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Newsline - March 4, 1997

Chechen Field Commander Salman Raduev presided over a parade of 200 armed men and some 20 vehicles in central Grozny on 3 March at a rally that attracted about 3,000 people, Radio Rossii and AFP reported. Raduev read out a decree by former acting President Zelimkhan Yandarbiev declaring 19 January, the anniversary of the end of his terrorist attack on Kizlyar and Pervomaiskoe, as a day of historic Chechen combat glory. He reiterated his threat to burn three Russian cities on 21 April, the anniversary of former President Dzhokhar Dudaev's death. The crowd cheered the appearance of Yandarbiev, who was more restrained than Raduev, calling on the Chechen people to be calm and join forces to build an independent state. President Aslan Maskhadov did not send a representative to the gathering, while Movladi Udugov, Chechnya's chief negotiator with Russia, described the rally as a "challenge to the current authorities," AFP reported. -- Robert Orttung

The Chechen Electoral Commission on 3 March increased the number of valid races in the parliamentary elections earlier this year from 32 to 41. The commission based the changes on corrections in its voter registration lists and responses to various complaints about the balloting, ITAR-TASS reported. Races are considered valid if 50% of the eligible voters in a district participate. The 63-strong Chechen parliament is now one short of the 42 members required for a quorum. New elections will be held
to fill the remaining 22 seats. -- Robert Orttung

President Boris Yeltsin met with Netherlands Prime Minister Wim Kok, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU, and EU Commission President Jacques Santer in Moscow on 3 March, Russian and Western media reported. Afterward, Yeltsin said "partnership" between Russian and the EU is the "key to strengthening security and stability on the continent." He added that the 1994 EU-Russian partnership accord, which awaits ratification by several countries, should go into effect by this summer. Kok noted that although Yeltsin reiterated Russian objections to NATO enlargement, he did not oppose the EU's parallel plans to expand into Eastern Europe. At an earlier meeting, Russian Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin pressed for greater access to EU markets for Russian products like textiles, which have been at the center of a long-standing trade dispute. The EU is Russia's largest trading partner, accounting for 40% of its foreign trade in 1996. -- Scott Parrish

A Central Committee plenum of the Communist Party of the Russian Federation (KPRF) has passed resolutions demanding a governmental report to the State Duma and warning that if wage arrears are not entirely paid by the end of March, Communist Duma deputies will propose a vote of no confidence in the government, Russian media reported on 3 March. The plenum also expelled Central Committee member and Duma deputy Vyacheslav Zvolinskii, who has been involved in efforts to form a new Duma faction, the Russian Industrial Union (see OMRI Daily Digest, 10 and 12 February 1997). KPRF deputy leader Valentin Kuptsov denounced the attempts to form an industrial group as "betrayal" and said the KPRF will take steps to strengthen party discipline, NTV reported. -- Laura Belin

Reforms--New Course leader Vladimir Shumeiko's recent suggestion that the president dissolve the State Duma should be considered a "public appeal aimed at changing [Russia's] constitutional structure" and therefore illegal, according to Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev. He asked the Procurator-General's Office and the Justice Ministry to offer a legal evaluation of Shumeiko's remarks, Russian media reported on 3 March. The Russian constitution only allows for the Duma to be dismissed if it twice votes no confidence in the government or thrice rejects a prime ministerial candidate. -- Laura Belin

State Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin, addressing the seventh congress of his Russian All-People's Union (ROS) on 1 March, warned that a "revolutionary situation" is taking shape in Russia and called for civil disobedience and non-parliamentary methods of struggle, ITAR-TASS and Russian Public TV (ORT) reported. He urged ROS activists to establish links with trade unions and create national and local strike committees. Baburin, who supported Gennadii Zyuganov's presidential candidacy last year but refused to join Zyuganov's Popular-Patriotic Union of Russia after the election, accused the Communist Party of maintaining a weak opposition stance. He also criticized former Security Council Secretary Aleksandr Lebed, although he acknowledged that most of Lebed's supporters were "patriotic." -- Laura Belin

Deputy Prime Minister Valerii Serov, interviewed in Delovye lyudi, no. 74, February 1997, said the CIS countries were "wasting time and effort proving that they can survive as independent countries." He accused Ukraine of "double dealing" by pursuing independent policies while 48% of Ukrainian exports are to Russia. He chastised Kazakstan for selling chrome deposits last year to Japanese companies, which led to a halt in deliveries to Russia. Serov also criticized "certain circles in the [Russian] economics and finance ministries" for seeking "short-term benefits" in relations with the CIS--for example, by imposing VAT on CIS imports or trying to block sugar deliveries from Ukraine. In 1996, Russia's trade turnover with the CIS countries increased by 17% and amounted to $34 billion, about 26% of Russia's total trade. -- Peter Rutland

Former CIA officer Harold Nicholson, arrested last November on charges of selling classified information to Russian agents from 1994 to 1996 (see OMRI Daily Digest, 19 November 1996) pleaded guilty in a Washington, D.C. federal court on 3 March, international agencies reported. In exchange for Nicholson's admission of guilt and his pledge to fully full cooperate with the ongoing investigation into the damage his spying caused to American intelligence operations, prosecutors will recommend that he receive a reduced sentence. Among the classified information Nicholson admitted revealing to Moscow were the names and assignments of new agents he trained at a CIA field school during 1994 and 1995. He also admitted to disclosing documents detailing the debriefing of the notorious Russian mole Aldrich Ames after his 1994 arrest. In Moscow, a spokesman for the Russian Foreign Intelligence Service refused to comment on Nicholson's confession. -- Scott Parrish

The appalling conditions in Russian jails could provoke an "explosion" among inmates, Procurator-General Yurii Skuratov warned on 3 March. Skuratov told a meeting of security officials that more than a million convicts and suspects are held in Russia's overcrowded prisons, including 288,000 in remand centers, RTR reported. Russia has 694 prisoners per 100,000 inhabitants, by far the highest ratio among Council of Europe member states, according to Izvestiya. Skuratov expressed particular concern about the rising incidence of tuberculosis, saying about 2,000 people died from the disease in prisons last year. -- Penny Morvant

Russia carried out its first launch from the new Svobodnyi cosmodrome in Amur Oblast on 4 March, sending a Zeya military satellite into orbit aboard a Start-1 booster rocket (a modified SS-25 ballistic missile), international agencies reported. The Svobodnyi space center, located at a former strategic nuclear missile base about 100 km from the Chinese border, was opened a year ago.It is intended to reduce Moscow's dependence on the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakstan.The launch was protested by environmentalists and the government of the neighboring republic of Sakha (Yakutiya), where one of the rocket's stages was scheduled to fall. -- Penny Morvant

Russians bought $5.2 billion of foreign currency in January, AFP reported on 3 March, citing the State Statistical Committee. This accounts for 24% of Russians' total income (121.6 trillion rubles or $21.7 billion) that month. The population's foreign-currency purchases increased from 14% of total income in 1995 to 18.5% in 1996. The amount of foreign currency that Russians keep at home is estimated at $20 billion. -- Natalia Gurushina

The Federation Council's analytical department estimates that individuals imported $15.4 billion worth of goods, mainly textiles and consumer durables, in the first ten months of last year and exported goods worth $1.5 billion, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 March. In 1996, officially reported textile imports amounted to $1.2 billion and exports $600 million. Increased imports have caused Russian textile production to fall to 10% of its 1991 level. -- Peter Rutland

Stanislav Shatalin died on 3 March in Moscow aged 62, ITAR-TASS reported. In 1990, Shatalin, then a member of the presidential council, and Grigorii Yavlinskii drew up the 500-day program of transition to a market economy, which was rejected by the administration of President Mikhail Gorbachev as too radical. In July 1996, Shatalin was among the Russian and American economists who wrote an open letter to the Russian government urging it to play a greater role in the transitional economy. -- Natalia Gurushina

The Armenian Foreign Ministry on 1 March released a statement accusing Azerbaijan of undertaking a large-scale military build-up in order to prepare for a "forceful solution" to the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, international agencies reported. The statement said that Azerbaijan has exceeded the weapons limit stipulated in the 1990 Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) treaty and thus violated the "letter and spirit" of the May 1994 cease-fire agreement in Nagorno-Karabakh. According to the ministry, Azerbaijan purchased some 150 tanks and 10 warplanes from Ukraine between 1993 and 1995. It currently has 285 tanks, while only 220 are allowed under the CFE treaty. The ministry also voiced concern over the "concentration of the Azerbaijani military" in areas near the border with Armenia. -- Emil Danielyan

An official statement released by the Azerbaijani Foreign Ministry accused Yerevan of building up its military potential and preparing what it called "new aggression" against Azerbaijan, Russian and Western media reported on 3 March. Baku said that Yerevan possesses missile complexes capable of launching nuclear attacks on targets up to 300 km away, claiming 20 Armenian servicemen have been trained in Russia to operate these missile systems. Meanwhile, Azerbaijani Security Minister Namig Abbasov has accused Armenia of holding more than 800 Azerbaijani hostages, Russian media reported the same day. -- Lowell Bezanis

Ten deputies of the parliament, including deputy speaker Vakhtang Kolbaya, have gone on hunger strike to demand the withdrawal of Russian peace-keeping forces from Abkhazia and South Ossetia, ITAR-TASS reported on 2 March. The hunger strikers are members of the Abkhazeti caucus, which represents the 250,000 or so mainly ethnic Georgian refugees who fled Abkhazia in 1993 after Abkhaz forces took control of the whole region. Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze said he sympathizes with the deputies but warned against attempts "to exploit their sacred feelings" for political purposes, according to a 3 March Iprinda report monitored by the BBC. -- Emil Danielyan

Abkhaz speedboats on 28 February blocked a Russian border-guard naval base in the Ochamchira district to prevent the "theft of valuable equipment and ransacking of the base," AFP reported. Col.-Gen. Vladimir Ruzlyaev, commander of Russia's Caucasus Special Border District denied the Abkhaz allegations saying his troops were conducting a "routine action" aimed at the "replacement of personnel." According to a 1 March RIA-Novosti report monitored by the BBC, a spokesman for the district said the two sides "seem satisfied" with the results of talks between Ruzlyaev and Abkhaz leaders. -- Emil Danielyan

President Nursultan Nazarbayev on 3 March sacked seven of his 21 ministers, AFP reported. He said his government needs to be streamlined, adding that "there are 1 million officials out of a population of 16 million". In other news, Nazarbayev signed a presidential decree pledging state support for foreign investment in Kazakhstan, ITAR-TASS reported on 1 March. Under the law, foreign entrepreneurs and businessmen will be partly or completely exempt from taxes for the first five years they operate in Kazakstan. In addition, their taxes will remain low for the next five years. -- Lowell Bezanis

The latest round of inter-Tajik talks came to a halt in Moscow on 3 March, Russian and Western media reported. The unexpected recess is believed to be linked to the detention last month of six Tajik opposition partisans charged with involvement in a recent spate of killings of Russian servicemen in Tajikistan. One of the six, a member of the Kasim Ismatov group, was reportedly killed in detention earlier this week. -- Lowell Bezanis

Hong Kong and Taiwanese newspapers accused Ukraine of selling 500 tons of sarin nerve gas to China, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 March. An unnamed Ukrainian official at the Ukrainian embassy in Beijing denied the reports, calling them "groundless conjectures." Other papers and observers also regarded the charges with skepticism, noting that China itself had been a victim of chemical warfare and has always come out against chemical weapons. -- Ustina Markus

Ukrainian Defense Minister Oleksandr Kuzmuk denied allegations by Russian Duma Deputy Sergei Baburin that the upcoming NATO naval exercises in Ukraine are to include training for fighting against separatists, Ukrainian radio reported on 3 March. Baburin's claims implied that the maneuvers were directed against separatism in Crimea. Kuzmuk said the objective of the training was to offer humanitarian aid to a fictitious "Orange republic" which had just suffered an earthquake. The minister also denied that allowing U.S. naval ships to participate in the exercises was not meant to put pressure on Russian ships in Sevastopol. -- Ustina Markus

Police arrested 16 people following the 2 March demonstration (see the OMRI Daily Digest, 3 March 1997), AFP and Belapan reported on 3 March. Some 5,000 people rallied in Minsk to celebrate the 930th anniversary of Belarus's capital, but the gathering soon turned into a protest against President Alyaksandr Lukashenka's pro-Russian policies. The detainees are being held on public-disorder charges and face up to two weeks imprisonment. -- Ustina Markus

Henry Costo, head of the EU mission to Belarus, held a closed-door meeting with Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka on 3 March to discuss the EU foreign ministers resolutions concerning the joint EU, OSCE, and Council of Europe report on the political situation in Belarus, international agencies reported. Costo said that Lukashenka asked him to refrain from publishing the report, which allegedly contains negative evaluations of the human rights and press freedom situations and the extent of democratization in Belarus. Costo, however, suggested that the report will be published in Belarus in the near future. Meanwhile, the U.S. State Department has reconfirmed its commitment to reduce official political and economic contacts with Belarus to a minimum, Belapan reported. The U.S. will suspend all of its aid programs except those that support free media and democratic institutions. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

The ruling KMU coalition made up of the Coalition Party and three smaller pensioners' and farmers' parties on 3 March invited both of its former partners --the right-leaning Reform Party (ER) and the left-leaning Center Party (EK) -- to form a new coalition, ETA reported. The KMU, whose member, Mart Siimann, is prime minister designate, has 41 parliament deputies, the ER 19, and the EK nine. ER Chairman Siim Kallas said that his party will consider the offer the next day and have an answer by 5 March. It seems unlikely that the ER would agree to be in a coalition that included the EK since they broke with the KMU after it began cooperating with the EK. -- Saulius Girnius

Nicholas Bonsor, Minister of State at the British Foreign and Commonwealth Office, told Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs on 3 March in Riga that the first wave of NATO expansion will not be the last, BNS reported. They also discussed EU enlargement and improving bilateral relations, trade, finance, transport, shipping, and legal protection. Bonsor also met with Prime Minister Andris Skele and is scheduled to meet with President Guntis Ulmanis and Saeima Chairman Alfreds Cepanis. -- Saulius Girnius

Poul Nyrup Rasmussen arrived in Poland on 4 March on a three-day visit. After talks with his Polish counterpart Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Rasmussen said Denmark supports Poland's prompt admittance to NATO and the EU. He mentioned a blueprint of an energy resources network linking the states around the Baltic Sea. It is a development of a plan of a "power-supply ring" around the Baltic Sea that was formulated in the Baltic States Council, Cimoszewicz explained. Now, the first issue on the agenda is to establish a natural gas network, he said. Poland could receive natural gas from Denmark and Norway. Rasmussen is the first Danish prime minister to visit Poland in 21 years, which is not surprising; according to old Warsaw Pact plans, Polish soldiers had the task of invading Denmark. The prime ministers signed an agreement on Danish economic and technological assistance to Poland. -- Jakub Karpinski

Poles see the co-ruling Democratic Left Alliance (SLD) as a party dominated by NATO-membership supporters, according to a 22-23 February Sopot Social Research Bureau poll published in Rzeczpospolita. The respondents ranked the main Polish political parties that support Poland's membership in NATO as follows: 67% said that "all or the majority" of politicians within SLD want NATO membership, 65% thought the same was true for the Freedom Union, 61% for the Solidarity Electoral Action, 55% for the Labor Union, 52% for the Polish Peasant Party, and 47% for the Movement for Poland's Reconstruction. President Aleksander Kwasniewski topped the list of pro-NATO politicians in the opinion of his fellow citizens (88%) and Prime Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz was second with 80%. A January Public Opinion Research Center poll found that 90% of Poles thought that Poland should be admitted to NATO. -- Jakub Karpinski

The army cannot find 100 of the 700 documents that NATO started giving to Partnership for Peace countries in 1994, Czech media have reported in the past few days. Several defense officials argued that the scandal surrounding the alleged loss of the documents at the Czech Defense Ministry is unnecessary and groundless. "It's all speculation. We haven't yet managed to prove that the documents really have been lost," Defense Ministry spokesman Milan Repka told Slovo. Some high-ranking civil servants at the ministry believe the information may have been leaked to the media by their fired colleagues. "We're not surprised that someone is giving out such information like that. We are annoyed, however, that it is done now, a couple of months before the NATO summit. It's quite clear what they're up to," a ministry official told CTK. -- Jiri Pehe

Christian Democratic Movement Deputy Ivan Simko on 3 March announced that the opposition has collected 521,580 signatures in support of a referendum on direct presidential elections, Slovak media reported. All signatures have been strictly checked, and those that looked suspicious were reportedly removed from the lists. The Slovak constitution requires the president to call a referendum under two conditions: if 350,000 signatures are collected or based on a parliamentary resolution. Simko said the petition committee will hand the lists to President Michal Kovac this week. A January poll released by the Slovak Statistical Office on 3 March showed that one in two Slovaks would participate in the referendum, of whom 88% would vote in favor and 7% would vote against, CTK reported. The poll showed that 28% would not participate while 20% were undecided. The referendum will be invalid unless at least 50% of the population takes part. -- Sharon Fisher

The parliamentary Committee for Economics, Privatization, and Business on 3 March asked the cabinet to take measures aimed at improving Slovakia's trade position, Narodna obroda reported. In January alone, Slovakia's trade deficit reached 7 billion crowns ($226 million), three times more than in January 1996, Pravda reported. One option being considered is the renewal of the import surcharge that was abolished on 1 January. Presidential spokesman Vladimir Stefko told TASR on 3 March that President Michal Kovac on 25 February signed a bill establishing an import-export bank. Finally, TASR reports that Kovac has returned the law that blocks the privatization of Slovak financial institutions until 2003. The government demanded last month that Kovac return the bill to the parliament for further discussion, and the legislation is expected to be placed on the parliament's agenda when the current session reconvenes on 12 March. -- Sharon Fisher

On the opening day of a lawsuit between Hungary and Slovakia in the International Court of Justice in the Hague, Hungary's legal representative, Gyorgy Szenasi, said that Slovakia's unilateral diversion of the Danube for a hydroelectric power project was an illegal act, international media reported on 4 March. The project was initially agreed on in 1977, when Hungary and Czechoslovakia decided to build a hydroelectric plant on their shared border. Budapest, however, halted construction in 1989, citing environmental concerns. The Slovaks pursued the plan and unilaterally diverted the Danube in 1992. The Hungarian delegation used a videotape to illustrate the environmental damage caused by the diversion. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Farmers in eastern Hungary, who staged three days of protests against new tax and social insurance laws last week, will request police permits to stage more demonstrations. The announcement came after Finance Minister Peter Medgyessy turned down their invitation to hold more talks, Hungarian media reported. Medgyessy said that he sees no chance for further consultations, as the cabinet has already met the farmers' demands. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Arpad Goncz on 3 March signed into law a conflict of interest bill and amendment to the privatization law, Hungarian dailies reported. Goncz used his veto power for the first time in seven years when he refused to sign the two bills in January (see OMRI Daily Digest, 3 and 6 January 1997). Parliament last week partly amended the privatization bill to satisfy one of Goncz's concerns but passed the conflict of interest bill unchanged. Since both bills were passed by a two thirds majority, Goncz is now compelled to sign. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Army tanks entered the southern Albanian city of Gjirokaster on 4 March, according to Western agencies, citing ATA. Civilians armed with automatic weapons burned down Gjirokaster's police station on 3 March. In Vlora, earlier decimated by rioting, an Italian helicopter rescued 35 foreigners, flying them to Brindisi. Gunshots were heard overnight in Tirana, where a dusk-to-dawn curfew is in effect and police have instructions to shoot armed civilians without warning. The general prosecutor in Tirana warned that those convicted of fomenting armed insurrection will face capital punishment or life in jail, while looters and those erecting barricades will receive sentences of 15-25 years. Albania's ambassador to the U.K., Pavli Mihal Qesku, admitted that Vlora, Sarande, and a stretch along the coast were now in rebel hands but added "in the rest of the country the government is in control of everything," Reuters reported. -- Michael Wyzan

Albanian President Sali Berisha on 3 March was re-elected by parliament, which is dominated by his Democratic Party (PD), Western media reported. Berisha fired army chief of staff Sheme Kosova the next day, blaming him for failing to defend military bases from rioters. Kosova was replaced by General Adem Copani, Berisha's defense advisor. Meanwhile, under new rules requiring newspapers to submit stories to the government for approval and allowing them only to run the government version of the disturbances, only one newspaper, the PD's Rilindja Demokratike, appeared on 4 March. U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns issued a statement "strongly regretting" the 2 March declaration of a state of emergency and introduction of press censorship. He also criticized Berisha's re-election as "likely to increase polarization," according to AFP. Dutch Foreign Minister Hans van Mierlo offered the EU's assistance in re-establishing order and arbitrating the conflict. -- Michael Wyzan

Some 150 Serbs armed with sticks and clubs on 2 March burned down nine of 11 prefabricated houses built for Muslim returnees to the village of Gajevi, while the Russian soldiers stationed there watched the attack but did not intervene, international agencies reported. Gajevi is on the Serb-controlled side of a demilitarized separation zone in northeastern Bosnia that is patrolled by the Russian SFOR troops. Next day the SFOR troops set up roadblocks around the village. SFOR says that policing is the job of local police, and says the incident represents a failure of the Bosnian Serb police to maintain order in the separation zone. But Sead Jamakosmanovic, a Bosnian Federation government official, said Russian peacekeepers were to blame for failing to prevent the incident. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Montenegrin media accused the pro-government daily Borba and the state news agency Tanjug of being politically biased in favor of Serbia, although the two federal units within the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia should have equal treatment in media founded by the federation, Nasa Borba reported. Borba and Tanjug were singled out for their recent attacks on Montenegrin Premier Milo Djukanovic following his criticism of Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. Meanwhile, the Serbian Renewal Movement, led by Vuk Draskovic, accused the state media of becoming increasingly aggressive in spreading false information on the state of affairs in the country. On the other side, the state-run daily Politika on 4 March accused the "opposition media"of being tendetious, one-sided and aggressive. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Croatian Foreign Minister Mate Granic on 3 March met with Banja Luka Catholic Bishop Franjo Komarica and announced that Croatia will soon open a consulate in that Bosnian Serb stronghold, Hina reported. Komarica said the remaining Banja Luka Croats were looking forward to the opening of the consulate, and that it would help improve their current situation. Komarica mentioned the unsolved issue of the two Banja Luka parish priests who had disappeared and whose fate was still unknown. In other news, Catholic authorities in Bosnia-Herzegovina said on 28 February that churches and monasteries were being targeted for attack in the weeks leading up to the visit of Pope John Paul II to Sarajevo, scheduled for 12-13 April, AFP reported. A day earlier, an anonymous caller threatened to kill the Pope during the Sarajevo visit. -- Daria Sito Sucic

At a meeting with potential foreign investors on 3 March, President Emil Constantinescu said Romania has "assumed a great risk" by deciding to give up any territorial claim on Ukraine in the pending basic treaty between the two countries, the daily Ziua reported. In a related development, several dailies report that leaflets denouncing the government's position on the treaty were found in Bucharest, Suceava and Turnu Severin. The leaflets also attacked the government's decision to allow foreign investors to buy land in Romania and called for military rule of the country. A spokesman for the Bucharest police said the views expressed in the leaflets "are reminiscent of the position of some political parties," the daily Cotidianul reports. The extremist Greater Romania Party has often called for military rule in the past, and opposes any concessions to Ukraine. The latter position is shared by the Party of Romanian National Unity and several semi-political organizations. -- Michael Shafir

The leadership of the Party of Romanian National Unity (PUNR) will discuss the expulsion of former party Chairman Gheorghe Funar from the party, several dailies report. Although the move was allegedly prompted by Funar's private use of faxes and phones of the Cluj mayoralty he heads, the real reason is to be sought in the turmoil now affecting the PUNR. The Cluj branch of PUNR on 28 February decided to expel Ioan Gavra, the PUNR secretary general. The branch is dominated by Funar, who refuses to recognize the legality of his own dismissal as PUNR chairman on 22 February. Observers viewed this as an attempt by Funar to tackle his critics. Romanian media speculate that the party may be on the verge of splitting up. -- Michael Shafir

Former President Ion Iliescu told well-wishers congratulating him on his 67th birthday that the Party of Social Democracy in Romania (PDSR) will start monitoring the implementation of "Contract with Romania," the electoral program of the ruling Democratic Convention of Romania. He accused the government of failing to implement its electoral promises and of leading the country into an economic dead-end, Radio Bucharest and Romanian television reported on 3 March. In a related development, the PDSR announced it will launch a motion in the Chamber of Deputies demanding a debate on the government's agricultural policies. The Senate on 3 March was the scene of loud protests of the leader of the Greater Romania Party, Corneliu Vadim Tudor, who accused the government of intending to restore the monarchy. Tudor and several PDSR senators walked out in protest after a reply by a representative of the ruling coalition. -- Michael Shafir

Former Prime Minister Zhan Videnov caused the bread crisis with his deliberate inaction and irresponsibility, claims today's Trud. The paper went on saying that there were at least three very lucrative grain deals that were not concluded due to a lack of response by the premier. Russian Ambassador to Bulgaria Leonid Kerestezhiants, cited by Standart, said that Videnov had asked Russia for 150,000 metric tons of grain but did not even bother to do so in writing. According to Pari, Russia should soon deliver the mentioned quantity of wheat to Bulgaria. The deal should be finalized during the 9 March visit of Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Oleg Lobov to Sofia. -- Maria Koinova

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Jan Cleave and Sava Tatic