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Newsline - March 26, 1997

President Boris Yeltsin on 25 March ordered the government to do more to end wage delays and to help people who lost their savings in shady investment schemes, international agencies reported. Yeltsin ordered Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin to submit a detailed personal report on the total size and causes of wage debts on 26 March, the day before a trade union national day of protest. Mindful of the violent unrest in Albania following the collapse of pyramid investment schemes, he also instructed the government to submit a draft law to parliament on improving investor protection and to issue quarterly reports on progress in helping defrauded savers. About 17 to 20 million Russians are thought to have lost money in dubious investment schemes, about 1,000 of which are operating in Russia, according to Interior Minister Anatolii Kulikov. -- Penny Morvant

Mikhail Shmakov, chairman of the Federation of Independent Trade Unions of Russia (FNPR), which is organizing the 27 March day of action, said on 25 March that about 17 million people will take part in rallies and other protests. He appealed to both workers and the authorities not to give in to acts of provocation but warned that "some political forces are fostering fear and hysteria around the forthcoming action and spreading rumors about pogroms and massive clashes," ITAR-TASS reported. Claiming that the protest has already yielded fruit, he noted the government's renewed attention to repaying wage debts. In some areas, protests are already occurring: pensioners in Samara, for example, picketed the oblast legislature building on 25 March to protest the doubling of rents in 1997, while Nezavisimaya gazeta noted that last week the 21st paratroop brigade, based in Stavropol, had refused to take part in manouvers in protest at wage arrears. -- Penny Morvant

Speaking to Russian Television (RTR) on 23 March, First Deputy Prime Minister Anatolii Chubais indignantly denied his interviewer's suggestion that there is a now a "coalition government" between centrists and radical reformers. Chubais objected in principle to the idea of making concessions to political parties to attract people into the government, saying this was a luxury which may come in three to five years time. He equivocated over the government's relations with the leaders of the utility monopolies, in one breath saying "we must work with them," in the next threatening to fire them if they do not cooperate. He praised new Deputy Prime Minister Alfred Kokh as such a "strong, professional" man that he will boost budget revenue to 15 trillion rubles a month, while without him it would have been 5 trillion. -- Peter Rutland

Despite repeated attempts to lure State Duma deputies from his Yabloko movement into the government, Grigorii Yavlinskii said Yabloko members will not accept any cabinet posts, as "we are not at all convinced" that the government will adopt the social and economic policies Russia needs, ITAR-TASS and Radio Rossii reported on 25 March. However, Yavlinskii characterized the appointment of First Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov as the best personnel decision of late and promised to support Nemtsov "personally and professionally." He added that Yabloko will support the nationwide protest action planned for 27 March. -- Laura Belin

A spokesman for the Russian Federal Security Service on 25 March dismissed claims by Chechen Vice President Vakha Arsanov that groups in Russia intent on sabotaging the ongoing Russian-Chechen talks were recruiting renegade Chechens to perpetrate terrorist acts in Russian cities, ITAR-TASS reported. He attributed such claims to the inability of the Chechen leadership to control former fighters. Also on 25 March, ITAR-TASS reported that a meeting of Chechen field commanders held two days earlier had demanded that the Russian leadership extradite to Chechnya 70 persons considered traitors to the Chechen people, including pro-Moscow former President Doku Zavgaev and several of his aides. -- Liz Fuller

A photograph of the ITAR-TASS correspondent and three Radio Rossii journalists who were kidnapped in Chechnya in early March was delivered to the ITAR-TASS bureau in Grozny, the agency reported on 25 March. The four journalists signed appeals for help in a note attached to the photograph, which was dated 24 March. Kommersant-Daily reported on 26 March that the kidnappers have demanded a large ransom for the journalists. Two Russian Public TV (ORT) reporters were released in February after being held hostage for a month; although network officials denied paying any ransom, unofficial reports suggested up to $1 million had been paid to the kidnappers. The whereabouts of Italian photographer Mauro Galligani, who disappeared in Grozny in February, remain unknown. -- Laura Belin

President Boris Yeltsin met in Moscow with visiting Indian Prime Minister H.D. Deve Gowda and Chinese Foreign Minister Qian Qichen on 25 March, AFP reported. The Indian prime minister said after his meeting that the deal to buy two nuclear reactors from Russia had been "finalized," Reuters reported, although Russian spokesmen merely said that progress had been made (See OMRI Daily Digest, 25 March 1997). After meeting with Qian, Foreign Minister Yevgenii Primakov said: "We share a point of view on the post-Cold War world order. We believe this consists in creating a multi-polar world." Russia regards NATO expansion as a bid to project U.S. power into areas formerly under Moscow's sphere of influence. RTR praised India as "a long-standing and serious partner who has never caved in to Washington." -- Peter Rutland

Russian government spokesman Igor Shabdurasulov told journalists on 25 March that "a visit to Kyiv by Viktor Chernomyrdin, to end with the final solution of the Black Sea fleet problem, is a condition for the Ukrainian visit of Russian President Boris Yeltsin," ITAR-TASS reported. The same day Ukrainian First Deputy Foreign Minister Anton Buteiko said in Kyiv that Ukraine saw no reason for delaying the signing of a Russo-Ukrainian friendship treaty, and that agreement on temporary basing of Russian units on Ukrainian territory could be reached after the treaty was signed. Also on 25 March a Russian Navy spokesman condemned as "anti-Russian" and "provocative" the "Sea Breeze" naval exercise planned for this summer, AFP reported. The exercise will involve ships from Ukraine, the U.S., and eight other countries.
-- Peter Rutland

Presidential spokesman Sergei Yastrzhembskii held a press conference on 25 March to discuss the Belarusian government's imposition on 23 March of restrictions on Russian television journalists, Reuters reported. "The very fact that Russian television channels have been denied the right to send information materials from Minsk prompts deep concern in the Kremlin," Yastrzembskii said. At the same time he called upon Russian journalists "to preserve the rules of objectivity and lack of bias." It is the first time Moscow has criticized attempts by Minsk to censor Russian journalists, whose coverage of Belarusian President Alyaksandr Lukashenka is far more hostile than coverage found in the Belarusian media. NTV correspondent Aleksandr Stupnikov, who was recently stripped of his accreditation by the Belarusian authorities, reported on 25 March that a videotape was confiscated from him at the Belarus-Lithuania border. -- Peter Rutland and Laura Belin

The Supreme Court on 25 March instructed the State Duma to reverse its decision to revoke the accreditation of Russian Public TV (ORT) correspondents for one month, Russian media reported. Duma deputies revoked ORT's accreditation on the grounds that the network's coverage of the Duma is consistently biased. In particular, deputies were upset by a 20 February report on a parliamentary debate over a pornography law. ORT is informally known as "the president's television," and its reporting frequently puts a negative spin on the Duma's activities. However, lawyer Genri Reznik, who argued the case on behalf of the network and its journalists, said it was not for the court to decide whether ORT's coverage was "objective," but merely to determine whether the Duma had unlawfully hindered journalists from performing their professional duties, according to the 26 March Kommersant-Daily. -- Laura Belin

Since 1993, when Central Bank monitoring began, hard currency with a total value of $84 billion has been imported into Russia, Central Bank official Yelena Ishchenko told a conference in Moscow on "Hard currency control" on 25 March, ITAR-TASS reported. Of that amount, $63.7 billion were net sales to individuals. The bank estimates that tourists and shuttle traders have exported some $31 billion in cash, meaning that there is roughly $33 billion in circulation among the population. This would account for more than half the Russian money supply, since there are some 125 trillion rubles in circulation, worth $22 billion. -- Peter Rutland

The Finance Ministry has announced it will stop providing guarantees for commercial banks' credits to budgetary organizations, Kommersant-Daily reported on 26 March. The ministry began issuing such guarantees two years ago as a substitute for direct budgetary financing and they now top 40 trillion rubles ($7 billion). A substantial proportion of the guarantees was in the form of promissory notes (vekselya), and stopping their issue can minimize the influence of this destabilizing factor on the Russian financial system. Yet, the measure may ruin many budgetary firms and organizations which are unlikely to find an alternative source of financing. The ministry also intends to discontinue the mutual clearance of debts between companies. -- Natalia Gurushina

The IMF will grant Georgia a second annual loan of $76 million, to be disbursed in two tranches, ITAR-TASS reported on 26 March. IMF specialists noted Georgia's success over the past two years in economic stabilization, specifically the reduction of inflation, and in structural reform. Among the IMF targets set for Georgia for 1997 are an 8-10% increase in GDP and bringing inflation down from the present 14% to 10-12%. -- Liz Fuller

Robert Kocharyan said his appointment, which surprised himself as well as others, may bring a new impetus to the Nagorno-Karabakh peace talks, international agencies reported on 25 March. Kocharyan said that Armenia has no new proposals regarding the settlement of the conflict as its "old ones have not been realized yet." Kocharyan, former Nagorno-Karabakh president, dismissed Azerbaijan's criticism that his appointment runs counter to international norms, saying that "whatever happens in Armenia and Karabakh Azerbaijan always sees as a problem." Formally a citizen of the self-proclaimed Republic of Nagorno-Karabakh, Kocharyan said he will retain this citizenship. -- Emil Danielyan

Less than one- third of 500 people polled in Azerbaijan are prepared to vote for incumbent Heidar Aliyev in next year's presidential election, although more than two-thirds believe he will be reelected, according to 7 Gun of 21 March as summarized by the Tacis-funded Transcaucasia Media Project. Deposed former President Abulfaz Elchibey, the chairman of the Popular Front Party, and Lala-Shovket Gadjieva, the leader of the Liberal Party, each rated 12.2%. Rasul Guliev, the disgraced former parliament chairman, Isa Gambar, former parliament speaker under Elchibey and current chairman of the Musavat Party, Zardusht Alizade, leader of the Social Democratic Party, and Etibar Mamedov, the chairman of the National Independence Party of Azerbaijan, each rated 3-4%. -- Liz Fuller

The secretary of Kazakstan's Security Council, Beksultan Sarsekov, on 25 March expressed his country's concern about events along the borders with China and Russia, Reuters reported. In the first official reaction to the February clashes between Uyghurs and Chinese in neighboring Xinjiang Province, Sarsekov told a press conference in Almaty "we are concerned by events" and by the "harsh measures" used by the Chinese against the Uyghurs. However, Kazakstan signed a treaty with China in 1996 in which both sides promised not to help separatist movements in the other's country and Sarsekov said Kazakstan has nothing to do with the problems in China. Addressing the issue of the Kazak-Russian border, he criticized the use of Cossack formations to guard the border, which Sarsekov said was at odds with the Kazak-Russian border agreement, especially as "these Cossacks received uniforms and weapons (from Russia). -- Bruce Pannier

Authorities in Bishkek have taken Ryspek Omurzakov, a journalist from the Kyrgyz weekly Res Publica, into custody, RFE/RL reported. Omurzakov was summoned to the Lenin District prosecutor's office on 24 March and failed to return home. RFE/RL correspondents subsequently learned Omurzakov was being detained by the authorities, who have the right to hold him for 72 hours without filing a charge. In July 1996 Omurzakov was given a two-year suspended sentence for insulting the president. On 14 January Omurzakov published an article in Res Publica criticizing the director of the Frunze Machine building factory, Mikhail Paryshkura, for poor conditions in the factory's hostel. Paryshkura filed libel charges on 7 February but promised to withdraw the suit after meeting with Omurzakov, who showed the director a complaint signed by 108 employees of the factory. Paryshkura did not drop the suit as promised, leading to Omurzakov's detention. -- Bruce Pannier and Naryn Idinov

Kenneth Yalowitz, U.S. ambassador to Belarus, has been recalled to Washington to report to Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, as relations between the two countries worsen following the expulsion of a U.S. diplomat, international agencies reported. Serge Aleksandrov, first secretary at the U.S. embassy in Minsk, was detained on 23 March when he allegedly took part in an unsanctioned demonstration. The Belarusian authorities accused him of interfering in Belarus's internal affairs and asked to leave the country. The U.S. State Department has protested this decision, saying Aleksandrov was performing routine duties. -- Sergei Solodovnikov

Deputy speaker of the 1996 parliament Henadz Karpenka was arrested last night on leaving the residence of the Czech ambassador to Belarus, ORT reported. Karpenka is to be tried on 1 April for disturbing public order by taking part in recent protest demonstrations. The day before Karpenka's arrest, several parties nominated him as head of a united opposition. RFE/RL on 25 March reported that the government has secretly tried and sentenced scores of protesters. Fines are as high as $600, and jail sentences vary from three to 15 days. Under Belarusian law, 15 days in prison is the maximum sentence for participating in demonstrations and disturbing the peace. -- Ustina Markus

Russia's Atomic Energy Ministry says it has sent fuel to the Chornobyl nuclear plant, despite the $30 million the facility owes for previous shipments, international agencies reported on 25 March. Earlier this month, the plant reduced output to half of the capacity of the only reactor still operating there. Chernobyl has received no fuel since July 1996. Plant director Serhei Parashin said Ukraine has paid about 20% of the debt over the last few days. Meanwhile, the construction of a 40 million ton oil terminal in Odessa has been frozen because of a lack of funds, ITAR-TASS reported. The project was launched in 1993 to ease Ukraine's dependence on oil deliveries from Russia. It has since received $26 million dollars in investment but has been heavily criticized for economic and ecological reasons. -- Oleg Varfolomeyev

Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Ilves and Swedish Deputy Foreign Minister Pierre Schori, meeting in Stockholm on 25 March, signed an agreement on visa-free travel between the two countries as of 1 May, BNS reported. They also signed a protocol on continued cooperation on migration policy. Finnish Foreign Minister Tarja Halonen and Ilves are scheduled to sign today in Tallinn a similar visa-free travel agreement, also scheduled go into effect on 1 May. Denmark abolished visa requirements for Estonian citizens several years ago, and Norway and Estonia are expected to sign a visa-free travel agreement next month. -- Saulius Girnius

Latvian Foreign Minister Valdis Birkavs on 25 March said the U.S. was the first country to say it considers Latvia's non-citizen passports to be valid, BNS reported. The ministry sent out samples of the passports to nearly 200 countries last month, asking for replies within 45 days. Estonia and Lithuania have also informed Latvia that they will regard the passports as valid travel documents. The non-citizen will begin to be printed next month. -- Saulius Girnius

The parliamentary commission tasked with drafting the lustration law has approved amendments submitted during the legislation's second reading in the Sejm, Polish media reported on 26 March. Rectors, chief editors, managers, and others who were obliged by law to give information to the communist-era secret service will be excluded from the screening procedure, but intelligence and counterintelligence officials will be included. The commission rejected an amendment defining what constituted collaboration with the secret service, leaving the lustration court to make a decision in individual cases. It approved having a so-called "spokesman for public interest" who would have the same rights as the prosecution in lustration cases. -- Beata Pasek

The lower chamber of the Czech parliament on 25 March rejected a bill on the ombudsman, Czech media reported. The bill was submitted by the opposition Social Democrats but was strongly opposed by Prime Minister Vaclav Klaus's Civic Democratic Party and the extreme-right Republicans, both of which claim the Czech Republic does not need an ombudsman. The bill failed to pass largely because the coalition Christian Democratic Union withdrew its support for the bill when one of its amendments was voted down. -- Jiri Pehe

Students at Trnava University and several schools in Bratislava held a one-hour warning strike on 25 March, Narodna obroda reported. They were protesting the government's moves to open a new university in Trnava and to "illegally" divide the Safarik University in Kosice. The government's approval last week of the new University of Saints Cyril and Methodius in Trnava is especially controversial since it is seen as an effort to abolish the existing Trnava University, whose faculty generally opposes the current government. The cabinet had tried to win the backing of Catholic bishops to create a Catholic university in Trnava, but the bishops rejected the offer. The cabinet also plans to establish new universities in Banska Bystrica and Trencin, despite severe financial difficulties and the lack of teachers at many existing universities. -- Sharon Fisher

Two bombs were found in a Bratislava sports hall following the opposition Christian Democratic Movement's (KDH) rally on 24 March, CTK reported. One bomb was found in the main hall, and the other in a plastic bag in the men's bathroom. An estimated 4,000 people attended the meeting. Interior Ministry spokesman Peter Ondera confirmed there were 4.2 kilograms of explosives, saying the devices were "active" but not "let off." In other news, U.S. ambassador to Slovakia Ralph Johnson on 25 March rejected Slovak National Party Chairman Jan Slota's claim that the U.S is trying to "destroy" developments in Slovakia. Slota had said the U.S. government report on NATO expansion was "a deliberate attempt by the U.S. to influence or destroy developments in Slovakia." Also on 25 March, the Slovak cabinet approved a sum of 147 million crowns for the referenda on Slovakia's NATO membership and on direct presidential elections. -- Anna Siskova

Istvan Nikolits has denied any responsibility in the scandal over the illegal collection of data, Hungarian media reported on 26 March. He said it was only last November that he received an "anonymous tip" that his office had spied on several deputies from 1994-95. He said he launched an investigation and then fired two staff members who had investigated alleged links between deputies and criminal circles. The two agents are currently working abroad--one as a diplomat in Washington and the other under "deep cover." Nikolitis said he was "astonished" that the two agents had worked in Hungary, since they had been assigned for abroad. Magyar Nemzet reports the Hungarian secret service was working to uncover the Slovak, Ukrainian, and Romanian underworld in Hungary when the names of five Socialist deputies came to light. -- Zsofia Szilagyi

At least 13 people were killed in separate incidents in southern Albania and Tirana on 25 March, international media reported. Four of the victims were policemen. A Dutch journalist was admitted to a Greek hospital after being shot in Saranda. Gunmen in Vlora briefly took four Italian doctors hostage and forced them to arrange for a wounded comrade to be evacuated to Italy. The man was seriously injured in the head the previous day in a shoot-out with police that left three officers dead. The doctors were released once the Italians supplied a helicopter to fly the man to Bari for treatment. Italian Defense Minister Beniamino Andreatta said "this shows how difficult it is to operate when there is no security." EU Humanitarian Affairs Commissioner Emma Bonino said that failure to intervene in Albania would drive civil disruption beyond the country's borders. -- Fabian Schmidt

The EU foreign ministers and Bashkim Fino, meeting in Rome on 25 March, failed to reach agreement on sending a security force to protect aid convoys. Italian Foreign Minister Lamberto Dini told reporters that "for the moment, few [EU] countries have shown willingness" to provide troops for such a force. Only Austria, France, Greece, and Italy are willing to participate. A new EU evaluation mission will visit Albania on 26 March to identify humanitarian, administrative, and security needs. Military experts from six countries have already flown to Albania for talks on the possible deployment of a multinational protection force as part of the EU relief mission. Turkey and Romania have expressed willingness to join such a force. -- Fabian Schmidt

Two ethnic Albanians close to the Serbian regime were killed and a third man wounded in an attack by unidentified gunmen, AFP reported on 26 March. The victims were identified as Jusuf and Fehmiu Halitaj. The incident took place in Sicevo. Responsibility for similar killings has been claimed by the Kosovo Liberation Army. The number of Albanians shot dead in Kosovo this year now totals 12. Six Serbs, mostly policemen, have been killed in separate shootouts. -- Fabian Schmidt

Bosnian Serb Interior Minister Dragan Kijac on 25 March denied that his ministry has sent policemen to fight in Zaire, AFP reported. But local and international media claim that the Kinshasa government have hired demobilized soldiers and members of special police forces from the Republika Srpska and Serbia to fight in the civil war. Kijac also denied that his ministry is providing papers for Serbs who want to go to Zaire. He said that if some Serbs have gone to Zaire, "such departures took place through independent agencies" and not through his ministry. In other news, a Pakistani Embassy official in Sarajevo said a 140-strong group of mainly Muslim Bosnian army officers will begin training in Pakistan in April as part of a bilateral cooperation program, AFP reported. -- Daria Sito Sucic

Croatian President Franjo Tudjman, visiting the former front line in Belisce on 25 March, said the Serb minority in Croatia will be guaranteed their rights and state protection if they accept Croatian citizenship, international media reported. "We have to open our arms to Serbs who have not committed war crimes. ... Serbs who stay here will be protected. The Croatian authorities will protect them," AFP quoted Tudjman as saying. But at a rally in Osijek organized by ruling Croatian Democratic Community (HDZ), Tudjman was booed when he repeated those remarks. Osijek is home to some of the tens of thousands of refugees who were expelled from eastern Slavonia in 1991, when rebel Serbs captured it. Tudjman promised that refugees could start returning to their homes this year. -- Daria Sito Sucic

The leaders of the opposition coalition said there can be no progress as long as Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic remains in power. The country could "face Albania's destiny" unless Milosevic goes, they added. But while criticizing Milosevic is nothing new for Zajedno, the leaders on 25 March also began to outline their own alternative political and economic program, AFP reported. "Our economic program consists of proposals for major economic changes--transition and privatization," the opposition's economic expert Miroljub Labus said. The "two major problems for the Serbian economy are unemployment and lack of investment," he continued. "With a dynamic economic program, and new rules and regulations compatible with European laws, we can prepare our country for joining the European Union around 2005," coalition leader Vesna Pesic added. -- Patrick Moore

Milo Djukanovic has been ousted as vice president of the governing Socialist Democratic Party (DPS) of Montenegro, AFP reported on 25 March. The move is the latest development in a prolonged controversy in which Djukanovic called on Serbian President Milosevic to resign. Djukanovic is now expected to lose the premiership in a confidence vote, since the DPS has a majority in parliament. President Momir Bulatovic also seems bent on ousting other members of government who favor more autonomy for Montenegro, Nasa Borba notes today. Ongoing tensions between Belgrade and Podgorica reflect a widely-held perception in Montenegro that Milosevic's policies are preventing the revival of the mountain republic's two main sources of income, namely shipping and tourism. -- Patrick Moore

Branko Crvenskovski survived a confidence vote in Macedonia's parliament on 25 March, AFP and Nova Makedonija reported. He gained support from all parties except the Liberals--who walked out of the session--and the ethnic Albanian PDPA-NDP coalition. Liberal leader Stojan Andov justified his party's boycott of the vote by saying the government has made no progress toward combating organized crime and that the confidence vote is a diversion from the parliament's real work. But Ljupce Georgijevski, head of the nationalist non-parliamentary opposition party VMRO-DPNME, supported Crvenkovski's recent declaration of war against the mafia. He has canceled a general strike scheduled for 27 March. Meanwhile, the head of the Bitola government financial office is under investigation for allegedly transferring public funds to Bitola's TAT savings house, which absconded with $90 million in deposits from 30,000 savers. -- Michael Wyzan

Ulm Spineanu, minister of state in charge of economic reforms, and Minister of Communications Sorin Pantis are currently in the U.S. in a bid to boost U.S. investment in Romania, an RFE/RL correspondent reported from Washington on 25 March. Spineanu will attend the opening of the conference "Romania--The Number One Emerging Market in Eastern Europe" in the U.S. capital later today. Organizers say they had to stop registration because far more investors wanted to participate than originally envisaged, Adevarul reports on 26 March. Meanwhile, Premier Victor Ciorbea's scheduled meeting with Portuguese Premier Antonio Guterres had to be canceled because of "unforeseeable circumstances," Radio Bucharest reported upon his return to Romania. -- Michael Shafir

If Moldova fails to undertake necessary economic reforms over the next few months, the country may follow Bulgaria's path, Deputy Premier Ion Gutu told a round table on structural reforms organized by the World Bank's Moldova office. Gutu said the government was aware that the current crisis can be overcome only through deepening reforms and cooperation with international organizations, Infotag reported on 25 March. World Bank expert Hafez Ghanem said either the country can allow reforms to slow down and find itself in a situation like that of Bulgaria's or it can pursue the Hungarian and Polish models. He said reforms were urgent in the energy, agriculture, and services sectors. "Today's statistics in Moldova resemble those of Bulgaria one year ago," Ghanem said. -- Michael Shafir

Mircea Snegur, addressing a press conference in Chisinau on 25 March, said he will never run again for presidential office and will concentrate his efforts on ensuring that the Party of Revival and Accord wins the parliamentary elections scheduled for 1998, Infotag reported. He also said negotiations were under way for setting up a Democratic Convention of Moldova with forces on the right of the political spectrum. -- Michael Shafir

Vasil Chichibaba, first agriculture minister in the former Socialist government, and three of his deputies have been charged with economic crime, Trud reported on 26 March. In 1995, there was a severe grain shortage because 827,280 tons of grain were exported for 7.14 billion leva ($196.3 at the 1995 average exchange rate of 67.2 leva to $1); later, 198,933 tons had to be imported for 6.46 billion leva. If Chichibaba and his deputies are found responsible for the losses caused to the state budget, they will face up to 10 years in prison. In other news, Interior Ministry Secretary Atanas Atanasov and National Police Director Slavcho Bosilkov said more than 30 contract killings have taken place since 1991. They said authorities know most of the perpetrators but, under current legislation, can neither arrest nor try them. -- Stefan Krause

Deputy Defense Minister Simeon Petkovski has said Bulgaria is negotiating with Russia about buying 14 MiG-29SM planes and setting up a joint venture to overhaul MiG planes, Reuters reported. Petkovski said Russia offered Bulgaria a $450 million loan to buy the planes and to set up an international service center in Plovdiv. He said both sides agreed in principle, but the loan will have to be approved by the Bulgarian parliament after the 19 April parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, President Petar Stoyanov has appointed his economic adviser Krasimir Angarski as caretaker economics minister, Demokratsiya reported. -- Stefan Krause