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Newsline - April 22, 1996

President Boris Yeltsin co-chaired a meeting of the G-7 plus Russia on the topic of nuclear security on 20 April, Russian and Western agencies reported. The meeting issued joint communiques calling for the signing of a comprehensive nuclear test ban by September and pledging to implement more stringent nuclear safety standards. Russia's support for a total ban on all nuclear tests was its first official endorsement of this position, already supported by Britain, France, and the U.S. but still regarded skeptically by China. Although Russian media emphasized that the meeting showed that the West is increasingly taking Russian interests into account, some disagreements emerged. Yeltsin's proposal that nuclear powers base their weapons only on their own soil did not meet with approval, nor did another Russian proposal for a nuclear-free zone in CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE. -- Scott Parrish

Following the G-7 meeting, Yeltsin held five hours of talks with his U.S. counterpart, Bill Clinton, on 21 April, Russian and Western agencies reported. With their eyes on their respective re-election campaigns, both presidents tried hard to portray their 10th meeting as a success, despite its meager substantive results. They announced "progress" toward resolving long-running disputes involving the 1990 CFE treaty and the 1972 ABM treaty but refused to give details. Similar vague statements about resolving the CFE flank limits dispute at the presidents' previous meeting in Hyde Park last October failed to deliver concrete results, however. Despite the friendly atmosphere of the meeting, other disagreements involving NATO expansion, Russian nuclear cooperation with Iran, the Middle East peace process, and the Chechen conflict remained unresolved. -- Scott Parrish

The presidents of Russia and France on 19 April issued a joint declaration saying that the OSCE should serve as the basis for the new European security architecture, UPI reported. Russia has long pushed the OSCE as an alternative to NATO in this role, believing that it would have a stronger voice in the former organization. France has often puzzled its NATO partners, and this statement by President Jacques Chirac comes at a time when French military cooperation with NATO is closer than it has been since the French withdrew from the alliance's integrated military structure 30 years ago. French presidential spokeswoman Katerin Kolonna was quoted as saying that France continues to support NATO expansion into Eastern Europe "gradually and within the interest of our partners." -- Doug Clarke

Before the G-7 meeting, Yeltsin met with Japanese Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto, Russian and Western agencies reported on 19 April. Yeltsin pledged that Russia will no longer dump liquid radioactive waste in waters near Japan, and promised that Russia will soon sign a protocol to the 1993 London Convention banning nuclear waste dumping at sea. The two leaders agreed that Japanese Defense Agency Director-General Hideo Usui will visit Moscow on 27-29 April. Usui will be the first Japanese defense chief to visit Russia since the end of World War II. Hashimoto also announced that he and Yeltsin had decided to revive talks on the disputed southern Kuril islands--which would not begin until after the June presidential election in Russia. -- Scott Parrish

President Clinton met with a diverse group of politicians on 21 April and emphasized that the U.S. will respect whatever choice Russians make in the upcoming presidential elections, Russian and Western media reported. Yeltsin's election rivals Gennadii Zyuganov, Grigorii Yavlinskii, and Aleksandr Lebed were present, but Vladimir Zhirinovsky and Mikhail Gorbachev were not invited to the meeting. Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, Nizhnii Novgorod Governor Boris Nemtsov, and Sverdlovsk Oblast Governor Eduard Rossel, all influential regional leaders who are backing Yeltsin's re-election, were also present. Zyuganov, accompanied by Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev and Deputy Speaker Svetlana Goryacheva, both members of his Communist Party, assured Clinton that he supported political pluralism and a mixed economy. However, Yavlinskii, former First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais, and others warned Clinton not to trust Zyuganov's promises. -- Laura Belin

The Central Electoral Commission (TsIK) registered Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii, eye surgeon and Duma member Svyatoslav Fedorov, and Duma member Aleksandr Lebed as presidential candidates on 19 March. Yavlinskii announced that negotiations on forming a coalition were going well with Fedorov and Lebed, Radio Rossii reported, while Fedorov said that they would choose a single candidate based on the ratings of the three, according to Russian Public TV (ORT). Lebed said "a tentative result may appear only in May," Segodnya reported on 19 April. The TsIK rejected the signatures of entrepreneur Artem Tarasov, NTV reported. However, the Supreme Court ordered the TsIK to register Martin Shakkum, whom it had earlier refused to register, by 23 April. The procurator general froze a court decision to register Vladimir Bryntsalov after the TsIK rejected his petition. -- Robert Orttung

Answering questions put to him by Duma members, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev said on 19 April that he is ready to resign if the deputies believed that he was personally responsible for the disorder in the military and the heavy losses the federal troops suffered in Chechnya on 16 April, Radio Mayak reported. Grachev reported that 53 people were killed, while NTV said it was 93; the Grozny garrison said that 76 were killed, ITAR-TASS reported. Grachev also said that he did not implement Yeltsin's 31 March ceasefire order until 6 April because it would have endangered his troops. -- Robert Orttung

The withdrawal of Russian forces to the Chechen border has been suspended in reaction to the deaths of an estimated 76 Russian troops in an ambush near the Chechen village of Yarysh-Mardy on 16 April, Chechen head of state Doku Zavgaev told Russian Public TV (ORT) on 19 April. Also on 19 April, President Yeltsin accepted Moroccan King Hassan II's offer to mediate in the Chechen conflict, NTV reported. Speaking at a 20 April meeting of representatives from all Chechen political parties in Grozny, Zavgaev called for a consolidation of Chechen society to achieve peace, ORT reported. Chechen President Dzhokhar Dudaev's chief of staff, Aslan Maskhadov, was invited to the meeting but failed to attend. On 21 April, NTV quoted Tatar President Mintimer Shaimiev as saying that he would begin mediating between the Russian leadership and Dudaev only after large-scale military operations in Chechnya have ceased. -- Liz Fuller

Defense Minister Pavel Grachev has suspended the process of dividing up the Black Sea Fleet and related infrastructure with Ukraine, AFP reported on 19 April. Grachev said it is "useless" to continue dividing the fleet while "the main political questions," such as the status and basing of the Russian part of the fleet, remain unsettled. Ongoing talks have failed to resolve differences between the two countries over the terms under which the Russian fleet will use the Ukrainian port of Sevastopol, and Grachev is probably trying to pressure Kyiv into accepting Moscow's terms. -- Scott Parrish

As part of a multilateral diplomatic effort to broker a ceasefire in southern Lebanon, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov made a whirlwind trip to Syria, Lebanon, and Israel on 20-21 April, Russian and Western agencies reported. In Damascus on 20 April, Primakov met with Syrian President Hafez Assad, and also held talks with visiting Iranian Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Velayati. He also participated in a meeting of the Russian, French, and Italian foreign ministers and the U.S. secretary of state later that day. In Beirut on 21 April, Primakov reiterated that Russia views the recent Israeli military actions against Hezbollah geurillas in Lebanon as "unacceptable"--a stand that earned him a cold reception in Tel Aviv, where Prime Minister Shimon Peres said he prefers U.S. mediation in the conflict. -- Scott Parrish

The press service of the State Property Committee announced that 864 companies were privatized in Russia in January-February 1996, a sharp decrease from the 2,000 firms privatized in the first two months of 1995, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 April. The budgetary revenue from privatization was 270 billion rubles ($56.5 million). Such a slow start casts doubts on the 1996 privatization revenue target of 12.4 trillion rubles ($2.5 billion). State Property Committee Deputy Chairman Alfred Kokh said a lack of investor interest in companies' shares on the eve of the presidential election and political considerations against the privatization of some large companies make the figure look unrealistic. He suggested that the privatization target be lowered to 8.6 trillion rubles. -- Natalia Gurushina

The IMF mission, visiting Moscow as part of the fund's program to monitor the Russian economy, has succeeded in convincing the Russian government to stick to the conditions of its three-year $10.2 billion loan agreement, Reuters reported on 21 April. The fund warned last week that if the Russian government steps up trade protectionism, a $340 million tranche scheduled for disbursement at the end of April may be put at risk. The IMF was also concerned with Russia's failure to halve taxes on oil exports from 1 April, and with President Yeltsin's pre-election promise to increase government social spending and strengthen support for the defense and agricultural sectors. Russia's faithfulness to the IMF loan conditions may also affect negotiations with the Paris Club over the rescheduling of Russia's $38 billion public debt. -- Natalia Gurushina

Police in Baku on 18 April arrested Giyas Sadykhov, the head of former President Abulfaz Elchibey's administration, and Arif Hadjiev, the secretary of the Musavat Party, Turan reported. During the late evening of 19 April, 20 police officers occupied Elchibey's present headquarters in the Nakhichevan village of Keleki; Elchibey whereabouts are not clear. Addressing a 19 April press conference of representatives of human rights organizations in Moscow, the chairman of the Social-Democratic Party of Azerbaijan, Araz Ali-Zade, claimed that 2,500 people are currently serving prison terms in Azerbaijan for their political convictions, Kuranty reported on 20 April. Also on 20 April, Azerbaijani President Heidar Aliev signed a decree commuting five death sentences, including one passed on a Russian mercenary who fought in Nagorno-Karabakh. -- Liz Fuller

Kazakhstani Procurator-General Maksut Narikbayev has appealed to the Justice Ministry to ban the Communist Party, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 April. Narikbayev claimed that the party's charter seeks to create "a unitary state with a socialist orientation and pro-communist ideology," goals which violate the principles of territorial integrity and sovereignty enshrined in Kazakhstan's constitution. A number of Communist Party activists were fined for holding "unsanctioned meetings" on 16-17 March in several cities in support of the Duma's denunciation of the Belavezha accords (see OMRI Daily Digest, 5 April 1996). The party recently elected Serikbolsin Abdildin, the former speaker of Kazakhstan's Supreme Soviet and until recently a member of the less radical Socialist Party, as chairman. -- Bhavna Dave

A new nationwide opposition movement called Azamat (Citizen) held its first congress in Almaty on 20 April, ITAR-TASS reported. The 400 delegates elected a coordinating council of 49 members and three co-chairmen: Murat Auezov, Kazakhstan's former ambassador to China; Petr Svoik, the Socialist Party leader and the former chairman of the State Committee on Pricing and Anti-Monopoly Measures; and Turegeldy Sharmanov, a member of the Kazakhstani and Russian academies of medical sciences. The movement adopted a charter that pledges to form a government "of honest and competent people, enjoying people's trust," and expressed willingness to cooperate with the government in promoting these goals. Azamat is the first large-scale opposition movement led by eminent public figures who are not part of the government. The movement is seeking to register with the Justice Ministry. -- Bhavna Dave

The leaders of the Kyrgyz movement of rural migrants, Ashar, have threatened to start a civil disobedience campaign outside the presidential palace on 26 April if the Bishkek authorities fail to deal with the problems of about 100,000 former peasants who have been seeking permanent residency in Bishkek, ITAR-TASS reported on 19 April. In a letter addressed to President Askar Akayev, the leaders of Ashar complained that despite promises, the government has failed to provide the settlers' quarters on the outskirts of the capital with electricity, water, medical facilities, or a transportation network. They have asked the government to allocate 840 million som ($76 million) to create these basic amenities and another 100 million som ($9 million) to build a service infrastructure. -- Bhavna Dave

During the G-7 summit meeting on nuclear safety in Moscow, President Leonid Kuchma told French President Jacques Chirac that Ukraine will shut down one of Chornobyl's two working reactors by the end of the year, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 April. Kuchma also discussed the nuclear power station's closure with Russian President Boris Yeltsin. G-7 leaders reaffirmed their support for a financial package worth $3.1 billion in grants and loans to help Ukraine close Chornobyl by 2000. -- Ustina Markus

Armenian Foreign Minister Vagan Papazyan ended a three-day official visit to Ukraine on 20 April, ITAR-TASS reported. Papazyan met with President Leonid Kuchma, Prime Minister Yevhen Marchuk, and his Ukrainian counterpart Hennadii Udovenko. Talks covered a wide range of issues dealing with developing Ukrainian-Armenian ties. -- Ustina Markus

The head of the Russian, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, and Belarusian integration committee Kazakh First Deputy Prime Minister Nigmatzhan Isingarin was in Minsk to discuss the first series of documents prepared for the integration process, ITAR-TASS reported on 20 April. Nigmatzhan met with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka who heads the international council for those countries. The documents included a program for economic and humanitarian integration for 1996, and the structure and mandate of the integration committee and its costs for 1996. -- Ustina Markus

Estonian Economics Minister Andres Lipstok and Czech Trade and Industry Minister Vladimir Dlouhy signed a free trade agreement on 19 April in Tallinn, BNS reported. President Vaclav Havel who headed a Czech delegation that completed a week-long trip to the Baltic states the next day noted that his visit was intended not only to strengthen economic ties between their countries, but also to stress solidarity with countries having common goals and aspirations to join NATO and the European Union. -- Saulius Girnius

Latvian and Slovak Foreign Ministers Valdis Birkavs and Juraj Schenk signed a free trade agreement in Riga on 19 April, BNS reported. The agreement that has to be ratified by the parliaments of both countries will go into effect from 1 July. In 1995 trade between the two countries was worth some $7.3 million, with more than two-thirds being Slovak exports to Latvia. Earlier in the week, Latvia signed a similar free-trade agreement with the Czech Republic. Birkavs noted that the agreements would promote Latvia's admission to the Central European Free Trade Agreement which he hoped would occur next year after Latvia is also admitted to the World Trade Organization. -- Saulius Girnius

Polish Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz met his Lithuanian counterpart Mindaugas Stankevicius on 19 April in Augustow and Punsk in north-eastern Poland, near the Lithuanian border. They agreed that the two countries will sign a free trade agreement in June and accepted the setting up of a working group of experts on cross-border affairs. They will also soon sign an agreement on the spelling of names, guaranteeing that the minorities in each country will be able to write their names according to their own languages. A Polish-Lithuanian Euroregion of economic cooperation "Niemen" is to be created, "even if Russian and Belarusian partners would not be ready," Cimoszewicz said. The Polish side affirmed that Poland will support Lithuania in its endeavors to join CEFTA and the European structures. -- Jakub Karpinski

The new board of public Polish TV (TVP) begins its operations on 22 April. The program of the country's most popular channel, TVP1, planned for 1 May, a socialist and communist holiday, has been changed by its new director Tomasz Siemoniak. His nomination two month earlier caused a crisis in the TVP management that led to the dismissal of the TVP board on 28-29 March and the nomination of a new board on 12 April. Programs on 1 May that were scheduled by the former TVP management but are now dropped are films on workers' anti-communist manifestations in 1956 and 1980, Ryszard Bugajski's film Interrogation about a woman imprisoned in Stalinist times, and a series on anti-communist emigre writer Jozef Mackiewicz. Siemoniak said that the program for the 1 May holiday should be lighter, Gazeta Wyborcza reported. Last year the ruling postcommunist coalition strongly criticized the anti-communist program aired on 1 May. -- Jakub Karpinski

NATO Secretary General Javier Solana told his Polish hosts on 17-18 April that Poland will be admitted to NATO and will share all member rights and duties. Solana asserted that there is no possibility of a limited or "only political" membership for Poland and, when admitted, the country will be covered by the full security guarantees of Article 5 of the Washington treaty. "NATO is not interested in semi-detached members, and we are certainly not interested in the idea of a political but not military membership in NATO," he said. According to Solana, NATO will, however, do everything possible to establish partnership relations with Russia. Solana met President Aleksander Kwasniewski, Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, and other officials. He addressed the Polish Atlantic Club and Euroatlantic Association that are dedicated to Poland's aim of joining NATO, Polish dailies reported. -- Jakub Karpinski

Foreign Ministry State Secretary Jozef Sestak on 21 April said countries not accepted in the first wave of NATO enlargement must be assured that they will nonetheless become members of the alliance, Narodna obroda reported the following day. In a television debate, Sestak agreed that NATO might take in "one or two" new members first. But other candidates must be given reassurances that they will also gain membership eventually, he said -- "otherwise, destabilization will arise." Sestak added that Slovakia is among the "most fervid" candidates for NATO membership and is on course to join the alliance. -- Steve Kettle

Visiting World Bank Vice President Johannes F. Linn called for reform of the Hungarian state health care system and pension funds, Hungarian dailies reported on 22 April. Linn, who is on a three-day visit to discuss a $500 million credit agreement for Hungary, also called for curbing inflation and further modernization of the banking sector. According to Linn, reform of the banking sector should include refining a five-year-old bankruptcy law to give more power to state banking supervision and winding up insolvent banks. Part of the World Bank loan would assist with the restructuring of banks and big state enterprises, while the rest of the amount, yet undefined, is intended to co-finance welfare reform. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Hungarian Interior Minister Gabor Kuncze and his visiting Bosnian counterpart Avdo Hebib signed an agreement on extradition, fighting organized crime, drug trafficking, and terrorism, Hungarian media reported on 22 April. Kuncze said the next item on the agenda will be the future of Bosnian refugees in Hungary. "Hungary is interested in the return of these refugees, but only on a voluntary basis and when appropriate conditions can be created," he added. During the visit, Hebib thanked the Hungarian government for receiving refugees from Bosnia during the war. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Bosnian Serb leader Radovan Karadzic through an aide blasted the decision by British peace keepers to move their headquarters from Gornji Vakuf to Banja Luka, the major Serb stronghold in western Bosnia. The aide, Jovan Zametica, telephoned the British on 20 April to say that Karadzic had not given "his permission" for the move, Onasa news agency reported the next day. The British replied: "So what? We're entitled to go where we want... We don't need his permission." Elsewhere, Bosnian authorities released a group of Serbian prisoners, including Col. Aleksa Krsmanovic, for lack of war crimes evidence against them. The government similarly released a group of Serbian detainees. International media also said that about 800 Muslim and Croat refugees scuffled with some 1,500 Serbs trying to prevent their return to their homes near Doboj. The area is part of the Bosnian Serb entity, but the Dayton agreement allows all refugees to go home. -- Patrick Moore

Goran Hadzic is the new "interim president" of the Serbs in eastern Slavonia, the last part of Croatia in rebel Serb hands. He indirectly confirmed reports that one-third of the Serbs have been carting off property to Serbia, including goods looted from Croatian homes, Reuters stated on 21 April. Hadzic said that his main priorities are to "fight crime which has taken on disturbing proportions" and to stop the ongoing exodus of Serbs. -- Patrick Moore

In Zagreb the small remaining Serb minority on Croatian-held territory has been forming a number of new organizations in recent weeks. The latest is an umbrella group, the National Council of Serbian Organizations (NSSO), Nasa Borba reported on 22 April. That same day Vecernji list denied that the government is discriminating against Serbs by cutting off funds to the paper Nas glas. The article claimed that the paper had taken an anti-Croatian stance, as shown by reporting stories on alleged atrocities in Krajina last summer. It noted that other Serbian organizations continue to receive subsidies. Meanwhile, the Sabor passed a law on cooperation with the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, Vecernji list said on 20 April. The measure is expected to facilitate the extradition of suspected war criminals.-- Patrick Moore

Three opposition parties--the Serbian Renewal Movement, the Democratic Party, and the Serbian Civic League--organized a rally on 20 April in the town of Novi Sad which was marred by violence when supporters of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's Socialist Party of Serbia forced their way into the crowd. Nasa Borba on 22 April reported that much of the violence was not of a serious nature, and that, apart from minor scuffles, quelled when police intervened to move Milosevic supporters from the scene, "thankfully nothing more serious erupted." On April 20, however, AFP reported that witnesses on the scene observed police officers bludgeoning Miroslav Negrojevic, a legislator and member of the Serbian Renewal Movement. Estimates suggest that about 10,000 opposition supporters attended the rally which called for Milosevic's removal from office. -- Stan Markotich

Milo Djukanovic, accompanied by the rump Yugoslav republic's finance minister, Predrag Goranovic, left for the United States on 21 April on what local media described as "a working visit." The two Montenegrin officials are reportedly seeking to reopen working relations with U.S. based financial institutions. Nasa Borba on 22 April reports that Djukanovic and Goranovic also regard the visit as a means of reopening and sustaining bilateral talks aimed at "a normalization" in relations. -- Stan Markotich

Romanian and international media reported on 19-20 April that the Swiss ambassador to Romania, Jean-Pierre Vettovaglia, was summoned home after investigations revealed a sentimental involvement with a Romanian journalist who is suspected of being an agent of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI). The journalist, Floriana Jucan, who works for Evenimentul zilei, denied she was on the SRI payroll, but confirmed the affair with the Swiss diplomat, who is married. The SRI also denied that Jucan is on its payroll. Romanian Foreign Ministry spokesman Sorin Ducaru said the ministry regrets the "unpleasant situation" that has been "intensely exploited in the media" and praised Vettovaglia's "competence and professionalism" and his contribution to boosting ties between the two countries. -- Michael Shafir

Ilie Nastase, the former Romanian international tennis star, on 19 April officially began his campaign for mayor of Bucharest as the candidate of the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR), local and international media report. At his side was Nadia Comaneci, the former Olympic gold medal gymnast. Comaneci arrived in Bucharest for her marriage on 27 April to U.S. gymnast Bart Conner. Adrian Nastase, the executive chairman of the PDSR (no kin
of Ilie) will act as best man in what many political observers believe to be an attempt to boost his party's electoral chances in the autumn general elections. Other sport stars have also been recruited by political parties as candidates in the local elections. Emerich Jenei, a former coach of Romania's and Hungary's national soccer teams, is running for mayor of Oradea on the list of the Democratic Party and Gheorghe Raducanu, once the star goal-keeper of Bucharest Rapid, is the candidate of the Democratic Agrarian Party in one of the capital's districts. -- Michael Shafir

Gebhardt von Moltke, NATO Assistant General Secretary for Political Affairs, on 21 April was received by Foreign Minister Teodor Melescanu, Romanian television announced on the same day. They discussed NATO expansion into Eastern Europe, Romania's relations with NATO and its participation in the Partnership for Peace program. Melescanu reiterated Romania's aspiration to be received in the organization in the "first wave" of new members. Von Moltke will chair a meeting of the NATO Cooperation Council opening in Sinaia on 22 April. -- Michael Shafir

Citing sources close to the Russian troops command in the Transdniester, BASA-press reported on 20 April that the troops will be reduced by 60% this summer. The cuts are to be carried out at the orders of the Russian chief of staff, Gen. Mikhail Kolesnikov. The agency said that as a result of these directives, General Valerii Yevnevich could be replaced with a lower-ranking officer as commander of the Russian troops in the Transdniester and be promoted to a higher post in Moscow. -- Michael Shafir

The BSP and its coalition partners -- the Bulgarian Agrarian People's Union "Aleksandar Stamboliyski" and the Political Club Ekoglasnost -- on 21 April discussed the government's agriculture politics, Duma reported. Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Svetoslav Shivarov said that securing sufficient grain production is one of the main problems this year. Many participants of the meeting criticized the government, saying the farmers had lost faith in it for failing to resolve the problems of agriculture which impoverished them. Boncho Rashkov, chairman of the parliamentary agriculture commission, said the government will fall if the agriculture ministry does not change its policy. -- Stefan Krause

Prime Minister and Chairman of the Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) Zhan Videnov said the BSP candidate in the upcoming presidential elections must be "strong, and not a figure expressing an inner-party compromise," Duma reported on 22 April. Videnov told a party meeting in Sofia on 20 April that the candidate must remain "faithful to himself" after winning the elections. According to Standart, one third of the BSP organizations favor the candidacy of Foreign Minister Georgi Pirinski. Problems could arise from the fact that Pirinski was born in the U.S., and the Constitutional Court might be asked to clarify whether this constitutes an obstacle to his candidacy. Under the Bulgarian constitution, people holding dual citizenship can not run for parliament or for president. -- Stefan Krause

Unidentified culprits robbed the National Trade Bank in Vlora of $300,000 on 18 April, Albania reported. They injured a guard and teller during the robbery. It was the third professional robbery in Vlora this year. Earlier victims of hold-ups involved the local branches of the Savings Bank and the company VEFA. In unrelated news two Albanians were killed by starving wolves when attempting to illegally cross the border to Greece. Five others escaped the wolves by hiding in trees for two days. They were eventually rescued by Albanian border guards, international agencies reported. -- Fabian Schmidt

Italian President Oscar Luigi Scalfaro visited Albania on 19 April, Reuters reported. He pledged support for Albania's integration into Europe and Italian help for an association treaty with the EU. Concerning economic cooperation Scalfaro pointed out that more than 500 Italian companies are active in Albania. Albanian President Sali Berisha thanked Scalfaro for Italy's contributions to Albania's transition and said the meeting had produced good results. Scalfaro attended the opening ceremonies of a stretch of highway and a drinking water system, the latter funded by the Italian government with some $23 million. Italy has made available about 300 billion lira ($185 million) in aid and investments to Albania since 1992 and is considered Albania's main trading partner. Outside the president's palace, police arrested a man from Fushe Kruje who threatened to commit suicide with a hand grenade unless he was allowed to speak to Berisha. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Saulius Girnius