The person who knows how to laugh at himself will never cease to be amused. - Shirley MacLaine
RFE/RL DAILY REPORT

No. 54, 18 March 1994

RUSSIA

RUSSIA READY TO JOIN NATO PARTNERSHIP? Russian Defense Minister
Pavel Grachev indicated to US Defense Secretary William Perry on 17
March that Russia is prepared to join NATO's Partnership for Peace
Program by the end of this month, Western newspapers reported.
Moscow, which has see-sawed on the issue, apparently first informed
NATO of its latest intentions through diplomatic channels, NATO
officials told Reuters on 16 March. In Moscow, remarks by Grachev
to the effect that Russia would soon announce its "basic
conditions" for joining the partnership were reported to have
alarmed Czech and Ukrainian officials, who oppose giving Russia any
sort of "special status." Russia has insisted increasingly of late
that it be recognized as the region's dominant power. The
Washington Post reported that opposition to the partnership had
already been voiced in the Russian parliament, with former
ambassador to the US Vladimir Lukin comparing it to a "rape" of
Russia. Russian Defense and Foreign Ministry officials were said to
have supported the program, however, suggesting that NATO was
likely to expand in any event and that participation by Russia was
one way to insure that Moscow continued to influence developments.
Stephen Foye, RFE/RL, Inc.

CHERNOMYRDIN ON PAYMENTS ARREARS PROBLEM. In his report to the
Federation Council on 17 March, Prime Minister Viktor Chernomyrdin
set out the scale of the payments arrears crisis and outlined his
proposals for resolving the problem, ITAR-TASS and Interfax
reported. At 1 March, the credit indebtedness of enterprises was 25
trillion and the debit indebtedness 32 trillion rubles [in the
context of a 1994 GDP projected at some 740 trillion rubles].
Arrears in wage payments amounted to 2 trillion and delayed
payments to the state budget totaled 3 trillion rubles.
Chernomyrdin promised not to take the "easy" way out by issuing
soft credits and by netting out debts. The state debt would be met
by granting promissory notes and by tax reductions for the creditor
enterprises. Controls would be tightened on bank accounts and the
implementation of bankruptcy procedures expedited. The upper house
did not pass any resolution on the prime minister's proposals.
Keith Bush, RFE/RL, Inc.

CHERNOMYRDIN ON 1994 BUDGET. The prime minister also elaborated on
the draft consolidated budget for 1994. He repeated the claim that
the projected deficit, at 62.4 trillion rubles or less than 9% of
GDP, was within the approved guidelines although, as the Financial
Times of 17 March pointed out, if IMF methodology is used, the
deficit is closer to 16-17% of GDP. To boost revenues, Chernomyrdin
vowed to crack down on tax evasion and to restore the state
monopoly of the production and marketing of alcoholic beverages. As
revenues built up, the state would start to pay off its arrears
from 1993 and from the current quarter [4.7 trillion rubles], with
priority being given to the agricultural sector, the coal industry,
and to the military-industrial complex. As if to illustrate the
pressures on government spending plans, on the same day Defense
Minister Grachev expressed hope that his budget will be increased,
and the chairman of Rosugol announced that state subsidies to the
coal industry had been raised by 2 trillion to 7.6 trillion rubles.
Keith Bush, RFE/RL, Inc.

ACTING PROSECUTOR GENERAL WANTS TO REVERSE AMNESTY. Russia's new
acting Prosecutor-General, Aleksei Ilyushenko, said he hoped it
would be possible to reverse the amnesty of the 1991 coup leaders
and of the organizers of the October 1993 disturbances passed by
the State Duma last month. Ilyushenko made his comment in the
latest issue of Moscow News. The official said he hoped the
Constitutional Court would take another look at the amnesty.
Ilyushenko added that if the court rules the amnesty illegal,
proceedings would be reopened against the organizers of the October
1993 disturbances. However, the court is not functioning at
present, pending the adoption of a new law defining its rights.
Ilyushenko took over as prosecutor general from Aleksei Kazannik
who resigned in disagreement with Yeltsin's administration over the
amnesty. Vera Tolz, RFE/RL, Inc.

DEMONSTRATION IN MOSCOW TO MARK MARCH 1991 REFERENDUM. Thousands of
people demonstrated in the center of Moscow on 17 March to mark the
anniversary of the referendum on the preservation of the USSR held
on this day in 1991, Russian Television reported. (The majority of
participants in the referendum voted for the preservation of the
Soviet Union.) The demonstrators demanded the recreation of the
USSR, arguing that leaders of the former Union republics who
proclaimed independence had violated the will of the people. Vera
Tolz, RFE/RL, Inc.

FORCED REMOVAL OF ELECTED MAYOR IN VLADIVOSTOK. The lead story of
Russian TV newscasts virtually all day on 17 March was the removal
of the popularly-elected mayor of Vladivostok by the police, acting
on behalf of the Primorsky Krai administration, whose head is a
Yeltsin appointee. The mayor, Viktor Cherepkov, had been charged
with corruption. However, many liberal journalists in Moscow
believe the charge to have been fabricated. The newscasts broadcast
footage of rallies in Vladivostok, showing people carrying slogans
in defense of Cherepkov, and then cited a local official as
claiming that the population applauded Cherepkov's removal. Later
that day, the newscasts quoted Sergei Filatov, Yeltsin's chief of
staff, as calling the reports on the rallies "an unjustified
kindling of passions." According to the latest reports, the acting
Russian Prosecutor-General Aleksei Ilyushenko, has taken the case
against Cherepkov out of the hands of local officials and assigned
one of his senior investigators to deal with it. Julia Wishnevsky,
RFE/RL, Inc.

LEADERS OF ACCORD FOR RUSSIA HOLD PRESS CONFERENCE. Leaders of the
new opposition movement, Accord for Russia, held a press conference
in Moscow on 17 March, saying the movement intended to become an
alliance of Russians angered by the government's economic policy.
Every major opposition party, including the Russian Communist Party
and the People's Party of Free Russia, but not Vladimir
Zhirinovsky's Liberal Democrats, has joined the new movement,
Interfax reported. Former Vice President Aleksandr Rutksoi has also
added his name to the list of the movement's leaders. The communist
leader, Gennadii Zyuganov, said Zhirinovsky would have to drop his
expansionist program if he wanted to join. Another leader of the
movement, former Constitutional Court chairman, Valerii Zorkin,
said that Accord for Russia was not an alternative to the accord
charter initiated by President Yeltsin earlier this month. Zorkin
said the new movement was consistent with Yeltsin's call for civic
peace and closer cooperation between the parliament and the
executive branch. Vera Tolz, RFE/RL, Inc.

GRACHEV TO KALININGRAD; ON MILITARY BUDGET. Arriving in the Russian
Baltic enclave on 17 March to begin a three-day inspection tour,
Grachev announced Moscow's intention to create a special defense
area in Western Kaliningrad that will be based on units from the
Baltic Fleet and the 11th Guards Army stationed there. ITAR-TASS
quoted Grachev as saying that "the mobile grouping to be formed
here is designed to ensure reliable protection of this territory
against military threats from both sea and land." Estimates of the
number of Russian military personnel in the oblast generally start
at 100,000. Grachev, who promised that there would be no sweeping
reductions in the officer corps, also suggested that consultations
with Prime Minister Chernomyrdin and First Vice Prime Minister Oleg
Soskovets had convinced him that Russia's military budget might
still be increased. On 16 March Grachev had sharply criticized the
defense allocations in the draft 1994 state budget. Stephen Foye,
RFE/RL, Inc.

...ON DRAFT AND STAFFING LEVELS. Krasnaya zvezda on 17 March
reported Grachev as saying that the military leadership now wanted
to fix the size of the Russian armed forces at 1.9 million men and
women. That figure would appear to be a compromise; Russia's Law on
Defense had originally mandated an army of approximately 1.5
million, but in the aftermath of last year's October events Grachev
had insisted that the statutory strength of the army should be set
at over two million. Grachev also said that the latest military
conscription plan (presumably from the fall of 1993) has now been
88% fulfilled, and that by the end of March it was hoped that that
figure could be raised to 95%. Finally, Grachev suggested that one
means of raising funding to augment state defense allocations would
be for the Defense Ministry to increase the sale of surplus
military hardware. Stephen Foye, RFE/RL, Inc.

PLUTONIUM REACTOR SHUTDOWN AGREED. Western press agencies reported
on 17 March that the US and Russia have reached an agreement on the
cessation of weapons-grade plutonium production. Despite plans to
dismantle over 10,000 warheads, Russia has continued to run three
plutonium production reactors in Siberia because they also provide
heat to neighboring towns. Under the agreement, signed by the heads
of the US Department of Energy and the Russian Ministry of Atomic
Energy, the US will help Russia to find financing for replacement
heating plants, although it appears the US may not fund them
directly. The reactors will remain in operation, and plutonium from
them will continue to be reprocessed, until the replacement heating
plants are ready, probably several years hence. John Lepingwell,
RFE/RL, Inc.

                  TRANSCAUCASIA AND CENTRAL ASIA

KAZAKHSTAN ELECTION RESULTS. Final results of the 7 March
parliamentary election have been issued in Kazakhstan, ITAR-TASS
reported on 17 March. Of the 176 deputies elected, 105 are Kazakhs
and 49 are Russians. The remainder are Ukrainians (10), Germans
(3), Jews (3), and one Uzbek, one Tatar, one Ingush, one Korean,
one Pole and one Uigur. Before the election, spokesmen for Russian
groups in Kazakhstan warned that the country's Russian population
would be greatly underrepresented in the new parliament. As the
official results indicate, 28% of the deputies are Russians, while
their share of the population is estimated at about 38%. The
Kazakhs, with 42% of the population, have 60% of the seats in the
legislature. These results are likely to fuel further interethnic
tensions. Bess Brown, RFE/RL, Inc.

TALKS BETWEEN TAJIK GOVERNMENT AND OPPOSITION DEFERRED. According
to the 17 March issue of Izvestiya, talks scheduled to open in
Moscow on 16 March between representatives of Tajikistan's
government and opposition on have been put off indefinitely.
Russian authorities are trying not only to get the two sides in the
ongoing conflict in Tajikistan to talk to each other, but are
pressing for elections in which the opposition would participate,
the article reports. Tajikistan's head of state Imomali Rakhmonov
and the present government are said not to be too interested in
elections because they would almost certainly lose, as would the
opposition, in the view of the Izvestiya correspondent. Winners of
a free election would likely be members of the Leninabad clan that
ran Tajikistan for decades under Soviet rule. Bess Brown, RFE/RL,
Inc.

                    CENTRAL AND EASTERN EUROPE

CROATS AND MUSLIMS TO SIGN BOSNIAN AGREEMENT. On 18 March Croatian
President Franjo Tudjman and his Bosnian counterpart Alija
Izetbegovic are slated to endorse a new Bosnian federal
constitution in Washington at a ceremony hosted by US President
Bill Clinton. International media note that the document sets up a
Swiss-style cantonal system with traditionally Yugoslav shared
powers and rotating offices. Newsday points out, however, that
borders have been the stumbling block to peace in the past, and
that no map of the new cantons has apparently been produced. The
paper also notes that critics charge that the new arrangement
"rewards aggression," since it concedes some of the Bosnian Serbs
conquests to them. The Serbs are not part of the agreement,
although they were invited to the ceremony. Vjesnik says that the
next step on the Americans' agenda is to include them in the
constitutional process. The Serbs, however, are interested in links
to Serbia, not to the Croats and Muslims. It is also unlikely that
Washington will meet one of their preconditions for talks, namely
the lifting of sanctions against rump Yugoslavia. Patrick Moore,
RFE/RL, Inc.

SERBS AND MUSLIMS SIGN "LIMITED MOVEMENT" AGREEMENT FOR SARAJEVO.
The New York Times reports on 18 March that the two warring parties
agreed the previous day to allow four access routes into Sarajevo.
One Bosnian officer said "we won't have to go underground like rats
anymore," in a reference to the tunnel under the airport runway
that has been the city's main route to the outside world. A UN
official added: "we've persuaded the three armies that they're not
going to make any more gains militarily. The people don't want any
more war. And the leaders have run out of people for their armies,
and their economies are in ruins. They've reached the culminating
point." It remains to be seen, however, whether the Serbs will
really give up on their aims of partitioning Sarajevo and
eliminating it as a symbol of harmonious multi-cultural life.
Patrick Moore, RFE/RL, Inc.

BELGRADE'S B 92 BROADCASTS. According to RFE/RL's Belgrade
corespondent, Radio B 92 is managing to continue its broadcasts,
despite being denied a license by government authorities. The
independent station, which is critical of government policy and
which never has been licensed, has found the means to stay
operational for roughly five years by availing itself of other
stations' frequencies. Problems with licensing and obtaining access
to some frequencies has in the past temporarily forced the station
off air. In other news, on 18 March both Borba and Politika report
that economic problems continue to be the most daunting faced by
Serbia's legislators. Borba observes that former Serbian Premier
Nikola Sainovic has been involved with assisting federal
authorities implement plans designed to lead to economic recovery.
Stan Markotich, RFE/RL, Inc.

GERMANY SUPPORTS MACEDONIA. German Foreign Minister Klaus Kinkel
stated on 17 March that he agreed with the Republic of Macedonia's
refusal to enter negotiations with Greece until Greece lifts the
trade blockade it imposed in February. The statement came after
Kinkel met with Macedonian President Kiro Gligorov in Bonn that
same day, Reuters reports. Gligorov noted that one cannot negotiate
"with a rope around one's neck." At the same time, Kinkel expressed
the hope that Macedonia document that it has no territorial
aspirations regarding Greece. Macedonia amended its constitution in
this regard in 1992; however, Athens seeks further changes. Duncan
Perry, RFE/RL, Inc.

WHITE COLLAR CRIME IN MACEDONIA. In a news conference on 17 March,
Minister of Internal Affairs Ljubomir Frckovski revealed that his
deputy, Pavle Trajanov, uncovered substantial evidence of organized
crime in Macedonia, involving highly placed people, according to
Vecer. Frckovski said that criminal charges will be brought against
all those implicated, no matter what their rank. He noted that
companies in a neighboring country unsuccessfully sought to
establish a money laundering scheme in Macedonia. Duncan Perry,
RFE/RL, Inc.

SLOVAK PARLIAMENT SETS DATE FOR EARLY ELECTIONS. The National
Council of the Slovak Republic called early parliamentary elections
for 30 September and 1 October, TASR reported on 17 March. All 149
deputies present at the session, including former Premier Vladimir
Meciar, voted for those dates after three other proposals for
earlier dates were turned down. It is expected that a new election
law will be adopted sometime later this year. Controversy over the
election dates was among the reasons for the downfall of Meciar's
government; while his Movement for a Democratic Slovakia wanted
elections in June, opposition parties argued that they needed more
time to prepare their campaigns and blocked the plan. Slovak
National Party Chairman Jan Slota, an opposition member, said his
party had to support that date since the president had prevented
Meciar's referendum from taking place. Jan Obrman, RFE/RL, Inc.

MORAVCIK OUTLINES HIS GOVERNMENT'S POLICY... On 17 March new Slovak
Premier Jozef Moravcik outlined his policy in a short speech to the
parliament, Slovak TV reported. He said that the overriding goal
must be to restore public confidence in the state by introducing
order into public affairs and increasing the public's feelings of
security. He added that improvements in the legal system will help
to bring about these changes. Moravcik also announced that his
government will reemphasize the privatization process and place
individual responsibility for social welfare above state
intervention. As for Slovakia's foreign policy, Moravcik stressed
that his government will continue to move toward integration into
Western European structures. Jan Obrman, RFE/RL, Inc.

...BRINGING A POSITIVE RESPONSE FROM HUNGARY.  Hungarian radio
reported a statement by the Hungarian Foreign Ministry on 17 March
in which Hungary welcomed Moravcik's address. The Foreign
Ministry's statement especially appreciated Moravcik's point that
"everybody who was born in Slovakia and considers Slovakia his
homeland is a loyal citizen of the state" and that "the government
will protect his freedom and democratic rights, including the right
to criticize the government." Another point which was welcomed by
Hungary was that the new Slovak government aims to "accentuate our
interest in good neighborly relations with the neighbors of
Slovakia." Karoly Okolicsanyi, RFE/RL, Inc.

SLOVAKIA TO IMPROVE RELATIONS WITH ITS NEIGHBORS. New Foreign
Minister Eduard Kukan said at a press conference on 17 March that
he will increase efforts to boost relations with Slovakia's
immediate neighbors, TASR reported. In the presence of Hungarian
Ambassador to Slovakia Jeno Boros, Kukan said that he will seek a
dialogue with Hungary to improve bilateral relations, saying that
cooperation with Slovakia's southern neighbor is crucial because of
the large Hungarian minority in Slovakia. Concerning Czech-Slovak
relations, Kukan said that his country's relations with the Czech
Republic are good but "could be better" and that an improvement
could be achieved by completing the division of former Czechoslovak
property. Kukan also stressed that good relations with Russia,
Ukraine and other eastern countries are important and said that he
plans "no conceptual changes" in Slovakia's foreign policy. Jan
Obrman, RFE/RL, Inc.

NEW SLOVAK GOVERNMENT FIRES POLICE DIRECTOR. One of the first
decisions of the new Slovak government was the dismissal of Slovak
Police Director Frantisek Krajca, TASR reported on 16 March. Krajca
was ousted for the inactivity of the police during a pro-Meciar
demonstration on 14 March, where four reporters, including three
RFE/RL correspondents, were attacked by an angry mob. Although
police officers were present, they reportedly refused to help the
journalists after they were identified as RFE/RL correspondents.
Shortly after the incident, TASR quoted outgoing Interior Ministry
spokesman Peter Kuchar as saying that "in doing their job,
journalists must consider the risks and act accordingly." Jan
Obrman, RFE/RL, Inc.

SEJM SET TO VOTE ON NEW WAGE CONTROLS BILL. The Polish government's
bill on wage structuring and funding in some 6,000 enterprises, in
which the state owns not less than 80% of the shares, received its
second reading in the Sejm on 17 March. The bill provides three
options for wage structuring in enterprises whose finances are in
order and one for those enterprises which still lack a realistic
reform plan. Enterprises that exceed the permitted wage growth
ceilings will be penalized to the tune of 150% of the excess
amount. PAP reports that the opposition Democratic Union is likely
to join the government coalition parties in voting for the bill,
which would secure its passage in voting on 18 March. Meanwhile,
the Solidarity union is continuing its nationwide strikes begun
last week, and pickets demonstrated outside the Sejm on 17 March
against the government's economic policies. Solidarity Chairman
Marian Krzaklewski is due to meet with Premier Waldemar Pawlak
later today. Anna Sabbat-Swidlicka, RFE/RL, Inc.

WALESA WANTS LOCAL GOVERNMENT ELECTIONS DELAYED. President Lech
Walesa's Council on Local Government proposed on 16 March that the
term of office of the local government authorities, which expires
at the end of May, be extended, pending legislative proposals to be
submitted by the president, PAP reports. The council, which is only
an advisory body with no anchorage in law, argued that the visible
trend toward recentralization in Poland would leave local
government authorities at the mercy of the central administration,
and that the president's proposals would "tidy up" the affairs of
local government. Although there is objectively much scope for
improvement in matters of local government financing, its
territorial organization, and its sphere of jurisdiction, some
observers suspect that postponing the elections would be in
Walesa's interest insofar as he would be in a better position to
promote his own chances of reelection as president while the
parties are tied up with local government election campaigns. Anna
Sabbat-Swidlicka, RFE/RL, Inc.

UKRAINIAN FOREIGN MINISTER IN PRAGUE. Ukrainian Foreign Minister
Anatolii Zlenko and other Ukrainian officials met with Czech
officials in Prague on 17 March to discuss bilateral relations and
sign agreements on economic cooperation. After his meeting with
Zlenko, Czech Premier Vaclav Klaus told journalists that the Czech
Republic is ready to meet Zlenko's request to send economic experts
to Ukraine after the new government "has settled in following the
upcoming Ukrainian elections." Klaus said Prague is "very much
interested in economic cooperation with Ukraine." During a meeting
between Zlenko and Czech Foreign Minister Josef Zieleniec, both
ministers rejected the idea that Russia should be given special
status when it joins NATO's Partnership for Peace program. Zlenko
argued that nobody deserves special rights within the program.
Zieleniec said the program does not need changing. Jiri Pehe,
RFE/RL, Inc.

UKRAINIAN AND ESTONIAN PRESIDENTS ON RIGHTS OF DOMESTIC RUSSIANS.
At a news conference on 17 March at the end of Estonian President
Lennart Meri's visit to Kiev, he and his Ukrainian counterpart,
Leonid Kravchuk, were asked about Russia's claim to a right to
defend Russians living beyond its borders, Ukrainian TV reported.
Meri commented "that the question of human rights is being used by
some Russian politicians in a very cynical form as a political form
of pressure." He said he hoped that Russian politicians "for whom
human rights are so important will find time to work on these
rights in Russia itself." For his part, Kravchuk said he did not
think that there were any grounds for being concerned about the
rights of Russians in Ukraine; they account for 22.4% of the
population, but 43% of the country's schools teach in Russian, and
"there are more Russians in the army than Ukrainians." Meanwhile,
the 600,000 Ukrainians living in Crimea (the only region of Ukraine
where Russians are a majority) have one school and not a single
Ukrainian-language newspaper. Both presidents agreed that the issue
of dual citizenship was being exploited for political purposes.
Kravchuk also warned the Crimean president not to take the road to
"confrontation" by insisting on a holding a consultative referendum
on the peninsula's status on 27 March. Bohdan Nahaylo, RFE/RL, Inc.

FIRE AT UKRAINIAN NUCLEAR POWER PLANT. On 16 March a fire broke out
at the Khmelnytsky nuclear power plant 300 kilometers west of Kiev,
Ukrainian radio and Reuters reported on 17 March. The fire was the
latest in a series of incidents at Ukraine's five nuclear power
stations that supply approximately 40% of the country's energy.
Last week a fire broke out at the Zaporizhzhya plant, the largest
nuclear power station in Europe. In addition, two fires were
reported last year at Chornobyl. The Chornobyl plant is still
functioning following the parliament's decision to keep the plant
running because of the country's energy crisis. No increase in
radiation was reported as a result of this latest incident, but the
reactor had to be shut down. The chief engineer at the power plant,
Oleksander Ishchenko, said he hoped the reactor could be restarted
in a few days. Ustina Markus, RFE/RL, Inc.

BULGARIA TO PHASE OUT URANIUM PRODUCTION. On 17 March BTA reported
that the Bulgarian government announced that the nation's uranium
production will be gradually phased out by 1996. According to the
report, the first uranium mine will close on 1 June 1994, while the
production of uranium concentrate will be stopped in 1996. Reuters
adds that Bulgarian officials have acknowledged that the cost of
producing a single kilogram of uranium concentrate in Bulgaria
exceeds world prices by a factor of roughly four. Bulgaria supplied
the Soviet Union with uranium for its first atomic bomb. Stan
Markotich, RFE/RL, Inc.

ROMANIAN OPPOSITION DEMANDS PROBE ON DEFENSE MINISTER. The
opposition Democratic Party-National Salvation Front on 17 March
demanded an investigation into press reports that the newly
appointed Defense Minister Gheorghe Tinca had ties with the
communist political police Securitate. Reuters quoted DPNSF
Vice-president Adrian Severin as saying that his party had urged
parliament's defense and security commissions to investigate the
case. Tinca, who was appointed minister in a cabinet reshuffle on 6
March, had been a career diplomat under Nicolae Ceausescu. In a
separate development, on 17 March Tinca and Ukrainian Defense
Minister Vitalii Radetsky signed in Bucharest a military
cooperation agreement between the two countries. Dan Ionescu,
RFE/RL, Inc.

LATVIA ARRESTS FORMER KGB CHIEF. On 16 March Latvian police
arrested Alfons Noviks, who headed the prewar republic's Interior
Ministry and later served as KGB chief until 1956, on charges of
orchestrating mass-scale tortures, executions, and deportations
after World War II, Reuters reported on 17 March.
Prosecutor-General Uldis Strelis, who formally filed the charges
last year, said that if found guilty, the 86-year-old Noviks would
face a prison term ranging from 3 to 15 years. Saulius Girnius,
RFE/RL, Inc.

BELARUSIAN DISARMAMENT. Izvestiya reported on 17 March that the
removal of nuclear weapons from Belarus is proceeding apace. Two
divisions encompassing eight regiments of strategic rocket forces
were located at the Lida and Mozyr bases in Belarus guarding the
country's SS-25 missiles. The first of these regiments was removed
to Russia during the summer of 1993. Four more regiments will leave
the republic in 1994, and the remainder will be relocated in 1995.
By the middle of 1996 the Lida and Mozyr units will no longer have
any functions in Belarus. At that time Belarus will be the first of
the former Soviet republics which inherited nuclear weapons to be
nuclear-free. Ustina Markus, RFE/RL, Inc.

BELARUSIAN FOREIGN CURRENCY DECREE. The chairman of the National
Bank of Belarus, Stanislau Bahdankevich, criticized the government
for its measures to raise cash to pay off the country's energy
debt. Last week the parliamentary budget commission presented the
parliament with a proposal to requisition all hard currency
earnings from company accounts for March as well as 20% of all
other currency holdings. The proposal sent the Belarusian rubel
plummeting against the dollar; on 16 March the rubel was trading at
13,000 to the dollar, while it had stood at 8,000 to the dollar
just the week before. This prompted the government to issue a
decree closing the Belarusian currency exchange until 1 April in an
attempt to stem the slide of the Belarusian rubel. The rubel
devaluation has also been attributed to parliament's decision to
allocate 2,800 billion rubels ($270 million) of credit to the farm
sector. Bahdankevich personally repealed the order to turn over
foreign currency earnings to the government and said trading on the
Minsk currency exchange should resume on 17 March, Interfax
reported on 16 March. Ustina Markus, RFE/RL, Inc.

                                                  [As of 1200 CET]
Compiled by Ann Sheehy and Sharon Fisher

                               (END)
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