1 July 2002, Volume
NOTE TO READERS:
This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 14 to 20 June 2002.
DUMA ADOPTS TOUGH RESOLUTION ON KALININGRAD.
The State Duma on 19 June overwhelmingly approved a hard-line, nonbinding resolution on the Kaliningrad Oblast issue, "Izvestiya" and other Russian news agencies reported. The resolution, which garnered 401 votes, demands that the European Union provide a visa-free transit corridor between the exclave and the rest of Russia after neighboring Lithuania and Poland enter the organization. It accuses the EU of "disrespecting Russia's national sovereignty" and "violating the norms of international law." The resolution backs President Vladimir Putin's tough stance on the issue. After the vote, Deputy Foreign Minister Yevgenii Gusarov told the newspaper that Russia will continue insisting on visa-free transit not only for Kaliningrad residents but for all Russian citizens. Kaliningrad Oblast Governor Vladimir Yegorov was quoted as saying that the EU proposal for simplified visas for Russians is unacceptable and that Kaliningrad residents alone would require 5,000 such visas per day. "Izvestiya" commented, however, that by offering blanket support for Putin's position, the Duma has placed Russia in a no-win situation, since it seems clear that the EU will not back down from its position on the matter.RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER SEEKS FOUR-WAY TALKS ON KALININGRAD.
Russian Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov visited Warsaw on 20 June, where he discussed with Polish Foreign Minister Wlodzimierz Cimoszewicz the problem of transit between the Russian Federation and the Kaliningrad exclave after EU enlargement, Polish and Russian media reported. Ivanov told journalists that Russia is not interested in obtaining any corridors through Poland or Lithuania but in having free transit between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia. Ivanov proposed immediate four-way talks -- including the EU, Russia, Poland, and Lithuania -- to resolve the transit issue. Cimoszewicz said Poland does not intend to make difficult the life of "ordinary Russians who want to travel and who want to visit other countries," but added that the country must fulfill its obligations as a future EU member. Cimoszewicz noted that there has not yet been any "unequivocal concept" on how to resolve the problem of Russian access to Kaliningrad.
PARLIAMENT CONDEMNS CRIMES OF SOVIET, NAZI OCCUPIERS.
By a vote of 74 to one, parliament adopted a statement on 18 June condemning the crimes of the Soviet and German occupation forces in Estonia from 1940 to 1990, ETA reported. The initial draft of the statement, which only dealt with the crimes of the Communist parties of the USSR and Estonia, was submitted more than a year ago. Its adoption was delayed because of presidential elections in which two former Communist Party members were among the leading contenders. The draft was later amended to include Nazi crimes as well. The only dissenting vote came from the leader of the Estonian Social Democratic Labor Party, Tiit Toomsalu, who said the text was too soft on Nazi crimes and incorrectly "condemned 20-30 years of positive social development." The statement does not condemn individual former Communist Party members but rather the communist regime and its repressive organs, the KGB and NKVD. It stresses that the Soviet and Nazi occupation forces repressed or deported more than one-fifth of the total population of Estonia.LEGISLATURE PASSES NEW HEALTH-INSURANCE ACT.
By a vote of 59 to one, parliament on 19 June adopted a long-debated law on national health insurance that is intended to curb the rapid rise of medical costs, ETA reported. The law will come into force on 1 October and replace an 11-year-old act that has been described as outdated and harmful to the interests of patients and the health-care system. Social Affairs Minister Siiri Oviir, who threatened to resign if the bill was not passed, said the law is more patient-centered than the version originally proposed and sets the benefits to be paid for sick days, maternity benefits, and various costs of doctor's visits or hospitalization. Her predecessor, Eiki Nestor, noted that the law deteriorated during its redrafting by the new coalition. Nestor claimed that the pharmaceutical lobby succeeded in weakening the requirement to use cheaper subsidized medicines and securing a very high reimbursement level for drugs sold.BANK OF ESTONIA OPPOSES FURTHER SUPPLEMENTARY SPENDING.
Bank of Estonia President Vahur Kraft advised the government on 17 June not to compile a second supplementary budget this year, ETA reported. Earlier in the month, the parliament approved additional spending of 410 million kroons ($24.6 million) over the initial 2002 state budget of 33.13 billion kroons (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 June 2002). Prime Minister Siim Kallas said a second supplementary budget could be passed in August if revenues continue to exceed projections. The International Monetary Fund has also warned against such a move, arguing that any surplus should be placed in reserves. Central banker Kraft asserted that the higher revenues were caused by one-time factors and are unlikely to continue during the rest of the year.RUSSIAN BALTIC PARTY IN ESTONIA ABANDONS ELECTION ALLIANCE WITH REFORM PARTY.
The congress of the Russian Baltic Party in Estonia (RBPE) decided in Tallinn on 15 June to abandon plans to merge with the Reform Party and will instead run independently in the fall local elections, ETA reported. In early March, RBPE Chairman Sergei Ivanov and Reform Party Chairman Siim Kallas signed a preliminary agreement to form a union of the two parties and present a joint list of candidates. The congress expressed its dissatisfaction with the planned alliance and elected Viktor Lanberg as its new party chairman. Lanberg said the party will also participate in the parliamentary elections in March and in elections to the EU Parliament once Estonia becomes a member of the EU.
* Kristiina Ojuland concluded a three-day official visit to London on 20 June by meeting with British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw, ETA reported. Ojuland noted that Estonia expects to close the taxation chapter of its EU negotiations before the end of the month, retaining its right to set direct taxes. In talks with British Minister for Europe Peter Hain on 18 June, Ojuland asserted that the EU common agricultural policy must be fully extended to new members, and asked for British support for this.
* Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander and his wife Maxima began their tour of the Baltic states by visiting Estonia on 17-18 June, ETA reported. The first day he held talks with Prime Minister Siim Kallas, Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland, Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar, and representatives of nongovernmental organizations, and also attended a dinner in his honor hosted by President Arnold Ruutel. On 18 June, the royal couple traveled to Tartu where the prince had meetings with Tartu Mayor Andrus Ansip and Tartu University Rector Jaak Aaviksoo and also visited the Baltic Defense College.
* Deputy Chairman of the Russian Duma Foreign Affairs Committee Konstantin Kossachov said that the Estonian parliament statement passed on 18 June condemning the crimes of Soviet and German occupation forces is insulting and Estonia should apologize for comparing the two regimes, ETA reported on 19 June. He said that without such an apology further contacts between the Estonian and Russian parliaments will be very difficult.
* During Russia's World Trade Organization (WTO) membership talks in Geneva on 18 June, the Estonian delegation, led by Jana Vanaveski, head of the Foreign Ministry's Foreign Economic Policy Department's bureau for multilateral relations, reminded the Russian delegation that Russia's application of double tariffs on imports from Estonia contradicts basic WTO principles, BNS reported. Estonia, a full member of WTO since 1999, told Russia that the abolition of these tariffs is a precondition for further negotiations.
* By a vote of 76 to 10, the parliament passed on 20 June a framework law on the state budget that established an entirely new methodology for drafting next year's budget, BNS reported. The need for the new law was recommended by various international institutions so that budget-related monetary transactions would be defined in line with international requirements.
* The government on 18 June approved the draft of an intergovernmental agreement with Russia concerning border checkpoints between their countries, BNS reported. The agreement sets out what kinds of transport may pass via the checkpoints and the checkpoints' work regime. The agreement is primarily needed to launch ferry service on Lake Peipsi between the cities of Tartu and Pskov.
* A study by the Estonian Institute for Futures Studies revealed that Estonia has one of the highest tax burdens among Organization for Cooperation and Development countries, ETA reported on 20 June. The tax burden of a married couple with two children was highest in Estonia while for single individuals, Estonia was in second place after Denmark.
* An Estonian-Latvian fishing conference, which ended in Riga on 19 June, determined that the state of the Baltic herring stocks in the Gulf of Riga was good and supported the Estonian proposal that fishing quotas should be set by existing stocks in specific areas and not the whole Baltic Sea, BNS reported. The meeting was a warm-up for the upcoming conference of the Baltic Sea Fishing Commission that will set herring and cod quotas.
* At a ceremony at the residence of U.S. Ambassador Joseph De Thomas on 20 June, the U.S. Peace Corps formally completed its mission in Estonia, BNS reported. The Peace Corps began sending its volunteers in 1992 who mainly served as small-business advisers, developers of nongovernmental organizations, and teachers of English as a second language.
* U.S. specialists are visiting Estonia to help install in the Estonian Forensic Service Center the DNA database software Codis developed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation Laboratory, ETA reported on 19 June. Codis is a DNA database -- literally a genetic-fingerprint database -- meant specifically for police work as it allows a comparison search of DNA profiles from unsolved cases against DNA profiles from solved cases and from convicted offenders. Codis software is used by 18 countries, including Great Britain, France, Finland, and Sweden.
* Defense forces Commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts appointed former chief of staff Lieutenant Colonel Aarne Ermus chief of operations, BNS reported on 14 June. The chief of operations is responsible for assessing military threats and planning and directing military operations.
* The dispute between the Economy, Transport, and Communications Ministry and Baltic Rail Services (BRS), the majority owner of the recently privatized Eesti Raudtee (Estonian Railway), over the size of the rail firm's dividends was settled through negotiations, ETA reported on 17 June. At the stockholders meeting on 17 May, BRS had voted itself dividends of 250.2 million kroons ($14.7 million), though the company's profits in 2001 and 2000 were only 144 million and 38 million kroons, respectively. The ministry threatened to take BRS to court stating that only dividends of 137 million kroons were acceptable. The negotiated compromise is 180 million kroons with BRS receiving 118.8 million kroons and the state 61.2 million kroons of dividends. Eesti Raudtee will reinvest 872.5 million kroons in the development of the company this year with the majority of the investments financed by the World Bank's International Finance Corporation (IFC).
* In the first five months of the year, Tallinn was the largest port in the eastern shore of the Baltic Sea in terms of freight turnover, ETA reported on 19 June. Compared to the same period last year, Tallinn's turnover increased by 22 percent to 15.82 million tons, while that of the previous leader Ventspils declined by 12 percent to 14.80 million tons or just slightly ahead of St. Petersburg whose turnover grew by 9 percent to 14.76 million tons.
* Center Party Chairman and Tallinn Mayor Edgar Savisaar took part in a congress of the Finnish centrist Keskusta party in Hameenlinna in southern Finland on 15 June, BNS reported. It was the farewell congress of Keskusta's leader Esko Aho. Cooperation between the parties started many years ago when in addition to leading their parties, Aho and Savisaar also headed the Finnish and Estonian governments.
EU ONLY CHANCE FOR LATVIA TO JOIN DEVELOPED COUNTRIES.
Latvian Finance Minister Gundars Berzins told the 48th conference of Latvia's intelligentsia that membership in the European Union is Latvia's only chance to join the family of prosperous and developed countries, LETA reported on 18 June. He said that entry into the EU is economically advantageous, as received funds will exceed expenditures. The EU policy of investing more funds into less-developed regions in underdeveloped countries would clearly benefit Latvia's Latgale region. Berzins noted that it is the responsibility of the government to promote a good business climate and that plans to reduce corporate income tax from the current 25 percent to 15 percent in 2004 should improve the business environment. He called the closure of the taxation chapter in EU negotiations earlier in the month a very important step toward EU membership, noting that Latvia secured a longer transition period for raising the excise on tobacco than other candidates.LATVIA, EU TO DISCUSS AGRICULTURE-PRODUCTION QUOTAS.
Agriculture Minister Atis Slakteris told a meeting of the agricultural organizations' cooperation council in Riga on 19 June that the European Commission (EC) most likely will make a final decision on the volume of agricultural quotas for EU candidate countries at the end of the year, BNS reported. Latvia's chief EU membership negotiator, Andris Kesteris, plans to discuss the issue with EU negotiators on 3 July in Brussels. The quotas suggested by the commission are considered too low, as they are below even current consumption levels. The previous day, a meeting of the joint committee representing the European and Latvian parliaments adopted a resolution recommending that the EC "be flexible in the talks regarding quotas and reference productivity for cereals based on the respective reference periods."VERHEUGEN SAYS EU WILL FIND A COMMON POSITION. EU.
Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen told a press conference in Riga on 14 June that he believes EU member states will reach a common position on the agriculture sector and other issues so as not to delay the admission of new members, BNS reported. Verheugen participated in a ceremony commemorating Latvia's Remembrance Day for Victims of Communist Genocide in Latvia, at which Prime Minister Andris Berzins and parliamentary Chairman Janis Straume spoke. New Era party Chairman Einars Repse also met with Verheugen and called on the EU commissioner to guarantee equal conditions for the development of businessmen and farmers in EU candidate states. In an interview he gave to Latvian state television, Verheugen said he cannot understand why some political groups in Latvia are calling on farmers not to support Latvia's entry into the EU because farmers will be among the first to benefit from membership. On 15 June, he traveled to the Latgale region in southeastern Latvia and told officials there that Latgale will gain more from the EU since it is among Latvia's least-developed regions, LETA reported. A Latvijas fakti survey found that more than 41 percent of Latvian residents would vote "yes" if a referendum on EU membership were held in May, while about 38 percent would oppose membership, according to a 14 June report on the tvnet.lv website.MEDICAL WORKERS STRIKE.
Latvian Health and Social Care Employees Union Chairwoman Ruta Viksna announced on 20 June that more than 5,000 of its members participated in an eight-hour strike that day, LETA reported. The union is planning similar strikes on 18 July and 18-20 September to express its unhappiness with the government's budget allocation for health care, which has decreased from 4.2 percent of GDP in 1995 to just 3.4 percent this year. The union is calling for average salaries of medical professionals to be raised to 140 lats ($225) per month.UZBEKISTAN, LATVIA DISCUSS EXPANDING COOPERATION.
Visiting Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins met in Tashkent on 17 June with Uzbek President Islam Karimov to discuss bilateral relations and ways to expand trade and economic cooperation, uza.uz reported. Karimov noted that both countries stand to profit from increasing the volume of Uzbek goods exported from the Latvian ports of Ventspils, Liepaja, and Riga. Berzins also met with his Uzbek counterpart, Abdulaziz Komilov, with whom he co-signed an agreement on cooperation in fighting terrorism, drug trafficking, and organized crime, Interfax reported.AGREEMENT ON COOPERATION IN EMERGENCIES SIGNED WITH SWEDEN.
Interior Minister Mareks Seglins and Swedish Defense Minister Bjorn von Sydow signed an agreement in Riga on 17 June on cooperation in preventing, preparing for, and reacting to, emergency situations, LETA reported. The aim of the agreement is to allow for mutual assistance in the event of possible catastrophes, including simplified border procedures to speed the arrival of rescue teams. The agreement will take effect 30 days after both parties exchange reports certifying that all necessary internal procedures have been completed. Von Sydow held talks with his Latvian counterpart, Girts Valdis Kristovskis, on NATO expansion, the situation in the Baltic Sea region, and bilateral relations. He also discussed with the leaders of the parliament's Defense and Internal Affairs Committee Latvia's integration into NATO and the EU, as well as Latvian-Russian bilateral relations.
* President Vaira Vike-Freiberga continued her visit in North America with a trip to New York on 15 June, LETA reported. She discussed NATO enlargement questions with U.S. insurance company MetLife President Robert Benmosche, who is a member of the organizing committee for the November NATO summit in Prague. On 17 June, Vike-Freiberga moved on to Chicago, where she discussed planning and economic-development principles with Sheila O'Grady, the chief of staff of Chicago Mayor Richard Daley's office, and gave a live interview on CNN International that focused on Latvia's efforts to gain EU and NATO membership. The next day, Vike-Freiberga spoke about greater business cooperation and investment opportunities in Latvia at a meeting with businessmen and academics.
* At the seventh international conference TransBaltica 2002 in Riga on 14 June, Yevgenii Kazantsev, director of the coordination executive council of the transport ministers of the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), said that a joint transit-services market is important for the development of the transit infrastructure in CIS and Baltic countries, LETA reported. Noting that the largest share of transit traffic in the Baltic states is from the CIS, he said that cooperation among these states should be developed not only in tackling bilateral issues but also on the European and global level.
* The eighth conference of Interpol's offices in the Baltic countries, held in Jurmala on 14-16 June, was also attended by representatives of Scandinavian, German, and French police who work in the Baltic countries, LETA reported. The conference discussed Interpol's future strategy, coordinating regional initiatives of the police in Europe, and Interpol's cooperation with Europol, among other issues.
* Prime Minister Andris Berzins and United Nations Development Program (UNDP) administrator Mark Malloch Brown formally opened the working meeting of UNDP European and CIS region permanent representatives in Riga on 19 June, BNS reported. Berzins told the meeting that the UNDP was one of the first international organizations to help Latvia solve political and economic issues by helping to set up a human-rights office, strengthen nongovernmental organizations, and develop the state language teaching system. In talks with Brown the next day, President Vike-Freiberga discussed preparations for Latvia to become a UNDP donor country from 2004.
* Visiting Czech ombudsman Otakar Motejl had a meeting with National Human-Rights Office Director Olafs Bruvers in Riga on 18 June, LETA reported. Bruvers described his office's structure, functions, and key efforts, which Motejl noted were similar to those of his office, which was established in 2000. He said that the problems in observing human rights in Latvia and the Czech Republic were similar and further cooperation could be very useful, as the Latvian office already had seven years of operational experience.
* Secretary-General of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Simon Lunn told a press conference in Riga on 18 June that the assembly firmly backs NATO's enlargement, LETA reported. Lunn had come to Riga to attend a seminar on The Role of NATO in the Security of the Baltic Sea Region -- New Tasks, New Possibilities.
* Around 40 supporters of the extreme Russian National Bolshevik movement staged an anti-NATO protest in front of the government building in Riga on 17 June, BNS reported. The organizers said the rally was held that day since it is Latvia's official Occupation Day and they consider Latvia's joining NATO to be equivalent to the occupation of the country. The same day about 80 representatives of the organizations Everything for Latvia! and Klubs 415 held a peaceful picket for one hour in front of the Russian embassy in Riga, urging Russia to recognize that it occupied Latvia in 1940.
* Prime Minister Berzins issued a decree approving the creation of a State Energy Crisis Center and appointing Economy Minister Aigars Kalvitis as its head, LETA reported on 14 June. The center is a coordinating and consultative state institution whose chief aim is to prevent major energy disruptions and to deal with their consequences.
* The government approved on 17 June the Latvian, Estonian, and Lithuanian governmental agreement on cooperation in the tourism sector with the goal of developing a joint tourism area, LETA reported. It calls for more tourism among the three countries in order to increase knowledge about each other's daily life, history, and culture, as well as the creation of a regional tourism committee responsible for implementing joint proposals, programs, and resolutions.
* The parliament passed amendments to a law on excise tax on tobacco items on 13 June that raises the excise tax on tobacco beginning on 1 July, LETA reported the next day. The tax will increase from the current 5.10 lats to 5.80 lats per 1,000 filter cigarettes, from 6.10 to 6.80 lats per 1,000 cigarettes without filters, and from 6.10 lats to 7.90 lats on a kilogram of smoking tobacco. Tobacco-company officials said that the tax hike will boost the sale of illegal cigarettes.
* National Harmony Party (TSP) Chairman Janis Jurkans told the For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) conference in Riga on 15 June that the party hopes to get at least 20 percent of the votes in the fall parliamentary elections, LETA reported. The conference approved the PCTVL election program, which includes only items that are in the programs of the alliance's three parties -- the TSP, the Socialist Party, and Equal Rights movement. It predicts that the PCTVL will form a ruling coalition with the Social Democrats after the election in order to form a leftist government.
* The Progressive Center Party was founded at a congress in Riga on 15 June, attended by just a few more than the legal minimum of 200 founding members, LETA reported. The deputy chairwoman of the Riga City Council's Monument Council, historian Inta Stamgute, was elected the party's leader, while Lilita Laube, the chairwoman of the Union of Disabled Persons and Aivars Zelenko, former deputy chief of the Jurmala Police Administration were elected as her deputies.
* President Vike-Freiberga told the parliament on 20 June that she has experienced good cooperation with parliament during her three years and that she was ready and willing to seek a second term next year, BNS reported. She said that the experience and work done in the first term could seriously help in the second term.
* The state-owned electric company Latvenergo signed a l5-year 80 million-euro ($76 million) loan agreement with the European Investment Bank (EIB) in Luxembourg on 17 June, BNS reported. The loans, to be drawn on in 2003 and 2004, will be used to rebuild Riga's TEC-1 gas-fired thermoelectric power plant, to buy a transformer for the Plavinas hydroelectric power plant, and other infrastructure purchases.
SECURITY FORCE MAKES CHINESE PRESIDENT FEEL AT HOME.
The Lithuanian Interior Ministry took extraordinary measures to ensure that the visit of Jiang Zemin on 16-17 June would not be marred by unpleasant occurrences. ELTA reported. The first day, police threatened peaceful protesters who were gathered at Vilnius airport and in front of the president's office with signs demanding freedom for Tibet and forced them to sit down and remove their placards. While arriving to talk with the Lithuanian parliament's chairman, Arturas Paulauskas, Jiang's security guards demanded that two protesters holding Tibetan flags be removed, the daily "Lietuvos rytas" reported on 18 June. Since the two were members of parliament, the guards stood in front of the parliamentarians so that Jiang would not see the offending flags. ELTA reported on 17 June, President Valdas Adamkus denounced police violence against the pro-Tibetan protesters, and members of parliament have demanded an investigation of Interior Ministry officials. In talks with Adamkus on 17 June, Jiang said that, "We are well aware of Lithuania's aim of joining the EU and NATO, and we support Lithuania's EU membership," BNS reported. After the meeting, Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and his Chinese counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan, signed an extradition treaty. Jiang also visited the restored medieval castle in Trakai that served as the seat of Lithuania's government in the 14th century.AGREEMENTS ON MAZEIKIAI OIL SIGNED.
Lithuanian Finance and Economy Ministers Dalia Grybauskaite and Petras Cesna, Williams International Managing Director Randy Majors, and Yukos Vice President Mikhail Brudno were among the signatories to 18 volumes of agreements in three languages -- Lithuanian, English, and Russian -- in Vilnius on 18 June, BNS reported. Yukos agreed to pay $75 million, lend another $75 million, and supply 4.8 million tons of crude oil yearly for 10 years to the refinery in exchange for a 26.85 percent stake in Mazeikiu Nafta (Mazeikiai Oil). Yukos made both payments to the company's account in London. The next day, Mazeikiai Nafta began construction of a $50 million isomerization unit that will enable the refinery to improve the quality of its products and meet new EU air-quality standards.DUTCH CROWN PRINCE VISITS VILNIUS.
Arriving from Tallinn on 18 June, Willem-Alexander and his wife Maxima were welcomed at the Vilnius airport by Culture Minister Roma Dovydeniene and officials from the presidential office and the Foreign Ministry, ELTA reported. The royal couple then met with the local Dutch community and attended a formal dinner in their honor hosted by President Adamkus. The next day, the prince held talks at the parliament with Chairman Paulauskas and Environmental Issues Committee Chairman Alfonsas Macaitis. Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas welcomed the couple at City Hall and accompanied them on a tour of the historic Old Town of Vilnius. The couple also met with Environment Ministry Secretary Emilis Gustainis and visited the Vilnius water-treatment plant before departing for Riga.LITHUANIA AMENDS CONSTITUTION ON LOCAL ELECTIONS.
The Lithuanian parliament approved amendments to Article 119 of the constitution on 20 June by a vote of 105 to 14 with four abstentions, ELTA reported. The amendments extend the term of local-council deputies from three to four years and allow noncitizens permanently residing in Lithuania to vote and to be elected to local councils. Parliament originally approved the amendments on 25 January by a vote of 108 to two, with one abstention. That means the constitutional requirement that at least two-thirds of lawmakers vote for the amendments on two occasions separated by at least three months has been met. The provisions accompanying the amendments, however, provide that they do not go into effect immediately and that noncitizens will be allowed to vote only in 2006. Parliament also decided by a vote of 59 to 32, with two abstentions, to advance the date of the local-council elections, originally scheduled for February or March 2003, to 22 December, the date of the presidential election. By merging the two, the state expects to save about 10 million litas ($2.7 million),TWO OF THREE PRESIDENTIAL VETOES UPHELD.
Parliament on 20 June decided to approve the changes in two of the three bills recommended by President Adamkus when he vetoed them earlier this month (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 14 June 2002), ELTA reported. By a vote of 71 to five, with five abstentions, lawmakers added a provision to the law on operational activities banning the recruitment of clergymen in order to preserve the sanctity of religious confessions. By a vote of 67 to six with four abstentions, parliament also agreed to change the law on alcohol control to allow the outdoor advertising of beer, naturally fermented wine, and cider. By a vote of 75 to 25, parliament, however, rejected the president's proposed revisions to the hunting law, which would have exempted existing private hunting areas of at least 200 hectares from the requirement that hunting areas have a minimum of 1,000 hectares.EU PREPARATIONS RECEIVE FAVORABLE EVALUATION.
At a meeting of the EU-Lithuania Association Committee in Brussels on 14 June, Vilnius was praised for the progress it has made in preparing for EU membership, ELTA reported. Foreign Ministry Secretary Rytis Martikonis and Anders Henriksson, the head of the Lithuanian unit of the EU's Enlargement Directorate, chaired the meeting. Lithuania was praised for court reforms, anticorruption efforts, macroeconomic accomplishments, the smooth pegging of the litas to the euro, and an improvement in the business environment. The country was urged to improve its public-administration system, with a special focus on employee training and work conditions; to finish the surveying of land plots and cattle registration; and to modernize its veterinary- and phytosanitary-control border posts.
* President Adamkus on 14 June participated in a memorial ceremony for victims of Soviet-era deportations held in front of the former Soviet KBG building in Vilnius's Lukiskes Square, ELTA reported. Memorial services were held throughout the country on the official day known as the Day of Mourning and Hope. "Let this day strengthen our resolve to overcome finally the heritage of the past: lies and violence, dictatorship, and accommodation. We are united and remember the tragic experience of our nation. We remember genocide and deportations waged against our nation launched more than six decades ago," Adamkus said.
* ELTA reported on 18 June, that Dmitrii Rogozin, chairman of the Russian Duma's International Relations Committee; Deputy Anatolii Chekoev of the Communist faction; and Deputy Viktor Alksnis of the Russian Regions faction told viewers of NTV in Moscow on 17 June that Russia should annul the Soviet Union's agreement under the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact to give back Lithuania its Vilnius region, as a way of bullying Lithuania into granting unfettered transit rights for Russia to the Kaliningrad exclave after Lithuania becomes a member of the European Union. The Duma members hope to create a territorial dispute between Lithuania and Poland over the Vilnius region.
* EU Commissioner for Competition Mario Monti came to Vilnius to participate on 16-18 June in a conference on competition policy that was attended by officials from 12 EU candidates, ELTA reported. In talks with Prime Minister Brazauskas on 17 June, Monti noted that Lithuania was one of the five EU candidates that had completed negotiating the Competition chapter and urged the government to develop branches of the economy with growth potential and promising innovations rather than providing artificial support to ailing industries.
* Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius made an official visit to Austria on 17-19 June, ELTA reported. On 18 June in Vienna, he discussed Lithuania's security issues, regional military cooperation in the Baltic states, and new forms of bilateral military cooperation with his Austrian counterpart, Herbert Scheibner. Linkevicius also visited the headquarters of the International Operations Command near Vienna and held talks with its head, Brigadier General Guenter Hofler.
* Officials of the Lithuanian and Dutch health ministries approved in Vilnius on 17 June a European PHARE twinning project to help bring Lithuanian public health-care institutions in line with EU norms by streamlining management and cooperation of these institutions, ELTA reported. The project will last 16 months and have a budget of 1.14 million euros ($1.07 million) of which PHARE will provide 1 million euros and Lithuania 140,000 euros.
* After a meeting with the head of the American Jewish Committee's Foreign Office, Rabbi Andrew Baker on 19 June, Prime Minister Brazauskas told reporters that the newly formed governmental commission for Jewish property restitution has been charged with gathering information about the remaining pre-war real estate of Jewish communities in Lithuania and reporting to the government by 1 November, BNS reported. Baker said that it was important that constructive work had begun on the issue.
* Transport Minister Zigmantas Balcytis held talks in Vilnius on 20 June with a delegation of businessmen from Hamburg, headed by Senator Gunnar Uldall, ELTA reported. They discussed the increase of transit cargoes from Russia and other CIS states to German ports through the port of Klaipeda, as well as greater use of the airports of Kaunas and Siauliai.
* The Russian military training vessel "Smolnyi" with some 500 cadets from various military schools in St. Petersburg had to cancel a trip to Klaipeda when Lithuanian officials refused to admit the ship on 17 June, BNS reported. The Defense Ministry's Public Relations Department explained that it was barred because the number of crew members exceeded the maximum of two companies (fewer than 300 people) stipulated in the law on international operations, exercises, and other military cooperation events. The admission of the ship would also have violated the constitutional act banning the presence of any military bases or units of Russia, CIS, or its member states in Lithuania.
* The Constitutional Court ruled on 19 June that the amendment to the law on state pensions adopted two years ago that would grant former Supreme Council (the parliament that restored the country's independence) Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis the same pension rights as a former president when he retires from political life was inconsistent with the current constitution, BNS reported. The court said the legal status of the president was different from that of all other public officials and could never be equated with them. Moreover, the amendment was also unlawful because it was signed by parliamentary Deputy Chairman Alvydas Vidziunas as only the president and the parliament chairman have the authority to do this.
* During the joint Lithuanian-Polish international road-transportation commission meeting in Vilnius, Polish representatives said that their country is set to grant 12,000 additional permits over the original 95,000 to Lithuanian transport companies to carry freight through their territory, BNS reported on 18 June. Also from 1 January 2003, Poland will not limit the number of permits to trucks with certificates verifying that they conform to ecological standards.
* The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, acting as the administrator of the International Ignalina Decommissioning Support Fund, has allotted 130 million litas ($35 million) for three projects at the Ignalina nuclear-power plant, BNS reported on 20 June. The projects will finance the construction of a heat and steam plant and a spent-fuel storage facility, as well as the development of a technical archive.
* Lietuvos Energija (Lithuanian Energy) launched electricity exports to Poland on 17 June through the Russian energy trading company Unified Energy Systems BNS reported. It expects to send about 23 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity in June and about 250 million kWh in the year.
* The Lithuanian Competition Council on 20 June allowed the consortium of the German energy companies Ruhrgas and EON Energie to buy a 34 percent stake in the Lithuanian natural-gas company Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas) for 150 million litas ($42 million), BNS reported. This was the last requirement before the sale could be finalized. The consortium should transfer 116 million litas to the Lithuanian Privatization Fund and 34 million litas to a conditional deposit account with a German bank later this month.
* A weeklong hunger strike by more than 6,000 convicts in penal colonies, especially those in Alytus and Marijampole, ended on 17 June after Justice Minister Vytautas Markevicius issued a statement noting that the authorities were making efforts to solve long-standing problems, BNS reported. The Alytus colony, where more than 200 prisoners were discovered to be HIV-positive, will provide better medical treatment to infected prisoners, as well as more vitamins and antidepressant medications.
* The Israeli national air carrier El AL Israel Airlines launched regular flights from Tel Aviv to Vilnius on 19 June, BNS reported. The flights will be once a week on Wednesdays through 2 October.
* President Adamkus signed decrees on 18 June officially appointing envoys to Tunisia and three Southeast Asian countries, ELTA reported. Ambassador to France Asta Skaisgiryte-Liauskiene will also be the representative to Tunisia, Ambassador to Japan Algirdas Kudzys to the Philippines, while Special Ambassador Dainius Voveris will serve as extraordinary ambassador to Thailand and Malaysia. The next day the government approved the proposal to establish diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia and the Republic of Palau, BNS reported.