28 November 2002, Volume
NOTE TO READERS:
This issue covers events in the Baltic states from 9 to 15 November 2002.
PUTIN SIGNS 'ACCEPTABLE' ACCORD ON KALININGRAD.
Speaking at a Brussels news conference on 11 November, European Commission President Romano Prodi, EU foreign-affairs chief Javier Solana, and Russian President Vladimir Putin announced an agreement on access to the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad, Russian and Western news agencies reported. Under the accord, Russian citizens traveling by car between Kaliningrad and Russia will be issued special multiple-transit travel documents to cross Lithuanian territory, and those traveling by train will receive single-transit travel documents, newsru.com and izvestia.ru reported. Railroad travel documents will be issued when a ticket is purchased, and Lithuania will reserve the right to deny entry to anyone believed to have violated the law or to pose a threat to Lithuanian security. Putin described the agreement as "not ideal, but acceptable" and said talks on the issue will continue. Izvestia.ru commented that Russia has de facto accepted the EU demand that some sort of visa regime be implemented, even if the word "visa" does not appear in the agreement.EU CANDIDATE-COUNTRY PREMIERS SPEAK ABOUT SOLIDARITY, EQUALITY.
At a meeting in Warsaw on 15 November, the prime ministers of 10 EU candidate countries -- Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania, Latvia, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia -- adopted a joint statement emphasizing that the principles of equality and solidarity should serve as the basis for the creation of the future European Union, BNS reported the next day. It declared their goal to complete accession talks and join the EU on 1 January 2004. The premiers pledged to cooperate in resolving the chapters on Agriculture and Finance and Budgetary Provisions, which none of the countries has completed.MOODY'S HIKES CREDIT RATINGS OF BALTIC STATES.
Moody's Investors Service announced on 12 November that it is raising the foreign-currency ratings of the eight Central and Eastern European countries expected to join the EU in 2004, ETA reported. The higher ratings reflect Moody's belief that the economic and financial integration of those countries in the EU is irreversible and that such integration lowers the risk of a foreign-currency crisis. Each of the three Baltic countries' ratings were increased by three notches: Estonia's from Baa1 to A1, Latvia's from Baa2 to A2, and Lithuania's from Baa1 to Ba1. The countries' foreign-currency ratings now equal those of government-issued bonds in the respective local currencies.
* Justice Ministers Mart Rask (Estonia), Aivars Aksenoks (Latvia), and Vytautas Markevicius (Lithuania) signed an agreement on judicial cooperation in fighting organized crime, terrorism, and human trafficking in Tartu on 15 November, BNS reported. Joined by their Finnish counterpart Johannes Koskinen they also participated in the opening of the new Tartu Prison, which is the newest and most modern prison in Estonia.
ESTONIA LEADS EASTERN EUROPE IN ANNUAL ECONOMIC-FREEDOM LIST.
The Heritage Foundation and "The Wall Street Journal" issued their annual Economic Freedom index ranking of 161 countries, BNS reported on 12 November. Estonia placed sixth, tied with Denmark and the United States. Hong Kong, Singapore, Luxembourg, New Zealand, and Ireland topped the list. Last year, Estonia was fourth along with Ireland, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, and the United States (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 13 November 2001). Lithuania was second among other Eastern and Central European countries, retaining its 29th position, followed by the Czech Republic and Hungary in 32nd place and Latvia, which climbed from 38th to 33rd. The index, created in 1995, is based on an analysis of 50 indicators that include trade restrictions, tax policies, government intervention in the economy, trade and fiscal policies, foreign investment, banking and finance, price and wage regulations, real estate, and the scale of the black market.EU MATTERS DISCUSSED WITH GERMAN FOREIGN MINISTER.
In talks in Berlin on 14 November, Estonian Foreign Minister Kristiina Ojuland informed her German counterpart Joschka Fischer on the current state of her country's EU-membership negotiations, ETA reported. She said Estonia wants to see an efficient and equitable EU and supports reforms that will make its institutions more efficient, transparent, and democratic, also noting that the eventual implementation must be taken into account in planning related reforms. The ministers also discussed the work of the Future of Europe Convention, cooperation between Baltic Sea states, and the recent agreement between the EU and Russia on transit between Kaliningrad Oblast and the rest of Russia. Fischer stressed that Germany strongly supports Estonia's membership in NATO.PRESIDENT VISITS GREAT BRITAIN.
Arnold Ruutel concluded a three-day visit to England on 13 November with a meeting with Charles, prince of Wales, ETA reported. They discussed Estonia's preparations for NATO and EU membership, with Prince Charles noting that EU farming policies should reflect the social and cultural aspects of certain regions in order to retain their ways of life. The previous day, Ruutel delivered a lecture on the role of the Baltic states in the collapse of the Soviet empire at St. John's College, Oxford University. He also met with the chairman of the British House of Lords, Lord Irvine of Lairg, and with World Jewish Congress Vice President Lord Janner, who proposed that World War II-era mass graves be marked in Estonia.TWO CANDIDATES EMERGE FOR TOP AUDIT POST.
After meeting with Deputy Legal Chancellor Mihkel Oviir and Center Party parliamentary deputy Olev Raju, President Ruutel announced on 11 November that he is recommending both as candidates to head the State Audit Office, ETA reported. The previous holder of the office, Juhan Parts, resigned in August (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 August 2002) and was subsequently elected chairman of the right-wing Res Publica party. Since the post requires state security clearance, the backgrounds of both candidates will be checked -- a process that can take up to three months. Ruutel will then decide which candidate to present to the parliament for confirmation.EXTREMISTS ATTACK ESTONIAN EMBASSY BUILDING IN MOSCOW AGAIN.
On 15 November, unidentified individuals smashed bottles filled with paint against the walls of the Estonian Embassy in Moscow, BNS reported. They left a note at the scene, saying that the action was a response to the activity of the Estonian authorities who had recently convicted former KGB officer Yurii Karpov of crimes against humanity (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 1 November 2002) and who are persecuting other former Soviet security personnel. The Russian National Bolshevik Party, or the so-called Limonovites, took responsibility for the attack and left their leaflets at the scene. They had defaced the embassy building in a similar manner in 2000 and on 13 May this year. The Estonian Foreign Ministry sent a note protesting the attack to the Russian Foreign Ministry and expressing concern about the security of the embassy.
* The standing Constitutional Committee of the Riigikogu (parliament) proposed on 14 November the rejection of a Pro Patria Union-initiated bill banning former Soviet KGB agents and officers from running in parliamentary and local elections since it was unconstitutional, BNS reported. Committee Chairman Indrek Meelak noted that while the constitution implementation act had required candidates until the end of 2000 to make a written oath that they had not served in the KGB, legal specialists had pointed out that restricting the rights of former KGB officials to run for office at the current time was considered to be unconstitutional.
* Prime Minister Siim Kallas discussed the distribution of EU aid to Estonia with Luis Riera Figueras, director of the EU's Instrument for Structural Policies for Pre-Accession program, in Tallinn on 14 November, ETA reported. Kallas said that Estonia would be interested in increasing the volume of aid to science, education, and the development of local municipalities. Figueras replied that this would be complicated since a decision to change the structure of aid to Estonia would mean changes also for all other candidate states.
* Minister of Economy and Communications Liina Tonisson flew to London to take part in Europe's largest tourism fair, World Travel Market, which was held on 11 to 14 November, ETA reported. She held talks with Secretary-General of the International Tourism Organization Francesco Frangialli on Estonia's possible accession to the organization, which currently has 139 member states. On 13 November, Tonisson discussed with British Transport Minister David Jamieson the possibilities of training Estonian railway officials in Britain
* The visit to Estonia by the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Patriarch Aleksii II, planned to begin on 6 December has been postponed to the third week in December because of his health, BNS reported on 13 November. The metropolitans of Latvia and Lithuania are expected to visit Tallinn during his stay.
* The government endorsed on 12 November a memorandum to be signed with the Netherlands allowing dependents of both countries' diplomats to seek work permits in their country of location, BNS reported. This should result in a reduction in the expenses of the embassies because support for diplomats' dependents can be lowered.
* EU's PHARE program on 12 November allocated 395 million kroons ($25 million) of aid to Estonia to defray some of the country's preparations for membership, ETA reported. The money will be used in 19 projects to better implement EU legislation in Estonia while raising the living quality of Estonians and improving their living environment. Since 1992, Estonia has received 4.3 billion kroons of aid from PHARE.
* The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) announced on 9 November that it will provide a loan of 80 million euros ($79.2 million) to Tallinn's water utility Tallinna Vesi (Tallinn Water), BNS reported. The utility will use the loan to make its water and canalization services match European Union environmental standards.
* The city council of Kohtla-Jarve elected Valerii Korb from the Center Party, the previous chairman of the council, as the city's mayor on 14 November, BNS reported. He won 22 votes while Viktor Andreev from the United People's Party received 11. The Center Party and Res Publica with 17 and four deputies, respectively, had signed a coalition agreement the previous day according to which in return for supporting Korb, Res Publica deputy Hants Hint would be elected chairman of the council.
* Estonian Investment Agency Director General Andrus Viirg announced that foreign investments into Estonia this year will be about 1 billion kroons ($64 million) lower than last year, BNS reported on 13 November. He said that 2001, when some 9 billion kroons were invested from abroad, was the most successful year for foreign investments due to large investments in Estonian Railway and Galvex.
* Estonia's unemployment rate remained at 5.5 percent in October, as 44,800 people were out of work, but the number of jobless fell by 1,000 from September and by 8,400 from last October, ETA reported on 12 November.
NEW FOREIGN MINISTER VISITS BALTIC COUNTERPARTS.
Less than a week after assuming her new post, Sandra Kalniete made her first official visits abroad to Parnu and Panevezys to hold talks with her Estonian and Lithuanian counterparts on 13-14 November, respectively, BNS reported. The talks in Parnu with Estonian Foreign Minister Ojuland focused mainly on the need for close cooperation in concluding EU membership negotiations and the anticipated invitations to join NATO at the Prague summit on 21-22 November. Kalniete discussed these issues with Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis, as well as the question of transit to and from Kaliningrad through Lithuania in light of the recent EU-Russia agreement. The ministers also discussed the planned visit to Vilnius on 22-23 November by U.S. President George W. Bush and his expected meeting with the presidents of the three Baltic states.RULING PARTIES AGREE ON COMMISSION CHAIRMEN IN LEGISLATURE.
The four parties in the ruling center-right coalition reached an agreement on 12 November on the distribution of chairmen's posts among parliament's 17 commissions, LETA reported. The New Era will lead seven commissions: Audit; Budget and Finance; Corruption, Contraband, and Organized-Crime Prevention; Human Rights and Public Affairs; Internal Administration; and Legal. The Union of Greens and Farmers will chair five commissions: Economy, Agrarian, Environmental, and Regional Development; Education, Culture, and Science; Inquiry; National Security; and State Administration, and Local Government. Latvia's First Party will head four commissions: Citizenship Law Implementation; Defense and Internal Affairs; Mandate and Submission; and Social and Labor Affairs. For the Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK will chair the remaining two commissions: European Affairs and Foreign Affairs.NORWEGIAN OFFICIAL PLEDGES HELP FOR NATO INTEGRATION.
Norwegian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Kim Traavik told visiting Latvian counterpart Maris Riekstins in Oslo on 11 November that Norway strongly supports Latvian membership in NATO and will continue active cooperation so the country can swiftly adapt to the alliance's structures, BNS reported. Norway has provided political support and practical assistance for the development of Latvia's armed forces, including setting up a divers' training center in Liepaja, an ammunition-neutralization training center in Adazi, and various BALTBAT and BALTNET projects. The secretaries noted that the two countries have developed broad contacts among local governments, nongovernmental organizations, and higher-education institutions that focus on social integration and strengthening Latvia's judicial, economic, and regional development. Riekstins also invited Traavik to visit Latvia in 2003.INTERIOR MINISTER CRITICIZES CONTRABAND PREVENTION CENTER.
Following a meeting at the Contraband Prevention Center in Riga on 15 November, Interior Minister Maris Gulbis told reporters that he considers its work "unsatisfactory," LETA and BNS reported. He criticized its efforts at combating contraband in alcohol and oil, claiming that too few investigations have been opened and even fewer sent to court. Gulbis said he will hand over information on the matter to Latvian Police chief Juris Reksna, Security Police chief Janis Reiniks, and Finance Minister Valdis Dombrovskis. Dombrovskis said just nine cases have reached court in the past three years, with only four cases resulting in convictions. His predecessor as finance minister, Gundars Berzins, praised the work of the center earlier in the month, asserting that the amount of confiscated contraband in fuel, meat, and cigarettes has increased by several hundred percent.CONTRACT FOR ARENA CONSTRUCTION FOR 2006 ICE HOCKEY CHAMPIONSHIP SIGNED.
The Latvian Ice Hockey Federation and Multihalle finally signed a contract for the construction of a multifunctional ice-hockey arena in Riga on 13 November, LETA reported the next day. The new arena is required for the country to host the 2006 World Ice Hockey Championship. Construction of the arena is to begin in June 2003, with its opening slated for August 2005. Negotiations on the project had been proceeding slowly, and International Ice Hockey Federation President Rene Fasel had threatened to move the 2006 championship to another site, possibly Moscow.
* Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Roberto Antonione told President Vaira Vike-Freiberga in Riga on 12 November that Italy sees Latvia as a full member of the EU and NATO in the near future, BNS reported. He was in Latvia for political consultations with the Latvian Foreign Ministry on NATO and the EU enlargement, bilateral relations, and cooperation within international organizations. He also signed an agreement with Latvia about cooperation between small and medium-size companies operating in both countries.
* After meeting with EU Agriculture, Rural Development, and Fisheries Commissioner Franz Fischler in Prague the previous week, new Agriculture Minister Martins Roze said on 11 November that the Baltic states can hope for larger EU farm quotas than offered previously, LETA reported. He noted that Latvia should change its negotiating position concerning the agricultural policies to meet EU requirements, thus demonstrating goodwill and attaining an agreement with the EU as soon as possible.
* After hearing a report by Foreign Minister Sandra Kalniete, the new cabinet passed its first decision on 12 November, requesting several additional transition periods in the agriculture sector of the membership negotiations with the EU, LETA reported. Latvia will ask for a transition period until 2006 for biological farms to be allowed to use seeds and seedlings from conventional farms. It had earlier agreed to the EU regulations that would have banned their use from the end of 2003.
* In his first weekly working meeting with President Vike-Freiberga on 13 November, Prime Minister Einars Repse invited her to take part in the EU summit in Copenhagen in December because full delegations of both member and candidate countries will be attending, BNS reported. They also discussed the NATO summit in Prague, which the president and the finance and defense ministers, but not the prime minister, will attend.
* In an interview on Latvian State Radio on 14 November, Prime Minister Repse pledged to keep his campaign promises to raise pensions and provide a twofold increase in financing for health care, LETA reported. He admitted that the government would willingly increase pensions at least to the subsistence level, but this is currently impossible because of the limited budget. Repse said that as soon as the new health-care system is established, its financing will be doubled, which could happen next year
* An extraordinary congress of Latvia's Way, held in Riga on 9 November, re-elected former Prime Minister Andris Berzins as the party's chairman by a vote of 263 to four with 15 abstentions, LETA reported. He had resigned from the post after the unsuccessful parliamentary elections where the party won only 4.88 percent of the vote, failing to break the needed 5 percent barrier for seats in the parliament. The congress also amended the party charter, changing the election procedure for board members and reducing their number from 23 to 15. In compliance with the changes, Berzins nominated seven individuals to the board and the congress elected the other seven who will serve until the regular party congress in the spring.
* The Statistics Office announced on 15 November that 808,000 foreign tourists visited Latvia in the third quarter of the year, an increase of 16.1 percent compared to the same period last year, BNS reported. While the average length time spent in Latvia was 3.1 days, 58.8 percent stayed less than a day. Most of the foreigners were from neighboring countries: Lithuania (26 percent), Estonia (24 percent), and Russia (9 percent), with 8 percent each from Finland and Germany. While Latvian residents returning from foreign trips crossed the state border 717,500 times in the third quarter of 2002, a decline of 14.2 percent from last year, they spent more money abroad. Their favorite destinations were Lithuania (34 percent), Estonia (23 percent), Russia (17 percent), and Belarus (8 percent).
* The Statistics Office announced on 12 November that in the first nine months of the year imports were valued at 1.79 billion lats ($2.9 billion) and exports 1.04 billion lats, LETA reported. This was 12.6 and 10 percent, respectively, greater than in the same period last year.
* The National Employment Service announced on 11 November that there were 90,988 people registered as unemployed on 1 November, or about 1,075 fewer than a month before, BNS reported. The official unemployment rate fell from 7.8 percent to 7.7 percent of the economically active population.
AGREEMENT TO ACQUIRE STINGER MISSILES SIGNED.
Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius and U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania John F. Tefft signed an agreement on the purchase of Stinger antiaircraft missiles in Vilnius on 13 November, ELTA reported. The system, consisting of 60 missiles, eight launching devices, two radars, several Hummer-type transport vehicles, spare parts, and training, will cost $31 million. At the signing ceremony, Tefft noted that Lithuania is the first NATO candidate country to acquire Stingers, which he called a major step "both to assure the defense of the people of Lithuania and to prepare Lithuania's armed forces to participate fully in NATO operations." The system will be assigned to the "Gelezinis Vilkas" (Iron Wolf) brigade, which is scheduled to become a rapid-reaction unit compatible with NATO by 2006. Last year, Lithuania was the first European country to buy the Javelin mid-range antitank weapons system (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 18 December 2001).PREMIER SUPPORTS EU-RUSSIA AGREEMENT ON KALININGRAD TRANSIT.
In an interview on Lithuanian National Radio on 12 November, Algirdas Brazauskas praised the recent EU-Russia agreement on transit to and from Kaliningrad Oblast (see "RFE/RL Newsline," 12 November 2002), BNS reported. "My evaluation is positive, because the principal issues have been resolved and the procedure agreed upon in Brussels was not new to Lithuania," Brazauskas said. Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis called the agreement "a search for a political compromise" and noted, "There are sufficient preconditions to achieve results beneficial for Lithuania in further negotiations, because the final transit conditions will have to be determined with Lithuania's consent." He said guarantees must be forthcoming that the agreement will not be an obstacle for Lithuania's early entry into the Schengen zone or create additional financial or administrative obligations.EU NEGOTIATOR HINTS AT DIFFERENCES OVER AGRICULTURE.
Lithuania's chief negotiator with the EU, Petras Austrevicius, said at a meeting of the EU-Lithuania joint parliamentary committee in Brussels on 11 November that he hopes to extract greater direct payments to farmers than those the EU has proposed, according to BNS. Austrevicius also called the EU's proposed agricultural quotas, particularly of dairy products and sugar, too small. He called the completion of membership negotiations difficult but necessary. Austrevicius stressed that the EU admission treaty should have a special protocol with specific figures concerning the size of EU contributions for the closure of the nuclear-power plant at Ignalina. He also said transit between Kaliningrad Oblast and the rest of Russia should not be an additional financial burden for Lithuania and should not impede Lithuania's early entry into the Schengen zone.DRAFT BUDGET RETURNED TO GOVERNMENT FOR REVISION.
Parliamentary debate of the government's proposed 2003 budget resulted in the draft being sent back to the cabinet for revision on 14 November, ELTA reported. The draft envisages revenues of 10.98 billion litas ($3.15 billion) and expenditures of 12.28 billion litas. A number of changes in committees and proposals by individual deputies would increase expenditures by 1.6 billion litas. Budget and Finance Committee Chairman Algirdas Butkevicius called most of the requests "impractical," and his committee proposed increasing spending by only 83.6 million litas for education, health care, social security, and completing construction projects. The government has 15 days for revisions before parliament debates it a second time.NEW EMBASSY BUILDING OPENED IN PARIS.
President Valdas Adamkus flew to Paris on 15 November to participate in the formal opening of new facilities of the Lithuanian Embassy, ELTA reported. The building was purchased using funds the French government paid in compensation for Lithuania's pre-World War II embassy building, which was handed over to the USSR and is still being used by the Russian Federation. Adamkus discussed bilateral relations, European integration, and parliamentary cooperation with French National Assembly Chairman Jean-Louis Debre and attended a dinner hosted by French Senate Chairman Christian Poncelet. The next day, Adamkus made a speech on traditions of tolerance in Lithuania and the dialogue among cultures, nations, and religions at celebrations in the French Senate of the 200th anniversary of the birth of noted French writer Victor Hugo. Adamkus returned to Vilnius on 17 November.
* Prime Minister Brazauskas made a working visit to Warsaw on 14 and 15 November, BNS reported. The first day, he discussed with his Polish counterpart Leszek Miller Lithuanian and Polish infrastructure projects, issues of border crossing and national minorities, as well as future cooperation prospects. On 15 November, he participated in a meeting of the prime ministers of EU member and candidate countries, which was also attended by EU Enlargement Commissioner Guenter Verheugen. Brazauskas also took part in the events of the European Socialist Party council, which unites the Socialist and Social Democratic parties of EU member and candidate states, as well as those of Norway and Cyprus, and the Israeli Labor Party. He also met with his Greek counterpart Costis Simitis, as Greece will hold the EU presidency in the first half of 2003.
* Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen told President Adamkus in a telephone conversation on 14 November that the EU-Russia agreement on Kaliningrad transit was intended to be without prejudice to the sovereign rights of Lithuania and would not hinder its joining the Schengen agreement, BNS reported. He also pointed out that the EU would offer all necessary technical assistance to Lithuania.
* Visiting Interior Minister Juozas Bernatonis held talks with his Russian counterpart Boris Gryzlov in Moscow on 11 November, BNS reported. They agreed to speed up the preparation of agreements on readmission and cooperation in combating organized crime. They will probably be signed during Gryzlov's visit to Lithuania early next year.
* A delegation headed by Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Roberto Antonione discussed with President Adamkus in Vilnius on 13 November the issue of the pre-World War II Lithuanian embassy building in Rome that Italy handed over to the USSR and that Russia continues to use and is unwilling to relinquish, ELTA reported. After talks with Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis, Antonione said that a solution would be found in the second half of 2003 when Italy will chair the EU.
* Environment Ministers Arunas Kundrotas (Lithuania) and Stanislaw Zelichowski (Poland) signed a cooperation scheme for 2003-2004 in the fields of geology, environmental protection, forestry, wind-energy exploitation, prevention of Baltic Sea coast erosion, waste transportation across state borders, and other areas in Vilnius on 13 November, BNS reported. Zelichowski also visited the southern city of Marijampole to inspect the municipal water-treatment facilities whose reconstruction was partially financed by Poland.
* Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Tuomioja told visiting Deputy Foreign Minister Justas Vincas Paleckis in Helsinki on 14 November that he considers the EU-Russia agreement on Kaliningrad transit as a constructive compromise reflecting the interests of all parties concerned, ELTA reported. Paleckis was in Helsinki to attend a regional forum of Lithuanian ambassadors working in the Nordic and Baltic states.
* In talks in Vilnius on 12 November, the vice president of the Russian oil company Yukos, Mikhail Brudno, promised President Adamkus that the company would sign repair contracts with Lithuanian firms for Yukos-controlled oil refineries in Russia, ELTA reported. The talks focused primarily on the planned modernization of the Mazeikiai oil refinery to enable it to compete in European markets.
* Dmitrii Rogozin, Russia's presidential envoy for Kaliningrad and Duma Foreign Affairs Committee chairman, announced on 13 November that Russia was granting Lithuania permission to enlarge its old consulate in Kaliningrad and to open a new consulate in Sovetsk, BNS reported. He noted that opening the new consulate will be related to the opening of a new Russian consulate in Kaunas and that the matter "is related not to transit matters, but to issuing visas."
* Belarus canceled mandatory police escorts on 15 November for the trucks of 548 Lithuanian haulage companies, which have been confirmed by the Belarusian State Customs Committee as reliable, ELTA reported. The Lithuanian National Road Carriers Association, Linava, had submitted a list of 1,304 haulage companies to Belarus and was informed that the escort requirements for some of the other companies would be dropped on 15 December and for the remaining in the period between 15 January and 1 February.
* The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees issued a press release on 12 November expressing concern over the expulsion from Lithuania of two groups of Chechens who planned to apply for asylum, BNS reported. On 6 November, 17 Chechens -- mostly women and children -- were returned to Belarus after illegally crossing the border. Another nine Chechens who had left the Moscow-Kaliningrad train in the Vilnius station were also sent back. Lithuanian officials asserted that neither of the two groups had asked for asylum.
* President Adamkus told a UNESCO-organized conference on bioethics for Central and Eastern Europe in Vilnius on 11 November that all modern research in biology, medicine, and genetics must be governed by fundamental laws, primarily the laws on human rights, ELTA reported. He also had talks with UNESCO Deputy Director-General for Social Sciences and Humanities Pierre Sane, noting that the conference was the first landmark event for developing bioethics in Lithuania "symbolizing the involvement of the country in global discussions on bioethics."
* By a vote of 57 to 33, the parliament adopted on 12 November a resolution approving a long-term development strategy of the state, outlining priorities and implementation guidelines until the year 2015, ELTA reported. It envisages creating a model "welfare state" based on the priorities of a knowledge-based society, safe community, and competitive economy. It foresees the opportunity to construct a new nuclear reactor, making use of the soon-to-be-closed Ignalina nuclear-power plant and the connection of Lithuania's energy system with that of Western Europe.
* The Statistics Department announced on 11 November that in the first nine months of the year imports were valued at 20.3 billion litas ($5.8 billion) and exports at 14.1 billion litas, ELTA reported. Compared to the same period last year, imports rose by 12.3 percent and exports by 3.5 percent, increasing the resulting trade deficit from 4.5 billion litas to 6.2 billion litas.
* The Statistics Department announced on 11 November that the consumer price index in October increased by 0.6 percent compared to September but was 1.1 lower than in October 2001, ETA reported. Prices of goods rose by 0.8 percent while those of services rose by 0.1 percent.