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Baltic Report: June 5, 2003

5 June 2003, Volume 4, Number 18
The speakers of the parliaments of the so-called Vilnius 10 -- the seven states who have received invitations to join NATO along with Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia -- met on 21 May in Trakai, Lithuania's medieval capital, BNS reported. In opening the meeting, Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas said the Vilnius 10 has not yet completed its mission to build a united and indivisible Europe and reiterated his support for future NATO membership of additional countries that meet the alliance's membership requirements. Georgian parliament speaker Nino Burdjanadze told the meeting that membership in NATO would serve the interests of her country and the alliance. The 10 speakers signed a statement stating their commitment to an "open door" policy and that they "strongly believe that Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia should be invited to join NATO at the earliest opportunity." The statement also called for stronger Euro-Atlantic cooperation.

Defense Ministers Linas Linkevicius (Lithuania), Girts Valdis Kristovskis (Latvia), and Margus Hanson (Estonia) on 23 May held their semi-annual meeting in Trakai, Lithuania, BNS reported. The main topic of discussion was how the countries' impending NATO membership will affect joint defense projects. The ministers decided that the BALTNET air-surveillance and control center will become part of NATO's integrated air-defense system NATINADS. Likewise, the BALTRON naval squadron will be integrated into NATO naval forces, and the Baltic Defense College will be the main educational institution to train service personnel for the region according to NATO standards. Having fulfilled its functions and mission, the BALTBAT joint battalion will be terminated this fall and replaced with other forms of cooperation among the land forces of the three states, with the major focus on training and joint military exercises. The ministers also discussed cooperation with countries in the Southern Caucasus and Ukraine, expressing a wish to sign a defense-cooperation agreement with Georgia during a session of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council next month.

The Danish parliament by a vote of 101 to four ratified the NATO Accession Protocols of Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia on 15 May, BNS reported. Denmark became the fourth country after Canada, Norway, and the United States to ratify the protocols, which were signed in Athens on 26 March. The parliaments of fifteen other NATO member countries are expected to ratify the protocols before the next NATO summit meeting in May 2004.
* British Lord Chancellor Lord Irvine began a tour of Baltic states in Riga on 18 May and met with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga the next day, BNS reported. Irvine also met that day with Premier Einars Repse, parliament speaker Ingrida Udre, Justice Minister Aivars Aksenoks and took a tour of Old Riga. On 20 May, he held talks with Prosecutor-General Janis Maizitis, had lunch with the Supreme Court Chairman Andris Gulans, and visited the Museum of Occupation before traveling to Vilnius. On 21 May, Lord Irvine met with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis, Justice Minister Vytautas Markevicius and parliament chairman Arturas Paulauskas, ELTA reported. He said that his country's parliament would ratify Lithuania's NATO and EU accession protocols "in the near future" Arriving in Tallinn on 22 May, Lord Irvine met with President Arnold Ruutel to discuss bilateral relations, Estonia's agriculture and upcoming EU accession, BNS reported. The next day Irvine had meetings with Prime Minister Juhan Parts, Justice Minister Ken-Marti Vaher, parliament speaker Ene Ergma, and Legal Chancellor Allar Joks.
* A delegation from the Canadian House of Commons, headed by its speaker Peter Milliken, began a tour of the Baltic states in Vilnius on 18 May, ELTA reported. The next day it visited the Lithuanian parliament for talks with Chairman Arturas Paulauskas and deputies from the Foreign Affairs, European Affairs, and National Security and Defense Committees. This was followed by meetings with Foreign Ministry Secretary Evaldas Ignatavicius, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas. Discussions focused on NATO expansion, the Iraq situation, and relations with Russia. President Rolandas Paksas thanked Milliken for Canada's rapid ratification of the NATO Accession protocols. The delegation was in Riga on 20 and 21 May, LETA reported, where they met with Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, parliament speaker Ingrida Udre, representatives from the Latvian-Canadian parliamentary cooperation group, European Integration Bureau Director Edvards Kusners and Social Integration Minister Nils Muiznieks before traveling to Tallinn. On 22 May, President Arnold Ruutel and Canadian parliament speaker Peter Milliken talked about economic relations between their countries in Tallinn, BNS reported. Ruutel urged greater Canadian investments in Estonia, pointing out the favorable conditions for foreign capital in the country and the opportunity to reach the Russian market via Estonia. The officials also noted that the good relations between their countries were aided by the active role of the Estonian community in Canada.
* Latvia's Transport Ministry announced on 20 May that in the first four months of this year Tallinn had the highest turnover among Baltic Sea east coast ports, LETA reported. Its turnover increased to 12.3 million tons or 1.2 percent higher than in the same period last year. Ventspils was second with 10.16 million tons after a decline of 17.6 percent. Freight through St. Petersburg declined by 11.8 percent to 9.85 million tons. Klaipeda's turnover rose by 12.7 percent to 7.3 million tons while that of Riga grew by 12 percent to 6.4 million tons.
* Estonian Prime Minister Juhan Parts visited Riga on 16 May for talks with his Latvian counterpart Einars Repse, BNS reported. The premiers discussed the need to work together in the EU Convention on the Future of Europe to ensure that the equality of large and small states in the EU will be preserved. Parts hopes that the results of Estonia's EU membership referendum in September will be positive. He also said Baltic and Nordic cooperation with the United States should be further developed and that the current 1+3+5 formula (United States+Baltic states+Nordic states) should be changed to a 1+8 formula. Parts also met with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and parliament speaker Ingrida Udre.
* Heads of the Estonian, Latvian, and Lithuanian railroad companies discussed changes that EU membership will bring about at a meeting in Parnu, Estonia, on 16 May, BNS reported. Finnish Railways CEO Henri Kuitunen was invited to speak at the meeting about how to preserve cargo flows without contradicting EU regulations.
* The 5th Baltic Economic Forum was held in Vilnius on 12 and 13 May, LETA reported. Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas officially opened the forum, which is organized by the business associations of the Baltic states and the Latvian Business School with the backing of the Baltic governments. Its aim is to help establish business contacts and offer discussion on major business and political developments in the Baltic countries. In a speech of 13 May, Latvian Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers predicted that Riga and not Vilnius will become the Hong Kong of the expanded EU since it is the most European city in the Baltic states.

Estonian Prime Minister Juhan Parts began a two-day visit to Brussels on 21 May with talks with NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, BNS reported. Parts expressed satisfaction that NATO members' ratification of NATO-accession protocols is going smoothly, noting that four states -- Canada, Norway, the United States, and Denmark -- have already ratified them. Robertson advised Estonia to establish as soon as possible a fully staffed NATO team to benefit as much as possible from cooperation with alliance members. The meeting with EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen primarily focused on the work of the EU Convention on the Future of Europe. They both expressed support for retaining the system of a rotating EU Presidency. Parts also spoke about Estonia's promotion campaign in the run-up to its 14 September referendum on EU membership. Parts also met on 22 May with European Commission President Romano Prodi, members of the European parliament, and representatives from the European People's Party.

Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer told a press conference in Tallinn on 20 May that Estonia should speed up the naturalization of its approximately 170,000 stateless persons, BNS reported. Noting that they are not recent immigrants, but long-term residents, he said, "The sooner and better they become integrated into Estonian society, the better for the Estonian state." Schwimmer paid his three-day visit to Estonia to celebrate the 10th anniversary of its membership in the Council of Europe. His talks with Prime Minister Juhan Parts on 19 May focused on the council's role after EU enlargement. Schwimmer discussed the development of Estonian-Russian relations at a dinner hosted by President Arnold Ruutel that night.

Justice Minister Ken-Marti Vaher announced on 14 May that he is nominating Security Police Director-General Juri Pihl to be the new head of the State Prosecutor's Office, BNS reported, replacing State Prosecutor Raivo Sepp's whose term expires on 27 May. Pihl, 49, became head of the security police in 1993 and his second term expires in June. A third term is prohibited by law. Some deputies suggested that the law be amended to allow Pihl to serve a third term, but the ruling coalition decided against it. The parliament's Legal Committee expressed unanimous support for Pihl's candidacy after he presented them with his goals for the prosecutor's office. On 13 May, Interior Minister Margus Leivo named Foreign Ministry Personnel Department head Andres Unga as his candidate to head the Security Police. Pihl said Unga "is a worthy candidate," but other parliament deputies expressed doubt that "a Foreign Ministry official is professional enough to fulfill the duties required of the head of the Security Police."

Prime Minister Juhan Parts announced on 19 May that he was refusing to accept Justice Minister Ken-Marti Vaher's resignation because of traffic violations, BNS reported. Vaher tendered his resignation last week after a scandal erupted when he was cited by police for driving 134 kilometers per hour in a 90-kph zone on 10 May. The weekly "Eesti Ekspress" subsequently revealed that the 28-year-old Vaher has been fined more than 20 times for traffic violations since 1996. A meeting of the extended board of Res Publica on 17 May voted that Vaher should retain his post, although some members favored his removal. Parts told reporters that Vaher deserves a second chance and is the best person to carry out the government's promises and fulfill its election program.

Although the Center Party will officially determine whether it favors Estonian membership in the EU at its party congress on 9 August, some of its most prominent members have signed a petition advocating membership, BNS reported on 22 May. The 16 signatories include all the ministers of the previous Center Party government: Jaanus Marrandi, Sven Mikser, Liina Tonisson, Mailis Rand, Harri Ounapuu, Ain Seppik, Eldar Efendiyev, Siiri Oviir, Toomas Varek, and parliament Deputy Chairman Peeter Kreitzberg. The only major party member who has not stated his position on EU membership is its chairman, Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar, who has repeatedly declared that he welcomes discussion on the question. Kreitzberg said the party board should take a stand in favor of membership and not leave it to the congress to decide.

Jorge Sampaio and a large delegation of Portuguese businesspeople began a six-day tour of the Baltic states with a visit to Tallinn on 11 May, BNS and LETA reported. At a meeting the next day with his Estonian counterpart Arnold Ruutel in which they discussed EU and NATO enlargement, Sampaio said Portugal's identity has become stronger since it joined the EU in 1986. The two leaders noted that their countries have similar positions on almost all topics pertaining to NATO and the EU Convention on the Future of Europe. The presidents mentioned successful cultural cooperation and expressed the hope that the 70-member business delegation accompanying Sampaio will establish greater bilateral economic ties. Sampaio departed for Riga on 13 May.

Parliament on 13 May rejected a bill proposed by the Pro Patria Union that would have prohibited individuals who were connected with the KGB or other repressive organizations of former occupying countries [Soviet Union and Germany] from running for office, BNS reported. The vote was 50 against to 11 in favor, with five abstentions. The bill would have restored the oath of conscience stipulated in a now-defunct law (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 29 November 2000).

Four deputies from the opposition Center Party presented a bill to parliament on 15 May that, if adopted, would speed up the processing of applications for citizenship, BNS reported. They noted that there are about 170,000 stateless persons currently living in Estonia and that the problem was frequently cited during the country's negotiations on EU membership. Under current law, an applicant must have lived in Estonia with a permanent residence permit for at least five years, and would have to live in the country for an additional year before receiving citizenship. The bill would retain the five-year requirement, but shorten the one-year requirement to six months. A similar bill was presented to the previous parliament, and, although the cabinets led by former prime ministers Mart Laar and Siim Kallas supported it, its passage was delayed and finally dropped due to parliamentary elections. It seems likely that the new bill will be approved, because Population Minister Paul-Eerik Rummo of the Reform Party said people who wish to commit themselves to Estonia should be treated benevolently and no obstacles should be placed in their way. In addition, the coalition agreement of the ruling alliance contains a clause aimed at reducing the number of stateless persons by removing bureaucratic barriers.

At their congress in Tallinn on 10 May, the Moderates did not approve proposals to change the party's name, BNS reported. The proposed alternatives, Estonian Social Democratic Party and Estonian Labor Party, received only 80 and 42 votes, respectively, from the 233 delegates. Chairman Ivari Padar said in a press release the he was re-elected party chairman by a vote of 180 to 10, with former trade union association leader Kadi Parnits and former Social Affairs Minister Eiki Nestor replacing ex-Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves and ex-Population Minister Katrin Saks as deputy chairmen. Padar told the congress that the fall in the party's representation in parliament, which dropped to six deputies from 17 as a result of the March elections, highlights the need for greater reforms. Padar said the party's organization should become more open, chapters should have more rights in decision making, and elections should be held within the party for various positions.
* Parliament Deputy Chairman Toomas Savi told the conference of leaders of EU member and candidate parliaments in Athens on 23 May that they should back the reform plan of the so-called Group of Sixteen in the EU Convention on the Future of Europe, BNS reported. This plan opposes the creation of the post of President of the European Council, preserving the rotating presidency, and calls for each country to have one commissioner.
* Defense Minister Hanson and his Portuguese counterpart Paulo Portas signed a memorandum of understanding on defense cooperation between the two countries in Brussels on 19 May, BNS reported. The ministers were taking part in the first meeting of defense ministers of EU member and candidate states which discussed the EU's plan of military activities and approved EU guidelines for security and defense policy.
* Italian European Affairs Minister Rocco Buttiglione informed Economy and Communications Minister Meelis Atonen in Tallinn on 20 May about the priorities which Italy will have during its EU presidency in the second half of the year, BNS reported. Italian Labor and Social Affairs Minister Roberto Maroni also visited Tallinn the same week and told Social Affairs Minister Marko Pomerants on 21 May about the five priorities in the field of labor and social policy that Italy has set for EU members and candidates in the second half of this year when it holds the EU presidency, BNS reported. The five areas are a strategy for fighting against illegal labor, harmonizing family and professional life, free movement of labor, a better employment policy, and increasing the social responsibility of companies.
* Legal Chancellor Allar Joks said on 20 May that the proposed 2003 supplementary budget bill contradicts the state budget law and the constitution, BNS reported. The draft bill calls for using 263 million kroons ($20 million) and 350 million kroons ($26 million) for the construction of a hospital in Parnu and a prison in Johvi, respectively, from last year's surplus, but the law explicitly states that any surplus must be placed into the stabilization reserve fund. To get around this problem, Finance Minister Tonis Palts suggested the next day that the state budget law be amended so that the cash reserve of the budget would be 1.05 billion kroons until 31 June and 700 million kroons from 1 July. The withdrawn 350 million kroons would be transferred to the State Real Estate Company and used for building the hospital and prison.
* At the congress of the Reform Party in Tallinn on 18 May, its chairman Siim Kallas reiterated his earlier proposal that the offices of president and prime minister should be combined and elected directly by the people, BNS reported. The proposal was met by skepticism by other parties. Urmas Reinsalu, the chairman of the Res Publica council, said that this would mean a transition to a presidential system of government instead of the existing parliamentary one which is more prevalent in Europe. Kallas also stated that he considered the existing three-party ruling coalition as the best possible alliance in Estonia.
* Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Marko Mihkelson said that while Russia's ratification of its border treaty with Lithuania set a precedent it is unlikely to hasten the signing and ratification of an Estonian-Russian border treaty, BNS reported on 22 May. Mihkelson noted that the treaty was initialed in November 1996 and after some changes again in March 1999, but never officially signed due to Russia's lack of political will.
* Simmu Tiik presented his credentials as Estonia's new ambassador to Irish President Mary McAleese in Dublin on 22 May, BNS reported. Unlike his predecessor Raul Malk, who resided in Tallinn, Tiik will live and work in Ireland.
* Defense Minister Margus Hanson visited the headquarters of NATO's Multinational Corps Northeast based in Szczecin, Poland on 13 May, BNS reported. Corps commander Lieutenant General Zygmunt Sadowski and other officers informed him about the structure and duties of the corps' staff and talked about future cooperation with Estonia's defense forces. The Baltic states are expected to join the corps which now consists of troops from Germany, Denmark, and Poland.
* Culture Minister Urmas Paet discussed the return of Estonian property illegally held in Russia and a cooperation program for the years 2004-2006 with his Russian counterpart Mikhail Shvydkoi for almost two hours in St. Petersburg on 11 May, BNS reported the next day. Among the items mentioned were the Estonian president's insignia seized in 1940, the art treasures from Tartu University kept in Voronezh, and the property of the Estonian Postal Museum. Paet also attended the performance of the oratorio "Jonah's Mission" by Estonian composer Rudolf Tobias performed by choirs from Estonia, Latvia, and Russia. The next day he met and talked about the restoration of the St. John's Lutheran Church with St. Petersburg Deputy Governor Aleksandr Prokhorenkoi.
* At the opening of the Spring Storm 2003 military exercises in Tapa, northeast Estonia, on 13 May, General Hans Berndtson, the deputy commander in chief of the Swedish defense forces, praised the considerable progress the Estonian military has made in 10 years, LETA reported citing "Postimees." He welcomed the fact that the people of Tapa could become acquainted with the military, their arms, and equipment in the exercises which lasted until 17 May. With nearly 2,300 military personnel, this was the largest domestic military exercise in Estonia after the restoration of independence.
* Prime Minister Juhan Parts held talks with the leaders of the major opposition parties on 12-14 May, BNS reported. On 12 May Moderates Chairman Ivari Padar said that his party backs some of the promises made in the coalition agreement, but is skeptical about their fulfillment. For example, the planned tax reforms are likely to reduce the chances of regions getting enough assistance to catch up with Tallinn. On 14 May, Parts had separate meetings with Pro Patria Chairman Tunne Kelam and Center Party Chairman Edgar Savisaar in which he explained the government's position on many important issues and pledged to meet regularly with opposition leaders to discuss important bills before they are sent to the parliament. The talks with Savisaar also dealt with issues in Tallinn since Savisaar is also mayor of the capital.
* Defense Ministry Deputy Chancellor Margus Kolga resigned on 14 May after the Security Police charged him with abusing his office by ordering translation work for almost 1 million kroons ($70,000) in 1996-2002 from a firm owned by his mother, BNS reported. His actions may be a violation of the anticorruption law and could lead to a prison sentence of up to five years.
* Three parliamentary committees elected their leadership on 12 May, BNS reported. The European Affairs Committee chose Rein Land from the Reform Party as chairman with Liina Tonisson from the Center Party as his deputy. The Security Institutions Committee picked Olari Taal of Res Publica as chairman with former premier Mart Laar from the Pro Patria Union as deputy chairman. The Anticorruption Committee elected Margi Ein from the People's Union as chairman.
* On the St. Petersburg Road outside Tallinn on 15 May, about 50 heavy trucks participated in a protest against the law limiting the amount of fuel which trucks can bring in their tanks without paying excise tax, BNS reported. The truckers had originally planned the protest on one of the main streets in the city, but its location was changed when officials placed no parking signs on the street to prevent the protest.
* The parliament formed a new 32-member group for promoting better relations with Russia on 13 May, BNS reported. It unanimously elected Sergei Ivanov from the Reform Party as chairman with Indrek Raudne from Res Publica and Vladimir Velman from the Center Party as his deputies. Ivanov and Velman held similar positions in the Russia group in the previous parliament. Ivanov said that the aim of the group is to develop direct contacts with Russia's State Duma and the Federation Council as well as cooperate with Russian colleagues in international organizations.
* The parliament appointed its delegations to five international organizations: the parliamentary assemblies of NATO, the Council of Europe, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Western European Union Assembly, and GLOBE, the organization for worldwide cooperation of parliamentarians on environmental issues, BNS reported. The delegations consist of deputies from different parliamentary factions. The parliament also formed groups for greater cooperation with Canada, Germany, Finland. and Armenia with 11, 21, 24, and 13 members, respectively.
* Pavel Ivanov, the former chief editor of Russian-language broadcasts over Estonia's state television, replaced Mark Levin as the chief editor of the Russian-language daily "Estoniya" on 9 May, BNS reported the next day. Levin became chief editor of the weekly "Vesti," which is published by the same group as "Estoniya."

The Latvian parliament's presidium and council of factions decided on 22 May to hold the country's indirect presidential election on 20 June, BNS reported. An extraordinary session of parliament is necessary for the vote, since its spring session will end on 19 June and its fall session will begin on 2 September. Presidential nominations must be presented in writing to the presidium. To be elected president a candidate must receive at least 51 votes from the 100-member parliament. As the three-party ruling coalition and the largest opposition party, the People's Party, have repeatedly expressed their support for President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, she is expected to be re-elected. Her current term expires on 7 July.

Armed forces press officer Lieutenant Uldis Davidovs announced on 20 May that the Latvian peacekeeping mission of 36 servicemen, who were flown to the Ahmed al-Jaber military base in Kuwait the previous day, will be stationed near the city of Kirkuk in northern Iraq, LETA reported. The 30 soldiers and six mine-clearing experts were issued desert uniforms and will undergo further training before being transferred to Kirkuk. The soldiers are expected to serve in the mission for six months.

High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus held talks with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga in Riga on 13 May, LETA reported. Ekeus subsequently told the media he has no objections to the country's plans to make Latvian the primary language of instruction in schools beginning in the fall of 2004 (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 10 April 2003). He said the greater use of Latvian should facilitate young people's competitiveness in the job market. The cabinet on 13 May amended the regulations on the planned reform to indicate that only 60 percent of the curriculum of minority schools must be taught in Latvian as of 1 September 2004. These schools will have the right to choose the 40 percent of their curriculum that can be taught in minority languages. Ekeus is scheduled to visit Russian- and Ukrainian-language schools in Riga on 14 May.

Riga City Council Executive Director Maris Tralmaks decided on 21 May to allow a 23 May protest rally on the Riga Esplanade against the country's plan to make Latvian the official language of instruction in schools as of September 2004, LETA reported. Latvia's Association for Support of Russian Schools and leftist political parties were earlier denied permission to stage a march and a rally (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 May 2003). Prime Minister Einars Repse spoke against the rally in an interview with Latvian State Radio on 22 May, but said it is a "swan song" for hostile elements in Latvia because "EU and NATO membership is coming soon." He also said the organizers of the rally seek to take advantage of the country's role as the host of the annual Eurovision contest, as "such large international events, which can be used as a destructive platform, are not foreseen in the future." The Riga City Council on 16 May had refused permission to the group to hold a march and a rally on 23 May, LETA reported, based on the recommendations of the Constitutional Protection Bureau, the Security Police, and other institutions that holding the event on that date would increase the difficulty of maintaining public order during the international Eurovision song contest, which began on 18 May.

The 15th congress of Latvia's Way was held in Riga on 17 May, LETA reported on 19 May. It elected Janis Naglis, who served as director of the Latvian Privatization Agency from 1994-2002, to replace former Prime Minister Andris Berzins as party chairman. Naglis said his main task as chairman will be to ensure the party's political comeback. Latvia's Way had been a long-standing ruling party, but it failed to break the 5 percent barrier in October's parliamentary elections. The congress also approved a new statute that labels the party a "right-wing liberal party" and a new slogan: "Latvia -- Europe's leader in quality of life." It also elected a 17-member board.

Jorge Sampaio told the Portuguese-Latvian business forum held at the Riga Stock Exchange on 14 May that economic relations between the two countries should expand, considering Latvia's future membership in the European Union, BNS reported. President Vike-Freiberga told Sampaio the same day that their countries have a lot in common politically, as both endured long periods of dictatorship. Prime Minister Einars Repse noted that their countries also share similar views on the future of Europe and on the need to maintain close trans-Atlantic ties. Before departing to Lithuania on 15 May, Sampaio told students at the Stockholm Graduate School of Economics in Riga that Latvia is making the right decision in seeking EU membership

Corruption Prevention Bureau Director Guntis Rutkis submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Einars Repse on 14 May, LETA reported. He requested that he be released from duty as of 30 May. Repse recently criticized the bureau's work, and Rutkis said he would decide whether his health is good enough to fulfill his duties (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 May 2003). Repse said he "highly values Rutkis's professionalism and hopes he can use it working for some other state structure where his health condition will not be an obstacle to successful work." LETA the next day identified former armed forces commander General Raimonds Graube as a possible replacement for Rutkis, but Graube said he has not been offered the position. Confirming a replacement might be difficult because parliament rejected three other candidates before finally accepting Rutkis in October (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 11 October 2002).
* Parliament Speaker Ingrida Udre attended the conference of the parliament speakers of EU member and candidate countries in Athens on 22-25 May, BNS reported. The conference primarily focused on two issues: European parliaments and the EU Convention on the Future of Europe; and the political and institutional dimensions of the role of the parliaments in the enlarged EU. Udre met with the speakers of other parliaments and Greek President Constantinos Stephanopoulos.
* Finance Ministry Deputy State Secretary Inguna Sudraba announced on 22 May that she will be leaving her post from 22 June protesting what she considered the government's unwarranted criticism of the ministry for budgetary problems, LETA reported. She began working at the ministry in 1992 and had been primarily responsible for drawing up the budget. Sudraba explained that she could not assume responsibility for the course of current fiscal policy because the government often approved expenditures without having sufficient revenues to cover them.
* Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis told visiting Secretary-General of the European Commission David O'Sullivan in Riga on 19 May that Latvia would apply for a transition period if the EU fulfills its plans to introduce a new energy tax, BNS reported. Dombrovskis noted that Latvia does not now apply any excise taxes on electricity, natural gas, or coal and the new tax would raise energy prices considerably.
* Parliament Foreign Affairs Commission Chairwoman Inese Vaidere made a working visit to Luxembourg on 19 and 20 May, LETA reported on 21 May. She had meetings with parliament Vice President Nikki Bettendorf, Foreign Minister Lydie Polfer, and Paul Helminger, the chairman of the foreign, European affairs, and defense commission. The main topic of her talks were the possibilities of small European countries preserving their culture, identity, and language after joining the EU.
* Director-General of the Confederation of British Industry Digby Jones told reporters at a press conference in Riga on 23 May that Latvia should work with Britain when it joins the EU in order to prevent higher taxes, LETA reported.
* Health Minister Ingrida Circene traveled to Geneva to participate in the 56th World Health Assembly from 17 to 21 May, BNS reported. The assembly on 21 May unanimously adopted the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. During the assembly Circene had meetings with the health ministers of Estonia, Finland, Greece, and Turkey. Although the assembly lasted until 28 May, Circene departed early to attend an e-health conference in Brussels on 22 and 23 May.
* The 15th Conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) was held in Riga on 19 and 20 May, LETA reported. The IACP, the oldest and largest international police organization, was founded in the United States more than 100 years ago and currently has members from 89 countries. The conference was attended by representatives from 20 countries, mostly from Europe but also Uzbekistan, Canada, and the United States.
* Prime Minister Einars Repse appointed the ex-managing director of the Latvian National Theater, Maris Jaunozols, as the new director of the Civil Service Administration on 19 May, LETA reported. The decision was based on the recommendation of the State Chancellery who selected Jaunozols as the best of four candidates. He replaces Armands Kalnins, whom Repse had dismissed for abuse of office in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 April 2003).
* The number of foreign students attending universities in Latvia has dropped from 7,883 in the academic year of 2000/2001 to 2,385 in the current academic year, BNS reported on 21 May. They currently comprise about 2 percent of the 118,845 students in Latvian universities. The foreign students are from 48 countries with the greatest number from Israel (1,088), Lithuania (506), and Russia (332).
* The State Treasury announced on 19 May that the consolidated total budget had a surplus of 2.27 million lats ($3.7 million) in the first four months of the year, BNS reported. While the results are much more favorable than in the same period last year when there was a budget deficit of 7.27 million lats, the situation is worsening. The budget deficit in April was 11.57 million lats.
* Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete was one of the representatives of the small countries at the EU Convention on the Future of Europe who met with Giscard d'Estaing, the convention's chairman, in Brussels on 15 May, LETA reported the next day. They gave him a joint letter in which they expressed their views that the European Commission should reflect the equality of member states and that the principles of rotation and institutional balance must be observed in EU operations. D'Estaing said that he would attend the next meeting of the small countries.
* A three-member Latvian inspection team, headed by Captain Erik Zingis, began an inspection of the Smuravyevo Air Force base in Russia's Pskov region on 13 May, BNS reported. The team's task as part of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe inspection is to verify the information on the strength of personnel and hardware in the 722nd bomber regiment provided by Russia.
* The cabinet accepted the memorandum of understanding on the deployment of Baltic reconnaissance units as part of the Danish battalion serving in peacekeeping forces in Kosovo on 13 May, BNS reported. The memorandum regulates relations between its participants in pre-mission training in the Baltic states, mission preparation training in Denmark, and deployment of the units in Kosovo as part of the Danish battalion. The memorandum will be signed by Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.
* Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete thanked her Norwegian counterpart Jan Petersen for his country's rapid ratification of the NATO Accession Protocol and the practical assistance given to Latvia in seeking NATO membership at a meeting in Oslo on 13 May, BNS reported. The foreign ministers noted that their countries support retaining strong trans-Atlantic ties, the unity of Europe, and Russian dialogue with the EU and NATO. The ministers also discussed plans to take part in the renewal of postwar Iraq.
* Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers and German Federal Minister for Economics and Labor Wolfgang Clement discussed Latvian-German cooperation in Berlin on 10 May, LETA reported on 12 May. Slesers was in the German capital to participate in the official ceremonies marking the 100th anniversary of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Germany. In a speech to about 300 representatives from U.S. companies in Germany, he spoke about investment opportunities in Latvia.
* Agriculture Minister Martins Roze participated at the monthly meeting of the council of agriculture ministers of EU member countries in Corfu, Greece, LETA reported on 13 May. The main topics of the two-day meeting were agricultural quality and food safety. The council meeting has been expanded to include the agriculture ministers of the 10 states which signed the EU Accession Treaty in Athens in April, but they will gain the right to vote only after receiving official EU membership in May 2004.
* The Naturalization Board announced on 12 May that the number of people who had become naturalized citizens of Latvia from 1 February 1995 to 30 April 2003 was 61,273, BNS reported. This included 8,277 children who became naturalized together with their parents. The board indicated that in this period it had received some 62,000 citizenship applications of whom 69.3 percent were from women. Most of the applicants were ethnic Russians (66.9 percent), followed by Belarusians (10.3 percent), Ukrainians (8.4 percent), Lithuanians, and Estonians (5.2 percent).
* The Economy Ministry announced that 99.44 million privatization vouchers, or 89.3 percent of the total issued had been utilized by April, LETA reported on 11 May. The largest part of the vouchers (44.4 million) were used to purchase equity shares, but large numbers were used to privatize apartments and houses (34.01 million), land (14.01 million), and enterprises and other private property (7.02 million).
* The National Employment Service announced on 13 May that the number of registered unemployed at the beginning of the month was 93,383 and the unemployment rate in April was 8.8 percent, BNS reported. This was a drop of 0.1 percent from the 8.9 percent rate in March. The unemployment rate varied from a high of 26.8 percent in the Rezekne District to a low of 4.7 percent in Riga.

Farmers demanding increased government subsidies blockaded the Via Baltica highway at the Polish and Latvian borders and halted traffic on the main highway between Vilnius and the port city of Klaipeda on 21 May, ELTA reported. The ongoing protests (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 May 2003) are aimed at increasing agricultural subsidies, including roughly doubling the regulated prices at which dairies purchase milk. Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas said on 21 May that the government's budget does not allow for meeting the farmers' demands, but he pledged to provide funding to dairies to enable them to purchase milk at last year's prices. After a meeting with protest leaders on 22 May, Brazauskas told parliament he will try to find additional funding to strike a compromise price. Protesting farmers eased, but did not abandon, their blockade following those remarks, which were broadcast live on Lithuanian state radio. The farmers, demanding that the government provide an additional 140 million litas ($47 million) to the agriculture sector, began their protest rallies on 19 May near three separate border-crossing stations on the country's borders with Poland and Latvia, ELTA reported. More than 1,000 farmers attended the largest protest in the southern town of Kalvarija. Meeting earlier that day, President Rolandas Paksas, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, and parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas decided "destructive actions" such as blocking roads would not be tolerated. Brazauskas reminded the public that more than 600 million litas has been allocated for the agriculture sector this year, more than double the amount slated for higher education.

By a vote of 268 to 138, Russian State Duma deputies on 21 May ratified treaties with Lithuania on the delineation of borders between the two countries, including the division of the Baltic Sea shelf, RosBalt and other media reported. The treaties form part of the agreement reached in November (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002) by Russia, Lithuania, and the European Union on transit between the Kaliningrad exclave and the rest of Russia in the run-up to Lithuania's entry into the EU. The treaties formally bestow the status of an international border on the administrative border that separated the Russian and Lithuanian republics during the Soviet period. Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Chizhov said that the treaties include some exchanges of territory but the overall area of the Russian Federation, Lithuania, and Kaliningrad Oblast remain unchanged.

On the eve of the Duma's consideration of the treaties with Lithuania, Communist Party leader Gennadii Zyuganov sent a letter to President Vladimir Putin asking him to block the ratification of the agreements, "Zavtra" reported on 21 May. Zyuganov argued that doing so would block Lithuania's proposed entry into NATO, because the alliance accepts only countries that have no disputed international borders.

The Central Election Committee announced on 12 May that preliminary results indicated that about 63.3 percent of the 2.6 million eligible voters participated in Lithuania's referendum on EU membership held on 10 and 11 May, ELTA reported. More than 89.9 percent of them voted in favor of membership, according to the committee. The voter turnout on the first day was low, with only a little more than 23 percent of voters casting their ballots. On 15 May the committee announced the final voting results: 1.67 million of the 2.64 million registered voters cast ballots of whom some 20,500 or 1.23 percent were spoiled. Of the valid ballots 91.07 percent voted "yes" and 8.93 percent "no." Lithuania became the fourth EU candidate country, after Malta, Slovenia, and Hungary, to approve EU membership.

Foreign Ministry Secretary Darius Jurgelevicius and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Razov signed a readmission agreement in Vilnius on 12 May, BNS reported. The bilateral agreement provides for the return to Russia or Lithuania of illegal aliens in either country. The agreements are needed to allow Lithuania to comply with the European Schengen requirements after the introduction of new transit rules on 1 July. Razov said that the readmission agreement, the first signed by Russia, will serve as a model for similar agreements with other countries. The agreement must still be ratified by Russia's State Duma and Federation Council, which have not yet ratified the Lithuanian-Russian border agreement signed in October 1997.

At a meeting with the leaders of the main Duma factions in the Kremlin on 13 May, Russian President Vladimir Putin urged deputies to approve the pending border treaty with Lithuania, as well as agreements with Vilnius on the delineation of the Baltic Sea shelf and on the readmission to Russia of people who migrate illegally to Lithuania through Russia, reported. These agreements will not only improve Russia-Lithuania relations, but are also part of an accord reached with the European Union on transit between Kaliningrad Oblast and the rest of Russia, Putin said. He described that settlement as "an acceptable decision" that must be reinforced by the ratification of the treaties.

The parliament overrode with large majorities on 20 May President Paksas's vetoes of bills on the heating sector and the tax on oil extraction, "Lietuvos zinios" reported the next day. By a vote of 88 to 14, with four abstentions, it turned down the president's recommendations to require heat suppliers to install individual meters and regulation devices in all households and to abolish restrictions making it practically impossible for households to disconnect from the municipal central heating system. The parliament by a vote of 73 to 35, with one abstention, also rejected claims by Paksas that the tax-administration procedures in the bill on oil extraction lack legal clarity and the tax reductions are too great. The law lowers the tax rate from the current 29 percent to 16 percent, or only 2 percent if the oil company invests in oil exploration.

President Paksas wrote in a letter to Russian President Vladimir Putin on 22 May that he expects more mature cooperation to develop between their countries once Lithuania's active participation in EU-Russia dialogue and the NATO-Russia Council "bears fruit by helping to overcome old stereotypes," ELTA reported. Paksas hailed the Russian State Duma's ratification on 21 May of a border treaty with Lithuania (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 22 May 2003), but stressed that more attention should be devoted to the social and economic development of Russia's Kaliningrad exclave. Paksas, who will attend the EU-Russia summit in St. Petersburg on 30 May during the city's 300th anniversary celebrations, invited Putin to Vilnius on 6 July to attend the 750th anniversary of the coronation of King Mindaugas of Lithuania.

President Paksas on 12 May signed a decree appointing Interior Ministry Secretary Virgilijus Bulovas interior minister, BNS reported. Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas nominated the 63-year-old Bulovas for the post in April (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 April 2003), but Paksas was clearly not happy with the choice. Paksas held two subsequent meetings with Bulovas, who was unable to present his plans for the ministry's work at the first meeting. After the second meeting on 7 May, Paksas said he wanted to have more than one candidate to choose from. However, Brazauskas said he would seek another candidate only after the first was rejected.

President Rolandas Paksas met with French President Jacques Chirac in Paris on 14 May, ELTA reported. Paksas affirmed that Lithuania will shut down its old Soviet-type RBMK reactors at the Ignalina nuclear-power plant in 2005 and 2009, as agreed in its EU membership negotiations. However, noting that France and Lithuania both obtain more than 75 percent of their energy from nuclear power plants, he sought support for building a new reactor. Chirac expressed France's willingness to cooperate on this matter. Paksas told UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura the same day that Lithuania is very concerned about ongoing plans by the Russian oil company LUKoil to begin extracting oil in the Baltic Sea near the Lithuanian Curonian Spit, which is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site. Paksas complained that LUKoil has not provided a suitable evaluation of the project's environmental impact. Paksas also held talks with French businessmen to tout Lithuania's role as a bridge to the East.

Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis declared in a letter to local chapters on 16 May that he will not run for re-election as chairman at the party's 24 May congress, BNS reported. The congress was initially scheduled for April, but was postponed so as not to interfere with the country's EU-membership referendum. Landsbergis previously said he would not leave his post, which he has held since the establishment of the party in 1993, until Lithuania becomes a member of NATO. However, he said in his letter that the success of the country's EU referendum (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 May 2003) allowed him to withdraw earlier. Deputy Chairman Andrius Kubilius is expected to be elected the new party chairman.

The Vilnius County Court ruled on 15 May that there is no convincing evidence that Kazimiera Prunskiene, Lithuania's prime minister from 1990-91, collaborated with the KGB, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. The court thus overturned a 14 September 1992 court ruling that affirmed that Prunskiene had worked for the KGB under the code name "Satrija." The Vilnius court was unable to trace the origin of the main piece of evidence, a written pledge by Prunskiene to work for the KGB. Prunskiene asked for a repeal of the 1992 ruling in September 2002, arguing that the alleged pledge was a forgery and that the original was not in the case documents nor in any archive. The court failed to determine the origins of the document.
* President Paksas flew to Helsinki on 21 May for talks with Finnish President Tarja Halonen, Prime Minister Anneli Jaatteenmaki, and parliament Chairman Paavo Lipponen, ELTA reported. Halonen praised the success of the recent Lithuanian referendum on EU membership and believed that it would be an impetus for other countries. The presidents conferred on cooperation prospects within the Baltic Sea region and the upcoming EU-Russia summit in St. Petersburg. In talks with Jaatteenmaki, Paksas called for more intense bilateral commercial links. He welcomed the creation of an energy "Baltic Ring" around the sea with the completion of plans to join the Polish-Lithuanian and Estonian-Finnish electricity systems.
* Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas attended the meeting of the parliament heads of the EU 15 member and 10 candidate countries in Athens on 22 to 25 May, ELTA reported. In a speech on 23 May he advocated a greater role for national parliaments in the EU decision-making process. Paulauskas said: "The national parliament in every member state must be the major political guarantor of democracy."
* Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Neris Germanas held talks in Moscow on 22 and 23 May with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Anatolii Potapov and other officials on the property of the embassies in each other's capitals, BNS reported. Lithuanian properties in Moscow occupy an area of almost 9,000 square meters while the Russian embassy in Vilnius has only 6,000 square meters and Russia is seeking additional premises for a residence for the Russian ambassador.
* Foreign Ministry Consular Department Director Gediminas Siaudvytis and the Russian Foreign Ministry Consular Service Department Deputy Director Sergei Garmonin headed delegations which prepared a draft bilateral agreement on the procedure for issuing facilitated rail travel documents in Vilnius on 21 May, BNS reported. The agreement regulates the working conditions, rights, and safety of Lithuanian consular officers who will issue the documents on Russian transit trains traveling to and from the Kaliningrad Oblast through Lithuania.
* A delegation, headed by Foreign Ministry State Secretary Ignatavicius, visited France on 21-23 May, BNS reported. The first day he discussed with French Foreign Ministry Continental European Department Director Hugue Perner and Deputy Director of the European Cooperation Department Nicole Michelangeli the preparations for the upcoming EU-Russia summit meeting in St. Petersburg, cooperation with Russia, and the New Neighbors initiative. On 22 May, Ignatavicius gave a speech at the international conference "Drug Routes from Central Asia to Europe" which was opened by French President Jacques Chirac and chaired by French Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin.
* In his address to the 5th Conference of European Environment Ministers held in Kyiv, Environment Minister Arunas Kundrotas said that Lithuania was grateful for the technical assistance and investments that EU countries had given in the environment sector, ELTA reported on 23 May. He emphasized the need for cooperation with neighboring countries in regard to river basin management and sea environment protection. Kundrotas also complained that Russia's LUKoil had ignored international agreements and failed to submit proof that its planned oil extraction near the Curonian Spit will cause no damage.
* Anne Lauvergeon, the chairwoman of the French nuclear energy giant Areva Group, proposed to Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas in Vilnius on 21 May to work out a feasibility study on a new nuclear-plant in Lithuania, ELTA reported. Lithuania has agreed with the EU to close down the first reactor of its nuclear power plant in Ignalina by 2005 and the whole plant by 2009. She later told BNS that her company could build a new reactor in Lithuania in less than five years, but did not say how much it could cost and how much the Areva Group could invest in this project.
* After a meeting with President Rolandas Paksas and parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas declared on 19 May that no additional funds can be provided to the police, BNS reported. Two days earlier hundreds of police rallied in front of the parliament building in Vilnius protesting low pay and government plans to reduce their social guarantees and tighten the working conditions.
* Portuguese President Jorge Sampaio began his two-day visit to Lithuania on 15 May with talks with President Rolandas Paksas who also hosted a dinner in his honor in the evening, ELTA reported. The presidents discussed inter-state relations, economic cooperation, the potential for investments, Portugal's experience as an EU member, and the opening of a Portuguese embassy in Vilnius. Sampaio then went to the parliament where he told parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas that the Portuguese parliament would easily ratify the EU and NATO accession agreements.
* Roger Berry (Labour) and Lord Peter Spencer Bowness (Conservative), the heads of the British parliamentary group for Lithuania, visited the Seimas in Vilnius on 14 May to strengthen inter-parliamentary ties, ELTA reported. They affirmed that the ratification of the EU and NATO accession protocols will not face any problems in the House of Commons and the House of Lords. The deputies also had meetings with European Committee Chairman Petras Austrevicius and Foreign Ministry officials.
* During a visit to Brussels, Armed Forces Commander Major General Jonas Kronkaitis took part in meetings of the Euro-Atlantic Partnership Military Committee and the NATO Military Committee on 13 and 14 May, respectively, BNS reported. He also met with EU Military Affairs Committee Chairman General Gustav Hoglund on 13 May. This was the first time that representatives of the seven NATO candidate countries attended a NATO Military Committee, but they will be expected to attend them in the future. Kronkaitis told the committee about Lithuania's preparations to join NATO.
* Two military doctors traveled to Afghanistan on 12 May to take part in the UN-led International Security Assistance Force, BNS reported. They will work for three months at a German field hospital, serving German troops and local residents. Another team of Lithuanian doctors served in a Czech field hospital near Kabul last year.
* During the meeting of the Monitoring Committee of the Council of Europe's Parliamentary Assembly in Kyiv on 12 and 13 May, Lithuanian parliament deputy Jonas Cekuolis and Italian Senator Milos Budin were appointed within the Council of Europe as rapportuers on Serbia and Montenegro, BNS reported. Cekuolis said: "Our work is to observe how Serbia and Montenegro is meeting the obligations assumed to the Council of Europe, and inform the council about it on a regular basis."
* The parliament unanimously ratified a convention on simplified extradition procedures between the EU states on 15 May, BNS reported. The convention has not yet entered into force because the parliaments of France and Italy have not yet ratified it. The convention's goal is to simplify the procedure for extraditing wanted persons under the European Convention on Extradition of 1957, which Lithuania ratified in 1995.
* The parliament decided on 15 May to let stand the veto by President Rolandas Paksas of amendments to the Law on the Central Election Committee which would have required the commission to remove from the list of eligible voters persons who had moved abroad, ELTA reported. The parliament had passed the amendments fearing that the referendum on EU membership would not be passed because of the inflated voter lists.
* The Bank of Lithuania announced on 15 May that the current account deficit in the first quarter of the year was 123 million litas ($40 million) or less than a fourth of the 512.6 million litas deficit in the same period in 2002, BNS reported. The improved results were due to current account surpluses of 233 million and 69 million litas in January and February, respectively. The previous day the bank reported that the current account deficit in 2002 was 2.67 billion litas or 5.3 percent of GDP.