 5 April Turkmen Foreign Ministry statement stated that Ashgabat "has no plans" to alter its present relationship with the CIS, according to a RIA news agency report cited by the BBC. The statement read that Turkmenistan prefers "bilateral relations" and rejects "entry into rigid supranational structures" as "politically inexpedient and legally inapplicable."-- Roger Kangas and Lowell Bezanis

Russia has cut the amout of electricity it supplies to the Aktyobe Oblast in north Kazakhstan for its failure to pay a $24.5 million debt, ITAR-TASS reported on 8 April. Aktyobe will now receive only 35 MW, instead of its regular 300 MW. The recently-opened Aktyobe power station is working irregularly and even at its full capacity can only fulfill a third of the country's electricity needs. Electricity has been cut in all southern oblasts of Kazakhstan, and only industrial enterprises, transport, and the communications networks of major cities have a normal electricity supply. Kazakhstan's electricity debts to Russia and other CIS countries have been variously reported at between $150 million and $400 million in the Russian media. Uzbekistan has totally cut off its electricity supply to Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan has also restricted its supply. Kazakhstan is holding talks with Russia and Kyrgyzstan on forming an energy union. -- Bhavna Dave

The Russian State Duma has ratified an agreement on a 20-year Russian lease of the Baikonur space launch site from Kazakhstan, ITAR-TASS and RFE/RL reported on 5 April. The Duma ratification settles a dispute between the two countries on conditions for using Baikonur as a major Russian launch site for all manned space flights. Russia will pay Kazakhstan $115 million in rent annually for 20 years, with an option to lease the cosmodrome for an additional 10 years, RFE/RL added. -- Bhavna Dave

The newspaper Karavan-Blitz has reported numerous thefts of highly radioactive materials from the Ulba metalworks plant near the city of Ust-Kamenogorsk in East Kazakhstan, according to a BBC report on 4 April. About 100 kg of U-235 uranium was stolen in November and another 150 kg of uranium and 400 kg of radioactive thorium were stolen in December, according to reports in the 4 April and 26 March issues of Karavan-Blitz. An official of the State Investigation Committee on combating crime told the paper that such thefts at the Ulba plant have become common, and are committed by workers with the complicity of the guards. Most of the stolen uranium has been sold to firms in Russia. Kazakhstan has about a quarter of the world's uranium reserves. -- Bhavna Dave

The Kyrgyz Justice Ministry has suspended the Uighur organization Ittipak (Unity) from campaigning in the media and from holding any public meetings for three months after it failed to curb its "separatist activities" despite earlier official warnings, according to a 4 April Kyrgyz Radio report monitored by the BBC. The activities of Ittipak violated the Kyrgyz constitution's provisions on public associations, as well as the Kyrgyz-China communique of 16 May 1992 on non-interference in internal affairs. There are about 5.5 million Uighur across the border in China's Xinjiang province. Some 40,000 Uighurs live in Kyrgyzstan. -- Bhavna Dave

Six more deputies have been elected to the Ukrainian parliament in a fifth round of elections, Reuters reported on 8 April. This brings the total number of deputies in the 450-seat legislature to 425. Ukraine's voting system demands a minimum 50% voter turnout and that the successful candidate garner at least 50% of the vote. As a result, a number of constituencies are without elected deputies. Meanwhile, Ukrainian Radio on 6 April reported that parliamentary speaker Oleksandr Moroz was hospitalized following a heart attack. -- Ustina Markus

President Leonid Kravchuk and his Vietnamese counterpart, Le Duc Anh, meeting in Hanoi on 8 April, signed an agreement on cooperation, international agencies reported. Accords on consular protection, avoidance of double taxation, and scientific cooperation were also signed. Kuchma is on the first leg of a week-long tour of Indonesia and Vietnam intended to boost bilateral trade. Trade between Ukraine and Vietnam stood at a mere $15 million last year. Meanwhile, the issue of Vietnam's debts to former Soviet republics remains unresolved. -- Ustina Markus

The U.N. has agreed to downgrade Ukraine's status from the "B" group of states to the "C" group, Reuters reported on 5 April. Kyiv asked for the downgrading during President Leonid Kravchuk's administration since the move means a reduction in Ukraine's fees to the UN. Ukraine owes the UN $243 million in unpaid dues. Volodymyr Yelchenko, head of the Foreign Ministry's UN department, said the decision to downgrade Ukraine's status meant one of Ukraine's main foreign-policy objectives had been achieved. -- Ustina Markus

An agreement was signed in Minsk on 4 April providing for the sale of 100 Belarusian T-72 tanks to Hungary, AFP reported the following day. The tanks would have had to be destroyed by Belarus under the terms of the CFE treaty. Ironically, they will be used instead to replace Hungarian T-55 tanks, which were dismantled under the same treaty. The value of the deal was not made public at Belarus's request. -- Ustina Markus

The Russian government has requested that Estonia offer compensation for rubles it failed to return to Russia some four years ago, Reuters reported on 8 April. In summer 1992, Estonia introduced its own currency, the kroon, but failed to give back to Russia the 2.6 billion rubles still in circulation, which were worth some $170 million at the June 1992 exchange rate. It has been alleged that most of the rubles were sold to the Chechen Republic via intermediaries. Estonian authorities have already started criminal proceedings over the sale of the rubles. -- Natalia Gurushina

Talks on the Latvian-Estonian sea border have made no progress, BNS reported on 6 April. Latvia has demarcated a line on the map, saying it will use naval forces to guarantee the safety of its fishing vessels in that zone if necessary. Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs on 8 April commented that the dispute has been exaggerated and would not lead to war between the two countries. He added that the chances of finding a solution are good but will take time. The Latvian and Estonian prime ministers are to discuss the issue again during a Baltic Assembly meeting this week. -- Ustina Markus

Two incendiary devices were hurled at the Polish embassy in Rome on 8 April, Polish and international media reported. The attack has been linked to a demonstration outside the Auschwitz concentration camp on 6 April that was organized by the Polish National Community, a fringe political group campaigning under the slogan "Poland for the Poles." The demonstrators rallied in support of plans to build a shopping mall near the camp, where the Nazis exterminated some 1.5 million people, mostly Jews. Diplomats in Rome believe that Italian Jews were behind the attack in protest against the Auschwitz demonstrations. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

A Czech-German declaration to be adopted by the two countries' parliaments will not be ready before the 31 May-1 June Czech parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus told Czech TV on 8 April. The document is intended to help Czechs and Germans put the traumas of their recent common past behind them. Czech media reported last week that in the declaration, the Czech Republic will apologize to Germany for some aspects of the expulsion of Sudeten Germans from Czechoslovakia after World War II. In exchange, Germany is to express willingness to abandon Sudeten Germans' property claims related to the expulsion. According to a survey by the Factum agency and published in Mlada fronta Dnes on 9 April, only 7% of Czechs want their government to apologize for the post-war expulsions, saying they would vote for political parties that favor making an apology. Some 86% of the respondents said they would not vote for such a party. -- Jiri Pehe

Slovak imports reached 51.191 billion crowns in the first two months of 1996, up 37% on the same period last year, TASR reported on 4 April. The largest volume of imports came from the Czech Republic (24.8%), followed by Russia (19.9%), and Germany (13.3%). Imports from EU countries, which accounted for 30% of Slovak imports, increased by 30.5%. Exports grew by only 6.3% compared with the first two months of 1995, reaching 39.713 billion crowns. The Czech Republic (32.6%) and Germany (20.2%) were Slovakia's biggest export markets. The opposition Democratic Union on 4 April pointed out that although 19,000 Slovak firms are involved in exports, only 60 of them are of decisive importance. -- Sharon Fisher

Jacques Santer on 5 April said that it is more likely that East European states will be admitted to the EU one by one rather than in groups, as has been the practice, Hungarian media reported. Santer, who was in Budapest for two-day talks on the eastward expansion of the EU, commented that negotiations with the East European associate countries could begin in early 1998. Prime Minister Gyula Horn said Hungary expects the EU to make a selective approach on the basis of candidates' individual performance. The European Commission is soon to hand over a 100-page questionnaire to EU associates to assess their preparations for membership. Santer urged Hungary to annul the 8% customs surcharge on EU exports to Hungary by the end of June 1997 and to decrease its subsidies for agricultural exports. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Rump Yugoslav Foreign Minister Milan Milutinovic and his Macedonian counterpart, Ljubomir Frckovski, met in Belgrade on 8 April to sign an accord establishing bilateral diplomatic relations. Frckovski hailed the agreement as opening "a new chapter" in relations with Belgrade. Milutinovic said that the accord represents progress in "strengthening" the regional peace process. Under the accord, both parties are to respect the "principles of equality, non-interference in internal affairs,...sovereignty, independence, and territorial integrity." Nasa Borba, however, noted that the use of the term "Republic of Macedonia" in the agreement is likely to stir controversy. -- Stan Markotich

Greece on 8 April voiced its dissatisfaction with the mutual recognition agreement between rump Yugoslavia and Macedonia, AFP reported. Foreign Ministry spokesman Konstantinos Bikas said recognition of Macedonia under that name "does not help stability in the region and cannot be considered a friendly act towards Greece." Bulgaria welcomed the agreement, saying it will "contribute to stabilizing the climate in the Balkans." Meanwhile, Vuk Draskovic, leader of the opposition Serbian Renewal Movement, said the agreement means "that Macedonia will now be Serbia's bridge to Greece and Serbia will be Macedonia's bridge to Europe." Milorad Jovanovic, representative of the Democratic Party of Serbia, was more cautious, saying the establishment of diplomatic relations was "a little hasty" because talks over the official name of Macedonia have not yet been concluded. -- Stefan Krause and Stan Markotich

Serbian pathologists have spent some days examining the bodies of at least 181 people from a mass grave near Mrkonjic Grad in western Bosnia. The area was held by Bosnian Serb forces for most of the war but fell to Croatian units last fall. Doctors say that 102 out of the 181 show evidence of having been beaten to death, Nasa Borba reported on 9 April. -- Patrick Moore

President Alija Izetbegovic warned that moves by former Prime Minister Haris Silajdzic to found his own centrist party could split the Muslim vote. He added that his own political future would depend on his health, Oslobodjenje reported on 7 April. The daily two days later discussed concern over the rapid loss of value of the Bosnian dinar. A rise in the legal limits on personal income and recent large payments to workers in state enterprises led to the fall in confidence in the currency, Vjesnik wrote. On 5 April, government forces freed 18 POWs, while the Croats released 28, the Onasa news agency reported. Controversy continues over whether the Serbs will be allowed to attend the upcoming conference on reconstruction aid if they do not free all their remaining prisoners. -- Patrick Moore

The Interior Ministry on 4 April arrested four armed Bosnians in the Adriatic town of Senj on suspicion that they intended to carry out terrorist activities in Croatia, Vjesnik said on 8 April. The four reportedly had documents from the Bosnian Interior Ministry in Bihac, and it thought they may have been sent to assassinate former Bihac kingpin Fikret Abdic. The renegade Muslim leader has been living quietly in Croatia since last fall, after Croatian and Bosnian government forces put an end to his self-declared mini-state, which had become a client of the Krajina Serbs. Abdic is currently based in Rijeka, north of Senj. -- Patrick Moore

Tax authorities have presented the country's only independent daily, Rijeka's Novi list, with a bill for DM 4 million. Customs authorities assessed the Italian minority's periodical Unija as owing similar amounts, Nasa Borba reported on 7 April. Opposition groups charged that the move is an attempt to crush what little press freedom there is in Croatia, Novi list wrote on 9 April. The tax and customs bills recall the earlier attempt to drive the independent weekly Feral Tribune out of business with a pornography tax. The latest measures come on the heels of two new major restrictive pieces of legislation and the impending closure of the independent Zagreb radio station "101." -- Patrick Moore

Serbian police in Kosovo have closed down the printing house of the Albanian-language weekly Koha, local media reported. The authorities had insisted that last week's issue be censored by the prosecutor-general's office before being printed but the weekly had refused to comply. That office has since initiated legal proceedings against Koha. The prosecutor-general reportedly took exception to photograph montages of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic standing next to men in Nazi uniforms under the title "Anschluss 1989." The montages appeared in an issue commemorating the abolition of Kosovo's autonomous status. Koha Editor in Chief Veton Surroi said he stands "firmly behind the main messages" of the satirical montage. He added that the prosecutor-general's action indicates that the weekly was right and that his office is trying conceal what happened. -- Fabian Schmidt

Nicolae Manolescu, leader of the Party of Civic Alliance, said the Liberal Party `93 may soon join the pact concluded by his party and the Social Democratic Union for the local elections in May, Radio Bucharest reported on 7 April. The pact, which was announced on 4 April, provides for the signatories to jointly monitor election procedures and to support one another in the second round. Meanwhile, a new party calling itself Romania's Alternative held its first congress in Bucharest on 5 April. Also on 5 April, the Romanian Ecological Movement merged with the Ecological Convention, the National Agrarian Party and several non-government organizations to form a party called The Ecologists. -- Michael Shafir

Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli has refused to nominate a new defense minister, accusing President Mircea Snegur of ignoring a Constitutional Court ruling (see OMRI Daily Digest, 5 April 1996). Sangheli wants Pavel Creanga to remain in his post, but Snegur, in a letter to Sangheli dated 6 April, said investigations have "unequivocally" established that there is corruption within the Defense Ministry and that Creanga has failed to take appropriate measures, BASA-press reported on 6 and 8 April. Snegur also pointed to a statement by 100 army officers on 5 April saying Creanga cannot remain Defense Minister and that the court's ruling has only "aggravated" the situation. The officers say that until the problem is resolved, they will obey only orders from Snegur in his capacity as commander in chief of the military. Creanga says he intends to resume office. -- Michael Shafir

Snegur on 8 April met with the leader of the breakaway Transdniester region, Igor Smirnov, in Tiraspol to discuss political and socio-economic issues, Moldovan media reported. Snegur asked Smirnov to pardon the so-called Ilascu-group, whose leader, Ilie Ilascu, was sentenced to death in 1992 for alleged terrorist activities. His sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. Meanwhile, Romanian Justice Minister Iosif Gavril Chiuzbaian has urged France to intervene to secure the release of Ilascu, whom Bucharest is proposing for the Nobel Peace Prize, AFP reported on 8 April. -- Michael Shafir

Minister for Economic Development Rumen Gechev on 8 April rejected as "absolutely groundless" charges by the Rover Group that the closure of the company's assembly plant in Varna was dictated by bureaucratic obstacles and lack of government support, Demokratsiya reported. Rover on 4 April had announced its decision to stop assembling cars in Bulgaria after only seven months (see OMRI Daily Digest, 5 April 1996). Gechev said the main reasons for Rover's failure were uncompetitive products, a wrong marketing strategy, and lack of funding from the Bank for Agricultural Credit, which owns Rover's partner, Daru Group. He said the government will help Rover to find a new partner in the form of a "stable state-owned firm." Meanwhile, Standart reported that rump Yugoslav car maker Zastava has proposed assembling cars in Bulgaria. -- Stefan Krause

Hristo Miladinov, Bulgarian ambassador in Moscow, has handed a note to the Russian Foreign Ministry protesting Russian President Boris Yeltsin's remark that Bulgaria may join the integration agreement recently signed by Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan, 24 chasa reported. Miladinov noted that relations with Russia nonetheless remain a top foreign-policy priority for Bulgaria. Bulgarian President Zhelyu Zhelev has insisted that the government officially reject Yeltsin's proposal. Meanwhile, Standart reported that Zhelev and Petar Stoyanov have vowed to conduct a fair campaign for primary elections scheduled for 1 June, which are aimed at finding a presidential candidate for the united opposition. Zhelev and Stoyanov are the only candidates in the primaries. -- Stefan Krause

More than one year after party leader Eduard Selami was fired, the Albanian Democrats have elected Tritan Shehu as his successor, Albanian media reported. Shehu has been acting party leader since Selami's dispute with President Sali Berisha in March 1995, which led to his dismissal. Selami offended Berisha by supporting the opposition view that the constitution should be adopted by the parliament. He also demanded that the position of party leader and prime minister be combined. Meanwhile, Berisha has pledged that the Democrats will promote "both pre- and post-election cooperation" among right-wing parties, Reuters reported. The Democrats' most likely coalition partner is the Republican Party, led by historian Sabri Godot. Godot has said that the two parties have the common aim of "fighting communism." -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave