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Baltic Report: April 11, 2001

11 April 2001, Volume 2, Number 9
In an interview with the daily "Eesti Paevaleht," Lennart Meri said that cabinet members who have made mistakes should quickly give up their posts to more competent persons, BNS reported on 27 March. Such actions would improve the ruling coalition's prospects in the next parliamentary elections. Prime Minister Mart Laar, however, responded that no ministerial changes will occur in the next few weeks because the coalition council still must approve rules for the replacement of ministers. The ministers most likely to be replaced are Transportation and Communications Minister Toivo Jurgenson and Economic Minister Mihkel Parnoja. The merger of these two ministries has been proposed and "Eesti Paevaleht" suggested that Laar's economic counselor, Kersti Kaljulaid, might take over the joint ministry.

The decision by Russia to forbid the import of meat, milk, fish and fish products, and livestock from Europe beginning 26 March in order to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease will create greater problems for Estonian fishermen than for the country's farmers, ETA reported. While 45 percent of Estonian agricultural exports went to Russia in 1998, the share was reduced last year to only 5 percent. However, about one-third of fish exports still go to Russia and it is not clear if efforts to find other purchasers will be successful. The ban, which will last for at least three weeks, will force the Viru Kalatoostus fishery, nearly half of whose turnover goes to Russia, to temporarily close some departments and lay off 250 people.

Chairman of Tartu City Council and former Tartu University Rector Peeter Tulviste has announced that he is willing to run for president as a candidate of the Pro Patria Union, ETA reported on 23 March. Although President Lennart Meri has never mentioned whom he favors as his successor, several politicians believe it to be the 55-year-old Tulviste. Parliament Deputy Chairman Tunne Kelam had earlier expressed his presidential ambitions and remarked that Tulviste's candidacy shows that there is democracy in the party. The Pro Patria Union, one of the ruling coalition parties, will hold a congress on 14 April to chose its candidate for president.

The national carrier Estonian Air and Aeroflot Russian Airlines signed a line-sharing cooperation agreement on 29 March for the Tallinn-Moscow route, ETA reported. The flights will be carried by Estonian Air, but will now have the code and flight numbers of both airlines. There are currently five flights to Moscow a week, but this will increase to six beginning 18 May.
* Finance Minister Siim Kallas and Dutch Ambassador Jacobus van der Velden signed an agreement on 26 March according to which the Netherlands in the framework of two aid programs will give nearly 18 million kroons ($1.03 million) to Estonia to support its preparations for joining the European Union, BNS reported.
* Defense Forces Commander Rear Admiral Tarmo Kouts on an official visit to Germany on 27 March discussed NATO enlargement with General Harald Kujat, chief inspector of the German army, BNS reported. Kouts also met Walther Stuetzle, state secretary of the German Defense Ministry, and Foreign Ministry State Secretary Gunter Pleuger.
* Defense Minister Juri Luik on an official visit to Hungary discussed bilateral defense cooperation and NATO enlargement with his counterpart Janos Szabo, Foreign Ministry political chancellor Zsolt Nemeth, and head of the parliamentary Defense Committee Zsolt Lanyi on 28-29 March, BNS reported. He also delivered a speech in Budapest on 30 March at a defense conference organized by the Hungarian Atlantic Council.
* President Lennart Meri on 29 March appointed Foreign Ministry Chancellor Indrek Tarand Estonia's ambassador to the Vatican, replacing Margus Laidre, BNS reported. The 35-year-old Tarand, who was appointed chancellor in 1994, will continue to reside in Tallinn
* Tallinn City Council member Gennadii Ever, who had owned a 38 percent share of the Russian-language daily "Estoniya," became its majority owner after purchasing shares from the widow of former owner Vitaly Khatov, who was murdered on 10 March, BNS reported on 28 March.

The Riga City Council on 27 March elected Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDSP) candidate Gundars Bojars as the new mayor, LETA reported. He received 31 votes, while former Mayor Andris Argalis from For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK) took 26 votes. Three deputies voted against both candidates. Bojars received the support of the LSDSP (14 votes), For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) (13 votes), and four deputies from smaller parties. The efforts by the LSDSP to form a coalition with the TB/LNNK failed and Argalis refused an offer to become a deputy mayor. Sergei Dolgopolov of the PCTVL was later elected deputy mayor by a vote of 31 to 19. One or two other deputy mayors should be elected next week. The board of TB/LNNK on 29 March rejected the invitation by the other coalition government parties, Latvia's Way and the People's Party, to join them in the opposition on the Riga City Council. TB/LNNK Chairman Maris Grinblats explained that the board turned down the offer because it wants to head several city council committees,

Igor Studennikov presented his credentials to President Vaira Vike-Freiberga on 27 March and discussed ways to improve relations between their countries, BNS reported. He started his diplomatic career in 1968 in Africa and after serving as Russia's ambassador to Guinea and Sierra Leone from 1992 to 1998, had subsequently headed the African department at the Russian Foreign Ministry. The previous day, Studennikov told Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins that more active mutual political dialogue as well as greater commercial and cultural relations are needed to boost the development of Latvian-Russian bilateral relations, LETA reported. The two also discussed the upcoming meeting in Moscow of the co-chairmen of the intergovernmental commission, Anatolijs Gorbunovs and Aleksandr Blokhin. Berzins described in greater detail how Latvia's laws on the naturalization of non-citizens comply with international standards.

"Kontinent," No. 12, reported that the Russian side has demanded that records of conversations between Russian President Vladimir Putin and Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga be classified, something Latvia has never done in the past. This suggests, the journal said, that the two leaders must have agreed on things that at least the Russian side does not want its citizens to learn of anytime soon.

Vaira Vike-Freiberga began a three-day visit to Denmark on 28 March by meeting media representatives and giving an interview to Danish Television. The next day, the president discussed with Prime Minister Poul Nyrup Rasmussen and Foreign Minister Mogens Lykketoft cooperation among Baltic Sea countries, Latvian-Danish bilateral relations, and NATO and EU enlargement, LETA reported. Lykketoft asserted that Denmark supports the simultaneous admission of the three Baltic states into NATO. Vike-Freiberga also spoke about the establishment of an information technologies college in Riga with Danish assistance.

State Border Guards head Gunars Dabolins announced on 23 March that the border-crossing points of Pededze and Aizgarsa on the Latvian-Russian border and of Piedruja on the Latvian-Belarusian border will be shut down completely beginning 2 April, BNS reported. Traffic at the Ezere and Pludoni border-crossing points on the Latvian-Lithuanian border were closed as of 26 March to all but citizens of the Baltic states who had not been outside the Baltic countries in the previous 14 days. The action was taken because the five posts do not have sanitary border inspectors to ensure that appropriate disinfecting measures are taken to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease.
* The government decided on 27 March to cancel the intergovernmental agreement with Russia, signed on 2 June 1993, under which Russian citizens were not required to obtain visas to cross Latvia in transit by railway, BNS reported. The Foreign Ministry explained that the decision was made to comply with EU requirements
* The parliament on 29 March adopted urgent amendments to the commercial law delaying the enactment of the new legislation to 1 July from the original date of 1 April, BNS reported. The new commercial law which regulates private firms will provide fewer categories of enterprises for doing business in Latvia than the current law. Thus numerous companies will have to amend their articles of association and re-register in a new commerce register.
* The Russian Embassy sent a letter to Prosecutor-General Janis Maizitis requesting that Russian National Bolshevik Ilya Shamazov be extradited to Russia if appropriate medical treatment cannot be provided in prison, LETA reported on 27 March. Shamazov had injured his leg while illegally entering Latvia by jumping off the St. Petersburg-Kaliningrad train in the Daugavpils district last November.
* Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis on 26 March dismissed Ilmars Viksna as National Defense Academy rector effective from 2 April because he was not satisfied with his work, BNS reported. National Defense Academy Pro-Rector Juris Maklakovs will replace Viksna.
* The Central Statistics Office announced on 26 March that a total of 8,030 persons officially emigrated from and 1,627 people immigrated to Latvia in 2000, LETA reported. As a result of migration, the number of ethnic Latvians in the country fell by 480 persons last year. Some 70 percent of the emigrants went to CIS countries from where 61 percent of the immigrants also came.

President Valdas Adamkus presented Dennis Hastert with the Grand Duke Gediminas 1st Grade Order in Vilnius on 23 March, ELTA reported. The Republican congressman from Illinois met with Conservative Party Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis and spoke about U.S.-Lithuanian relations and the latter's efforts to join NATO. Hastert later discussed with parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas NATO membership and ways to increase American investments in Lithuania and help Lithuanian students to study in the U.S. Hastert later addressed the parliament, saying: "I pledge to you that if Lithuania invests the resources necessary to meet the requirements of NATO membership, I will do all in my power to bring Lithuania into the alliance in 2002." At a ceremony at the Vilnius town hall, Mayor Arturas Zuokas presented Hastert with a medal and certificate making him an honorary citizen of Vilnius

Accompanied by four ministers, three parliament committee chairmen, and numerous businessmen, Valdas Adamkus flew to Moscow on 29 March, BNS reported. He met with Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov, who signed a cooperation agreement with Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas. Adamkus visited the international exposition TransRossiya where 14 Lithuanian companies are participating and read a speech at Moscow's International Relations Institute in which he repeated that Lithuania's stated foreign policy objectives are joining the European Union and NATO.

The Justice Ministry on 26 March sent a request to Great Britain asking for the extradition of genocide suspect Antanas Gecevicius (Gecas), who is living near the Scottish city of Edinburgh, BNS reported. The Justice Ministry and Prosecutor-General's Office gave assurances in the request that Gecas would not be tried for other crimes without Britain's consent, and would not be handed over to a third country. The 85-year-old Gecas is accused of participating in the genocide of Jews and other nationalities in Lithuania and Belarus during World War II when he commanded a squad in the Lithuanian Auxiliary Police Battalion under the Nazi occupation. Soviet Lithuanian authorities had begun a case against Gecas in 1987, but dropped it due to lack of evidence. The case was resumed in 2000 when new evidence surfaced. On 29 March Ambassador to Great Britain Justas Paleckis presented the extradition request to British Home Office Secretary Jack Straw who, complying with Scottish extradition procedure, forwarded it to the Scottish Executive in Edinburgh, but the final decision on extradition will be made by the Edinburgh Sheriff Court, ELTA reported.

Several hundred farmers and workers of the Marijampole Sugar factory, protesting against what they consider to be the government's attempts to close the factory and set up a monopolistic sugar market, blocked on 27 and 28 March the segment of the Via Baltic highway leading to the Kalvarija customs post, "Kauno diena" reported. The government set the national sugar production quota for 2001 at 112,000 tons, of which 22,000 tons would go to Marijampole Sugar, and 90,000 tons to sugar factories in Panevezys and Kedainiai owned by the Danish Danisco Sugar Company. The protesters want the Marijampole quota to be raised to at least 27,000 tons and for the government to set minimum prices for purchasing raw sugar. The farmers had earlier blocked the highway in a similar one-day protest on 1 March.

Defense and Foreign ministers Linas Linkevicius and Antanas Valionis on 29 March in Brussels presented a report to the 19-member NATO Council on their country's progress in implementing the NATO membership action plan, ELTA reported. Lithuania was the first of the nine candidates seeking NATO membership to submit its progress report, which was received favorably. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, with whom the ministers had met briefly before the council meeting, stressed the importance of public support for NATO membership. Other NATO officials praised positive developments in Lithuanian integration policy, such as good relations with neighbors and effective regional policy, but noted that the state must continue reforms and improve structural planning.
* With imports in 2000 worth 21.8 billion litas ($5.35 billion) and exports worth 15.2 billion litas, the foreign trade deficit declined to 6.6 billion litas or 10 percent less than in 1999, BNS reported on 23 March. The main import partners were Russia, Germany, Poland, and Great Britain with 27.4, 15.1, 4.9, and 4.1 percent, respectively The greatest export partners were Latvia, Germany, Great Britain, and Russia with 15, 14.3, 7.8, and 7.1 percent, respectively.
* The Finance Ministry announced on 27 March that the state debt grew by 660 million litas ($165 million) to 13.3 billion litas at the end of February primarily due to the government's issuance of a seven-year Eurobond issue worth 200 million euros ($178 million) in mid-February, ELTA reported. During the month domestic debt declined by 69 million litas and changes in currency exchange rates reduced foreign debts by $3 million.
* Former Economy Minister Eugenijus Maldeikis, who was forced to resign on 5 February after a trip to Moscow, told a press conference on 27 March that President Valdas Adamkus and Seimas Chairman Arturas Paulauskas had sought his ouster because his work as minister was hindering the interests of business groups which had supported the election of the current ruling coalition last fall, ELTA reported. He specifically mentioned the Western Lithuanian Industrial and Finance Corporation, which is planning to take part in the privatization of the state energy monopoly Lithuanian Gas, as one of these special interests.
* Seeking to prevent the spread of foot-and-mouth disease, State Food and Veterinary Service Director Kazimieras Lukauskas announced on 23 March a temporary ban, initially for two weeks, on the import of fruits, berries, vegetables, flowers, and other plants from Holland, Great Britain, France, and Ireland from 28 March, BNS reported.
* The Vilnius 2nd District Court on 29 March sentenced notorious entrepreneur Jonas Urka to one and a half years imprisonment for slander against former parliament Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, ELTA reported. Urka claimed that Landsbergis had borrowed $100,000 from him through the late academician Raimundas Rajeckas. The court ruled that the loan note presented by Urka, allegedly signed by Landsbergis, was a forgery.