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Newsline - March 5, 1997

President Boris Yeltsin on 4 March ordered Yurii Skuratov to put the Procurator's Office in order. In televised remarks, the president said society is "seething" over a number of unsolved high-profile murders, including the March 1995 slaying of TV executive Vladislav Listev. "Despite your repeated assertions that the Listev case is nearing an end, this and other cases are virtually buried. This is impermissible," Yeltsin said. He berated Skuratov for failing to take part in a 1 March Russian Public TV (ORT) documentary on Listev's assassination and accused him of relaxing control over the Procurator's Office, saying "discipline is low or absent altogether." -- Penny Morvant

Yeltsin met Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin on 4 March and agreed on proposals to reshuffle and restructure the government, Russian and Western agencies reported. The changes are to be announced on 6 March. According to presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii, Yeltsin approved Chernomyrdin's plans to visit China, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia during the next few months--yet another sign that the prime minister will keep his job. Several ministers responsible for economic matters are expected to be replaced, and current Presidential Chief of Staff Anatolii Chubais may become first deputy prime minister in charge of the economy. Meanwhile, State Duma Speaker Gennadii Seleznev argued that cabinet posts should be divided among the four groups that gained more than 5% of the vote in the December 1995 parliamentary election (the Communist Party, Liberal Democratic Party of Russia, Our Home Is Russia, and Yabloko). -- Laura Belin

The Federation Council on 5 March rejected Yeltsin's appointment of Mikhail Fedotov to the Constitutional Court by a vote of 69-54. Prime Minister Chernomyrdin personally appealed to the upper house to confirm Fedotov as a member of the court, ITAR-TASS reported. The Russian legislature also rejected Fedotov's appointment to the Constitutional Court in the fall of 1991. At that time, he had been nominated by Democratic Russia. -- Robert Orttung

The Duma on 5 March approved a law guaranteeing the right of opposition activity in Russia by a vote of 266-48 with one abstention, ITAR-TASS reported. The law seeks to protect the right of citizens to make alternative proposals to the policies of the president and the government. It provides for the introduction of alternative bills in the legislature, public criticism of the executive's policy, and the right to demonstrate. It also guarantees the right of the opposition to create a shadow cabinet. If that cabinet receives the support of one-third of Duma deputies, its members can be invited to participate in executive branch meetings with a consultative vote. Yeltsin is likely to veto the bill on the grounds that it would violate the separation of powers and because rights such as free speech are already enshrined in the constitution. -- Robert Orttung

ITAR-TASS correspondent Nikolai Zagnoiko and an unidentified Radio Rossii correspondent were kidnapped by armed men who stopped their car in Grozny on 4 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Mauro Galligani, an Italian journalist abducted last month, remains in captivity. No conditions for his release have yet been made. Two Russian Public TV (ORT) reporters were recently released, but the authorities did not make clear if they had paid a ransom. President Aslan Maskhadov recently introduced the death penalty to stem the rash of kidnappings. -- Robert Orttung

Thirty-eight women's organizations have signed a charter of solidarity, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 March. The charter provides for cooperation among women's non-governmental organizations in defending human rights and dealing with discrimination in the labor market. State Duma Deputy Yekaterina Lakhova, a charter signatory, said that a special law on equal rights and opportunities for women should be adopted and that all legislation should be examined for passages that discriminate against women. According to the Moscow department of labor and employment, 70% of the unemployed registered in the capital are women. The constitution provides for the equality of men and women. -- Nikolai Iakoubovski

At a 4 March meeting with visiting OSCE Secretary-General Giancarlo Aragona, Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov emphasized Moscow's view that the 55-member OSCE should play a "coordinating role" vis-a-vis other European and Atlantic security organizations, ITAR-TASS reported. Russian officials have long tried, unsuccessfully, to promote a strengthened and restructured OSCE as an alternative to NATO expansion. -- Scott Parrish

A front-page editorial in the 4 March edition of the pro-communist Sovetskaya Rossiya strongly supported embattled Defense Minister Igor Rodionov, denouncing attempts to remove him as part of a plot to destroy the Russian military. Co-authored by Sovetskaya Rossiya chief editor Valentin Chikin and the chief editor of the extremist weekly Zavtra, Aleksandr Prokhanov, the article claimed that President Yeltsin plans to replace Rodionov with Defense Council Secretary Yurii Baturin, whose "pro-Western" policies would "completely destroy the country's armed forces." On 27 February Rodionov met with leading Russian bankers and industrialists, in an unusual attempt to bolster his political support. Kommersant-daily speculated the next day that banks designated to handle military accounts can make large profits, giving the defense minister a potential source of political support. -- Scott Parrish

A Sakha (Yakutiya) government official is suing Russia's Military Space Forces (VKS) over the 4 March rocket launch from the new Svobodnyi cosmodrome (see OMRI Daily Digest, 4 March 1996). Sakha Deputy Prime Minister Yegor Borisov told ITAR-TASS that he will go to court against acting VKS commander Valerii Grin because the VKS ignored Sakha's demand that the launch be postponed until it received further safety guarantees. Borisov called on the Sakha parliament to abrogate a treaty the republic signed with the Defense Ministry in June 1996 allowing rocket stages to fall on its territory. In further bad news for the space sector, a cargo rocket carrying supplies to the Russian space station Mir failed to complete a planned docking with the manned orbiting module. -- Penny Morvant

In a 5 March interview with Krasnya zvezda, Col.-Gen. Leonid Zolotov, the head of the Main Operations Directorate of the Russian General Staff, outlined plans for cutting the armed forces by 200,000 servicemen. President Yeltsin ordered such cuts in a 12 February decree (see OMRI Daily Digest, 19 February 1997). Zolotov, who described the force reductions as a "compromise" between the country's defense needs and its economic potential, said administrative staff would be reduced and undermanned units consolidated, especially in logistical support. Estimating that some 30,000-50,000 officers would be discharged, Zolotov revealed that the heaviest cuts in combat units would fall on the Ground Forces. He added that Russia's "deterrent" forces, including the Strategic Rocket Forces and submarine fleet, would be shielded from the cuts. -- Scott Parrish

The Duma has criticized the implementation of the 1995-1997 state defense conversion program, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 March. In 1996, the military-industrial sector received only 66% of the funds alloted to it in the federal budget. Production in the sector dropped by 28% in 1996, and the work force by 13%. A large number of those working in the sector are either pensioners or about to retire. The state owes plants in the sector 29 trillion rubles ($5.1 billion), while their own debts total 66 trillion rubles. -- Natalia Gurushina

About 2,000 disgruntled workers from the Zvezda nuclear submarine repair plant in Primorskii Krai blocked the highway running between Vadivostok and the port of Nakhodka for three hours on 5 March, ITAR-TASS reported. The workers, who last year blocked the Trans-Siberian railroad, are demanding the payment of back wages owed since September 1996. According to Radio Mayak on 4 March, several engineers from a nuclear submarine plant in the northern town of Severodvinsk threatened to tamper with a nuclear reactor if they were not paid their wages. After 48 hours of negotiations with Federal Security Service officers, they were persuaded to leave the reactor room. * Penny Morvant

The Central Bank (TsB) has approved several measures to increase stability in the banking sector, Finansovye izvestiya reported on 4 March. They include changes in calculating the size of banks' capital, which may result in a 10-15% reduction in the volume of the capital, and a gradual increase in the ratio of banks' capital to their other assets from 6% to 7%-11%, depending on the size of the capital. Effective from 1999, banks with a capital of between 1 million and 5 million ECU will be allowed to operate only on the domestic market. Financial institutions with capital below 1 million ECU will not be registered as banks. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Chernomyrdin assured leading Russian bankers that there will be no radical change in economic policy and suggested that banks buy more longer-term state securities, ITAR-TASS reported. -- Natalia Gurushina

Ulyanovsk Oblast prided itself on cushioning the impact of market reform by holding down food prices. However, in recent weeks prices have risen to the same level as neighboring regions, Izvestiya reports on 5 March. A loaf of white bread has risen from 800 to 2,500 rubles (50 cents). Izvestiya argues that prices were artificially subsidized in 1995-96 by the diversion of federal credits of around 200 billion rubles per year which were supposed to be used to help farmers buy inputs. Governor Yurii Goryachev narrowly won election on 22 December, although neither the communists nor pro-Yeltsin parties supported him. Izvestiya reveals that Goryachev's son, a former state farm director, heads the private company "Food," which includes some of the region's best farms, a meat plant, retail stores, and even has its own bank. Similarly, the son of deputy governor Vyacheslav Gurinovich runs his own company, which deals in fuel supplies. -- Peter Rutland

Another round of negotiations between Georgia and its breakaway region of South Ossetia got under way in Moscow on 4 March, Russian media reported. Representatives of Russia, the OSCE, and the Russian Republic of North Ossetia are also attending the talks. The Georgian delegation, which is led by Foreign Minister Irakli Menagarashvili, wants recognition of Georgia's territorial integrity but, according to a North Ossetian representative, may agree to grant South Ossetia an autonomous status. In an interview with Nezavisimaya Gazeta, Kosta Dzugaev, speaker of the South Ossetian parliament, said a final settlement of the conflict is impossible without "special relations" between North and South Ossetia. -- Emil Danielyan

Defense Minister Vazgen Sarkisyan, speaking on state TV, said Armenia will hold military exercises at the end of March to enhance the "combat capacity and discipline" of its army, ITAR-TASS reported on 4 March. Reserve servicemen will be mobilized for three days to take part in the exercises. Sarkisyan complained that both society and Armenians abroad are "indifferent to possible aggravation of the situation in the region." Meanwhile, Azerbaijani President Haidar Aliyev and his Armenian counterpart, Levon Ter-Petrossyan, have said they are determined not to preserve the current cease-fire regime, Russian media reported on 4 March. In a telephone conversation the previous night, they also discussed stepping up the OSCE-sponsored Minsk negotiations over Nagorno Karabakh. -- Emil Danielyan and Lowell Bezanis

According to Nezavismaya Gazeta on 4 March, Central Asian leaders clashed when discussing the Aral Sea in Almaty on 28 February. Turkmen President Saparmurat Niyazov reportedly was opposed to making his Uzbek counterpart, Islam Karimov, head of the International Aral Sea Salvation Fund. -- Lowell Bezanis

Kazakstani President Nursultan Nazarbayev warned against the dangers of NATO enlargement, Russian media reported on 4 March. Nazarbayev said undue haste in expanding the alliance puts Russia's pro-democracy camp in a tough position. During recent visits to Moscow, the Kazakstani defense and foreign ministers as well as the parliamentary speaker all stressed that NATO expansion should not encroach on Moscow's interests. NATO ties to Central Asian states--and those countries' views on the alliance's enlargement--are to be discussed later this month when NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana visits the region's capitals. -- Lowell Bezanis

The controversial move of the capital from Almaty to the northern central city of Akmola is falling behind schedule, RFE/RL reported on 4 March. The Transportation, Communications, and Agriculture Ministries were moved to Akmola in December 1996, but 90% of officials at those ministries reportedly returned to Almaty by January. None of the ministry buildings has yet been completed. Construction of the new presidential palace and upgrading rail links to the airport in Akmola will cost an estimated $500 million. Opposition movements in Kazakstan, notably Azamat and the Communist Party, are calling on the government to first pay wage and pension arrears, which are approaching $1 billion. -- Bruce Pannier and Merhat Sharipzhan

Hennadii Udovenko cautioned NATO against developing ties with Russia at Ukraine's expense, the German daily the Frankfurter Allgemeine reported on 4 March. He voiced concern that a NATO-Russia agreement would lead to a new division of spheres of influence in Europe, with Russia being allowed to dominate the CIS in exchange for its acceptance of new members into the Western alliance. Udovenko said Kyiv would like a legally binding agreement with NATO that would offer security guarantees to Ukraine, but did not believe that NATO would offer more than consultations. Unlike Russia, Ukraine is not opposed to NATO expansion, and does not preclude its own membership in the organization in the future. The same day, ITAR-TASS reported NATO Secretary-General Javier Solana said NATO should work out its relationship with Ukraine before the July summit in Madrid. -- Ustina Markus

Former Ukrainian acting prime minister and current member of the parliament, Yukhym Zvyahilsky, returned to his home city of Donetsk after more than two years in Israel, international agencies reported on 4 March. Zviahilsky fled to Israel in 1994, facing accusations of embezzling $25 million through the illegal sale of aviation fuel and foreign exchange operations. He rejected the allegations, accusing the former prosecutor general of political revanchism. The Ukrainian parliament restored Zvyahilsky's parliamentary immunity last month, but the prosecutor's office said the investigation against him is not finished. In Donetsk, Zvyahilsky told a miners' rally he will continue to sit in parliament but will never take an official post in Kyiv. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

The new Constitutional Court, appointed after the November constitutional referendum, was sworn in on 4 March, Belarusian radio and NTV reported. The court is made up of 11 justices, six of whom were president's appointees, including Chief Justice Ryhor Vasilevich. Four of the justices had served on the previous Constitutional Court. President Alyaksandr Lukashenka presided over the ceremony, and gave each justice a copy of the new constitution with his autograph. A number of journalists were not allowed into the ceremony. -- Ustina Markus

Alyaksandr Lukashenka unexpectedly called for a separate deal between NATO and Belarus, international agencies reported on 4 March. Lukashenka voiced concern that Belarus was being sidetracked and isolated in talks about European security. He said only European states could establish a new order in Europe, and that should be done without the participation of countries from "across the ocean." The reference was directed against the U.S., which has downgraded its ties with Belarus to a minimal level. Lukashenka had been an ardent opponent of NATO expansion, and his call for a dialogue may have been prompted by NATO's separate talks with Russia and Ukraine. NTV speculated the sudden initiative may also be a way of forcing Russia to take more serious steps toward integration with Belarus. -- Ustina Markus

Arpad Goncz, accompanied by about 30 businessmen, began an official three-day visit to Lithuania on 4 March with talks with President Algirdas Brazauskas, Radio Lithuania reported. Interior Minister Vidmantas Ziemelis and Hungarian Interior Ministry Political Secretary Gabor Vilagos signed an agreement on combating terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime. Goncz assured Seimas Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis of Hungary's support for Lithuania's efforts to join NATO and the EU and said that a free trade treaty between the two countries will be signed within two months. The businessmen are holding talks with Lithuanian manufacturing and trading firms. -- Saulius Girnius

The Polish government criticized on 4 March the Sejm's draft lustration (screening) law, Polish media reported. The draft includes the obligation for people occupying important state posts and candidates for those posts to state whether they were employees or collaborators of communist secret services in 1944-1990. The statements will be verified by a lustration court. According to Marek Sadowski, a Justice Ministry official, the law should provide a more precise definition of collaboration and should distinguish between a willing collaboration and collaboration under duress. The lustration court, he added, would combine too many functions: conduct investigations and be a prosecutor's office; which reminds one of inquisition procedures, said Sadowski. Andrzej Rzeplinski, the Sejm's expert on lustration, defended the draft. He reminded that the lustration court would make public its judgment only in the case a statement proves to be false. -- Jakub Karpinski

Senate Speaker Adam Struzik, opening the Senate debate on 4 March, said that Polish citizens living abroad should have the right to vote in parliamentary elections and in both rounds of presidential elections (they currently do not have the right to vote in the second round of presidential elections). The Senate is scheduled to vote today on a statement calling on the authorities for "restitution of Polish citizenship to all our compatriots who wish it, particularly in the East." -- Jakub Karpinski

The Czech Defense Ministry announced on 4 March that it had not lost any NATO documents, Czech media reported. Various media reports had alleged that the ministry was unable to find 100 of the 700 documents that NATO started giving to Partnership for Peace countries in 1994. "We have not lost any documents. We are not missing any ... Reports alleging we lost any documents were misleading," Defense Minister Miloslav Vyborny told journalists on 4 March. However, Mlada Fronta Dnes quoted various army officials as saying that the ministry did not know where various documents were and began looking for them only after media reports alleged they were lost. -- Jiri Pehe

Peter Tomka, head of Slovakia's delegation in that country's dispute with Hungary at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, on 4 March criticized the Hungarian arguments, TASR reported. At the close of the second day during which Hungary presented its case, Tomka said the Hungarian delegation seems to be trying to convince the court "on the basis of forecasts and probabilities," while "the decision must be based on legal norms and proven facts." Julius Binder, the director of the firm that built the Gabcikovo dam, told Slovak Radio that the Hungarian statements made before the International Court of Justice constituted "demagoguery." He accused Laszlo Valki, one of the Hungarian representatives in the case, of "irredentism," saying he wants to annul the post-war Paris treaty that delineated the Slovak-Hungarian border. -- Sharon Fisher

Parliament on 4 March acted to implement the 1947 Paris Peace Treaty's call for compensation for Holocaust victims and authorized the government to deposit 4 billion forints ($46.5 million) worth of compensation coupons at nominal value, Hungarian media reported. The coupons, convertible to life annuity, will be managed by a public foundation that was recently established to compensate the Jewish community. Life annuity will be available for Jews who are over 60 years old, are Hungarian citizens and are permanent residents of Hungary. Three opposition parties -- the Christian Democrats, the Young Democrats and the Democratic Forum -- abstained from voting. Forum politicians contended that the bill does not exclude former members of the state security office AVH and those members of the law enforcement agencies who helped crush the 1956 revolution. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

According to eyewitness reports, tensions and violence continue unabated throughout southern Albania. Citizens have ignored a curfew and appear bent on venting frustration against President Sali Berisha's government. Armed civilians on 5 March fought with army forces in Fiari, a village some ten kilometers outside Sarande. At least four people have been injured in the incident, AFP reported, citing Greek television. The fighting reportedly broke out when four military trucks arrived in the village and soldiers deployed. Civilians then attacked the military personnel with automatic weapons and grenades. For his part, Berisha met with political opponents on 4 March in order to resolve the crisis, but government sources have publicly admitted that the port cities of Vlora and Sarande remain firmly out of government control. Security forces deployed from Tirana have orders to shoot on sight those failing to surrender their arms. -- Stan Markotich

Sali Berisha is coming under increasing international criticism for his handling of the domestic situation. Among the most recent critics has been British Foreign Secretary Malcolm Rifkind, who on 4 March in an interview with BBC radio, said "We are not prepared to give support when [Berisha] acts in an authoritarian and dictatorial way and that, sadly, has been an increasing feature of his regime ... The Albanian government has not been properly respecting either the rule of law or fundamental democratic principles of free media and free activity for the opposition." Countries bordering Albania have voiced their own concerns about the gravity of the domestic Albanian situation. CNN on 5 March reported that Greece has deployed along its border with Albania and fears a possible flood of refugees. -- Stan Markotich

Macedonia has reacted to the ongoing chaos in southern Albania by putting its military in a state of war-preparedness, effective from the evening of 2 March, Nova Makedonija reported on 5 March. The move was motivated by concerns over possible waves of illegal immigrants pouring in from Albania or armed attacks on posts along the border. Coincidentally, the UN observer mission closed one of three posts on the Albania border (near Debar) on 3 March, as part of a scaling back of the number of its soldiers in Macedonia from 1,050 to 750. All three posts are scheduled for closure, as are three of the six on the Serbian border. So far there are no signs of an influx of would-be Albanian refugees; only 124 people tried to enter Macedonia illegally from Albania in January and February. -- Michael Wyzan

A Catholic church in downtown Sarajevo was rocked by an explosion that damaged windows and nearby cars on 4 March, international and local media reported. The blast was the latest in a series of attacks on Catholic churches in the Croat-Muslim federation that started after the violent incident in Mostar on 10 February. A hand grenade was thrown at another Catholic church and a convent in Sarajevo, and a church in the central Bosnian town of Gornji Vakuf was mined and damaged last week. The Bosnian Federation government announced special police protection of Catholic churches during a period preceding the visit of Pope John Paul II to Sarajevo. Sarajevo cantonal police suspended the four officers who were guarding the church damaged in yesterday's blast. Croatia's Deputy Foreign Minister Hido Biscevic asked Bosnia's Muslim authorities to stop the pressure and violence against Croats, Hina reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Serbs in eastern Slavonia will on 5 March form their own political party that will run in Croatia's local vote scheduled for 13 April, AFP reported, citing Tanjug. The new Independent Democratic Serb Party (SDSS) will be based in Vukovar, a major town of this still Serb-held region slated to revert to Croatia's legal authorities, and registered in Zagreb. Meanwhile, the UN said that eastern Slavonia Serbs were unlikely to stage a referendum on their electoral status, because their demand for a single district had already been rejected by both the Croatian government and the UN Security Council, Reuters reported on 4 March. Serbs want the region to have a status of a single territorial unit within Croatia, but Zagreb wants it divided into two counties. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Dragutin Velickovic, the pro-Milosevic rector of Belgrade University, on 4 March brushed aside student demands for his resignation, Nasa Borba reported the following day. Speaking at a press conference, Velickovic not only openly defied student protesters by categorically announcing his refusal to leave his post but also countered with his own demand that the institute heads and 13 faculty deans who openly supported the student demonstrators be sacked. Student representative Dusan Vasiljevic summed up Velickovic's press conference remarks with the observation that "the whole thing is another of Velickovic's sick jokes," Reuters reported. In another development, Nasa Borba on 5 March reported that the previous day a group of about 150 student protesters crashed a reception for diplomats and members of the press hosted by Serbia's new Information Minister Radmila Milentijevic, chanting "Red Bandits" and at one point forming a circle around Milentijevic. -- Stan Markotich

The ruling Socialists and their communist allies in the Yugoslav United Left (JUL) on 4 March de facto launched their campaign for republican presidential and parliamentary races to be held later this year (on a date yet to be determined). It is apparent that the main focus will be on attacks against the opposition Zajedno parties. A statement issued by the ruling left, and reported by Tanjug, maintained that the "state will protect its citizens from all political parties that are financed and instructed from abroad with the aim to topple the legal authorities and jeopardize the independence and sovereignty of the country." -- Stan Markotich

King Mihai on 4 March pledged to do "all he could to help Romania" in its bid for quick integration into NATO, Radio Bucharest reported. The former monarch met President Emil Constantinescu, who asked Mihai to support Romania's diplomatic efforts in NATO member countries, especially those with constitutional monarchies. In related news, Italian Foreign Affairs Undersecretary Piero Fassino on 4 March said in Bucharest that his country would back Romania's efforts for quick NATO entry, Reuters reported. According to Fassino, Italy favored a "simultaneous beginning of talks between NATO and all candidates," in order to avoid "feelings of exclusion or frustration." Meanwhile, Senate Chairman Petre Roman, who is paying a visit to Spain, said that Madrid would also like to see Romania in the first group of countries to be admitted to NATO, Romanian television reported. -- Zsolt Mato

Moldova's ambassador to the U.S., Nicolae Tau, says his country has one major concern about NATO expansion: it does not want to end up as a buffer zone with Russian troops on its territory, RFE/RL reported on 4 March citing the Washington Times. The statement is ill-timed for Romania, which is pressing hard for NATO membership, but may well serve Russian interests opposing the expansion. Moldova, though participating in the Partnership for Peace Program, is not applying for membership and wants to stay neutral. That position was stressed again by Foreign Minister Mihai Popov in an interview with Infotag on 4 March. He added that the country's foreign policy under President Petru Lucinschi will not change, but more emphasis will be laid on the strive for European integration. -- Michael Shafir

Moldovan agencies reported on 4 March that the Transdniester delegation to the Joint Control Commission refused to participate in the commission scheduled meeting in protest of the position of Donald Johnson, the head of the OSCE mission to Moldova. At the OSCE Permanent Council meeting in Vienna on 19 February, Johnson said that OSCE representatives do not have free access to military sites in the security zone; criticized the introduction there of a modified GRAD truck-mounted rocket- launcher system; reminded that the Tiraspol authorities had not allowed participation in the Moldovan presidential election; and came against the intention to sign the memorandum for long-term settlement of the conflict, which had been agreed on last year between Chisinau and Tiraspol. Also on 4 March, a visiting delegation of the CIS Parliamentary Assembly preparing a conference on conflict settlement in the CIS met with Johnson and Moldovan officials. -- Michael Shafir

Steve Hanke, the world's best known advocate of currency boards, has become an advisor to Bulgarian President Petar Stoyanov, Pari reported on 5 March. Hanke advocates a pure form in which the currency is more than 100% backed by foreign currency and the national bank does not take reserve deposits from commercial banks nor buy and sell foreign currency with the public. That form is practiced only in Hong Kong and Brunei, while Estonia, Lithuania, and Argentina have softer versions. He also recommends that the lev be tied to the dollar and that the board be introduced at once and not in stages. Meanwhile, the IMF -- citing the strengthening lev and the primary budget surplus -- is willing to provide fresh credits to Bulgaria within two weeks, while the World Bank is taking a wait-and-see attitude, according to Pari. -- Michael Wyzan

The European Commission will make a 1.1 million ECU emergency grant to Bulgaria to help overcome shortages of food and medical material, RFE/RL and AFP reported on 4 March. The commission said the aid should help hospitals cope with the constant rise in prices of medical material, which is no longer subsidized by the government. Prices in Bulgaria rose by 44% in January alone, while the overall inflation in 1996 stood at 310%. In other news, the 20 million ECU from another recently made European Commission's social assistance grant will be distributed among 500,000 most needy Bulgarians as of 18 March. -- Maria Koinova

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Jan Cleave and Sava Tatic