21 October 2002, Volume 3, Number 35
NOTE TO READERS:
This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 5 to 11 October 2002.
REGIONALEUROPEAN COMMISSION RECOMMENDS BALTIC STATES FOR 2004 EU ADMISSION.
EU Enlargement Commissioner Gunter Verheugen presented to the European Parliament on 9 October a European Commission report recommending that 10 candidate countries, including the three Baltic states, be admitted to the European Union in 2004, BNS reported. It calls for the completion of membership talks with those 10 states prior to the EU Copenhagen summit on 12-13 December. While praising the progress of the Baltic states, the report also pointed out areas where they could improve. Fisheries and customs were mentioned as the most problematic areas for Estonia, along with the high rate of unemployment and large current-accounts deficit. The commission urged Latvia to intensify its fight against corruption, strengthen its administration, accelerate integration of its Russian minority, introduce a uniform payment system for the civil service, reduce backlogs on court cases, and improve food-safety supervision. The report recommended that Lithuania should overhaul its judicial system by "improving professional capacity of judges and prosecutors" and take measures to reduce unemployment, complete pension reform, strengthen the public procurement office, and ensure better data protection.
U.S. CONGRESS BACKS NATO MEMBERSHIP OF BALTIC STATES.
The House of Representatives passed two resolutions on 7 October supporting the admission of the three Baltic states to NATO during the Prague summit in November, LETA reported the next day. The first, submitted by Elton Gallegly (Republican, California) and calling for the admission of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Bulgaria, Romania, Slovakia, and Slovenia, was passed by a vote of 358 to nine. The second resolution, initially introduced by John Shimkus (Republican, Illinois) in April 2001 expressed support for the integration of the three Baltic states into NATO. It was passed by a voice vote, indicating unanimous consent in Congress.
* Accepting the invitation extended by Rainer Ohlsen of the German Federal Border Guards' North Presidium during his trip to the Baltic states in June, his Baltic counterparts, Harry Hein (Estonia), Gunars Dabilons (Latvia), and Algimantas Songaila (Lithuania), traveled to Germany to become better acquainted with the work of the German border-protection system, BNS reported. On 9 October, they visited the Polemen border post on the German-Polish border and inspected the German-Polish maritime border from a helicopter. The next day, they inspected the work of the Padborg checkpoint on the German-Danish border and also became familiar with the checking procedures for ferries and cruise ships.
ESTONIAAMENDMENTS TO CONSTITUTION PROPOSED.
Toomas Varek, chairman of the Center Party faction in parliament, presented on 7 October two bills that would require amending the constitution, BNS reported. The first, signed by 39 deputies from different parliamentary factions, calls for the direct election of the president but would diminish the power of that office. Presidential candidates, who would have to be Estonian citizens by birth and at least 40 years old, could be nominated by political parties or by gathering signatures of 10,000 eligible voters. The bill would abolish the president's position as commander in chief of the armed forces, as well as presidential power to declare martial law or mobilization in the event of aggression against Estonia. The president would also lose the right to nominate a candidate for the commander of the defense forces. The second bill, initiated by 41 deputies, proposes extending the terms of local councils from three to four years. It would go into effect only after October 2005. Thus, parliamentary elections would be held in 2003, 2007, and so on, while local elections would be held 2005 and every four years thereafter.
TRADE UNIONS BREAK OFF DIALOGUE WITH GOVERNMENT.
Central Association of Estonian Trade Unions (EAKL) Chairwoman Kadi Parnits announced on 8 October that the trade unions have severed their social dialogue with the government, claiming that the government has failed to fulfill its obligations set in a trilateral agreement with the trade unions and employers' organizations, ETA reported. She noted that Social Affairs Minister Siiri Oviir did not attend a scheduled meeting earlier that day with the EAKL and leaders of the White-Collar Trade Unions Organization (TALO). Parnits mentioned as specific failings the government's announcement that it will not raise the minimum tax-free income to 1,400 kroons ($87.50) next year or increase unemployment benefits to the minimum prescribed by the International Labor Organization. On 10 October, the two trade unions sent an ultimatum to Prime Minister Siim Kallas to reply by 16 October on whether the government will raise the minimum tax-free income to 1,400 kroons and the unemployment benefits to 700 kroons per month, BNS reported.
FOREIGN MINISTER DISCUSSES EU ISSUES WITH FRENCH OFFICIAL.
In Paris on 8 October, Kristiina Ojuland told French Senate Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Chairman Andre Dulait that Estonia supports the further development of European security and defense policies and military capabilities of the European Union, BNS reported. In a review of ongoing EU membership negotiations, she paid particular attention to the unfinished chapters on agriculture and finance and budgetary provisions. In meetings the previous day with her French counterpart Dominique de Villepin; the president of the Senate's EU delegation, Hubert Haenel; and the president of the National Assembly EU delegation, Pierre Lequillier, Ojuland stressed that large and small countries must have equal opportunities in the EU and that candidate states should be allowed to participate in the European Convention and in debates on the future of Europe. In talks with Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) Deputy Secretary-General Seichi Kondo, she expressed Estonia's wish to join the organization and emphasized the need to continue the current cooperation with OECD committees and other working groups.
DEFENSE MINISTER HOLDS TALKS IN LONDON.
Sven Mikser made a two-day trip to London on 9-10 October, BNS reported. On the first day, he spoke on Estonia's view of recent developments in the European Union and NATO at a roundtable discussion chaired by General Sir Harry Johnson at the Royal United Services Institute of Defence Studies. Mikser also met with Bruce George, chairman of the House of Commons Defence Committee. On 10 October, Mikser discussed with British Defence Secretary Geoffrey Hoon NATO enlargement, bilateral Estonian-British defense cooperation, Baltic cooperation projects, the international fight against terrorism, and the global security situation.
FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS PRAGUE.
Visiting Estonian Foreign Minister Ojuland and Czech Senate Chairman Petr Pithart said on 9 October that both countries want Euro-Atlantic solidarity to be safeguarded within NATO and the EU, CTK reported. Historical experience, Pithart said, warns "against the risks of separating Europe and America." Postcommunist countries remember something "that West Europeans seem to have forgotten" when it comes to solidarity with the United States, Pithart said in an apparent reference to disagreements over U.S. policies toward Iraq. The two politicians discussed bilateral relations and NATO enlargement. Ojuland also met with her Czech counterpart Cyril Svoboda, who assured her of Czech support for Estonia's drive to gain NATO and EU membership. Ojuland spoke at RFE/RL headquarters in Prague about her country's quest for NATO membership.
NATO LOGISTICS EXERCISE BEGINS.
The NATO logistics exercise Cooperative Support 2002 was opened in Tallinn on 9 October with 150 officers from 26 NATO and Partnership for Peace countries in attendance, BNS reported. This is the largest number of participating countries in any international exercise held in Estonia since the restoration of independence. The aim of the exercise, which was mainly organized by NATO Regional Headquarters Allied Forces-South Atlantic in Portugal, is to introduce to alliance and partner countries' officers NATO's logistics doctrine, policy, and procedures that could be used in multinational operations. The exercise will last until 16 October.
ESTONIA'S RUSSIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH MAINTAINS DEMAND FOR LEGAL SUCCESSION.
Metropolitan Cornelius, head of the Estonian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate, said on 4 October that his church is not abandoning its demand to be recognized as the legal successor to the Orthodox Church that existed in Estonia before World War II, BNS reported. He expressed satisfaction, however, with the government's official handover that day of 18 churches and congregational buildings to be used for 50 years for a symbolic rent of 1 kroon per month. The Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church, which Estonia has recognized as the legal successor, is subordinate to the Constantinople Patriarchate. It ceded to the government the de facto use of the 18 buildings in exchange for government aid of 35.5 million kroons ($2.2 million) to renovate 28 of its churches.
* A delegation of U.S. NATO officials headed by U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns completed a tour of NATO candidate countries on 11 October in Estonia, ETA reported. Burns told Prime Minister Kallas that while the two countries are partners now, they are about to become allies after the NATO Prague summit in November. Defense Minister Mikser and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy Ian Brzezinski signed agreements on preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and on developing defense relations.
* During a one-day visit to Estonia on 7 October, British Transport Minister David Jamieson advised Economy, Transport, and Communications Minister Liina Tonisson to look at his country's experience of using private capital in road construction, ETA reported. The proposed permanent connection of the island of Saaremaa to the mainland either by bridge or tunnel is the most likely project where this could be applied. The ministers discussed marine safety, railway privatization, and cooperation in environmental-protection issues. Jamieson also visited Estonian Railways and the Port of Tallinn.
* On the invitation of President Arnold Ruutel, the head of the World Scout Committee, Marie-Louise Correa of Senegal, arrived in Estonia for a four-day visit on 6 October, BNS reported. The next day she spoke at a conference marking the 90th anniversary of the Estonian scouting movement. On 8 October, she met with Ruutel and had separate meetings with Education and Social Affairs Ministers Mailis Rand and Siiri Oviir, as well as lunch in her honor hosted by parliament Deputy Chairman Peeter Kreitzberg.
* A delegation from the Cuban National Assembly headed by Jaime Alberto Crombet Hernandez Baquero held talks on 7 October with parliament Deputy Chairman Kreitzberg, BNS reported. It also met with parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee and Estonian diplomats. The aim of the regional visit is to develop political and economic contacts with Estonia and the Nordic states.
* During a visit to Helsinki on 10-11 October, Interior Minister Ain Seppik discussed with his Finnish counterpart Ville Itala the need for greater cooperation between their ministries, BNS reported. They also talked about cooperation in crime prevention, air and sea rescue, the thwarting of organized and drug-related crime, and the continuation of training of police officers, police dogs, and their handlers. Seppik called for greater cooperation with the police in St. Petersburg and Pskov, Russia. Noting that many Finnish criminal rings use contacts formed in prisons where Estonian, Finnish, and Russian felons become acquainted, Itala suggested that the transfer of Estonian convicts to their native country should be speeded up.
* President Ruutel and German Ambassador Wolfhart von Stackelberg opened Estonia�s first wind farm with three windmills in Virtsu on 11 October, ETA reported. The construction cost 36 million kroons ($2.25 million), of which 14.5 million kroons was donated by Germany. Two of the windmills are owned by local firm Roheline Ring (Green Ring) and one by Eesti Energia. The energy output of each windmill is 0.6 megawatts, and together with other windmills in Hiiumaa and Saaremaa will provide 0.3 percent of Estonia's electrical energy.
* The Migration and Citizenship Board is sending out letters to about 1,000 people, informing them that they were issued passports by mistake and actually do not hold Estonian citizenship, BNS reported on 11 October. The board has been conducting a check since 2000, which has established that in the early 1990s, a large number of passports was issued on the basis of defective documents or unchecked data. The board will not use its right to invalidate the mistakenly issued passports immediately but will not issue new passports upon their expiration. It also suggested that their holders seek naturalization under a simplified procedure.
* The board of the parliament decided on 8 October to abolish from 1 November the 80-kroon ($5) daily allowance given to the 42 parliamentary deputies who come to Tallinn from other regions for each of the 12 days per month when the parliament has a session, ETA reported. It also will pay only one month of hotel accommodations (up to 9,000 kroons) for such deputies until they can find an apartment to rent. The board did not abolish the frequently criticized monthly compensation of 5,000 kroons for renting apartments given to these deputies.
* By a vote of 42 to zero, the parliament officially dismissed Juhan Parts as the state auditor on 8 October, BNS reported. Parts filed a resignation application on 8 August, but before the parliament approved it, he was elected chairman of the Res Publica party on 24 August, violating the requirement that the auditor have no party affiliation. It is not clear whom President Ruutel will appoint as a replacement because of disagreement in the ruling coalition. The Center Party has suggested parliamentary deputy Olev Raju and the Reform Party has proposed fellow deputy Ignar Fjuk.
* By a vote of 53 to one, the parliament adopted a law on 9 October providing for the merger of the Ministry of Economy with the Ministry of Transport and Communications into a new entity to be called the Ministry of Economy and Communications from 1 November, BNS reported. It is expected that about 30 of the 200 people in the two ministries will lose their jobs and there will be savings of about 2 million kroons ($125,000) per year.
* The Statistics Office announced on 7 October that the consumer price index in September was 0.1 percent higher than in August and 2.7 percent higher than in September 2001, ETA reported. In September, the price of foodstuffs decreased by 0.4 percent but those of manufactured goods rose by 0.1 percent and of services by 0.6 percent.
LATVIAPOLITICAL RIGHT EMERGES STRONG FROM PARLIAMENTARY ELECTIONS...
More than 72 percent of eligible voters, or about 990,000 people, turned out for elections to the Latvian parliament on 5 October and cast their ballots for 20 lists with 1,019 candidates, LETA reported the same day. According to preliminary results from LETA on 6-7 October, six parties cleared the 5 percent threshold for seats in the 100-member parliament: New Era winning 26 seats; For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL), 24; People's Party, 21; the Union of Greens and Farmers (ZZS), 12; Latvia's First Party, 10; and For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, seven seats. All are right-of-center parties except the leftist PCTVL, which also enjoys strong support within the Russian minority. Voters cast 16.07 percent of the ballots for parties that did not gain seats, the news agency reported, including two that were represented in the previous parliament: the right-of-center Latvia's Way (4.88 percent) and the leftist Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party (4.02 percent). New Era Chairman Einars Repse is expected to be asked to form the next government.
...AND POSSIBLE PARLIAMENTARY COALITION TAKES SHAPE.
Repse said at a meeting with members of the Union of Greens and Farmers on 8 October that he is in favor of forming a coalition with the ZZS, Latvia's First Party, and For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK (TB/LNNK), LETA reported. Earlier that day, New Era and Latvia's First Party agreed to form a joint parliamentary bloc and endorsed the priorities for the government set out by New Era but supported the First Party's suggestion that combating drug dealers also be included. The proposed coalition of the four parties would have 55 of the 100 seats in parliament. The coalition would not include the leftist For Human Rights in a United Latvia or the right-of-center People's Party. The next day, Repse met with TB/LNNK officials, who agreed to join the proposed coalition.
NEW ERA PARTY DEMANDS HALF OF MINISTERIAL POSTS.
At a general meeting on 7 October, the New Era Party, which won the most seats in the parliamentary elections on 5 October, decided to seek the posts of prime minister and eight other ministers in its negotiations to form a coalition with other parties, BNS reported. Party Chairman Repse would head the government and likely nominees would include Maris Gulbis for interior minister, Valdis Dombrovskis for finance, Grigorijs Krupnikovs for foreign affairs, Karlis Sadurskis for education and research, Krisjanis Karins for agriculture, and Aivars Aksenoks for transportation minister. No nominees were decided for the health and regional-development ministerial posts.
BOARD OF RIGA FREE PORT UNDERWRITES FERRY LOAN.
After receiving a letter from Transportation Minister Anatolijs Gorbunovs stating that he does not have the authority to decide on the matter, Riga Free Port's board Chairman and Riga mayor, Gundars Bojars, said on 9 October that the board will underwrite a loan of $7.75 million for the joint-stock company Riga Sea Line (Rigas juras linija, RJL) to purchase the "Baltic Kristina" ferry, LETA reported. He thus ignored objections raised the previous day by representatives of the Finance and Economy ministries that the purchase of the ferry to travel between Riga and Stockholm is not economically justifiable. On 11 October, RJL signed a loan agreement with Parex Bank for a 10-year period and completed the purchase of a ferry from Norway's Goliat Shipping.
PARLIAMENT APPOINTS ANTICORRUPTION CHIEF.
By a vote of 65 to one with 18 abstentions, the parliament approved Security Police Deputy Chief Guntis Rutkis as the head of the new Corruption Prevention Bureau on 10 October, LETA reported. The post was to have been filled by 1 August, but the parliament rejected three previously proposed candidates (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 20 September 2002). President Vaira Vike-Freiberga praised the decision, saying, "Latvia cannot afford to wait any longer until an institution coordinating and raising the efficiency of the fight against corruption starts working," BNS reported. The parliament elected on 5 October will hold its first session on 5 November.
* A delegation of U.S. NATO officials headed by U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns held talks with leading Latvian officials in Riga on 10 October, BNS reported. Foreign Ministry State Secretary Maris Riekstins discussed with the delegation the practical tasks on which Latvia should focus, such as developing democracy, fighting corruption, working toward public integration, and furthering economic growth. Burns told Prime Minister Andris Berzins that Latvia was good at doing its "homework," noting in particular the increased defense budget. Burns also assured President Vike-Freiberga that, besides achieving notable progress, "Latvia has also been a good partner to NATO and the U.S."
* Accompanied by representatives from major British railroad companies, British Transport Minister David Jamieson arrived in Riga on 8 October for a one-day visit, LETA reported. He discussed the development of the Latvian railroad with Transport Ministry State Secretary Vigo Legzdins, Riga Mayor Bojars, and Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs. Jamieson also participated in a seminar on the development of the railroad, pointing out that his country had problems in privatizing its railroads because the government did not know the purpose of the privatization process.
* Culture Minister Karina Petersone and the chairman of the U.S. Commission for Preservation of America's Heritage Abroad, Warren Miller, signed on 7 October an intergovernmental agreement on the protection and preservation of objects of cultural heritage, BNS reported the next day. Petersone noted that the agreement will allow Latvia to note burial sites of outstanding cultural, science, and political figures of Latvian origin in the United States, as well as to gain access to U.S. archival documents about their activities.
* Defense Ministry State Secretary Edgars Rinkevics met with Czech Deputy Defense Minister Stefan Fule in Prague on 10 October and discussed the experience of the Czech Republic in integrating into NATO, LETA reported the next day. Fule said the Czech Republic could cooperate with Latvia in staff training and developing a supply policy. Rinkevics also visited the Prague Summit Coordination Center where he thanked its head, Deputy Foreign Minister Alexander Vondra, for support in arranging an exhibition about Latvia at Prague's National Museum as part of the NATO summit's culture program. He also met with Czech parliament Defense and Security Committee Chairman Jan Vidim whom he informed about the latest developments in Latvia's defense system.
* Economy Minister Aigars Kalvitis issued a license on 8 October allowing the Norwegian-U.S. company TGS Nopec to deal with oil exploration in Latvia's territorial waters in the Baltic Sea, BNS reported. The license, which cost 2,000 lats ($3,200), is for two years, but the ministry can extend it up to a period of five years. It provides the right for oil exploration but, being a nonexclusive license, does not provide the right to extract oil.
* TB/LNNK Chairman Maris Grinblats informed the party's board on 10 October that he was resigning because the results of the parliamentary elections had been so poor, BNS reported the next day. The party won only seven seats while it had won 17 in the previous elections in 1998. The board decided Grinblats should remain as chairman at least until the party meeting scheduled for 2 November. He said that the new chairman should be a member of parliament or a minister in the next government.
* The board of the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation (LHF) on 11 October authorized its president, Kirovs Lipmans, to sign a contract on construction of an ice-hockey arena for the 2006 World Ice Hockey Championship in Riga with the firms Metala buvju sistemas Ltd. and Multihalle Ltd., LETA reported. Earlier in the week, International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) Secretary-General Jan-Ake Edvinsson warned the LHF that if construction is not begun before the next IIHF congress in June 2003, another country would be asked to host the championship.
* The government approved on 8 October amendments to the 2002 budget that increase expenditures by 8 million lats ($12.8 million) to 1.68 billion lats and foresee revenues falling 14.5 million lats to 1.52 billion lats, BNS reported. It will provide 5.92 million lats for drought damages to cattle farmers and 1.7 million lats for pay raises for medical workers. The amendments were quickly sent to the parliament for approval so that they could be passed before the new parliament takes over on 5 November. Finance Minister Gundars Berzins said that the deficit situation was better than expected earlier, and it should remain below the 1.8 percent of GDP specified in an agreement with the International Monetary Fund.
* In the first nine months of the year, the port of Liepaja handled 3.03 million tons of cargo, or 25.7 percent more than in the same period last year, LETA reported on 9 October. The port of Riga increased its cargo turnover by 16.8 percent to 13.16 million tons, while the cargo of the largest port, Ventspils, declined by 2.3 percent.
* The Central Statistics Bureau announced on 8 October that in September, the consumer price index increased by 0.8 percent compared to August and by 1 percent compared to September 2001, LETA reported. The price of goods rose by 0.9 percent and those of services by 0.2 percent.
* The National Employment Service announced on 11 October that there were 92,063 people registered as unemployed on 1 October, or about 2,050 fewer than a month before, BNS reported. The official unemployment rate fell from 7.9 percent to 7.8 percent of the economically active population.
LITHUANIAPRESIDENT MAKES FOUR-DAY WORKING VISIT TO GERMANY.
Valdas Adamkus began a four-day working visit to Germany on 8 October, meeting with Peter Moller, the president of the Hessen State Parliament, ELTA reported. They discussed bilateral economic relations, as well as Lithuania-Hessen cooperation in culture, education, and science. Adamkus later spoke at the opening of the International Book Fair in Frankfurt, which Lithuania is attending as the guest of honor, making it the smallest country to have received this distinction. He said the Lithuanian exposition named "Lithuania: The Story Continues" will provide an opportunity for Germany to become better acquainted with Lithuania's culture and literature. The Lithuanian exposition features a varied program with readings by authors, discussions on cultural and political issues, and concerts. On 9 October, Adamkus held talks in Stuttgart with the president of the Baden-Wuerttemberg parliament, Peter Strobe. He had a working breakfast the next day with Brandenburg State Premier Mathias Platzek in Potsdam and later traveled to Berlin to participate in the opening of new facilities for the Lithuanian Embassy. In a speech at the German Foreign Policy Association, he suggested that Lithuania could be admitted to the Schengen visa-free space prior to its accession to the EU. On 10 October, Adamkus discussed with German President Johannes Rau his country's preparations to join NATO and the EU and its successful participation at the Frankfurt Book Fair.
ACCORD ON CURTAILING SPREAD OF WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION SIGNED WITH U.S.
In Vilnius on 10 October, Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius and U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for European and NATO Policy Brzezinski signed a bilateral-cooperation agreement on combating the spread of nuclear, biological, and chemical weapons in the world, ELTA reported. Brzezinski was part of a large delegation of U.S. NATO officials headed by U.S. Ambassador to NATO Nicholas Burns, which is visiting all NATO candidates from 6-11 October. The delegation, which also includes Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Robert Bratke, Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Nordic/Baltic States Heather Conley, and U.S. National Security Council Deputy Director for NATO and West European Affairs Kurt Volker, held talks with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, who informed them of his country's preparation for NATO membership. In talks with parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, Burns expressed his thanks for Lithuania's contribution to the fight against international terrorism.
U.S. UNDERSECRETARY OF COMMERCE UPBEAT ON LITHUANIA.
U.S. Undersecretary of Commerce Grant Aldonas told President Adamkus in Vilnius on 7 October that the United States is currently reviewing Lithuania's status and expects the country to be recognized as having a market economy in the near future, ELTA and AFP reported. The two officials addressed ways to increase bilateral economic cooperation and exchanged opinions on Lithuania's investment climate. Aldonas said the withdrawal of Williams International from Lithuania was not indicative of an unfriendly investment climate in the country but was a consequence of the company's internal financial problems. He also conveyed a message from President George W. Bush saying that the "U.S. attaches a great importance to relations with Lithuania." Aldonas mentioned that he sees significant changes in the country since he last visited Lithuania nine years ago. He met with Economy Minister Petras Cesna and officials from the Lithuanian Development Agency and visited several enterprises in Kaunas during his visit.
SYRIAN PRESIDENT SEES LITHUANIA AS GOOD PARTNER.
Bashar Al-Assad told visiting Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis in Damascus that Lithuania's progress in seeking European Union and NATO membership makes it a more attractive partner, BNS reported on 9 October. The two discussed the need for closer economic ties, which could be facilitated by bilateral treaties on promotion and protection of investments and economic cooperation. Accompanied by a delegation of businesspeople, Valionis is on a tour of three Middle Eastern states that began in Egypt on 5 October and will end in Jordan on 14 October. An important reason for the visit was Valionis's participation on 7 October in the official opening of the Lithuanian Embassy in Cairo, which began operations in December 2001. Valionis held talks after the ceremony with his Egyptian counterpart Ahmed Maheron on promoting tourism and increasing bilateral trade.
CONSERVATIVES TO SUPPORT ADAMKUS FOR PRESIDENT.
A conference of the Homeland Union (Conservatives of Lithuania) in Vilnius on 5 October decided, with no dissenters and just six abstentions, to support the candidacy of incumbent Valdas Adamkus for president, BNS reported. On 3 October, the Central Election Commission accepted the candidacies of 17 people, but each still must gather the signatures of at least 20,000 eligible voters to gain official registration. The Conservatives, as well as the Modern Christian Democrats, are helping to gather signatures for Adamkus. The same day, the second Lithuanian Rightists' Union Congress elected former Interior Minister Vidmantas Ziemelis as the party's new chairman but did not officially support any candidate for president. The New Union (Social Liberals) announced that it has already gathered 27,000 signatures for the presidential candidacy of its leader, parliament Chairman Arturas Paulauskas.
* U.S. Ambassador to Vilnius John F. Tefft personally handed over to former Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas a letter from President Bush on 10 October, ELTA reported. The letter was a reply to a letter from Paksas asking whether the United States and Russia were establishing zones of influence. Bush wrote that his country did not contribute in any way to the decision of Williams International to withdraw from Lithuania and that his administration always backed and promoted investments of U.S. companies abroad, including in Lithuania, which through its reforms had become more attractive to foreign investors. He affirmed that Washington would not trade in the fates of free European citizens, saying that there would be no more "Munichs" or "Yaltas."
* The Central Election Commission on 8 October issued sheets for collecting signatures to hold a referendum on the country's goal to join NATO, BNS reported. A 17-member initiative group, which includes three parliamentary deputies who are against NATO membership for Lithuania -- Rolandas Pavilionis, Egidijus Klumbys, and Ramunas Karbauskis -- plans to collect at least 300,000 signatures of eligible voters by 8 January 2003 so that a referendum with the question "Do you approve of Lithuania's accession into NATO?" will be held.
* At the Fifth Baltic Economic Forum in Gdansk, Foreign Ministry Secretary Evaldas Ignatavicius delivered a report titled "EU Enlargement Gives Chance to the Baltic Sea Region" on 7 October, ELTA reported. He also discussed bilateral issues with Polish Foreign Ministry Undersecretary Andrzej Byrt. Finance Ministry Secretary Asta Ungulaitiene told the forum that Lithuania had decided that it would spend the 1.5 billion euros ($1.46 billion) of support it will receive from the EU in its first three years of membership for agricultural production, industry and business, tourism, scientific research, and know-how development.
* Commander of the Finnish armed forces Admiral Juhani Kaskeala began a two-day visit to Lithuania on 8 October with brief talks at Vilnius Airport with President Adamkus, who was flying to Germany, ELTA reported. He later held talks with Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius, armed forces commander Major General Jonas Kronkaitis, and parliament National Security Committee Chairman Alvydas Sadeckas. The next day, Kaskeala visited the Regional Air Surveillance and Control Center in Karmelava and the army training grounds in Rukla and gave a lecture at the Jonas Zemaitis Military Academy.
* A delegation from the German Foreign and Defense ministries, headed by Foreign Ministry Special Ambassador Norbert Baas, met with Lithuanian Foreign Ministry Secretary Giedrius Cekuolis, Defense Ministry Secretary Povilas Malakauskas, and parliament NATO Affairs Commission Chairman Vaclavas Stankevicius on 9 October, BNS reported. Baas, who is preparing a report to the German government on the membership readiness of NATO candidates, stated that Lithuania had made "enormous progress" in meeting NATO requirements and would certainly receive an invitation to join NATO.
* The parliament passed on 10 October the revised National Energy Strategy, which confirms that the first reactor of the Ignalina nuclear-power plant should be closed by 2005 and the second reactor by 2009, BNS reported. The strategy, however, was supplemented with an amendment proposed by presidential candidate Kazimiera Prunskiene and Social Democrat Vytautas Einoris and backed by a vote of 53 to 26 with nine abstentions that stipulates that if the EU and other donors do not supply the financial assistance needed to close the plant's operations, it should continue its operations as long as it is safe. Chief negotiator with the EU Petras Austrevicius condemned the amendment, saying that it would have a negative reaction from the European Commission and would violate the plant-closure agreement in which the EU had pledged to find adequate funds for its decommissioning.
* By a vote of 42 to eight with 15 abstentions, the parliament passed a bill listing enterprises and facilities of strategic importance to national security on 10 October, BNS reported. The bill contained three lists of companies. The first was that of 10 enterprises, including the Ignalina nuclear-power plant; the Lithuanian Post Office; the airports in Vilnius, Kaunas, and Palanga; and the Klaipeda State Seaport Authority, which were deemed to be too important to be sold into private hands. The second list was of eight enterprises, including Lithuanian Railways, the Lithuanian Radio and Television Center, the power transmission company Lithuanian Energy, and the airport in Siauliai, in which the state must retain a majority interest. The third list was of strategic companies on which no ownership restrictions were imposed. These include Mazeikiai Oil, Lithuanian Telecom, the natural-gas utility Lithuanian Gas, the Lithuanian power plant at Elektrenai, and the operators of the electricity distribution network.
* In the first nine months of this year, the oil refinery in Mazeikiai processed 4.73 million tons of crude oil, or 6.8 percent less than in the same period last year, BNS reported on 9 October. The Butinge oil terminal handled 3.85 million tons of oil, a 7.3 percent decline from 2001. The flow of oil through the Birzai pipeline in the nine months amounted to 17.99 million tons, or 21.7 percent less.
* Finance Minister Dalia Grybauskaite presented the government's draft national budget to the parliament on 10 October, BNS reported. It foresees revenues increasing by 5.2 percent over this year to 10.98 billion litas ($3.14 billion) and expenditures of 12.28 billion litas, resulting in a deficit of 1.3 billion litas. The budget is based on the projections that the country's GDP will grow by 4.9 percent next year and total 53.76 billion litas.
* The Statistics Department announced on 8 October that in September the consumer price index fell by 0.6 percent compared to August and by 1.5 percent compared to September 2001, BNS reported. This was the eighth straight month in which the CPI did not increase.
* The Senate of the University of Vilnius in a secret ballot elected Benediktas Juodka as the 84th rector of the university on 11 October, "Lietuvos zinios" reported the next day. He defeated Dean of the Mathematics and Informatics Faculty Feliksas Ivanauskas by getting 45 of the 60 votes cast. Juodka had been serving as the university's acting rector, since the previous rector Rolandas Pavilionis was elected to parliament in 2000.