YAVLINSKII ANNOUNCES PROGRAM.
Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii made public his campaign program "I choose freedom" on 12 May, laying out plans for the first 730 days of his presidency if he is elected, Nezavisimaya gazeta reported. He plans to stop the Chechen war within the first 100 days, and will take measures to halt the implementation of President Yeltsin's plans to rebuild the Chechen economy and organize the relocation of all who want to leave the republic. Chechnya's status will be decided by a referendum. Between November 1996 and April 1997, he plans to increase the minimum wage three times, average government salaries two times, average pensions and stipends two times, and aid for children five times. In later months, he would carry out tax, bank, and land reforms, full economic union with the other CIS countries, put a halt to inflation and increase production. He claimed that prosperity will only come in 10-15 years, Izvestiya reported on 14 May. -- Robert Orttung
ZYUGANOV LEADS FIELD IN OFFICIALLY REPORTED FINANCING.
Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov has 1.6 billion rubles ($300,000) in his campaign war chest, ahead of President Yeltsin's 1.4 billion as of 5 May, Segodnya reported 13 May. Zyuganov has spent 773 million, 606 million of which was on printed materials. He has not spent any money on the mass media since 25 April. Yeltsin provided no spending figures. Candidates are limited to collecting 19 billion during the course of the campaign. The officially published figures do not reflect the candidates' actual spending. Although many of the official reports from the Duma election campaign were understated, no charges have been brought for irregularities. -- Robert Orttung
CAMPAIGN STARTS IN ELECTRONIC MEDIA.
The 11 registered presidential candidates may air free and paid political advertisements on radio and television beginning on 14 May. During the next month, each candidate will receive a total of 30 minutes of free air time on Russian Public TV (ORT), Russian TV (RTR), and St. Petersburg Channel 5. In addition, all contenders will receive free time on Radio Mayak, Radio Rossii, Radio 1, Radio Yunost, and more than 80 state-run regional radio and television companies, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 May. The candidates may not buy more than 30 minutes of paid advertising on ORT, RTR, or St. Petersburg Channel 5, but these limits do not apply to the independent electronic media. -- Laura Belin
RTR MARKS FIVE YEARS ON THE AIR.
Visiting the studios of state-run Russian TV (RTR) to mark the fifth anniversary since the network went on the air, President Yeltsin heralded the network's contribution to free speech and warned of the danger of a Communist comeback, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 May. He also praised former RTR Chairman Oleg Poptsov, who headed the network from its creation until Yeltsin fired him in February of this year. Yeltsin said he viewed RTR "as my own child," and the network has supported him at crucial moments, such as the August 1991 coup and the October 1993 violent confrontation with hard-line parliamentary opponents. Its current news coverage is usually but not always favorable to Yeltsin. Eduard Sagalaev, whom Yeltsin appointed to replace Poptsov, described his network's character as "unsubmissive" and "self-willed," not unlike the president's own personality, NTV reported. -- Laura Belin
OSCE TO MEDIATE IN CHECHNYA?
Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin has asked the OSCE to make contacts with the Chechen separatist leadership on behalf of the Russian government commission charged with implementing President Yeltsin's peace plan, Reuters reported on 13 May, quoting Interfax. Also on 13 May, ITAR-TASS reported that the Confederation of Peoples of the Caucasus had also offered to mediate a settlement. Following the arrest in Moscow on 4 May of Chechen Deputy Prime Minister Beslan Gantemirov on charges of embezzling up to 7 million rubles intended for reconstruction in Chechnya, 20 of Gantemirov's associates have been arrested in Grozny on related charges, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 13 May. -- Liz Fuller
ST. PETERSBURG MAYORAL CANDIDATES CONSOLIDATE.
Three candidates in the 19 May St. Petersburg mayoral election have set up a coalition, Russian TV (RTR) reported on 13 May. Former Deputy Mayor Vyacheslav Shcherbakov and local Yabloko leader Igor Artemev withdrew from the race in favor of Vladimir Yakovlev, who for the last three years has been the chairman of the city's Economy Committee and Mayor Anatolii Sobchak's first deputy. Another two mayoral candidates, Aleksandr Belyaev and Yurii Boldyrev, may also join the coalition. Last week, the regional branches of several democratic parties refused to back Sobchak and called on his main rivals to rally behind a single candidate (see OMRI Daily Digest, 10 May 1996). -- Anna Paretskaya
EU ENDORSES "ACTION PLAN" FOR RUSSIA.
EU foreign ministers agreed to an "action plan" of assistance for Russia on 14 May, Russian and Western agencies reported. The plan, which EU officials admitted is largely a repackaging of existing programs, is more important as a symbol of Western support for President Yeltsin than as a significant shift in EU policy. It does, however, call for an intensified EU-Moscow dialogue on European security, an important step given Moscow's continuing opposition to NATO expansion. Meanwhile, in another sign of Western support for Yeltsin, IMF Director-General Michel Camdessus
said the election of Communist candidate Gennadii Zyuganov would disrupt Russian economic reform. He implied that the IMF would reconsider its recent $10.2 billion loan to Russia if Zyuganov pursued renationalization policies. -- Scott Parrish
SPY SCANDAL ROUNDUP.
U.S. Embassy officials told RFE/RL on 13 May that they are still trying to determine why U.S. businessman Richard Oppfelt was expelled from Russia for spying. According to some Russian reports, Oppfelt's expulsion followed his arrest and detention for trying to purchase classified information on Russian naval installations in the Far East. But anonymous Russian diplomatic sources told ITAR-TASS that Oppfelt was never arrested, and had departed Russia voluntarily following warnings from Russian security officials. Meanwhile, NTV reported on 12 May that the unidentified British agent whose arrest triggered the ongoing espionage row between Moscow and London is a "young, talented, and promising" Russian diplomat, whose motivations were financial, not ideological. Negotiations seeking a compromise resolution of the dispute, over which Russia has threatened to expel up to nine British diplomats, continue. -- Scott Parrish
TURKEY SQUEEZES RUSSIA ON STRAITS ISSUE.
Turkish President Suleyman Demirel said his country will not grant Russia passage through the Bosporus Strait if Moscow attempts to increase the tonnage carried by its oil tankers Trud reported on 13 May. The same day, the Turkish Foreign Ministry announced that Turkey recognizes 1936 Montreux Treaty governing passage through the straits but implied that "necessary measures" could be adopted if needed. Two days earlier, Cumhuriyet quoted the "voluntary coordinator" of the "Straits Monitoring Group," retired Ambassador Ismail Soysal, as saying "the treaty can be amended." Turkish Foreign Minister Emre Gonensay also hinted of "new measures" for oil and cargo vessels in a 14 May interview with the Turkish Daily News. -- Lowell Bezanis
EMPLOYMENT SERVICE HEAD SACKED.
President Yeltsin issued a decree on 13 May dismissing Federal Employment Service head Fedor Prokopev for the inefficient use and misuse of funds intended to create jobs, ITAR-TASS reported. An inspection by the president's Main Control Administration showed that on 1 December 1995 the fund had 15.4 billion rubles ($3.3 million) on deposit in commercial banks at low interest rates and had not recovered 6.4 billion rubles whose term of deposit had run out (fund money should be kept in the state bank). In 1995, only 1.96 trillion rubles (34%) of total spending on the service went on "active employment policies," whereas 1.39 trillion (24%) was spent on upkeep, information services, and capital investment. Lack of control by central staff, the report continued, resulted in numerous abuses: money was diverted to bonuses, food allowances, interest-free loans, and real estate investment. Cracking down on official abuses is a key plank of Yeltsin's campaign platform. -- Penny Morvant
CRIME REPORTER KILLED.
Viktor Mikhailov, a crime reporter for the Siberian daily Zabaikalskii rabochii, was murdered on 11 May in Chita, Russian and Western agencies reported. Mikhailov wrote on crime and the work of law enforcement agencies in Siberia. According to the Glasnost Defense Foundation, 10 journalists have been killed in Russia in 1996, four of them in Chechnya. -- Penny Morvant
APRIL PENSIONS PAID.
A Pension Fund representative told ITAR-TASS on 13 May that the fund had met its obligations regarding April pensions by 8 May. She added that expenditure on pensions will increase by 1.9 trillion rubles this month because of the rise in pensions and compensation payments, while contributions from employers will be lower than in April because of the May holidays. On 8 May, President Yeltsin sharply criticized the government and Pension Fund for failing to pay pensions on time (see OMRI Daily Digest, 9 May 1996). The minimum monthly pension went up by 10% to 69,575 rubles ($14) on 1 May and compensation payments for the poorest pensioners were doubled. -- Penny Morvant
20TH ANNIVERSARY OF MOSCOW HELSINKI GROUP MARKED.
Human rights activists held a coordinating conference in Moscow from 11 to 13 May to mark the 20th anniversary of the creation of the Moscow Helsinki Group, Ekspress-khronikha reported. The meeting was opened by the group's first head, Yurii Orlov, and addressed by several other prominent activists, including the group's current head Lyudmila Alekseeva, Larisa Bogoraz, Sergei Kovalev, and Sergei Sirotkin. President Yeltsin sent greetings to the forum, expressing the hope that the differences between the administration and human rights activists would not prevent them from uniting in the run-up to the presidential election, NTV reported. Human rights groups are bitterly opposed to the Russian military operation in Chechnya but equally reluctant to see the Communists return to power. -- Penny Morvant
DEFENSE PLANTS ARE PAID OFF.
Zinovii Pak, the newly-promoted defense industry minister, said on 13 May that 2.8 trillion rubles ($560 million) has been released to start paying off the government's 6 trillion ruble debt to the defense industry, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 May. President Yeltsin ordered on 8 May that all governmental debts to Russia's 1,700 defense plants accumulated over the past two years be paid by the end of May (see OMRI Daily Digest, 9 May 1996). Pak said that the Defense Ministry has been authorized to take credits of 5 trillion rubles from commercial banks to finance this year's weapons orders. Russia exports most of its current arms production; Pak said that certain categories of equipment (such as armored personnel carriers and SMERCH rockets) will not be purchased for the Russian forces at all this year. Defense plants will also take part in the program for transferring housing to local councils, some of which is funded by the World Bank. -- Peter Rutland
RUSSIA CALLS FOR UNIFIED CIS ENERGY POLICY . . .
Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin told a CIS conference on "energy security" in Moscow on 13 May that Western companies are trying to win control of the region's energy reserves and pose a threat to the security of the CIS, NTV reported. He urged the creation of an OPEC-style body for the CIS to coordinate energy production, export, taxation, and pipelines. These statements do not reflect a change in Russian policy but make explicit what has been the de facto policy in recent years--suspicion of Western investment and pressure on CIS partners. Moscow has leverage due to the fact that CIS countries owe it $2.4 billion for natural gas and $600 million for other energy deliveries, ITAR-TASS reported on 14 May. Chernomyrdin said that Russia intends to increase the share of gas in its total energy production from the current 44% up to 56% by the year 2010, Russian TV (RTR) reported on 13 May. -- Peter Rutland
. . . WHILE WESTERN OILMEN LOOK ON.
Also on 13 May, Chernomyrdin addressed the Russian-American oil club, where representatives from 27 Russian and U.S. energy companies signed a "memorandum of understanding." Fuel and Energy Minister Yurii Shafranik said that the companies involved have signed deals worth $25 billion, but in reality progress in the Timano-Pechora and Sakhalin off-shore projects is proceeding very slowly. -- Peter Rutland
MUTALIBOV NOT TO BE EXTRADITED.
Former Azerbaijani President Ayaz Mutalibov was released from custody in Moscow on 13 May after one month of detention, Russian media reported. The Azerbaijani authorities' request that he be extradited to face charges of organizing mass disorder and attempting to seize power in Azerbaijan has been rejected by the Russian Procurator-General's Office due to a lack of sufficient evidence. -- Liz Fuller
TAJIK GOVERNMENT CLAIMS TO HAVE HALTED REBEL ADVANCE.
The Tajik government says that its troops have stopped the advance of opposition forces in the Tavil-Dara area, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. In this latest round of attacks, the rebel forces were able to capture the town of Tavil-Dara itself, which was confirmed by sources within the Tajik government, according to the ITAR-TASS report. The same report claims that the Tajik government is "fully resolved to regain their positions and dislodge opposition militants" from the area. Russian soldiers of the 201st Motorized Battalion have been put on high alert, but this action may be due to statements from the commander of the Russian border guards, Pavel Tarasenko, who told NTV on 13 May that between 2,500-3,000 opposition fighters have recently massed along border areas with Afghanistan. -- Bruce Pannier
DEMONSTRATIONS IN NORTH TAJIKISTAN.
At least 6,000 people in Northern Tajikistan rallied on 13 May demanding better living conditions, RFE/RL reported. The demonstration was begun the previous day by about 250 people. The crowd is demanding more reliable supplies of food, equal distribution of humanitarian aid and recognition of the Khojent region as a free economic zone. The most recent reports make no mention of any violence. ITAR-TASS reports that similar rallies were held in Tursun Zade and Kurgan-Tyube in April but the number of people involved was only in the dozens. -- Bruce Pannier
UKRAINIAN BORDER DEMARCATION.
Ukraine has demarcated its borders with Poland, Hungary and Slovakia, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 May. Working maps delineating the border with Belarus should be complete by the end of the year. Territorial disputes remain unresolved with Romania. Debate continues with Russia on the borders in the Black and Azov seas. Sewage leakage from the Moldovan cities of Soroki and Yampil into Ukrainian gardens and fields is another source of minor border disputes. -- Ustina Markus
RUSSIAN-UKRAINIAN OIL TARIFF DISPUTE CONTINUES.
Russian oil supplied to Hungary and Slovakia through Ukraine's Druzhba pipeline will increase to 1.5 million tons in May from 900,000 tons in April, ITAR-TASS reported on 13 May. Ukraine has threatened to block the transit of oil for 16 Russian oil exporters that refuse to pay an increased transit fee. Ukraine raised the fee at the beginning of this year from $4.53 to $5.2 per ton of oil piped through 100 km of Ukrainian territory. Moscow has insisted that Russian firms pay the old rate claiming that the price hike was done unilaterally. -- Ustina Markus
UKRAINIAN LAWMAKERS DISMISS TOP TV OFFICIALS.
The Ukrainian Parliament voted to dismiss state TV and radio's two top officials for alleged corruption, Reuters and Radio Rossii reported on 13 May. The head of the legislature's media commission charged Zinovii Kulyk, chairman of the State Committee on TV and Radio, and Oleksandr Savenko, head of the national TV company, with giving free air time to broadcast companies with foreign capital and of corrupt licensing practices. Deputies said President Kuchma promised to remove the two officials last June after signing an agreement with legislators on the separation of government powers. -- Chrystyna Lapychak
RUSSIA CLAIMS ESTONIA HAS IRA CONTACTS.
Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) spokesman Mikhail Kirilin told BNS on 13 May that the Irish Republican Army has contacted representatives of Estonia's volunteer defense force, Kaitseliit, and some non-government groups to buy weapons. Kirilin did not say when the contacts were made. He also emphasized that the FSB only had information on the contacts and not on the sale of weapons. Kirilin said the FSB did not supply any information on the IRA contacts to Estonia's special services, which do not have "sufficient strength, means, or high enough professional standards to conduct operative investigations and retain confidentiality." Estonia's Foreign Ministry has refuted claims that Kaitseliit sold weapons to the IRA. -- Saulius Girnius
GERMAN DEFENSE MINISTER IN WARSAW.
Volker Ruehe in a two-day visit to Poland on 13 May met with Polish President Aleksander Kwasniewski and Defense Minister Stanislaw Dobrzanski to discuss bilateral relations and Poland's efforts to join NATO. Ruehe said Poland will be among the first new NATO members, but any specific decisions concerning the expansion will not be made before 1997. He said that as a defense minister he is "particularly happy about relations between soldiers from both countries." In a lecture at the International Relations Center, Ruehe said it is Germany's duty to facilitate Poland's return to Europe and Poland's role for Germany is "equally important to that of France." -- Jakub Karpinski
SOUTH KOREAN PRIME MINISTER IN WARSAW.
South Korean Prime Minister Soo-sung Lee began a four-day visit to Poland on 13 May. After meeting with his Polish counterpart, Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Lee said Korea wants to develop economic ties with Poland and to create companies that would combine Polish technology with South Korean capital. This is the first visit of such a high-ranking South Korean official to Poland since the two countries established diplomatic relations in 1989. Last year Polish-South Korean trade totaled $542 million, of which Korean exports amounted to $411 million and Polish exports to $131 million, Polish and international media reported. Korea's Daewoo Corporation has been particularly active on the Polish market and formed a joint venture with Poland to produce cars at the former state-owned FSO car plant in Warsaw, with a planned investment of $1.1 billion over six years. -- Jakub Karpinski
CZECH TELECOM DEAL IN QUESTION.
Charges and counter-charges have been made since a Prague court invalidated last week a privatization deal that awarded 27% of Czech Telecom's shares to the foreign consortium TelSource, Czech media reported. The deal, worth over $1 billion, represents the biggest foreign investment in the Czech Republic to date. The controversy is whether or not the representation of shareholders in the deal was valid since the power of attorney that Economic Minister Karel Dyba used at the shareholders' assembly was over a year old. While independent lawyers suggest that the court's decision could jeopardize TelSource's participation in the privatization, government representatives said they were not worried. An appellate court will now rule on the case. -- Jiri Pehe
BROADCAST TELEPHONE CONVERSATION COMPROMISES REPUTATION OF SLOVAK OFFICIALS.
Radio Twist, a private Bratislava-based station, on 13 May broadcast a recording of a telephone conversation between the head of the Slovak Intelligence Service, Ivan Lexa, and Internal Affairs Minister Ludovit Hudek that suggests that the two officials have been trying to manipulate the results of the investigation into the kidnapping case of Slovak President Michal Kovac's son. President Kovac has long maintained that the kidnapping was organized by Lexa's agency as an act of political revenge; the government has denied such charges. Radio Twist claims the tape was left in their offices by unknown persons; however, there is some speculation that the Slovak opposition's contacts in the secret service obtained the tape. Former Slovak Internal Affairs Minister Ladislav Pittner of the opposition Christian Democratic Movement is to hold a press conference on 14 May to identify the perpetrators of the kidnapping. -- Jiri Pehe
SLOVAK HUNGARIANS ASKED TO SIGN DECLARATION OF LOYALTY.
Representatives of Slovakia's ruling parties at a meeting in Bratislava on 13 May demanded that Hungarian minority leaders adopt a declaration expressing their loyalty to the Slovak Constitution and their agreement with the existing Slovak-Hungarian treaty, Slovak media reported. The government parties have made adoption of the declaration a precondition to talks on adopting a law on the use of minority languages and a constitutional amendment on the rights of ethnic minorities. -- Jiri Pehe
HUNGARY'S NEW FINANCE MINISTER SUFFERS FIRST PUBLIC DEFEAT.
Peter Medgyessy suffered his first public defeat when the government on 10 May postponed the planned 1997 reintroduction of interest tax, the Budapest Sun reported. Medgyessy was the main advocate of the interest tax, which was first introduced in 1988 during his last tenure as finance minister and was eliminated in 1994. The government is currently seeking alternative budget revenues to compensate for planned cuts in the current 48% personal income tax rate. In other news, Medgyessy has asked former Finance Minister Mihaly Kupa to be his advisor during the public introduction of the state budget reform. -- Zsofia Szilagyi
WHO ARE THE SEVEN MYSTERIOUS BOSNIAN MUSLIMS?
A scandal is emerging over a U.S. IFOR officer's decision last week to hand over to Bosnian Serb police a group of seven uniformed and armed Muslims. The men surrendered to the Americans near Zvornik, on the Bosnian border with Serbia, shortly after IFOR heard explosions in the area, Reuters reported on 13 May. The officer said he turned the men over to the Serb police because they appeared to be civilians despite their dress, their weapons were in violation of the Dayton agreement, and they were caught on Bosnian Serb territory. U.S. Maj. Gen. William Nash reportedly disagreed with his subordinate's action and tried unsuccessfully to retake the men from the Serbs. Bosnian officials suggested that the men escaped the fall of Srebrenica last summer and had been hiding out in caves ever since, but IFOR doubted this saying the seven men looked too well fed and groomed. The Bosnian government says the Muslim men are not its soldiers and has played down the incident, but AFP reported that Bosnian Vice President Ejup Ganic has demanded that IFOR free the men. -- Patrick Moore
ROW OVER ELECTION TIMING IN BOSNIA.
International community High Representative for Bosnia, Carl Bildt, on 13 May in Brussels briefed EU foreign ministers on the situation in Mostar following the boycott of the electoral process by six Bosnian Muslim parties, AFP reported. Bildt's spokesman in Sarajevo said Bildt "prefers a late election to a premature one," due to "serious problems" posed by the lack of freedom of movement. However, EU foreign ministers recommended that the EU administrator for Mostar, Ricardo Perez Cassado, hold the Mostar elections according to the Dayton peace accord schedule. Delay of the elections could negatively affect the peace accord implementation, but a boycott "could create a precedent," causing other election boycotts elsewhere in Bosnia, AFP quoted an EU spokesman in Mostar as saying. -- Daria Sito Sucic
UN HIGH COMMISSIONER FOR REFUGEES WARNS FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT IS RESTRICTED.
Sadako Ogata said on 13 May that freedom of movement remains "severely restricted" in Bosnia, citing Mostar as an example, AFP reported. She also warned European governments that they would "destabilize the fragile peace" if they sent home 700,000 Bosnian refugees prematurely, Onasa reported. That same day, the ministers for refugees of the Republika Srpska, of the Bosnian Federation, and of Bosnia-Herzegovina, signed a joint declaration saying they would encourage individuals expelled by ethnic cleansing to visit their homes. The declaration is based on the 10 principles introduced by UNHCR that regulate visits of returnees to their pre-war homes, Nasa Borba reported on 14 May. -- Daria Sito Sucic
RUMP YUGOSLAV BANK GOVERNOR SURVIVES CONFIDENCE VOTE . . .
The board of rump Yugoslavia's national bank met on 13 May, but unexpectedly did not recommend that its governor, Dragoslav Avramovic, be removed from his post. Reuters on 13 May reported that the board was widely expected to call for Avramovic's ouster, a move that would presumably have brought the issue of Avramovic's position up for discussion in the federal parliament and led to his formal dismissal. Avramovic said in response to the developments: "Either my information was wrong or they changed their minds." Earlier in the day, Avramovic told some 4,000 people at a workers' demonstration in Belgrade, that he suspected the board and federal authorities were coordinating efforts aimed at his ouster. -- Stan Markotich
. . . BUT FOR HOW LONG?
The rift between Avramovic and the governing authorities has now emerged as the major topic of open discussion in local media. Avramovic has clashed with Belgrade over several major issues including his unwillingness to endorse policies that would result in rampant inflation, his advocacy of rump Yugoslav membership in international institutions such as the IMF, and his support of privatization. However, he remains popular with the public, which Nasa Borba on 14 May suggested may be enough to compel the government to "wait until June" before attempting to remove him from office. -- Stan Markotich
SERBIA DOES NOT ALLOW RETURN OF DEAD REFUGEES' BODIES.
Serbian border authorities have not allowed the return of six Kosovar refugee's bodies who drowned on 23 April in the Danube after their boat capsized near Esztergom, KIC reported. The rump-Yugoslav embassy in Budapest, which was to arrange the paperwork for the bodies' return, refused to assist the victims' relatives. A total of 16 refugees were on the boat attempting to cross from Hungary into Slovakia. Two of the refugees are still missing. -- Fabian Schmidt
BRITISH DIPLOMAT CALLS FOR KOSOVO TALKS.
British Belgrade ambassador Ivor Roberts has called on rump Yugoslavia to enter talks with the Kosovo shadow state government, AFP reported on 12 May. Roberts argued that "Belgrade should make the first step . . . because it has the power and should try to create an atmosphere of confidence." He said that "the borders of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia cannot be changed unilaterally," and called on the Albanians to end their boycott of the Serbian administration and participate in the region's political life. Shadow state President Ibrahim Rugova meanwhile repeated his demand for international mediation and pointed out that it is Belgrade's turn to start talks. In other news, a Serbian policeman and an ethnic Albanian were wounded in a shoot-out in Pristina on 11 May. Police claim the Albanian was a criminal who opened fire to escape arrest. -- Fabian Schmidt
ILLEGAL PHONE-TAPPING SCANDAL IN ROMANIA.
At a press conference in Bucharest of the extremist Greater Romania Party (PRM) on 13 May, a captain on the staff of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI) played illegally taped conversations of politicians and other personalities of public life, the media reported on 14 May. For some time now, the PRM leader, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, has been accusing the director of the SRI of such practices. Vasile Vacaru, chairman of the parliamentary committee overseeing the activities of the SRI said this was "very grave" and investigations will immediately be started. Other observers, however, stress that the captain, Constantin Bucur, declined to say whether Magureanu, Director of the Romanian Intelligence Service, had authorized the taps and point out that Tudor is surrounded by many discontent former and present SRI members who might have tapped the conversations themselves in order to discredit Magureanu. -- Michael Shafir
ROMANIAN PARLIAMENT REJECTS OPPOSITION MOTION.
The Chamber of Deputies on 13 May rejected a motion by the opposition to debate failures in the government's policies that led the IMF to suspend a stand-by loan after the Nicolae Vacaroiu cabinet failed to implement the loan agreement, Radio Bucharest reported the next day. The premier told the chamber that the "essential purpose" of the memorandum signed with the IMF has been attained given a "spectacular drop" in inflation and consistent improvement in the country's foreign currency reserves. -- Michael Shafir
BULGARIAN SOCIALIST PARTY PLENUM SUPPORTS STRUCTURAL REFORM.
A Bulgarian Socialist Party plenum over the weekend voted in favor of accelerating structural reform, including liquidating 70 enterprises whose combined losses are 127.5 billion leva ($1.16 billion) and which employ 40,000 people, Pari reported on 13 May. The plenum supported Premier Zhan Videnov's proposal to privatize the Sodi Devnya chemical works despite the objections of Minister of Industry Kliment Vuchev. Observers suggest this means that Videnov is on his way out. Former Premier Andrey Lukanov lauded the plenum's decisions but remarked that they should have been made six years ago. The additional 40,000 unemployed will add 1.1% to the unemployment rate, which Pari currently puts at 12.5%. The plenum supported compensating these individuals, with the amount to be decided within two weeks. -- Michael Wyzan
UPDATE ON BULGARIA'S FINANCIAL CRISIS.
Bulgaria's currency, the lev, has lost some 70% of its value since the beginning of 1995, plunging the country into one of its worst crises since the fall of the communist regime. Premier Zhan Videnov on 10 May urged the parliament to pass laws that would shore up the banking system, guarantee deposits, and affect badly needed privatization measures that the cabinet enacted on 12 May. Videnov announced that unproductive state-owned factories would be shut down, with workers receiving cash payment compensations. Meanwhile, Bulgarian dailies speculate that the economy is on the brink of hyperinflation. -- Stan Markotich
AUSTRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER PLEDGES SUPPORT FOR ALBANIA'S EUROPEAN INTEGRATION.
Wolfgang Schuessel said Austria will continue to support Albania's transition to democracy and efforts for integration into Europe, Republika reported on 11 May. During his one-day visit, Schuessel discussed economic cooperation and the Kosovo crisis with Albanian President Sali Berisha, Prime Minister Alexander Meksi, and Foreign Minister Alfred Serreqi. Austria's main investments in Albania include one large hotel in Tirana's center and the Austrian firm OMV's oil drilling in the region. Austrian aid to Albania in the past three years amounted to $16 million. Schuessel also called for an internationally mediated dialogue in Kosovo. -- Fabian Schmidt
[As of 1200 CET]
Compiled by Victor Gomez and Deborah Michaels