28 February 2003, Volume
NOTE TO READERS:
This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 8 to 14 February 2003.
PRIME MINISTER SAYS COUNTRY MUST BE ON THE SIDE OF U.S. ON IRAQ.
In an article in the daily "Postimees" of 11 February, Siim Kallas expressed support for the United States in the current dispute with Iraq, BNS reported. "I do not want war.... But I believe we must pick a side. And I believe it is the side where the United States is," he said. Kallas claimed that Iraq has weapons of mass destruction and the missiles required for their delivery, adding, "The danger will disappear only after [Iraqi President] Saddam Hussein has been removed from power." He said Estonia's fate might be affected in that, if a new Stalin were to gain power in Russia, "isn't it absurd to imagine that hiding behind the wardrobe and wagging a reproaching finger at America would better ensure our defense from Stalin Jr. than being an outright and public friend and ally of the United States?" Kallas criticized a recent open letter to him from the People's Union that called for a neutral position on Iraq, saying it is naive to believe that Estonia can avoid taking sides. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Aleksandr Yakovenko expressed regret on 13 February that Kallas in the article evaluated relations with Russia "not from the point of view of real good-neighborliness and mutual understanding but through a prism of the instigation of fear and mistrust," BNS reported.CENTER PARTY CAUCUS GETS NEW CHAIRMAN.
The Center Party group of deputies, parliament's largest with 28 members, chose Kalev Kallo as its new chairman on 10 February, BNS reported. He replaced Toomas Varek, who was sworn in as the new interior minister to fill the vacancy created when Ain Seppik resigned following a public and parliamentary debate about whether he violated the civil and human rights of adolescents while serving as a Soviet-era Supreme Court judge (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 February 2003). Varek's seat in parliament was assumed by 62-year-old academic Juri Martin, who has directed Eurouniversity since 1997. The 54-year-old Kallo has been a member of parliament since 1999. He previously served as transportation and communications minister in 1995 and as deputy mayor of Tallinn in 1996-99.PREMIER: EU BODIES MUST HAVE NO POWER OVER GOVERNMENTS.
Siim Kallas declared during the parliament's discussion of EU enlargement on 13 February that no institution or body wielding even the slightest power over national governments may be created in the enlarged EU, BNS reported. He decried talk of the creation of a permanent president of the European Council and called for continuing the practice of "the presidency of the European Union rotating on a basis of equality." Kallas also said the EU should continue its current policy of granting each member country a European commissioner. He said he opposes plans to unify tax policy in the EU, adding that every state should retain the right to determine its direct taxes independently.CENTER PARTY STUMPS FOR ESTONIAN LANGUAGE.
Center Party public-relations chief Evelyn Sepp released a statement on 8 February to ward off suggestions ahead of the 2 March elections that the party is attempting to boost the status of the Russian language at the expense of Estonian, BNS reported. "The official language in Estonia is Estonian; it is and will remain the official and only state language. For its protection and development, the teaching of the native language in Estonian schools must be substantially increased," the statement said. She pushed for raising the quality of instruction in Estonian, in general, and at preschool institutions and schools, in particular, to improve the integration of Estonian residents who are not ethnic Estonians and to create the prerequisites for a smooth transfer to Estonian-language high-school education. The statement was apparently prompted by the recent proposal of a bill by two Russian-speaking Center Party lawmakers, Mikhail Stalnukhin and Vladimir Velman, to clarify the legal status of the cultural autonomy of ethnic minorities.PARLIAMENT PASSES CRIMINAL PROCEDURE CODE.
Deputies on 12 February approved a new Criminal Procedure Code that includes comprehensive changes to the judicial procedure, BNS reported. The new code replaces Soviet-era legislation adopted in 1961 that had subsequently been amended more than 30 times. Preparations for the new law began in 1994 under the Pro Patria Union-led government of Mart Laar, and his three-party government presented it to the parliament in December 2000 following his return to the prime minister's seat. Justice Minister Mart Rask said the new code greatly expands the role of the prosecutor and should speed up criminal proceedings and cut costs. The parliament on 12 February also ratified the Estonian-Russian pension-insurance agreement signed by Social Affairs Minister Siiri Oviir and Russian Social Development Minister Aleksandr Pochinok last year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 5 November 2002).
* U.S. President George W. Bush had a five-minute phone conversation with Prime Minister Siim Kallas on 14 February during which he explained the U.S. position and sentiment concerning Iraq, BNS reported. Bush reminded Kallas about their meeting in September 2002 and thanked him for the good cooperation between the Estonian and U.S. governments.
* British Minister for Competition, Consumers, and Markets Melanie Johnson visited Tallinn on 11-13 February, BNS reported. She discussed the Lisbon Agenda and economic reforms in the EU with Economy and Communications Minister Liina Tonisson and Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland on 12 February. The talks also touched on Estonia's preparations for membership in the EU.
* Economy and Communications Minister Liina Tonisson said that the proposals made to Russian Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matvienko in Moscow on 13 February to separate political matters from economic ones was received favorably, BNS reported. She raised the issue of double Russian customs duties on Estonian imports, but her planned meeting with Deputy Economic Development Minister Andrei Sharonov the following day to discuss their abolition was canceled.
* Leaders of the country's seven leading parties -- Center Party, Reform Party, Res Publica, Pro Patria Union, the Moderates, People's Union, and Estonian United People's Party -- reached a common position on 14 February about the possibility of a war in Iraq, affirming that Estonia's foreign policy will proceed from national-security interests and historic experience, BNS reported. They declared that United Nations Security Council Resolution 1441 must be obeyed without question and in full and that Iraq must be stripped of the possibility of producing weapons of mass destruction.
* A spokesman for the Rescue Board announced on 10 February that a new mine-clearing team of four men and two bomb-sniffing dogs had left for a three-month mission in Afghanistan during the weekend of 8-9 February, BNS reported. They replaced a previous team that had returned to Estonia in late January after a three-month tour during which they helped ensure security of a U.S. military base by carrying out bomb security checks and taking part in mine-clearing operations.
* The newspaper "Vorumaa Teataja" wrote on 13 February that President Arnold Ruutel had told reporters that it was unrealistic to give Russian the status of a second official language because it would create confusion in Estonian society and compel officials to learn Russian, BNS reported. He said that one could not expect to attach interpreters to doctors, local governments, and the parliament or expect Estonians to be able to speak Russian.
* The parliament approved on 13 February a set of amendments to the land-reform law, which brings the conditions of privatizing land into line with the principles of free movement of capital that Estonia accepted in its EU membership negotiations, BNS reported. It allows Estonia to preserve for a seven-year transition period the sales restrictions on farm and forest land that were in force before Estonia signed the accession agreement with the EU on 16 April 2003.
* After the Japanese government extended the deadline for presenting applications to participate in the EXPO 2005 fair from the beginning of March until June, the government decided on 11 February to leave the final decision about Estonia's participation to the next government, BNS reported. The Economy and Communications Ministry argued against participation, noting that the projected expenses estimated at 45.3 million to 65.1 million kroons ($2.8 million) would exceed expected revenues.
* The Enterprise Estonia Foundation released data on 12 February indicating that the number of foreign tourists to Estonia in 2002 was about 3.25 million, or nearly 1 percent higher than in 2001, BNS reported. The revenue from the tourists was estimated to have risen by 3-4 percent to 12 billion kroons ($750 million). More than half of the tourists (1.83 million) were from Finland, followed by those from Latvia (402,000), Russia (281,000), Sweden (134,000), Lithuania (129,00), Germany (86,000), and the United States (71,000).
* The owners of the ETA news agency, which declared bankruptcy on 31 January, filed a bankruptcy petition with the Tallinn City Court on 13 February, BNS reported the next day. According to unofficial sources, the agency's debts exceed 100,000 euros ($108,000). Kalev Magi was appointed as trustee in the bankruptcy with a preliminary hearing scheduled for 5 March.
PROTEST AGAINST WAR IN IRAQ STAGED AT U.S. EMBASSY.
Three youth organizations -- the nationalist Visu Latvijai (All for Latvia) and Klubs 415, along with the leftist Social Democratic Youth Union -- organized a demonstration in front of the U.S. Embassy in Riga on 13 February to oppose any use of military force against Iraq, BNS reported. The protest was attended by more than 100 people, including about 20 members of the Environmental Protection Club and about a dozen members of the ultraright Latvian National Front. Fearing that there might be an attempt to provoke public disorder, the organizers asked police to remove a group from the radical-left Russian National Bolshevik Movement that had come carrying a flag with a swastika on it. All For Latvia leader Raivis Dzintars pledged that his organization will soon stage a protest against Russian military intervention in Chechnya by marching from the U.S. Embassy to the Russian Embassy in Riga with burning torches.VISIT BY SWEDISH STATE SECRETARY FOR DEFENSE.
During a visit to Riga on 11 and 12 February, Swedish State Secretary for Defense Yvonne Gustafsson met with Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis, Defense Ministry State Secretary Edgars Rinkevics, and National Armed Forces Commander Rear Admiral Gaidis Zeibots, LETA reported. Talks focused on the reform of the Latvian armed forces and military cooperation between the two countries before and after Latvia joins NATO. They also discussed the development of the Baltic Security Assistance (BALTSEA) project, launched in 1997, which in addition to Sweden and the three Baltic states includes Belgium, Canada, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Some attention was also paid to the "Riga Initiative," a project launched last year for developing a strategy for cooperation among Baltic Sea-region countries' military institutions to protect the environment.LATVIAN-SWISS BILATERAL COOPERATION STRATEGY FOR 2003 SIGNED.
Defense Minister Kristovkis signed a Latvian-Swiss bilateral-cooperation strategy for 2003 and began talks on expanding a bilateral-cooperation agreement during a visit to Switzerland, LETA reported on 12 February. He also signed an agreement with Swiss defense officials on the donation of Swiss military vehicles to the Latvian National Armed Forces and held talks with his Swiss counterpart Samuel Schmid. On 11 February, Kristovskis discussed the principles of Swiss defense policy and neutrality, international security matters, Latvia's relations with Russia, and the Iraq conflict with deputies of the Swiss Federal Assembly. He also visited several Swiss training bases, where he was acquainted with civil-defense equipment and training.LEMBERGS NO LONGER LATVIA'S OIL NEGOTIATOR.
Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers announced in an interview in the paper "Komersant Baltic" on 10 February that Ventspils Mayor and Latvian Transit Association President Aivars Lembergs will no longer serve as a negotiator for Latvia in talks with Russian oil companies, LETA reported. Slesers, who is co-chairman of the Latvian-Russian intergovernmental working group, said the move reflects the government's position, adding, "It looks like Russia is also dissatisfied with such mediation." Slesers said the export of Russian oil through the port of Ventspils, managed by partly state-owned Ventspils nafta, has virtually halted following a decision by Russian state-owned monopoly Transneft not to send any oil to Ventspils via pipelines in the first quarter of the year (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 and 22 January 2003). The Russian newspaper "Nezavisimaya gazeta" on 10 February wrote that the Transneft board will soon discuss the purchase of shares in Ventspils nafta, whose value is questionable without Russian oil contracts. Two days later Lembergs declared that he had never participated in any negotiations with Russian oil companies on the sale of Ventspils nafta, but he thought the sooner the sale occurred the better it would be.
* Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete said on 11 February that the remarks by Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov that Russia will not ratify the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe unless the Baltic states first sign it is contradictory, BNS reported. She mentioned that the current agreement does not allow new members of join the treaty and its rules have to be amended to allow new signatories. Kalniete stated: "Latvia will join the treaty immediately after the present members to the treaty ratify the amendments and new countries are provided a chance to sign it."
* Responding to the letter by Foreign Minister Kalniete of 17 January, EU External Affairs Commissioner Chris Patten wrote that the European Commission will include the issue on reduced oil transit via Ventspils in EU talks with Russia, LETA reported on 11 February. It will be raised at the next meeting of the EU and Russian Partnership and Cooperation Agreement subcommittee on power matters. Patten expressed satisfaction that Latvia is ready to participate actively in solving urgent EU issues and to contribute significantly in the EU-Russian dialogue on power issues.
* Foreign Minister Kalniete told the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee on 12 February that she had reprimanded Ambassador to the United States Aivis Ronis for releasing a statement on Latvia's stance in the U.S.-Iraq conflict before the position was formally defined by the Foreign Ministry, LETA reported. Later that day, Kalniete attended a meeting with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Prime Minister Einars Repse, Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis, and parliamentary chairwoman Ingrida Udre, who determined the country's position on Iraq, namely that Latvia supports disarming Iraq.
* In talks with Foreign Minister Kalniete on 10 February, the new Belarusian ambassador to Latvia, Vadzim Lamkou, was told that Latvia would like Belarus to engage in more open and constructive cooperation with international organizations, BNS reported. The next day Lamkou told President Vike-Freiberga that Belarus wanted to develop its relations with Latvia in as many fields as possible, especially in economic matters.
* The cabinet decided on 11 February to continue sending an army representative to Georgia within the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) mission, LETA reported. Latvia has had such a representative since April 2001. The OSCE mission had been monitoring the border with Chechnya and will expand its role also to cover the border with Russia's Daghestan.
* Six military policemen departed for duty in the KFOR peacekeeping force in Kosova on 8 February, LETA reported. They are replacing a team of six medics and four military policemen who had been serving as part of the British contingent there. No medics are being sent since the UN contingent is being reduced in size.
* The parliament approved on 13 February amendments to the law on travel and residency for foreigners to allow citizens of Australia, New Zealand, and Canada to enter Latvia without a visa. The amendments entered into force retroactively as of 1 January 2003, LETA reported. It is hoped that the countries will respond by abolishing visa requirements for Latvians to visit their countries.
* The government formed a 29-member public advisory council on 11 February, which is headed by Prime Minister Einars Repse, to assess the performance of the campaign to inform the public about the referendum on Latvia's joining the EU, BNS reported. The council, which includes representatives from Latvia's regions and various professional and ethnic groups also has to provide recommendations to the "Latvia in Europe" group, a body responsible for the management of pre-referendum information events. It is obliged to convene at least once a month.
* Atis Sjanits presented his credentials as the new Latvian ambassador to Canada to Canadian Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson on 11 February, BNS reported. Sjanits, who had served as the ambassador to the Vatican, replaced Janis Lusis, who will be the ambassador to Italy.
* The board of New Era decided on 10 February that Health Minister Aris Auders would remain in his post giving him "one last chance" to prove himself in working out reforms in the health-care system, LETA reported. Deputies in the New Era faction had expressed their lack of confidence in Auders, but he remained, as only four of the 10 board members voted for his ouster.
* The Riga Central District Court on 14 February imposed fines on three out of four defendants in the case of the Swedish company SwemBalt AB's dismantled ship, but former Riga Mayor Maris Purgailis was acquitted due to a lack of material evidence, LETA reported. Former Riga Port Deputy Executive Andris Dumpenieks and former Foreign Affairs Ministry Legal Department head Kristine Malinovska were fined 2,100 lats ($3,300), and former Ministry Transport Seafaring Department Deputy Director Laila Medina was fined 1,750 lats.
* Justice Minister Aivars Aksenoks accepted the resignation of his ministry's state secretary Aivars Maldups on 10 February, BNS reported. The 59-year-old Maldups cited poor health as the reason for his making the request, but he had been suspended from duty on 24 December pending an investigation for alleged inappropriate use of budget money. Two days later, Maija Porsnova submitted her resignation as Welfare Ministry state secretary, explaining that because of her long term in the office she felt she needed some rest. Five state secretaries, who are the senior civil servants within each ministry, have left their post since Prime Minister Einars Repse entered into office.
* The Central Statistics Bureau announced on 10 February that the consumer price index in January was 0.9 percent higher than in December and 1.4 percent higher compared to January 2002, LETA reported. In January, the price of food grew by 1.6 percent and of diesel fuel by 5.4 percent, but costs of clothing and footwear fell by 3.6 percent.
* The Central Statistics Bureau announced on 12 February that the number of foreign visitors to Latvia in 2002 was 3.27 million, or 234,000 more than in 2001, LETA reported. Most of the visitors were from Estonia and Lithuania, but about 20 percent were from EU countries, especially Finland, Germany, and Sweden. Latvia's residents traveled abroad 2.31 million times in 2002, or 2.9 percent less than in 2001. The expenditures of Latvians abroad were estimated at 137 million lats ($219 million), or some 41 million lats more than foreigners spent in Latvia.
* The State Labor Service announced on 12 February that as of 1 February there were 91,580 officially registered unemployed persons, more than 24,000 of whom had been without work for more than a year, BNS reported. The country's unemployment rate in January was 7.7 percent, or 0.1 percent more than in December.
UNITING PARTIES TO PROPOSE COMMON CANDIDATES FOR PARLIAMENT.
The Political Council of the center-right Liberal Union, Center Union, and Modern Christian Democratic Union (MKDS), which signed a merger agreement last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 15 January 2003), agreed on 11 February to field joint candidates in any by-elections this year, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. Elections will be held in single-mandate districts in Vilnius to replace President-elect Rolandas Paksas and two of his likely advisers, Dalia Kutraite-Giedraitiene and Alvydas Medalinskas. Other deputies may also give up their parliamentary seats to take up posts on local government councils or in the president's office. The three groups are scheduled to hold separate congresses on 29 March and a unifying congress at the end of May. They have decided that the new party's leader should come from the Liberal Union, but it is unclear whether he will be current Liberal Union Chairman Eugenijus Gentvilas or Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas.CONCERN OVER RUSSIA'S ENVIRONMENTAL FOOT-DRAGGING...
Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and Environment Minister Arunas Kundrotas on 12 February threatened to turn to the UNESCO World Heritage Center in their ongoing effort to have an international environmental-impact study conducted on oil extraction at the D-6 deposit in the Baltic Sea, BNS reported the next day. Vilnius will request that UNESCO appoint international experts to conduct the research if Russia continues to ignore Lithuania's insistence on such a study, they said. Russia continues to rebuff requests that it conduct such a study along with Lithuanian experts, prompting Lithuania to issue a June deadline to Moscow....AHEAD OF PLANNED LUKOIL EXTRACTION.
Russia's LUKoil has declared plans to begin extracting oil this year from the D-6 deposit, which is located 22 kilometers off the environmentally sensitive Curonian Spit and 7 kilometers from the Lithuanian-Russian maritime border. The spit is a narrow strip of land in Lithuania and the Kaliningrad Oblast with unique dunes and other natural features that was placed on the UNESCO World Heritage Center's list of protected areas in 2001. Ministers Valionis and Kundrotas also decided on 12 February to ask the European Commission's Environment Directorate to acquire more information about the environmental situation of D-6 at the March meeting of the EU-Russian Energy, Environment, and Nuclear Energy Subcommittee and to raise the D-6 issue at the third session of the Lithuanian-Russian intergovernmental commission at the end of March.REFERENDUM ON CHANGING PARLIAMENT REGISTERED.
The Central Election Commission on 12 February officially registered a group that is seeking to collect the signatures of more than 300,000 registered voters within three months to force a referendum aimed at substantially changing the parliamentary election system, BNS reported the next day. It would reduce the number of deputies in parliament from the current 141 to 131 by abolishing the election of 70 deputies via party lists and introducing the direct election of a deputy from each of the 60 regions (counties) and municipalities. The direct election of deputies in 71 single-mandate districts would remain unchanged. The 27-member initiative group, headed by the parliament's wealthiest deputy, industrialist Viktor Uspaskich, also includes controversial parliamentary deputies Kazys Bobelis, Julius Veselka, Rolandas Pavilionis, and Ramunas Karbauskis. Leaders of the ruling coalition and the opposition have stated their opposition to the proposal, but the Lithuanian Business Employers Confederation, which Uspaskich heads, is expected to support the move.IS EU VOTE TO BE DOWNGRADED TO 'ADVISORY' REFERENDUM?
The Coordination Council of the Information Campaign for Entry to the EU decided on 13 February to recommend to an extraordinary session of parliament on 24 February that the upcoming EU-accession referendum be downgraded to an "advisory" plebiscite rather than a "mandatory" one, ELTA reported. The council is headed by parliamentary chairman Arturas Paulauskas. Lithuania's chief negotiator with the EU, Petras Austrevicius, said other EU candidates will hold advisory referenda and that there is no need for Lithuania to set higher standards. "An advisory referendum is equally significant and will provide the possibility for each Lithuanian citizen to express his opinion," Austrevicius said. Advisory referenda still require the participation of a majority of eligible voters, but there is no requirement that at least one-third of eligible voters (902,550 voters) must vote in favor to ensure passage. The council also suggested that the voting take place over the course of two days (10 and 11 May) and not one.PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMAN INVITED TO JAPAN.
At a meeting in Vilnius on 10 February, Japanese Charge d' Affaires Eizo Kaneyasu invited Arturas Paulauskas to visit the Japanese parliament at a convenient date, ELTA reported. Paulauskas in turn asked that his invitation to the chairmen of both houses of the Japanese parliament to visit Lithuania be extended again. He noted that the relations between their countries are good in the fields of culture and education and thanked Japan for the financial support given to the Martynas Mazvydas National Library in Vilnius, the Ciurlionis National Art Museum in Kaunas, the Music Academy, and other cultural institutions. He regretted that economic relations between the states were still too weak and expressed the hope that greater cooperation between the countries' parliaments could help promote their growth.
* World Bank Director for Central Europe and Baltic States Roger Grawe visited Lithuanian on 10-12 February, ELTA reported. He held talks on future projects with Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas and Education and Science Minister Algirdas Monkevicius. On 11 February, he traveled to the eastern city of Utena to discuss a three-year cooperation strategy with local officials, nongovernmental organizations, and entrepreneurs. Grawe also attended a 12 February World Bank presentation at the Finance Ministry on the bank's three-year program for Lithuania, which will provide technical-consulting assistance to programs in public administration, agriculture, social and health care, education, and economy.
* The Defense Ministry announced on 13 February that an An-26 transport plane with a seven-member crew was flying to Naples that day to join the NATO peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosova, BNS reported. This is the 12th group of Lithuanian Air Force aviators to be assigned to the SFOR and KFOR operations on a six-week rotation.
* British Minister for Competition, Consumers, and Markets Melanie Johnson held talks on Lithuania's preparations for EU entry with European Committee Director-General Petras Austrevicius in Vilnius on 11 February, ELTA reported. She expressed the hope that the Lithuanian people would approve EU membership in the referendum in May. Austrevicius noted that the country was intensively harmonizing its laws with those of EU and implementing the commitments undertaken during the membership talks.
* Deputy Director of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Second European Department Mikhail Demurin told an adviser to the Lithuanian Embassy in Moscow, Dainius Trinkunas, on 12 February that Lithuania should "take measures" to end the activities of the Chechen website Kavkaz-Tsentr hosted on a server of Lithuania's MicroLink Data, BNS reported the next day. On 14 February, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Malakhov expressed indignation that President Valdas Adamkus had granted Lithuanian citizenship to the representative of the Chechen Information Center in Vilnius, Aminata Saiyeva.
* After individuals threw bottles containing a black liquid at the building of the Lithuanian Embassy in Moscow and left leaflets with the inscription "No to Kaliningrad Blockade" early on the morning of 12 February, Lithuanian diplomats issued a demarche to the Russian Foreign Ministry providing details of the incident and requesting that all necessary measures be taken to ensure the security of diplomats and their families, ELTA reported. Shortly after the attack, the Moscow police arrested five suspects, aged 13 to 18, who also had leaflets of the National Bolshevik Party.
* The business newspaper "Verslo Zinios" wrote on 13 February that Russian grain exports through the port of Klaipeda had ended from the beginning of the year when Russia increased rail tariffs by 12 percent, BNS reported. The Klaipeda Stevedoring Company had invested some 30 million litas ($8.6 million) to convert a bulk-fertilizer terminal to handle grain after signing a five-year agreement with partners in Russia for grain handling, but it was rescinded. The terminal will still handle grain exports from Kazakhstan.
* The government approved on 12 February the draft EU Accession Treaty, which still has to be ratified by the parliament, BNS reported. The treaty is scheduled to be signed by 10 EU candidate countries in Athens on 16 April and will enter into force only after it is ratified by the parliaments of all EU member and candidate countries.
* Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas participated in the session of the mayors of European capital cities on 13 February in Brussels, ELTA reported. He discussed issues of transport development and Belgian tourism in Vilnius with Francois-Xavier de Donnea, the minister-president of the Brussels region. Zuokas also had a meeting with European Commission President Romano Prodi.
* Representatives of Lithuanian and Ukrainian railway companies signed an agreement in Kyiv under which freight from Lithuania to Ukraine will be carried by railways directly without using forwarding services, which is expected to result in a cost reduction of 30 percent, BNS reported on 14 February. A similar agreement was sealed with Belarus earlier.
* The Statistics Department announced on 12 February that the consumer price index in January remained unchanged compared to December and was 2 percent lower than in January 2002, BNS reported. In January, the cost of goods declined by 0.2 percent, but that of services increased by 4.9 percent. Price of food and nonalcoholic beverages declined by 0.3 percent, while transport and communications costs rose by 2 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively.
* The national electrical monopoly, Lietuvos Energija, announced on 11 February that in January it exported 1.08 billion kilowatts (kWh) of electricity, or 34 percent more than in the same period last year, ELTA reported. It exported 602.8 million kWh to Belarus, 300 million kWh to Kaliningrad, 126 million kWh to Latvia, and 50.9 million kWh to Poland.
* The press service of the Kaliningrad region railway service announced on 11 February that the number of rail passengers to Kaliningrad Oblast in January was 438,000, or 18 percent less than in the same period last year, BNS reported. The main reason for the decline was attributed to the introduction of a new passport-and-visa regime by Lithuania.