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Newsline - May 23, 1996

Russian troops will be withdrawn from Chechnya between 1 June and 1 August, Defense Minister Pavel Grachev told a meeting of military officers in Yekaterinburg on 22 May, ITAR-TASS reported. The same day, a high-ranking military officer told the agency that there were more than 41,000 federal troops in the republic, some 19,000 belonging to the Defense Ministry. Grachev said that after the pullout, only units of the North Caucasus military district would remain in Chechnya. Previously, he had said this would include an army motorized-rifle brigade and a division of Interior Troops. -- Doug Clarke

At least 22 Russian servicemen were killed and 48 wounded on 22 May while trying to capture the Chechen village of Bamut, ITAR-TASS reported. A report on NTV put the number of Russian dead at 70. For the past year, Chechen separatists have been holed-up in the bunkers and tunnels of a former Soviet nuclear missile silo complex at Bamut. A Defense Ministry spokesman said "only the taking of Bamut can open the way for a Yeltsin visit to Chechnya," ITAR TASS reported. The Chechen prime minister, Nikolai Koshman, claimed that Bamut was the "rebel's last stronghold" and predicted the fighting would be over "within two or three days." -- Doug Clarke

Duma Security Committee Chairman Viktor Ilyukhin, a leading member of the Communist Party (KPRF), predicted on 22 May that "Boris Yeltsin will be appointed for a second term, although Gennadii Zyuganov will win [the election]," ITAR-TASS reported. KPRF Duma deputy and campaign manager Valentin Kuptsov added that he considers Central Electoral Commission Chairman Nikolai Ryabov "Yeltsin's man" and does not trust him to carry out an honest vote count. Meanwhile, accusing Yeltsin of being afraid of a direct dialog, Zyuganov again invited the president to debate him on live television, Russian TV (RTR) reported. -- Laura Belin

President Yeltsin signed a decree on 22 April that gives Presidential Security Service (SBP) head Aleksandr Korzhakov "the rights" of a federal minister, apparently elevating him to cabinet status, according to the text of the decree published in Rossiiskaya gazeta on 21 May. It also designates Korzhakov as "first adviser" to the president, a title previously reserved only for presidential adviser Viktor Ilyushin. The SBP is granted broad powers by the decree, including "insuring the prestige of the president," and the "exposure, prevention, and neutralization" of activity by foreign intelligence services. The conservative Korzhakov's role in the presidential apparatus has often been controversial, most recently when he proposed postponing the upcoming presidential election. -- Scott Parrish

President Yeltsin fired Yurii Shatyrenko, head of the Social Insurance Fund, and Yevgenii Belyaev, head of State Committee for Sanitary and Epidemiological Inspection, on 22 May, ITAR-TASS reported. Both were accused of mismanagement leading to abuse of funds. Shatyrenko was charged with "gross violations of his duties leading to the financial instability of the fund and rising social tension." An audit of the sanitary service revealed almost one quarter of the allotted funds had been misspent. On 13 May, Yeltsin had fired the head of the Federal Employment Service, Fedor Prokopov, for inefficiency. Also on 22 May, the Duma approved on first reading a long-delayed bill tightening legal penalties for bribe-taking. -- Peter Rutland

Ultranationalist presidential candidate Vladimir Zhirinovsky blamed the West for Russia's decline during two 10-minute free campaign broadcasts aired by Russian Public TV (ORT) on 22 May. U.S. President Bill Clinton, claimed Zhirinovsky, is Russia's "main enemy," adding that Clinton "had accomplished what Hitler couldn't." He listed Russia's "opponents" as the U.S., NATO, Turkey, and China, while urging closer ties with Libya, Iraq, Iran, India, and Eastern Europe. Zhirinovsky slammed plans for NATO expansion, saying NATO troops would soon be near Smolensk, and would "swallow up the territory of Russia." Zhirinovsky also proposed abolishing Russia's ethnic administrative units, claiming that they consume a disproportional share of the federal budget, impoverishing the "Russian" areas of the country. -- Scott Parrish

Arguing that the "liberal Russian press" is trying to be objective, Tamara Zamyatina, a commentator for the state-run agency ITAR-TASS, on 22 May defended journalists against criticism that campaign coverage has been biased in favor of President Yeltsin. She said the media are entitled to point out inaccuracies in Gennadii Zyuganov's campaign speeches. She added that the Kremlin routinely accepts criticism for which editors would have been fired during the Soviet era. Zamyatina argued that journalists continue to denounce some of the president's policies, including the war in Chechnya and personnel questions. "Not a single publication" supported the idea of postponing the presidential election, which was floated recently by Yeltsin's top bodyguard Aleksandr Korzhakov, she observed. -- Laura Belin

The Duma passed in the second reading a draft law establishing the procedure for transferring power to a newly-elected president, Russian media reported on 22 May. Under the proposed law, the new president would be sworn in on the 30th day after election results are officially released, at which time the government serving under the outgoing president would have to resign. During the month before taking office, the president-elect would be allowed to attend meetings of the Security Council and other federal agencies. According to Communist Duma deputy Oleg Mironov of the Legislation Committee, the Duma made nearly all the changes recommended by President Yeltsin when the law was first proposed, RTR reported. On the same day, the Duma again failed to override the Federation Council's veto of the law on election monitoring (see OMRI Daily Digest, 20 May 1996), NTV reported. -- Laura Belin

Deputy Justice Minister Anatolii Stepanov was killed at his home in Moscow by a gun shot to the head on the morning of 23 May, ITAR-TASS reported. Stepanov's responsibilities included supervision of the work of attorneys and notaries. -- Peter Rutland

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov and his Cuban counterpart, Roberto Robaina, signed a joint declaration of principles and a cultural and technical cooperation agreement in Havana on 22 May, international media reported. Primakov, on the second stop of a three-county Latin American tour, specifically emphasized the independence of Russia's policy toward Cuba, saying that the recent U.S. tightening of its long-standing embargo of the island would not affect Russian-Cuban ties. He also branded the Helms-Burton law which toughened the embargo as "unacceptable." On 23 May, Primakov, the first Russian foreign minister to visit Cuba since the collapse of the USSR, also held talks with Cuban leader Fidel Castro. -- Scott Parrish

Russian diplomats dismissed concerns expressed by U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry that China is attempting to purchase SS-18 missile technology from Russia, ITAR-TASS reported on 22 March (see OMRI Daily Digest, 22 May 1993). The agency cited anonymous "high-ranking" diplomats as saying that Perry's statement "appears incorrect," although they added that Russia is studying the U.S. claims. The diplomats said that since Perry had not specified exactly what type of technology China was interested in, and had suggested that "non-governmental" organizations in Russia might be involved in unauthorized export activities, it would take time to fully investigate the charges. -- Scott Parrish

Marathon, McDermott, Mitsubishi, Mitsui, and Shell announced on 21 May that they will start work on their Sakhalin-2 off-shore oil venture, Reuters reported. Fuel and Energy Minister Yurii Shafranik told ITAR TASS that the $10 billion project is the biggest joint venture in Russia. A total of $60 million is expected to be spent on preparatory work this year. However, Frank Duffield, head of the Sakhalin Energy Investment Company which is running the operation, said: "A great deal of work remains to be done before we can actually see development on the ground." The international partners are concerned about access to export pipelines and ambiguities in last-year's production sharing law--for example, over recourse to international arbitration in the event of contract disputes. Sakhalin-1, another $12 billion project involving Exxon and Japan's Sodeco, has not yet announced when it will start operations. -- Peter Rutland

The Duma finally passed on 22 May a new draft land code by a vote of 288-18, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported on 22 May. However, while the bill allows Russian citizens to inherit and lease farmland, it forbids the buying, selling, or mortgaging of such land. Under the code, state and municipal farmland can only be sold to Russian citizens who underwent agricultural training or have equivalent experience. Such owners are not allowed to sell land to a new private owner: land can be redistributed only by lease or inheritance. Foreigners are only allowed to lease farmland. Government officials and many experts argue that the draft code contradicts the constitutional right to free private ownership of land. It is likely that the Federation Council and the president will veto the bill, in which case Yeltsin's March 1996 decree allowing partial sale of land will continue to be in force. -- Natalia Gurushina

The Central Bank has appointed an administrator to take over Unikombank, one of the 20 largest private banks in Russia, Kommersant-Daily reported on 22 May. The administrator, Tatyana Artemova, is a deputy chairwoman of the Central Bank. About six months ago, Unikombank was finding it difficult to meet its obligations and approached the Central Bank for a 300 billion ruble ($60 million) loan. BIN bank, who has just spent 67 billion rubles to acquire a controlling interest in Unikombank, objected to the appointment of the Central Bank administrator. BIN bank has been under scrutiny for its activities in the so-called "off-shore" banking zone in the North Caucasian republic of Ingushetiya. -- Natalia Gurushina

More than 1,000 workers in a defense plant in Murom, Vladimir Oblast, have occupied a workshop in which arms are produced, ITAR TASS reported on 23 May. They are protesting the five-month delay in the payment of their wages. The workers are owed a total of 5 billion rubles ($1 million), and the plant claims it is owed 40 billion rubles by the government for past deliveries. City Mayor Petr Kaurov expressed concern over how the workers would use the weapons, and has approached the local branch of the Savings Bank for an emergency loan of 2 billion rubles. -- Peter Rutland

The cars of Col. Gen. Fedor Reut, commander of the Russian forces in Transcaucasus, and his deputy, Maj. Gen. Vasilii Belchenko, have been shot at in Tbilisi, Russian media reported on 22 May. The generals had been driving along Shota Rustaveli Avenue. A bullet allegedly broke the windshield and the rear window of Belchenko's car, but nobody was hurt. Georgian authorities denied the reports, saying that Belchenko's car was damaged by a stone and that Reut was not in Tbilisi that day. The same day, Reut travelled to Yerevan to join a ceremony marking the 75th anniversary of the arrival of Soviet troops in the Transcaucasus. -- Irakli Tsereteli

The press center of the Georgian United Communist Party (GUCP) described recent reports that the country's various communist groups are uniting as "misinformation (that) is intended to discredit the communist movement in Georgia," Iprinda reported on 20 May. According to the statement, the 18 May meeting of the Stalinist Communist Party of Georgia was "another provocative farce." -- Irakli Tsereteli

A group of former police officers who were "dismissed for blatant violations of the law" have been arrested in connection with a series of explosions at Interior Ministry buildings in April, according to an 11 May article in Ekho Osha cited by the BBC. The Kyrgyz Interior Ministry said the bombs were planted as a warning to new Interior Minister Omurbek Kutuyev who recently launched an anti-corruption campaign. Two bombs went off near the ministry buildings in the early morning of 20 April. Another pipe bomb, located in one of the capital's main squares, had been defused in early May, RFE/RL reported. No casualties or damage have been reported. -- Bruce Pannier

Government forces are reported to be on the offensive again in the Komsomolabad region. Tajik presidential press secretary Zafar Saidov said government forces are still in control of Komsomolabad though the situation is "highly complicated," ITAR-TASS reported on 22 May. Guerrillas in the Tavil-Dara and Garm regions have attacked repeatedly since the beginning of May, killing more than 50 government soldiers. Meanwhile, RTR reported on 22 May that the opposition will release 26 prisoners of war on 28 May. The 26 soldiers are among 400 the opposition claims to have captured during recent fighting in the Tavil-Dara area. Opposition leader Ali Akbar Turajonzoda said their relatives could come and collect them but added that all the prisoners are in poor condition owing to the government's refusal to allow humanitarian aid to the region. -- Bruce Pannier

Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, speaking before his meeting today with Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin, said his ability to get along personally with Chernomyrdin may help to "reach an understanding" between the two countries international media reported. He added that he was confident that Boris Yeltsin would be re-elected in the upcoming Russian presidential election. Chernomyrdin's one-day working visit will focus on resolving differences over the basing of the still-disputed Black Sea fleet, which has been a major stumbling block in the two sides signing a bilateral treaty on friendship and cooperation. -- Roger Kangas

Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Kinakh and Iranian Economic and Finance minister Morteza Mohammed Khan signed an agreement on 22 May that will promote bilateral economic relations, ITAR-TASS reported. The accord focuses on banking and financial cooperation and calls for protection against double taxation. The two sides also agreed to exchange undisclosed amounts of Ukrainian wheat for Iranian oil. The IRNA news agency also reported that Ukraine will invest in Iran's aircraft, ship, and auto production industries. Iran is currently seeking to improve relations with CIS states. -- Roger Kangas

Metropolitan Meliton, secretary-general of the Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, has sent a letter to the Foreign Relations Department of the Moscow Patriarchate asking for the dismissal of Archbishop Kornilii of Tallinn, BNS reported on 22 May. The letter asserted that Kornilii was hindering the process of finding a settlement to the disagreement between the two Patriarchates. Kornilii has insisted on maintaining his ban on priests from the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church presiding over church services, despite an agreement that they be allowed to serve under Constantinople. Kornilii is also accused of attempting to persuade parishes that have voted in favor of coming under Constantinople's jurisdiction to shift their loyalties to Moscow. -- Saulius Girnius

Chairman of Latvia's Unity Party (LVP) Alberts Kauls on 22 May said the party has reached an agreement with Prime Minister Andris Skele "on all key issues" and will remain a member of the ruling coalition, BNS reported. After Skele had fired Kauls as agriculture minister earlier this month, the LVP voted to quit the alliance. The LVP asked Skele to name party member Roberts Dilba as the new agriculture minister and to allow the party's two state ministers to keep their posts. At the same time, Kauls repeated his prognosis that the government will have to step down within two months. -- Saulius Girnius

Linas Linkevicius held talks in Washington on 22 May with U.S. Secretary of Defense William Perry, RFE/RL reported. Spokesman Lt. Col. Rick Scott said the two officials discussed NATO enlargement, Lithuanian participation in Bosnian peacekeeping forces, and military education for Lithuanian officers at U.S. schools. Scott said the "highlight of the talks" was Lithuania's decision to upgrade its contribution to the Bosnian implementation forces from a platoon to a company of soldiers. Linkevicius is scheduled to meet with other senior U.S. officials and members of Congress before returning to Lithuania on 25 May. -- Saulius Girnius

Lithuanian Ambassador to Poland Antanas Valionis told journalists on 22 May that relations between two countries are "normal," despite misunderstandings over recent administrative changes in the Vilnius region and the introduction of a new education program to promote Lithuanian as the state language. Vallonis argued that administrative changes will not hamper the restitution process in the Vilnius region. He also explained that the reason for introducing the new education program was that many Russians and Poles in Lithuania do not know Lithuanian. Meanwhile, the Polish Education Ministry noted that in northern Poland, 230 children attend schools where all lessons taught in Lithuanian, Polish dailies reported on 23 May. -- Jakub Karpinski

The Polish weeklies Nie and Przeglad Tygodniowy have published a confidential letter from the Vatican explaining that the Holy See has no objection to the Polish government or Foreign Ministry including a declaration clarifying ambigous formualtions in the Concordat, which still has not been ratified. Nie is known for its anti-clerical and anti-religious stance, and the commentators regard the leak and publication of the letter as an effort to disrupt Polish-Vatican relations. Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz told the Sejm on 22 May that the Polish government is ready to apologize for the leak. The Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman added that President Aleksander Kwasniewski is sending a letter of apology, Polish and international media reported. -- Jakub Karpinski

SIS director Ivan Lexa, addressing the parliament on 22 May, strongly attacked President Michal Kovac, the opposition, and various media organizations, Slovak media reported. Lexa denied SIS involvement in the kidnapping of Michal Kovac Jr. last August and rejected the findings of the independent investigative commission headed by Christian Democratic Movement (KDH) deputy Ladislav Pittner. Lexa was repeatedly interrupted by jeers and calls for his resignation, while opposition Democratic Union deputies held up banners calling to an end to "banditry" and the "policy of crime." Democratic Party chairman Jan Langos said Lexa misused his position by delivering a political speech rather than a report, while other opposition deputies noted that Lexa did not even mention how the SIS has used its substantial budgetary allocations. Government coalition deputies expressed full support for Lexa. -- Sharon Fisher

The parliament on 22 May approved the law on foundations despite the Third Sector Association's ongoing campaign against it, Slovak media reported. Of 154 proposed amendments to the draft law, only 13 were accepted. Members of the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia said the law was needed to stop "foreign subversion," pointing in particular to Hungarian-born U.S. financier, George Soros, who publicly criticized Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar last year. The law states that foundations must register with the Interior Ministry and have start-up capital of 10,000 crowns ($323), increasing to 100,000 crowns after half a year. Critics fear the law will put an end to many small foundations and threaten the development of a civil society. While the president has the right to veto the law, the parliament can simply pass it again. -- Sharon Fisher

Gyorgy Keleti on 22 May has offered to resign following a dispute over the Hungarian armed forces' decision to send eight MiG-29 aircraft to Poland for military exercises without either his or the parliament's approval. Despite the opposition's sharp criticism of Keleti, Prime Minister Gyula Horn said he would not accept the resignation, Hungarian and Reuters reported. "The defense minister is doing a good job and is a valuable member of the government," Horn stressed. Keleti said an investigative commission headed by Defense Ministry political state secretary Istvan Fodor has been established to determine who authorized the flights. All five opposition parties have insisted on Keleti's resignation, noting that he is politically responsible for the consequences of decisions made by his subordinates. * Sharon Fisher

Faced with numerous and flagrant violations of the civilian provisions of the Dayton accord, the "international community" has decided to summon the presidents of Serbia, Croatia, and Bosnia-Herzegovina to Geneva, Reuters reported on 23 May. The summit, slated for 2 June, will include representatives of the Contact Group countries. The shuttle diplomacy and high-level meetings that the major powers use in the former Yugoslavia have in the past led generally only to paper promises. -- Patrick Moore

The "international community" continues to waffle on the fate of indicted war criminal Radovan Karadzic, AFP reported. Since last week negotiators have said they hope he will "disappear from the political scene," adding that they will not insist that he be sent to the war crimes tribunal in The Hague, as the Dayton agreement requires. U.S. State Department Nicholas Burns on 22 May said that "as long as [Karadzic] has been effectively marginalized..., he won't be a candidate in the elections and he won't prevent the elections from occurring." He noted that if this is the case, "I think the elections can go forward and will go forward with him sitting in his bitter isolation in Pale." Bosnian government officials have insisted that Karadzic be ousted and sent to the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia if the elections are to go ahead. -- Patrick Moore

The Serbs of the strategic northern Bosnian town of Brcko, however, seem ready to stand up to Karadzic. The Bosnian Serb leader insisted as recently as last week that the area remain under the control of the Republika Srpska, even though the Dayton agreement states that arbitration later this year will determine the future of the "Brcko corridor" connecting Serbia with western Bosnia. Zarko Cosic, Brcko's security chief and chief local negotiator, told Reuters on 22 May that "those who have NATO and the world behind them should work this [arbitration] out in such a way that we can all respect it.... If we had been able to solve it on a local level, we wouldn't have waged the war in the first place." But Karadzic's new prime minister, Gojko Klickovic, visited the town and said that keeping it for the Serbs is a "priority strategic interest" for his government, AFP noted. -- Patrick Moore

Gen. Ratko Mladic, an indicted war criminal who spends most of his time hidden from public view at his Bosnian command post, was in Belgrade on 21 May to attend the funeral of Bosnian Serb army Gen. Djordje Djukic, international media reported. Mladic, who was accompanied by members of his general staff, stood next to Djukic's family during the ceremony. Djukic was indicted by the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia but released on compassionate grounds following doctors' reports that the cancer affecting his health had reached an advanced stage. Meanwhile, observers noted that Serbian President Milosevic has effectively failed to enforce the Dayton peace agreement by not having the Bosnian Serb general arrested. U.S. State Department Nicholas Burns said that, at least for the time being, Washington will not "react emotionally just because we've seen...the video of Mladic in Belgrade," Reuters reported. -- Stan Markotich

UNHCR spokesman Kris Janowski said that no Muslims have moved back to their old homes in Bosnian Serb territory. Many attempts even to visit their native villages have been blocked by angry Serbs wielding sticks and rocks, but other trips have been carefully organized by the UNHCR and passed without incident. Janowski added that the UN is not attempting to enforce the Dayton provisions on freedom of movement and the right of refugees to go home by withholding reconstruction aid, Onasa reported. An exception was made for the Croats in Stolac, who were successfully threatened with an aid cut-off if they did not let in a certain number of Muslim refugees. -- Patrick Moore

The highest body of the UN on 22 May appealed to Zagreb to modify its new amnesty legislation so as to cover all Serbs in eastern Slavonia not wanted for war crimes as defined by international law. The current law applies only to Serbs who lived there at the outbreak of the war but not to more recent arrivals such as refugees from Krajina. The UN also fears that Croatia could set standards on what constitutes a war criminal that are tougher than the international ones, Reuters said. Eastern Slavonia is slated to revert to Croatian control by the end of 1997 under an agreement last fall between the Serbian and Croatian presidents. Local journalists told OMRI that many Serbs have already begun preparations to move to Serbia proper. -- Patrick Moore

President Kiro Gligorov, visiting the headquarters of UNPREDEP on 22 May, said he favors the extending UNPREDEP's mandate, Nova Makedonija reported. Gligorov said its presence contributes to stability and peace in the country and the region. In other news, Parliamentary Chairman Tito Petkovski announced that on 4 June, the assembly will vote on a petition drive for early general elections, the news agency MILS reported on 22 May. The petition carries more than 170,000 valid signatures. Meanwhile, Nova Makedonija on 23 May noted that four months before local elections are scheduled to take place, the relevant election law has yet to be drawn up, debated, and passed. -- Stefan Krause

Some 80% of all employees at Slovenia's two universities--in Ljubljana and Maribor--staged a one-day strike on 22 May to demand a 10% salary increase. According to Reuters, a professor currently earns a monthly gross salary of about 210,000 tolars ($1,510). Nearly 20,000 students were affected by the cancellation of classes. So far this year, radio and television journalists, health-care professionals, railway workers, and teachers have gone on strike for better pay and working conditions. -- Stan Markotich

Representatives of several opposition parties, meeting on 22 May with President Ion Iliescu, demanded that general and presidential elections be held separately, local media reported. The ballots are scheduled to take place in the fall. The proposal was first advanced by the Liberal Party `93 and is now also backed by the National Peasant Party-Christian Democratic, the National Liberal Party-Democratic Convention, the Hungarian Democratic Federation of Romania, and the Party of Romanian National Unity, which is coalition party of the Party of Social Democracy of Romania (PDSR). Observers believe the proposal stems from the fear that Iliescu's popularity will boost the PDSR's performance at the polls. But the government's position is that the elections should be held at the same time to avoid doubling expenses and to enable the new government to concentrate on economic restructuring. -- Michael Shafir

Moldovan and Turkish Presidents Mircea Snegur and Suleyman Demirel, meeting in Ankara on 22 May, signed several accords aimed at boosting bilateral relations, Moldovan and international agencies reported. In addition to supplementing an existing defense and cooperation agreement, the accords provide for cooperation in science and technology, culture, the legal sphere, trade, and sports. Demirel thanked Snegur for Moldova's policy toward its Turcophone Christian minority, the Gagauz, which enjoys autonomy within a unitary state. Snegur, for his part, told the Turkish press that his country's policy was "one of the best solutions" to the explosive issue of national minorities, the Turkish Daily News reported. -- Matyas Szabo and Lowell Bezanis

Zhelyu Zhelev, in an interview with 24 chasa on 22 May, said Bulgaria is on the verge of collapse. He blamed the situation on the ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party, adding that the devaluation of the lev and the ongoing banking crisis may lead to that situation getting out of control. Zhelev commented that the Socialists have failed to work out and implement a mass privatization program and are unfit to govern. Referring to the 1 June primaries for a joint opposition presidential candidate, Zhelev said the motto must be: "from a president of the united opposition to a government of the united opposition." He added that the opposition has a realistic chance of retaining the Presidency, after which it would be able to call early elections and win them. -- Stefan Krause

After only four months in office, Svetoslav Shivarov is facing widespread criticism for his failure to resolve the ongoing grain and bread shortage, Bulgarian dailies report. The ruling Bulgarian Socialist Party caucus on 22 May discussed the situation, asking to be briefed by the government. When it did not receive the requested information, it called a second meeting at which several deputies called for Shivarov's resignation. Boncho Rashkov, chairman of the parliamentary agricultural commission, proposed that war reserves of grain be unblocked. He said 250,000 tons of grain have to be imported by the next harvest. Shivarov did not attend either meeting. -- Stefan Krause

A man wielding a screwdriver tried to attack Socialist Party leader Servet Pellumbi during a Socialist rally at the Durres sports arena on 22 May, Koha Jone reported. The daily described the incident as an "assassination attempt." The culprit was arrested after injuring Pellumbi's bodyguard in the arm. Four roads leading to the city were blocked by police and some 100 persons temporarily detained. The meeting was nonetheless attended by some 4,000 people. However, international monitors who asked not to be named told OMRI they could not confirm that reported similar incidents throughout Albania suggest systematic disruption of opposition rallies. They said that the preparations for the elections were taking place correctly, denying allegations in the Albanian media that some people are registered in more than one electoral district. -- Fabian Schmidt in Tirana

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Victor Gomez and Jan Cleave