19 September 2002, Volume 3, Number 31
NOTE TO READERS:
This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 30 August to 12 September 2002.
REGIONALNO BREAKTHROUGH ON KALININGRAD DURING PUTIN, RAU TALKS...
Russian President Vladimir Putin told journalists after meeting with his German counterpart Johannes Rau in Moscow on 3 September that they discussed a number of issues, including the repayment of Russian debts to Germany, Russian news agencies reported on 4 September. Putin confirmed that they discussed the problem of the Kaliningrad exclave but stopped short of saying that progress had been made. For his part, Rau said the two countries "have a lot in common, but they have differences too." Rau added that he believes a compromise on Kaliningrad can be reached that will satisfy both Russia and the European Union, perhaps as early as next month. He stressed, however, that the status of his office does not allow him to take part formally in the process but only to give advice.
...AS ENVOY HINTS EU-RUSSIA SUMMIT MIGHT BE POSTPONED.
Duma Deputy Dmitrii Rogozin, President Putin's envoy on Kaliningrad and chairman of the Duma Foreign Relations Committee, stated after talks with EU External Relations Commissioner Chris Patten in Brussels on 2-3 September that Moscow is working to save the Russia-EU summit scheduled for November in Copenhagen, "Rossiiskaya gazeta" reported on 4 September. Rogozin endorsed Putin's recent call for visa-free travel between Russia and the EU (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 28 August 2002), describing it as "a gigantic step" toward the EU's position on Kaliningrad. He warned, however, that, "There is a limit to any compromises." "For us, Kaliningrad is not a bargaining chip, but an issue of our strategic partnership with the West and our national security," Rogozin said. "Russia understands EU concerns about illegal emigration and is also fighting against it by adopting new, harsher laws. But it is complete idiocy to end the Cold War, to break down the Berlin Wall, and then build a new wall much farther east."
EU MEMBERS REMAIN WARY OF RUSSIAN TRANSIT DEMANDS.
EU justice and interior ministers meeting in Copenhagen insisted they would not dilute their external border policy to please Moscow, AP reported on 13 September. "There should be no weak points in our border controls," said Danish European Affairs Minister Bertel Haarder. The border issue stems from the enlargement plans of the EU to include Poland and Lithuania, which would eliminate easy transit policies for residents of the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad. AP also reported that the ministers "insisted" that any EU decision to accommodate Russia over the enforcement of transit and border controls would also have to respect the sovereignty of the new members, Poland and Lithuania.
17 BALTIC RESIDENTS PROVIDE INFORMATION ON NAZI WAR CRIMES SUSPECTS.
The $10,000 reward offered in July by Efraim Zuroff, the director of the Jerusalem Office of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, for information leading to the trial and conviction of any Nazi war crimes suspects in the Baltic states has resulted in the submission of 51 names by 17 people (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 July 2002), ETA and BNS reported on 10 September, citing an article in the "Jerusalem Post." Of the 51 suspects, 47 are from Lithuania, three from Estonia, and one from Latvia, but 12 of those named are known to be dead. Zuroff said he is satisfied with the campaign thus far and hopes that it will provide results.
BALTIC PHARMACY AGREEMENT SIGNED IN RIGA.
In Riga on 6 September, Estonian Social Affairs Minister Siiri Oviir, Lithuanian Health Minister Konstantinas Romualdas Dobrovolskis, and Latvian Welfare Minister Viktors Jaksons signed a cooperation memorandum on pharmaceutical information exchange and uniform criteria for the assessment of state-subsidized medicines, Baltic agencies reported. Oviir said that it is important to use joint methods to evaluate the prices and profitability of medicines and that the exchange of information should help guarantee more effective use of national health-insurance funds. Jaksons mentioned that the agreement might serve as the first step in increasing the number of medicines for which the state provides compensation, noting that medical experts will be able to gain from the experience of colleagues from neighboring countries, which will help them to better evaluate the efficiency and use of prescription drugs.
* Transportation Ministers Anatolijs Gorbunovs (Latvia), Liina Tonisson (Estonia), and Zigmantas Balcytis (Lithuania) met in Riga on 5-6 September to discuss the development of the Rail Baltica project expected to link Polish and Baltic railroad networks, BNS reported. Gorbunovs told reporters that Rail Baltica was in different stages of development in each of the Baltic states with Lithuania already having an agreement with Poland about construction by 2008 or 2009 of a rail line meeting European standards from Warsaw to Kaunas, with a branch to Vilnius.
* The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, or EBRD, appointed Salvatore Candido as its new director for the Baltic states on 9 September, BNS reported. He replaced George Krivicky, who will head the EBRD office for Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, and Moldova. Candido had worked as the EBRD director for Romania since 1999.
ESTONIAPREMIER DISCUSSES NATO ASPIRATIONS DURING WHITE HOUSE VISIT.
After meeting with U.S. President George W. Bush at the White House on 4 September, Prime Minister Siim Kallas said "Bush confirmed that the United States gives its strong support to Estonia's accession to NATO, but added that nothing has been conclusively decided and Estonia must do a lot of work," BNS reported the next day. Bush praised Estonia's success in reforming its economy and also raised the issue of Estonia's signing an agreement that would exempt U.S. citizens from extradition to the proposed International Criminal Court, but he noted that Estonia's NATO accession is not dependent on such an accord. National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, Bush's Chief of Staff Andrew Card, and Assistant Secretary of State Elizabeth Jones were also present at the meeting. Kallas met earlier on 4 September with representatives of the Joint Baltic-American Committee and Estonian National Council and also met with International Monetary Fund Managing Director Horst Kohler. The next day, Kallas met with former Vice President Al Gore and gave a press conference at the International Press Club.
PARLIAMENT RATIFIES KYOTO PROTOCOL.
By a unanimous tally of 66 votes, the parliament on 3 September ratified the Kyoto Protocol to the United Nations Climate Change Framework Convention, ETA and BNS reported. The protocol obliges Estonia by 2008-12 to reduce its greenhouse-gas emissions by 8 percent from its 1990 level. This will not be difficult to accomplish because greenhouse-gas emissions in the country have already fallen by 56 percent since 1990. The protocol also allows Estonia to conclude international agreements on the exchange of pollution quotas. Environment Minister Heiki Kranich said that projects are being prepared with the Netherlands, Finland, Germany, and Sweden by which those countries will invest in reducing carbon dioxide emissions in Estonia, but the reductions will be applied to their countries. Estonia signed the Kyoto protocol in October 2001, and it will come into effect once it is ratified by at least 55 countries.
SWEDEN OFFERS TO SUPPLY MILITARY AID UPON ESTONIA'S ACCESSION TO NATO.
During a visit to Estonia on 9-10 September, Commander of the Swedish armed forces General Johan Hederstedt assured his Estonian counterpart Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts that Sweden will continue to provide Estonia with military aid even after it joins NATO, BNS reported. He also had meetings with President Arnold Ruutel, Defense Minister Sven Mikser, and State Secretary Aino Lepik von Wiren. Before traveling to Latvia, Hederstedt on 10 September observed the Baltic Eagle 2002 exercises conducted by the Baltic Battalion (Baltbat), and visited the military depots in Tapa where military equipment donated by Sweden last year is kept and the Baltic Defense College in Tartu.
NEW CULTURE MINISTER APPOINTED.
President Ruutel appointed Culture Ministry Chancellor Margus Allikmaa as the new culture minister on 30 August, BNS reported the next day. Former Culture Minister Signe Kivi submitted her resignation earlier in August after it was discovered that Avo Viiol, the managing director of Kultuurkapital (Fund for Promoting Culture), which she supervised, embezzled 8 million kroons ($533,000) from the fund's account and gambled it away (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 16 August and 3 September 2002). The 41-year-old Allikmaa worked as the director of the Estonian Drama Theater and as manager of the media company Trio LSL before becoming chancellor in 1999.
ESTONIAN RAILWAYS STRIPPED OF SAFETY LICENSE.
The Estonian Railway Board revoked the infrastructure safety certificate of Estonian Railways on 9 September because of various shortcomings and gave it until 23 September to eliminate the problems, ETA reported. Estonian Railways claims that it has already eliminated nearly 90 percent of the defects, but the remaining 10 percent will take more time. The Railway Board also ordered the company to ensure by 11 September that it operate only its locomotives that meet the technical-operation regulation requirements and that it present documentary proof that the automatic signaling and braking devices of recently acquired U.S.-made locomotives are reliable (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21, 27, and 28 August 2002). The cancellation of the safety certificate has no immediate effects on Estonian Railways' operations, but the Railway Board is threatening to cancel the company's operating license, which would result in stoppage of all rail traffic.
MORE THAN 15,000 CANDIDATES REGISTERED FOR LOCAL-COUNCIL ELECTIONS.
The National Election Commission announced on 11 September that a total of 15,176 candidates have been registered for the local-council elections on 20 October, BNS reported. The local election commissions are required to register candidates until 15 September and finalize lists by 18 September. There is a total of 3,273 seats in 241 town and local-government councils in the country. More than 70 percent of the candidates (11,046) are running on party tickets, 4,012 as members of 249 electoral alliances, and 118 individuals as independents. There are 1,292 candidates from 10 political parties and one election alliance, as well as six independents competing for the 63 seats on the Tallinn City Council.
GOVERNMENT TO WITHDRAW ITS DEPOSITS FROM COMMERCIAL BANKS.
In an effort to curb the growth in lending rates and to boost domestic savings, the Bank of Estonia and the Finance Ministry decided on 12 September to withdraw government deposits worth up to 1 billion kroons ($62.5 million) from commercial banks and deposit them temporarily in the central bank, ETA reported. The Bank of Estonia also plans to prepare by October, together with the Financial Supervisory Authority, proposals for commercial banks to toughen loan conditions. The move was prompted by the observations that investment and consumption were growing not because of the recycling of savings and profits, but because of borrowed money, and that Estonia's exports of goods and services were less than expected. The decision to withdraw state money from commercial banks was a relatively soft step, intended as both a signal to banks and borrowers to curb expectations.
FOREIGN-TRADE GAP WIDENED SUBSTANTIALLY IN JULY.
The State Statistics Office announced on 5 September that Estonia imported goods in July worth 6.6 billion kroons ($420 million) and exported goods worth 4 billion kroons, resulting in a foreign-trade deficit of 2.6 billion kroons, ETA reported. Compared to June, when the trade deficit was 1.7 billion kroons, imports rose by 4 percent while exports fell by 14 percent. European Union countries accounted for 67 percent of exports and 59 percent of imports while figures for CIS countries were 5 and 9 percent, respectively.
RUSSIAN PARTIES TO RUN ON A JOINT LIST OF CANDIDATES IN TALLINN.
The leaders of four Russian parties -- the Estonian United People's Party (EURP), the Unity of Estonia Party, the Russian Party in Estonia, and the Russian Unity Party -- have agreed to form a joint list under the name of the EURP for the local-council elections in Tallinn in October, ETA reported on 31 August. Although the four parties signed a cooperation agreement in March for the elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 27 March 2002), they have not yet decided under what name they will eventually merge.
* Accompanied by Estonian State Secretary Lepik von Wiren, Armed Forces Commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts, and a delegation of businessmen, President Ruutel flew to Hungary on the evening of 10 September for a five-day visit, BNS reported. The next morning, Hungarian President Ferenc Madl officially received him in Budapest's Lajos Kossuth Square from where the presidents went to the parliament building where a bilateral agreement on the avoidance of double taxation and prevention of tax evasion was signed. In the afternoon, Ruutel attended an Estonian-Hungarian economic forum, met with Budapest Mayor Gabor Demszky, and discussed EU and NATO enlargement with parliament Chairman Katalin Szili. On 12 September, after a meeting with Prime Minister Peter Medgyessy, he visited the town and castle of Eger and held talks with its mayor Imre Nagy.
* Agriculture Minister Jaanus Marrandi visited Denmark on 9-10 September for unofficial talks with colleagues from EU member and candidate states on innovation and development activities in rural areas, ETA reported.
* The police of Estonia, Finland, and Russia signed an agreement on cooperation to increase the efficiency of joint action against drug-related crimes, BNS reported on 2 September. Under the agreement, the three countries will cooperate in the detection of illegal possession and trafficking of drugs, confiscation of income generated by drugs, as well as setting up domestic cooperation groups to exchange information.
* In an interview in the rural newspaper "Maaleht" of 12 September, EU Agriculture Commissioner Franz Fischler said that the EU had received new information concerning Estonia's milk output, was now processing it, and would make public its position in November. Estonia is seeking a milk quota of 900,000 tons while the EU's preliminary position was 570,000 tons. Fischler also noted that it was unlikely that there would be any change in the EU position on agricultural subsidies to farmers in new EU member states.
* Border-guard chief Harri Hein met on 6 September in Narva with Aleksandr Golbakh, the new border-guard chief of the northwestern region of Russia, BNS reported. It was a get-acquainted meeting, with Golbakh visiting the Estonian border checkpoint and the command center of the Narva border-guard station for the first time. Last year, nearly 2.4 million people and 310,000 vehicles crossed the Estonian-Russian border at Narva.
* In an effort to help persuade Canada to reopen its ports to Estonian fishing vessels, the government decided on 10 September to reduce Estonia's shrimp-fishing volume in the North Atlantic fishing area 3L from 51.4 tons to 15.5 tons, ETA reported. Charging that Estonian fishing boats had already exceeded their shrimp quota, Canada closed its ports to Estonia's vessels on 9 April, and subsequent negotiations between the two states were suspended.
* The government approved on 3 September Estonia's new Annual National Program of NATO membership, which will be presented to NATO at the end of September, BNS reported. The program is one of the most important yardsticks by which NATO members assess how the NATO candidates meet membership requirements.
* EVR Ekspress, the rail firm handling international passenger traffic, announced on 11 September that it was closing the Tallinn-Minsk route it had reopened in June, ETA reported. With an occupancy rate of only 10-15 percent, expenses for the route were several times higher than revenues.
* The parliament completed on 3 September the first reading of a bill to merge the Economy Ministry and Transport and Communications Ministry into the Ministry of Economic Affairs and Communications as of 1 November, BNS reported. According to the bill, the Competition Board will shift from the control of the Finance Ministry to the new ministry, but the Public Procurement Office will be transferred to the Finance Ministry.
* At the opening of its laboratory complex in Tartu on 4 September, Chairwoman of the board of the Estonian Gene Reserve Krista Kruuv said that the pilot project collecting 10,000 blood samples from people in the Tartu, Saare, and Laane-Viru counties would begin in the first half of the month, ETA reported. In these counties, physicians have been trained to collect DNA samples that will be sent to the laboratories where gene cards will be created for each participant and the connection between genes and diseases will be evaluated in the future.
* The People's Union and the Independence Party signed an agreement on 3 September for cooperation in the local-council elections in October, BNS reported. The People's Union has signed similar agreements with the nonprofit organization With Reason and Heart and the Christian People's Party and is preparing one with the New Estonia Party, which is headed by former parliament Chairman Ulo Nugis.
* The United Nations Division for Public Economics and Public Administration and the American Society for Public Administration placed Estonia 32nd among the 190 UN member states in the level of its e-government development, BNS reported on 10 September. The countries rated highest were the United States, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, and Norway. The Czech Republic (ranked 30th) was the only Central or Eastern European country rated higher than Estonia. Latvia and Lithuania were ranked 41st and 45th, respectively.
* Estonian Armed Forces Commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts appointed Lieutenant Colonel Peeter Hoppe as the chief of staff of the Estonian Army on 9 September, BNS reported. Hoppe, 41, is a graduate of Tallinn Technical University and has attended military courses in the U.S., Denmark, Sweden, and Norway.
* The Statistics Office announced on 6 September that the consumer price index in August was 0.5 percent lower than in July, but 2.6 percent higher than in August 2001, BNS reported. Compared to July, the costs of goods dropped by 0.9 percent while the costs of services rose by 0.3 percent. The decline was due to a 1.8 percent fall in the price of food, alcohol, and tobacco, while the costs of manufactured goods remained unchanged.
LATVIASUPREME COURT REJECTS BALLOT APPEAL.
In an extended meeting on 9 September, the Latvian Supreme Court Senate upheld the Riga Central District Court decision to remove parliament deputy Janis Adamsons of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party from the list of candidates for the 5 October parliamentary elections (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002), BNS reported. The district court ruled that Adamsons had worked for the border guards as a political officer under the Soviet KGB and was therefore ineligible to run for office. The Senate will make public the motivation for its ruling in 10 days. Adamsons called the ruling "absurd" and said he will probably appeal to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.
VISA FOR ZHIRINOVSKII REFUSED.
Foreign Ministry Press Secretary Vilmars Henins told LETA on 3 September that Russian nationalist Vladimir Zhirinovskii's application for a visa to visit Latvia was rejected. The chairman of the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia and Duma deputy speaker applied on 30 August for a visa for 4-10 September to attend celebrations for the fifth anniversary of the television show Balzams dveselei (Balsam to the Soul). According to the daily "Diena," Zhirinovskii sent a letter to Latvian Ambassador to Russia Normans Penke declaring that he would demand Penke's expulsion from Russia if his visa was not granted. Latvia declared the controversial Zhirinovskii persona non grata in 1993 for his statements inciting ethnic conflict. Zhirinovskii organized a demonstration in front of the Latvian Embassy in Moscow on 9 September during which he gave an hour-long speech to some 50 participants.
PRESIDENTIAL VISIT TO NEW YORK.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga began a weeklong working visit to New York on 9 September, LETA reported. The purpose of her trip was to represent Latvia in the commemoration of the tragic events of last 11 September, as well as to participate in the opening of this year's United Nations General Assembly. In a speech to the UN General Assembly on 12 September, she emphasized the need for close international cooperation to solve the problems of the modern world, expressing support for President George W. Bush's plan to work with the UN Security Council to convince Iraq to comply with UN resolutions. That day, Vike-Freiberga discussed developments in the Baltic region, political and economic integration, ecology, and Latvian-U.S. cooperation with former U.S. President Bill Clinton. At the presentation of the Hans J. Morgenthau Award by the National Committee on American Foreign Policy to Secretary of State Colin Powell, she spoke with Powell and former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger about NATO enlargement and international developments.
VISIT BY LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT SHOWS COOPERATION AND TENSIONS.
Valdas Adamkus began a two-day visit to Latvia on 3 September with talks with his Latvian counterpart Vike-Freiberga, Baltic news agencies reported. The presidents agreed that their countries have excellent bilateral relations and can cooperate in achieving their common goals of membership in the European Union and NATO. They discussed the U.S. request that the two countries sign accords that would exempt U.S. citizens from extradition to the proposed International Criminal Court but noted that they will not make any decision before the EU adopts its formal position. On 4 September, Adamkus met with Lithuanian businessmen working in Latvia who complained that the Latvian press frequently criticizes Lithuania's economic expansion to Latvia, although Lithuania only ranks 20th in terms of investments in the country. They also expressed dissatisfaction with the difficulties and high costs of hiring Lithuanians to work in Latvia and the exceedingly high evaluations of imported goods by Latvian customs officials.
MOSCOW MAYOR'S VISIT TO RIGA CONFIRMED.
During his recent visit to Moscow, Riga Deputy Mayor Sergejs Dolgapolovs received assurances that Moscow Mayor Yurii Luzhkov will visit Riga on 27-28 September, BNS reported on 4 September. He thus refuted an earlier report on Latvian Television's evening news program Panorama that Luzhkov had canceled his planned visit (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 23 August 2002). It was rumored that Luzhkov might be denied a visa because he made statements in the past comparing Latvia and its treatment of Russians to Pol Pot's Cambodia. Some political commentators believe that Luzhkov's visit, which will take place shortly before the 5 October parliamentary elections, is an attempt to boost the campaigns of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party and the Latvian Socialist Party.
GOVERNMENT APPROVES LATVIA'S NATO MEMBERSHIP ACTION PLAN FOR 2003.
The cabinet on 10 September approved Latvia's NATO Membership Action Plan (MAP) for 2003, LETA reported. The annual MAP is a key measure to evaluate the country's readiness for NATO membership at the Prague summit in November, and if the country receives an invitation, it will be used during the subsequent NATO entry negotiations. The MAP has six chapters: political and economic issues, defense and military issues, resources, information security, legal issues, and implementation plans. The MAP is based on the law on defense financing, which stipulates that 2 percent of Latvia's gross domestic product is to be allotted for defense each year until 2008.
FOREIGN MINISTRY LOBBIES RUSSIA ON EU, NATO ACCESSION.
During talks in Riga on 30 August, Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins told Aleksandr Udaltsov, the head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Second Political Department, that Latvia's membership in the European Union and NATO would provide a positive contribution to the development of Latvian-Russian relations, BNS reported. Riekstins expressed Latvia's readiness to promote an active dialogue between Russia and the EU, as well as between Russia and NATO. Riekstins noted that practical cooperation between the two countries has intensified lately between specific institutions in such spheres as interior affairs, migration, customs issues, and culture. The two officials emphasized the need to promote the preparation of bilateral treaties that are still in the coordination process, with Riekstins calling on Russia to sign a long-negotiated border agreement.
RUSSIA CONCERNED OVER U.S. RADAR IN LATVIA.
The Russian Defense Ministry is alarmed by the potentially destabilizing effects of a proposed U.S. radar installation near Daugavpils in eastern Latvia, ITAR-TASS reported on 3 September. The radar system is being built by Lockheed Martin and will be deployed at a former Soviet facility and connected to the Menvis Hill intelligence center in Great Britain, an unidentified Russian Defense Ministry source told the news agency. The system is capable of detecting small, high-speed targets and calculating trajectories of ballistic missiles. The source told ITAR-TASS that at least one-half of the staff at the facility will be Americans. Two days later, Defense Minister Kristovskis denounced the report as false and intentionally misleading since the facility's personnel will be run by Latvian Air Force personnel and not U.S. specialists, BNS reported.
LATVIAN, RUSSIAN RAILWAYS TO COOPERATE.
A delegation from the state-owned Latvijas Dzelzcels (Latvian Railways), headed by its board Chairman Andris Zorgevics, held talks with Russian Railways Minister Gennadii Fadeev, BNS reported on 4 September. They signed an agreement on the establishment of representative offices of the Latvian and Russian railways on each other's territory and discussed ways to increase transit cargo flow and maintain international passenger transportation at the current level. The transportation of cargo to Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast was one of the key subjects of the talks, with Zorgevics suggesting possible cargo transit via Latvia. Russia also agreed to revise existing tariff policy and regulations concerning transportation of perishable goods by Latvian refrigerator trains.
WORLD BANK AUTHORIZES PREVIOUSLY POSTPONED $20 MILLION LOAN.
The Finance Ministry announced on 11 September that the World Bank has approved disbursing a $20 million loan to Latvia for supporting economic reforms in the country, BNS reported. The loan is not intended for specific projects but is part of a multiyear, structural-reforms loan program, which Latvia was among the first Eastern European countries to receive. Latvia received a $40 million loan in 2000 and was to receive another $40 million last year, but this sum was later reduced to $20 million because of delays in implementing some reforms. The loan was subsequently halted after the IMF objected to the high projected deficit in Latvia's 2001 budget. The government later reached a compromise with the IMF and the World Bank, and the $20 million loan was reinstated and released.
INTERNATIONAL PROTOCOL ON ANTI-DOPING POLICY SIGNED.
At the annual informal meeting of European sports ministers in Warsaw on 12 September, Education and Science Minister Karlis Greiskalns signed the supplementary protocol of the Council of Europe's Anti-Doping Convention, BNS reported. Ministry spokesman Artis Jurkevics noted that Latvia is the first of the three Baltic states to sign the document and said it demonstrates the country's "readiness to undertake responsibility for implementing the principles of the European anti-doping policy." The protocol also calls for recognition of the World Anti-Doping Agency mandate.
* President Vike-Freiberga told Austrian Federal State of Styria Governor Waltraud Klasnic on 3 September that Latvia needs support from European countries, BNS reported. The next day, Klasnic discussed with Prime Minister Andris Berzins possible future cooperation between Austria and Latvia as EU members.
* Interior Minister Mareks Seglins and his Uzbek counterpart Almatov Zakirzhon signed an agreement on mutual assistance in combating organized crime, terrorism, and the distribution of illegal drugs in Tashkent on 12 September, BNS reported.
* At the invitation of Latvia's Way, the leader of the European Liberal Democrats in the European Parliament, Graham Watson, made an unofficial visit to Latvia on 9 September, LETA reported. He gave a lecture on the European Parliament's vision of EU enlargement at the University of Latvia and discussed Latvia's progress toward EU and NATO membership with Prime Minister Berzins.
* Chairman of the EU's Military Committee General Gustav Hagglund visited Latvia on 8-10 September at the invitation of Latvian armed-forces commander Colonel Raimonds Graube, LETA reported. He visited the Defense Academy and the Mobile Riflemen Training Center and had meetings with Defense Minister Kristovskis and parliament Defense and Internal Affairs Commission Chairman Dzintars Kudums.
* During his trip to Latvia on 10-11 September, commander of the Swedish armed forces General Johan Hederstedt met with his Latvian counterpart Raimonds Graube and other commanding officers, LETA reported. He visited the Land Forces First Infantry Battalion, BALTBAT headquarters, and BALTNET.
* In a letter to European Commission President Romano Prodi, President Vike-Freiberga called on the EU to offer Latvia agricultural output quotas conforming to Latvia's present farm output, BNS reported on 4 September.
* The Latvian Ice Hockey Federation decided on 30 August that the contract to build the large multifunctional ice-hockey rink for the 2006 World Ice Hockey Championship in Riga should be awarded to the locally owned company Multihalle and the British-Swiss company Metala buvju sistemas, BNS reported.
* The government approved on 3 September the recommendation by the applicant evaluating commission that lawyer Janis Jonass be appointed the head of the new Corruption Prevention Bureau, LETA reported. The commission evaluated 13 candidates and, although Jonass received a lower rating than Security Police Deputy Chief Guntis Rutkis, he was selected as the commission's candidate. The parliament Defense and Internal Affairs Commission, however, did not back the nomination of Jonass on 10 September, and the next day, all the factions in the ruling coalition and most opposition factions declared that they would not support his candidacy.
* The meeting of the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (CEPA) Monitoring Committee on 10 September rejected the proposal by the head of the Russian delegation, Dmitrii Rogozin, and nine CEPA deputies from other countries to resume international monitoring of Latvia, BNS reported. Rogozin did not attend the meeting and no other speaker supported the proposal's passage. The committee decided to return to the issue after Latvia's parliamentary elections on 5 October. The committee's head, Josette Durier, also accepted the invitation by Latvian representatives to visit the country to become better acquainted with its developments.
* Passenger Train (PV), the subsidiary of the Latvia Railway Company dealing with passenger transportation, announced on 5 September that it will be reducing the fares of diesel and electric trains by about 12 percent starting from November, LETA reported. This is intended to raise the number of passengers and make fares competitive with fares offered by buses and mini-buses. PV also plans to resume service on the Riga-Liepaja line twice a week with the trip taking three hours.
* The council of the Latvian Shipping Company (LASCO) decided on 4 September to sell seven of its aging "Kursk"-type refrigerator vessels for $19.5 million, BNS reported. The ships were built between 1983 and 1987. Their operation by LASCO has not been profitable.
* The National Statistics Office announced on 9 September that the consumer price index in August was 0.8 percent lower than in July but 0.9 percent higher than in August 2001, LETA reported. Compared to July, the price of food products declined by 2.3 percent, including an 18 percent fall for potatoes, vegetables, and fruit, while the cost of services grew by 0.2 percent.
* The National Employment Service announced on 11 September that at the beginning of the month there were 94,116 people officially registered as unemployed, or 369 fewer than a month earlier, LETA reported. The official unemployment rate in August was 7.9 percent, or 0.1 percent lower than in July.
LITHUANIAPRESIDENT VISITS UNITED STATES.
Valdas Adamkus participated in ceremonies in New York on 11 September commemorating the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the United States, ELTA reported. Adamkus met the same day with members of the American Jewish Community and spoke with Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen about the controversial issue regarding visas for Russia's Kaliningrad Oblast residents. Adamkus opened his four-day U.S. visit in Chicago on 9 September by participating in a roundtable at Northwestern University's Center of International Relations and Comparative Studies and also addressed the Chicago Council on Foreign Relations. The next day, he met with the project managers of the U.S. Environment Protection Agency's program to support the Baltic countries. On 12 September, Adamkus made a speech to the UN General Assembly and held meetings with UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Bulgarian President Georgy Parvanov, and Yugoslav President Vojislav Kostunica.
PRESIDENT TO RUN FOR ANOTHER TERM.
In a prerecorded television address, Adamkus announced on 5 September that he will be a candidate in the presidential elections in December, ELTA reported. He said he feels a responsibility to complete the work he began when he was elected in 1998, declaring, "I feel I have the strength and experience that may be useful to our country in this historically important period." More than a dozen people, including the chairmen of the Lithuanian Christian Democrats, Liberal Union, Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania), and Center Union, have already announced that they will run in the presidential election.
SOCIAL DEMOCRATS NOMINATE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE.
In Vilnius on 7 September, the 25th Congress of the Lithuanian Social Democratic Party (LSDP) approved the nomination of party Deputy Chairman Vytenis Andriukaitis as its candidate for the presidential elections in December by a vote of 534 to five with eight abstentions, ELTA reported. He was the only candidate, as party Chairman and Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, First Deputy Chairman Ceslovas Jursenas, and several other leading party officials declined nomination. The council of the LSDP's coalition partner, the New Union (Social Liberals), will decide on 15 September whether it will back Andriukaitis or nominate its own candidate, probably party Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, for president.
CONSERVATIVE PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE WITHDRAWS FROM ELECTIONS.
Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) Deputy Chairman Andrius Kubilius announced at a press conference on 9 September that he is withdrawing his candidacy for president and urged his supporters to vote for incumbent Valdas Adamkus, ELTA reported. Kubilius said that the achievement of the country's strategic Euro-Atlantic integration goals can be assured only by the election of a candidate from the right and thus it is important that these parties not split their votes by having numerous candidates. Kubilius called Adamkus the strongest such candidate and urged Center Union and Liberal Union Chairmen Kestutis Glaveckas and Eugenijus Gentvilas also to withdraw from the race. He rejected speculation that his decision has anything to do with the decision of U.S.-based Williams International to sell its shares and relinquish its management control in the Mazeikiai Oil company to Russia's Yukos oil company.
YUKOS ACQUIRES MAZEIKIAI OIL SHARES FROM WILLIAMS.
Economy Minister Petras Cesna told the parliament on 3 September that the government should not exercise its option to purchase part of the stake in Mazeikiai Oil that Williams International has agreed to sell to the Russian oil firm Yukos (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 August 2002), ELTA reported. Cesna said that, although Yukos would have operational control of Mazeikiai Oil and 53.7 percent of the shares should it acquire Williams's stake, Lithuania is considering selling part of its own stake as well. Under applicable law and the contract, the government still retains a veto right on a number of issues as long as it owns a 10 percent stake. Cesna stressed that the main objective is to make Mazeikiai Oil profitable so the state can recover the cost of loans and state guarantees it granted to the company over the last 12 years. By a vote of 60 to 38 with nine abstentions, the parliament adopted on 12 September amendments to the law on the reorganization of Mazeikiai Oil, which transfers the rights and responsibilities of the company from Williams to the Netherlands-based company Yukos Finance BV. The parliament is expected to vote on the question of granting Yukos the rights of a strategic investor on 17 September.
DEFENSE MINISTER VISITS BELGIUM.
Linas Linkevicius traveled to Brussels on 3 September for an official three-day visit, BNS reported. The main point of the visit was a meeting the next day with his Belgian counterpart Andre Flahaut, during which it was agreed to sign an accord in the near future on protection of classified information. The two countries signed a military-cooperation agreement last year. Linkevicius accepted the Belgian offer to assist the Lithuanian Navy in military training and to allow Lithuanian soldiers to study minesweeping at the Belgian-Dutch military academy. The ministers agreed that small European countries should hold regular bilateral consultations to help implement various initiatives in the defense sphere. Linkevicius was scheduled to visit the defense headquarters of the Belgian Armed Forces on 5 September, as well as meet with ambassadors from NATO countries.
PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES ONLY ONE OF FOUR PRESIDENTIAL VETOES.
On the first day of the fall session, 10 September, the parliament overrode the veto of President Adamkus and passed again without any changes the law on protection of minors from negative public information by a vote of 81 to 16 with 11 abstentions, BNS reported. The parliament accepted the president's proposed amendments to the law on financial institutions, which are intended to ensure tighter security for the free movement of capital and of public order. However, the parliament failed to gain the necessary 71 votes needed to overturn the president's vetoes of two bills dealing with the controversial issue of the rights of former property owners and current tenants of houses or apartments.
RUSSIAN WARSHIPS PAY FIRST POST-SOVIET VISIT TO LITHUANIA.
The minesweepers "A. Lebedev" and "BT-212" of the Russian Baltic Fleet docked in the port of Klaipeda on 12 September and thus became the first Russian warships to visit Lithuania since the restoration of Lithuania's and Russia's independence, ELTA reported. The visit was made possible after Defense Minister Linkevicius extended an invitation at a meeting in July with his Russian counterpart Sergei Ivanov. Vice Admiral Viktor Mardusin, the commander of Russia's Baltiisk naval base, told a press conference that the friendly visit is also intended to promote peace in the entire Baltic Sea region and demonstrate to Klaipeda residents the changes that Russian naval forces have undergone. He also invited Lithuanian officers to attend next year's celebrations of the 300th anniversary of the founding of the Russian Baltic Fleet. The ships will remain in Klaipeda until 15 September.
REVISED COST ESTIMATE FOR IGNALINA CLOSURE PRESENTED TO BRUSSELS.
At a regular round of talks in Brussels on 12 September, Petras Austrevicius, Lithuania's chief negotiator with the European Union, submitted a revised estimate of the costs of closing the Ignalina nuclear-power plant, BNS reported. The refined estimates were given for five cost groups: technical halting of the plant's operations, social needs, renovation of power stations, connection of Lithuanian electricity and gas networks to European systems, and the funding of environmental projects. Lithuania has made a commitment to close the plant's first reactor unit by 2005 and the second reactor by 2009. According to earlier calculations, the economic impact of the plant's closure would amount to 8 billion litas ($2.28 billion) up to the year 2020.
* At a conference on conflict prevention in Helsingborg, Sweden, on 30 August, Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis held talks with EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen on the sale of land to foreigners, ELTA reported. He also discussed the situation in Belarus with OSCE Secretary-General Jan Kubis and the results of Lithuania's presidency of the European Council with its secretary-general, Walter Schwimmer.
* A delegation from the German parliament headed by the chairman of its committee for ties with the Baltic States, Baron Wolfgang von Stetten, visited Lithuania on 30 August-2 September, ELTA reported. During a meeting with Prime Minister Brazauskas on 2 September, von Stetten agreed to be Lithuania's honorary consul in Baden-Wuerttemberg. Delegation members from the leading parties assured parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas that Germany's stance favoring Lithuania's admission to NATO and the EU would not change after Germany's upcoming parliamentary elections.
* The Belarusian State Customs Committee ended on 4 September the order it had imposed on 1 April requiring all Lithuanian cargo-hauling trucks transiting Belarus to have a special police escort, BNS reported. However, it also introduced the requirement that all truckers provide financial guarantees regarding payment of customs duties. Representatives of the Lithuanian Carriers Association, LINAVA, noted that the Belarusian request for cash guarantees violates the provisions of the convention by the International Road Carriers Organization.
* Japan's International Cooperation Agency (JICA) signed a protocol with the Transportation Ministry and the Klaipeda port administration in Vilnius on 5 September for the preparation of a study on the development of the Port of Klaipeda, ELTA reported. The Japanese government has agreed to finance the funding of the JICA study from its technical-assistance program.
* An official of the German foundation Remembrance, Responsibility, and Future told a press conference on 2 September that it will pay 736 euros ($714) compensation to individuals from Lithuania who were forced to work in agriculture or German-owned private factories during World War II, BNS reported the next day.
* Defense Minister Linkevicius and his Polish counterpart Jerzy Szmajdzinski agreed in talks in Szczecin, Poland, on 9 September that the operations of the joint peacekeeping unit LITPOLBAT, the key project in bilateral cooperation, should continue, ELTA reported. Szmajdzinski also pledged Poland's support in assimilating the Lithuania-led BALTNET project into NATO's European airspace control system and that Polish experts will advise Lithuania in preparing the military chapters of next year's NATO Membership Action Plan.
* Lithuania hosted an international conference on court administration in Vilnius on 9-10 September for judges from Germany, Poland, Latvia, and Estonia, ELTA reported. In an opening speech, Justice Minister Vytautas Markevicius emphasized the need for quality legal proceedings, noting that court administration should be flexible and be applied to changing public needs.
* The U.S. Federal District Court in Manhattan began a hearing on 6 September to take away the U.S. citizenship of 81-year-old Ildefonsas Bucmys, BNS reported. He is accused of concealing that he had been a guard in the Majdanek concentration camp in Poland and participated in killing prisoners near the town of Lublin, Poland, from December 1942 until November 1943. Rimvydas Valentukevicius, chief prosecutor of the Special Investigations Unit of the Prosecutor-General's Office, said that his office has no information about Bucmys.
* After coordinating NATO activities in Lithuania for two years, the Czech Embassy in Vilnius officially transferred its functions as the NATO contact point mission to the French Embassy on 10 September, BNS reported. French Ambassador Jean-Bernard Harth noted that if Lithuania receives a NATO invitation in Prague in November, the French Embassy will have the task to prepare the agreement on Lithuania's joining NATO and coordinate the agreement's ratification by NATO members.
* The Statistics Department announced on 9 September that the consumer price index (CPI) in August was 0.6 percent lower than in July and 1.1 percent lower than in August 2001, ELTA reported. The CPI has remained steady or declined every month since February. In August, the price of food and clothing declined by 1.2 percent, while costs of services rose by 0.1 percent.
* In the first eight months of the year, the Ignalina nuclear-power plant produced 8.6 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity, or 3 billion kWh more than in the same period last year, BNS reported on 3 September. The increased production was in great part due to the export of electricity increasing to 4 billion kWh.
* Lithuanian National Road Carriers Association, LINAVA, official Gintautas Ramaslauskas announced on 9 September that in European negotiations the previous week in Riga, Lithuanian truckers had obtained an additional 3,000 permits to enter the Netherlands and 4,000 permits to enter Belgium this year, BNS reported. A major difficulty in getting the permits is that Lithuania is not a member of the international "green card" system and is unlikely to become a member before 2004.