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Newsline - March 24, 1997

Signaling that Russia will grudgingly acquiesce in the admission of some East European countries into NATO, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his U.S. counterpart Bill Clinton sharply disagreed on NATO expansion after their 21 March talks but pledged to forge a new Russia-NATO cooperation agreement, international agencies reported. Yeltsin said that he continued to view NATO expansion as "a mistake, and a serious one at that," while Clinton said it would move ahead as planned. Yeltsin added that to "minimize" its impact, Moscow would conclude a cooperation agreement with the alliance. He also dropped Moscow's earlier demand that the agreement be a legally binding international treaty. Instead, a joint statement said the agreement, to be signed by Yeltsin and the heads of state of the 16 NATO members, would be "a firm commitment adopted at the highest political level." -- Scott Parrish

Russian Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov quickly made clear, however, that Moscow's limited tolerance for NATO expansion does not extend to the territory of the former Soviet Union, Russian and Western agencies reported on 22 March. If the Baltic States were to join NATO, he said, it would "shatter the whole relationship between Russia and NATO" which the new cooperation agreement will forge. Meanwhile, Yeltsin said Moscow should "guarantee the Baltic republics' security" to "eliminate" Baltic concerns that "Russia could repeat its actions of several decades ago." He added that Russia should step up efforts to "establish contacts" with the Baltics, and "not just complain that these countries infringe the rights of the Russian-speaking population." -- Scott Parrish

Yeltsin and Clinton also issued joint statements on nuclear arms reductions, anti-missile defenses, and the elimination of chemical weapons, international agencies reported on 21 March. To facilitate ratification of START II by the Russian Federal Assembly, the two leaders pledged to open talks on a START III agreement which would reduce warhead levels on both sides to 2,000-2,500 "immediately" after START II enters into force. They also agreed to extend the deadline for fully implementing START II from 2003 to 2007. These initiatives aim to address concerns about cost and fairness which have been raised by critics in the Russian parliament. The two presidents also pledged to press for ratification of the 1993 Chemical Weapons Convention, promised their adherence to the 1972 ABM Treaty, and ordered their negotiators to complete agreements clarifying its terms. -- Scott Parrish

Yeltsin traded acquiescence in NATO enlargement in return for a number of economic concessions -- an enhanced status in the G7, $4 billion in U.S. loan guarantees, and U.S. assistance in joining the Paris Club of official creditors in 1997 and the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 1998. There is less to these concessions than meets the eye. U.S. officials initially said on 21 March that Russia will be a full participant in the Denver "summit of 8" in June, but Japan soon made it clear that Russia will not join the G7 and will be excluded from the key economic negotiations. Similarly, U.S. support will do little to accelerate the process of Russian entry into the WTO. Russia has been trying to get into the WTO (and its forerunner, GATT) since 1993. It has completed four rounds of complex negotiations, and was expecting to join the WTO by 1998. -- Peter Rutland

While Russian Public Television (ORT) and other pro-government media highlighted Yeltsin's insistence that he had effectively defended Russian national interests at Helsinki, Communist leader Gennadii Zyuganov charged that Yeltsin's foreign policy "suffered a crushing defeat" at the summit. Zyuganov likened Yeltsin's agreements with Clinton to the 1919 Versailles Treaty, which imposed harsh terms on Germany after its defeat in World War I. Zyuganov accused Yeltsin of "completely betraying the national interests of the country," and he expressed doubts that NATO will fulfill its pledges not to station nuclear weapons in new East European members and to consult with Moscow on matters of mutual interest. -- Scott Parrish

Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin explained the new government's goals to the State Duma on 21 March, ITAR-TASS reported. He said the government will regulate the electricity, gas, and rail monopolies but has no plans to "cut them up into pieces." He pledged the elimination of tax privileges, which he said cost the budget 160 trillion rubles ($29 billion) a year. On 22 March Chernomyrdin held a telephone conference with regional governors, and promised to send them 4 trillion rubles for state employee wages and 3.45 trillion for pensions before the 27 March protest action, ORT reported. -- Peter Rutland

First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov announced on 22 March that he will resign his post as Nizhnii Novgorod governor following his promotion to the federal government. Initially, he had conditioned his acceptance of the federal job on being able to stay on as governor, but Russian law prevents holding two such positions. Nemtsov said that Yeltsin will sign a decree ordering all state officials to use domestic rather than imported cars, while denying that this was merely a protectionist measure to help the GAZ factory, the producer of Volga sedans, which is located in Nizhnii Novgorod, Ekho Moskvy reported. After meeting with Yabloko leader Grigorii Yavlinskii for two hours, Yavlinskii and Nemtsov decided that Yabloko members would not join the cabinet, but would provide advice on an informal basis, ORT reported. -- Robert Orttung

The State Duma on 21 March failed to pass in the third reading a draft law banning fascist propaganda, instead referring it for further revisions, Russian media reported. Representatives of the left opposition, including Legislation Committee Chairman Anatolii Lukyanov, voiced fears that the law's vague definition of fascism could allow the measure to be directed against "Russian patriots." On the same day, the Duma passed a resolution criticizing the government's agricultural policy and specifically attacking agricultural reforms adopted in Nizhnii Novgorod under the leadership of Boris Nemtsov. However, the Communist, Agrarian, and Popular Power factions fell 10 votes short of the majority needed to pass a resolution denouncing as "vandalism" President Yeltsin's proposal to move Vladimir Lenin's body from the mausoleum on Red Square to a St. Petersburg cemetery. -- Laura Belin

Dmitrii Rogozin, head of the Congress of Russian Communities (KRO), was elected to the State Duma on 23 March from Voronezh Oblast, ITAR-TASS reported the next day. Rogozin fills the seat Ivan Rybkin vacated last October when he was appointed Security Council secretary. Meanwhile, Nikolai Shaklein, the head of the Kirov Oblast Justice Department, won a by-election to fill the Duma seat vacated by the Communist Vladimir Sergeenkov, who was elected governor of Kirov last autumn. -- Laura Belin

Former coupmaker Vasilii Starodubtsev won more than 60% of the vote to sweep Tula's gubernatorial elections on 23 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Turnout was 58% and the current governor, Nikolai Sevryugin took third place, following Tsentrgaz Director Viktor Sokolovskii. Communist-backed Anatolii Belonogov, the chairman of the regional legislature, won the Amur Oblast repeat gubernatorial elections with more than 60% of the vote, while incumbent Governor Yurii Lyashko took approximately 30%. Turnout was just over 52%. An Amur Oblast court canceled the results of last September's original elections, citing massive forgery. In that race, Lyashko lost to Belonogov by 189 votes. -- Robert Orttung

A parliamentary aide to Duma deputy Aleksandr Filatov (Liberal Democratic Party of Russia) was killed by a car bomb in Moscow on 21 March, international agencies reported. Anatolii Frantsevich was the fifth LDPR parliamentary assistant to be killed since November 1996. Also on 21 March, three policemen were killed and two others seriously injured in a land-mine explosion in North Ossetiya, ITAR-TASS and Reuters reported. A North Ossetiyan Interior Ministry spokesman said he feared further such incidents as the snow melts and mines are exposed. The area was the scene of fighting in the 1992 Ingush-Ossetiyan conflict. -- Penny Morvant

Police in Berdsk in Novosibirsk Oblast have seized five kilos of stolen Uranium-235, AFP reported on 22 March citing Interfax. The uranium, found in the possession of two unemployed men and a trolleybus maintenance worker, had reportedly been stolen from a metallurgical plant in Ust-Kamenogorsk in Kazakstan. It is not clear to what degree the uranium was enriched. In 1994, in the joint U.S.-Kazak operation "Project Sapphire," about 600 kilograms of weapons-grade uranium were transferred to the U.S. from the Ulba Metallurgy Plant outside Ust-Kamenogorsk. -- Penny Morvant

The All-Russian Congress of Coal-Industry Workers, meeting in Kemerovo on 21 March, proposed that Viktor Chernomyrdin appoint First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais head of the government's Interdepartmental Commission on the Socioeconomic Problems of Mining Regions, ITAR-TASS and RTR reported. Chubais, who attended the Kemerovo congress (see OMRI Daily Digest, 21 March 1997), headed the government's coal commission during his previous term in office. Russian media reports, which generally characterized Chubais' trip to Western Siberia as a victory for the new first deputy premier, also noted a statement by the leaders of the two main miners' unions saying that their organizations are planning to take part in protest rallies but not to go on strike during the 27 March trade union national day of action. -- Penny Morvant

Officers of the 21st Paratroop Brigade, based in Stavropol Krai, refused to take part in maneuvers on 23 March until their wage arrears were paid, NTV reported. The unit's commander denied that his orders had been disobeyed, but the protest action was verified by the network's local correspondent. -- Peter Rutland

Russian Fuel and Energy Minister Petr Rodionov and Iraqi Oil Minister Amer Mohammed Rashid have signed a $3.5 billion contract for the development of the Qurnah oil field in Iraq, whose proven oil reserves top 1 billion metric tons, ITAR-TASS, AFP and Reuters reported on 21-22 March. The Russian oil giant LUKoil will get a 52.5% share in the project, while Iraq will receive 25%. The remaining 22.5% will go to other Russian firms. AFP and Reuters cited Rodionov as saying the deal will be implemented independently of the lifting of economic sanctions on Iraq. However, according to ITAR-TASS, while the preparatory work on the contract will begin immediately, its actual implementation will only start after the sanctions are lifted. -- Natalia Gurushina

A day after the president of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Robert Kocharyan, became Armenia's prime minister, Azerbaijani President Heydar Aliyev canceled a planned visit to Pakistan, Reuters reported on 21 March. Observers suggest the move was connected with Kocharyan's appointment. Speaker of the Azerbaijani parliament Murtuz Aleskerov, who replaced Aliyev at the summit meeting of the Organization of the Islamic Conference in Islamabad, said Armenia "has chosen the wrong path." According to the leader of the opposition National Independence Party, Etibar Mamedov, the choice of prime minister shows that Nagorno-Karabakh "has been annexed by Armenia." Reuters quoted Western diplomats in Baku as suggesting that Ter-Petrossyan's decision signifies that Armenia will take a tougher stance on the settlement of the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict. -- Emil Danielyan

Some 7,000 people, primarily ethnic Georgians forced to flee Abkhazia in 1993, staged a demonstration in Tbilisi on 21 March to demand the withdrawal from Abkhazia's Gali raion of the nominally CIS but exclusively Russian peacekeeping force currently deployed there and Georgia's non-participation in the upcoming CIS summit that is to debate expanding the peacekeepers' mandate, Segodnya reported on 22 March. The previous day, 10 Georgian parliament deputies from the Abkhazia faction suspended the hunger strike they began on 2 March to demand the withdrawal of Russian peacekeepers from both Abkhazia and South Ossetiya, according to AFP. -- Liz Fuller

Kazakstani police and local officials dissuaded an estimated 200 protesters from marching 800 kilometers from Kentau to Almaty on 23 March to claim their wage arrears, ITAR-TASS reported the same day. The march was blocked 15 kilometers outside Kentau; protesters, many of whom are employed by the Achpolimetal ore-dressing plant in Kentau, agreed to return to the city after being promised that their salaries would be paid within three days and that they would receive free food during this period. -- Lowell Bezanis

Speaking at a conference in Bishkek, Kyrgyz President Askar Akayev called for the Russian language to be accorded official status, arguing that this would strengthen relations between the country's ethnic communities, RFE/RL reported on 22 March. His remarks appear aimed at giving impetus to the Constitutional Court's efforts to amend the 1993 constitution by making Russian an official language along with Kyrgyz. In other news, an estimated 2,000 students demonstrated in Bishkek on 19 March to protest plans to revoke their free public transport privileges. The same day Prime Minister Apas Joumagulov reassured students their privileges would not be suspended. -- Naryn Idinov and Lowell Bezanis

Serge Aleksandrov, first secretary of the U.S. embassy in Minsk, has been declared persona non grata and asked to leave the country within 24 hours for taking part in an unsanctioned opposition demonstration on 23 March, international agencies report. Aleksandrov was detained for "provocative actions." An embassy spokeswoman said that Western diplomats often watch protests from the sidelines "to observe the political situation but not to participate." Belarusian TV claimed Aleksandrov has been spying for the CIA. Two days earlier, the U.S. cut off its $ 40 million aid to Belarus because of the country's poor human rights record, Reuters reported on 21 March. U.S. State Department spokesman Nicholas Burns said that since nuclear warheads have been removed from Belarus, the U.S. can suspend aid without compromising its security interests and at the same time send a "message of opposition" on human rights in that country. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

The demonstration in which Aleksandrov is reported to have participated took place on 23 March in downtown Minsk. Some 4,000 people headed for Yakub Kolas square, where an authorized rally of some 10,000 people was being held to commemorate the 69th anniversary of the Belarusian Popular Republic, international agencies reported. Scuffles with police broke out, and several policemen were reported to have been injured while dispersing the rally with truncheons and tear gas. Some 70 demonstrators who smashed police car windows with chunks of ice were detained. Civic Union leader Genadz Karpenka and former Interior Minister Yuri Zakharenka were also taken into custody. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

Leonid Kuchma, in his annual address to the parliament and the nation on 21 March, sharply criticized the performance of Prime Minister Pavlo Lazarenko's cabinet, international agencies reported. Kuchma accused the government of inertia, inconsistency, and incompetence. He also held it responsible for the lack of a 1997 budget and for the wage arrears crisis. He criticized the parliament for failing to pass legislation to overcome the economic crisis, triggering loud protests among deputies present. On a brighter note, he praised monetary reform and noted that speeding up privatization and fighting inflation are the main economic tasks. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

Legislators in Donetsk Oblast in eastern Ukraine have voted to give the Russian language the same status as Ukrainian, Ukrainian TV reported on 21 March. The motion was passed following a discussion of the results of a 1994 poll showing that Russian is the native language of 67.7% of those living in Donbas. Deputies in Kharkiv Oblast passed a similar motion last year. Local Ukrainian nationalists have sent a formal protest to the Donetsk Oblast procurator-general. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

Aivars Vovers, head of the Latvian delegation to talks on the border with Russia, said the two countries fully agree on the text delimiting the joint border, BNS reported. He and his Russian counterpart, Lyudvig Chizhov, met in Riga on 20-21 March. Agreement still has to be reached on various technical issues. Vovers said that an Estonian delegation will be invited to the next round of talks, to be held in Moscow on 26-27 April, to confirm the three-country border crossing agreed on last summer. -- Saulius Girnius

The Sejm and Senate, meeting in a joint session on 22 March as the National Assembly, voted in favor of the long-awaited post-communist constitution, Polish media reported. Of the 460 Sejm deputies and 100 senators, 461 voted for the new basic law, 31 against, and five abstained. The previous day, the National Assembly approved several dozen amendments to the text. President Aleksander Kwasniewski said he will need only a few days to submit his amendments to the National Assembly, although he has 60 days in which to do so. Following the National Assembly vote on the presidential amendments, the constitution will be put to a national referendum, which is likely to be held on 25 May. Among other things, the new constitution deprives the president of the right to veto the budget and to have a say in ministerial appointments. -- Jakub Karpinski

The Sejm has adopted a new penal code, Polish media reported on 21 March. The new legislation, which replaces the 1969 penal code, abolishes capital punishment and introduces life imprisonment with the possibility of release after 25 years. It states that journalists may be required to reveal their sources if a court of law deems that information as essential. The new penal code also liberalizes regulations on pornography. Until now, the distribution and possession of pornographic material has been prohibited. But under the new legislation, the only punishable offenses are hard pornography and the exposure of children and adults to pornographic material against their wishes. Justice Minister Leszek Kubicki said that unlike its predecessor, the new code is "rational." -- Beata Pasek

Michael Zantovsky, a former ambassador to the U.S. and a spokesman for President Vaclav Havel, was elected chairman of the Civic Democratic Alliance (ODA) at the ruling coalition party's congress this weekend, Czech media reported. Ministers Pavel Bratinka, Jiri Skalicky, and Vladimir Dlouhy were elected deputy chairmen. Zantovsky, currently a member of the Senate and the head of its Foreign Committee, said he wants to unite the ODA. Before the congress, two rival factions in the party had engaged in a power struggle. -- Jiri Pehe

Interior Minister Gustav Krajci on 21 March easily survived a parliamentary no-confidence vote, Slovak media reported. The opposition holds Krajci responsible for violent police action during the Culture Ministry sit-in earlier this month. Despite the defeat of the vote, the opposition vowed to continue its protest. Also on 21 March, European Commissioner Sir Leon Brittan visited Bratislava, where he warned Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar against signing a free trade agreement with Russia. In other news, a congress of the opposition Democratic Union on 22 March overwhelmingly elected former Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan as chairman. Former Chairman Jozef Moravcik opted not to run. The party aims to strengthen cooperation among Slovakia's pro-democracy parties in order to topple the government in the fall 1998 parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, a weekend congress of the Association of Workers -- a junior coalition partner -- reelected Jan Luptak as chairman. -- Sharon Fisher

Slovak Premier Vladimir Meciar told a 21 March meeting of the ruling Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) in the western Slovak town of Trnava that Slovakia may not be among the first wave of countries invited to join NATO. He said that "global agreements" between superpowers, not domestic political problems, were the reason for the delay, CTK reported. He also recommended that HZDS supporters vote in favor of the country's entry into NATO in the referendum scheduled for late May. Meciar said his party will not allow the opposition to "incite people to seek conflicts." He added that he considers police intervention against actors, opposition politicians, and journalists at the Culture Ministry earlier this month as "appropriate." The following day, Meciar left for a five-day official visit to Japan. -- Anna Siskova

Thousands of farmers protesting tax increases plan to slow traffic throughout the country on 26 March to draw international attention to what they call the "untenable position of farmers," Hungarian media reported on 23 March. The farmers' union, Metesz, has called on the public to wear a ribbon with Hungary's national colors to show support for the farmers. It is also encouraging people to join the protest by driving their cars slowly to the nearest border crossing or to the capital. The union recently attacked the government's agricultural program as "a ruthlessly exploitative economic policy pursued by the anti-national liberal-Bolshevik government." It has also called for the dismissal of the cabinet spokesman, the minister of agriculture, and "half the cabinet staff." For the past month, Hungarian farmers have been protesting income and social security tax increases for private farmers. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

Three ships carrying more than 600 refugees arrived in Brindisi on 23-24 March, bringing the total number of Albanian refugees in Italy to more than 11,000, international media reported. Five Albanians drowned on 22 March while swimming to an Italian military vessel near the port of Vlora. The same day, Italian air force planes brought nearly two tons of medicine and medical equipment to Vlora for the local hospital, where more than 50 people are suffering from serious gunshot wounds. In Durres, an Albanian cargo vessel delivered 1,200 tons of flour from Italy. It was the first delivery in ten days. Italy is also preparing a limited military operation to escort aid convoys but is waiting for the go-ahead from a EU meeting in Brussels today. -- Fabian Schmidt

Prime Minister Bashkim Fino met with rebel officials
from Vlora, who told him that police have established order there. Elsewhere, the border crossing with Greece has been re-opened and bus services resumed, AFP reported. But several people died in shooting incidents over the weekend in the south, bringing the number of people killed since the unrest began to more than 140 and the number of wounded to more than 700. Officials attributed the latest deaths to confrontations between armed gangs. Interior Minister Lush Perpali said "police have decided to crack down on the armed bandits, who are terrorizing the population." He added that "the situation remains chaotic in several towns where there are murders, looting and rapes." President Sali Berisha again rejected calls for his resignation, while in Tirana more than 1,000 people, mostly women and children, demonstrated to press for an end to the violence. -- Fabian Schmidt

The Supreme Council of the governing Serbian Democratic Party (SDS) held a stormy closed-door session in Pale on 22 March to discuss recent public disagreements over ties to Belgrade between Republika Srpska President Biljana Plavsic and the Serbian member of the Bosnian joint presidency, Momcilo Krajisnik, Nasa Borba reported on 24 March. Krajisinik has backed the new Pale-Belgrade pact, while Plavsic opposed it on the grounds that it gives to much power to Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in the internal affairs of the Bosnian Serbs. SDS chair Aleksa Buha said that Council members agreed that in the future the leadership would decide on thorny issues in private and then be obliged to support those decisions in public. -- Patrick Moore

Senior UN and Croatian officials agreed on 21 March to cooperate in returning some 150,000 people displaced by war in Croatia, Reuters reported. They will set up a working group to plan a "two-way" return allowing 80,000 Croats to go back to eastern Slavonia, currently held by Serbs, and some 60,000 Serb refugees to return to their homes in western Croatia. Meanwhile, the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia has sent Croatia a draft treaty offering eastern Slavonia Serbs dual citizenship once the area reverts to Croatia. Serbs from the region said they would feel safer if they have dual citizenship. In other news, Belgrade has handed over to Zagreb some 500 files on missing people whose remains were found in the town of Vukovar in 1991 after it was taken by rebel Serbs, Reuters reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Two Roman Catholic churches near the town of Travnik, in central Bosnia, were bombed on 20 and 21 March, AFP reported. The blasts were the latest in a series of attacks on churches following the announcement that Pope John Paul II will visit Sarajevo on 13 April. Meanwhile, High Representative for Bosnia Carl Bildt has demanded that the three Croatian policemen who were given suspended sentences following a violent incident in western Mostar last month face a retrial, AFP reported. Bildt described the trial as a "complete mockery and a farce." -- Daria Sito Sucic

The Belgrade authorities are taking steps to drive privately-owned BK Television from the air, AFP and VOA reported on 24 March. On 20 March, the broadcasts, which had previously reached 60% of Serbia, were restricted to Belgrade and Novi Sad on the grounds that bills had not been paid. Subsequently, the station's license was called into question, an approach the regime has often used in order to drive independent electronic media from the air waves. BK's management has denied the charges. The real reason for BK's problems is that whereas previously it had offered pro-regime reporting, it was one of the few domestic media to provide extensive coverage of the anti-Milosevic protests in recent months. Another reason may be that wealthy station owner Bogoljub Karic has been mentioned as a possible candidate against Slobodan Milosevic for the Yugoslav presidency later this year. -- Patrick Moore

An unknown assailant shot at a Serbian policeman in a cafe in Podujevo, AFP reported on 22 March. The attacker fired five bullets at Branislav Milovanovic, who was seriously wounded. Since the beginning of this year, eight people have been killed and seven injured in terrorist attacks for which the Kosovo Liberation Army (UCK) has taken responsibility. Meanwhile, a court has charged 18 ethnic Albanians with terrorism. Police say that, in recent months, they have arrested 66 people who are charged with belonging to the UCK or other alleged terrorist groups. -- Fabian Schmidt

Macedonian Premier Branko Crvenkovski told the parliament on 20 March he would request a confidence vote in his government, MIC reported. He added that after dealing with the consequences of the failure of the TAT savings house--in which opposition leaders claim ministers are enmeshed--he would begin dialogue with the opposition on electoral reforms and new elections. Crvenkovski refused to exonerate officials from blame in the scandal and promised to draw up within a week a program to compensate savers. Meanwhile, Greek Premier Kostas Simitis said in Bucharest that he intends to travel to Macedonia at "an appropriate moment," AFP reported on 21 March. Such a visit would mark a significant improvement in the often tense relations between the two neighbors. Greece is worried about an influx of Albanian refugees, while Macedonia is concerned about a possible spread of the anarchy to its own large ethnic Albanian minority. -- Michael Wyzan and Patrick Moore

Greek Premier Kostas Simitis on 21 March ended a two-day visit to Romania, Radio Bucharest reported. He and his Romanian counterpart, Victor Ciorbea, discussed bilateral cooperation and security in the Balkans. The two premiers agreed that future talks on Balkan security matters should include Bulgaria. They also called for coordination of efforts to find a peaceful solution to the Albanian crisis. Meanwhile, addressing the third session of the Crans Montana Forum in Bucharest on 21 March, Prime Minister Victor Ciorbea announced new measures to encourage foreign investment in Romania, Radio Bucharest and international agencies reported. Ciorbea said investors will soon be free to withdraw profits and that the necessary legislation will be passed within the next 45 days. -- Michael Shafir

The National Convention of the Party for Romanian National Unity on 22 March confirmed the ouster of Gheorghe Funar as president. The party's Central Bureau had removed Funar from that post on 22 February. The convention also elected interim President Valeriu Tabara as president and removed Funar's main opponent, Ioan Gavra, as secretary-general. -- Zsolt Mato

Tens of thousands of Sofia citizens attended a United Democratic Forces (ODS) rally on 23 March to launch the opposition's campaign for next month's parliamentary elections, RFE/RL reported. This was the first outdoor ODS rally since the January 1997 mass protests that ousted the Socialists from power. The embattled Socialists launched their campaign three days earlier, when several thousand, mostly elderly, people attended a rally in Sofia. According to a poll in Demokratsiya on 24 March, the ODS has 56-60% support and the Socialists 17-19%. The Euro-Left garnered 5-6%, the Bulgarian Business Bloc 5-6%, and the Union for National Salvation, which includes the ethnic Turkish Movement for Rights and Freedom, 4-5%. -- Maria Koinova

The World Bank will lend Bulgaria $40 million in May for grain purchases and $170 million in June for social assistance. It will also provide a $170 million Financial and Enterprise Sector Adjustment Loan in two tranches (June and December), Demokratsiya reported. These figures were revealed when Premier Stefan Sofiyanski met on 21 March--his fourth consecutive day in Washington--with World Bank officials. Meanwhile, Caretaker Deputy Prime Minister and Industry Minister Aleksandar Bozhkov told Kapital on 23 March that privatization in Bulgaria will be "radical [and] total." He said no enterprise will be in government hands in two years' time. He said there will be no exceptions, not even for the current rail, telecommunications, electricity, and air transport monopolies. -- Michael Wyzan and Stefan Krause

[As of 1200 CET]

Compiled by Pete Baumgartner and Susan Caskie