2 October 2002, Volume 3, Number 32
NOTE TO READERS:
This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 13 to 20 September 2002.
REGIONALRUSSIAN DEFENSE MINISTER WORRIED ABOUT BALTIC CFE ACCESSION.
Sergei Ivanov said that Russia is not concerned about NATO expansion in general but is worried that the Baltic states have not signed the Treaty on Conventional Armed Forces in Europe (CFE) (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 6 February 2001 and 9 and 29 July 2002), RTR reported. Ivanov noted that, according to this treaty, Russia has taken on commitments to restrict its military presence in northwestern Europe. If, however, the Baltic states do not sign this treaty, and if they refuse to take on similar obligations after joining NATO, "it would be stupid and laughable for Russia not to react to this," Ivanov said.
BALTIC PARLIAMENTARY CHAIRMEN AGREE ON SIMULTANEOUS EU REFERENDA.
Parliament Chairmen Toomas Savi (Estonia), Janis Straume (Latvia), and Arturas Paulauskas (Lithuania) met in the Lithuanian resort city of Palanga on 13 and 14 September, BNS reported. They agreed that their countries should hold referenda on European Union membership in the fall of 2003 but did not decide whether the referenda would be held simultaneously. The chairmen supported Paulauskas's suggestions that a meeting of the "Vilnius 10" NATO candidate countries be held in Vilnius next May and that Baltic representatives meet with their Armenian, Azerbaijani, and Georgian colleagues to share the Baltic states' experience in democratic and economic development. The chairmen also agreed that their respective parliaments would discuss Georgia's recent appeal to the world community against possible Russian aggression.
BALTS TAKE JOINT STAND ON EU AGRICULTURE QUOTAS.
European Union Agriculture, Rural Development, and Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler met with the three Baltic agriculture ministers -- Atis Slakteris (Latvia), Jaanus Marrandi (Estonia), and Jeronimas Kraujelis (Lithuania) -- at Mezotne Castle in Latvia, where he received a joint Baltic statement calling for higher agriculture quotas than those currently proposed by the European Commission. In the statement, the ministers argued that the proposed quotas were based on results from 1995-1999 that were negatively affected by Russia's financial crisis in 1998.
BALTIC ENVIRONMENT MINISTERS MEET.
Environment Ministers Heiki Kranich (Estonia), Vladimirs Makarovs (Latvia), and Arunas Kundrotas (Lithuania) discussed the development of renewable energy resources and the balance between environmental standards and economic development in the Baltic states during their annual meeting in Tartu on 19 September, ETA reported. Recognizing the importance of cooperation with Russia in solving problems in the Baltic Sea, the ministers suggested that Latvia, as the current chairman of the Baltic Marine Environment Protection Commission, or HELCOM, ask Russia to provide more information about possible sources of pollution. They also talked about increased cooperation in pursuing European Union membership and after joining the EU. The ministers also addressed forest protection, fire fighting, and the future of the Baltic Environmental Forum.
* At its session in Berlin on 13 September, the Baltic Sea Fisheries Commission cut Estonia's Baltic herring quota for 2003 by nearly 10,000 tons, BNS reported. The Estonian Environment Ministry had allowed Estonian fishermen to catch 39,000 tons of Baltic herring this year. The commission decided that Estonia and Latvia should share a common 2003 Baltic herring quota of 41,000 tons in the Gulf of Riga, but it allow each state to catch 8,111 tons in the open part of the Baltic Sea. The Baltic herring quota for Lithuania was decreased from 4,280 tons to 3,070 tons, BNS reported on 18 September.
* The World Economic Forum issued its annual Global Competitiveness Report, ranking 75 countries, on 17 September, BNS reported. Estonia and Latvia advanced from 29th to 27th and from 47th to 42nd, respectively, while Lithuania fell from 43rd to 49th. The report is based on interviews with 1,100 business leaders in 16 countries conducted in early 2002. Lithuanian economy experts disagreed with the lower ranking asserting that the country's competitiveness was growing due to productivity, decreasing costs, and increased exports.
ESTONIAGOVERNMENT APPROVES 2003 DRAFT BUDGET.
On 17 September, the cabinet approved a draft 2003 budget calling for expenditures of 38.7 billion kroons ($2.38 billion) and revenues of 38.46 billion kroons, an increase of some 4.5 billion kroons over the state budget for 2002, ETA reported said. Prime Minister Siim Kallas said the policy of maintaining a balanced budget was retained, with the exception of an allocation of 384 million kroons to pay for the launch of the second pillar of Estonia's new pension system. Kallas claimed that the budget is not an attempt to woo the electorate prior to local elections in October and parliamentary elections in March 2003, as "it does not include all the things that we might want to make voters like us." The government plans to submit the budget to the parliament on 25 or 26 September.
TALLINN HOSTS EUROPEAN AGRICULTURE CONGRESS.
The 54th European Agriculture Congress, which focused on the role of farmers in Europe, opened in Tallinn on 18 September with more than 400 foreign and 160 Estonian representatives attending, BNS reported. EU Agriculture, Rural Development, and Fisheries Commissioner Fischler explained that the European Commission recommended giving farmers in those countries that are to join the European Union in 2004 just 25 percent of the subsidies given to farmers in current EU countries, because the EU budget for 2004-2006 has already been adopted. He said reform of the EU's common agriculture policy (CAP), which is expected to begin in 2007, would focus on income subsidies rather than price subsidies. Gerd Sonnenleitner, the president of the European Committee of Agricultural Organizations, said that "Farmers are repeating that, on the one hand, enlargement of the EU must not jeopardize CAP; while on the other hand, agriculture must not jeopardize enlargement" and all farmers in a united Europe must be treated equally.
PRESIDENT ATTENDS EUROPEAN ECONOMIC SUMMIT IN AUSTRIA.
In a speech at the plenary session of the World Economic Forum's European Economic Summit in Salzburg on 16 September, Arnold Ruutel said Estonia has reached the final stage of preparations for joining the European Union, ETA reported. He stressed the need to find a solution satisfactory to both sides during EU accession negotiations on the Agriculture Chapter. Ruutel discussed EU and NATO enlargement with Ukrainian President Leonid Kuchma and agreed to share Estonia's experience in seeking membership in those organizations. Ruutel told Finnish President Tarja Halonen that as a result of similar natural conditions, Estonian farmers expect treatment from the EU similar to that which Finnish farmers receive, and that Estonia should not have to pay more to the EU budget than it would receive.
FOREIGN MINISTER SPEAKS AT UNITED NATIONS.
Kristiina Ojuland told the United Nations General Assembly on 20 September that the three major challenges the world is facing are fighting terrorism and human trafficking and ensuring sustainable development, BNS reported. She noted that Iraq must unconditionally comply with UN resolutions and that agreeing to the return of UN arms inspectors was only the first step. Ojuland also signed three additional protocols to the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, which Estonia signed in December 2000. The first protocol deals with the prevention of, and punishment for, trafficking in human beings, especially women and children, as well as assistance to victims. The aim of the second protocol is to prevent the smuggling of migrants, while the third protocol addresses the illegal manufacturing and trafficking of firearms, their components, and ammunition.
ESTONIA JOINS EU ELECTRONIC INFORMATION-EXCHANGE PROGRAM.
In Tallinn on 20 September, Economy, Transport, and Communications Minister Liina Tonisson and European Commissioner for Enterprise and Information Society Erkki Liikanen signed a memorandum on Estonia's joining the European Union's electronic information-exchange program, eContent, ETA reported. The program has three main areas of activity: improving access to, and expanding the use of, public-sector information; enhancing content production in a multilingual and multicultural environment; and increasing the dynamism of the digital-content market. In talks with Prime Minister Kallas, Liikanen offered his help in solving problems that may arise in the work of the European Future Convention. He also delivered a report at the telecommunications and information-technologies forum in Parnu called From Vision to Solutions 2002.
RUSSIA PROTESTS ESTONIAN LIMITS ON DIPLOMATS.
The Russian Foreign Ministry issued a statement on 17 September protesting the quota it claimed Estonia had established on its diplomatic personnel, ETA reported. It asserted that, although Estonia talked a lot about its adherence to European standards, it did not want to follow the example of EU countries, which do not regulate the number of Russian diplomats allowed to reside in their countries. According to the daily "Postimees," Moscow had asked to increase its diplomatic corps in Estonia by 30 people. The Estonian Foreign Ministry replied the next day that countries should be guided by the principle of reciprocity in determining the size of delegations, noting that the Vienna Convention of 1961 grants each country the right to regulate the number of personnel of foreign embassies on their territory.
ESTONIANS CAN AGAIN ASSEMBLE LOG HOUSES IN GERMANY.
Social Affairs Minister Siiri Oviir and German State Secretary Klaus Achenbach signed an agreement in Berlin on 13 September that will give Estonian builders the opportunity to assemble log houses produced in Estonia and sold to German purchasers, BNS reported. Germany agreed to give working permits of up to 12 months to 100 Estonian assemblers of these houses. The daily "Postimees" noted that in 1997, 70 percent of Estonian log-house exports went to Germany, but last year, the figure was only 45 percent, due in part to a German requirement that local firms assemble Estonian-produced log houses.
* Interior Ministers Ain Seppik (Estonia) and Boris Gryzlov (Russia) signed a cooperation agreement between their ministries for the years 2002-2004 in Moscow on 13 September, BNS reported. The ministers agreed to carry out two joint operations: "Border," aimed at preventing the activity of international criminal groups, and "Channel," directed against trade in illegal drugs.
* After a 90-minute meeting with Interior Minister Seppik in Moscow on 13 September, Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Aleksii II said he was ready to sign agreements over the property rights of the Russian Orthodox Church in Estonia, ETA reported. The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, which is subordinate to Constantinople, agreed to hand over the churches used by the Moscow-subordinate church to the government, which would then lease them back to the churches for 50 years at a symbolic rent of 1 kroon per month. Seppik expressed the hope that the Estonia-born Aleksii would visit the country before the end of 2002.
* In Tallinn on 19 September, Danish Defense Minister Svend-Aage Jensby assured his Estonian counterpart Sven Mikser and defense-forces commander Vice Admiral Tarmo Kouts of Denmark's strong support for the enlargement of NATO, BNS reported the next day. After attending the Baltic Eagle 2002 war games at the Tapa military base, he expressed confidence that the three Baltic states would receive invitations to join NATO in Prague in November.
* Major General Federico Ycniz, chief of the Cooperation and Regional Security Division of NATO's International Military Staff, surveyed the Estonian defense forces on 18 and 19 September, BNS reported. He held talks with Estonian defense-forces commander Vice Admiral Kouts and the defense attaches of NATO countries accredited to Estonia, and he observed the Baltic Eagle 2002 war games at Tapa.
* Agriculture Minister Jaanus Marrandi and his British counterpart, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State of the Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs Lord Larry Whitty discussed the current status and future prospects for Estonia's membership talks with the EU on 19 September in Tallinn, ETA reported. Marrandi explained that Estonia needed higher agriculture quotas than those the European Commission had suggested, as they could result in greater unemployment and nonuse of suitable arable land. Whitty said the British government supports a more liberal approach to the EU's agriculture policy that would abolish quotas altogether and lower direct subsidies for all member states.
* The parliament's Constitutional Law Committee censured on 19 September State Auditor Juhan Parts for handing in his resignation before his term of office had expired but recommended that he be discharged as soon as possible, BNS reported. Parts submitted his resignation on 8 August so that he could join the new Res Publica party, of which he was elected chairman on 24 August. A new state auditor has yet to be confirmed, because both the Center and Reform parties have offered parliament deputies Olev Raju and Ignar Fjuk, respectively, as candidates.
* Noting that 85 percent of the HIV-positive people in Estonia have the extremely rare G type, the Finnish biotechnology firm FIT Biotech said it was reluctant to continue with plans to test a vaccine created by Estonian scientists on a group of Estonian HIV-positive patients, BNS reported on 16 September. Tartu University virology professor and FIT Vice President Mart Ustav said, "There would be no economic sense in spending hundreds of millions [of kroons] to create a vaccine [that] perhaps only ten thousand people would need." The company will conduct the tests only if it receives support from Estonia or international organizations. Prime Minister Kallas said on 19 September that the Estonian government is not prepared to give money to FIT for the HIV vaccine tests.
* A consultant for U.S. locomotive manufacturer General Electric (GE) told the daily "Postimees" on 18 September that the company is considering the possibility of rebuilding locomotives at Estonian Railways' depot at Tapa, ETA reported. The consultant said that GE would reach a final decision in two months and that Estonia's chances are very good. Although the GE deal would not allow the Tapa facility to hire new employees, it would prevent further dismissal of workers and provide extra income to Estonian Railways.
* The parliament passed a bill on 18 September to correct some of the inconsistencies found in the newly adopted Penal Code, BNS reported. The most obvious correction to the Penal Code codified punishment for property offenses valued between 1,000 kroons ($62) and 18,500 kroons. Another amendment gave local government councils the authority to establish rules of public order on their territories, which had become unregulated with the expiration of the old Administrative Code on 1 September. The bill also increased the maximum value of monetary punishments for corporations from the present 25 million kroons to 250 million kroons.
* The rating agency Fitch announced on 17 September it would keep unchanged the ratings it had assigned to Estonia in August 2001: long-term foreign-currency rating at A-, local-currency rating at A+, and short-term foreign-currency rating at F1, ETA reported. Fitch said the ratings were supported by Estonia's progress with structural reforms, prudent fiscal policies, and relatively low government and private-sector debt ratios. It noted, however, that Estonia still needs to complete the structural reforms necessary for EU membership, and that it maintains overly large current-account and trade deficits.
* Estonia's new ambassador to Italy, Juri Seilenthal, presented his credentials to Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi on 13 September, BNS reported. He took over the post from Jaak Joeruut, who had served as ambassador since 1998.
LATVIALATVIA REJECTS RUSSIAN NATO NUKE FEARS.
Latvian Prime Minister Indulis Berzins and Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis strongly rejected a claim by an unidentified official from the Russian Defense Ministry that the Baltic states were offering their territory for the deployment of NATO nuclear weapons, BNS reported on 16 September. Berzins said, "It is a provocation, an intentional wish to influence the pre-election situation [in Latvia], to create fear and panic among people." Kristovskis maintained that such an action had never even been discussed.
MEDICAL WORKERS HOLD ANOTHER STRIKE.
Dissatisfied with the results of its strikes in June and July (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 21 June and 19 July 2002), the Latvian Health- and Social-Care Employees Union conducted another one-day strike on 18 September, LETA reported. As part of the strike, 7,000 people, the majority of whom were medical workers, marched from the union's headquarters to a rally on Riga's Esplanade. A resolution was adopted calling for the government to designate health care a priority and to raise salaries for medical workers to 140 lats ($230) per month from the current 100 lats. After their regular weekly meeting that day, President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Prime Minister Berzins said that the salaries of physicians and nurses would be raised in the near future.
CONFERENCE ADDRESSES FUTURE OF RUSSIAN-LANGUAGE EDUCATION.
Some 1,000 delegates attended the To Learn in the Native Language conference at the Riga Congress Center on 14 September, LETA reported. In opening the conference, Russian-Language School Support Association Chairman Igors Pimenovs said that his group had developed a detailed curriculum for the approximately 120,000 students still attending Russian-language schools in Latvia, which was rejected by the Latvian Education and Science Ministry. The association has also sent letters to all political parties participating in the parliamentary elections on 5 October, demanding that the education law be amended by removing stipulations that classes be conducted in Latvian only. That law is to go into effect in 2004.
PARLIAMENT REJECTS PROPOSED ANTICORRUPTION CHIEF.
By a vote of five for and 45 against, with 46 abstentions, the parliament on 19 September rejected the candidacy of lawyer Janis Jonass as the head of the new Office for Prevention and Abatement of Corruption, LETA reported. The post was to have been filled by 1 August, but the parliament had rejected two other candidates for the job. Jonass was selected from among 13 candidates by a special government selection committee in August and approved by the cabinet on 3 September. However, he failed to receive support from either the full parliament, the parliament's Defense and Internal Affairs Commission, or the State Administration and Local Government Commission. It is unclear whether the current parliament will be able to reach agreement on an anticorruption chief, as parliamentary elections are to be held on 5 October.
ARMENIA WANTS LATVIA'S ADVICE ON EU MEMBERSHIP.
Armenian National Assembly Chairman Armen Khachatrian met with the Latvian delegation to the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe on 17 September and expressed interest in learning from Latvia's experience in seeking membership in the European Union, LETA reported. He agreed with Education and Science Minister Karlis Greiskalns that the two countries should draft and sign an agreement on cooperation in culture, education, and science. During a later meeting, he invited President Vike-Freiberga to visit Armenia. Khachatrian began his four-day official visit to Latvia on 16 September with talks on bilateral relations with Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins, who stressed the need to strengthen economic ties.
* Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins attended the World Economic Forum in Salzburg on 16 and 17 September, where he held various meetings and delivered a speech during the Transatlantic Relations discussion panel, LETA reported. Berzins agreed with Russian Federation Council International Affairs Committee Chairman Mikhail Margelov that EU enlargement would help the development of Russia's economy, while EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen expressed understanding about Latvia's stance concerning agricultural issues in the EU accession negotiations. In talks with Danish Immigration and European Affairs Minister Bertel Haarder, Berzins talked about the situation in Latvia's rural districts, as well as domestic support in Latvia for EU membership.
* During a visit to Latvia on 17-18 September, Danish Defense Minister Jensby and a delegation of parliamentary deputies headed by Defense Committee Chairman Helge Adam Moeller held talks on military and defense cooperation with Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis and the Latvian parliament's Defense and Internal Affairs Committee, LETA reported. The Danish delegation also visited Latvia's defense academy, the Adazi motorized-infantry training center, the first infantry battalion, and the BALTNET surveillance center at the Riga airport.
* Finnish Army commander Admiral Juhan Kaskeala held talks about Latvia's defense development and European security on 19 September with President Vike-Freiberga, National Armed Forces commander Colonel Raimonds Graube, and parliamentary Defense and Internal Affairs Committee Chairman Dzintars Kudums, BNS reported. The next day, he visited the Adazi motorized-infantry training center, an infantry battalion, the headquarters of the Baltic peacekeeping battalion (BALTBAT), and the Latvian National Defense Academy.
* The president of the U.S.-based organization Jewish Survivors of Latvia, Steven Springfield, sent a letter to the ambassadors of all 19 NATO member countries expressing support for Latvia's membership in NATO, BNS reported on 18 September. The letter stated that the Latvian government and President Vike-Freiberga were fully cooperating with Latvia's Jewish community to help Latvia develop into a hospitable place for Jewish people and that the Latvian government was making efforts to look openly at developments in Latvia during the Holocaust.
* Interior Minister Mareks Seglins flew to Helsinki on 13 September to attend the seventh international conference called Migrants in Our Societies: Policy Choices in the XXI Century, BNS reported. The conference, attended by representatives from European countries, the Council of Europe, the International Organization for Migration, and other international institutions, discussed migration management and integration policies, as well as methods to control illegal migration and to fight against human trafficking.
* After returning from a meeting of World Bank Nordic and Baltic groups in Helsinki on 17 September, Andris Kuznieks, director of the structural instrument department of the Finance Ministry, said that Latvia would probably continue to receive World Bank loans even after joining the EU, LETA reported on 19 September. The loans would continue to be granted until Latvia achieves a sufficiently high per capita GDP level.
* The National Statistics Office announced on 16 September that the gross domestic product in the second quarter of 2002 was 1.26 billion lats ($2.1 billion), representing an increase of 4.9 percent over the same period in 2001, BNS reported. First-quarter 2002 GDP also rose by 3.9 percent to 1.18 billion lats, resulting in a 4.4 percent GDP increase for the first half of the year. The sectors with the largest increases in this period were trade (9.2 percent), construction (6.9 percent), and manufacturing (.5.4 percent).
* During the local presentation of the UN's World Investment Report in Riga on 17 September, Bank of Latvia official Martins Bitans said the volume of direct foreign investment in Latvia in the first six months of the year was almost 200 million lats ($330 million), or 7 percent of the country's gross domestic product, BNS reported. He noted that foreign investment played a major role in building up the level of capital in the country. Last year, 22 percent of all foreign investment went into the trade sector, with 20 percent going into real estate and another 17 percent into financial intermediation.
LITHUANIAYUKOS AND WILLIAMS CLOSE MAZEIKIAI OIL DEAL.
Williams International Managing Director Randy Majors and Yukos Vice President Mikhail Brudno signed an agreement in Vilnius on 19 September finalizing the sale of Williams' 26.85 percent stake in Mazeikiai Oil to Yukos for $85 million, ELTA reported. Yukos also paid Williams $75 million in order to assume a loan the latter gave Mazeikiai. Yukos now has a 53.7 percent stake in the company, while Lithuania controls 40.66 percent, and various minor shareholders own a total of 5.64 percent. Mazeikiai Oil shareholders are expected to appoint a new nine-member supervisory board on 21 September, raising the number of Yukos representatives from three to six.
VISA-FREE TRAINS THROUGH LITHUANIA POSSIBLE ONLY AFTER EU ENTRY.
Commenting on the communique issued on 18 September by the European Commission outlining possible solutions for travel between Kaliningrad Oblast and the rest of Russia, Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis said the next day that his country would consider Russia's proposal to allow special visa-free express trains to transit Lithuania only after receiving guarantees from the European Union that the scheme would not impede Lithuania's efforts to join the Schengen agreement, BNS and ELTA reported. Valionis also noted that European Commission President Romano Prodi had affirmed that such visa-free travel would be possible only after Lithuania joins the EU, which would take place no earlier than in 2004. Thus, Valionis said Lithuania would abide by its commitment to end the current system of visa-free travel between Kaliningrad and Russia as of 1 January 2003. Valionis also mentioned that the high-speed-train option could only be implemented after technical improvements to the rail line costing more than $100 million.
LITHUANIA REAFFIRMS WILLINGNESS TO ACCEDE TO CFE.
Responding to comments made by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Ivanov in Washington on 18 September (see item in Regional section above and "RFE/RL Newsline," 19 September 2002), Lithuanian Foreign Ministry Secretary Giedrius Cekuolis told BNS on 20 September that President Valdas Adamkus told the United Nations that his country will join the revised Treaty on Conventional Forces in Europe (CFE) when it becomes feasible to do so, which will only be after all 30 current signatories have ratified it. Only two of the signatories have done so thus far. Russian officials warned in July that Moscow might not ratify the CFE unless the Baltic states accede to it (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 9 and 29 July 2002).
RUSSIA'S KALININGRAD ENVOY MEETS WITH ADAMKUS.
Russian President Vladimir Putin's special envoy for Kaliningrad, Dmitrii Rogozin, held talks with President Adamkus during a brief visit to Vilnius on 16 September, BNS reported. Rogozin said the two sides agreed to work together to resolve the issue of travel between the Kaliningrad Oblast exclave and the rest of Russia, saying that Lithuania will seek the most flexible solution within the boundaries of the Schengen agreement, while Russia will observe Lithuanian commitments to the European Union.
NEW LAW ALLOWS FOR DUAL CITIZENSHIP.
The parliament approved a new citizenship law on 17 September that will allow its nationals to retain Lithuanian citizenship even after acquiring the citizenship of another country, ELTA reported. Under the previous law, Lithuanian citizens were automatically stripped of their citizenship when they became citizens of another country. The new law was proposed by the Liberal Union but also received support from the ruling coalition. The main motivation for the change is the emigration, mainly to the United States, over the last 10 years of some 200,000 Lithuanians. Liberal Union Chairman Eugenijus Gentvilas said, "By depriving these people of citizenship we practically prevent them from ever returning to Lithuania." The parliament also rejected a popular initiative, supported by 50,000 signatures, calling for a reduction of the pension age to 55 years for women and 60 years for men. Under current law, women are eligible for retirement at age 60 and men at 62 1/2 years of age.
PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN TO RUN FOR PRESIDENT AGAIN.
At the meeting of the council of the New Union (Social Liberals) in Palanga on 15 September, parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas expressed his desire to run for president again, and the council voted unanimously to support his candidacy, ELTA reported the next day. He said that his candidacy would strengthen the party and have a positive effect on its success in the local elections, which will be held simultaneously with the presidential elections on 22 December. Paulauskas noted that it would have been better had the ruling coalition backed a single candidate, but the Social Democrats last week nominated their deputy chairman, Vytenis Andriukaitis. Although 16 people have announced their intention to run for president, opinion polls indicate that Paulauskas and incumbent Valdas Adamkus have the best chance of competing in the runoff elections in January, as they did in the previous elections in 1998.
NORWAY TO DONATE AIR-DEFENSE SYSTEM.
Defense Minister Kristin Krohn Devold told his Lithuanian counterpart Linas Linkevicius in Oslo on 19 September that Norway will give Lithuania a RBS 70 antiaircraft defense system to strengthen its ability to protect strategic facilities, ELTA reported. Norway will also provide training for Lithuanian personnel and send a consignment of spare parts for the defense system. Devold also made a commitment to expand the capabilities of the BALTNET air-surveillance network. The two countries signed a defense-cooperation agreement in 1995 under which Norway last year gave the Lithuanian Navy two patrol boats and supported the BALTRON (naval squadron), as well as other joint Baltic defense programs.
SWEDISH QUEEN SPEAKS AT AIDS CONFERENCE IN VILNIUS.
Queen Silvia flew to Vilnius on 20 September to serve as the guest of honor at the fourth European AIDS Conference, which addressed a European approach toward AIDS in terms of research, policy, prevention, and care, ELTA reported. The three-day conference had 260 representatives from 38 countries. During her keynote speech, Queen Silvia said, "Poverty, ignorance, unemployment, and desperation are reasons why HIV is spreading so rapidly." Together with President Adamkus, she later opened the Lithuanian center of the Save the Children organization. The center, financed in part by the World Childhood Foundation that she founded, will primarily work with children who do not attend school for a variety of reasons. The queen also visited the Take Care of Children children's home and Lukiskes Prison.
* Chairman of the Polish Sejm Marek Borowski began a three-day visit to Lithuania on 18 September for talks with his Lithuanian counterpart Arturas Paulauskas, ELTA reported. They agreed that Russian demands for visa-free travel to Kaliningrad Oblast should not become a stumbling block for their countries' accession to the EU and the Schengen treaty. In a speech to the parliament the next day, Borowski said that he was satisfied with the good mutual relations and with the status of Poles in Lithuania, and he pledged continued assistance on the road to NATO. Borowski also met with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis. President Adamkus told Borowski on 20 September that a project for joint control of the Lithuanian-Polish border should be implemented more quickly, as the lines of cars waiting on the border were too long.
* Danish Defense Minister Jensby and a delegation of parliamentary deputies headed by Defense Committee Chairman Moeller began a tour of the Baltic states in Vilnius on 15 September, ELTA reported. The group met on 16 September with parliament Chairman Paulauskas, members of the parliament's Defense Committee, and Defense Minister Linkevicius. Linkevicius expressed his thanks for Denmark's donation to fully outfit an artillery battalion based at Rukla with equipment and weapons, while the Danish officials expressed their conviction that the Baltic states should become members of NATO.
* Ambassador to France Asta Skaisgiryte-Liauskiene presented an official application to join the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) to its secretary-general, Donald Johnston, in Paris on 13 September, BNS reported. Johnston noted that this was the first membership request by one of the Baltic countries and expressed the hope that this step will encourage active discussions on OECD enlargement.
* The mayors of Klaipeda and Szczecin, Rimantas Taraskevicius and Edmund Runowicz, respectively, signed a cooperation agreement at the Klaipeda City Hall on 13 September, BNS reported. The agreement provides for exchanges of port experience, cooperation by small and medium-sized enterprises, youth-group exchanges, and art exhibitions, as well as cooperation between the cities' maritime museums.
* Responding to an appeal by the Georgian parliament, Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) Chairman Vytautas Landsbergis submitted a draft resolution on 13 September that calls on Russia "to choose a path of civilized dialogue and cooperation" in its relations with Georgia, BNS reported. The resolution compares Russian President Putin's recent threat against Georgia for not preventing "bandit" attacks with Stalin's ultimatums to the Baltic states in June 1940.
* The parliament approved on 19 September a resolution to send four Lithuanian military physicians to serve with the UN-led peacekeeping mission in Afghanistan, BNS reported. The medics underwent three months of training in the Czech Republic and will serve with a Czech field hospital.
* After a meeting with President Adamkus on 18 September, Agriculture Minister Jeronimas Kraujelis told reporters that the government intends to provide 40 million litas ($11.4 million) to farmers as compensation for losses suffered due to the summer drought, BNS reported. Two days later, Liberal Union Chairman Eugenijus Gentvilas declared that the pledged compensation did not cover the true losses and recommended that local governments exempt drought-stricken farmers from paying land taxes this year, ELTA reported.
* Heeding the call of Lithuanian political-prisoner and deportee organizations, some 500 people marched to Independence Square in front of the parliament building in Vilnius on 19 September to protest the sell-off of domestic energy companies to Russia, ELTA reported. Conservative deputy Rasa Rastauskiene regretted that Prime Minister Brazauskas was increasingly becoming "a political tool of Russia."
* The Lithuanian Conference of Bishops met in Kaunas on 20 September and elected Archbishop of Vilnius Cardinal Audrys Juozas Backis as its new chairman, ELTA reported. Archbishop of Kaunas Sigitas Tamkevicius had held the post for the last three years, but Backis had held the post from 1993 to 1999.