13 October 2003, Volume
NOTE TO READERS:
This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 29 September to 5 October 2003.
RESTRICTIONS ON CITIZENSHIP LOOSENED.
The Estonian Supreme Court has ruled that Soviet and Russian veterans living in Estonia may receive permanent residency permits, despite opposition based on security concerns, BNS reported on 30 September. Those veterans, half of whom are more than 70 years old, were previously eligible only for five-year permits. A total of 7,000 such veterans and their family members currently hold valid residency permits in Estonia. Interior Minister Margus Leivo last week proposed that the Constitutional Committee draft amendments to the law on foreign nationals stipulating when a Russian or Soviet military pensioner is eligible for a permanent residence permit. But committee member Evelyn Sepp said "only about 200 [of the veterans] might constitute a certain security risk" and recommended against amending the law. However, Sepp said administrative practices should be brought in line with the Supreme Court's decision.MISSION IN AFGHANISTAN MAY BE DISCONTINUED.
Prime Minister Juhan Parts told the daily "Postimees" on 29 September that he does not think it is necessary for Estonia to replace its team of bomb-disposal specialists serving at Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan when its mission wraps up in December, BNS reported. The plan to discontinue the Estonian mission is driven by consideration of its annual cost of 6 million kroons ($440,000), a shortage of explosives specialists and sniffer dogs at home, and a lack of U.S. interest in continuing the mission, the news agency reported, citing "Postimees." The latter claim was subsequently rejected by U.S. Embassy press attache Thomas Hodges, who said Estonia's contribution is highly valued and the need for such capabilities is likely to increase. U.S. Ambassador to Estonia Joseph De Thomas said the United States was informed well in advance of the decision and understands that the teams need to rest.EC CRITICIZES ESTONIA'S FAILURE TO PROTECT CITIZENS FROM DISCRIMINATION.
The European Commission on 3 October published a report on the progress the 13 EU candidates have made in adopting EU rules on anti-discrimination. The report criticized Estonia for its lack of legislation, BNS reported the following day. It states that despite EU requirements, Estonia has failed to pass laws on specific measures against discrimination in the workplace, job training, social policy, education, access to goods and services, and housing. Estonia, along with Poland, Cyprus and the Czech Republic were also singled out for not having campaigns and institutions in place to inform citizens of their rights in combating discrimination. The document notes that Estonia is the only EU candidate country that has no state structures for social dialogue. The situation is expected to improve once parliament passes a framework anti-discrimination law, the passage of which has been delayed. However, the draft law does not pay enough attention to reducing inequality arising from language proficiency and ethnic origin, according to the commission's report.PRESIDENT VISITS MALTA.
Arnold Ruutel began a visit to Malta on 1 October meeting with his Maltese counterpart, Guido de Marco. During the talks the two expressed satisfaction that their countries have similar views concerning the structure and functioning of the EU, BNS reported. The next morning, Ruutel and Prime Minister Edward Fenech Adami discussed the development of relations between their countries. They agreed that tourism and potential cooperation in the area of shipping, maritime studies, and port services should be increased. Ruutel also met with parliamentary opposition leader Alfred Santi, and visited the Malta free port where Transport and Communications Minister Gensu Galea informed him about its operations.REFORM PARTY CHAIRMAN OPPOSES COMPULSORY MILITARY SERVICE.
Siim Kallas, in a lengthy e-mail message to his Reform Party colleagues, stated that compulsory military service has become outdated, and Estonia should rely on professional units and a volunteer corps, BNS reported on 1 October. He wrote that Estonia's military capability should be based on NATO's joint-military-action concept. It should have well-trained, highly mobile units capable of serving on international missions. The country's security cannot be guaranteed by larger armed forces, but only by NATO, Kallas argued. He suggested that it would be more sensible to spend additional defense funds on first-rate equipment, antiaircraft defense, and other high-technology weapons that can only be effectively used by career soldiers.
* President Arnold Ruutel awarded the Terra Mariana Cross, 1st Class, Estonia's highest state award, to the visiting Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia Aleksii II on 29 September, BNS reported. On 27 September, Alexii told the Russian-language evening news on Estonian television that both Orthodox churches in Estonia should have the same rights, specifically mentioning that the Orthodox Church subordinate to Constantinople is the owner of its church buildings while the Orthodox church subordinate to him only received long-term rental leases. On 30 September, Aleksii consecrated a plot of land in the Lasnamae area of Tallinn where an Orthodox church will be built and discussed mutual relations with Metropolitan Stephanos of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church. He stressed the need for Estonia and Russia to have good relations and promised to tell Russian President Vladimir Putin about the warm reception he had received in Estonia.
* A parliamentary delegation, headed by parliament speaker Ene Ergma, began a five-day visit to Ukraine on 29 September, BNS reported. Ergma met with her Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Lytvyn. She turned down an invitation to establish an Estonian-Ukrainian inter-parliamentary assembly as had been done recently with Lithuania, saying that the proposed body would hinder the parliament's normal work. The next day she met with President Leonid Kuchma and Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych and told students at the Institute of International Relations in Kyiv that they should work to make Ukraine a member of the EU. The delegation continued their visit in the Crimea.
* Prime Minister Juhan Parts discussed the further development of bilateral economic relations with German Central Union of Industry (BDI) Secretary-General Dr. Ludolf von Wartenberhead in Tallinn on 30 September, LETA reported. The talks focused on issues of EU industrial policy and competitiveness, and Estonia's role in Europe's economy. In an interview in "Postimees Online" on 1 October, Wartenberhead said that Estonia has to seek foreign investments actively and not simply wait for a foreign company to make an offer.
* Finance Minister Tonis Palts officially fired Tax Board General Director Aivar Soerd on 29 September, charging that his work skills in several areas were inadequate, BNS reported. He had suspended Soerd in July (see "RFE/RL Newsline." 21 July 2003) and offered him a job as an adviser in the Finance Ministry on 26 September. Asserting that the grounds for dismissal were unjustified and unlawful, Soerd said that he would contest his firing in a court.
* The government appointed Res Publica parliament deputy Kuvar Mand as the deputy social affairs minister on 2 October, BNS reported. Mand is a medical doctor, who served as the head of the emergency service of Parnu Hospital, before his appointment. He will assume his new responsibilities on 8 October. Mand is the first deputy minister to be appointed, but it is expected that the agriculture and foreign ministers will also appoint deputies soon.
* Air force headquarters chief Mart Vendla told the daily "Eesti Paevaleht" that the Amari Airfield, 30 kilometers southwest of Tallinn, is likely to become the base designated by NATO to support NATO's operations in Estonia when needed, LETA reported on 3 October. Amari is a former Soviet army base with an airfield, which after renovation could serve as a replacement for Tallinn Airport. Use of the city's airport will soon be limited by EU noise and pollution regulations.
* After the Estonian Supreme Court rejected the last protests connected with the holding of the EU membership referendum on 14 September, the National Election Committee finally released the official results on 3 October, LETA reported. Of the 867,714 eligible voters, 556,915 received ballots and 555,835 cast their ballots with 369,657 voting "yes," 183,454 voting "no," and 2,724 ballots declared invalid.
* Thirty-three Estonian meat farmers have formed a commercial association TU Maheliha (Organic Meat) with the aim of growing and selling organic beef, pork, and poultry in Finland and Sweden, LETA reported on 29 September citing the daily "Eesti Paevaleht." Chairman of the Estonian Meat Association Peeter Grigorjev said that the price of organically produced meat is too high for Estonians, but can be sold in richer countries especially after Estonia becomes a member of the EU next May.
* The Finance Ministry announced on 1 October that total revenues paid into the state budget in the first nine months of the year totaled 30.5 billion kroons ($2.27 billion), BNS reported. This amounts to 77.1 percent of the planned 2003 revenues of 39.55 billion kroons.
SENIOR OFFICIALS SEE NO NEED FOR REFERENDUM ON EUROPEAN CONSTITUTION.
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga told reporters on 1 October after talks with Prime Minister Einars Repse, parliament speaker Ingrida Udre, and Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete that she sees no reason for Latvia to hold a referendum on the proposed European constitutional treaty, BNS reported. Latvia just held a referendum on EU membership on 20 September. "We cannot hold referendums every day on technical matters and on issues the people already have voted for," Repse said. Udre was more reserved, noting that only a draft constitution has been proposed and that it is not yet clear what the upcoming Intergovernmental Conference on the European Constitution, which opened in Rome on 4 October, will decide.VERHEUGEN AND FOREIGN MINISTRY REJECT RUSSIAN COMPLAINTS.
Both EU Commissioner in charge of expansion Gunter Verheugen and the Latvian Foreign Ministry sent letters to Russian officials rejecting recent negative statements about Latvia by Russian legislators. Verheugen's letter to Russian State Duma Foreign Affairs committee chairman Dmitry Rogozin, sent on 23 September but reported by LETA on 2 October, confirmed that Latvia has been in full compliance with EU membership criteria in the areas of democracy, justice, and defense of human and minority rights since 1997. Rogozin had sent a protest letter on 4 September to the EU charging that Latvia is violating the rights of its minority Russian population. The Latvian Foreign Ministry, on the other hand, handed an official note to Russian Ambassador to Latvia Igor Studennikov, demanding that the Russian government officially distance itself from statements made by Rogozin and Duma Deputy Speaker Vladimir Zhirinovskii. Rogozin, it is reported, claimed that Latvia had become a land of "hooligans" run by Nazis, while Zhirinovskii is said to have compared Latvians to "aboriginies" and boasted that Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga will soon be sitting in the seat currently occupied by former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milosevic before The Hague Tribunal.GOVERNMENT APPROVES 2004 DRAFT STATE BUDGET.
The cabinet on 29 September approved without debate a draft budget for 2004, which projects revenues of 1.92 billion lats ($3.34 billion), expenditures of 2.06 billion lats, and a deficit of 137 million lats, BNS reported. Based on assumptions that the state's GDP will increase by 6.1 percent in real terms and that inflation will be 3 percent, the expected deficit would be 2 percent of GDP, which is under the Maastricht requirement that it be less than 3 percent of GDP. Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said the draft budget, which he presented to the parliament for consideration on 30 September, pays more attention to the social sphere by allocating funds to raise medical workers' and teachers' salaries as well as increase the minimum monthly wage from 70 lats to 80 lats.AMENDMENTS TO LAW ON PORTS VETOED.
President Vaira Vike-Freiberga on 2 October returned to the parliament the amendments to the law on ports that it had passed in September (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 25 September 2003), BNS reported. She noted that the wish of Prime Minister Einars Repse and his cabinet to improve the work of the Riga Free Port was commendable, but the chosen method was incompatible with that goal. Vike-Freiberga said the amendments had been adopted without any coordination with the local governments and port authorities of Riga and Ventspils, or taking into account their economic consequences. In her opinion, the existing laws are sufficient to solve the problems that have arisen. Repse agreed with the president that the amendments are not ideal and called on the parliament to solve the problems with the Riga Free Port.PREMIER RECEIVES AWARD FOR CONTRIBUTION TO EUROPEAN UNIFICATION.
Prime Minister Repse traveled to Berlin on 3 October to receive the Die Quatriga award from the German nongovernmental organization Werkstatt Deutschland for his contribution to the unification of Europe, BNS reported. Werkstatt Deutschland was established in May 1993 to promote understanding among nations and to enhance democracy in Europe. The award is presented each year for significant contributions in the fields of politics, economics, media, and culture. Other laureates this year were Luxembourg's Prime Minister Jean-Claude Juncker, architect Sir Norman Foster, and actor Armin Mueller-Stahl.
* The parliament approved by a vote of 91 to four the first reading of the EU Accession Treaty on 2 October, BNS reported. The four negative votes were cast by Socialist Party deputies who argued that Latvia will lose some of its sovereignty upon joining the EU. The treaty was signed in April, submitted to the parliament for ratification in June, but the matter was not brought up before the EU membership referendum on 20 September. The parliament expects to complete the ratification of the treaty by the end of the month.
* U.S. Ambassador to Latvia Brian Carlson told attendees at a 1 October conference on "The Modernization of the Criminal Procedure to Ensure Human Rights" (http://www.usembassy.lv/EN/current/corruption) that Latvia must reverse a perception that "corruption, bribery, money laundering, and organized crime are tolerated" in the country. While admitting that "good police work" is being done, Carlson said that "criminals and potential criminals -- as well as Latvia's law abiding citizens -- need to see some guilty people gripping prison bars." The ambassador continued, "We know where the big criminals are. Some of them ride around in expensive cars with dark windows.... Their luxury homes are 'owned' by impoverished grandmothers with no income except a pension.... The people who write and enforce Latvia's laws need to prove to Latvia's allies, and most importantly to its own people, that this country will live by the rule of law."
* French Senator Serge Lagoche told President Vike-Freiberga on 2 October that the goal of his visit is to prepare a report about Latvia for the French Senate, which will soon discuss the ratification of the EU and NATO accession treaties, BNS reported. Lagoche also met with head of the European Commission delegation in Latvia Andrew Rasbash, Bank of Latvia President Ilmars Rimsevics, and Finance Ministry Deputy State Secretary Gints Freimanis. On 3 October, Lagoche discussed ratification of the minorities convention and social integration in Latvia with parliament Deputy Chairman Janis Straume and European Affairs Committee Chairman Guntars Krasts. He also talked about the Intergovernmental Conference in Rome with Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins. The next day Lagoche traveled to Daugavpils for talks with Mayor Rita Strode before returning home.
* Canadian Chief Electoral Officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley began a six-day visit to Latvia on 28 September, LETA reported. On 29 September, he spoke about Canada's experience in building democracy with particular attention to the financing of election campaigns at the Riga Graduate School of Law and met with Corruption Prevention Bureau acting chief Juta Strike. The next day Kingsley had talks with Central Election Commission Chairman Arnis Cimdars. He also met with members of the parliament Committee on Supervising the Prevention and Combating of Corruption, Contraband and Organized Crime.
* A delegation from the state of Lower Austria, headed by its Governor Erwin Proll, began a two-day visit to Latvia on 1 October meeting with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, LETA reported. Proll also met with Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete and signed a protocol of intent for establishing a branch of an Austrian tourism school in Jurmala. The next day the delegation held talks with Latvia's Chamber of Commerce and Industry Secretary-General Janis Leja and visited the Occupation Museum in Riga, before traveling to Jurmala to meet Mayor Juris Hlevickis.
* Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis started a three-day official visit to Romania on 30 September with talks with his Romanian counterpart Ioan Mircea Pascu, BNS reported. He also discussed bilateral military cooperation with Foreign Minister Mircea Geoana and parliament Defense Committee Chairman Razvan Ionescu. The cooperation has been under way since 2001 in the areas of training of military divers, foreign-language teaching programs, and the engineer-technical services of the armed forces.
* The Russian Foreign Ministry released on 29 September a statement condemning the unveiling of a monument to former Latvian Legionnaires killed during World War II at a cemetery in Lestene, some 60 kilometers from Riga, LETA reported. The statement asserted that the honoring of the legionnaires is a blasphemy against the victims of Nazism and all those who fought against fascism. Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete said on 1 October that the ministry's claims were unjustified because "the Latvian Legionnaires were not Nazis but frontline soldiers, who fought for Latvia's freedom, not the goals of Germany."
* Around 17 Russian National Bolshevik extremists gathered at the Latvian Embassy in Moscow on 30 September and threw eight bottles filled with black paint at the embassy building, BNS reported. Embassy Second Secretary Atis Lots estimated the damages to be around $25,000. The extremists were protesting the on-going trial in Latvia of former Soviet partisan Vasilii Kononov on charges of war crimes during World War II. The Latgale Regional Court decided on 3 October to change the charges against Kononov to gangsterism and released him because the term for prosecution had expired, LETA reported.
* At a general meeting of shareholders for the Latvian Privatization Agency (LPA) on 30 September, Economy Minister Juris Lujans accepted the resignations of LPA board members Arnis Ozolnieks, Viktors Sadinovs, and Uldis Krikis, and suspended a fourth board member Imants Mantins, who refused to resign, LETA reported. The three reportedly decided to quit as their terms run out at the end of the year and they see little possibility of being reappointed. Two officials from the Economy Ministry and one from the Justice Ministry were appointed as acting board members. In early September, the LPA council had recommended that Lujans suspend the board because its activity was deemed to be ineffective.
* After meeting with representatives of all coalition factions in the parliament on 30 September, President Vike-Freiberga told reporters that she is convinced that the current government, led by Prime Minister Einars Repse, can continue working until the next parliamentary elections in three years, BNS reported the next day. She said that the crisis was due to a lack of cooperation mechanisms between the government and parliament, and that problems could be resolved if the coalition partners listened to each other.
* The board of governing coalition-member Latvia's First Party (LPP) called on the other parties in the coalition to consider alternative candidates to current Prime Minister Einars Repse, LETA reported on 2 October. At the same time, the LPP stated that the existing coalition of parties should be preserved, considering the four-party arrangement the best that can be achieved during this session of the parliament.
* The Central Statistical Bureau announced on 1 October that in the first eight months of the year the number of foreign visitors entering Latvia was 1.76 million, or 10.4 percent higher than in the same period last year, LETA reported. In the first half of the year visitors on average spent 1.7 days compared to 1.4 days in the same period last year and increased the amount of money they spent from 36 million lats ($60 million) last year to 45.1 million lats this year.
PRESIDENT VISITS VATICAN AND ROME.
President Rolandas Paksas had a 15-minute audience with Pope John Paul II on 2 October during which the pope fondly remembered his visit to Lithuania 10 years earlier, BNS reported. Paksas then introduced the pope to his wife and two children, along with his 10-member delegation. In subsequent talks, Vatican State Secretary Cardinal Angelo Sodano praised Paksas for his stance on the need to mention Christian roots in the new EU constitution. He also had a meeting with his Italian counterpart, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, during which they discussed the future of the EU after it increases its membership from 15 to 25. The presidents also spoke about the need to settle the question of compensation for Lithuania's pre-World War II embassy building in Rome. On 3 October, Paksas met with Italian Senate Chairman Marcello Pera and Chamber of Deputies Head Pier Ferdinando Casini. Before leaving Italy, he discussed ways to increase economic ties with Italian Foreign Trade Institute President Beniamino Quintieri and Director of the Italian Industrialists Confederation's Foreign Relations Department Ugo Mazza.OFFICIAL SAYS EU MEMBERSHIP WILL GIVE 'ADDITIONAL PUSH' TO U.S. TIES.
Foreign Ministry Secretary Rytis Martikonis told a visiting U.S. delegation on 3 October that Lithuania's entry into the EU will "give an additional push to U.S. participation and investment in the region and a new qualitative base for the development of Lithuanian-U.S. trade, cultural, and scientific exchange and interstate relations," BNS reported. The meeting with the U.S. delegation, headed by Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Charles Ries, was also attended by officials from the Agriculture, Foreign, Interior, and Justice ministries and other institutions. Martikonis praised a new U.S. initiative to strengthen its partnership with Northern European countries and boost U.S. activities in the Baltic Sea region. He also said that at the EU's intergovernmental conference in Rome the next day Lithuania would declare that the common EU defense policy should not duplicate existing NATO structures and forces.JOINING FORCES WITH U.S. TO COMBAT COUNTERFEITING.
Interior Minister Virgilijus Bulovas and U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Stephen Mull signed a bilateral agreement in Vilnius on 30 September aimed at uncovering and preventing the counterfeiting of U.S. currency, ELTA reported. Under the agreement, Lithuanian police will receive equipment and training from U.S. special services for the one-year project. In the late 1990s, Lithuanian police broke up several criminal rings counterfeiting U.S. currency.FORMER PRESIDENT NAMED UNESCO GOODWILL AMBASSADOR.
Former President Valdas Adamkus was inaugurated on 29 September as a goodwill ambassador for UNESCO at the opening of the UNESCO general conference in Paris, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the next day. Adamkus thus became one of 40 such ambassadors, joining such well-known personalities as opera singer Montseratt Caballe, actress Catherine Deneuve, cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, soccer celebrity Pele, and former Icelandic President Vigdis Finnbogadottir. Lithuanian parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas also attended the session and met with UNESCO Director-General Koichiro Matsuura.PARTIES GEARING UP FOR 2004 NATIONAL ELECTIONS.
The Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) officially established a Christian-Democrat faction in Vilnius on 27 September, "Lietuvos zinios" reported on 29 September. Parliament Deputy Irena Degutiene, the head of the new faction, the formation of which was announced at the Homeland Union congress in the spring, said it currently has about 200 members. She also noted that there are no efforts to lure members from the Lithuanian Christian Democrats or to unite the two. Also on 27 September, the council of the Social Democrats 2000 accepted the resignation of party Chairman Rimantas Dagys. Dagys, who stopped participating in the party's activities some time ago, has said that he will join the Homeland Union. He is currently in Rome. The council also decided that the party will hold a congress in December during which the party's name will be changed to the Union of Lithuania's Social Democrats.VISIT OF SLOVENIAN EUROPEAN AFFAIRS MINISTER.
Janez Potocnik told Lithuanian European Committee Director-General Petras Austrevicius in Vilnius on 1 October that EU candidate countries should already be clearly aware of their priorities in the community and get involved in the EU's future, BNS reported. Both officials are very familiar with EU matters, because they served as their countries' main negotiator in EU-accession talks. Austrevicius noted that small EU countries can influence the EU decision-making process only by working together. Potocnik also held talks with Finance Ministry Secretary Lina Adauskiene, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Rytis Martikonis, and students of the International Relations and Political Science Institute of Vilnius University.
* Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis began his visit to the U.S. in Washington by participating in a meeting of European foreign ministers with Secretary of State Colin Powell, which focused on the problems of Iraq and the Middle East, BNS reported on 29 September. He subsequently traveled to New York where on 30 September he discussed with UN officials the aspirations of Lithuania to be elected to the UN Economic and Social Council in 2005. The same day Valionis also discussed with his Russian counterpart Igor Ivanov the success of the transit travel system to the Kaliningrad Oblast and concern about the plans of LUKoil to build an oil-extracting platform in the Baltic Sea off the ecologically sensitive Curonian Spit. The next day Valionis made a speech at the General Assembly in which he noted the complexity of rebuilding Iraq and the importance of international cooperation in fighting threats to international security. He also spoke in favor of reforming the UN Security Council to "guarantee a better and more righteous permanent and interim representation, involving Germany, Japan, and leading states of other regions," which could sustain international peace and security.
* Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis flew to Warsaw from New York on 2 October for a two-day visit, ELTA reported. He read a report "On Lithuania and Poland in New Europe" at Warsaw University from which he had received a doctorate 10 years earlier. On 3 October, he had meetings with Polish President Aleksandr Kwasniewski, Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz, Infrastructure Minister Marek Pol, and other high-ranking Polish officials.
* The head of the IMF mission to Lithuania, Patricia Alonso-Gamo, expressed concerns to President Algirdas Brazauskas on 2 October that the deficit in the draft national budget for 2004 is 2.95 percent of the country's GDP, barely below the 3 percent limit allowed under the Maastricht Treaty, BNS reported. She advised him that expenditures should be cut so that the deficit would not exceed 2.5 percent-2.7 percent of GDP. Alonso-Gamo praised the government's fiscal policy that had kept budget deficits at 1.5 percent of GDP and the successful economic reforms that had made it the most dynamic European economy. She also encouraged Brazauskas to take up needed social and health reforms.
* A delegation of NATO experts led by the head of the Defense Plans Division of Supreme Headquarters Allied Powers Europe (SHAPE) Brigadier General Michael Combest, visited Vilnius on 1-3 October to discuss proposals on the development of Lithuania's armed forces until 2010, BNS reported. They held talks with representatives of the Lithuanian Defense Ministry and military leadership. Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius said that the proposals reflect scheduled plans on the development of land, sea, and air forces. He noted that the proposals involve 82 projects, 57 of which should be implemented by 2010 and the remaining 25 in a period of more than 10 years.
* European Committee head Petras Austrevicius discussed Lithuania's final readiness for EU membership and its implementation of obligations assumed during pre-accession talks with European Commission officials in Brussels on 29 September, BNS reported. He said, "Up to now, the European Commission [EC] has described Lithuania and Slovenia as the only future member states causing no concern." Austrevicius expressed the hope that Lithuania would receive a similar report in the EC's final evaluation of the candidates to be issued on 5 November.
* More than 40 Roman Catholic cardinals and bishops attended the opening session of the European Council of Bishop Conferences in Vilnius on 2 October, BNS reported. The four-day meeting discussed social, political, and international developments in the context of unifying Europe, EU enlargement, the EU draft Constitutional Treaty, and relations between Europe and other continents.
* A delegation of 14 parliamentary deputies, headed by Deputy Chairman Ceslovas Jursenas, participated in the first meeting of the Lithuanian-Ukrainian Parliamentary Assembly in Kyiv on 1 October, BNS reported. The session approved the statutes of the new body and discussed cooperation with the EU which Lithuania hopes to join in May 2004 and agreed to share its experience of gaining membership with Ukraine.
* During the opening of a Lithuanian photo exhibition in Voronezh, Russia on 1 October, two youths threw eggs at Lithuania's culture attache in Moscow Juozas Budraitis, one of which hit his leg, "Lietuvos rytas" reported the following day. They also distributed leaflets proclaiming "Kaliningrad -- Russian City." The youths were identified as members of the National Bolshevik Party and one of them was arrested.
* Economy Minister Petras Cesna and Latvian Environment Minister Raimonds Vejonis signed a bilateral agreement about prompt notification of nuclear accidents, information exchange, and cooperation in respect to nuclear safety in Vilnius on 3 October, BNS reported. Lithuania has a working nuclear power plant at Ignalina while Latvia operated a research nuclear reactor at Salaspils, which was shut down in 1998.
* The Vilnius District Court ruled on 30 September that the State Security Department (VSD) had violated the laws when it closed the Chechen website Kavkazcenter in June, ELTA reported. It dismissed the charges by the VSD that the site was propagating national and religious discord and terrorism, but banned three pages of the site because they contained some examples of terrorist teachings.
* The Statistics Department announced on 30 September that in the first eight months of the year 2.57 million foreigners visited Lithuania, or 7.9 percent fewer than in the same period last year, BNS reported. The greatest share of visitors came from the neighboring states of Latvia (28 percent), Russia (25 percent), Belarus (14 percent), and Poland (10 percent), but their numbers from Russia, Belarus, and Latvia in year-on-year terms fell by 20.8 percent, 20.1 percent, and 9.3 percent, respectively. The number of tourists from Western countries increased by nearly 15 percent.