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Baltic Report: November 11, 2003

11 November 2003, Volume 4, Number 34

This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 4 to 19 October 2003.
Prime Ministers Juhan Parts (Estonia), Einars Repse (Latvia), Algirdas Brazauskas (Lithuania), Anders Fogh Rasmussen (Denmark), Matti Vanhanen (Finland), and Goran Persson (Sweden) met in Helsinki on 10 October and discussed preparations for the EU Summit Council meeting in Brussels on 16-17 October, BNS reported. They noted that they have similar views on the future of the EU and agreed that the intergovernmental conference in Rome on the draft European constitution should continue as long as is necessary to produce a satisfactory document. The prime ministers decided to send a letter to European Commission President Romano Prodi calling for greater investment in human capital as well as science and education to speed up economic development. They also agreed that if a joint EU border-guard service is created, it should function as an advisory body without any authority to dictate orders to individual countries' border guards.

More than 400 top-level officials, businessmen, politicians, journalists, and scholars from states in the Baltic Sea region participated in Riga in the fifth Baltic Development Forum, which took place from 5-7 October, LETA reported. Presidents Arnold Ruutel (Estonia), Vaira Vike-Freiberga (Latvia), and Rolandas Paksas (Lithuania) attended the forum and issued a joint statement on 6 October. It called for the implementation of modern infrastructure projects under the Trans-European Network in the Baltic Sea region and the joining of electricity grids in the region with the common European electricity market. It also stressed the need "to pay a special attention to maritime safety and environmental protection to minimize the potential risks of contamination by oil, chemicals, and dangerous substances in the Baltic Sea area."

Agriculture Ministers Tiit Tammsaar (Estonia), Martins Roze (Latvia), and Jeronimas Kraujelis (Lithuania) signed a joint statement in Riga on 10 October outlining their conditions for the implementation of the EU's Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) in their states, LETA reported. They proposed to the European Commission that CAP agricultural subsidies be calculated on the basis of data in individual countries' EU accession treaties and that the Baltic states be given the right to adjust direct payments per farm, taking into account the size of the farm and the area of the agricultural land in use. The ministers also asked the European Commission to present the CAP implementation project to new member states in October to allow time for discussion before the reform is officially approved.

Transparency International's "Corruption Perceptions Index 2003," released on 7 October, ranked Estonia 33rd, with 5.5 points on the 10-point scale; Lithuania 41st with 4.7; and Latvia 57th with 3.8. Last year, the three countries were rated 29th, 36th, and 52nd, respectively. The index is based on a 10-point system with Finland being listed as the least-corrupt state, with a rating of 9.7, and Bangladesh the most corrupt with a rating of 1.3. Only 38 countries of the 133 listed on the index had a rating above 5, the dividing line between countries with low corruption and those plagued by the problem.
* The defense ministers, armed forces commanders, and other ministry officials of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania attended an unofficial meeting of defense ministers of NATO member and the seven candidate states in Colorado Springs, Colorado, on 8 and 9 October, BNS reported. The main topics of the meeting were peace operations in Afghanistan, the Balkans, and Iraq, reorganizations in the alliance, and NATO deployment forces. No decisions were adopted at the unofficial meeting, which provided an opportunity for the participants to speak about the problems affecting world security and about the fight against terrorism.
* At the meeting of Baltic agriculture ministers in Riga on 10 October, Estonian and Lithuanian ministers Tiit Tammsaar and Jeronimas Kraujelis expressed satisfaction with the proposal by their Latvian counterpart Martins Roze to increase pork quotas and reduce import duties, BNS reported. Their countries' import quota would rise from 2,332 tons to 3,684 tons, and from 233 tons to 369 tons, respectively. The import duty on live pigs was lowered from 0.203 lats ($0.37) per kilo to 0.1 lats per kilo. Latvia offered the reductions because its meat processors are facing a pork shortage.
* Economy Ministers Meelis Atonen (Estonia), Juris Lujans (Latvia), and Petras Cesna (Lithuania) agreed on developing closer cooperation in tackling economic issues in Riga on 6 October, LETA reported. Atonen mentioned that a single country in the EU can achieve a lot less than three countries acting together and all the Baltic littoral countries make up a third of the total EU.

Neil Kinnock, the European Commission's (EC) vice president for administrative reform, made a one-day visit to Estonia on 7 October during which he met with many officials including Prime Minister Juhan Parts, BNS reported. The focus of the visit was to learn more about the government's position on the draft European constitutional agreement that is being formed at the Intergovernmental Conference on the European Constitution, which opened in Rome on 4 October. Kinnock agreed with the position that Parts expressed in Rome that each EU member state should have at least one commissioner on the European Commission. They also discussed Estonian officials' applying for jobs at the European Commission, and Estonia's preparations for appointing a commission member.

In Tallinn on 6 October, Juhan Parts told a visiting 10-member delegation of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) that there are still many projects in Estonia in which the EBRD could participate, BNS reported. Noting that 91 percent of the 240 million euros ($281.4 million) the EBRD invested in the country through 2002 were for the private sector, he called for greater participation in projects jointly financed by the public and private sectors in areas requiring huge investments, such as technological innovation and infrastructure. The delegation mentioned that Estonia will be eligible for considerable aid from the EU once it becomes a member in May 2004 and that the EBRD could lend its experience in preparing and carrying out large-scale EU projects co-financed by Estonia.

Margus Hanson flew to Berlin for a meeting on 15 October with his German counterpart Peter Struck, LETA reported. They discussed bilateral and regional defense cooperation, the current state of NATO integration, European security policy, participation in peacekeeping operations, and reforms of the Estonian defense forces. The major projects in Estonian-German defense cooperation concern equipment and training. A good example of naval cooperation is the de-mining operation Open Spirit 2003, staged under German command in September, according to an unidentified Estonian Defense Ministry official. Hanson and his accompanying delegation also visited the operative staff of the Bundeswehr and met with German parliament Defense Committee Chairman Reinhold Robbe.

Paavo Lipponen began a two-day visit to Estonia on 7 October by meeting with his Estonian counterpart, Ene Ergma, BNS reported the next day. Lipponen noted that the business of national parliaments and the European Parliament should be kept separate from each other. The next day Lipponen told Prime Minister Parts about Finland's goals at the Intergovernmental Conference on the European Constitution in Rome, including the goals that each EU member state have at least one commissioner on the European Commission and further negotiations on security and defense policy. Talks with President Arnold Ruutel focused on joint activities in further developing environmental protection, infrastructure, and energy spheres in the Baltic Sea region. Lipponen also met with parliament European Affairs and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairmen Rein Lang and Marko Mihkelson.

The parliament by a vote of 60-7 rejected on 14 October a proposal by the right-of-center Pro Patria faction to suspend the second reading of a bill sponsored by the Center Party that would speed up procedures necessary for obtaining Estonian citizenship, BNS reported. The proposed bill would retain the requirement that an applicant be a legal resident of Estonia for at least five years. However it would shorten from 12 months to six the required period of residence after a citizenship application is filed. If adopted, the law will go into effect as of 1 January 2004. One of the bill's initiators, deputy Ain Seppik, said the bill does not alter the underlying principles of the citizenship law and merely shortens the waiting period for citizenship. He pointed out that there are about 170,000 stateless persons in Estonia whose predicament is frequently mentioned as a problem during EU-accession talks.

The government on 16 October gave its approval to an agreement with Romania to mutually abolish visa requirements for each other's citizens, BNS reported. State Secretary Heiki Loot has been authorized to sign the agreement on Estonia's behalf. It will be signed later this month during President Ruutel's state visit to Romania. According to the agreement, Estonian citizens will be able to stay in Romania without a visa for up to 90 days in a six-month period and vice versa, but it does not allow citizens of one country to work in the other. The agreement was necessary to fulfill the EU membership requirement to abolish visa requirements with all EU member and candidate countries. Romania is the only such country with which Estonia does not have a visa-free-travel agreement. Estonia now has visa-free agreements with 35 countries, and talks are being held with another 30 countries. The cabinet also authorized Loot to sign a treaty with Romania on eliminating double taxation.

Reform Party Chairman Siim Kallas said party leaders decided on 8 October to prepare a new version of the so-called memorandum of national accord within a week, BNS reported the next day. He said the present draft version of the accord, which 39 representatives of civic associations, organizations, and political parties agreed to prepare early in the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 February 2003), is a vague "pact of general happiness." Kallas suggested the text should be a shorter agreement where the emphasis would be placed on forming a knowledge-based economy. Leaders of Res Publica and the People's Union, the other parties in the ruling coalition, criticized the Reform Party proposal as granting too much emphasis to the business community. People's Union Chairman Villu Reiljan expressed doubt that the months of work by scientists and civic associations should be replaced with "a week's ruminations of a single societal group" which might not even refer to important demographic problems.
* Prime Minister Parts presented the position of Estonia on the draft EU constitution in Rome on 4 October, BNS reported. He called for equal representation of all members states in the European Commission and regarded any move to a qualified majority vote on tax and social security issues as unacceptable. Parts urged his colleagues to keep three principles -- equality, efficiency, and solidarity -- in mind when working toward the best possible EU constitution.
* A delegation of the Defense Committee of the West-European Union (WEU) Assembly, headed by Chairman John Wilkinson from Great Britain and Deputy Chairman Stef Goris from Belgium, visited Estonia on 13 and 14 October, BNS reported. The first day they met with representatives of the Estonian defense forces and navy. and in the evening the delegation met with the parliament's State Defense Committee. On 14 October the delegation traveled to Tartu where they held talks with the head of the Baltic Defense College, Brigadier General Michael Clemmesen, before proceeding to Latvia.
* Parliament speaker Ene Ergma stressed at an international conference in Budapest on 10 October the importance of national parliaments in the EU, LETA reported. While chairing the panel discussion on "Dialogues between the Parliament and the Citizen in the Expanded European Union," she said that the national parliaments "must have a central role in shaping EU policies." Ergma also noted that there were no problems on the issues of EU legislation between the government and parliament in Estonia.
* The Social Democratic Labor Party (ESDTP) signed a cooperation accord with the European United Left/Nordic Green Left (GUE/NGL) faction in the European Parliament (EP) on 6 October, BNS reported. ESDTP external relations secretary Sirje Kingsepp said that the GUE/NGL is the fourth-largest faction in the EP and invited some leftist parties of EU candidate countries to take part in their faction meetings and work closely in matters such as employment, equal rights, and environment.
* The parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee sent a letter to Prime Minister Parts on 7 October urging the government to extend the mission of the Estonian Rescue Board bomb experts in Afghanistan, BNS reported. Parts had declared in late September that he saw no reason to continue the mission in 2004 as it was expensive and there was a shortage of bomb-disposal specialists in Estonia (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2003). U.S. Ambassador to Estonia Joseph De Thomas told Parts on 9 October that he understood the need of the sniffer dogs to rest, but would like their mission to be resumed in the more distant future.
* The Synod of the Russian Orthodox Church thanked the Estonian authorities on 6 October for the warm reception given to Patriarch Aleksii II during his recent visit, but expressed the hope that more church properties would be handed over, BNS reported. Estonia has agreed to hand over four church properties to the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate by the end of the year while the return of another 11 church buildings will occur after additional legal procedures are completed.
* The parliament rejected by a vote of 47 to 33 on 7 October the bill proposed by the Center Party which would have given Estonian voters the right to propose a legislative initiative, BNS reported. The bill called for giving at least 25,000 eligible voters the right to initiate legislation. which is now enjoyed by parliament factions and committees as well as the government. The opposition Pro Patria Union and Moderates supported deputies from Res Publica and the Reform Party in rejecting the bill.
* The Saare County Court on 10 October found two former Soviet state security officers guilty of crimes against humanity for deporting people from Saaremaa more than 50 years ago, but gave them suspended prison terms, BNS reported. August Kolk, 78, and Petr Kislyi, 82, were given eight-year prison sentences with three years of probation and said that they would appeal the sentences to the Tallinn Circuit Court.
* About 200 people staged a protest arranged by Narva trade unions in front of the parliament on 8 October against the planned layoff of 400 workers at the Kreenholm textile factory in Narva, LETA reported the next day. They also sent a letter to the Swedish owners of the factory asking that at least 4,500 of the current 4.600 workers be retained. The cabinet met on 9 October and noted that the problems of the workers was a matter for the Labor Market Board which has received funds for courses and retraining of workers.
* The Statistics Office announced on 6 October that in August imports and exports totaled 6.83 and 5 billion kroons, respectively, BNS reported. Due to a 7 percent rise in exports and 12 percent decline in imports the foreign trade deficit decreased to 1.83 billion kroons ($183 million) from 3.1 billion kroons in July. Both imports and exports were higher than the 6.09 billion and 4.68 billion kroons in August 2002.
* The Statistics Office announced on 7 October that in September the consumer price index rose by 0.2 percent compared to August and by 1.4 percent compared to September 2002, BNS reported. Compared to August the 0.6 percent drop in food prices was offset by a 1.7 percent rise in non-food items, resulting in a 0.5 percent increase in prices while the prices of services declined by 0.3 percent.

President Vaira Vike-Freiberga told Prime Minister Einars Repse on 8 October that she hopes the parties in the ruling coalition will realize that the government has to tackle a number of important issues such as accession to the EU and NATO, administration of EU funds, and preparing Latvia's development strategy now, LETA and BNS reported. Repse said he is ready to do everything to improve communications between the government and parliament. He also said he regrets that the statements of coalition representatives in the parliament that they back the government are not always fulfilled when there is a vote. Repse said he considered calling for a vote of confidence in his government, but decided against the idea since, he feels, the upcoming vote on the 2004 budget will show the extent to which parliament trusts the government.

Vaira Vike-Freiberga began a two-day visit to Brussels on 9 October by making a speech at the European Parliament, LETA and BNS reported. She was the first leader of an EU candidate country to address the European Parliament during the fall session. Vike-Freiberga told the parliament that membership in the EU would probably change the mentality and attitude of Latvia's residents as the daily contacts in the EU will allow them "to loosen up and become more open to other peoples, to develop a better understanding about the interests of other countries." Noting that Latvia has been and will remain a European country in terms of culture, history, and geography, she said it will work together with other European countries and defend the European view of life and spiritual values, to contribute its knowledge and experience. Later that day Vike-Freiberga held talks with EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen and Secretary-General of the Council of the European Union Javier Solana. She met with European Commission President Romano Prodi on 10 October and was told that Latvia complies with all international criteria regarding societal integration. Later, Vike-Freiberga traveled to Germany where she participated in the presentation of the book "In The Name of Freedom: President of Latvia Vaira Vike-Freiberga" by Ausma Cimdina at the Frankfurt book fair on 11 October.

The Russian Duma on 14 October passed a nonbinding resolution on the "Blatant Violations of Human Rights and Ethnic Minorities' Rights in the Republic of Latvia," LETA reported. The statement, which passed overwhelmingly with only one abstention, was prepared by the Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee head Dmitrii Rogozin. It expresses deep concern over what it calls Latvia's discriminatory policy toward ethnic minorities, as evidenced by the 1999 law "On State Language," under which "Russian, the mother tongue of 36 percent of Latvia's residents, became a foreign language." In addition, the statement claims that the "so-called government program Society Integration in Latvia is, in fact, intended to assimilate ethnic minorities by force." The fact that noncitizens are not allowed to participate in national elections "is a crying example of democracy being trampled on in modern Europe," according to the statement. The Latvian Foreign Ministry responded on 14 October by saying the Duma's statement is inaccurate and does not reflect reality. "It is also unfortunate that such an announcement yet again demonstrates Russia's difficulty in evaluating and overcoming the legacy of its own history," the Foreign Ministry stated.

EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen told Latvian Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete in Brussels on 16 October that the recent statement by the Russian Duma condemning Latvia's human rights record was unjustified, BNS reported. He reiterated the EU position that Latvia has complied with all international requirements concerning human rights and the rights of ethnic minorities. Regarding calls in the Duma to impose economic sanctions on Latvia to enforce its statement, Verheugen said that as soon as Latvia becomes a member of the EU in May 2004, it will automatically become a member of the common EU market and any economic sanctions against Latvia would be against the EU as a whole.

Council of Europe Commissioner for Human Rights Alvaro Gil-Robles began an official four-day visit to Latvia on 5 October, LETA and BNS reported. The next day he discussed the safeguarding of human rights in Latvia with President Vike-Freiberga, Education and Research Minister Karlis Sadurskis, Welfare Minister Dagnija Stake, Society Integration Minister Nils Muiznieks, Constitutional Court Chairman Aivars Endzins, and other officials. He also visited the Riga Central Prison with Justice Minister Aivars Aksenoks where he talked with prisoners about their conditions. In a cell housing almost 20 inmates, Gil-Robles asked all prison officials and media representatives to leave so that the prisoners could speak off the record. On 7 October, Gil-Robles traveled to Daugavpils for talks with Mayor Rita Strode and representatives from local religious and ethnic communities. He also visited two schools in Riga and held a press conference before departing on 8 October.

Sandra Kalniete began a four-day visit to Iraq on 6 October accompanied by Ambassador at Large Peteris Karlis Elferts, Foreign Ministry Deputy State Secretary Ivars Pundurs, and Latvian National Guard commander Juris Kiukucans, LETA reported. The Latvian contingent stopped on 5 October in Kuwait, where Kalniete met with Kuwaiti Undersecretary for Foreign Affairs Khaled al-Jarallah to discuss Latvian-Kuwaiti relations, the situation in the region, and the postwar reconstruction of Iraq. On 6 October she talked about the situation in the country and the support from the international community with the head of the U.S. administration in Iraq, L. Paul Bremer, BNS reported. In subsequent talks with senior Iraqi Foreign Ministry officials, Kalniete gave a letter of invitation to the Iraqi foreign minister to visit Latvia to examine possible ways for Latvia to assist Iraq. The next day she discussed Latvia's potential contribution to the Iraqi banking and finance sector with Iraqi Finance and Banking Minister Kamil al-Kilani and Construction and Housing Minister Bayan Baqir Sulagh. On 8 October Kalniete thanked the Latvian soldiers based in Kirkuk for participating in the peacekeeping mission and noted that Iraqi officials had praised their professionalism. She also visited the Latvian troops serving at Al-Hashimiyan and received assurances from the commander of the Polish peacekeeping division under whom the Latvians are serving that he would try to provide them with night-vision equipment.

European Commission (EC) Director-General for Economic and Financial Affairs Klaus Regling and Director for International Affairs Alexander Italianer visited Riga on 15 October, LETA reported. They held talks with Economy and Finance Ministers Juris Lujans and Valdis Dombrovskis and Bank of Latvia President Ilmars Rimsevics. The visit is part of a tour that is intended to familiarize commission officials with EU candidate countries' economic and financial situations. Regling lauded Latvia's GDP growth, noting that there are only a few countries in the world where it is 7 percent a year. Lujans presented a draft report his ministry prepared on Latvia's economy that is still subject to government approval before it is sent to the EU. The report analyzes the structural reform of markets for goods and capital, highlights problems, and describes reforms that are under way or will be launched to eliminate the problems.

About 200 people gathered in front of the parliament building in Riga on 15 October, the 12th anniversary of the passage of the country's citizenship law, to protest what they called the division of Latvia's residents into citizens and noncitizens, LETA reported. The law recognized only persons who held Latvian citizenship before the Soviet invasion in 1940 and their descendants as citizens. Some protesters wore cardboard mock-ups of the Latvian alien passport or white headbands with the word "noncitizen" written in English. A number of left-wing opposition lawmakers spoke to the crowd from a platform adorned with posters saying "12 Years of Treachery" and "Down with Apartheid in Latvia." Some demonstrators wore T-shirts that read "Hands Off Our Schools," a slogan that was used during protests earlier this year against educational reforms that will affect minority schools. Equal Rights parliament deputies Vladimirs Buzajevs and Juris Sokolovskis urged Russian speakers to apply for citizenship, which would allow them greater human rights protection.

The Russian Prosecutor-General's Office decided on 13 October not to extradite Vladimir Linderman, the deputy chairman of the National Bolshevik Party, to Latvia, BNS reported. Latvian Prosecutor-General Janis Mazitis requested Linderman's extradition in December to face charges of illegal possession of explosives and preparing appeals for the overthrow of the Latvian authorities (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 December 2002). However, the Russian prosecutor's office wrote that it is refusing the Latvian request because it believes "Linderman is being persecuted in Latvia for his political activity and political convictions." Linderman traveled to Russia last November to testify at the trial of National Bolshevik Party leader Eduard Limonov on charges of organizing an illegal armed formation. His subsequent appeal to President Vladimir Putin for Russian citizenship was turned down. Linderman was arrested in Moscow last month at Latvia's request.
* Prime Minister Repse explained to the Intergovernmental Conference on the European Constitution in Rome on 4 October Latvia's stance on the draft EU constitutional treaty and suggested changes that should be made, BNS reported. He called for retaining the right of each member country to have a commissioner with voting rights and following the Nice Treaty recommendation that each country have at least five members in the European Parliament.
* Foreign Minister Kalniete participated at the EU General Affairs and External Relations Council sessions in Luxembourg on 13-14 October, LETA reported. The main topics discussed were the EU Northern Dimension and the upcoming EU-Russian summit in November. She also informed the session about her recent visit to Iraq.
* Border Guard Chief Gunars Dabolins and Interior Ministry Deputy State Secretary Inguna Aire visited Finland on 8-10 October, BNS reported. The first day they visited the Finnish Border Guard aviation squadron in Helsinki and went on a patrol flight over the Baltic Sea. On 9 October Dabolins and Aire discussed the role of the coast guard in military defense of Finland at the coast-guard training school of the Finnish Border Guard and examined the country's sea-surveillance system. On 10 October they met with Finnish Border Guard chief Lieutenant General Hannu Ahonen.
* The European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg announced on 9 October that Latvia had violated Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights -- the right to respect for private and family life -- by ordering Tatyana Slivenko and her daughter, Karina, to leave Latvia in 1994, LETA reported. Slivenko had demanded compensation of 400,000 euros ($465,000), but was awarded only 20,000 euros in damages. The Latvian Foreign Ministry noted that the court satisfied only one of the 12 claims submitted by the Slivenko family and the passage of the decision by a vote of 11 to six meant that even the satisfied claim was not an outright clear issue, BNS reported.
* About 200 elderly members and supporters of Latvia's Socialist Party (LSP) held a rally at the Victory Monument in Riga on 13 October to commemorate the 59th anniversary of the liberation of Riga from fascist invaders, LETA reported. The rally began with the placement of flowers at the monument by the Russian, Belarusian, and Uzbek ambassadors as well as an organization of Soviet military veterans and the LSP. All the speeches were in Russian, although LSP Chairman Alfreds Rubiks also spoke in Latvian. Several veterans complained about the Latvian authorities' contemptuous stance on veterans, regarding them as "occupiers."
* Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers discussed the priorities in Latvian-Danish bilateral cooperation in the context of the EU enlargement with Danish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Economy Bendt Bendtsen in Riga on 6 October, LETA reported. Bendtsen spoke about cooperation in the trade sector, urging Latvia to become more active in removing barriers to trade, especially in customs. They agreed that the Baltic Sea region should grow stronger by making cooperation between the Nordic and Baltic states more active.
* Riga City Council Executive Director Maris Tralmaks and Hamburg Mayor Ole von Beust signed an agreement on 6 October for organizing Hamburg Days in Riga in 2004, LETA reported the next day. Riga Days are planned in Hamburg in 2005. Von Beust stressed that the most attention should be given to tourism and cultural ties in organizing intercity events, but without ignoring economic cooperation.
* Ambassador to NATO Imants Liegis submitted Latvia's NATO Membership Action Plan for 2004 to NATO Deputy Secretary-General Gunther Altenburg in Brussels on 13 October, LETA reported. The plan has six chapters: political and economic issues, defense and military issues, resource issues, security issues, legal aspects, and the implementation of the action plan. This is Latvia's last action plan before it becomes a full-fledged NATO member state next May.
* Central Election Commission Chairman Arnis Cimdars announced on 6 October the official results of the EU membership referendum held on 20 September, LETA reported. They were that 71.49 percent of eligible Latvian citizens or 1,010,906 persons cast ballots of which 676,700 or 66.97 percent were "yes," 325,980 or 32.26 percent were "no," with 7,787 ballots or 0.77 percent deemed invalid.
* The Central Statistics Bureau announced on 8 October that the consumer price index in September was 0.5 percent higher than in August and 3.1 percent higher than in September 2002, BNS reported. In September the price of goods rose by 0.4 percent while that of services increased by 0.6 percent.

The Finance Ministry announced on 14 October that in the first nine months of the year national budget revenues totaled 8.02 billion litas ($2.67 billion), BNS reported. This is 66.8 million litas, or 0.8 percent, above the planned level. The national budget includes both state- and local-government budgets. State budget revenues were 6.9 billion litas (0.9 percent above target), while local-government revenues were 1.12 billion litas (0.3 percent higher than planned). The improved revenue-collection figures were in part due to the payment in September of corporate-profit taxes for the 2002 fiscal year. Revenues from that tax rose by 63.4 percent compared to the previous year. In addition, personal income-tax revenues were 1.88 billion litas (5.8 percent above planned levels) and excise-tax revenues were 1.25 billion litas (3.2 percent higher than planned). However, value-added tax (VAT) payments were 2.8 billion litas, 5.2 percent below target.

The Finance Ministry has drawn up a budget for 2004 that foresees a considerably higher deficit, ELTA reported on 7 October. The ministry predicts revenues of 11.72 billion litas ($3.9 billion), an increase of 22.7 percent, and expenditures of 13.64 billion litas, an increase of 25.5 percent. Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas said the deficit, which has been about 1.5 percent of GDP for three years, will be increased to approximately 3 percent of GDP in 2004 and will be covered by increased borrowing. Direct subsidies to farmers will increase from 85 million litas this year to 580 million litas next year, and another 200 million litas will be used to raise the salaries of teachers, doctors, social workers, and some other public-sector workers.

Lithuanian border guards at the Belarusian border on 15 October halted a shipment of military goods destined for Kaliningrad Oblast because the Russian military officers accompanying the goods did not have the necessary travel documents, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. The Lithuanian Defense Ministry issued permission for the cargo to transit Lithuania, but three of the officers, armed with semiautomatic rifles and pistols, only possessed military identification cards and the fourth a Russian passport without the required transit visa, according to the newspaper. The Russian officer in charge of the shipment said he was unaware of the visa requirement and was only following orders. The wagons with the military equipment were detached from the train and returned to Belarus.

Antanas Valionis completed a four-day trip to Morocco and Tunisia on 9 October, ELTA reported. It began on 6 October in Rabat where he discussed bilateral relations, economic cooperation opportunities, an exchange program for business delegations, and the dialogue between the EU and southern Mediterranean states with Moroccan Prime Minister Driss Jettou; the speakers of the two-chamber parliament, Mustapha Oukacha and Abdelouhad Rad; and the foreign, trade, telecommunications, and tourism ministers. Before departing to Tunisia on 7 October, Valionis signed agreements on the cancellation of visa requirements for holders of diplomatic passports and on political consultations between their countries' foreign ministries. In Tunis he met with Prime Minister Muhammad Ghannouchi, Foreign Minister Habib Ben Yahia, and other officials, and talked about bilateral and regional cooperation, prospects of the Barcelona process, the "new neighbors" initiative of the EU, as well as the situation in Iraq and the Near East.

Parliament on 16 October ratified Protocol 13 to the Convention on the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms by a vote of 60 to three, with four abstentions, BNS reported. It calls for the prohibition of capital punishment, even in times of war. Lithuania signed the protocol in May 2002 during a session of the Council of Europe's Committee of Ministers. In December 1998, parliament eliminated the death penalty as a form of punishment from the national Criminal Code after the Lithuanian Constitutional Court ruled that the punishment violated the constitution. In January 1999, Lithuania signed Protocol 6 of the convention, which canceled the death penalty except in times or threat of war.

More than 500 servicemen from Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania participated on 6 October in the launching of the weeklong military exercise Amber Sea 2003, ELTA reported. The exercise took place in Lithuania's territorial waters in the Baltic Sea, the Kairiai training grounds, and a military airport. It included mine-sweeping, search-and-rescue, and Baltic Sea and coastal-defense operations, with a particular focus on coordinating operating procedures to NATO standards and interoperability with NATO forces in the event of war. The three Baltic states have held Amber Sea exercises each year since 1995, but it is not clear if they will continue after the states officially join NATO in May 2004.
* President Rolandas Paksas completed a four-day visit to Rome on 4 October by participating at the EU Intergovernmental Conference on the European Constitution, BNS reported. In his speech he said that EU rules should be made much simpler and easier to understand for any person. Paksas also affirmed that the voice of every EU member state should be heard and mentioned some changes in the draft EU constitution that he favored such as "defining with more precision the functions of the Summit Council chairman," keeping the tradition that each member state have an equal member in the European Commission, and mentioning the Christian roots of Europe in its preamble.
* Representatives of the European Parliament's Group of the European Liberal, Democratic, and Reform Party (ELDR), headed by its Chairman Graham Watson, visited Lithuania on 13 and 14 October, BNS reported. They held a joint two-day forum with local politicians at the parliament whose major themes were the upcoming European Parliament elections, the election law, and ideas of liberalism. Watson had meetings with the chairmen of ideologically similar parties Arturas Paulauskas of the Social Liberals and Arturas Zuokas of the Liberal and Center Union on 13 October and with President Paksas, who founded the Liberal Democratic Party, the following day.
* Justice Minister Vytautas Markevicius signed the Second Additional Protocol to the European Convention on Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters amid the 25th conference for European justice ministers in Sofia on 13 October, ELTA reported. Under the protocol, Lithuanian law-enforcement officials will be given the possibility to pursue secret inquiries within territories of states that have ratified the protocol.
* European Commission President Romano Prodi replied with a positive response to a letter from Prime Minister Brazauskas and his Polish counterpart asking for financial support for merging the Lithuanian and Polish power grids, ELTA reported on 9 October. He wrote that he considered the power grid a top-priority project for the EU as it would strengthen safety guaranties of the electric power supply in the Baltic region. Prodi mentioned the possibility of getting money for it from a special EU fund financing top-priority power projects, or seeking financing from private and public sources, as well as EU Structural Funds.
* Representatives of the Lithuanian government and the German companies E.ON Energie and Ruhrgas initialed a trilateral shareholding agreement with the Russian company Gazprom for the operations of the utility Lithuanian Gas in Vilnius on 15 October, BNS reported. The government agreement with Gazprom to sell a 34 percent share of the utility for 91 million litas ($30.3 million) with an additional investment of 9 million litas will be signed after it is endorsed by the government and Gazprom's board of directors.
* A delegation of 15 Vietnamese political, business, and media officials, headed by Vietnamese Ambassador for the three Baltic states Nguyen Van Nganh, participated in the celebrations of Vietnam Days in Vilnius on 6 and 7 October, BNS reported. The first day the delegation also met with local businessmen and on the second day visited the Vilnius city administration and the parliament. Lithuanian Days should be held in Vietnam next year.
* A 23-member delegation of executive directors from the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) visited Lithuania on 8-12 October, BNS reported. They held talks with officials from the Finance Ministry, the Bank of Lithuania, public organizations, commercial banks, and other credit institutions, as well as businessmen and diplomats. The directors also visited various sites in the country that had received investments from the bank as well as the nuclear power plant at Ignalina, which Lithuania has pledged to decommission by 2009.
* Four parliament deputies -- Social Democrats Bronius Bradauskas, Vydas Baravykas, and Vytautas Einorius, and Vladimir Orechov of the Russian Union -- visited Minsk on 6-8 October even though their visit was not approved by the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, BNS reported. The deputies, who were nicknamed the "four Communards," met with deputies of the Belarusian parliament and spoke favorably about the achievements of Belarusian agriculture. Their visit was sharply criticized not only by right-wing opposition deputies but also by President Paksas, Prime Minister Brazauskas, and parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas.
* Viktor Uspaskich, the wealthiest member of parliament, announced on 10 October that he resigned as chairman of the parliament's Economy Committee the previous evening because he plans to found a new political party on 18 October, BNS reported. He had been elected to the parliament from the single-mandate district in Kedainiai and later joined the New Union (Social Liberals) faction.
* The Statistics Department announced on 8 October that the consumer price index in Lithuania in September was 0.4 percent lower than in August and 0.8 percent lower than in September 2002, BNS and ELTA reported. During September, prices for food and nonalcoholic beverages declined by 0.3 percent. An increase of 3.4 percent in the price of clothing and footwear pushed the costs of all goods up by 0.1 percent, but prices of services decreased by 2.3 percent, including a 6.7 percent decline in communications services.