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Baltic Report: December 19, 2003

19 December 2003, Volume 4, Number 38

This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 22 November to 7 December 2003.
The 22nd session of the Baltic Assembly and the ninth session of the Baltic Council of Ministers (BCM) passed a joint communique in Vilnius on 28 November supporting future cooperation among Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania after they join the EU in May, BNS reported. It also included a statement on continuing to implement joint projects in the transport, energy, and other fields in the Baltic Sea region while integrating into the EU's common market. Estonian Prime Minister Juhan Parts, Latvian Prime Minister Einars Repse, and Lithuanian Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas signed revised statutes for the BCM and set out a new mechanism for cooperation with the assembly to keep it in line with needs arising from EU and NATO membership. The assembly on 29 November passed five resolutions, including one insisting that the extraction of oil from the D-6 deposit in the Baltic Sea by the Russian firm LUKoil should not begin before a risk evaluation and an environmental impact study are carried out, and a plan for dealing with accidents is coordinated with Lithuania. The assembly also proposed to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe that it investigate and condemns crimes committed by totalitarian communist regimes.

The Belgian House of Representatives ratified by a vote of 136 to zero with one abstention the NATO accession protocols of the seven candidate countries on 26 November, BNS reported. The Belgian Senate had ratified them on 23 October. The formal approval of King Albert II will complete the ratification process. The Icelandic parliament ratified the NATO accession protocols on 2 December with only the left-wing Green party abstaining.

On 22 November, the United States decided to unblock military aid to Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Slovenia, reported. Military aid to those countries had been frozen because they have not signed bilateral agreements with the United States exempting each other's citizens from prosecution by the International Criminal Court (ICC). In a first reaction, Bulgarian Foreign Minister Solomon Passy said the decision shows that Bulgaria is able to pursue its main foreign policy goals -- EU integration and trans-Atlantic solidarity -- in an adequate way. Annual U.S. military aid to Bulgaria amounts to some $10 million.
* The European Investment Bank concluded a loan agreement for 30 million euros ($36 million) on 24 November with Hansabank which will reloan the money to small- and medium-sized businesses and local governments in the three Baltic countries, BNS reported. The loans will be used to finance projects, ranging between 40,000 euros ($49,678) and 25 million euros, in the industrial, service, and tourism sectors, for investment in environmental projects, the development of sustainable energy, health care, and education.

Estonian Prime Minister and Res Publica party Chairman Juhan Parts announced after a meeting on 28 November with Reform Party and People's Union Chairmen Siim Kallas and Villu Reiljan that lasted more than three hours that a compromise preserving the current coalition has been achieved, BNS reported. The three chairmen signed an agreement according to which the personal income-tax rate next year will not be reduced to 24 percent but instead will remain at 26 percent, while the monthly tax-exempt income will rise from 1,000 kroons ($76.60) to 1,400 kroons. The income-tax rate should be lowered to 24 percent in 2005, followed by cuts to 22 percent in 2006 and 20 percent in 2007. The monthly tax-exempt income should increase to 1,700 kroons in 2005 and to 2,000 kroons in 2006. The money made available by postponing the tax cut reportedly will be channeled to children, families, education, culture, and the strengthening of local governments. Parts, Kallas, and Reiljan also agreed that a law on family benefits will be adopted in the current form next year, meaning that the maximum payment will be three times the average wage in 2002 -- or 15,700 kroons a month -- minus taxes. Reiljan had said that his party would accept the reduction in personal income-tax rates that the Reform Party was advocating only if other taxes, such as those on businesses and real-estate owners, were raised and budgetary expenditures were increased by slightly more than 4 billion kroons ($301 million).

Juhan Parts and German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder discussed bilateral relations, the work of the EU Intergovernmental Conference, cooperation within the Council of Baltic Sea States (CBSS), and regional security issues in Berlin on 24 November, BNS reported. Parts reiterated his call for a constitutional structure in which each EU member state has its own voting commissioner, while Schroeder said the question of a qualified majority vote is a priority for Germany. Schroeder accepted an invitation to attend the meeting of CBSS heads of government in Tallinn next June. They also agreed to pursue military cooperation in Afghanistan. Earlier the same day, Parts held separate talks with Christian Democratic Union (CDU) Chairwoman Angela Merkel and Berlin Mayor Klaus Wowereit. In the evening, he delivered a report at the European Commission representation to German politicians and businessmen. Parts held talks in Munich on 25 November with Bavarian Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, which focused primarily on EU-related issues, including regional policy questions, and opportunities for cooperation between Estonia and Bavaria.

People's Union Chairman Villu Reiljan responded to the compromise proposal of Res Publica Chairman and Prime Minister Juhan Parts (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 November 2003) by indirectly requesting new taxes, an abandonment of a balanced state budget, and increased state lending, LETA and BNS reported on 25 November, citing the daily "Postimees."

Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz and his Estonian counterpart Kristiina Ojuland said in Warsaw on 24 November that there are no "troublesome issues" in relations between their countries, PAP reported. Ojuland said Estonia, like Poland, supports the system of voting in the EU stipulated by the Treaty of Nice in 2000. "This system guarantees a balance between small and large European Union states," she added. Cimoszewicz was of a similar opinion: "One of the basic reasons why Poland is so firm and determined to keep the Nice voting system in the EU council is because we are deeply convinced that the proposed changes would introduce a new, less balanced model of the European integration, and we simply do not like it."

Defense Minister Margus Hanson told a two-day meeting of defense ministers from NATO member and candidate states in Brussels on 1 December that Estonia is carefully watching developments within the fledgling NATO Response Force in order to make "the right choices at the right moment," BNS reported. He reaffirmed his country's commitment to prepare troops for that rapid-reaction force by the fall 2006 deadline. NATO Secretary-General Lord George Robertson stressed the importance of member countries making bigger contributions to the NATO stabilization forces. Participating ministers expressed hope that the new NATO command structure, which should be ready to function by the summer of 2006, will strengthen trans-Atlantic links, economize, and ensure that operations are carried out faster and more effectively.

At the annual meeting in Maastricht of the OSCE's Ministerial Council on 2 December, Kristiina Ojuland told acting Georgian President Nino Burdjanadze that Estonia is ready to offer political support to Georgia, LETA reported. Ojuland welcomed the peaceful solution to the crisis and expressed hope that the presidential and parliamentary elections in January 2004 would be free and honest, creating grounds for the long-term sustainable development of Georgia. She said Estonia will give Georgia technical and expert aid as well as allow its "officials to become acquainted with Estonian reform experiences and the work done to become a European Union and NATO member." Burdjanadze noted that Georgia's most important foreign policy aims were joining the EU and NATO, and normalizing relations with Russia. Burdjanadze also invited Ojuland to visit Georgia.

The efforts of Juhan Parts on 3 December to convince Estonian Employees Unions Confederation (TALO) Board Chairman Toivo Roosimaa and Estonian Educational Workers Union Chairman Sven Rondik to call off the planned one-day strike the next day were unsuccessful, BNS and LETA reported. A reported 19,000 teachers and cultural workers joined one of the largest strikes ever held in Estonia to demand that the minimum wage of teachers be raised to 7,300 kroons ($565) a month. LETA and BNS reported on 5 December. A protest meeting with some 3,000 participants against government policies in the education sphere took place in front of the Riigikogu (parliament) building. The demands of the strikers, read at the meeting, included the demand to raise the minimum wage for education and culture workers with higher education, who work at posts requiring such education, to the average Estonian wage level next year; that the kindergartens law shouldn't be changed and that TALO representatives must be present at wage talks. Some universities, science institutions, theaters, and libraries supported the strike by closing down for the day. The Edelaraudtee inter-city rail operator's engine drivers held a one-hour strike on 4 December to support the teachers strike but also have a separate warning strike of their own. Edelaraudtee and its engine drivers have been engaged in wage talks for two years and the matter has reached the state arbitrator's office now. Parts tried to convince the union leaders to call off the strike, arguing that the salaries of educational workers will be increased by 12 percent next year and all workers will benefit from the decision to raise the monthly tax-exempt income from 1,000 kroons to 1,400 kroons. He also suggested that negotiations be held to discuss how to guarantee that local governments really use the money to raise teachers' pay.
* Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland expressed regret at the ministerial meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) in Maastricht on 2 December that Russia had not withdrawn its armed forces from Moldova, BNS reported. She also saluted the peaceful and democratic solution to the crisis in Georgia. Ojuland also spoke about the priorities of Estonia as chairman of the Council of Baltic Sea States, particularly stressing the need to declare the Baltic Sea a "particularly sensitive sea area."
* Prime Minister Juhan Parts met in Rome with his Italian counterpart Silvio Berlusconi on 26 November, BNS reported the next day. Their talks primarily focused on the EU constitutional treaty with Parts stressing that its quality rather than the speed of its adoption was of greater importance. He repeated Estonia's main concerns: each member state must have a voting commissioner, unity in social, defense, and security questions as well as Estonia having six seats in the European Parliament.
* Swedish parliament speaker Bjorn von Sydow visited Estonia on 24 and 25 November, BNS reported. Discussions with his Estonia counterpart Ene Ergma focused on the role of national parliaments in monitoring legislation of the expanding EU, regional interparliamentary cooperation, and bilateral relations. The speakers visited the town of Viljandi in central Estonia for talks with Mayor Malle Vahtra and also the Toravere observatory near Tartu where they also met with Professor Marju Lauristin. They also attended the ceremony marking the end of work of the supervisory council of the Baltic Defense College.
* EC Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom visited Tallinn on 24 November, LETA reported. In talks with Environment Minister Villu Reiljan and Estonian environmental organizations, she noted that the country will still have to adopt a number of legislative acts before joining the EU, including laws on waste products, air purity, and radiation, as well as a nature protection law. Reiljan noted that Estonia will have to take loans of millions of dollars to meet the costs of meeting EU environmental requirements.
* The Estonian Tax Board and the Finnish Finance Ministry signed three agreements in Tallinn on 26 November intended to improve information exchange in the framework of the two countries' treaty on the avoidance of double taxation, which entered into force on 1 January 1994, BNS reported. The agreements concerning simultaneous checkups, tax collection requests. and automatic information exchange were deemed necessary due to increasing trade and the possibility of growth in information exchange when Estonia joins the EU.
* Slovak parliament Chairman Pavol Hrusovsky visited Estonia on 27-28 November, BNS reported. He held talks with President Arnold Ruutel, his Estonian counterpart Ene Ergma, parliament Deputy Chairman Toomas Savi, and members of the National Defense and European Affairs Committee.
* President Arnold Ruutel presented Honorary President of the International Olympic Committee Juan Antonio Samaranch with the Order of the Cross of Terra Mariana, 1st Class in Tallinn on 29 November, BNS reported. The order was given in recognition of Samaranch's contribution to the development of the Olympic movement.
* NATO Deputy Secretary-General Guenter Altenburg told visiting members of the Estonian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee in Brussels on 27 November "Estonia is quite well prepared for membership in NATO and in view of Estonia's work so far it can be assumed Estonia will be active also as a full member," BNS reported. NATO Deputy Secretary-General for Defense Planning and Operations John Colston and NATO spokesman Jamie Shea also took part in the meeting. The meeting also talked about NATO's cooperation with the EU, European security and defense policy, as well as the situation in Georgia and Moldova.
* Irish Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Enterprise, Trade, and Employment Mary Harney said during her visit to Estonia on 1 December that she believes that trade between Estonia and Ireland will surge after Estonia joins the EU, LETA reported. She noted that Ireland's main aims when it takes over the EU presidency in the first half of 2004 will be to preserve the autonomy of member states in tax issues and adopt the new constitution of the EU. Harney also predicted that the number of Estonians working in Ireland will increase considerably from 1 May 2004.
* Education and Population Ministers Toivo Maimets and Paul-Erik Rummo issued a statement marking citizens' day on 26 November in which they called on local municipalities, schools, and organizations to actively inform high school students of the possibilities of getting Estonian citizenship, LETA reported. The ministers noted that a lot of high school students are among the almost 164,000 residents in Estonia who do not have citizenship of any country. They expressed regret that although a high school graduate who successfully passes the joint social sciences and law knowledge exam fulfills all the necessary conditions for getting citizenship, very few students bothered to even register for the joint exam last year.
* Estonian Regional Affairs Minister Jaan Ounapuu said at the People's Union meeting of ministers and members of parliament this week that he will resign from his post if the government coalition won't adopt a clear position on the administrative reform by the beginning of the next year, "Postimees" reported on 5 December. Since the government hasn't yet managed to decide whether and how the 15 Estonian counties and hundreds of parishes should be re-organized, 10 of the 15 counties are headed by temporary acting county governors as the government refuses to appoint permanent ones, citing the imminent administrative reform.
* Parliament speaker Ene Ergma told a meeting of parliament speakers of countries about to join the EU on 3 December in Paris that the EU constitutional agreement must stipulate that all member states can participate in the decision-making process, LETA reported. She said that in the final stage of completing the constitutional agreement more attention should be paid to measures that would increase trust between countries and would not make new member states feel like second-rate members. Ergma met with French Prime Minister Jean Pierre Raffarin and European Affairs Minister Noelle Lenoir the next day.
* Defense Minister Margus Hanson said at the session of the NATO-Ukrainian commission in Brussels on 2 December that his country regards cooperation between the alliance and Ukraine as important and has big prospects, BNS reported. He offered Estonia's assistance to Ukraine in legal and defense policy planning as well as sharing information on defense forces' reform.

OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus told Latvian Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete in Maastricht on 2 December that he considers the planned reform of minority education in Latvia necessary, BNS reported. The reform, vigorously opposed by Russian speakers, calls for increasing the proportion of lessons taught in the Latvian language in minority schools to 60 percent. Ekeus said he understands Latvia's requirement that citizens must know the Latvian language, and that the decision not to allow non-citizens to vote in local elections is an incentive for naturalization. Kalniete spoke about the planned campaign by Children and Family Affairs Minister Ainars Bastiks and Society Integration Minister Nils Muiznieks urging noncitizens to register their newborn children as Latvian citizens.

Parliament by a vote of 58 to 21 with one abstention on 4 December prolonged the mission of Latvian military personnel in Iraq from 31 December to 16 October 2004, BNS and LETA reported. Most of the speeches favoring the extension cited Latvia's obligations as a future NATO member. Some deputies from one of four coalition partners, the Union of Greens and Farmers, including its co-chairman Indulis Emsis, voted against the extension, noting that no weapons of mass destruction have been found in Iraq and that the United States has not ratified the Kyoto Protocol. A number of deputies from the opposition People's Party voted for the extension, although they criticized the Defense and Foreign ministries for failing to provide the Latvian troops in Iraq with proper gear and adequate living conditions.

Accompanied by Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers and other officials, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga made an official visit to Bulgaria on 3-5 December, LETA reported. Talks with her Bulgarian counterpart Georgi Parvanov on 4 December focused on closer security cooperation and stronger economic and business ties. Vike-Freiberga congratulated Bulgaria on its swift EU accession negotiations and expressed the hope that it would join the union in 2007. She invited Parvanov to visit Latvia. Vike-Freiberga signed treaties on the protection of investments and on avoiding double taxation and later attended a Latvian-Bulgarian business forum in Sofia. She also held talks with Prime Minister Simeon Saxecoburggotski.

Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern told his Latvian counterpart Einars Repse in Riga on 27 November that, like other EU representatives, he regrets that a Latvian-Russian border treaty has not yet been signed, BNS reported. He expressed hope that the deal will be finalized in the first half of 2004, when Ireland holds the rotating EU Presidency. Ahern also noted that Ireland will not only oversee the completion of the current wave of EU expansion -- with 10 new members expected to join in May -- but also help prepare other potential EU candidates such as Bulgaria, Romania, Turkey, and Croatia. During talks the same day with President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, Ahern offered to share Ireland's experience in joining the EU so that Latvia might avoid some of the mistakes his country had made. The officials also agreed that Latvia's plans to open an embassy in Dublin next year should help improve bilateral relations.

Latvian Prime Minister Einars Repse held talks with Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel in Vienna on 1 December during which he stressed Latvia's desire that the EU Partnership and Cooperation Agreement with Russia would apply to all new members from the moment they officially join the union, BNS reported. They discussed the failure thus far to ratify the Latvian-Russian border treaty, with Schuessel indicating his understanding of Latvia's position on the matter. The two also talked about the EU Intergovernmental Conference, noting there is a chance its work might be completed before the end of the year. Repse also thanked Schuessel for the support Austria gave Latvia in joining the EU and invited him for a visit to Latvia in the spring, which Schuessel accepted.

Interior Minister Maris Gulbis and his Spanish counterpart Angel Acabes signed a cooperation agreement in Madrid on 24 November on fighting terrorism, organized crime, drug trafficking, and other crimes, BNS reported. The ministers noted that after the planned EU expansion in May, their countries will be responsible for guarding EU external borders and combating organized crime, in particular activities by Eastern European criminal groups, in the EU. The agreement calls for the formation of a joint committee that will meet annually to supervise such cooperation. Earlier the same day, Gulbis held talks with National Intelligence Center Director Jorge Dezcallar and Gonzalo Robles Orozco, the Spanish government's representative to the national plan against drugs. Gulbis is heading an Interior Ministry delegation that will stay in Spain until 27 November.

Eriks Jekabsons, who headed a delegation of parliamentary deputies visiting China from 25 November until 1 December, urged President Vike-Freiberga, ministers, and city-council heads on 3 December to boost political and economic cooperation with China, BNS reported. He said he has invited Chinese National People's Congress (the Chinese parliament) Deputy Speaker Xu Jialu and the chairman of the Chinese-Latvian parliamentary cooperation group, Xing Shizhong, to visit Latvia. Jekabsons said China is forecast to have one of the fastest-growing economies in the world and close cooperation could promote Latvia's growth. He agreed with the suggestions of Chinese parliament deputies and First Deputy Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo that the two countries should sign an investment-protection treaty as well as an agreement on maritime and railway transportation. Jekabsons also discussed the planned April visit to China by Vike-Freiberga.

Arnolds Laksa, deputy chairman of the parliamentary faction Latvia's First Party (LPP), in a surprise announcement on 4 December said that he is giving up his seat in parliament, LETA reported. In an apparent reference to his dissatisfaction with Prime Minister Repse's control over national-security institutions, Laksa said in a statement that "I cannot and I do not want to vote 'Yes' every time my conscience and my experience tell me to vote 'No."' Laksa, who has not worked in parliament since he was hospitalized with an intestinal infection in early November after returning from a trip to Iraq, was also the chairman of the parliament's Defense and Internal Affairs Committee. He reportedly did not discuss his decision with LPP members. Dzintars Jaundzeikars, a member of the council at the state-owned joint-stock company Latvian State Forests, who is next in line to take over Laksa's parliament seat, said that he is still considering whether to become a parliament deputy.

The 10th Congress of the Latvian National Harmony Party (TSP) was held in Riga on 22 November, LETA reported the next day. Delegates re-elected Janis Jurkans as the party's chairman in a contest against Riga Deputy Mayor Sergejs Dolgopolovs. Janis Urbanovics was re-elected deputy chairman. The congress adopted a new TSP platform calling for the consolidation of the nation, granting citizenship to anyone born in Latvia more than 10 years ago and to noncitizens living in Latvia for more than 10 years, and allowing noncitizens the right to participate in local elections. The congress called for Latvia to ratify the European Charter of Local Self-Government and the Convention for the Protection of National Minorities. It also amended the TSP charter so the party chairman, his or her deputy, and the TSP council and audit commission are elected for two-year terms instead of the current one year. The congress passed two resolutions. The first said the TSP will field a separate ticket for elections to the European Parliament headed by parliamentary deputy Boriss Cilevics. The second congratulated the national soccer team on winning a place in next year's Euro Championships.

The Latvian government decided on 25 November to revoke a decision by the previous government to participate in the international "EXPO 2005" exhibition in Aichi, Japan, in 2005, LETA reported. The coalition partners at a meeting the previous day reportedly could not find a way to raise the 800,000 lats ($1.45 million) needed for participation. Latvia's First Party (LPP) Chairman Oskars Kastens said he regrets the decision, noting that 118 countries, including all current EU members and candidates such as the Czech Republic and Lithuania, are planning to participate in the exhibition. New Era faction Deputy Chairman Artis Kampars said it is more sensible to spend 500,000 lats to open an embassy in Japan rather than participate in "EXPO 2005."
* Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi told his visiting Latvian counterpart Einars Repse in Rome on 26 November that Italy had taken into consideration Latvia's opinion about important aspects of the draft EU Constitutional Treaty, BNS reported. Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete also attended the meeting and later traveled to Naples to attend the foreign ministers meeting on 28 and 29 November which discussed the EU constitutional treaty. Kalniete considered the Naples meetings to be a success, as most EU countries supported two key principles important to Latvia -- NATO will remain the guarantor of European security, and all countries wishing to participate in European countries' defense cooperation will be able to do so.
* Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis met with visiting German Defense Ministry's parliamentary secretary Walter Kolbow in Riga on 3 December, LETA reported. They discussed Latvia's achievements in seeking NATO membership and its possible involvement in the NATO multinational corps. Kolbow also talked about bilateral military cooperation and participation of Latvia's armed forces in international peacekeeping missions with Defense Ministry's State Secretary Edgars Rinkevics and National Armed Forces commander Rear-Admiral Gaidis Andrejs Zeibots.
* A Slovak National Council (parliament) delegation, led by its Chairman Pavol Hrusovsky, visited Latvia on 26 and 27 November, LETA reported. President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Hrusovsky agreed that building security, stability, and welfare was important for the enlarged Europe as is the EU New Neighbor Initiative. Hrusovsky told the Latvian lawmakers that their countries have a lot in common and this will increase after they join the EU and NATO. The delegation also met with Society Integration Affairs Minister Nils Muiznieks. On 27 November, the delegation visited the Riga City Council, met with Riga Mayor Gundars Bojars, and visited the Latvian Occupation Museum.
* At the invitation of President of the French National Assembly Jean-Louis Debre, parliament Speaker Ingrida Udre flew to Paris on 2 December to take part in the meeting of EU new member countries' parliament speakers. LETA reported. The speakers participated in a discussion on the future of EU national parliaments, and attended a meeting of the French parliament to discuss aspects of the French government's European policy. Udre returned to Latvia on 4 December after meetings with Debre, Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, and European Affairs Minister Noel Lenoir.
* Dutch Foreign Trade Minister Karien van Gennip told Economy Minister Juris Lujans in Riga on 26 November that the Netherlands wants to increase investments in Latvia, LETA reported. The ministers agreed that current economic cooperation was successful but more should be done to further increase mutual trade. Lujans pointed out that Latvia's corporate income tax of 19 percent was one of the lowest in Europe and would drop to 15 percent in 2004.
* A delegation led by Swedish Coast Guard Director General Marie Hafstrom paid a visit to Latvia on 27-28 November, LETA reported. It was invited by Latvian State Border Guard General Gunars Dabolins in accordance with the bilateral cooperation protocol signed in December 2001. Dabolins informed his Swedish colleagues about the border guard's achievements and planned progress in setting up a surveillance system. The delegation was acquainted with the organization and public activities of the State Border Guard in the Riga Airport and Riga passenger port and with the operations of the Ventspils sea frontier guards on 28 November.
* A delegation of the French National Assembly met with members of the parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and European Affairs Committee in Riga on 4 December, LETA reported. The delegation was headed by Bernard Schreiner, who is also the president of the French delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe. The lawmakers agreed that relations between the parliaments should be increased and devoted considerable time to discussing the draft EU constitution being prepared by the Intergovernmental Conference.
* Deputy Prime Minister Ainars Slesers and a delegation of Latvian businessmen made a working visit to India on 24-29 November, LETA reported, They had been invited by Indian External Affairs Minister Yashwant Sinha. The delegation visited Delhi and Bombay with Slesers holding talks with government officials on operation and investment opportunities while the businessmen discussed further cooperation with their counterparts.
* The head of the Latvian Central Election Commission Arnis Cimdars and his deputy Sigords Stradins took part in a meeting for EU electoral bodies on 27 November regarding preparations for the coming European Parliament elections next June, BNS reported. The elections will be held between 10 and 13 June 2004 in Europe with Latvia having selected 12 June 2004.
* Commenting on Latvia's report on compliance with the UN convention against torture, the UN Committee Against Torture advised Latvia to eliminate police brutality, adopt a code of conduct for policemen and prison guards, provide a public attorney to detainees, and cut down the length of pre-trial detentions and investigations, BNS reported on 24 November. The committee also urged Latvia to reduce the large number of noncitizens among its population and facilitate naturalization and public integration.
* The sixth congress of the People's Party (TP) was held in Preili on 29 November, LETA reported. TP Chairman Atis Slakteris reported to the delegates on the current political situation in the country, while representatives from local governments talked about the situation in Latvia's rural regions. The TP now has about 1,500 members and 3,000 supporters as well as about 1,000 members in its youth organization. In the last parliamentary elections the party received support from 16.6 percent of voters and won 20 seats. Since that time its popularity has slipped -- only 6.8 percent of those surveyed by "Latvijas fakti" in October said they would vote for the party.

Parliament approved by a vote of 70-16 with 10 abstentions on 2 December the report of the ad hoc commission formed to investigate the potential threat to national security posed by the presidential office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2003) presented by its chairman, Aloyzas Sakalas, "Lietuvos rytas" and other local media reported the next day. The session, which was scheduled for an hour and a half, but lasted more than three hours, was broadcast live by state radio and television. During its deliberations, President Rolandas Paksas made a brief televised speech in which he declared his innocence and asserted that the purpose of the commission "was not to establish the truth, but to break me morally and destroy me politically." Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas subsequently expressed regret that Paksas was not taking the "manly, correct step" of resigning, which would end the investigative process under the Lithuanian Constitution. The ruling coalition of the Social Democrats and New Union (Social Liberals), along with the opposition Homeland Union (Conservatives) and the Center and Liberal Union, who have a total of 110 deputies, agreed to meet next week to draw up an impeachment document and begin the process for the president's trial.

The parliamentary ad hoc commission formed to investigate the potential threat to national security posed by the presidential office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2003) affirmed by a 7-1 vote with one abstention on 1 December that President Rolandas Paksas "was, and still is, vulnerable. Taking into account the special status of the president, his responsibility and role in domestic and foreign policy, this poses a threat to Lithuania's national security," "Kauno diena" and other local media reported the next day. The commission issued a 10-page report with six conclusions, the first being that the Russian public relations firm Almax, "suspected of having links with Russia's secret services, has been and still is influencing the President's Office, seeking to influence and control political processes in Lithuania." Other conclusions mentioned the influence of entrepreneur Yurii Borisov on the president, as well as members of the president's staff with dubious reputations and links to criminal groups. Along with his advisers, the parliamentary ad hoc commission also charged Paksas with leaking confidential information to people who were under investigation.

The task force formed to prepare articles of impeachment against President Rolandas Paksas in its first session on 3 December suggested he be charged under all three articles stipulated in the Lithuanian Constitution, "Lietuvos rytas" and other local media reported the next day. They are: a gross violation of the constitution, breaking the presidential oath, and suspicion of committing a crime. The task force consists of one member from each of four parliament factions: Social Democrat Julius Sabataukas, Social Liberal Alvydas Sadeckas, Liberal and Center Unionist Raimondas Sukys, and Conservative Andrius Kubilius. The task force is expected to complete its work next week and obtain the necessary 36 signatures of parliamentary deputies to begin the impeachment process.

Some 4,000 people gathered in front of the president's office on Daukantas Square in Vilnius on 22 November to urge President Rolandas Paksas to resign, "Kauno diena" and other local media reported on 24 November. There were also an estimated 400-500 people, including more than 100 transported from Kaunas by the radical right-wing Lithuanian Freedom Union, expressing support for Paksas. Police officers were able to keep the opposing groups separate. After the official rally was completed and its participants were departing, Paksas came out briefly to shake hands with his supporters. He returned to his office, where he spent more than three hours discussing the existing situation with parliamentary speaker Arturas Paulauskas. Paksas did not comment on the meeting. Paulauskas said the president admitted that he had made some mistakes but rejected the former's advice to testify before the parliament's ad hoc commission, which examined the possible threat to state security resulting from alleged ties between presidential staff members and organized crime.

Some 5,000 demonstrators gathered in Independence Square in Vilnius on 30 November and called on President Paksas to resign, "Kauno diena" and ELTA reported on 1 December. The protest, organized by the democratic reform movement Sajudis, began with a march down Gediminas Prospect from the cathedral to the parliament building. The main speakers at the rally were former Sajudis and Conservative Party Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis, Liberal and Center Union Chairman and Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas, and Lithuanian Association of Political Prisoners and Exiles Chairman Povilas Jakucionis. The parliamentary ad hoc commission formed to investigate the potential threat to national security posed by the presidential office (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 4 November 2003) was scheduled to present its conclusions on 1 December. Paksas told Reuters on 30 December, "My assessment is very simple. There is a struggle for power under way in Lithuania. I know perfectly the laws and the constitution. I have violated neither the laws, nor the constitution, nor my oath. Therefore I am calm."

Arturas Paulauskas, in Copenhagen on a three-day official visit to Denmark, thanked Queen Margrethe II on 25 November for actively backing Lithuania's "desire to return to the community of Western democracy," ELTA reported. On 24 November, Paulauskas asked Danish Minister for Transport and Cooperation with Nordic Countries Flemming Hansen to support Lithuania's efforts to have its infrastructure projects, such as the Lithuania-Poland power bridge, Via Baltica highway, and Rail Baltica rail line, receive EU priority status. He also visited research institutions in the Medicon Valley and the environment-friendly Energie-E2 power plant. In talks with Danish parliamentary Chairman Christian Mejdahl on 25 November, Paulauskas stressed the importance of interparliamentary ties in the enlarging EU. He also gave a speech on the EU's New Neighbors Initiative at the Danish Institute of International Affairs in which he expressed Lithuania's concern that Belarus may lose its independence, and urged the EU to give exceptional attention to "the issue of Belarus's statehood and efforts to strengthen Belarusians' identity," BNS reported.

Parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas added his voice to those in the media and political sphere, urging Paksas to resign immediately and spare the country a long period of uncertainty, ELTA reported on 1 December. He said that the findings of the ad hoc commission are "clear cut, strict, and unfavorable with regard to the president" and "the findings furnish sufficient grounds for impeachment." Later, Prime Minister and Social Democratic Party Chairman Algirdas Brazauskas said that if he were president, he would resign. Paksas told a meeting with voters in the southern city of Alytus that evening that he had not yet had time to study the commission's report, but vowed that he will not resign. As the Homeland Union, Center and Liberal Union, and New Union (Social Liberals) have expressed their support for impeachment, it will not be difficult to collect the necessary 34 deputies' signatures to begin the process. It is less certain, however, that the required 85 of 137 deputies would vote for removing the president from office.

The presidential press office announced on 4 December that President Rolandas Paksas had decided to postpone indefinitely his visit to the United States scheduled for 7-9 December, ELTA reported. The main point of the trip would have been a meeting with President George W. Bush in the White House. Paksas apparently discussed the trip's postponement with U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania Stephen Mull the previous evening.

The Constitutional Court on 4 December began hearings to determine whether President Paksas's April decree granting Lithuanian citizenship to Avia Baltica owner Yurii Borisov was unconstitutional, "Kauno Diena" and ELTA reported. The 12-hour proceedings, requested by parliament in early November, were broadcast live by Lithuanian State Television, with Paksas being the first of 15 witnesses called and Borisov being the last. Paksas's testimony that his decision to grant citizenship to Borisov was lawful was refuted by other witnesses, most notably State Security Department Director General Mecys Laurinkus, who said he informed Paksas in March about measures Lithuanian law enforcement agencies were taking against Borisov. A court decision ruling the citizenship illegal could serve as a basis for impeachment of the president.
* Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis attended the meeting of the foreign ministers of current and candidate EU countries in Naples on 28-29 November, which discussed almost 60 topics including EU institutions, budget, finance, and economic policy, justice and interior affairs, foreign and security policy, social policy, and the environment, BNS reported. Considerable attention was also devoted to the draft EU constitution.
* Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych reached an agreement on a new visa regime between their countries in Vilnius on 28 November, BNS reported the next day. It calls for visa-free travel to Ukraine for Lithuanian citizens and issuance of free visas for Ukrainians wishing to visit Lithuania. The Lithuanian Embassy in Kyiv currently issues approximately 10,000 visas per year. The date when the new visa agreement will be signed and go into effect was not announced.
* Council of Europe Human Rights Commissioner Alvaro Gil-Robles visited Lithuania on 22-26 November to prepare a report on the human rights situation in the country for the council's Committee of Ministers and Parliamentary Assembly (PACE), ELTA reported. During his stay he held talks with many high officials including the foreign, interior, justice, and social security ministers, the Lithuanian delegation to PACE, the parliament's comptroller, the heads of the Supreme and Constitutional courts as well as representatives of national minorities, religious communities, and nongovernmental organizations. Gil-Robles visited the Refugees' Center in Rukla, the Pravieniskes Penitentiary, the Lukiskes prison, and other judicial institutions. He said he was astonished at how effectively Lithuania had succeeded in solving its national minorities issues and, while noting the "extensive efforts" to improve the situation in Lithuania's penal institutions, called for the renovation of these premises and improving the living conditions for those serving life sentences. Gil-Robles also recommended that the restoration of ownership rights of previously nationalized property be speeded up and more attention be paid to protect the victims of violence in families.
* Defense Ministry Secretary Povilas Malakauskas attended a meeting of NATO member and candidate countries' defense ministers with the 46-member Euro-Atlantic Partnership Council (EAPC) in Brussels on 1 December, BNS reported. The meeting focused on the reorganization of NATO's activities and structures, system of leadership, improvements in the process of forces' planning, as well as the establishment of high readiness forces and participation in international operations. Malakauskas also participated in the meeting of the EAPC on 2 December and discussed the cooperation of countries serving in the Partnership for Peace program and states of the Mediterranean Sea region, and new trends of activities after the seven new members join NATO in May 2004. Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius was scheduled to attend the meeting, but remained in Lithuania to take part in the meeting of the State Defense Council.
* Lithuanian and Polish land forces commanders, Brigade General Valdas Tutkus and Lieutenant General Edward Pietrzyk, discussed participation of their troops in the mission in Iraq, the possibility of conducting more joint exercises, and the course of the ongoing projects in Vilnius on 3 December, BNS reported. Pietrzyk headed a Polish military delegation that also visited the joint Lithuanian-Polish Battalion, LITPOLBAT, in the southern city of Alytus on 4 December.
* Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius held talks with visiting Vice-Chairman of Great Britain's Conservative Party Michael Andrew Ancram in Vilnius on 3 December, ELTA reported. They talked about peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan, Iraq, and the Balkans, as well as the importance of Euro-Atlantic relations with both agreeing on the need to avoid unnecessary competition between NATO and the EU.
* A governmental delegation from Canada, led by Deputy Foreign Minister Paul Dubois, visited Lithuania on 25-26 November, ELTA reported. It includes officials in charge of foreign and international trade, industry, human recourses, citizenship and migration affairs, heritage, export development, the Canadian Mounted Police, and the International Development Agency. The officials held meetings with the government and representatives of the Social Security and Labor, Interior, Economy, and Foreign ministries.
* Prosecutor Mindaugas Duda of the Prosecutor-General's Office questioned Anna Zatonskaya and Anatol Potnin, two staff members of the Russian public relations firm Almax, on 27 and 28 November about alleged threats to President Paksas, ELTA reported. They arrived in Lithuania via the Pagegiai check point from the Kaliningrad Oblast on 22 November. Duda summoned them to the Prosecutor General's Office on 2 December for further questioning.
* The Prosecutor-General's Office started a pre-trial investigation into the activities of Avia Baltika and its employees in the export of aircraft parts on 2 December, BNS reported the next day. Deputy Prosecutor-General Gintaras Jasaitis said the investigation was based on materials received from the State Security Department and deals with supplying certain parts of helicopters and other aircraft from Russia to Sudan.
* Former President Valdas Adamkus made a special address to the Lithuanian people broadcast by state radio and television on 4 December expressing support for the position expressed by Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas that President Paksas should resign, BNS reported. He affirmed: "Lithuania can no longer be a hostage of one person's ambitions. Another half-year with an impeached president would mean a disaster for our society." Adamkus said that the crisis shaking Lithuania is "very serious," the security and freedom of the state and the nation face a "real and grave threat."
* The Justice Ministry officially registered the Labor Party, led by Russian-born business tycoon and parliament deputy Viktor Uspaskich as the 38th political party in the country on 25 November, ELTA reported. The party held its founding congress on 18 October and according to polls is the most popular party in the country, receiving 16.3 percent public support or more than the Social Democrats with 13.6 percent and the Liberal-Center Union with only 7.7 percent.
* More than 480,000 persons or 36.6 percent of those registered in the state pension fund SoDra decided also to join private pension plans in 2004, "Kauno diena" reported on 5 December. This was a far greater number than expected. The greatest part, 36 percent, of these registered were people between the ages of 30 and 45; 33 percent were aged between 45 and 55; 30 percent under 30 years; and only 1 percent over 55 years. * Deputy Defense Minister Jonas Gecas on 24 November accepted an offer from President Paksas to become the latter's national security adviser, "Kauno diena" reported the next day. The 50-year-old Gecas was a deputy minister and secretary in the Lithuanian Defense Ministry from 1990 to 1996, and was Lithuania's defense attache to Denmark and Norway until 1999 before becoming deputy defense minister again in 2000. He was scheduled to begin his duties as national security adviser on 1 December, taking over the position held previously by Remigijus Acas, but informed the president that morning that he had changed his mind and decided to remain deputy defense minister. That morning, Jurate Overlingiene replaced Rosvaldas Gorbaciovas as the president's press spokesperson.