28 April 2003, Volume 4, Number 14
NOTE TO READERS:
This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 5 to 18 April 2003.
REGIONALEU CURRENT, FUTURE MEMBERS SIGN ACCESSION TREATIES.
In a ceremony at the foot of the Acropolis in Athens, leaders from the 15 current member states and 10 future European Union countries signed treaties on 16 April that clear the path to the bloc's enlargement, international news agencies reported. The so-called Treaty of Accession removes an obstacle to the largest expansion in the EU's history. Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia are expected to join the European Union in May 2004. The current and new members of the organization issued a joint statement pledging to "continue to uphold and defend human rights, both inside and outside the EU, including the fight against all types of discrimination". European Parliament President Patrick Cox said at the ceremony, "Today, here in Athens, in returning to this cradle of civilization and democracy, we mark a decisive step forward in our common journey to a European Union and a European continent which is whole and complete," according to RFE/RL, and European Commission President Romano Prodi called the ceremony "the highest moment of my presidency." European Commissioner for Enlargement Guenter Verheugen called on the roughly 75 million citizens of the newly admitted states to participate in their national referendums on accession "because it is a decision for the whole century and for the generations to come."
U.S. PRESIDENT SENDS NATO PROTOCOLS TO SENATE...
President George W. Bush on 11 April sent the NATO Protocols of Accession concerning seven postcommunist NATO candidates to the U.S. Senate for approval, RFE/RL reported. White House spokesman Ari Fleischer said the president "is very pleased that NATO has reached an agreement" on expansion and he hopes the protocols "will be ratified by the Senate to enable Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia to become full-fledged members of NATO." Fleischer said the administration "takes it for granted somewhat" that the Senate will vote in favor of the expansion." The Protocols of Accession are amendments to the North Atlantic Treaty required to permit new members to join the Atlantic alliance, and must be approved by each of the current members.
...WHILE NORWEGIAN PARLIAMENT RATIFIES NATO EXPANSION.
The Norwegian Sorting on 11 April unanimously ratified the Protocols of Accession on the same seven Central and Eastern European candidate countries, Romanian Radio, BNS, and ELTA reported. Norway is thus the second country to ratify the protocols, after Canada.
NATO CANDIDATE STATES TO COOPERATE IN COMBATING TERRORISM.
Meeting in the Romanian city of Snagov on 5 April, representatives of the seven countries invited to join NATO decided to pool their resources in combating terrorism and the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, Mediafax reported. The prime ministers of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovakia, along with Slovenia's foreign minister, also discussed measures to mutually support each other in the NATO-accession process. They also decided to support the future accession to NATO of Croatia, Albania, and Macedonia -- the remaining members of the Vilnius-10.
EU FOREIGN MINISTERS FORMALLY APPROVE EASTWARD EXPANSION.
EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg on 14 April formally approved the Treaty of Accession that was signed by the EU candidates on 16 April in Athens, AFP reported. Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia are expected to become full-fledged members of the EU in May 2004.
BALTIC PARLIAMENT SPEAKERS DISCUSS COOPERATION.
Parliament speakers Ene Ergma (Estonia), Ingrida Udre (Latvia), and Arturas Paulauskas (Lithuania) met in Jurmala, Latvia, on 15 April to discuss the course of regional cooperation after those countries become members of the EU and NATO, BNS reported. They affirmed that the special relations among their states should be maintained. The speakers also said parliament deputies and political parties should play an important role in informing the public about specific questions related to EU accession. Paulauskas said Eurosceptics must be given an opportunity to present their views, as voters should be presented with a variety of opinions prior to the referendums on EU membership. He also raised the issue of Kaliningrad transit, expressing regret that Russia has not yet signed the readmission treaty with Lithuania that is necessary to facilitate travel for Russian citizens traveling between Russia and its Kaliningrad exclave after 1 July.
* The European Parliament supported the admission of Latvia to the European Union on 9 April by a vote of 522 to 22 with 24 abstentions, the highest favorable vote among the 10 candidates along with Hungary and Slovenia, BNS reported the next day. In all, 568 members of the 626-seat European Parliament took part in the vote. Lithuania received 521 favorable votes, Estonia 520, and the Czech Republic the lowest support with 489 votes.
* The European Commission (EC) forecasts that the Baltic states will have the strongest economic growth among the 10 EU candidate countries in 2003 and 2004, BNS reported on 9 April. Latvia will be the leader with a growth of nearly 6 percent in both years with Estonia having 5 percent growth, and Lithuania almost 5 percent. The EC predicts that the economies of the 10 candidates will have an average growth of 3.1 percent in 2003 and 4 percent in 2004 while the comparable averages for EU member countries are 1.3 percent and 2.4 percent, respectively.
* Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov announced at the European conference in Athens on 17 April that President Vladimir Putin is inviting all the leaders of the 10 EU candidate countries to attend the festivities in May celebrating the 300th anniversary of the founding of the city of St. Petersburg, BNS reported. "Thus, we hope the celebration of St. Petersburg's 300th anniversary will become a symbol of European unification and will add a new incentive to the European idea," he said.
ESTONIAPRESIDENT ENDORSES NEW GOVERNMENT.
Arnold Ruutel on 9 April approved the appointment of Prime Minister Juhan Parts's cabinet, BNS reported. Res Publica Chairman Parts, along with his coalition cabinet consisting of five ministers from the Reform Party and four ministers each from Res Publica and the People's Union (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 April 2003), are expected to be sworn into office in parliament on 10 April. Parts also announced that Alo Heinsalu, the administrative director of the parliament's chancellery, will be his chief of staff and Res Publica Political Secretary Ott Lumi will be his adviser on domestic affairs.
NATO MILITARY COMMITTEE CHAIRMAN DECORATED.
President Ruutel awarded visiting General Harald Kujat, the chairman of NATO's Military Committee, the First Class Order of the Eagle Cross on 11 April, BNS reported. The German general was awarded the order for supporting Estonia's NATO-accession efforts and for promoting cooperation between the Estonian and German defense forces. Ruutel noted that many Estonian officers have attended military educational institutions in Germany and that the country has sent military advisers and large amounts of material aid to Estonia. Kujat became chairman of the NATO Military Committee, the alliance's highest military body, in July 2002. Prime Minister Parts assured Kujat that NATO membership is a firm priority of the new government and that the country's pledge to devote 2 percent of its GDP to defense will be maintained. Parts also said it has become more and more important to inform the public both about NATO and the role of the defense forces in society as a whole.
NATO GENERAL SAYS ESTONIA MUST FIND OWN NICHE IN ALLIANCE.
General Sir Jack Deverell, commander in chief of Allied Forces North Europe, told Defense Minister Margus Hanson in Tallinn on 16 April that Estonia, like other small countries, must find its own niche in the alliance, BNS reported. He mentioned the joint Baltic airspace-surveillance network Baltnet as an excellent example of the cooperation between member states that NATO needs. Prime Minister Parts assured Deverell that Estonia will continue to spend 2 percent of its GDP on defense and that an analysis of the structure of the defense forces, which is expected to be completed early next year, should help ensure that the funds are used efficiently.
PARLIAMENT GIVES PARTS POWERS TO FORM GOVERNMENT.
Parliament on 7 April gave Res Publica Chairman Parts the powers to form a new government by a vote of 60 to 27, with six abstentions, BNS reported. In a speech prior to the vote, he outlined 10 main points that will serve as the goals of the coalition formed with the Reform Party and the People's Union. The first three points were assuring good education for all children, increasing public security, and lowering the tax burden by increasing the size of the monthly tax-exempt income and lowering the income-tax rate. According to the coalition agreement, the Reform Party selects five ministers, while Res Publica and the People's Union select four each. The parties' nominees were announced earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 and 4 April 2003).
REGIONAL AFFAIRS MINISTER CALLS FOR NEW ADMINISTRATIVE REFORM.
Newly appointed Interior Minister for Regional Affairs Jaan Ounapuu said that Estonia has approached administrative reform the wrong way, BNS reported on 15 April. He expressed regret that the primary emphasis was placed on changes in territorial divisions and the merging of local administrations rather than first "finding out what lies at the heart of self-governments' problems, reviewing their functions, and paying attention to their income base." Ounapuu said counties should be relieved of all functions of self-government. The role of county governors would then focus on overseeing the state's interests in regions or, in other words, "County governments would become the work apparatus of the interior minister in charge of regional affairs," he said.
TWO PARTIES ELECT PARLIAMENTARY FACTION LEADERS.
The parliamentary factions of the Reform Party and Center Party elected new leaders on 14 April, BNS reported. This was necessary following the swearing in of the new government on 10 April. The former head of the Reform Party faction, Urmas Paet, who gave up his parliament seat to accept the post of culture minister, was replaced by former Prime Minister Siim Kallas. Rein Aidma and Peep Aru remain the faction's deputy chairmen. Former Interior Minister Toomas Varek, who has returned to parliament, was elected chairman of the Center Party faction. Arnold Kimber and Ain Seppik were elected as his deputies. Kallas, Varek, and seven other former ministers from the Center Party also took their oaths of office on 14 April.
PARLIAMENT APPOINTS DELEGATES TO EU CONVENTION.
The leaders of parliament appointed Rein Lang of the ruling Reform Party and Tunne Kelam of the opposition Pro Patria Union as its representatives to the EU Convention on the Future of Europe on 17 April, BNS reported. Urmas Reinsalu of the ruling Res Publica and Liina Tonisson of the opposition Center Party were appointed alternate representatives. Kelam as well as Peeter Kreitzberg of the Center Party were the delegates under the previous parliament, and Ulo Tarno of the Center Party and Liia Hanni of the Moderates were the alternate members. Kreitzberg did not express any desire to continue as a representative, while Tarno and Hanni were not elected to the current parliament.
CONCORDIA UNIVERSITY ENCOUNTERS MORE PROBLEMS.
The owner of the premises used by the financially troubled Concordia University, the Esmar company, locked the institution's doors to prevent the university's staff and students from using the facilities on 8 April, BNS reported the next day. Electricity to the premises was recently turned off because of unpaid bills amounting to 2 million kroons ($135,000). The move was prompted by the decision by Latvia's Parex Banka on 7 April not to purchase the university. That day, officials from the central criminal police searched the office of Concordia's former Rector Mart Susi, and spent several hours studying the university's accounts. One of the criminal cases opened in relation to Concordia's financial problems deals with alleged abuse of office on the part of Susi and his wife, Mari-Ann, who served as deputy rector. Tallinn Pedagogical University responded by offering the use of five lecture rooms from 14 April.
WIESENTHAL CENTER CONFIDENT THAT NAZI WAR CRIMINALS REMAIN IN ESTONIA.
Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Jerusalem Office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, said on 10 April, "I'm absolutely confident that...Nazi criminals who have never been punished are still alive in Estonia," BNS reported. Two days earlier, Estonian newspapers published an advertisement offering a $10,000 reward for information that results in the conviction and punishment of a suspect as a Nazi war criminal in Estonia. Two earlier efforts to place similar advertisements were unsuccessful because Estonian newspapers refused to print them, claiming they could instigate ethnic hatred (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 31 July 2002 and 18 February 2003). In an interview in "Postimees Online," Zuroff said Estonia's social attitude toward Nazi criminals is "completely different" from that of Latvia and Lithuania, where there were no problems publishing the advertisements, LETA reported on 10 April. "Estonians still do not realize that they had some connection with the Holocaust," he said.
* In his short address prior to the signing of the European Union Treaty of Accession in Athens on 16 April, President Ruutel said that EU membership will guarantee the security, stability, and development of the Estonian state; help preserve and strengthen its culture; and allow it to have a say in issues in important issues for Europe, BNS reported. He and Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland signed the treaty.
* Croatian President Stjepan Mesic began his official visit to Estonia on the evening of 6 April, BNS reported. The next day he had meetings with President Ruutel, parliamentary speaker Ene Ergma, outgoing Prime Minister Siim Kallas, and Tallinn City Council Chairwoman Maret Maripuu. The main topic of the presidents' talks was bilateral cooperation and Estonia's assistance in Croatia's integration into the EU. On 8 April Mesic visited the southwestern Parnu County and held talks with its Governor Toomas Kivimagi before returning home.
* President Ruutel handed over a First Class Order of the Terra Mariana Cross to Swedish parliament speaker Bjorn von Sydow on 14 April, BNS reported Von Sydow was awarded the cross for developing defense cooperation with Estonia when he was Sweden's defense minister. He also had talks with the newly installed Prime Minister Juhan Parts and parliament speaker Ergma.
* Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar flew to Malta on 12 April to deliver a report about tourism in Tallinn at a conference on restoring historical centers of cities, BNS reported. The conference was organized by the International Towns Development Association INTA, of which Tallinn became a member in 1999. The main focus of the conference was a debate between those favoring the reconstruction of historical buildings and those preferring to conserve their ruins. Savisaar returned to Tallinn on 16 April.
* Dmitrii Ivanov, press secretary of the Russian Embassy in Tallinn, said that the captions in the counterintelligence chapter of a recently published yearbook are offensive to Russian diplomats and harmful for the relations between the two countries, BNS reported on 7 April. The caption under a picture of Russian Foreign Ministry Deputy Director of the Second European Department read, "A spy or a diplomat? Or both...." A photograph of Russian Embassy official Nikolai Scherbakov had the caption: "Intelligence officers keeping an eye on the Russian community of Estonia." Estonian Security Police spokesman Henno Kuurmann declined to comment on the Russian accusations stating, "Everything that we have regarded as necessary to say in connection with this topic stands written in the yearbook."
* Presenting his credentials to President Ruutel on 10 April, the new Albanian Ambassador Sokol Gjoka gave him an invitation from President Alfred Moisi to visit Albania, BNS reported. He also expressed thanks for Estonia's assistance in solving the Kosova crisis in which Estonian peacekeepers have been serving since February. The officials expressed the hope that relations between the two countries, which are currently in the formation stage, will soon attain the level where bilateral agreements will be signed opening the way to greater economic contacts.
* The government approved and sent to the parliament a bill on joining the Convention on Future Multilateral Cooperation in the North-East Atlantic Fisheries on 8 April, BNS reported. This action is intended to lead to Estonia's membership in the North-East Atlantic Fisheries Commission (NEAFC). The annual NEAFC membership dues for Estonia will be a little more than 1 million kroons ($69,000).
* Even though it knew that the decision would have to be repeated by the new government, the cabinet led by outgoing Prime Minister Kallas endorsed the EU Treaty of Accession on 8 April, BNS reported. The action was repeated by the government of Prime Minister Parts on 15 April, the day before the official signing of the treaty in Athens.
* The Tallinn City Council dismissed Deputy Mayors Rein Lang and Vladimir Panov and appointed Margus Allikmaa and Juri Ratas as their successors on 17 April, BNS reported. Lang of the Reform Party gave up his position since he was elected to the parliament while the Center Party removed Panov after he was accused of taking bribes. The decisions were made by similar votes of 40 to none with one abstention.
* A court in the southern city of Valga on 9 April found two former Soviet secret service agents, Vladimir Penart and Rudolf Tuvi, guilty of murdering resistance fighters 50 years ago, but gave them suspended sentences of eight years, BNS reported. They must also pay 4,320 kroons ($298) in compensation and compensate the costs of expert surveys.
* The parliament elected the chairmen and deputy chairmen of its 10 committees on 15 April, BNS reported. Members of Res Publica received three chairman posts (Constitutional, Cultural, and Foreign Affairs) as did the Reform Party (Environmental, Finance, and Legal) while the People's Union (Economy and Social Affairs) and Center Party (National Defense and Rural Life) received two each.
* On the initiative of Res Publica parliament deputies Tiit Matsulevits and Ulo Vooglaid reestablished a group of 17 members for promoting ties with Ukraine on 17 April, BNS reported. Matsulevits, who had earlier served as ambassador to Ukraine, was elected the group's chairmen with Center Party deputy Toomas Alatalu as deputy chairman.
* The Statistics Office announced on 8 April that the consumer price index in March was 0.3 percent higher than in February and 2.4 percent higher than in March 2001, BNS reported. The price rises were mostly due to higher prices for fuel and vegetables.
* The Labor Market Board announced on 9 April that there were 47,523 registered unemployed in March or an unemployment rate of 5.8 percent, BNS reported. Compared to February the number of persons seeking work increased by 1.3 percent.
LATVIACHIRAC SAYS IRAQ WAR WILL NOT AFFECT FRIENDLY RELATIONS.
French President Jacques Chirac told his Latvian counterpart Vaira Vike-Freiberga during an hour-long meeting in Paris on 8 April that the war in Iraq has not affected and will not affect the cordial relations between Latvia and France, LETA reported. The presidents agreed that the United Nations should play an important role in postwar Iraq, although it is not yet clear how and when the UN will be able to assist in the political or humanitarian spheres. The two leaders also agreed that the equality between large and small EU member countries should be retained, with Vike-Freiberga adding that issues concerning reforms in the administration of the EU should not be decided without the complete involvement of the 10 EU candidate countries. In discussing relations with Russia, Chirac pointed out that following the EU signing ceremony in Athens on 16 April, the Latvia-Russia dialogue will be absorbed into that between the EU and Russia.
EDUCATION MINISTRY VOWS TO IMPLEMENT LATVIAN AS PRIMARY LANGUAGE OF INSTRUCTION.
Education and Science Minister Karlis Sadurskis told a meeting of the parliament's Education, Culture, and Science Committee on 9 April that the planned transition to Latvian as the primary language of instruction in schools will take place on 1 September 2004 and "nothing can change that," LETA reported. He predicted that 90 percent of schools will be prepared to use Latvian as the primary instruction language, but that schools that are not prepared for the language change will be allowed to teach certain subjects in minority languages. State Education Inspection head Zigfrids Grinpauks said that 12 schools, most of them in Riga, have already stated that they will not be prepared for the language change.
CROATIAN PRESIDENT VISITS COUNTRY.
President Stipe Mesic began a three-day visit to Latvia on 4 April, LETA reported. He was accompanied by European Integration Minister Neven Mimica and Tourism Minister Pave Zupan Ruskovic. In talks with President Vike-Freiberga, Mesic said Croatia could learn from Latvia's experience in economic development, setting up democratic institutions, and implementing social policy. Vike-Freiberga said Croatia could teach Latvia how to develop a good tourism strategy. The presidents agreed that their countries have common goals of membership in the EU and NATO, and expressed the hope that the war in Iraq will be over soon. Mesic also met with Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete, parliament Deputy Chairman Eriks Jekabsons, and Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers. The Croatian president on 5 April visited the Port of Liepaja, where he discussed with Liepaja Mayor Uldis Sesks the Liepaja Special Economic Zone and its adaptation to EU requirements. The next day, Mesic visited the Sigulda area and the Castle Museum in Turaida before proceeding to Estonia.
MAKEUP OF ARMED FORCES MISSION FOR IRAQ APPROVED.
The Defense Ministry approved the makeup of the Latvian armed forces' mission to Kuwait, LETA reported on 18 April. The mission will comprise three officers and 36 servicemen, all of whom are volunteers with at least three years of military service. A total of 41 soldiers were selected from the more than 100 who applied, allowing a reserve of five soldiers. Although some women applied for the mission, none were selected. The mission's commander, Major Aivars Caune, and two officers are scheduled to fly to Kuwait later in April to conclude a Latvian-U.S. technical-cooperation agreement on the deployment of the Latvian troops, who will serve in U.S. Army-led units starting in May. The mission will serve up to the six months permitted by Latvian regulations.
PARLIAMENT APPROVES NEW HEALTH MINISTER.
Parliament approved New Era parliament deputy Ingrida Circene as the new health minister on 10 April by a vote of 47 to zero, with 24 abstentions, LETA reported. Her predecessor, Aris Auders, was fired in March after the Corruption Prevention Bureau initiated a criminal case against him (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 March 2003). Circene, who is a gynecologist by profession, promised to continue the planned reforms in the health-care system by working out legislative norms, adapting health care to comply with local conditions, and improving the salary system for medical workers. Union of Latvian Hospitals Chairman Jevgenijs Kalejs backed the appointment, mentioning Circene's success in organizing health care and managing the Liepaja and Aizpute hospitals. He said the additional funding of 30 million lats ($50 million) for health care that Circene has requested would help tackle the main problem of medical workers -- the need for higher salaries. Her seat in parliament will be taken over by Olita Augustovska, an adviser to the New Era secretary-general.
LEFTIST PARTY REVISES ATTITUDE TOWARD EU.
A conference of the Equal Rights party in Riga on 12 April approved a new platform that supports Latvia's membership in the EU, LETA and BNS reported. It calls on the EU to change from a union of countries into a union of peoples in which every ethnic group, including minorities, will have equal rights. The conference adopted the resolution "No to Deadly Reforms in 2004!" which urges mass protest actions against the proposal to make Latvian the primary language of instruction in all schools beginning in September 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003). One of the first actions will be a protest march in Riga at the end of May together with the Latvian Socialist Party, the National Harmony Party, the Latvian Association for Support to Russian Schools, and the Latvian Russian Community. The conference also re-elected Tatjana Zdanoka, Vladimirs Buzajevs, and Ilga Ozisa as the party's leaders.
GOVERNMENT APPROVES EU ACCESSION TREATY.
Latvia's cabinet on 14 April approved the wording of the EU Treaty of Accession, LETA and BNS reported. After the current EU members sign the treaty on 16 April at the EU summit in Athens, the Latvian parliament must approve it. President Vike-Freiberga, Prime Minister Einars Repse, Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete, and Latvia's chief negotiator for the European Union membership talks, Andris Kesteris, attended the summit to sign the treaty, LETA and other Western news sources reported on 16 April. The treaty is drawn up in the English and Latvian languages and was also signed by two representatives from each EU member country. The document of some 5,800 pages includes the basic text of the Treaty of Accession along with 18 addendums, 10 protocols, and a number of declarations. The first addendum deals with Latvia's accession to the Schengen area, the second with technical matters regarding EU regulations, and the third outlines the results of the accession negotiations and includes amendments to the EU legislation required by the EU enlargement. The other addendums concern the transition periods of candidate countries. The 10 protocols include matters that are not directly linked with EU regulations; for instance, a protocol on assistance to Lithuania for closing the Ignalina nuclear-power plant.
PARLIAMENT APPOINTS OBSERVERS TO EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT.
The Latvian parliament on 16 April appointed nine deputies from various parties to be the country's observers in the European Parliament, LETA reported. It had earlier decided that the two largest parties would select two observers each and the remaining five parties one each. The New Era party chose Valdis Kuskis and Liene Liepina; the People's Party, Rihards Piks and Aleksandrs Kirsteins; the Union of Greens and Farmers, Andis Kaposts; Latvia's First Party (LPP), Paulis Klavins; National Harmony Party, Boriss Cilevics; For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, Juris Dobelis; and For Human Rights in a United Latvia, Martijans Bekasovs. These deputies are expected to spend 92 days participating in the sessions of the European Parliament in Strasbourg and committee meetings in Brussels beginning in May. They will also join Europarliament groups according to their respective political affiliations. Travel and accommodation expenses as well as daily wages for participation in plenary sessions, commissions, or political groups, will be paid out of the Council of Europe's budget and the only expenses paid by the Latvian parliament will be for insurance.
PRESIDENT BACKS INTEGRATION OF NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES INTO EU.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga told the European Conference in Athens on 17 April that while the planned EU enlargement will increase European security, stability, and welfare, the EU's future external borders "should not become barriers of economic development and democratization," BNS reported. She said that further EU expansion is possible both to the EU's south and east, but that the integration of individual countries depends on their ability and readiness to implement reforms. Vike-Freiberga expressed the hope that the EU's ongoing eastward expansion will help Ukraine integrate and cooperate in establishing stability and security in the region. She also noted that Belarus should not be forgotten, as it is a direct neighbor of Latvia, and that there is a need for greater dialogue between Russia and the EU.
* General Sir Jack Deverell, commander in chief of Allied Forces North Europe, had talks with Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis and leading officers on 15 April. LETA reported. He also visited the mobile riflemen training center, ground troops 1st Infantry Battalion, and BALTBAT headquarters in Adazi, some 20 kilometers from Riga, to see their armament and equipment. He said that Latvia is capable of providing support for NATO as the example of sending medics to Afghanistan indicated.
* Head of the EU military staff Lieutenant General Rainer Schuwirth discussed NATO and EU defense policies with Defense Ministry State Secretary Edgars Rinkevics in Riga on 11 April, BNS reported. They agreed that Latvia's EU and NATO integration are mutually complementary, and talked about the possible contribution of EU candidate countries toward strengthening defense and security policies.
* Latvia-United States parliamentary cooperation group Chairman Uldis Martins Klauss and his deputy Viesturs Silins had talks with U.S. Senators Richard Shelby, Peter Fitzgerald, Trent Lott, Richard Durbin, Congressman Doug Bereuter, State Department European Affairs Director Heather Conley, and other officials during a visit to Washington on 6-9 April, BNS reported. The main focus of their trip was Latvia's accession to NATO although they also discussed the situation in Iraq.
* Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete had scheduled talks with Irish Foreign Minister Brian Cowen, European Affairs State Minister Dick Roche, and parliament European Affairs Committee Chairman Gay Mitchell and a brief conversation with Prime Minister Bertie Ahern in Dublin on 9 April, BNS reported the next day. She was assured of Irish support for Latvia's membership in the EU and continued good bilateral relations. The talks also dealt with future of Europe, institutional reforms in the EU as well as Latvian-Russian and the EU-Russian cooperation.
* Parliament speaker Ingrida Udre led a delegation to the Inter-Parliamentary Union conference in Santiago, Chile, on 5 to 12 April, LETA reported on 16 April. She spoke about Latvian economic development and gender equality issues, pointing out that the president, parliament speaker, foreign affairs minister, and the heads of several parliament committees are women.
* Welfare Minister Dagnija Stake traveled to Stockholm to participate in a meeting of ministers responsible for gender equality and justice from Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Iceland, Lithuania, and Estonia on 8 April, LETA reported. They discussed the results of a year-long campaign, ending in March, to raise public awareness of trafficking in women and plans for future cooperation.
* Economy Minister Juris Lujans asked representatives of the European Association of Public Banks in Brussels on 11 April to establish a risk investment fund in Latvia, LETA reported. The fund would provide financing for new projects supporting small and medium-sized companies.
* President Vike-Freiberga told the new Australian ambassador to Latvia, Richard Anthony Rowe, on 15 April, that she hoped that the relations between their countries will become closer, BNS reported. She noted that among Latvian communities living outside the country only the U.S. has a larger Latvian community than Australia.
* The Daugavpils City Council voted nine to five with one abstention to remove Rihards Eigims, the head of the regional Latgale Light party, as the city's mayor on 10 April, BNS reported. The main complaints against Eigims were the city's tough financial situation, large debts, inability to secure a budget for this year, and bad managerial style. In the evening the council elected high-school headmaster Ivars Skincs, 34, as the new mayor by a vote of nine to three.
* The Central Statistics Bureau announced on 8 April that in March the consumer price index increased by 0.5 percent compared to February and by 2.2 percent compared to March 2002, BNS reported. In March the costs of goods rose by 0.7 percent and of services by 0.2 percent.
LITHUANIATHOUSANDS PROTEST IN VILNIUS AGAINST AUTHORITIES.
Thousands of people participated in two protests in Vilnius on 12 April against the failure to elect Arturas Zuokas as the city's mayor and the firing of Police Commissioner-General Vytautas Grigaravicius (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 and 11 April 2003), "Kauno diena" reported on 14 April. More than 2,000 participants, most of them youths, attended the first protest, "Light a Candle in Front of the President's Office...," which had not obtained the necessary permission from the city and was advertised primarily through the Internet. Participants carried wreaths with inscriptions such as "End to Civil Rights" and "End to Electorate's Will," and listened to various opposition politicians. Most of the speeches were directed against President Rolandas Paksas and Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas. Up to 5,000 people subsequently gathered in front of Vilnius City Hall for the "Against the Plot -- For Lithuania" concert, in which Zuokas urged the participants to "defend freedom, your rights, and democracy."
MILITARY MISSION DEPARTS FOR PERSIAN GULF.
Three military medical officers and 10 logistics specialists flew on 9 April to Frankfurt, from where U.S. aircraft were to transport them to Kuwait, ELTA reported. The deployment was mandated by parliament last month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 26 March 2003). A fourth doctor traveled to Kuwait last week to finalize the details of the planned activities of the Lithuanian doctors. Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius participated in the send-off ceremonies at the Zokniai Airport in northern Lithuania. All the participants in the mission, which is expected to last up to six months, are volunteers. The servicemen are to serve in "a humanitarian mission" and are not to take part in any military action.
FOREIGN-POLICY COUNCIL DISCUSSES KALININGRAD TRANSIT.
The Foreign Policy Coordination Council's first meeting, which was held under the leadership of President Paksas on 15 April, adopted a resolution backing the transit regulations via Lithuania adopted by the EU the previous day, and urged Russia to fulfill its obligations, ELTA reported. The council also includes the prime minister, foreign and defense ministers, the parliament chairman, the heads of parliament's European and National Security committees, the head of the State Security Department, and the presidential advisers for foreign and national security issues. The EU General Affairs Council adopted the regulations for travel by Russian citizens via Lithuania to and from Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast after 1 July. The regulations stipulate that train tickets for the Russia-Kaliningrad route can only be purchased after ticket sellers receive a positive response from Lithuanian consulate officials to an e-mail request made at least 24 hours prior to the planned departure. Three Lithuanian officers will be stationed on the trains running between Russia and Kaliningrad to issue these documents. The council also said Russia should sign the readmission treaty with Lithuania and ratify the border treaty with Lithuania signed in 1997.
NEW MAYOR OF VILNIUS ELECTED.
The Vilnius City Council on 9 April elected Social Democrat Gediminas Pavirzis over incumbent Arturas Zuokas as the new mayor of Vilnius by a vote of 27 to 24, ELTA reported. The result were unexpected, as the deputies from the Liberal Union, Modern Christian Democratic Union, Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania), and Polish Election Action signed a coalition agreement last month with 30 of the council's 51 members (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2003). However, Polish Election Action changed its position and agreed to join a new five-party coalition with the ruling left-of-center coalition of Social Democrats and Social Liberals, the Liberal Democrats, and the Lithuanian Russian Union. Liberal parliament deputy Aleksandras Poplavskis filed an appeal to the Vilnius District Administrative Court asking that the City Council session be declared invalid since three parliament deputies participated in it, which he argues is a violation of the December Constitutional Court decision forbidding simultaneous membership in parliament and local councils.
FIRING OF POLICE CHIEF POSTPONED.
An extraordinary cabinet meeting on 11 April did not recommend the firing of Police Commissioner-General Grigaravicius, but decided instead to await the results of an ad hoc parliamentary commission, ELTA reported. On 7 April, Interior Minister Juozas Bernatonis alleged that unlawful collection of information regarding high-ranking officials of the Interior Ministry has been going on with Grigaravicius's approval, which the police official categorically denied. After a meeting with President Paksas and Prime Minister Brazauskas on 9 April, Bernatonis suspended Grigaravicius and ordered that he undergo an extraordinary performance assessment the next day. Grigaravicius refused to attend the assessment, which recommended his dismissal. A number of high-ranking police officials, such as Organized Crime Service chief Jurijus Milevskis and Operative Service head Vytautas Radziunas, have handed in their letters of resignation in protest of the actions against Grigaravicius. After Brazauskas told the parliament on 10 April that he would not reveal the evidence against Grigaravicius, as it is confidential, the parliament formed a commission to investigate the charges and gave it one month to file a report.
NATO GENERAL VISITS VILNIUS.
General Sir Jack Deverell, commander in chief of Allied Forces North Europe, began his visit to Vilnius on 14 April, BNS reported. The region currently includes 10 NATO countries -- Belgium, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Great Britain, Iceland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Norway, and Poland. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, and Slovakia are scheduled to join next year. At a press conference after meetings with Defense Minister Linkevicius and armed forces commander Major General Jonas Kronkaitis, Deverell said there are no plans to deploy any NATO units to Lithuania. He expressed satisfaction with Lithuania's decision to focus on training servicemen rather than purchasing high-tech tanks and aircraft. Deverell then visited the Gelezinis Vilkas (Iron Wolf) Motorized Infantry Brigade and met at the French Embassy with NATO countries' ambassadors to Lithuania. He then departed for Latvia and will also visit Estonia and Slovakia before returning home.
INVITATIONS EXCHANGED WITH GREEK PRESIDENT.
Shortly after arriving in Athens on 15 April, President Paksas held a meeting with his Greek counterpart Constantinos Stephanopoulos, ELTA reported the next day. Paksas extended an invitation to Stephanopoulos to attend ceremonies in Vilnius on 6 July to mark the 750th anniversary of the coronation of King Mindaugas, Lithuania's only monarch. The Greek president invited Paksas to attend the Olympic Games in the summer of 2004. Noting that Lithuania opened an embassy in Athens in 1997, Paksas urged Greece to do the same in Vilnius and end its representation from its embassy in Stockholm. On 16 April, Paksas attended the meeting of the European Summit Council and European Parliament President Patrick Cox, and spoke briefly before Prime Minister Brazauskas and Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis signed the EU Treaty of Accession.
SWEDISH DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS VILNIUS.
Leni Bjorklund paid a short visit to Vilnius on 7 April, primarily to hold talks with her Lithuanian counterpart Linas Linkevicius, ELTA reported. They discussed bilateral military relations, cooperation in the Baltic region, and international security matters. Sweden is among the countries that have provided the most military assistance to Lithuania. It has donated three radar systems for sea and coastal surveillance as well as weapons, ammunition, and other supplies to equip three battalions. Some 80 Lithuanian officers have completed studies at Swedish institutions since 1993. Although Sweden does not plan to become a member of NATO in the near future, it has pledged to continue mutual cooperation within Partnership for Peace projects after Lithuania becomes a NATO member. Bjorklund also met with parliament's National Security and Defense Committee Chairman Alvydas Sadeckas and other committee members and visited Lithuania's Crisis Management Center.
CALL FOR GREATER COOPERATION WITH UKRAINE.
President Paksas and his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kuchma discussed in Athens on 17 April the signing of the EU accession treaties and the need to expand bilateral relations, ELTA reported. They spoke about the possibility of establishing visa-free travel for citizens of both countries, which would help increase economic and cultural cooperation. The presidents noted that the establishment of the regularly scheduled Viking freight-train route between Odesa and Klaipeda in February has boosted trade and transit. Paksas expressed satisfaction that Kuchma has accepted his invitation to visit Vilnius in early July for the ceremonies marking the 750th anniversary of the coronation of King Mindaugas. He also expressed his support for Ukraine's efforts to join the EU.
SOCIAL DEMOCRATS HOLD MAJORITY OF MAYORAL OFFICES.
As of 11 April, the Social Democratic Party held 18 of the mayoral offices among the 60 newly seated local government councils, ELTA reported. The Peasant and New Democracy Party hold 10 mayoral seats, and the Center Party has eight. Members of the Homeland Union (Lithuanian Conservatives) will run five municipalities, and the national coalition member Social Liberals (New Union), four. Three parties -- the Liberal Democrats, Lithuanian Christian Democrats, and Liberals -- will have three mayors each. The Modern Christian Democratic Party and the Lithuanian Nationalist Party will have one mayor each.
* U.K. Defense Secretary Geoffrey Hoon sent a letter to Defense Minister Linkevicius thanking Lithuania for supporting the coalition seeking to end the threat of weapons of mass destruction held by Iraq, BNS reported on 11 April. Hoon also wrote, "Given the strength of our defense relationship, I hope that you will also consider making a contribution to build a stable and prosperous future for Iraq." Since Lithuania has already sent medical doctors and logistic experts to the Persian Gulf region, Linkevicius said he considers this a request to send peacekeeping troops to Iraq.
* Spanish Foreign Ministry State Secretary for European Affairs Ramon de Miguel y Egea visited Lithuania on 7-9 April, BNS reported. On 8 April with Foreign Ministry Secretary Rytis Martikonis he traveled to Telsiai where he visited the headquarters of the dairy company Zemaitijos Pienas, which receives support from the EU SAPARD program and held talks with Telsiai district officials and Roman Catholic Bishop of Telsiai Jonas Boruta. On 9 April de Miguel y Egea met with President Paksas, Foreign Minister Valionis and European Committee Director-General Petras Austrevicius. He told Paksas that Spain plans to open an embassy in Vilnius later this year and that he expects Russia to meet its obligations in regard to transit travel to the Kaliningrad Oblast.
* Justice Minister Vytautas Markevicius and his visiting Turkish counterpart Cemil Cicek signed a cooperation protocol in Vilnius on 15 April, ELTA reported. The protocol provides that both states will encourage cooperation in exchanging information on major developments in the law and justice fields with the justice ministries creating specific cooperation programs and forming expert or working teams. Cicek also met with the heads of the Constitutional, Supreme, and Appeals courts and visited the Lukiskes prison.
* Antonio Lopez-Isturiz, the head of the European People's Party, told a news conference in Vilnius on 8 April that the Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) and the Lithuanian Christian Democrats should have a joint list of candidates in the elections to the European Parliament in 2004, BNS reported. The Conservatives are currently only observers to the European People's Party, but hope to become associated members, a status the Christian Democrats already have, later this spring.
* Deputy Economy Minister Nerijus Eidukevicius participated in the ceremonies opening a representative office of the Lithuanian Economic Development Agency (LEPA) in Milan on 8 April, ELTA reported. LEPA has two representative offices in Germany and decided that one in Italy would be useful. The agency held a business seminar to highlight the most recent economic accomplishments of Lithuania at which nine company executives who accompanied Eidukevicius to Milan participated. On 10 April the deputy minister and the executives traveled to Malta for meetings and a seminar.
* Deputy Foreign Minister Justas Vincas Paleckis attended the conference "The Enlarged European Union -- Partner of Developing Countries" in Berlin on 7 and 8 April. BNS reported. The conference, organized by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development, dealt with the issues of EU enlargement and its effect on aid policy to other countries. Lithuania has been active in this work being involved in eight bilateral cooperation projects in the Kaliningrad Oblast, Ukraine, Belarus, and Moldova last year.
* The parliament adopted a resolution on 8 April extending the participation of Lithuanian troops in NATO-led peacekeeping operations in Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosova until 2004, BNS reported. President Paksas had proposed an extension for the 30 Lithuanian troops serving in a Polish and Ukrainian battalion and 105 troops serving in a Danish battalion in Kosova until March 2004 as well as an officer serving in the U.S.-led brigade headquarters in Bosnia.
* The parliament approved the proposal by President Paksas to extend the participation of troops serving in the U.S.-led international Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan on 17 April, BNS reported. Some 40 troops have been conducting operations in an antiterrorist mission which began in November. The lawmakers decided to extend the mission until December by approving the sending of a replacement unit in May.
* A joint operation by U.S. and Lithuanian law enforcement officers resulted in the arrest of three Lithuanians suspected of sending drugs and counterfeit dollars to the U.S. on 9 April, BNS reported. One of the arrested is Enrikas Daktaras, a son of the alleged leader of a Kaunas criminal group Henrikas Daktaras. Enrikas Daktaras was elected to the Kaunas City Council in December, but was arrested on the eve of the new council's first session. At least two accomplices were also arrested in the U.S.
* More than 5,000 farmers from different regions of the country staged a rally in front of the parliament building on 15 April demanding higher agricultural prices and condemning the government and parliament for their "never-delivered promises," ELTA reported. The main organizer of the rally, Lithuanian Agricultural Chamber Chairman Jonas Ramonas, mentioned the particular plight of dairy farmers and the ousting of local production by cheaper imported pork and vegetables. He, nevertheless, called on the farmers to vote in favor of membership in the European Union. Parliament Deputy Chairman Ceslovas Jursenas and Rural Committee Chairman Gediminas Kniuksta went out to speak with the protesters.
* Lithuanian Christian Democrats Chairman Petras Grazulis organized a rally of some 300 persons expressing support for suspended Police Commissioner-General Grigaravicius in front of the presidential office building on 14 April, ELTA reported. At the end of the protest, Grazulis read a resolution protesting against the intended sacking of the police chief.
* President Paksas vetoed amendments to the law on charity and relief on 11 April and sent them back to the parliament for reconsideration, ELTA reported. He said that the amendments, passed by the parliament in March, are nontransparent and may create grounds for corruption and misuse, particularly objecting to the provision allowing state-owned companies, in which the government holds a controlling share, to make charitable donations.
* Former President Valdas Adamkus accepted an invitation by UNESCO Secretary-General Koichiro Matsuura to become a UNESCO goodwill ambassador on 18 April, BNS reported. UNESCO now has 36 goodwill ambassadors around the world including famous cultural, art, and science figures; monarchs; and retired politicians such as opera singer Monserrat Caballe, actress Catherine Deneuve, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, soccer player Edson Pele, Luxembourg Grand Duchess Maria Teresa, and former Icelandic President Vigdis Finnbogadottir.
* The Statistics Department announced on 10 April that in the first two months of the year, exports and imports were 3.71 billion litas ($1.16 billion) and 4.16 billion litas as exports grew by 38.8 and imports by 7.1 percent compared to the same period last year, BNS reported. The greatest recipient of exports was Switzerland (16.2 percent) due to the decision of Mazeikiai Oil to start exporting its oil products through the country, followed by Germany (9.8 percent), Latvia (8.7 percent), and Russia (8.5 percent). The main sources of imports were Russia (29.7 percent), Germany (14 percent), Poland (4.3 percent), and Italy (3.8 percent).
* The Statistics Department announced on 8 April that the consumer price index in March was 0.3 percent higher than in February, but 1.1 percent lower than in March 2002, ELTA reported. The price of goods during the month grew by 0.3 percent and that of services by 0.1 percent.
* The Bank of Lithuania announced on 11 April that the country had a current account surplus of 69.1 million litas ($21.6 million) for the month of February, BNS reported. This was primarily due to a considerably lower foreign trade deficit. Nonetheless, a large current account deficit remains. In January the current account deficit was 4.5 million litas and in 2002 2.4 billion litas.
* The cabinet decided on 9 April to implement a temporary suspension of pork imports from Poland in an effort to protect the domestic meat market, BNS reported the next day. Agriculture Minister Jeronimas Kraujelis said that Lithuania has an abundant supply of cheap pork and farmers could not compete with cheaper Polish imports which are heavily subsidized by the Polish government.