6 October 2003, Volume
NOTE TO READERS:
This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 20 to 28 September 2003.
RUSSIA ACCUSES LATVIA, ESTONIA OF DISCRIMINATION IN EU VOTES.
The Russian Foreign Ministry has accused Latvia and Estonia of discriminating against their Russian minorities by not allowing noncitizens to vote in referendums on joining the European Union, RIA-Novosti reported on 24 September. Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov said on 23 September that 662,000 people in the two Baltic countries were unable to vote in the recent referendums, in which EU membership was approved. "These people...earlier [during the Soviet occupation-ed.] enjoyed equal rights with other citizens. In the early 1990s they were deprived of citizenship," Malakhov said. "With Latvia's and Estonia's entry into the European Union, this problem will become [the EU's], and we will again put it in focus within the framework of the Russia-EU political dialogue." When Latvia and Estonia restored their independence in 1991, ethnic Russians who had moved there after Moscow annexed those countries during World War II were required to apply for citizenship.INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE DISCUSSES CAUCASUS STABILITY.
The two-day international conference titled "South Caucasus: Making the Best Use of External Assistance for Stability Building and for Cooperation With NATO" opened in Vilnius on 22 September, BNS reported. It was attended by delegations from Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia; representatives from NATO member states Denmark, Germany, Poland, Norway, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States, and partner countries Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania. Noting the similar size and analogous Soviet past of the Baltic and Caucasus regions, International Security Advisory Board Chairman Sir Harry Johnson called on the Balts to share with the South Caucasus their experience of cooperation in gaining EU and NATO membership. However, he noted that there are many differences in the two regions' culture and traditions, especially in their relations with Russia. A heated exchange of opinions occurred between Armenian and Azerbaijani officials when the issue of Nagorno-Karabakh was raised, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 23 September.
* Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Eleonora Mitrofanova, speaking at Moscow University, said that Russia wants the Russian language to have official status everywhere on the territory of the former Soviet Union, RIA-Novosti and BNS reported on 26 September. Mitrofanova said: "The Russian Foreign Ministry is ready to work actively to improve the status of the Russian language in the near abroad. Our goal is to achieve official language status for Russian in most CIS countries as well as everywhere else in the post-Soviet territory which is densely populated with Russian speakers."
* Russian State Duma Deputy Speaker Lyubov Sliska told a meeting of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Economy and Security Committee on 23 September that Estonia and Latvia are oppressing their Russian-speaking minorities, BNS reported. She said that not allowing more than half a million residents of Latvia who are not citizens to vote in the EU membership referendum was a violation of their human rights. Sliska also spoke against the planned enlargement of NATO saying that it "does not correspond to the spirit and nature of the new Russia-NATO relationship."
* With the completion of the Baltic Eagle 2003 training exercise at the Adazi training grounds in Latvia on 26 September, the nine-year mission of the Baltic peacekeeping battalion BALTBAT came to an end, BNS reported. The BALTBAT flag was lowered and handed over to the Latvian War Museum. Latvian Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis said that the "BALTBAT project not only raised the professionalism of Baltic soldiers, but also served for strengthening security and cooperation in the Baltic states."
* Nineteen small and medium-sized current and future EU states, including the Baltic states, met at the United Nations on 23 September and demanded that the negotiations at the EU's Intergovernmental Conference beginning in Rome on 4 October should be opened with the opportunity to raise any question, BNS reported. They also said that there should not be any pressure to end the conference before the end of the year as Italy has suggested.
* The Estonian Union of National Minorities, the Latvian Association of National Minorities, and the Lithuanian Council of National Communities concluded a cooperation agreement in Tallinn on 21 September, BNS reported. They decided to work on educational and cultural projects by jointly organizing conferences, seminars, concerts and other events, noting that the agreement would help win more understanding and support from EU structures.
* According to data of the Latvian Central Statistics Bureau, the average life-expectancy of the people born in Latvia in 2002 will be 71.1 years -- 65.4 years for men and 76.8 years for women, LETA reported on 23 September. Similar figures for Estonia and Lithuania in 2001 were 64.7 and 65.9 years for men and 76.2 and 77.4 years for women. The average life expectancy of Latvia's men was about 10 years shorter than in Sweden, Switzerland, Norway, and Austria, but 2.4 and 6.2 years longer than in Belarus and Russia, respectively.
PRESIDENT CALLS FOR RESTRUCTURING OF UN.
Arnold Ruutel told the UN General Assembly in New York on 24 September that "the UN needs improvement and restructuring" to enable it to "participate more efficiently in problem solving and crisis resolution in the world," BNS reported. He firmly backed the need for stabilization forces in Iraq, to which Estonia is contributing approximately 50 troops. Ruutel spoke in favor of greater environmental protection and the enforcement of the Kyoto Protocol as soon as possible, noting that one of Estonia's main priorities during its presidency of the Council of the Baltic Sea States will be to reduce pollution from oil tankers to a minimum and to ban single-hull tankers from the Baltic Sea. Ruutel met with the Estonian community in New York on 21 September and delivered speeches at an international antiterrorism conference and an UN plenary session on AIDS the next day. On 23 September, Ruutel met briefly with U.S. President George W. Bush at three receptions during which Bush lauded Estonia's help in fighting terrorism. At a meeting with UN Secretary-General Kofi Amman on 24 September, he gave a book about Estonian song festivals as a present and recommended that song be used as a weapon for peace. On 25 September, Ruutel had a brief meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during which they discussed possibilities for developing economic and cultural relations. That day the Estonian president also met with his counterparts from Bosnia and Herzegovina, Argentina, and Cyprus.HEAD OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH ARRIVES IN TALLINN.
Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II was welcomed at Tallinn's airport on 25 September by Regional Affairs Minister Jaan Ounapuu, Metropolitan Cornelius, and Russian Ambassador to Estonia Konstantin Provalov, BNS reported. The main purpose of the visit by the patriarch, who was born in Estonia as Aleksei Ridiger, is to visit his parents' gravesite in Tallinn's Nevskii Cemetery. He met with Prime Minister Juhan Parts on 26 September and congratulated him on the successful approval of the EU referendum. Aleksii received the Terra Mariana Cross, Estonia's highest state award, from President Ruutel on 29 September. The opposition Pro Patria Union and the Moderates have protested the award, arguing that Aleksii served as an agent of the KGB and even received a commendation from the agency in 1998. The Foreign Ministry explained that awarding of the Terra Mariana Cross is an issue of protocol, and that it was earlier bestowed on Patriarch of Constantinople Bartholomew.CENTER PARTY CHAIRMAN SUFFERS HEART ATTACK.
Edgar Savisaar suffered a heart attack on the evening of 22 September shortly after his return from a four-day visit to Germany, BNS reported the next day. The 53-year-old mayor of Tallinn has long had high blood pressure, but showed no previous heart problems. Savisaar was transferred on 23 September to the Tartu University Clinic, where he is expected to stay for a couple of weeks. Doctors have refused to comment on his condition, but his wife said it is stable. Allan Alakula, the head of the Tallinn press service, said telephone conversations Savisaar had with him, Tallinn Deputy Mayor Toomas Vitsut, and Center Party officials indicated that "the worst was over," LETA reported on 24 September.FINANCE MINISTER OFFERS TAX BOARD CHIEF A NEW POST.
Tonis Palts proposed on 26 September that the suspended general director of the Tax Board, Aivar Soerd, become an adviser in the Finance Ministry as Palts does not intend to reinstate him, BNS reported. Although the investigation into Soerd's activities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 July 2003) did not find any violations of the law, it stated that his working knowledge was inadequate, causing losses to taxpayers and damaging the reputation of the Tax Board and the state. Palts noted, "A good specialist is not necessarily a good leader." Soerd indicated that he was not interested in the offer from Palts.EMPLOYERS, TRADE UNIONS AGREE ON NEW LABOR-CONTRACT LAW.
The Estonian Employers Central Union and the Estonian Trade Unions' Central Union reached an agreement in Tallinn on 22 September on a new draft labor-contract law, LETA reported. It gives employees the right to be treated with dignity, which includes reasonable concern over the health and personal well-being of employees and enables employees to sue employers for violating that requirement. The draft law also imposes major fines on employers for the illegal firing of workers, retains severance pay at the current level, and makes it harder for employers to lay people off by requiring them to try find new jobs for them within their business and to provide training, if needed. Regarding employees, the agreement introduces collective responsibility and fines for mishandling company property and revealing corporate secrets.
* NATO Parliamentary Assembly Subcommittee for Democratic Governance Chairman Niki Bettendorf from Luxembourg said that his recent visit to Estonia showed that the Russian minority in the country did not have any major problems, BNS reported on 22 September. He said: "We arrived at the conclusion that you have made speedy and excellent progress over the past year. I would say that ethnic minorities, too, find life easy in your country."
* Prime Minister Juhan Parts discussed EU political issues with his Slovak counterpart Mikulas Dzurinda in Bratislava on 20 September, BNS reported. They talked about the elections to the European Parliament next summer and Dzurinda accepted an invitation to visit Estonia. Parts had traveled to the Slovak capital in his role as Res Publica chairman to attend a "Future of Europe" conference of center-right parties from Central and East European countries.
* Social Affairs Minister Marko Pomerants told a conference of labor ministers from the Baltic and Nordic states and Poland in Kalmar, Sweden, on 22 September that there would not be a large outflow of workers from Estonia to other EU states after it joins the EU on 1 May 2004, BNS reported the next day. He said that it would probably only concern about 3,000 people a year with most desiring to go to Finland. In his opinion Poland will have a much greater outflow of people than the Baltic states.
* Environment Minister Villu Reiljan and Danish Ambassador to Estonia Jorgen Munk Rasmussen signed a memorandum of mutual understanding under the Kyoto Protocol in Tallinn on 24 September, BNS reported. Denmark will give Estonia funds for energy projects in exchange for receiving part of Estonia's carbon-dioxide-emission allowance. Estonia is able to do this since its emission of greenhouse gases in 2000 was only 44 percent of the amount it produced in 1990.
* The government decided on 26 September that it will seek changes in four or five issues at the Intergovernmental Conference on the European Constitution slated to open on 4 October in Rome. LETA reported. They include each country having at least one EU commissioner, getting at least six seats in the European Parliament, and the necessity of unanimous decisions in tax issues, social policy, and foreign and security policy.
* The congress of the Estonian People's Party in Tallinn on 20 September overwhelmingly re-elected Environment Minister Villu Reiljan as party chairman with 791 of the 845 votes, BNS reported. It also re-elected Chairwoman of the parliament's Social Affairs Committee Mai Treial and Tallinn chapter Chairman Mario Sootna as his deputies. Parliament deputy Juri Saar replaced Ants Kaarma as the third deputy chairman. The congress also approved a statement supporting the concept of total defense and the continuation of the draft for the armed forces.
* The government authorized Ambassador to the Council of Europe Alar Streimann on 25 September to sign the European Convention on the Compensation to Victims of Violent Crimes, BNS reported. The convention adopted in 1983 and effective from 1988 establishes minimum standards of compensation to victims of violent crimes in Europe which states have to observe while drawing up their own laws.
* Tiit Niilo, a manager of a farm and dairy factory in Vorumaa, was sworn in as a parliament deputy from Res Publica on 24 September replacing Hannes Vorno, LETA reported. Vorno had resigned explaining that he had gotten tired of complaints that he was not doing his job as a parliament deputy because he had continued working as the host of a television program.
* The Supreme Court rejected complaints filed by Helle Vilu and the Estonian Voters Union seeking annulment of the EU referendum on 24 September on the grounds that they had been filed too late, BNS reported. The next day the Central Election Committee ruled that the complaint against the Jogeva County Electoral Commission that it had violated election rules by beginning to count ballots before all unused ballots had been canceled was correct, but this did not affect the outcome of the elections, and was not grounds to annul the referendum.
* Deputies from the right of center Pro Patria Union introduced a bill in parliament on 25 September which would require greater use of the Estonian language in teaching in all high schools from 2007, LETA reported. They said that it was too expensive to maintain school networks in both the Estonian and Russian languages. They expressed regret that the previous government coalition adopted a law in 2002 giving almost all rights on deciding language of instruction in schools to the schools and local governments, making the shift to Estonian language impossible before 2007.
* The Res Publica faction decided on 22 September to approve the candidacy of parliament deputy Taavi Veskimagi as finance minister replacing Tonis Palts, BNS reported. It also chose Siim-Valmar Kissler to replace Veskimagi as the new chairman of the faction. The 37-year-old Kissler had earlier served as a deputy chairman of Res Publica and the governor of the Tallinn Center borough.
PRESIDENT HAS BUSY VISIT TO NEW YORK.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga flew to New York on 21 September and began a busy week the following day with a speech at the conference "Fighting Terrorism for Humanity" organized by Norway, LETA reported. On 23 September, Vike-Freiberga discussed UN developments, Latvia's contribution to UN work, as well as future cooperation opportunities with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan before making an address to the General Assembly. In her speech she noted that Latvia was the last of the 10 EU candidate countries to hold a membership referendum and expressed the hope that the expanded Europe would also become an important partner in international security and development. She also had informal talks with U.S. President George W. Bush and French President Jacques Chirac and longer meetings with Serbia and Montenegro President Svetozar Marovic, Moroccan King Mohammad VI, and Sri Lankan Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe. On 24 September Vike-Freiberga delivered a lecture titled "Latvia: Europe's Economic Success Story" at the fourth World Leadership Forum. She said the Baltic Sea region, with more than 90 million residents and 10 major cities, has an excellent chance of becoming a new center of dynamic growth in the new Europe, especially as the Baltic states and Poland will join the EU next year. On 25 September National Committee on American Foreign Policy President George Schwab organized a reception in her honor at which her contributions to Latvia's reforms and development were praised.CRISIS INTENSIFIES IN RULING COALITION...
Three of the ruling coalition's four parties -- Latvia's First Party, Union of Greens and Farmers, and For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK on 22 September signed a joint statement expressing their lack of confidence in Prime Minister Einars Repse, BNS reported. Leaders of the three parties said they want to preserve the coalition, but the prime minister must be changed. The statement claimed that "blackmail, threats, and slander have become daily tools of Repse" who, they claimed, is unwilling to accept other opinions. An extended meeting of the New Era board also attended by the party's ministers firmly expressed their support for Repse, who said he will not resign. Repse said he believes dissolving parliament and holding early elections is a rational idea. This scenario seems unlikely, as the Latvian Constitution stipulates that only the president has the right to propose dissolving parliament and it must be approved in a referendum. President Vike-Freiberga has said the fall of the government is not reason enough to dissolve parliament....BUT PARTNERS AGREE TO TRUCE.
A meeting of the parliament faction heads of the New Era party, Latvia's First Party (LPP), Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS), and For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) on 23 September agreed to a truce in their dispute over Prime Minister Repse, BNS and LETA reported. Although the LPP and ZZS reiterated their views that Repse should be replaced, they agreed to conclude an agreement on adopting decisions and preparing issues for review by the cabinet and parliament. New Era faction head Krisjanis Karins said the agreement should place emphasis on democratic decision-making methods. TB/LNNK faction head Juris Dobelis said that such a document could stabilize the situation within the government, but that the coalition will still face several significant obstacles, such as the adoption of the 2004 budget.PARLIAMENT AMENDS LAW ON PORTS.
Parliament on 25 September approved amendments to the law on ports by a vote of 54-44, LETA reported. The amendments, which were prepared by parliament's Economic, Agricultural, Environmental, and Regional Policy Committee, stipulate that the boards of the Riga and Ventspils free ports each consist of seven members, four of whom are to be appointed by the government on the recommendations of the Economy, Environment, Finance, and Transport ministries and three by the ports' respective city councils. All decisions will require the approval of at least four board members. The amendments, which will go into effect on 31 October, are expected to restore operations in Riga that were halted in August when the government removed its five representatives from the port's 10-member board (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 7 August 2003). Declaring that the amendments interfere with local government rights to their property, Riga Mayor Gundars Bojars immediately urged President Vike-Freiberga to veto the amendments.COURT SENTENCES FORMER KGB OFFICER FOR CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY.
The Zemgale Regional Court found former KGB officer Nikolai Larionov guilty of crimes against humanity and genocide on 26 September and sentenced him to five years in a maximum-security prison, LETA reported. The 82-year-old Larionov was charged with ordering the deportations of more than 500 farmers and their families to Siberia in March 1949. Russian Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin, who also heads Russia's delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, said in an interview in the Russian television program "Vesti" that Russia should grant citizenship to Larionov and demand his extradition to Russia, BNS reported on 27 September. Rogozin charged that Latvia is failing to comply with any fundamental standards of human rights and democracy, yet will become a member of the European Union, which is "generally a community of civilized nations."
* A NATO Parliamentary Assembly delegation, headed by its Subcommittee for Democratic Governance Chairman Niki Bettendorf, heard reports about the rights of minorities given by Education and Research Minister Karlis Sadurskis, Naturalization Department head Eizenija Aldermane, and deputy parliament speaker Eriks Jekabsons on 22 September, BNS reported. Bettendorf said that the laws in Latvia are protecting the rights of minorities and international requirements are being observed. The delegation also met with Andrew Rasbash, the head of the European Commission delegation in Latvia, who noted that permanent residents of Latvia who are not citizens will have the same access to work in other EU countries as Latvian citizens.
* Agriculture Minister Martins Roze discussed cooperation prospects with Russian Deputy Prime Minister and Agriculture Minister Aleksei Gordeev in Moscow on 25 September, LETA reported. They also talked about cooperation in food, wood processing, and veterinary medicine as well as the exchange of information about food quality. Roze also visited the annual exhibition "World Food" in Moscow in which some Latvian enterprises were participating before returning home on 26 September.
* Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis led a delegation, which included Bank of Latvia President and Ilmars Rimsevics and Vice President Andris Ruselis, Finance Ministry State Secretary Valentina Andreeva, and other officials, to the annual meeting of the World Bank and International Monetary Fund, held in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, on 22-26 September, BNS reported. Speaking on behalf of the three Baltic states, Dombrovskis told the meeting on 24 September that integration into the EU was their most urgent issue and they would be willing to share their experience gained in transition years with other countries and regions.
* A parliament delegation headed by speaker Ingrida Udre visited Georgia on 21-24 September to discuss further cooperation between both parliaments, BNS reported. The delegation met with Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, Foreign Minister Irakli Menagarishvili, parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze, and other officials.
* An Australian parliament delegation arrived in Riga on 23 September for a six-day official visit, BNS reported. The next day it met with parliament Deputy Chairman Eriks Jekabsons, Foreign Affairs Committee members, and Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins. On 25 September the delegation had talks with Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis, Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers, Interior Minister Maris Gulbis, and officials of some other ministries. Australian Senator Grant Chapman discussed the fight against corruption, organized crime, and smuggling, stressing the importance of the exchange of information.
* About 30 Russian-speaking students from Latvia staged a picket at the building of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly in Strasbourg before the opening of its fall session on 25 September, BNS reported the next day. They were protesting the planned education reforms next fall to make Latvian the main language of instruction in all schools.
* Prime Minister Repse appointed his unsuccessful nominee to the post of Corruption Prevention Bureau head Juta Strike (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2003) as the bureau's acting head on 22 September, BNS reported. This canceled his earlier order making Alvis Vilks the acting head and returned him to his post of deputy chief for educational matters.
* Justice Minister Aivars Aksenoks announced on 22 September that Latvia had filed an appeal against the decision of the Stockholm International Court of Arbitration in June (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 June 2003) ordering Latvia to pay 6.9 million lats ($12.2 million) to Latvian Gas for damages it had caused by regulating gas prices, BNS reported. The appeal claims that the Stockholm court should not have jurisdiction since the case involved interference with Latvia's legislation and was not an economic dispute. Latvia is also demanding that Latvian Gas pay for the legal expenses it incurred.
* Chief of the State Police's Vice Squad Arturs Vaisla told a meeting with representatives of nongovernmental organizations in Riga on 23 September that about 100 women leave Latvia every month for European countries, primarily Germany, Spain, Switzerland, Denmark, Italy, Portugal, and Israel, to work as prostitutes, LETA reported. Recruiting agents, who work primarily in Riga, Daugavpils, Rezekne, and Ventspils, get about $1,000 for every prostitute they send from Latvia abroad, or 5 percent-10 percent of her projected income.
* Central Election Commission Chairman Arnis Cimdars issued a statement on 24 September calling on parliament factions and its Legislation Committee to prepare and pass the needed laws to hold the European Parliament elections next June, LETA reported. Cimdars mentioned that the work should begin soon since it will be necessary to ensure the voting of other EU member-state citizens in the elections, as well as the planned transition to dual identification documents in May 2004.
* The government approved on 23 September raising the minimum monthly wage from 70 lats ($124) to 80 lats on 1 January 2004, LETA reported. After taxes, the 80 lats wage will be equal to 59.85 lats or only 65.2 percent of the minimum consumer basket of goods and services per capita of 91.75 lats in the first quarter of 2003. The Latvian Merchants' Association said on 25 September that the new minimum salary will lead to the "liquidation of small and medium-sized companies" and it would be much better for the government to raise the level of income exempt from taxes.
KNESSET CHAIRMAN CALLS FOR PROPERTY RESTITUTION.
Israeli Knesset Chairman Reuven Rivlin said during his speech to the Lithuanian parliament on 23 September on the occasion of Jewish Holocaust Memorial Day and the 60th anniversary of the destruction of the Vilnius ghetto, that looted Jewish properties should be returned to the descendants of their original owners, BNS reported. Rivlin lauded former President Algirdas Brazauskas' 1995 apology in Israel for Lithuanians' involvement in the Holocaust, and he noted Lithuania's efforts to teach its youth the history of the Holocaust. Rivlin's speech differed sharply from that made by Israeli Ambassador Oded ben Hur in 1997 in which he accused Lithuanians of massacring Jews a week before the Nazis arrived during World War II. In separate talks with now-Prime Minister Brazauskas and parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas on 22 September, Rivlin asked that Jews who moved to Israel from Lithuania be granted Lithuanian citizenship. In a later speech on 23 September at the Paneriai Monument dedicated to Holocaust victims, Rivlin declared that local Lithuanians not only had enthusiastically assisted the Nazis murdering the Jews, but also made a profit by seizing the victims' property. In a radio interview on 25 September parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas said that Rivlin's visit had not improved bilateral ties, for while "his parliament speech was balanced" his remarks at Paneriai were "full of accusations and grievance" raising unnecessary tensions between the states.GOVERNMENT APPROVES SALE OF GAS-UTILITY STAKE TO GAZPROM.
A closed-door cabinet session on 24 September approved setting the minimum price for the sale of a 34 percent stake of the utility Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas) at 91 million litas ($30 million), BNS reported. This is the exact price that Russia's Gazprom has offered for the shares. Last year, the German companies Ruhrgas and E.ON Energie paid 116 million litas for a similar 34 percent stake in the company. Lithuania will continue negotiations with Gazprom on an additional payment of 9 million litas contingent on the Lithuanian government's agreement to refrain from capping gas prices for large industrial users, and to liberalize its gas market as of 2004. Deputy Economy Minister Nerijus Eidukevicius said the sale agreement will likely take a month to work out and will contain guarantees for a long-term (until 2015) supply of gas at stable prices, set according to a specific price formula.COURT SENTENCES RUSSIAN NATIONAL BOLSHEVIKS.
The Vilnius District Court on 25 September imposed 40-day prison sentences on 14 members of Russia's National Bolshevik Party who earlier this month protested Lithuania's rules for transit to Kaliningrad, "Kauno diena" reported the next day (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 September 2003). They were found guilty of disturbing public order during the protest at the Kena border post. Two minors who participated received 20-day sentences. The court said the protesters' actions were planned well in advance, as evidenced by their possession of the party's flag (red background emblazoned with a hammer and sickle), printed flyers, and chains and handcuffs with which some of them chained themselves to a train.
* European Commissioner for Justice and Home Affairs Antonio Vitorino began a busy day on 26 September by stating at the roundtable "Towards the EU Constitution" that the EU Convention on the Future of Europe was "a model of the most transparent work process in the history of Europe," ELTA reported. He noted that the draft EU constitution was the result of an 18-month process and should not be amended any more. Vitorino later held talks with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and Interior Minister Virgilijus Bulovas and inspected the border post with Belarus at Medininkai.
* Bruce Jackson, the head of the U.S. Committee on NATO nongovernmental organization, and U.S. Ambassador to Vilnius Stephen D. Mull met with President Rolandas Paksas on 24 September, BNS reported. Jackson praised Paksas for his visit to Armenia and Georgia earlier in the month. Mull said that plans for Paksas to meet with President George W. Bush in Washington would probably be fulfilled this year. Jackson was in Vilnius to speak at a conference on South Caucasus stability on 22-23 September, organized by NATO and the Lithuanian Defense Ministry. In a lecture to students of the Institute of International Relations and Political Science of Vilnius University on 25 September, Jackson said that Lithuanian intellectuals could take over the role of the new voice of Europe.
* Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius traveled to the German city of Garmisch on 24 September to give a report on Lithuania's stance on Euro-Atlantic security at an international seminar held at the George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies on 15-25 September, BNS reported. The seminar focused on the current situation in the security field, efficiency of cooperation among NATO, the EU, and other international organizations, as well as the role of Euro-Atlantic ties in the future.
* Economy Ministry Petras Cesna and Ukrainian Transportation Minister Heorhiy Kirpa met in Yalta on 25 September during the 6th session of the Lithuania-Ukraine Intergovernmental Commission for Commercial, Economic, and Scientific Cooperation, ELTA reported. The session focused primarily on transportation issues although it also had discussions on cooperation by customs officials, tourism development among respective Lithuanian and Ukrainian regions, and investments in Ukraine.
* Health Minister Juozas Olekas signed the UN Tobacco Control Convention at the UN headquarters in New York on 22 September, BNS reported. Lithuania is the 57th state to sign the convention, initiated by the World Health Organization. It aims to protect existing and future nations against health-related, social, environmental, and economic effects of smoking and tobacco smoke.
* At a ceremony in Vilnius on 23 September attended by Israeli Knesset Chairman Reuven Rivlin, President Paksas, Culture Minister Roma Zakaitiene, and representatives of the National Mazvydas Library, 46 additional Jewish Torahs were handed over to Jewish representatives, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. Ten torahs were given to Jewish groups in Lithuania and 36 to Moshe Moskovitch, the head of the Hechal Shlomo Jewish heritage center in Jerusalem. In the last few years, other historic torahs have been given to U.S. Jewish communities.
* President Paksas hosted a dinner for the ambassadors of current and future NATO and EU states on 26 September during which the main topic of interest was the planned extraction of oil by LUKoil in the Baltic Sea off the Curonian Spit near the border with Lithuania, BNS reported. Paksas said that he had discussed the issue with Russian and UNESCO officials and hoped that UNESCO experts would arrive shortly. The president also spoke about his recent visit to Georgia and Armenia.
* The government asked President Paksas on 24 September to empower Defense Minister Linkevicius to sign a Lithuanian-Turkish governmental agreement on cooperation between the defense industries of both countries, ELTA reported The agreement, first proposed by Turkey in 2000, calls for the formation of a joint committee to improve cooperation in the military-industry, logistic-support, engineering, and public-procurement fields and to organize joint projects between economic and scientific research institutions in the two countries.