12 May 2003, Volume 4, Number 16
NOTE TO READERS:
This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 26 April to 2 May 2003.
REGIONALFUTURE OF BALTIC STATES DISCUSSED AT PARIS CONFERENCE.
Baltic Foreign Ministers Kristiina Ojuland (Estonia), Sandra Kalniete (Latvia), and Antanas Valionis (Lithuania) spoke at the international conference "Europe and the Baltic States after Prague and Copenhagen" in Paris on 29 April, BNS reported. French Senate President Christian Poncelet underscored that the Baltic states belong to Europe and that France supports their accession to the EU. Ojuland said the role of national parliaments in the EU must be expanded and the principle of equality must be maintained. "Equal opportunities must be ensured for both large and small, both new and old, member states," she said. Valionis said EU enlargement should eradicate social and economic disparities between the old and the new members of the organization. "We believe Europe should not be divided into business-class and economy-class memberships," he said. The previous day, the Baltic foreign ministers discussed EU institutional issues included in the EU Convention on the Future of Europe with their French counterpart Dominique de Villepin and French European Affairs Minister Noelle Lenoir.
U.S. RIGHTS GROUP SIGNALS PRESS FREEDOM STILL LACKING IN CENTRAL, EASTERN EUROPE.
Freedom House, a U.S.-based organization whose stated aim is to support global democracy, released its "Freedom of the Press 2003" report on 30 April, noting that press freedom "suffered notable worldwide deterioration in 2002, due in part to political and armed conflicts and increased government-backed restrictions on independent media outlets," according to the group's website (http://www.freedomhouse.org). The conclusions include classification of countries' media as "Free" (0-30 points), "Partly Free" (31-60 points), or "Not Free" (61-100 points). "Of the 27 countries of Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union, nine (33 percent) are rated Free, eight (30 percent) are Partly Free, and 10 (37 percent) are Not Free," the group said. Ratings in Central and Eastern Europe, listed alphabetically, are: Belarus (82), Czech Republic (23), Estonia (17), Hungary (23), Latvia (18), Lithuania (18), Poland (18), Slovakia (21), and Ukraine (67). The authors of the survey acknowledge that "This survey does not assess the degree to which the press in any country serves responsibly, reflecting high ethical standards."
* More than 300 lawmakers, government representatives, and officials from the five Nordic and the three Baltic states attended the meeting of the Baltic Assembly and the Nordic Council held in Lund, Sweden from 27-29 April, BNS reported. Nordic Council President Inge Lonning and Baltic Assembly presidium head Giedre Purvaneckiene announced the need to develop even tighter cooperation between the two parliamentary bodies, mentioning the possibility of forming a single Northern European organization in the future. The heads of the Baltic delegations signed a statement urging the people to vote "yes" in the referendums on EU membership.
ESTONIACOMPENSATION FOR SOVIET OCCUPATION REMAINS SENSITIVE ISSUE.
The widespread belief in Estonia that the country should be compensated for damages resulting from the Soviet occupation remains an issue of contention with Russia. Prime Minister Juhan Parts told parliament on 23 April that Estonia intends to include the issue of compensation for the Soviet occupation on the agenda of the Estonian-Russian intergovernmental commission, BNS reported. Two days later a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said Parts's remarks were "devoid of all logic" and were likely to harm Estonian-Russian relations. Estonian parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Marko Mihkelson told BNS on 26 April that "such a reaction was perfectly predictable" and that receiving compensation from Russia is not likely in the near future, but is possible in the long term.
SIX OBSERVERS SENT TO EUROPARLIAMENT.
The credentials of the six parliamentary deputies appointed in April as observers to the European Parliament took effect on 1 May, BNS reported the next day. One observer was chosen from each of the six parties in the Estonian parliament. They will work in the European Parliament not as a national delegation but in factions based on their political views. Thus, in some cases, deputies in the ruling coalition and the opposition in Estonia will be observers in the same faction. Toomas Savi of the Reform Party and Peeter Kreitzberg of the Center Party belong to the Group of the European Liberal, Democratic, and Reformist Party (ELDR). Res Publica Deputy Eiki Berg and Mart Laar of the Pro Patria Union will work in the Group of the European People's Party and European Democrats (EPP-ED). Moderate Toomas Hendrik Ilves will join the Group of the Party of European Socialists (PES), and Janno Reiljan of the People's Union will join the Group of the Union for a Europe of Nations (UEN).
PARLIAMENT SETS UP ANTICORRUPTION PANEL.
The first decision adopted on 30 April by the new session of parliament was to establish a parliamentary committee on combating corruption, BNS reported. The committee will have six members, one from each of the parliament's factions, as well as designated replacements. The chairman of the committee will be Margi Ein from the People's Union. The committee's tasks include the collection, publication, and verification of asset declarations from the Estonian president, members of parliament and the government, and the chairman and members of the Supreme Court.
WIESENTHAL CENTER GIVES POOR MARKS FOR COOPERATION.
Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Jerusalem Office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, in a 27 April press release previewing the center's third Annual Status Report on the Worldwide Investigation and Prosecution of Nazi War Criminals, ranked Estonia as a country that has made "insufficient and/or unsuccessful efforts to prosecute perpetrators of the Holocaust," BNS reported on 28 April. In a ranking of grades ranging from A (highest) to F (lowest), Estonia received a "D" along with Argentina, Australia, Austria, Great Britain, Croatia, Denmark, Finland, France, Hungary, Romania, Slovakia, and Spain. Latvia and Lithuania received a "C," indicating "minimal success, which could have been greater; additional steps urgently required." The grade of "F," indicating total failure of prosecution, was given to Belarus, Belgium, Bolivia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Brazil, Chile, the Czech Republic, Greece, Holland, Russia, Ukraine, Uruguay, Venezuela, and Yugoslavia.
* Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino held talks with his Estonian counterpart Margus Hanson in Tallinn on 30 April, BNS reported. He gave assurances that the Italian parliament would ratify the NATO accession protocols soon. The ministers spoke about their countries' participation in international peacekeeping operations as well as in postwar Iraq.
* Parliament Speaker Ene Ergma agreed with the other EU candidate country parliament chairmen at the meeting with European Parliament President Pat Cox on 29 April that the EU should maintain a rotating presidency and each state should have an office of commissioner, BNS reported. Expressing concern about the loss of independence as a result of joining the EU, she stated "Partial[ly] giving up of one's sovereignty is a serious challenge for the accession countries, therefore it is very important that the decision-making mechanisms of supranational level must be clear and transparent."
* A six-member German Bundestag delegation headed by parliament National Defense Committee Chairman Reinhold Robbe visited Tallinn on 29 and 30 April, BNS reported. They had talks on NATO and EU enlargement with Defense Minister Hanson, parliament deputies, and senior military officers.
* The deputy foreign minister of Serbia and Montenegro, Dusan Crnogorcevic, held talks in Tallinn on 29 April with Foreign Ministry Deputy Chancellor Tiina Intelmann, BNS reported. They discussed bilateral relations, the situation in the Balkans, as well as matters related to the EU and trans-Atlantic integration.
* The ruling coalition decided that the top posts in an ad hoc committee to coordinate the cooperation of the parliament and the State Audit Office should be given to members of the opposition, BNS reported on 26 April. The daily "Postimees" wrote that the most likely chairman of the committee is former Finance Minister Harri Ounapuu from the Center Party with the post of deputy chairman going to a member of the Moderates or the Pro Patria Union.
* Justice Minister Ken-Marti Vaher presented a bill to the government on 29 April which calls for the creation of the post of assistant minister, BNS reported. The post would be a political appointment made by the prime minister on the recommendation of the minister. His term of office would end with the minister's. Vaher said: "This way we will solve the matter of forcible politicization of the civil service and draw a line between political officials and career officials." Prime Minister Juhan Parts noted that the new position might not be created in all ministries, but some ministers would undoubtedly appreciate having an assistant minister to reduce their workload.
* Kavkaz-Tsentr, a Chechen pro-independence website not linked to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov, was moved from Lithuania to the server of AS Starman Internet in Estonia in the middle of April, BNS reported on 28 April. The Russian Foreign Ministry that day said that it expected the Estonian authorities to stop the site's activities as they have declared their willingness to fight international terrorism. Estonian Prime Minister Parts stated the next day that the website is not in a government server and thus the government would not interfere with its operations. However, the Kavkaz-Tsentr editorial office issued on its website on 1 May a statement declaring that the Estonian Security Police had taken away its server on 28 April, BNS reported on 2 May. Security Police Superintendent Henno Kuurmann rejected these charges.
* International rating agency Moody's upgraded the long-term foreign-currency debt rating of Tallinn from Baa1 to A3, BNS reported on 29 April. The upgrading reflects improvement in the city's macroeconomic indicators and institutional environment in the process of acceding to the European Union. The agency is of the opinion that Tallinn's varied and growing economic potential will secure the city a significant income base in the future.
* International Monetary Fund (IMF) officials told Prime Minister Juhan Parts on 2 May that his government should continue holding a tight fiscal policy, BNS reported. They noted that cooperation between the IMF and Estonia has been excellent and the fund was ready to continue advising the government. Two days earlier, the deputy director of the IMF's 2nd European Department, Richard Haas, told Finance Minister Tonis Palts that the IMF is concerned about Estonia's large current account deficit.
LATVIANEW NATIONAL SECURITY CHIEF APPROVED.
An extraordinary session of parliament voted 55 to 41 on 2 May to appoint retired British Brigadier General Janis Kazocins to a five-year term as director of the Constitutional Protection Bureau (CPB), LETA reported. The 52-year-old Kazocins was born in England and settled in Latvia in 2002, serving as a part-time anticorruption adviser to Prime Minister Einars Repse. His appointment as CPB director required extraordinary measures, including the parliament granting him Latvian citizenship in March (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 March 2003) and the CPB providing him with a security clearance more quickly than usual. The opposition criticized Kazocins for retaining his British citizenship. Kazocins said the bureau must hire employees to fulfill new duties such as the protection of classified NATO information, but declined further comment on future staff policy until he can discuss it with bureau employees.
IMF PRAISES ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT.
The board of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on 29 April that in Latvia's 10 years as a member its introduction of transparent fiscal and monetary policies and its implementation of consistent structural reforms has resulted in impressive development, BNS reported. The board noted that Latvia was among the best of the EU candidates in terms of economic growth last year (its GDP rose by 6.1 percent), but that it needs to pay more attention to unemployment levels and its large current-account deficit. The IMF criticized the country's high budget deficit of 2.5 percent of GDP in 2002, which is forecast to rise to 3 percent of GDP this year. The fund also expressed its disapproval with the country's decision to reduce social-insurance and corporate-tax rates last year and called for no further tax cuts before the budget situation improves. It noted that Latvia already has one of the lowest corporate-tax rates among EU member and candidate states.
PARLIAMENT SPEAKER VISITS PORTUGAL.
Ingrida Udre flew to Lisbon on 24 April to participate in a meeting of the parliamentary heads of the 10 EU candidate countries, LETA reported. The next day she took part in an official lunch hosted by Portuguese parliament President Joao Bosco Soares Mota Amaral, who shared Portugal's experience of integrating into the EU. On 26 April, Udre discussed with her Portuguese counterpart the development of tourism between the two countries and the need for better bilateral cooperation. She also spoke at a conference organized by the Portuguese parliament on the future EU and held talks with the parliamentary leaders of the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Slovakia, and with Slovenia's deputy speaker and the leader of Poland's Senate
VISITING ITALIAN DEFENSE MINISTER DISCUSSES INTEGRATION INTO NATO.
Antonio Martino assured Prime Minister Einars Repse in Riga on 28 April that Italy will ratify Latvia's agreements for accession to NATO and the EU within the planned time frame, BNS reported. Martino said NATO membership will provide new development opportunities for Latvia, which will have to decide in which fields of military defense it will specialize and be able to contribute to strengthening the alliance's defense capabilities. They agreed that Euro-Atlantic cooperation on security and peace-maintenance issues should be strengthened and discussed their countries' participation in the reconstruction of Iraq. Martino also met with Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis to discuss NATO enlargement and the possible participation of Latvian military police in future NATO operations.
DEPUTY PREMIER SEEKS GREATER ECONOMIC COOPERATION WITH FRANCE.
Ainars Slesers began a working visit to France on 28 April with meetings in Douai and Valenciennes, where he learned about France's experience handling EU funding, LETA reported on 1 May. The next day he told the conference "Europe and the Baltic States after Prague and Copenhagen" in Paris (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 30 April 2003) about Latvia's economic-development priorities and discussed the country's role after it joins the EU. Slesers also met with 30 representatives from various French companies that are considering investing in Latvia. The representatives mentioned tourism, transport, Internet technologies, and logistics as the most prospective sectors. On 30 April, Slesers discussed Latvian-French cooperation in the context of EU enlargement with French Minister of Economy, Finance, and Industry Francis Mer. He also spoke with French Trade Minister Francois Loos about Latvian-French relations and the need for the establishment of a direct air route between Riga and Paris.
* The NATO commander of the Joint Command Central Europe, Lieutenant General Gotz F.E. Gliemeroth, and its task force chairman, Brigadier General Jan Steinberg Norgaard, traveled to Riga on 29 April to discuss Latvia's integration into NATO with particular attention to its ground forces, BNS reported. They held talks with Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis and the National Armed Forces commander, Rear Admiral Gaidis Andrejs Zeibots.
* Moscow City Government Tourism Committee chairman Grigorii Antufeev told representatives of the Latvian press in Moscow on 28 April that in his opinion relations between Moscow and Riga have improved over last the two years, BNS reported. The chill in relations that was due to political considerations has disappeared. The visits of the mayors of major Latvian cities to Moscow indicate that they understand the need for greater cooperation and establishing a good and pragmatic relationship.
* Latvian Army Major Aivars Caune and two maintenance and supply officers traveled to Kuwait on 30 April to gather more information about the costs of food, water, and other essential goods in Kuwait, BNS reported. The information will be sent to Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis, who is preparing to sign an agreement with U.S. officials on partial compensation of the costs of maintaining a Latvian contingent of three officers and 36 servicemen who will begin service in May. The servicemen, 30 transport soldiers and six mine-clearing experts, are currently undergoing premission training.
* A German Bundestag delegation headed by parliament National Defense Committee Chairman Reinhold Robbe visited Riga on 28 and 29 April, BNS reported. They had meetings with Defense Minister Kristovskis, National Armed Forces Commander Rear Admiral Gaidis Andrejs Zeibots, and members of the parliament's Defense and Interior Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee.
* Three parliament deputies from the National Harmony Party visited China on 22 to 25 April, LETA reported on 29 April. The visit, made at the invitation of the Chinese Communist Party, was reduced from the scheduled seven days to four since visits to China's regions had been canceled due to the travel restrictions prompted by the spread of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The deputies visited Beijing and Shanghai. Their talks with leaders of the Chinese Communist Party's Foreign Affairs Committee and members of the Chinese parliament discussed the possible transit of goods from China to Europe via Latvia and export of Latvian goods to China.
* On the initiative of the leftist National Harmony Party, leaders of six left-of-center parties met in Riga on 1 May to discuss possible cooperation before the Europarliament elections in June 2004, BNS reported the next day. The five other parties were: Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party, Social Democrat Union, Labor Party, Latvia's Democratic Party, and Social Democratic Welfare Party. They decided to prepare a joint memorandum of leftist parties with the main emphasis on Latvia's movement to the European Union, integration, and foreign policy issues. They also agreed that the plans to make Latvian the language of instruction in minority schools from 2004 should be postponed until 2007.
* A new immigration law that went into effect on 1 May requires all foreigners entering Latvia to have a valid health and life insurance policy guaranteeing their health-care costs and return trip home in case of illness or death, BNS reported. This requirement does not apply to citizens of Finland, Sweden, Estonia, and Ukraine as Latvia has signed reciprocity agreements with these countries. If no travel insurance has been purchased beforehand, visitors will be required to purchase Latvian insurance.
* A conference of the Cinematography Union on 26 April adopted a resolution calling on the government to allocate additional funds for the movie industry, BNS reported. It also invited President Vaira Vike-Freiberga to become a patroness of culture, especially film art, in Latvia. Union head Ieva Romanova told the conference that if Latvia followed the example of EU countries and allocates the average of 1.5 euros ($1.35) per capita a year for the film industry, it would provide some 2.3 million lats ($3.9 million). Although the Culture Ministry asked 1.3 million lats for the film industry in 2003, the government allocated only 600,000 lats.
* The Interior Ministry has abandoned earlier plans to end security to some foreign embassies and other objects, BNS reported on 26 April. It will reorganize the state security service, which will continue providing security to six foreign embassies in Latvia -- the United States, Russia, Belarus, Israel, Lithuania, and Ukraine as well as the residences of the U.S., Russian, and Israeli ambassadors and the consulates of Russia and Belarus in Riga, Liepaja, and Daugavpils. The embassies were selected following a parity principle because these countries provide security to Latvia's embassies in their respective countries.
* The Statistics Office announced on 29 April that the trend since 1991 of declining numbers of marriages and divorces in Latvia had been reversed in 2002, BNS reported on 29 April. The number of marriages in 2002 was 9,738 or 480 more than in 2001, raising the marriage rate per 1,000 capita of population to 4.2 from 3.9. The number of divorces also rose by 200, increasing the divorce rate per 1,000 capita to 2.5 from 2.4.
LITHUANIARUSSIAN DIPLOMAT SAYS PROBLEM OF KALININGRAD TRANSIT SOLVED.
Dmitrii Rogozin, the chairman of the State Duma's Foreign Affairs Committee and Russia's presidential envoy for Kaliningrad, told reporters in Vilnius after a meeting with President Rolandas Paksas on 28 April that the issue of transit between Russia and its Kaliningrad Oblast exclave via Lithuania has been resolved, ELTA reported. He said the Duma will ratify on 21 May the Lithuania-Russia border treaty that was signed in October 1997. Rogozin also said a bilateral readmission agreement will probably be signed later this week and, if needed, the Duma will ratify it in May. In an interview in "Lietuvos zinios" of 29 April, Rogozin said: "Lithuania will be the first country with which Russia will have readmission and state border treaties. This will form a legal precedent and that is very important, because we plan to hold negotiations about a visa-free regime with EU countries."
ECONOMY SHOWED 9.1 PERCENT ANNUAL GROWTH IN FIRST QUARTER.
The Statistics Department on 29 April announced 9.1 percent economic growth in the first quarter of 2003, year on year, with GDP for the quarter at 12.2 billion litas ($3.8 billion), ELTA reported. GDP per capita increased by 306 litas to 3,524 litas. The largest growth was in the industrial and utility sectors. Growth in activities related to consumer goods and services was slower, and there was a decline in the quarrying and mining sectors. Raimondas Kuodis of the Bank of Lithuania said the favorable results were to some extent aided by the anticipated benefits of EU membership, which encouraged more borrowing and investing rather than saving. The Finance Ministry forecasts that Lithuania's GDP will rise by 6.1 percent in 2003, while the IMF predicts 5.3 percent growth.
PRESIDENT PAYS WORKING VISIT TO DENMARK.
Rolandas Paksas told Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen in Copenhagen on 2 May that he is pleased with the high level of economic cooperation between Lithuania and Denmark, but urged more intensive ties between the Baltic and Nordic states, ELTA reported. The two men also discussed the problems of Kaliningrad transit, Lithuania's preparation for the referendum on EU membership, and the future of the European Union. While addressing a later business seminar, Paksas noted that Denmark is the largest foreign investor in Lithuania, accounting for 18 percent of total direct investment. Danish investments in Lithuania are twice as large as the country's investments in Russia, or in Latvia and Estonia combined. Paksas urged Danish businesses to use Lithuania as a springboard to the East. Paksas also met with Queen Margrethe II.
FORMER LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT DISCUSSES NATO-ACCESSION PROTOCOLS IN WASHINGTON.
Valdas Adamkus on 1 May urged Senators Robert Byrd (D-West Virginia), Trent Lott (R-Mississippi), Richard Durbin (D- Illinois), and Carl Levin (D-Michigan) to support the ratification of Lithuania's NATO Protocols of Accession, BNS reported the next day. He also conveyed the readiness of Lithuanian companies to participate in the reconstruction of Iraq. In talks with House of Representatives Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Illinois) and Representative John Shimkus (R-Illinois), Adamkus spoke about economic cooperation between the United States and Lithuania, and welcomed the decision to send a delegation of congressmen and business representatives to Lithuania to develop new business contacts.
* The Russian presidential envoy for Kaliningrad, Dmitrii Rogozin, gave President Paksas a letter from Russian President Vladimir Putin on 28 April, BNS reported the next day. Putin wrote that Russia is considering how to benefit from Lithuania's signing of the EU Accession Treaty "in terms of promoting bilateral cooperation and strengthening good neighborly relations." He mentioned that Russia is finishing preparations for signing a readmission treaty and ratifying the border treaty with Lithuania. Putin also called for working out a favorable regime for cargo transit, ensuring sufficient workload for the ports of Kaliningrad and Klaipeda seaports; and improving bilateral decisions in the energy sector.
* Italian Defense Minister Antonio Martino began a two-day visit to Vilnius on 29 April talking with his Lithuanian counterpart Linas Linkevicius, BNS reported. He affirmed that both houses of the Italian parliament will surely ratify the NATO Accession Protocols, but the process is primarily delayed by the parliament's excessive workload. Martino told a press conference that the leaders of Belgium, France, Germany, and Luxembourg meeting that day will not make any decisions for Italy unless they are also approved by most other European countries. He then had a meeting with President Rolandas Paksas. The next day Marino met with parliament Deputy Chairman Arturas Skardzius, members of its National Security and Defense Committee, as well as the NATO Commission.
* Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis told Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development Deputy Secretary-General Seichi Kondo in Paris on 29 April that Lithuania still wants to join the organization, BNS reported. The government had announced this intention in September 2002, noting that membership would have a positive effect on economic development. Kondo said that he understood Lithuania's wishes and noted the discussions and consultations underway within the organization regarding internal reforms, which will help new EU members to join.
* A delegation from the Foreign Ministry, headed by State Secretary Evaldas Ignatavicius, held talks in Ankara on 28 April with a Turkish delegation headed by Foreign Ministry Deputy Undersecretary Baki Ilkin, BNS reported. While the primary focus was on the ratification of the NATO Accession Protocols by the Turkish parliament, they also discussed the development of regional cooperation, the Iraq crisis, and other topical international issues.
* Polish Minister of National Education and Sport Krystyna Lybacka promised Lithuanian Ambassador to Poland Darius Degutis on 25 April that she would ask for an allocation of about 880,000 litas ($285,000) from the Polish state budget at the next government meeting to support Lithuanian language schools in the Punsk district, BNS reported on 28 April. The schools would close without this aid. It was also agreed that Lybacka will make an official visit to Lithuania in the coming months.
* Social Security and Labor Ministry Secretary Rimantas Kairelis and Germany's Saxony Economy and Labor Ministry's State Secretary Andrea Fisher signed a bilateral cooperation agreement in Vilnius on 29 April, BNS reported. Under the agreement the parties will exchange information, experience, and knowledge, and organize study visits of civil servants and experts. Saxony will also share the experience it acquired in cooperation with the European Social Fund implementing the EU directive on work-time regulation.
* The effort in the Vilnius City Council to elect Arturas Zuokas as Vilnius mayor again on 30 April was unsuccessful, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 2 May. The council had elected Social Democrat Gediminas Pavirzis the new mayor rather than the incumbent Zuokas by a vote of 27 to 24 earlier in the month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003). The elections were protested in a Vilnius court which decided to suspend the powers of Pavirzis as mayor until the Constitutional Court rules on the eligibility of some of the voting council members. With two members of the Polish Election Action agreeing to participate in another mayoral vote, Zuokas was expected to gain the 26 votes needed on this second vote, but Liberal Vilmantas Drema disappeared during the voting, resulting in a lack of quorum. It was later learned that Drema had spent the night in a Vilnius hospital. No explanation of his actions has been provided.
* Pupils from the 5th to 12th classes of 1,005 schools had the opportunity to participate in a mock referendum on Lithuania's membership in the EU on 29 April, "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 2 May. More than 70 percent (235,000) of the possible 333,000 students participated in the referendum with 83.3 percent voting "yes," 14.8 percent voting "no," and the remaining votes invalid.
* The Finance Ministry announced on 29 April that the country's total public debt at the end of March was 14.35 billion litas ($4.6 billion), BNS reported. The foreign debt of 10.19 billion litas accounted for 71 percent of the total debt with the internal debt being 4.17 billion litas. The total debt was estimated to comprise 26.7 percent of the country's projected gross domestic product (GDP) for 2003.
* The Statistics Department announced on 28 April that the number of foreign visitors coming to Lithuania in the first quarter of the year was 656,000 or 12.3 percent less than in the same period in 2001, ELTA reported. The visitors primarily came from neighboring countries: Russia (31.1 percent), Latvia (29.2 percent), and Belarus (15.1 percent). The number of visitors from these countries fell by 13.9, 13.6, and 21.8 percent, respectively. Visitors from Great Britain, Italy, Holland, and France increased by 56.7, 12.2, 11.5, and 6.3 percent, respectively. The number of residents of Lithuania traveling abroad in the same period was 728,000 or 0.7 percent less than in 2001.