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Baltic Report: April 18, 2003

18 April 2003, Volume 4, Number 13

This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 29 March to 4 April 2003.
Canada became the first NATO member to ratify the NATO Protocols of Accession for Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia, AFP reported on 28 March, when its parliament voted to accept the new members. Canadian Premier Jean Chretien said he is pleased that his country is the first to do so among the current 19 NATO members. The seven countries received invitations to join NATO at the alliance's November 2002 Prague summit, and the Protocols of Accession were signed last week in Brussels.

During a meeting at NATO headquarters in Brussels on 3 April, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell thanked the ambassadors to NATO of the Vilnius 10 countries for supporting his country's position on the Iraq crisis, BNS reported. The countries had issued a statement in February calling upon "the UN Security Council to take the necessary and appropriate action in response to Iraq's continuing threat to international peace and security" (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2003). Powell noted that Washington would not forget the group's political support.
* The "Eesti Ekspress" weekly published in Tallinn reprinted an article from the Polish magazine "Vprost" listing the top 25 richest people in Eastern Europe, LETA reported on 3 April. Eesti Express noted that there are no Estonian, Latvian, or Lithuanian millionaires on the list. The list does include many Russians, some Poles, three Ukrainians, two Serbs, and one Czech.
* The four wealthiest persons listed are Russians, all billionaires: Mikhail Khodorkovskii (Yukos), Roman Abramovich (Sibneft and governor of Chukotka), Mikhail Fridman (Alfa Group), and Vladimir Potanin (Interros/Norilsk Nikkel, as well as a former first deputy prime minister in Viktor Chernormyrdin's cabinet). The annual "Forbes" magazine list for 2002 of the world's richest people listed 17 Russians, 10 more than in 2001. "Forbes" estimates Khodorkovskii's wealth at $8 billion, Abramovich's at $5.7 billion, Fridman's at $4.3 billion, and Potanin's at $1.8 billion.

The first session of the newly elected parliament elected Ene Ergma as its speaker on 31 March, BNS reported. Ergma, who served most recently as vice president of the Estonian Academy of Sciences, was chosen by a vote of 66 to three with 30 invalid ballots. The 58-year-old Res Publica party member is an astrophysicist who worked at the Astronomy Council in Moscow from 1972-88 and afterwards at Tartu University. The parliament also elected Toomas Savi of the Reform Party (57 votes) and Peeter Kreitzberg of the Center Party (27 votes) as parliament deputy chairmen. Peeter Tulviste of the Pro Patria Union received 11 votes and was not elected. President Arnold Ruutel urged the parliament to pass laws that will help end inequalities in regional development, strengthen the vocational education system, increase funding for cultural programs, and increase the availability of social assistance and medical aid.

President Arnold Ruutel met with Juhan Parts on 2 April and proposed that he form a new government, BNS reported. The previous day Ruutel had asked Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar to form the government as his party had won the most votes in the 2 March parliament elections, but he refused, noting that Res Publica, the Reform Party, and the People's Union had already agreed to form a coalition with 60 of the parliament's 101 deputies.

The board of the Reform Party announced its candidates on 2 April for the five ministerial posts assigned to the party under the coalition agreement, BNS reported. Kristiina Ojuland, 36, would continue to serve as foreign minister. The four other nominees were: Tartu Deputy Mayor Margus Hanson, 45, as defense minister; Meelis Atonen, 36, as economy and communications minister; Urmas Paet, 28, as culture minister; and Paul-Eerik Rummo, 62, as population minister. All five have been elected to the new parliament and would give up their seats to substitutes while serving as ministers.

The policy-making council of the People's Union on 3 April endorsed the four ministerial posts assigned to the party under the coalition agreement with Res Publica and the Reform Party, BNS reported. Party Chairman Villu Reiljan was proposed as environment minister, Tiit Tammsaar as agriculture minister, Margus Leivo as interior minister, and Jaan Ounapuu as regional-affairs minister. Res Publica's board selected candidates to head four of the ministries, but the choices must be approved by the party's policy-making council on 6 April. Tartu University Professor Toivo Maimets was nominated as education and science minister, former Tallinn Mayor Tonis Palts as finance minister, former director of the State Audit Office Ken-Marti Vaher as justice minister, and former West-Viru County Governor Marko Pomerants as social-affairs minister.

Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland met in Paris on 1 April with Hubert Haenel, the chairman of the French Senate's European Union Committee, BNS reported. He assured her that the French Senate and National Assembly will ratify Estonia's NATO-accession protocol soon, but did not mention a specific date as it is still circulating in the parliament's committees. Ojuland also held an unscheduled meeting with her French counterpart Dominique de Villepin in which they discussed the Iraq war. The ministers agreed that the UN should participate in the postwar administration of Iraq. Ojuland also expressed opposition to the creation in the EU of a strong presidential post, which France is favoring. The French government that day also endorsed a draft Estonian-French agreement that would abolish the requirement that Estonian citizens obtain visas if they intend to spend more than three months studying at French institutions of higher education.

Res Publica Deputy Chairman Ken-Marti Vaher has said that a provision of the coalition agreement with the Reform Party and the People's Union calls for ending the financing of political parties by businesses, BNS reported on 4 April, citing the daily "Postimees." The state currently provides annual support of 198,000 kroons ($13,400) to parties for each deputy they have in parliament. Since donations by individuals to parties -- which would still be permitted -- are not expected to be very great, parties are seeking greater state support in the event that the ban on donations from businesses is approved. Urmas Reinsalu, the head of the Res Publica policy-making council, said on 5 April that state support to parties should be based not only on seats in parliament but also in local councils because this would allow assistance to small parties enjoying popular support in specific areas. Although the coalition agreement did not mention any exact figures for future state grants to parties, it is expected to be tripled to 60 million kroons per year.

Police detained 83 persons, aged 14-44, during a violent protest in front of the U.S. embassy in Tallinn on 30 March, BNS reported the next day. Approximately 100 mainly Russian-speaking demonstrators from Tallinn, Maardu, and the northeast East-Viru County gathered at Tallinn's Town Hall Square and marched to the embassy. Some 200 people joined them en route. Some protesters turned violent, throwing tomatoes and eggs at the embassy building, hurling smoke bombs onto the street, breaking car windows, and piercing the tires of a U.S. embassy car. Neither the city nor the police had received a request to stage the demonstration, and the police said they do not know who organized it. The Estonian Security Police investigated the protest since it involved an attack against a foreign embassy in which material damage was incurred. Most of the detained were released after being identified, but 11 who were suspected of being the organizers were released only the next day. Fifteen of the detained have earlier convictions for theft or drug-related offenses.
* During her visit to Tallinn on 2 April, French European Affairs Minister Noelle Lenoir told Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland that the performance of the Estonian representatives at the EU Convention on the Future of Europe was commendable, BNS reported. In talks with the parliament speaker, Ene Ergma, Lenoir said that she understood Estonia's concern for preserving its national identity while being a member of the EU because France had similar worries when it was one of the six initial members of the union.
* Speaking at a Friedebert Tuglas society seminar in Helsinki on 28 March, Defense Forces Commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts said that Estonia's accession to NATO will not affect its cooperation with non-NATO members Finland and Sweden, BNS reported. He ackowledged that Finland had greatly assisted the formation of the Estonian armed forces over the last decade. Finnish Ambassador to Estonia Jaako Blomberg and Chief of the Finnish General Staff Lieutenant General Kari Rimp were among the 200 participants at the seminar.
* The Finnish power companies Pohjolan Voima and Helsingin Energia signed a protocol of intention with Eesti Energia (Estonian Energy) and Latvenergo of Latvia to build an underwater power cable, the Estlink, between Estonia and Finland, BNS reported on 31 March. The Finnish companies will provide half of the estimated 110 million euro ($115 million) cost of the project with the Estonian and Latvian companies jointly paying the other half. The project is planned to be completed by the end of 2005.
* Although Turiba, a private graduate business school in Latvia, dropped plans to buy Concordia University, its development department director, Valdis Rocens, told BNS on 29 March that Turiba had offered to invest $1 million for the continued operation of Concordia. Rocens said that Turiba had no intention to interfere with the academic work at Concordia but would help make needed changes in its financial management. On 31 March the Harju County Court postponed a ruling on Concordia's bankruptcy because Latvia's Parex Bank had not yet made a decision on whether it would purchase Concordia.
* The elected members of parliament took their oath of office on 31 March, but three of them -- Tallinn Mayor and Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar, Tartu Mayor Andrus Ansip of the Reform Party, and Tartu city councilman Teet Jagomagi of Res Publica subsequently gave up their seats, BNS reported the next day. Other candidates from the parties' electoral lists named to fill their seats: Tallinn's Lasnamae Governor Olev Laanjarv, Tartu Deputy Mayor Laine Janes, and Tartu University political science lecturer Eiki Berg. Eighteen parliament deputies, all from the Res Publica party, gave up their seats in local councils, prefering to serve in the Riikigoku. Simultaneous membership in the parliament and local councils is now forbidden by law.
* The Estonian State Chancellery and the Open Estonia Foundation decided to give 243,000 kroons ($16,400) to a project of the "No to the European Union" movement for its campaign against accession to the EU, BNS reported on 2 April. The movement was the sole winner from four projects presented by a 24 March deadline. In an earlier contest with the deadline of 7 February the "Own State" information center received 282,000 kroons for its anti-EU campaign. Estonia is one of few EU candidate countries where eurocritics are financed by the government.
* The refusal of Estonian authorities to grant visas to members of the scandalous Russian music group Leningrad has resulted in the cancellation of a planned concert in Tallinn on 5 April, BNS reported on 3 April. The organizers said one of the possible reasons for the refusal could have been the fear of street riots in Tallinn after the concert since there have been street disturbances in Russia after performances of the group. Last year, Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov banned a concert by Leningrad in Moscow.
* The Citizenship and Migration Board announced on 31 March that the government had granted Estonian citizenship to 121,747 new persons since the restoration of independence in 1991, BNS reported. Most of them (86,299) had been granted under the Citizenship Act of 1938, which was in effect until 31 March 1995. Of these, 36,270 people were granted citizenship on the basis of Estonian proficiency certificates, 24,102 on the basis of applications to Estonian citizens' committees, and 634 for special services. Under the Citizenship Act now in effect, citizenship has been granted to 35,448 people.
* The Statistical Office announced on 31 March that according to preliminary figures the country's gross domestic product in 2002 amounted to 106.5 billion kroons ($7.1 billion) in current prices or 96.9 billion kroons in 2000 prices, BNS reported. Compared to 2001 this was an increase of 5.8 percent. The GDP growth was mainly due to increases in manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, and construction, while there were decreases in agriculture, hunting, and fishing.
* The Statistical Office announced on 3 April that the average monthly disposable income per household member was 2,500 kroons ($166) in 2002, an increase of 9 percent over 2001, BNS reported.

Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete and visiting French European Affairs Minister Noelle Lenoir signed an agreement in Riga on 3 April on bilateral cooperation in the spheres of culture, education, science, technology, and institutional development, BNS reported. In earlier talks with Prime Minister Einars Repse, Lenoir discussed problems related to the signing of a Latvian-Russian border agreement, noting that this could become an issue between the European Union and Russia. They also spoke about French proposals regarding the future of the EU, with Repse expressing support for the French proposal to establish the posts of EU foreign minister and EU prosecutor. Lenoir also met with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and parliamentary speaker Ingrida Udre, and participated in a debate on the identity of Europe that was organized by the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga.

Leni Bjorklund began a two-day visit to Latvia on 31 March meeting with her Latvian counterpart Girts Valdis Kristovskis, LETA reported. She said Latvia's expected membership in NATO will promote security in the Baltic Sea region and that Sweden will continue its active cooperation with Latvia in military operations and security matters even though Sweden does not intend to join NATO soon. Bjorklund and President Vaira Vike-Freiberga discussed bilateral relations, regional cooperation, Europe's collective security, NATO enlargement, and the war in Iraq, BNS reported. They expressed support for the involvement of the United Nations in the reconstruction of Iraq following the current military operations as well as the establishment of a democratic Iraq. Bjorklund also met with Foreign Minister Kalniete.

The four parties in the ruling coalition reached agreement on 1 April on how the country's nine observer seats in the European Parliament will be divided up, LETA reported. The New Era and People's Party will each select two deputies, while the other five parties -- For Human Rights in a United Latvia, National Harmony Party, For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, Union of Greens and Farmers, and Latvia's First Party -- will each select one deputy. The designated parliamentary deputies will be expected to attend the sessions of the European Parliament in Brussels and Strasbourg from May 2003 through June 2004. The work of the observers is financed by the European Parliament. New Era proposed deputies Aldis Kuskis and Liene Liepina as its observers.

The "Hello, Europe!" conference organized by For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) adopted a statement in Riga on 29 March supporting Latvia's membership in the European Union, LETA reported. "By saying 'no' to the EU, we would remain in the anteroom before the East and the West and lose support from the world's developed countries for our economic growth and security," the statement read. Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis told the conference that EU membership is vital to Latvia's security and protection against terrorism. TB/LNNK Chairman Janis Straume said Latvia would not lose its national identity by joining the EU. The party agreed that its key role after the country's EU entry would be to maintain national self-confidence and to protect national interests.

After reading a disciplinary commission report, Prime Minister Einars Repse signed a decree dismissing Armands Kalnins on 2 April for abuse of office, LETA reported. In 2002, Kalnins was responsible for selecting speakers for a series of lectures about the European Union. Although there were 11 speakers, it was determined that he gave himself 37.5 percent of the lecture hours, for which he received considerable payment. In 2003, Kalnins no longer had the authority to select the speakers but was found to have applied pressure on officials of the State Administration School to give him more lectures.
* Prime Minister Einars Repse discussed Latvia's relations with Russia, Belarus, Ukraine, and Moldova with British European Affairs Secretary Denis McShane in Riga on 3 April, BNS reported. The talks also dealt with EU enlargement and Repse extended an invitation to British Prime Minister Tony Blair to visit Latvia. McShane participated in a debate on identity in Europe, organized by the Stockholm School of Economics in Riga. The next day he held talks with President Vike-Freiberga and the parliament speaker, Ingrida Udre.
* U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell sent a letter to Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete thanking Latvia for the support it is giving to the Georgian Train and Equip Program, BNS reported on 4 April. The 18-month program, launched in April 2002, is aimed at fighting international terrorism and retaining the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Georgia.
* The National Security Council nominated retired British Brigadier General Janis Kazocins for the post of director of the top national security agency, the Constitution Protection Bureau, on 3 April, BNS reported the next day. The appointment still has to be approved by the parliament, which had recently granted him Latvian citizenship (see "RFE/RL Newsline, 28 March 2003), but will only vote to confirm him after he has obtained the necessary security clearance.
* The opposition National Harmony Party filed a suit on 4 April with the country's Constitutional Court against the parliament's decision of 20 March allowing Latvia to take part in operations disarming Iraq, BNS reported. Party Chairman Janis Jurkans said that the action should not be considered as a move against the state, but an effort to prevent ignoring legal principles. He pointed out that the actions against Iraq had been begun without a request by NATO or the UN.
* Economy Ministry State Secretary Kaspars Gerhards and Belarus First Deputy Economy Minister Nikolai Zaichenko led delegations at the fifth meeting of the Latvia-Belarus inter-governmental committee in Riga on 1 April, BNS reported. Among the issues discussed were cooperation in the production of trolley cars for urban public transportation and the transit of potassium salt from Belarus through the port of Ventspils. An agreement of cooperation between the Latvian State Revenue Service and the Belarus Customs Committee on information exchange on goods and transportation moving between the two countries was signed during the meeting.
* British Labour Party parliament deputy George Foulkes visited Latvia on 31 March and 1 April, BNS reported. The first day he had talks with Foreign Ministry officials, parliament deputies and other political figures, visited the Latvian Foreign Policy Institutes, and met with representatives from the youth club of the pro-EU nongovernmental organization the European Movement in Latvia. The next day Foulkes traveled to Jelgava where he discussed social work in the city with Mayor Andris Ravins. Foulkes had been the minister of state for Scotland, working in the Department for International Development until May 2002.
* The parliament adopted on 3 April amendments to the law "On Privatization of Land in Rural Regions," which imposes restrictions on EU citizens and legal entities to buy agricultural land or forests until 1 May 2011, BNS reported. Prior to that time EU citizens will be able to buy such land only if they have lived in Latvia and been actively engaged in agriculture for at least three years as well as obtain the full approval of the local municipality. Efforts by the leftist opposition to grant noncitizen residents of Latvia the same rights as EU citizens were rejected.
* A joint task force made up of representatives of transit companies and ministries prepared a special report which estimated that Latvia's losses due to the halt of oil transport through the Transneft pipeline to Ventspils amount to $200 million, LETA reported on 30 March. The report states that Russia's transit policies are unequivocally connected to Russia's desire to gain control over the oil transit infrastructure in Latvia.
* The cabinet appointed Inga Reine as Latvia's representative at the European Court of Human Rights on 1 April, LETA reported. Reine (born in 1975) has served as the head of the Montenegro office within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe mission in Serbia and Montenegro since June 2002. Reine replaced Kristine Malinovska, who was transferred to work at the UN in Geneva.
* South Australia Governor Marjorie Jackson-Nelson told a visiting delegation from the Latvian Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) that Australia's third-largest city, Adelaide, wanted to form a sister-city relationship with Riga, LETA reported on 3 April. LCCI President Andris Lasmanis said that the Adelaide offer "will help create new business and cultural contacts between the two cities." The delegation also met with a few potential business partners in light industry, wood processing, and other sectors of Australia.
* The government decided on 1 April to order the Interior Ministry to cancel some of the contracts for construction of roads and facilities in the vicinity of the eastern border, LETA reported. The planned costs of some of the construction were considered to be too high while others were not considered to be a priority this year. The government calls the decision a "force majeure" in order to avoid fines for breaking the signed contracts.
* The cabinet approved the dismissal of Aivars Droiskis as director general of the state-owned joint-stock company Latvia's Post as well as that of board members Aigars Krums and Aigars Vitols after hearing a report by the Transport Ministry on 1 April, LETA reported. The officials were involved in the signing of an agreement on the construction of the new Latvia Post mail sorting complex in which the ministry found several violations and the government decided to announce a new tender for the construction. The company's trade union submitted a letter, signed by 1,242 employees, expressing support for the fired officials and calling for their reinstatement, LETA reported on 4 April.

Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis announced on 4 April that he has received a report from Jonathan Faull, the director-general for Justice and Home Affairs of the European Commission, with the decisions of the EU Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) from its 2 April meeting, BNS reported. The meeting discussed the proposed regulations for the so-called facilitated transit documents for travel to Kaliningrad Oblast through Lithuanian territory which had been part of the trilateral consultations in Brussels among Lithuania, the European Commission, and Russia. COREPER rejected the Russian proposals to allow Russian booking offices to sell train tickets after accessing Lithuanian databases over the Internet. It backed the Lithuanian proposal to allow the sale of tickets only after the data of prospective buyers has been approved by Lithuanian consular control within a 24-hour period. Lithuanian and Russian negotiators in Moscow on 4 April also agreed on the final wording of the draft intergovernmental agreement on readmission, whose signing Lithuania considers necessary to facilitate travel to Kaliningrad after 1 July.

In Kaunas on 29 March, the congress of the Lithuanian Center Union approved the party's merger with the Liberal Union and Modern Christian Democratic Union by a vote of 265 to 25 with 11 abstentions, "Kauno diena" reported on 31 March. Unlike at the Liberal Union's congress a week earlier (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 March 2003) in which no opposition to the merger was expressed, former Center Union Chairman Romualdas Ozolas declared that up to 500 of the party's 3,000 members are not in favor of merging with the Liberals and will reestablish a center party in the event of such a merger. Center Union Chairman Kestutis Glaveckas, however, said that there are, at most, 50 such party members and predicted that they would eventually return to the party. The congress also elected Vytautas Cepas as party deputy chairman to replace Varena Mayor Vidas Mikalauskas, who resigned. The three parties will hold a merger congress on 31 May.

In the prime minister's annual report to the parliament, Algirdas Brazauskas on 3 April expressed satisfaction with his cabinet's performance in 2002, ELTA reported. He said Lithuania achieved two important strategic goals: the completion of accession negotiations with the EU, and the invitation to join NATO. He said the economy has continued to perform well -- with GDP growth increasing from 4 percent in 2000 to 6.5 percent in 2001 and 6.7 percent in 2002 -- and noted that the UN Economic Commission has predicted that Lithuania will remain among the fastest-growing economies in the world in 2003. Brazauskas said that in 2002 the business climate continued to improve, the crime rate fell by 8 percent, and pensions were raised by 5 percent. He also said many problems remain, specifically mentioning the high level of corruption, the unequal development of regions in the country, low purchasing power, and high poverty and unemployment rates.

A consortium comprising Russia's gas giant Gazprom, the U.S.-based Clement Power Venture, and the local company Dujotekana signed an agreement on 31 March to purchase the Kaunas thermal-power plant from the utility Kauno Energija (Kaunas Energy), ELTA reported. The consortium agreed to pay 116.5 million litas ($36.4 million) for the plant, of which 90 million litas must be paid within five days, and to invest a minimum of 400 million litas in the future. Gazprom purchased 99 percent of the plant's shares, and the other two partners 0.5 percent each. However, by December the shares will be redistributed so that Gazprom will own 51 percent, Clement Power Venture 25 percent, and Dujotekana 24 percent. Gazprom will be responsible for supplying natural gas to the plant, Clement Power Venture will deal with the plant's expansion and upgrading, and Dujotekana will oversee operations. The purchase agreement stipulates that rates for Kaunas residents, who receive heating supplies from the plant, will not be increased for five years.

John Odling-Smee, the director of the International Monetary Fund's (IMF) European II Department, told President Rolandas Paksas in Vilnius on 1 April that the IMF will continue to carry out annual reviews of Lithuanian economic reports despite the expiration of the final IMF-Lithuanian economic-policy memorandum, ELTA reported. The IMF will also consult Lithuania on financial, budgetary, and political issues. In earlier talks that day with Prime Minister Brazauskas, Odling-Smee praised Lithuania's economic growth, falling unemployment rate, macroeconomic policy, and reduced fiscal deficit, but warned of hardships in the health- and social-care sectors and the education system.

The Council of Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT) appointed Kestutis Petrauskis as the LRT's new general director for a five-year term on 2 April, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. The 39-year-old Petrauskis served for almost two years as the director of Lithuanian Radio and was appointed acting LRT general director after Valentinas Milaknis resigned in early March (see "RFE/RL Baltic States Report," 26 March 2003). Five candidates were competing for the post, but Petrauskis received a considerably higher evaluation from the council members than the others. He pledged to continue the reforms Milaknis began, even though it was clear that the parliament's Education, Science, and Culture Committee Chairman Rolandas Pavilionis, whom Milaknis had named as his main reason for resigning, opposed Petrauskis's selection.
* French European Affairs Minister Noelle Lenoir arrived in Vilnius on 3 April and began a series of meetings the next day with President Rolandas Paksas, ELTA reported. She assured the president that there will be no problems in the French parliament with the ratification of Lithuania's EU and NATO accession treaties. Lenoir held talks with parliament Deputy Chairman Gintaras Steponavicius, European Committee Director Petras Austrevicius, and Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis, with whom she signed an agreement on cooperation in the fields of culture, education, science, and technology. She also delivered a lecture on European and national identity at Vilnius University's Institute of International Relations and Political Sciences.
* Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Darius Jurgelevicius told BNS on 1 April that the previous day's consultations in Brussels between representatives of Lithuania, Russia, and the EU on Kaliningrad transit procedures did not achieve any results, BNS reported. Moreover, he expressed disappointment that Russia seemed reluctant to sign a readmission treaty with Lithuania and its Duma to ratify the 1997 border agreement.
* President Paksas submitted a resolution to the parliament on extending the participation of Lithuanian troops in the international operation Enduring Peace in Afghanistan on 1 April, BNS reported. About 40 special forces soldiers have been serving in a six-month mission at Baghram Air Base since November. Presidential defense adviser Algirdas Norkus said that the mission will end in May, but a replacement unit of about 40 troops will be sent for another six months.
* Two military doctors departed for the Czech Republic to prepare for their mission in Afghanistan, BNS reported on 29 March. They are scheduled to travel from the Czech Republic to Afghanistan on 26 April where they will work in a Czech group at the German field hospital in Kabul for three months. Last fall, four Lithuanian military doctors worked in a Czech field hospital in Kabul.
* Ambassador to Washington Vygaudas Usackas and U.S. State Department Deputy Undersecretary for Europe and Eurasia Heather Conley signed the protocols and exchanged the ratification papers of an extradition agreement in Washington on 31 March, BNS reported. The agreement, which had been signed in Vilnius in October 2001, went into effect immediately after the signing.
* German Federal Foreign Office State Secretary Klaus Scharioth told Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Evaldas Ignatavicius in Berlin on 2 April that Germany will make every effort to ratify Lithuania's NATO accession agreement within the next few months, BNS reported the next day. He noted that the government had already approved submitting the agreement's ratification to the Bundestag.
* Dutch Economy Ministry Secretary General Jan Willem Oostrewijk told Economy Minister Petras Cesna in Vilnius on 31 March that the economic growth of Lithuania had impressed him greatly, ELTA reported the next day. He said that in view of the slowdown in the global economy he could only be envious of Lithuania's increasing its gross domestic product (GDP) by 6.7 percent in 2002.
* The World Bank director for Central Europe and Baltic countries, Roger W. Grawe, told President Paksas on 2 April about the bank's changing relationship to Lithuania because the country can now obtain funds from capital markets, ELTA reported. The bank will continue to assist Lithuania by conducting analytical studies and consulting with domestic institutions. The two officials also discussed future changes after Lithuania joins the EU.
* The Russian Embassy handed a note to the Foreign Ministry on 31 March expressing concern about an attack against the Russian Consulate in Klaipeda on the night of 29 April, BNS reported. On 2 April, the police announced that they had arrested two teenage youths espousing neo-Nazi ideas for splashing black paint on the consulate building, breaking one of its windows, and staining several plaques at a nearby Russian cemetery, ELTA reported. Klaipeda Mayor Rimantas Taraskevicius apologized to the Russian Consulate and all the Russian-speaking population of the city for the incident.
* The Lithuanian Labor Exchange announced on 3 April that the number of registered unemployed people at the beginning of the month was 191,300, ELTA reported. The official unemployment rate declined by 0.3 percent from 12.1 percent in February to 11.8 percent in March.
* The Ignalina nuclear power plant produced 4.98 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in the first quarter of 2003, a 28 percent increase from the 3.89 billion kWh produced in the same period in 2002, BNS reported on 3 April. One of the two lines of the second reactor is currently closed for maintenance and the second line will be shut down on 5 April with a scheduled return to full operation on 3 July.
* According to preliminary data from Lietuvos Bankas, the country's current account deficit in 2002 amounted to 2.4 billion litas ($750 million) or 4.8 percent of gross domestic product, ELTA reported on 31 March.
* The Statistics Department announced on 31 March that the country's gross domestic product in 2002 was 50.8 billion litas ($15.9 billion) or 6.7 percent greater than in 2001 calculated at comparative prices, ELTA reported. The growth was primarily due to increases in the transport, retail, and communication sectors, as well as in construction and agriculture.