27 November 2003, Volume
NOTE TO READERS:
This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 1 to 16 November 2003.
EU URGES PASSAGE OF THREE LAWS WITH HASTE.
The European Union's progress report on the candidate countries warns Estonia that it must take immediate and decisive action to pass three laws, BNS reported on 4 November citing the daily "Postimees." The report was officially released by the European Commission on 5 November. The laws in question are on employment contracts, gender equality, and setting a procedure for the recognition of the qualifications of health workers between countries. Social Affairs Minister Marko Pomerants said that the approval process for the draft of the employment contract law is nearly complete in the various ministries and it will soon reach the cabinet, whereas the gender equality law is still being negotiated. Social Affairs Ministry spokeswoman Sigrid Tappo said that setting a procedure for recognizing the diplomas of nurses, midwives, and other health workers obtained in other EU countries is still being debated and has stalled on technicalities.PARLIAMENT KEEPS RUSSIAN-LANGUAGE SECONDARY SCHOOLS.
The parliament by a vote of 40-7 with two abstentions in the 101-seat chamber rejected an amendment to the Secondary School Act that called for changing the language of instruction in Russian-language secondary schools to Estonian beginning with the 2007-2008 school year, BNS reported. The amendment had been proposed by the opposition Pro Patria Union. The main argument for the amendment was the high cost of maintaining schools in two languages. Also on 13 November, the government expressed support for an amendment to the Citizenship Act under which the state would compensate language-learning expenses to those who pass the citizenship exam. The amendment bill provides for fully compensating money paid to licensed private schools for Estonian language courses.ESTONIAN, BRITISH PRIME MINISTERS JOINTLY ADDRESS COMPETITIVENESS OF EXPANDING EU.
Juhan Parts and Tony Blair called for reform in the EU's labor market in an article the two prime ministers wrote jointly for the "Financial Times" of 3 November. Noting that the EU has set the "ambitious goal of becoming the most competitive and dynamic knowledge-based economic space in the world," they called for devoting special attention to reforming the union's labor market. The two prime ministers expressed their opposition to the harmonization of tax and social-welfare laws as well as making tax issues subject to a qualified majority in the EU, asserting that such measures would harm competition as well as cut jobs and stifle economic growth. They called for letting each EU member state determine its own tax and social-welfare policies, as this would leave room for innovative and bold solutions. According to BNS on 3 November, this would also allow Estonia to keep its income-tax exemption for reinvested profit and Britain to keep its taxation differences in the field of finance. Estonian government adviser Henrik Hololei said the aim of the joint article was to give Europe a signal that, in acting for common interests, there is no difference between old or new, large or small member states, or left- or right-wing governments.RUSSIA REPORTEDLY SEEKS THREE CONCESSIONS.
The Russian Foreign Ministry told Estonian Ambassador to Russia Karin Jaani in Moscow on 11 November that Russia is seeking three concessions from Estonia, BNS reported. Aleksandr Udaltsov, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Second Political Department, told Jaani that Russia wants Estonia to give up plans to deport former Russian servicemen who remained in Estonia after accepting U.S. money to move to Russia; to revoke the cancellation of its mutual-educational-diploma treaty with Russia; and to end the investigation of genocide charges against Hero of the Soviet Union Arnold Meri. The first demand was apparently prompted by the Estonian Citizenship and Migration Board's recent decision to deport former serviceman Nikolai Mikolenko, who remained in Estonia after accepting a $25,000 voucher to buy an apartment in Russia. In the mid-1990s nearly 1,000 Russian servicemen received similar vouchers from the United States, of whom about 120 remain in Estonia. The second demand refers to Education Minister Toivo Maimets's decision to unilaterally rescind the treaty to prevent the recognition of diplomas from Russian institutes of higher learning that are of dubious backgrounds. In October, the Estonian Security Police began investigating Meri's possible involvement in the 1949 deportations of Estonians from the island of Hiiumaa to Siberia. Meri was the first Estonian to be awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union for his role in World War II. He later headed the Estonian Komsomol and served as Estonian first deputy education minister.FORMER PREMIER CALLS RUSSIA DANGEROUS NEIGHBOR.
Reform Party Chairman Siim Kallas on 7 November said that if undemocratic developments in Russia continue, that country will pose a threat to Estonia, BNS reported. Kallas made his comments during an event at the National Library of Tallinn noting National Defense Day. He said that Russia has chosen the path of an authoritarian state in which the decision-making mechanism is not transparent and therefore cannot be democratically controlled or observed. Kallas noted that in Russia's recently adopted military doctrine, Russia reserves the right to use force if "compatriots are being persecuted" or if an unstable situation in a neighboring country poses a threat to Russian territory. "There's nothing easier than to stage a provocation in Narva [which borders Russia] with human casualties, and the Pskov [airborne] division will be here," he noted. At the same event, Defense Minister Margus Hanson stressed the importance of taking into account NATO's needs when reforming the country's military. He also said it would be dangerous for Estonia to become marginalized in NATO.ACCORD ON COOPERATION IN FILMMAKING SIGNED WITH RUSSIA.
Culture Minister Urmas Paet and Russian Deputy Culture Minister Aleksandr Golutva on 5 November in Tallinn signed an agreement on cooperation in the production and distribution of movies, BNS reported. Paet and his Russian counterpart Mikhail Shvidkoy discussed the need for the agreement during their discussions in St. Petersburg in May. Paet said that decisions regarding the states' possible financial support for joint projects will be made by a future commission comprising six specialists. The composition and statutes of the commission are to be determined in further negotiations over the next few months.RALLY DEMANDS EQUAL BENEFITS FOR PARENTS.
About 150 young people staged a peaceful rally lasting less than an hour in front of the parliament building in Tallinn on 12 November to demand that a proposed parents'-benefits bill be amended so that all recipients receive the same amount of money, LETA and BNS reported. The demonstration was organized by the Center Party Youth Assembly, the Young Social-Democrats, Young Pro Patria, the Reform Party Youth Assembly, along with a number of nonprofit groups supporting families' and women's rights. The bill was initiated by the ruling coalition of Res Publica, the Reform Party, and the People's Union. Demonstrators said that basing the amount of such benefits on parent's previous pay puts more than half the sum allocated for benefits in the hands of the wealthiest one-fifth of families. They further demanded that the period during which the benefits are paid be extended from 12 to 18 months.OPEN SLATES IN EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT ELECTIONS LIKELY.
The parliament approved on 6 November the first reading of a bill proposed by the opposition Pro Patria Union according to which open slates would be used in the elections to the European Parliament in June 2004, BNS reported. The bill stipulates that candidates in the list of a party winning at least one mandate will be re-ranked in accordance to the number of votes the candidates collect, and those gaining the most votes would win seats. The current election law requires a closed slate, which means that candidates placed at the top of a party's ticket are elected. Both systems are used in the European Parliament elections. Germany, France, and Britain, for example, use the closed system and the Nordic countries use the open system. The bill also calls for assigning an individual registration number to each candidate and not only to parties and independent candidates as is the current practice. Although the government has not formally backed the bill, the ruling Res Publica faction strongly supported it, with its deputy Urmas Reinsalu expressing thanks to the Pro Patria Union for launching the bill. He also called on all parties to pass the bill before the end of the year.
* Swedish Foreign Minister Laila Freivalds completed her tour of the Baltic states with a one-day working visit to Tallinn on 13 November, BNS reported. She met with Prime Minister Juhan Parts, Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland, and parliament speaker Ene Ergma. The foreign ministers discussed the state of the EU Intergovernmental Conference and the upcoming EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels as well as cooperation in the Council of Baltic Sea States to ban single-hull tankers in the Baltic Sea.
* Helsinki Deputy Mayor Pekka Korpinen, Tallinn City Council Chairperson Maret Maripuu, and leaders of regions surrounding the capitals signed an agreement establishing a nonprofit organization called Helsinki-Tallinn Euregio in Tallinn on 7 November, BNS reported. The Euregio will aim to promote cooperation in vocational education, enterprise, higher education institutions, social work, and other areas.
* Defense Minister Margus Hanson paid a one-day official visit to Helsinki on 10 November during which he exchanged information and discussed plans for further cooperation with his Finnish counterpart Seppo Kaariainen, BNS reported. Finland pledged to remain an important defense partner for Estonia even after Estonia joins NATO next year.
* Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland visited Germany on 5 and 6 November to attend the Europe Forum 2003 in Frankfurt an der Oder, BNS reported. Together with EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen she participated in a television discussion entitled "Old Neighbors - New Thinking: The New Role of the Expanded Union." Ojuland also met with her German counterpart, Joschka Fischer.
* Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Marko Mihkelson, and members Toomas Alatalu, Sergei Ivanov, and Siim Kallas discussed future parliament cooperation after Estonia joins the EU and NATO with their counterparts from the Russian Federation Council, committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov, Deputy Chairmen Nikolai Bychkov, and Gennadii Khripel in Pskov on 13 November, BNS reported the next day. Mihkelson praised the meeting, saying that it would serve to promote normalization of relations between the two states.
* Defense Forces Commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts attended the meetings of the EU Military Committee in Brussels on 4 and 5 November, BNS reported. The committee, which is the union's highest military body composed of the defense commanders of member states, confirmed its action plan for the next six months and reviewed the EU's new key military targets until 2010. Kouts presented information about Estonia's military capability.
* Retired Russian officer, Nikolai Mikolenko, 49, was taken to the deportation center at Harku near Tallinn on 4 November in preparation for his deportation to Russia, BNS reported the next day. In the mid-1990s, the U.S. gave grants to almost 1,000 retired Russian servicemen living in Estonia to purchase apartments in Russia to which they would move. Mikolenko accepted a $25,000 grant, but remained in Estonia. The Tallinn administrative court on 31 October granted permission to place Mikolenko in the center, but instead of going to the center he went to a Tallinn hospital on 2 November from which he was released two days later.
* The government decided on 6 November to raise pensions in the next three years by 100 kroons ($7.50) a year in addition to the rise from the yearly indexation of pensions in April based on the growth of consumer price, BNS reported. Prime Minister Juhan Parts said that the average old-age pension will this way rise to almost 3,000 kroons a month by 2007 and the ratio of pension to average net wages will be above the 40 percent required under the European Union's social charter.
* The Statistical Office announced on 5 November that in September the country imported goods worth 8.2 billion kroons ($615 million) and exported goods worth 5.4 billion kroons, BNS reported. Compared to August, imports increased by 19 percent and exports by 9 percent raising the trade deficit from 1.8 billion kroons to 2.8 billion kroons in September.
* The Statistical Office announced on 7 November that the consumer price index in October was 0.2 percent higher than in September and 1.0 percent higher than in October 2002, BNS reported. In October, the price of goods decreased by 0.1 percent with a 0.4 percent drop in food prices and a 0.2 percent rise in the prices of manufactured goods. Prices of services, however, became 0.6 percent more expensive.
PARLIAMENT PASSES 2004 NATIONAL BUDGET.
The parliament on 13 November passed the national budget for 2004 that foresees revenues of 1.92 billion lats ($3.34 billion) and expenditures of 2.07 billion lats, LETA reported the next day. The budget passed by a vote of 53-43. The budget deficit is estimated to be 137.15 million lats or about 2 percent of GDP. Even though corporate income tax will be reduced from 19 to 15 percent, revenues in 2004 are projected to be 9.5 percent higher than in the 2003 budget primarily due to improving tax administration and reducing contraband, VAT fraud schemes, and under-the-table payment of salaries. The main revenue sources will be social insurance payments (601.5 million lats); VAT revenues (480.7 million lats); excise taxes (225 million lats); personal income tax (111.5 million lats); and corporate-income tax (85.7 million lats). The budget was based on forecasts of a 6.1 percent growth in GDP and 3 percent inflation.RULING COALITION SIGNS MEMORANDUM OF UNDERSTANDING.
The chairmen of the four factions, which form the ruling coalition -- Krisjanis Karins (New Era), Augusts Brigmanis (Union of Greens and Farmers), Oskars Kastens (Latvia's First Party), and Maris Grinblats (For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK) -- signed a memorandum of understanding in Riga on 11 November, BNS reported. It is intended to lay a good foundation for the coalition's work in the coming year. Grinblats said the memorandum focuses on the equality of coalition members and requires that they substantiate their opinions. Grinblats noted that the memorandum's chapter on ethics, which was not included in the coalition agreements of previous governments, stipulates that parliament deputies must refrain from criticizing coalition partners in the media, unless they have factual evidence to support such statements. The document also requires the prime minister to personally inform faction leaders in a timely manner about his plans to remove any minister or parliamentary secretary. The coalition has been plagued by unrest over a perceived lack of communication and consultation between the prime minister and the other members of the coalition, as well as charges of arbitrary decision making by the prime minister.PRIME MINISTER VISITS GERMANY.
Einars Repse traveled to Berlin on 14 November for a meeting with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, BNS reported. Repse said that he reiterated his position that every EU member state should have a European commissioner and his state's opposition to EU tax harmonization. Repse dismissed rumors that Latvia will pull its troops out of Iraq, saying they will remain as long as necessary. He also denied that ethnic Russians in Latvia are disadvantaged, arguing that many of them have not acquired Latvian citizenship because they never felt the need to do so. Repse also held talks with Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit and participated in an official reception held by the Latvian Embassy in Germany in honor of Latvia's Independence Day (18 November). On 15 November, Repse told the 9th European Forum, organized annually by the Herbert Quandt Forum and the "Financial Times," that 50 years of Soviet occupation did not suppress Latvia's desire to return to Europe, as evidenced by the strong support for EU membership in the September referendum.DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS IRAQ.
Girts Valdis Kristovskis, accompanied by National Armed Forces commander Gaidis Andrejs Zeibots, the parliament's Defense and Interior Affairs Committee Chairman Arnolds Laksa, and ministry specialists began a four-day visit to Iraq on 2 November, BNS reported two days later. The delegation presented gifts from the Defense Ministry to the 142 Latvian soldiers serving in peacekeeping operations in Iraq as part of the U.S. and Polish contingents. Kristovskis met with top officials from the Iraqi interim government and offered Latvian assistance in areas where it has experience, such as overcoming the consequences of a totalitarian regime, economic development, banking-sector development, and privatization. The Latvian delegation was asked by the Iraqi authorities to share its experience in establishing its national armed forces from scratch. Kristovskis expressed satisfaction on 6 November that the US and Polish commanders spoke well of the Latvian soldiers, who carried out their tasks professionally.UNHRC SUGGESTS LATVIA DO MORE TO ELIMINATE POLICE VIOLENCE, HUMAN TRAFFICKING.
The Latvian Foreign Ministry announced that the UN Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) has suggested that Latvia carry out additional measures to stem police violence, human trafficking, domestic violence, and to alleviate overcrowding in prisons, BNS reported on 7 November. The commission called for Latvia to establish an independent mechanism to investigate allegations of police violence. It also suggested that Latvia develop translation services and prevent language policies from harming communications between the population and state or municipal institutions, as well as take measures to reduce any possible negative effects education reforms could have on the country's minorities. The UNHRC praised Latvia for amending its constitution by adding a section on human rights, establishing the Constitutional Court and Human Rights Office, adopting an asylum law, dropping language requirements for candidates to parliament, and approving a social-integration program with a Public Integration Fund.FARMERS TO RECEIVE DIRECT EU PAYMENTS FOR CULTIVATED LAND.
The government decided on 3 November that direct EU payments to Latvian farmers will be based on the area of land they cultivate, BNS reported. Under this plan, direct payments will be made to farmers for each hectare of land they cultivate and not the yield of their harvests, as was stipulated in the "standard payment" option provided by the EU. The Agriculture Ministry noted that the "uniform area" payment scheme is advantageous because farmers will be able to receive payments beginning in 2004 instead of 2005, as was the case in the "standard" scheme. The criteria for farmers to receive payments in the chosen plan are simpler and are expected to benefit small-farm owners, as payments will be made for plots as small as one hectare. Latvian farmers are expected to receive direct payments next year amounting to 17 million lats ($30.4 million), as well as additional funds from the EU Rural Development Plan.LATVIA, LITHUANIA FAIL TO COMPROMISE ON PROTECTIONISM IN PORK SECTOR.
During a meeting in Riga on 4 November, Latvian and Lithuanian agriculture officials were unable to reach an agreement on changing protectionist measures Latvia has regarding its production of pork, BNS reported the next day. In June, the Latvian parliament adopted measures establishing quotas and extra duties to protect its pork market (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2003), which resulted in shortages of pork at meat-processing plants. In October, Latvia offered to raise quotas for Estonian and Lithuanian pork by 57 percent and to reduce import duties on live pigs from 0.203 lats ($0.37) per kilogram to 0.1 lats per kilo. Estonia accepted the Latvian offer, but Lithuania is still requesting that quotas be raised even further and the duties be eliminated. Regardless, the duties are to be eliminated automatically in May 2004 when all three countries are expected to join the EU.HEALTH MINISTER CALLED ON TO RESIGN FOR PERFORMING ABORTIONS.
Deputy parliamentary speaker and Latvia's First Party (LPP) Chairman Eriks Jekabsons told a press conference in Riga on 6 November that Ingrida Circene of the New Era party should resign because she has continued to perform abortions while serving as health minister, BNS reported. LPP and New Era are both members of the four-party ruling coalition. Circene, a gynecologist, has told LPP members that she continued to practice medicine to avoid losing her medical certificate, and has performed three abortions since becoming health minister in April. Jekabsons, who is a clergyman, said he believes Circene's actions are "extremely immoral and unethical" in view of the demographic situation in Latvia and the government's policy to raise the birthrate. LPP party faction Chairman Oskars Kastens said Circene has promised not to perform any further abortions. A spokeswoman for Latvian Prime Minister Einars Repse declined to comment on Jekabsons' statement.
* The government approved on 11 November the sale of the pre-war Latvian embassy building in Paris to the French government, LETA reported. The building was taken over by the USSR after World War II and is still used by the Russian diplomatic service, which refuses to return to it to its legal owner, Latvia. In December 2001 France signed an agreement to purchase Latvia's rights to the building for 3.96 million euros ($4.6 million). The government will use the funds to renovate the historical Foreign Ministry offices in Riga, which were recently vacated by the Riga City Council.
* Interior Minister Maris Gulbis headed a delegation of officials including Security Police Chief Janis Reiniks, the State Fire Fighting and Rescue Service Chief Aivars Straume, and Deputy Chief of the Latvian State Border Guard Service Normunds Garbars on a four-day visit to Israel on 9-12 November, BNS reported. The delegation met with Israeli Interior Minister Avraham Poraz, visited the headquarters of the Israeli police, and inspected the Israeli-Palestinian border in Jerusalem. On 11 November, Gulbis and Israeli National Security Minister Tzachi Hanegbi signed a cooperation agreement for combating organized crime, terrorism, and the spread of narcotics.
* Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete traveled to Chisinau, Moldova on 5 November to attend the 113rd session of the Ministerial Committee of the Council of Europe which discussed the importance of international organizations in the development of a united Europe, BNS reported. On 6 November, she held talks with Moldovan President Vladimir Voronin and Foreign Minister Nicolae Dudau and participated in the ceremonies opening a Latvian Honorary Consulate in Chisinau, which will be headed by Moldovan businessman Valeriu Dragnev. The next day Kalniete went to Kyiv where she had talks with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma, Prime Minister Viktor Yanukovych, Foreign Minister Kostyantyn Hryshchenko, and parliament speaker Volodymyr Lytvyn. She also signed an agreement with Ukraine about the mutual protection of classified information.
* Belgian State Secretary for European Affairs Jacques Simonet made a one-day working visit to Riga on 6 November, BNS reported. Society Integration Minister Nils Muiznieks told him that the main reason for slow naturalization in Latvia is a psychological barrier with many Russian-speakers believing that they should be granted citizenship automatically and hoping that the laws will be changed in this way. Simonet also met with Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins, Deputy State Secretary Andris Piebalgs, parliament Foreign Committee Chairwoman Inese Vaidere, and the leaders of several nongovernmental organizations.
* President Vaira Vike-Freiberga traveled to Budapest on 9 November at the invitation of Hungarian President Ferenz Madl to participate in the World Science Forum, BNS reported. Speaking at the conclusion of the forum the next day she said that science had a great role in supporting economic growth and global competition. The presidents also discussed bilateral relations, the EU Intergovernmental Conference, and their countries' participation in international peacekeeping operations.
* Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers made a working visit to London on 4-6 November where he held talks with his British counterpart John Prescott, LETA reported. He also met with officials from the British Department of Trade and Industry, leaders of major international companies, potential investors, and participated in the opening of the Latvian Development Agency's offices in London.
* Slesers also made a working visit to Prague on 12-14 November at the invitation of his Czech counterpart, Petr Mares, LETA reported. The main aim of his visit was to become acquainted with the Czech experience in promoting export and attracting investments, in the development of technological and industrial parks, as well as in long-term economic planning. Slesers also met with Czech Deputy Minister for Industry and Trade Miroslav Somol, representatives from business promoting institutions, and Latvian, and Czech businessmen.
* About 30 people, mostly elderly Russian speakers, marked the 86th anniversary of the Russian October Revolution on 7 November by gathering at the former site of the Lenin Monument in Riga, BNS reported. Carrying pictures of Lenin and red-colored posters with slogans such as "Glory to Lenin" and "Proletarians of the World, Unite!" the demonstrators sang Soviet songs and placed flowers, mostly red carnations, at the place where the monument used to stand.
* Riga and Rostock Mayors Gundars Bojars and Arno Poker signed a protocol of intent about launching a cargo ferry line between the two cities in Riga on 4 November, BNS reported. This will allow the Riga Regional Development Agency and the Rostock port development company to start official talks with shipping companies about the creation of a Riga-Rostock ferry line.
* The Central Statistical Bureau declared on 10 November that the consumer price index in October was 0.9 percent higher than in September and 3.3 percent higher than in October 2002, BNS reported. In October there was a 0.9 percent growth for goods and an 0.7 percent increase for services.
PARLIAMENT FORMS AD HOC COMMISSION TO INVESTIGATE POTENTIAL THREAT TO NATIONAL SECURITY.
Parliament on 3 November formed a nine-member commission to further investigate allegations that international criminal groups have attempted to influence members of the presidential administration, BNS reported (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 3 November 2003). The publication of a classified State Security Department document naming such officials prompted parliament to open the extraordinary session of parliament, which was broadcast live by Lithuanian state radio and television. Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas proposed forming a commission to investigate the potential threat to national security. State Security Department Director General Mecys Laurinkus testified that he has no evidence indicating that President Rolandas Paksas is under the influence of criminals, but that there are clear efforts to influence his staff. The commission, formed in proportion to the size of parliamentary factions (caucuses), has three members from the Social Democrats, two each from the Social Liberals and Liberal Centrists, and one each from the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.PRESIDENT DUMPS SENIOR ADVISERS.
During a meeting lasting several hours on 12 November, Rolandas Paksas and his staff agreed that the heads of his six advisory groups should submit letters of resignation, ELTA reported. The advisers are: press spokesman Rosvaldas Gorbaciovas and advisers Dalia Kutraite-Giedraitiene (domestic policy), Jonas Ragauskas (economic issues) -- all three of whom submitted their resignations the same day -- Alvydas Medalinskas (foreign affairs), Ona Buisiene (legal issues) -- who submitted their resignations the following day, according to Lithuanian radio -- and Remigijus Acas (national security). Acas, whom Paksas had already suspended, did not attend the meeting. Gorbaciovas and Medalinskas said they will not remain in their posts, even if asked. The parliament approved a protocol resolution on 13 November proposed by Aloyzas Sakalas, the head of the ad hoc parliamentary commission formed to investigate the potential threat to national security stemming from alleged ties between the presidential office and organized crime (see "RFE/RL Newsline, "4 November 2003), urging Paksas not to meet with the country's top law enforcement officials until the commission ends its work. Paksas met with Prosecutor-General Antanas Klimavicius on 11 November and with Supreme Court head Vytautas Greicius on 12 November; both men subsequently criticized the commission's work.PRESIDENT VISITS GERMANY.
Rolandas Paksas arrived in Frankfurt on the evening of 5 November from Brussels and met early the next day with EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen, ELTA reported. Verheugen pledged support for Lithuania's efforts concerning EU funding for infrastructure projects and its initiative to involve Armenia, Azerbaijan, and Georgia in the EU New Neighbors Initiative. The officials then went together to the international conference "The New Constitution of Europe." Paksas read a report called "Prospects and Challenges in the New Europe," in which he stressed that the expanded EU will be strong only if it finds the proper balance between large and small states and said the future European constitution should guarantee equal rights and opportunities to all member states. Paksas met in Berlin on 7 October with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder during which the scandal in the Lithuanian president's office was not mentioned. When Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit canceled a scheduled meeting with Paksas that day, Bundesrat Chairman Althaus Dieter replaced him and pledged his support for infrastructure projects important to Lithuania.PRESIDENT MEETS WITH NATO SECRETARY-GENERAL.
Rolandas Paksas began a four-day visit to Brussels and Germany on 4 November with a meeting with outgoing NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson, "Lietuvos rytas" and ELTA reported the next day. At the headquarters of the Lithuanian mission to NATO he presented Robertson with the Great Cross of the Lithuanian Grand Duke Gediminas for personally contributing to his country's efforts to join NATO. Their talks were dominated by a discussion on the ongoing political crisis in Lithuania, with Robertson stressing that he is pleased that the investigation is public. Paksas assured Robertson that Lithuania "will remain a reliable and stable partner," BNS reported. Lithuanian Ambassador to NATO Ginte Damusis noted that the security of classified information is one of the most important criteria for NATO membership.UNESCO EXPERTS PARTICIPATE IN DISCUSSION ON CONTROVERSIAL RUSSIAN DRILLING PLATFORM.
UNESCO World Heritage Center experts Bernd von Droste-Hulshoff and Fumiko Ohinata came to Kaliningrad on 5 November to participate in a three-way discussion with Russian and Lithuanian officials on the preservation of the Curonian Spit, but were refused access to the D-6 oil drilling platform being built by LUKoil off its coast, "Lietuvos zinios" reported the next day. The experts had traveled to Lithuania on 2 November to learn whether the planned oil-drilling work at the D-6 site, 22 kilometers off the spit and 7 kilometers from the countries' maritime border (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 24 July 2003), comply with the requirements of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention. They held talks with Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas on 3 November and visited the Curonian Spit National Park the next day. Lithuanian Ambassador to UNESCO Ina Marciulionyte, who attended the discussion, said that she considers Russia's willingness to discuss the matter with both Lithuanian and UNESCO officials as a positive sign, as is the country's pledge not to begin drilling before a joint environmental safety analysis is completed.SECRET PLAN TO DESTABILIZE STATE REVEALED.
Parliament speaker Arturas Paulauskas told a press conference in Vilnius on 11 November about the discovery during searches of the apartments of Avia Baltika head Yurii Borisov of an alleged plan, codenamed "Strekoza" (dragonfly in Russian), to destabilize Lithuania, and ensure a victory for the Liberal Democratic Party in the 2004 parliamentary elections, BNS reported. Borisov was the main financial supporter of President Rolandas Paksas's successful presidential election campaign. The text of the alleged plan, translated into Lithuanian, was printed by the dailies "Lietuvos rytas" and "Kauno diena" on 12 November. The alleged plan, which Paulauskas claimed was created by the Russian public-relations company Almax, called for discrediting the ruling Social Democrats and New Union (Social Liberals) by finding "documents" in Russia about how Yukos gained control of Mazeikiai Nafta by bribing the Social Democrats. Paksas dismissed the plan as "nonsense akin to plans to invade Mars."PREMIER SAYS OFFICIALS NAMED IN PURPORTED SECURITY-DEPARTMENT REPORT MUST RESIGN.
Algirdas Brazauskas said on Lithuanian television on 1 November that those officials named in a classified State Security Department document as having ties with international criminal organizations should resign, BNS reported on 3 November. The authenticity of the document, which was published in a special issue of the daily "Respublika" on 1 November, was not confirmed or denied. The officials named include presidential National Security Adviser Remigijus Acas, State Border Guard Service head Algimantas Songaila, and Liberal Democrat parliament deputy Egidijus Skarbalius. The published report alleges that the three officials have visited apartments in Vilnius owned by alleged Russian crime boss Anzor Aksentev-Kikalishvili.PRESIDENT'S MAIN FINANCIAL SUPPORTER INVESTIGATED.
The Prosecutor-General's Office launched a criminal investigation on 3 November into allegations that Yurii Borisov, the owner of the helicopter firm Avia Baltika who contributed 1.2 million litas ($400,000) to Rolandas Paksas's successful presidential campaign, made threats against the president in March, "Kauno diena" reported on 4 November. Borisov was questioned for more than four hours regarding threats he allegedly made against Paksas during secretly recorded telephone conversations in March. In them Borisov allegedly told Algirdas Draksas, the head of the "Restako" construction company which Paksas founded, and Ana Zatonskaya of the Russian public relations company Almax that the president would be a "political corpse" and complained that Paksas had refused to abide by a signed agreement to make him a presidential adviser. The prosecutor's office has imposed a ban on Borisov leaving the country and confiscated both his Russian and Lithuanian passports, which he received after Paksas granted him Lithuanian citizenship earlier this year. In a televised statement broadcast on 3 November, Paksas said he "never signed any agreements that could harm or injure the interests and laws of the state."CONSERVATIVES URGE PRESIDENT TO RESIGN.
The annual congress of the Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) on 8 November in Vilnius passed a resolution calling on Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas to resign, "Kauno diena" reported on 10 November. Party Chairman Andrius Kubilius in his opening speech called Paksas "the state's greatest problem." "Born as a sparrow, you won't fly like an eagle for a long time, regardless of how much public relations flaps your wings," Kubilius said of the president. The eagle is the symbol of the Liberal Democratic Party, which Paksas founded last year. The congress also approved the merger into its 13,000-member ranks of the 1,000-member Lithuanian Rightist Union (LDS), which was formed in October 2001 by uniting four small right-wing parties. The congress elected LDS Chairman Vidmantas Ziemelis as a party deputy chairman.INTELLECTUALS URGE PRESIDENT TO RESIGN.
Some 400 known cultural and social figures have signed an appeal to Rolandas Paksas calling on him to resign and thus "preserve the authority of the presidential institution," "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 14 November. The appeal, organized by the Open Lithuanian Foundation, states that Paksas "will not be able to escape responsibility for purposefully or unintentionally made mistakes and will be unable to regain the trust of the Lithuanian people regardless of how effectively his apparatus works." Noted historian Edvardas Gudavicius said he previously did not think Paksas should resign, believing that only Paksas' advisers had ties with criminal groups. He said his opinion changed, however, when the president, instead of cooperating with the ad hoc parliamentary commission formed to investigate these ties tried to hinder its work. In an apparent attempt to distract attention from the commission's hearings, which were broadcast live on radio and television for the first time on 14 November, Paksas is planning to make trips to Iraq next week, and to Ukraine on 1-3 December.
* Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas arrived for a three-day visit in Ireland, which will take over the presidency of the EU in the first half of 2004, BNS reported on 6 November. The next day he talked about state border protection and how to prevent the EU external borders from becoming "an iron curtain" with his Irish counterpart Bertie Ahern. The premiers also discussed infrastructure projects for the Baltic region, such as the Rail Baltica railway and the joining of the Lithuanian-Polish power grids. The EU Intergovernmental Conference was the main topic of the meeting with Foreign Minister Brian Cowen although it also dealt with the relations between Russia and Lithuania and freight transit to Kaliningrad. Ireland intends to follow Lithuania's example of opening an embassy in Dublin by establishing an embassy in Vilnius.
* Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius told an international conference in Bucharest on 8 November that the process of NATO candidates should be continued after seven of them (Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia) join the alliance next May, BNS reported on 10 November. He said that cooperation with the remaining three (Albania, Croatia, and Macedonia) along with Georgia which joined the Vilnius Ten as an observer should be strengthened.
* Armed forces commander Major General Jonas Kronkaitis visited Helsinki on 7 and 8 November, ELTA reported. He discussed bilateral cooperation issues with his Finnish counterpart Admiral Juhani Kaskeala and Defense Minister Seppo Kaariainen and was assured of assistance for training Lithuania's special forces. Kronkaitis also read a lecture about the development of the Lithuanian military forces, NATO integration processes, and participation of Lithuanian troops in peacekeeping missions.
* Chairman of the EU's Military Committee General Gustav Hagglund discussed the development of Lithuania's armed forces with Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius and Major General Jonas Kronkaitis in Vilnius on 14 November, BNS reported. The Lithuanian officials suggested establishing a united, efficient crisis management system that would end the duplication in the activities of NATO and EU countries. Lithuania is forming a rapid reaction brigade which could participate in international security-keeping operations of either organization.
* Former President Valdas Adamkus was officially admitted to the Club of Madrid, a nongovernmental organization founded in 2001 whose members are former leaders of countries, during its General Assembly in Madrid on 1 and 2 November, BNS reported. The club has among its members 17 former presidents, including Bill Clinton (U.S.), Mikhail Gorbachev (Russia), Lennart Meri (Estonia), 10 former premiers, including Helmut Kohl (Germany) and John Major (Great Britain), former European Commission Chairman Jacques Delors, as well as former presidents or premiers of Albania, Argentina, Bolivia, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, India, Ireland, Korea, Mexico, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Spain, and Uruguay.
* Migration Department head Almatas Gavenas announced on 8 November that Avia Baltica company owner Yurii Borisov, who contributed 1.2 million litas ($400,000) for the election campaign of President Rolandas Paksas, may lose the Lithuanian citizenship that Paksas granted him on 11 April, BNS reported. Borisov had acquired Lithuanian citizenship in 1990 as a permanent resident of the country, but lost it when Russian President Vladimir Putin granted him Russian citizenship on 18 June 2002. The Lithuanian Citizenship Law requires a citizen gaining another citizenship to inform the Interior Ministry, migration service, or diplomatic mission abroad about this in written form within 30 days. Borisov only announced that he had Russian citizenship on 18 March when he received a Russian passport.
* The Tripartite Council, consisting of representatives of the government, employers, and trade unions, decided on 4 November to propose raising the state-set minimum monthly salary from the current 450 litas ($150) to 500 litas next year, BNS reported the next day. The minimum salary had been raised from 430 litas to 450 litas in September.
* The Labor Exchange announced on 5 November that the country's unemployment rate declined by 0.1 percent in October, compared to September, to reach a four-year low of 9.2 percent at the beginning of the month, BNS reported. The number of officially registered unemployed people was 150,200 in early November.
* The Statistics Department announced on 10 November that in October the consumer price index increased by 0.1 percent compared to September, but was 1.4 percent lower than in October 2002, BNS reported. The price of food and non-alcoholic beverages rose by 0.6 percent in October, but gasoline prices and communications costs fell by 2.7 percent and 2.0 percent, respectively.