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Newsline - May 16, 1996

The Federation Council rejected a bill that would have given private citizens the right to monitor elections, arguing that such a system would be too expensive and would interfere in regional affairs, Russian Public TV (ORT) reported on 15 May. Federation Council member A. Ronetskii was harshly critical of the bill's author, Yabloko member Viktor Sheinis, charging that Moscow deputies are trying to tell the people in the provinces how to live. The upper house also rejected the idea of allowing local courts to declare an election invalid within their territorial jurisdiction, ITAR-TASS reported. The two houses will now set up a conciliatory committee to resolve their differences. Meanwhile, President Boris Yeltsin rejected a proposed law on the transfer of power, saying it did not make clear whether the new president would "replace" the former president's administration or merely "reorganize" it. -- Robert Orttung

The State Duma requested that the president, government, and Procurator-General's Office review the results of an audit of Russian Public TV's (ORT) finances, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 May. The audit, ordered by the Duma last October, found that the 51% state-owned network misused budgetary and non-budgetary funds. For instance, ORT allegedly paid its bills to private companies on time, but failed to do so for services provided by state-run companies. In 1995, the Duma twice passed laws to nullify the creation of ORT, which took place under a November 1994 presidential decree. However, President Yeltsin vetoed the laws, and in November the Constitutional Court refused to hear an appeal from Duma deputies on the matter (see OMRI Daily Digest, 6 April, 8 June, and 6 November 1995). -- Laura Belin

Spokesmen for the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) appeared on NTV to refute comments Gennadii Zyuganov allegedly made to the Far East newspaper Amurskaya pravda. The paper quoted Zyuganov as saying that if he is elected, he will not take orders from Valentin Kuptsov, deputy leader of the KPRF Duma faction, Albert Makashov, one of the leaders of the October 1993 revolt against Yeltsin, and "other odious figures in the KPRF leadership." However, Kuptsov dismissed the interview as a "falsification," and KPRF Duma deputy Anatolii Lukyanov said that for Zyuganov, "the collective opinion of the party is law." Also on 15 May, Kemerovo Oblast legislature chairman and "reserve" Communist presidential candidate Aman Tuleev joined Zyuganov on the campaign trail in Perm, where Tuleev pledged to withdraw his candidacy before the June election in favor of Zyuganov, Pravda reported on 16 May. -- Laura Belin

President Boris Yeltsin and presidential candidate Svyatoslav Fedorov met and discussed creating a coalition government, Russian media reported on 15 May. Fedorov suggested that Yeltsin form a "government of national unity" in between the first round of the presidential election, scheduled for 16 June, and the runoff, which will probably take place on 7 July. He said he would accept the post of prime minister if such a government were created. (Fedorov declined to accept that job when Yeltsin offered it to him in autumn 1991.) Yeltsin said he would "thoroughly examine" Fedorov's proposal. One ITAR-TASS commentator suggested that even if presidential hopefuls like Fedorov and Grigorii Yavlinskii do not withdraw their candidacies before 16 June, their support afterwards could give Yeltsin a "second wind" in the runoff. -- Laura Belin

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin had an unplanned meeting with presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky behind closed doors on 15 May, ITAR-TASS reported. Earlier in the day, Zhirinovsky predicted that Yeltsin would win the election and that he or Zyuganov would come in second, RTR reported. -- Robert Orttung

The parliament's upper house on 15 May approved a revised version of the draft law on defense, ITAR-TASS reported. The bill, the basic legislative foundation for Russia's defense establishment, has had a rough ride: an earlier version was vetoed by the Federation Council and then by the president after the Duma overrode the upper house's veto. A commission representing Yeltsin and both legislative chambers drew up a compromise bill that was approved by the Duma on 24 April. Lt. Gen. Mikhail Surkov, deputy chairman of the Duma Defense Committee, said the new law would spawn a whole set of bills on issues such as military service and the status of military personnel, which should be ready by the end of the year. He added that a law on alternative civilian service is currently being drafted. -- Doug Clarke

Also on 15 May, the Federation Council approved a bill on the provision of bodyguards to senior state officials, ITAR-TASS reported. The draft was passed by the Duma on 24 April (see OMRI Daily Digest, 25 April 1996). Although the Federation Council adopted the bill, the deputies noted that it was not clear under which conditions state protection might be extended to officials and foreign representatives not usually covered by the law. The Federation Council also approved the Duma bill raising pensions by 10% as of 1 May (see OMRI Daily Digest, 18 April). Compensation payments to pensioners have also been increased. Finally, the deputies rejected the draft legislation on Russia's human rights commissioner, objecting to the process by which the commissioner is to be appointed (see OMRI Daily Digest, 17 April) and to the bill's failure to provide for regional human rights commissioners. -- Penny Morvant

The trial of the soldier who killed journalist Natalya Alyakina in Budennovsk in June 1995 was postponed until next month due to the absence of several eyewitnesses, NTV and ORT reported on 15 May. The soldier is charged with carelessly handling a firearm (see OMRI Daily Digest, 15 May 1996). Alyakina's widower, Gizbert Mrozek, complained that the investigation into his wife's death was inadequate, as the possibility of premeditated murder was never considered, according to NTV. -- Laura Belin

Russian Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov on 15 May said there can be no question of negotiating with the separatist Chechen leadership following Chechen field commander Shamil Basaev's threats to give Russian President Boris Yeltsin a "warm welcome" in Chechnya, Russian media reported. Kulikov also argued that the visit should be postponed. However, Yeltsin's press secretary, Sergei Medvedev, told RTR that Yeltsin rejects threats and considers it "his duty" to visit Grozny in the interests of achieving peace. The Swiss diplomat who heads the OSCE mission in Grozny, Tim Guldimann, held what were termed "beneficial and productive" talks with Chechen separatist leaders including acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev on 15 May, AFP reported, quoting Interfax. Meanwhile, three Russian soldiers were shot dead in central Grozny and hostilities are continuing in Bamut and Stary Achkhoi. -- Liz Fuller

The international human rights organization Amnesty International sent a letter to the Russian Procurator's Office, the Interior Ministry, and law-enforcement agencies in Moscow expressing concern over the persecution of Chechens in Moscow by police, Ekspress-khronikha reported on 16 May. Amnesty International listed a series of cases in which Chechen refugees were threatened and beaten by Moscow police officers and demanded that the incidents be investigated. -- Penny Morvant

Responding to Turkish threats to restrict tanker traffic,
Fuel and Energy Minister Yurii Shafranik told ITAR-TASS on 15 May that the Turkish straits must remain open for maritime navigation without any new restrictions. (see OMRI Daily Digest, 14 May 1996) Shafranik insisted that Turkey could not unilaterally change the 1936 Montreux Convention, which governs the use of the straits. Shafranik dismissed Turkish concerns about the safety implications of increased tanker traffic through the straits, saying they could best be addressed by forming an international commission to study the issue. ITAR-TASS linked the Turkish threats with the 27 April Russian-Kazakhstani agreement on the Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), which calls for Kazakhstani oil to be exported via the Russian Black Sea port of Novorossiisk. -- Scott Parrish

The executive committee of the Russian-Belarusian community held its second session in Moscow on 15 May, Russian media reported. Under the chairmanship of Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, the committee adopted decisions granting the citizens of each member of the community equal rights to health care, employment, and other social services in both countries. On the same day, Russia and Belarus also signed a protocol outlining cooperation in hard-currency and export control. Meanwhile, the Russian Federation Council ratified the 2 April agreement forming the community, as well as the 29 March quadripartite integration accord signed by Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Kyrgyzstan. -- Scott Parrish

Under the chairmanship of Kazakhstani First Deputy Prime Minister Nigmatzhan Isingarin, the Integration Committee jointly created by Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Belarus met on 15 May, ITAR-TASS reported. The head of the Russian delegation, Deputy Prime Minister Alexei Bolshakov, said the group discussed logistical and organization questions related to the new structure, including the establishment of a central office in Moscow with a staff of 60 people. The presidents of the four states met on 16 May to prepare for the 12-nation CIS summit on 17 May, RFE/RL reported. -- Roger Kangas

The appointment of Viktor Khlystun as the new agriculture minister may signal serious changes in governmental policy. The minister described the existing system of federal financing in agriculture as insufficient and called for larger budgetary outlays, ITAR-TASS reported on 15 May. Khlystun argued that the state should resume the practice of giving low-interest credits to agricultural enterprises and use customs duties and import quotas to protect domestic producers. The minister maintains that Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin shares his position. However, in a commentary on 16 May, Izvestiya characterized Khlystun as a former member of the "Gaidar team" and suggested he will pursue liberal policies. -- Natalia Gurushina

A new import tariff regime has been introduced with effect from 15 May. Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Davydov told ITAR-TASS that some duties will be raised while others will be lowered, leaving the average tariff at 14-15%. Duties will go up on imports of textiles and certain consumer goods. The duty on shoes is 20%, sugar 25%, meat 15%, furniture 20%, household appliances from 10 to 30%, and textiles from 5 to 30%. -- Peter Rutland

First Deputy Prime Minister Vladimir Kadannikov told the Duma on 15 May that budget receipts in the first quarter are running at only 69% of the planned level, ITAR-TASS reported. The Duma passed a preliminary resolution declaring the government's budget performance "unsatisfactory," and advised the government against going ahead with the plan to cut import duties. Total revenue, including 4 trillion rubles in bank loans, was 49 trillion rubles ($9.8 billion), while spending was 70 trillion rubles ($13.8 billion), 77% of the target level. A total of 23 trillion rubles of federal spending went to pay wage arrears, one of President Yeltsin's pre-election promises. However, one good piece of news surfaced on 14 May. The State Statistics Committee announced that GDP rose 2% in April, the first rise in five years, ITAR-TASS reported. Exports surged by 24%, and imports by 6%. -- Peter Rutland

Uzbek President Islam Karimov's criticism of Iran at the recent Economic Cooperation Organization (ECO) meeting in Ashgabat has elicited a response from that country's conservative daily, the Tehran Times, AFP reported on 15 May. At the meeting, Karimov had threatened to withdraw Uzbekistan from the organization if member states continued to "politicize" it, referring to Iranian President Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani's condemnation of the U.S. and Israel. The Tehran paper reponded that "Uzbekistan should think twice before it acts or speaks," and suggested that the country bring its policies into line with those of other ECO states. Uzbekistan has been trying to improve ties with the U.S. and has cordial relations with Israel. The presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan have expressed support for Karimov's criticisms, calling the "politicization trend" in the ECO unacceptable. -- Roger Kangas

Government officials have made several concessions to thousands of demonstrators in the northern Tajik cities of Khojent and Ura-Tyube, Russian and Western sources report. In Khojent, demonstrations continue, even though the head of the Leninabad regional militia has been relieved of his post as a concession to the protesters, and other officials are expected to lose their jobs in the near future. In Ura-Tyube, order has been restored after a demonstration there turned into a riot. The Tajik Interior Ministry now claims that three people were killed--not five as earlier reported--when troops opened fire on the rioters. Meanwhile, the newly appointed UN special envoy to Tajikistan, Dietrich Merrem, met with Tajik President Imomali Rakhmonov on 15 May in an attempt to restart the negotiation process between the government and the United Tajik Opposition, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Bruce Pannier

A government cash crunch and piling wage debts have prompted Leonid Kuchma to order tough austerity measures, including a ban on foreign business travel and other benefits for officials, international agencies reported on 15 May. Kuchma issued a decree temporarily banning spending on office renovations, new furniture, and other perks until all wages and pensions owed to workers in state-owned industries, teachers, and physicians are paid. Economics Minister Vasyl Hureyev said the government owes $951 million in up to four months of back wages. He blamed a continuing decline in industrial output, unpaid taxes, and the temporary suspension of IMF credits last month. Meanwhile, up to 1,000 coal miners blocked railroad tracks in western Ukraine calling for an end to coal imports from neighboring Poland and prompt payment of back wages, Western agencies reported. -- Chrystyna Lapychak

Borys Sobolev, Chairman of the Ukrainian State Credit and Investment Company, defended his country's economic record before a conference on privatization in Prague on 15 May. He argued that the nationalization of Ukraine's property had taken 15 years and many lives (in the 1930s), so one should not expect de-nationalization to be a quick and easy process. He noted that 47% of the Ukrainian GDP is now generated from the private sector, double the share in 1994. Sobolev criticized international financial institutions for "establishing plans like before...on how many enterprises are privatized each quarter." He said that much of the $1.5 billion state credits that Ukraine received from abroad "were used improperly for the support of loss-making industries by the government of the time." Hence, these credits "very often are not playing a positive role and even playing a negative role . . . hampering privatization." -- Peter Rutland

Lena Hjelm-Wallen on a one-day visit to Estonia on 15 May stressed that Sweden fully supports the membership of the Baltic states in the EU and NATO, Reuters reported. She noted that although Sweden cannot be involved in NATO expansion talks since it is not a member of the organization, it was concerned that "NATO expansion should not create any new blocks, dividing lines or gray security zones in Europe." She said that Sweden would give Estonia practical assistance in strengthening security on its borders and also support the Estonian police and other structures contributing to the preservation of Estonian independence. -- Saulius Girnius

Justinas Karosas, the head of the ruling Democratic Labor Party (LDDP) caucus, announced on 15 May that he had handed in a motion signed by 29 deputies asking for a no-confidence vote against National Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius, BNS reported. The primary reason for the motion was Linkevicius's decision in April to leave the LDDP. It is not clear when the no-confidence motion will be moved, but it will have to gain the support of 71 deputies to pass. The LDDP faction now has 68 deputies. -- Saulius Girnius

Belarus's expulsion of a delegation from the Polish union Solidarity sparked an angry demonstration of some 1,000 people outside the Belarusian consulate in the northeastern town of Bialystok on 15 May, AFP reported. The protesters handed the Belarusian Consul a letter opposing the detention of four Solidarity members who were later escorted to the countries' common border. The delegation had been in Belarus at the invitation of the Belarusian independent association of trade unions, which opposes Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's policies. Belarusian authorities claimed the delegation had organized an illegal demonstration in Minsk. Meanwhile, the Brussels-based International Confederation of Free Trade Unions said it lodged a complaint with the International Labor Organization against Belarus, Rzeczpospolita on 16 May reported. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

Slawomir Gorzkiewicz, who dropped the investigation into allegations that Poland's former Prime Minister Jozef Oleksy had spied for Moscow, was criticized for revealing the name of the Russian informant in the case, Polish media reported. Gorzkiewicz says he behaved in compliance with the law, disclosing the informant's name only to Oleksy himself when telling him of the decision to close the case, Gazeta Wyborcza reported on 16 May. But many politicians claim revealing the informant's name--a state secret--was a crime, if not treason, and that Gorzkiewicz should be punished. The Confederation for Independent Poland, a small right-wing party, called for the Warsaw Prosecutor's office to launch an investigation into Gorzkiewicz's disclosure. -- Dagmar Mroziewicz

The Constitutional Court on 15 May rejected the motion submitted by 41 opposition deputies that claimed the election law is unconstitutional in its demand that each registered party pay a 200,000 crown (about $7,400) ballot-printing fee in each electoral district in which the party competes, Czech media reported. Eight judges ruled in favor of the motion and seven rejected it. Under the Czech Constitution, the motion would have passed with one additional vote in its favor. The decision disqualifies from the upcoming parliamentary elections four minor parties that have failed to pay the fees, bringing the total number of participating parties to 16. -- Jiri Pehe

Slovak deputies on 15 May approved an agenda for next week's parliamentary session, which includes proposals to remove Interior Minister Ludovit Hudek and a debate on the country's secret service, Slovak and international media reported. Opposition deputies said Hudek should not remain in office after calling police officers "idiots" in a telephone conversation with Slovak Information Service (SIS) Director Ivan Lexa. A radio station in Bratislava on 13 May broadcast a tape of the conversation, full of vulgarities and concerning the kidnapping of President Michal Kovac's son. Hudek has not directly denied the authenticity of the tape, but Lexa issued a statement on 15 May saying he did not recall any such conversation with Hudek. The statement also said SIS experts judged the tape to be a compilation of snippets from public speeches and "illegally tapped telephone conversations," put together using impersonators' voices. -- Steve Kettle

Hungarian and Slovak Foreign Ministry officials on 15 May exchanged ratification documents of the bilateral treaty that is meant to smooth decades of mistrust and tension, Hungarian and international media reported. The documents did not include the controversial interpretation clauses appended to the treaty by the Slovak parliament in April. Instead of a customary prime ministerial meeting, the exchange of documents took place in the form of a low-key event in Budapest between Gyorgy Szenasi, the head of the Hungarian ministry's international law department, and his Slovak counterpart, Igor Grexa. Hungarian political analysts say the treaty, signed in March 1995 in Paris, should improve bilateral relations but may not do much to help Slovakia's Hungarian minority. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

A U.S. defense official on 15 May said it was too soon to say if American troops will need to stay in Hungary longer than the agreed one-year term, Reuters reported. However, Franklin Kramer, Assistant Secretary of Defense for International Security Affairs, upheld that pulling IFOR peacekeeping forces out of Bosnia to a base nearby is a possibility. There has been rising speculation that the U.S. military is considering asking Hungary to extend the lease of the Taszar and Kaposvar logistic bases that were used to funnel most of the 20,000 U.S. peacekeeping troops into Bosnia. Recently, there have been contradictory reports about whether the IFOR mandate will be extended through December 1996. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Bosnian Serb leader and indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic has dismissed Prime Minister Rajko Kasagic, international and local media reported on 15 May. Kasagic was regarded and promoted by the West as a moderate alternative to Bosnian Serb hard-liners. He recently called on Bosnian Serb leaders to respect all aspects of the Dayton peace agreement, which includes the handover of war criminals. Karadzic said Kasagic was discharged for being "not up to his task," AFP reported. The international community immediately slammed Karadzic for sacking his premier, and NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said the decision was "null and void," adding that he will nevertheless meet with Kasagic in Banja Luka on 16 May as planned. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Thousands of coal miners in the central Bosnian town Kakanj on 14 May went on strike over pay and working conditions, international and local media reported. Management urged them to return to work the next day after their union leaders met with the federal Energy Minister Enver Kreso and agreed to raise salaries. The government promised a 60% salary raise for both April and May, increasing the average salary from 80 German marks ($52) to about 300 marks per month, Oslobodjenje reported on 16 May. The mine is the Kakanj thermal power plant's main coal supplier, but the miners claim the plant has never paid for the coal. Some 6,000 demobilized soldiers are miners in central Bosnia. More problems are expected in this sector. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Rump Yugoslavia's federal legislature on 15 May dismissed Dragoslav Avramovic as National Bank Governor, Nasa Borba reported on 16 May. Avramovic, who had in recent weeks publicly run afoul of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic's ruling Socialist Party of Serbia, left the legislature "teary-eyed" following the decision. Avramovic, who in January 1994 was credited with halting the country's hyperinflation by introducing the so-called "super-dinar" valued at an exchange rate of 1:1 with the German mark, came to openly resist Belgrade's calls for a return to polices that likely would have resulted in renewed inflation. Already on 15 May, Nasa Borba's coverage of the rift between Avramovic and the authorities hinted that Avramovic had reconciled himself to the inevitable, quoting him as saying "if the legislature relieves me of my duties, I'll just take my hat and go." -- Stan Markotich

The rump Yugoslav government on 15 May announced officially that an office representing the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia will be opened in Belgrade, AFP reported that same day. While details on the office's opening still must be approved by both Belgrade and the Tribunal, Belgrade is on record as saying the office "will be able to receive anyone who wishes to make a declaration relating to war crimes" and that its chief officer will have diplomatic immunity. Rump Yugoslavia's "slowness" in cooperating with the Tribunal compelled Tribunal President Antonio Cassese as recently as last month to call for the re-implementation of sanctions against the country, AFP added. -- Stan Markotich

Virgil Magureanu, director of the Romanian Intelligence Service (SRI), told journalists on 15 May that he will resign if the involvement of the SRI in the telephone-bugging scandal is proved by the investigation now underway, Romanian media reported on 15-16 May. He said he would be "the one to blame" in this case, since telephone tapping requires his personal approval. One day earlier, however, SRI spokesman Nicolae Ulieru said the tapping had been legal, which seems to contradict Magureanu's assertion. Magureanu also said that the SRI captain who had revealed the existence of the tapes had been dismissed from the service. -- Michael Shafir

The Moldovan parliament on 15 May decided that the presidential elections will be held on 17 November, Moldovan agencies reported. According to the draft election law, the Constitutional Court will have to confirm the results of the elections on the last Saturday of November, or third Saturday of December if a second round of voting is needed on 1 December. The parliament also decided that presidential candidates must be Moldovan citizens not younger than 35, who speak the "Moldovan language" and have lived in Moldova no less than 10 years. The president will be elected for a four-year term and cannot hold office for more than two terms. President Mircea Snegur's term expires on 15 January 1997. His most likely challengers are Parliament Speaker Petru Lucinschi and Prime Minister Andrei Sangheli. -- Matyas Szabo

The Moldovan National Security Ministry has taken unspecified measures against "a fascist group which intended to stage extremist actions," BASA-press reported on 15 May. Reference was made to a "nest" of the fascist Legionary movement, better known as the Iron Guard. In interwar Romania, the "nests" were the fascist organization's basic cells and the one active in Chisinau is called "The Captain" after the Legion's leader, Corneliu Zelea Codreanu. In his 1995 report to the Romanian parliament, SRI Director Virgil Magureanu mentioned the "nest" in Chisinau and other cells set up in Romania by Serban Suru, a high school teacher involved in attempts to rehabilitate the Legion. The Moldovan report links the "nest" in Chisinau to the Moldovan Student League, which was active in organizing last year's student strike. The league is also known to have ties with the Movement for Romania, another extremist Romanian organization modeled after the Legion. -- Michael Shafir

Ceslau Ciobanu, the Moldovan Minister of Privatization, said at a conference in Prague that "we lost three years in political debate" over how to implement the privatization law adopted in July 1991. However, a Czech-style scheme was eventually selected, and "national patrimony" bonds issued, which 3.1 million citizens have used to buy shares or their apartments. Beginning in July 1994, 1,200 companies were sold in 15 auctions, with assets worth 10 billion lei ($2.5 billion), about one-third of the state's former property. The private sector now generates some 60% of the GDP, and 14,000 private farms have been established. -- Peter Rutland

Bulgaria's severe financial crisis has forced the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party (BSP) to show unity and demonstrate support for Zhan Videnov, premier and BSP party leader, Reuters reported on 15 May. Kontinent had published a report saying that factions within the BSP were working to remove Videnov from his party and government posts for his low competence and ineffectiveness as a manager, which Videnov later said was false. Even some of Videnov's open critics are now demonstrating support for him. Independent trade union leader Konstantin Trenchev, for instance, told Trud on 15 May that Videnov is rightly seen as a "guarantee of reform." -- Stan Markotich

In a bid to satisfy conditions laid down by the IMF for receiving new credits, the Bulgarian government on 15 May produced a list of 64 enterprises slated for liquidation, Bulgarian and international media reported. The list perplexed trade union officials and enterprise managers, who noted that some of the firms were profitable and that others had already been privatized, leading them to suspect that the closures would enrich businessmen close to the ruling Socialists. Another 70 companies are to be cut off from state-owned bank loans and given one year to devise restructuring plans. An official of the Confederation of Independent Trade Unions noted that the list was compiled without consulting the unions, 25,383 jobs would be lost, and no provision was made for settlement of wage arrears going back as far as 1993. -- Michael Wyzan

A car taking Democratic Alliance leader Neritan Ceka to a public party meeting in Divjake was stopped on 15 May by Democratic Party supporters near Rrogozhine. They forced the car open, searched it while threatening violence, and stole a camera and party posters, Koha Jone reported. Meanwhile, the electoral commission announced that about 400 election observers--including 33 OSCE monitors, 35 EU monitors, and over 100 observers from various European leftist parties--will oversee the ballot on 26 May as requested by the Socialists, Reuters reported on 15 May. -- Fabian Schmidt

Albanian Defense Minister Safet Zhulali and his French counterpart, Charles Millon, signed a military cooperation agreement on 14 May at the end of Zhulali's three-day visit to Paris. The agreement calls for training Albanian soldiers in France, exchange programs, joint maneuvers, and French equipment supplies to Albania. France is one of the last major European powers to sign military agreements with Albania, but Millon attributed this to internal developments in France, ATSH reported. Millon praised Albania's careful policy towards the Yugoslav war and the Kosovo conflict. He added that France supports autonomy for Kosovo. -- Fabian Schmidt

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Deborah Michaels