13 December 2001, Volume 2, Number 29
REGIONALPUTIN SAYS HE DOES NOT OBJECT TO BALTIC STATES JOINING NATO.
In a live interview with U.S. National Public Radio on 15 November, Russian President Vladimir Putin was asked by a Lithuanian-American from Seattle whether he opposes the admission of the Baltic states into NATO, BNS reported the next day. After noting that NATO was created to counteract a Soviet threat which no longer exists, Putin said that NATO expansion would not increase the security of the Baltic states. Russia acknowledges the role of NATO in the modern world and is ready to expand cooperation with it, Putin continued. When pressed to give a "yes" or "no" response by NPR host Robert Siegel, Putin replied: "No, I don't object to it. It just doesn't makes any sense. Of course, I cannot tell people what to do."
BALTIC ASSEMBLY MEETING FOCUSES ON TERRORISM.
A security seminar of the Baltic Assembly in Tallinn on 16 November focused on the fight against terrorism, cooperation of the Baltic and the Nordic countries, and the Baltic states' accession to NATO, BNS reported. Estonian Defense Minister Juri Luik said that the 11 September terrorist attack against the U.S. showed the importance of North America and Europe working together. Lithuanian parliament deputy Vytautas Landsbergis stressed the need to bridge the differences that arose from the division of Europe into a democratic and a communist Europe and noted that the Baltic states want to cooperate with Europe while maintaining good relations with Russia.
ESTONIANATO SECRETARY-GENERAL VISITS TALLINN.
During a one-day visit to Tallinn on 29 November, Lord George Robertson met with President Arnold Ruutel, Prime Minister Mart Laar, Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, Defense Minister Juri Luik, and parliament deputies, ETA reported. He stressed that the next six to seven months will be crucial for Estonia's efforts to join NATO, as the organization will be making its decision on new members at its Prague summit meeting in November 2002. Robertson thanked Estonia for participating in the peacekeeping operations in Bosnia and Kosova, and for its offers to help combat international terrorism. He noted that "NATO admits not governments, but states," underlining the necessity for strong public support for the alliance.
PARLIAMENT ABOLISHES LANGUAGE REQUIREMENT FOR DEPUTIES.
On 21 November, the parliament by a vote of 55 to 21, with one abstention, passed amendments to the Parliament Election Act and the Local Councils Election Act abolishing the language requirement for candidates to the parliament and local councils, ETA reported The amendments, which required 51 votes to pass, were supported by all the members of the Moderates faction, most of the deputies from the Reform Party and the Pro Patria Union, and seven opposition deputies. On 23 November, the head of the OSCE mission to Estonia, Doris Hertrampf, said she will recommend to the OSCE permanent council in Vienna on 13 December that the mission be closed at the end of this year.
ESTONIAN MADE WORKING LANGUAGE OF PARLIAMENT.
The parliament, by a vote of 68 to zero with one abstention, passed a bill on 20 November formally declaring Estonian its working language, BNS reported. The Pro Patria Union had proposed the bill to balance a law proposed by three coalition deputies that would abolish the Estonian-language requirement for candidates to the parliament and local councils. The passage of the bill making Estonian the working language of local councils was delayed because the parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee wanted to make some minor changes to it. Abolishing the language requirement should help convince the OSCE to end its 10-year mission to Estonia.
BELGIUM EXPECTS CLOSING OF MORE EU CHAPTERS THIS YEAR.
Pierre Chevalier, the chairman of the Belgian parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters in Tallinn on 26 November that he expects Estonia to close more chapters of its EU membership negotiations during Belgium's six-month presidency, which will end on 31 December, BNS reported. Chevalier is visiting all of the EU candidate countries to listen to their opinions about the future of the EU, and will present a report on his findings to the organization's summit meeting in Laeken, Belgium, in December. Estonia closed the chapter on competition in its membership talks with the EU in Brussels on 28 November, raising the number of completed chapters to 20, ETA reported. This was the first chapter closed during Belgium's EU presidency and Estonia's chief negotiator Alar Streimann fears that no other chapter will be closed this year.
TACTICS IN EU MEMBERSHIP TALKS CHANGED.
Prime Minister Laar told the parliament's European Affairs Committee on 19 November that Estonia has changed its tactics in EU membership negotiations, BNS reported. The goal will change to seeking the best possible position for the country rather than to close as many chapters as possible in the shortest possible time, he noted. Laar explained that the end phase of the negotiations is difficult, but Estonia cannot back down on certain demands. He said that a roundtable will be convened soon to discuss the constitutional changes needed in connection with Estonia's entry into the EU, which the government hopes to achieve by the beginning of 2004.
LEGAL AID ACCORD WITH RUSSIA TO BE REVISED.
The government on 27 November approved an additional protocol to the bilateral agreement with Russia on legal assistance and legal relations in civilian, family, and criminal cases that was signed in 1993, BNS reported. The agreement allows individuals and legal entities in one country to turn freely to courts, prosecution authorities, and notaries of the other party under whose jurisdiction civil, family, and criminal cases fall. After various problems arose in implementing the agreement, Estonian and Russian experts prepared a set of amendments included in the protocol. It expands the sphere of legal assistance to include cases of administrative violation, specifies language requirements for applications and additional documents, and defines more exactly deadlines for processing the applications.
COALITION PARTY DECIDES TO DISBAND.
The 124 deputies attending a congress of the Coalition Party in Tallinn on 17 November approved unanimously a recommendation by the party's board to end the party's activities, ETA reported. The party was founded in December 1991, and two of its members, Tiit Vahi and Mart Siimann, served as prime ministers in 1995-1999. Support for the party began to dwindle, however, in 1999, and Siimann is now the party's only deputy in the parliament. Party Chairman Mart Kubo said that disbanding the party is a sensible decision because it lacks further opportunities to participate in politics. It is expected that some party members may withdraw from politics while others may join the People's Union or the new political association "With Reason and Heart," whose founding congress on 30 September elected Siimann its chairman.
* President Ruutel began his first official trip to Finland on 20-21 November with talks in Helsinki with his Finnish counterpart Tarja Halonen on EU enlargement, security issues, and relations with Russia, ETA reported. He also opened an Estonian-Finnish business seminar and met with Finnish parliament speaker Riitta Uosukainen. On 21 November he delivered a lecture at Turku University, visited the Stick Tech biotechnology plant, and on returning to Helsinki Prime Minister Paavo Lipponen assured him of Finland's support for Estonia's membership in EU and NATO.
* Jiri Payne, chairman of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly subcommittee for cooperation with Central and Eastern Europe, told reporters in Tallinn on 23 November that the most important criterion in the Baltic countries' accession to NATO is each country's readiness to join the alliance, BNS reported. Chairman of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly's Political Committee Peter Viggers stated that he favors inviting the Baltic states to join NATO at the Prague summit next November, also noting that Russian opposition to this had decreased after the terrorist attack on 11 September.
* Former President Lennart Meri told the conference "The Baltic States, Austria and the Enlargement of the European Union" in Vienna on 26 November that the Baltic states differ from other former Soviet republics in that they have experience at self-governance and were independent states for more than 20 years in the early 20th century, BNS reported. He expressed regret that the West did not realize this and made mistakes in dealing with reforms in Russia.
* Thousands of pensioners rallied outside the parliament building in Tallinn on 20 November protesting the recent and planned increases in the prices of utilities and expressing support for the opposition Center Party and People's Union, ETA reported. They demanded that their monthly pensions should be raised from the current 1,500 kroons ($88) to half of the of average net salary of 5,300 kroons and the subsistence level be raised to 1,000 kroons. Social Minister Eiki Nestor met with the protestors and told them that the government could not supply the additional 1.7 billion kroons needed to raise pensions to the 50 percent level. Pensions are scheduled to increase 8.4 percent from April 2002.
* Estonia and Latvia agreed at fishing consultations on 27 November to set up a joint work group to divide future Baltic herring fishing quotas for the Gulf of Riga between the two countries, ETA reported. The two countries will protest the policy of the Baltic Sea Fisheries Committee to assign herring quotas for the whole Baltic Sea, believing that the Gulf of Riga should be considered separately.
* Tallinn Mayor Tonis Palts announced on 27 November that the city government will reduce its earlier planned loans next year of 1.5 billion kroons ($84.5 million) by half a billion kroons, ETA reported. He said that expenses would be reduced by 300 million kroons and the city would arrange investments in the order of priority with roads and schools heading the list.
* The Bank of Estonia announced on 20 November that the international rating agency Standard & Poor's upgraded Estonia's long-term foreign currency rating from BBB+ to A-, ETA reported. It affirmed the short-term foreign currency and kroon ratings at A-2 and the long-term kroon rating at A-.
* Although Estonia opened an embassy in Dublin in April 1997, Ireland opened its first embassy in Tallinn only recently. Irish Ambassador Sean Farrell presented his credentials to President Ruutel on 15 November and met with Prime Minister Laar on 20 November, BNS reported
* The City Council of Narva adopted a petition to the OSCE on 28 November calling for postponement of the closure of its mission in Tallinn since many problems still remain concerning the protection of ethnic minority rights, BNS reported the next day.
* Former emigre political science professor Rein Taagepera announced on 29 November that he would be a candidate for chairman of the new political party which will be formed at a congress on 8 December based on the nonprofit organization Res Publika, BNS reported. He, however, agreed to run only on the condition that he could leave the office after six months.
* The Estonian veterinary authority imposed a temporary ban on the import of beef from Slovenia on 13 November after receiving a report of the suspected discovery of mad cow disease, BNS reported on 16 November.
LATVIAPRESIDENT PROMOTES LATVIAN ECONOMY.
On 17 November, Vaira Vike-Freiberga gave a speech at the seventh European forum in Germany, organized by Herbert Quandt Stiftung Foundation and the "Financial Times," in which she noted Latvia's political, economic, and social achievements in its progress towards the EU and NATO. She said that the key objective of building a new Europe is to ensure economic and political integration and to guarantee security, which, she continued, is impossible without trans-Atlantic integration and globalization. A day earlier, Vike-Freiberga told the Dusseldorf Industrialists Club that Latvia seeks foreign partners in the fields of information technology, telecommunications, timber processing, and the textile, chemical, and pharmaceutical industries. In a separate meeting, the chairwoman of the German Christian Democratic Union (CDU), Angela Merkel, assured Vike-Freiberga on 16 November that the CDU annual conference in early December will express support for the Baltic states' accession to NATO, LETA reported.
THREE MORE CHAPTERS IN EU ACCESSION NEGOTIATIONS CLOSED.
Andris Kesteris, the head of Latvia's delegation for EU membership, announced in Brussels on 28 November that Latvia has completed negotiations with the EU on 21 of the 31 chapters overall, LETA reported. The newly closed chapters were on the environment, competition, and financial control. The negotiations on environmental protection were among the most complicated, and Latvia was granted eight transition periods for introducing EU norms, the longest being until 2015 for meeting water-quality standards. Latvia is among the first candidates to close the competition chapter, and EU representatives stressed Latvia's preparedness for implementing European competition legislation and its success in introducing and monitoring norms of competition and state support for the business sector. In regard to the chapter on financial control, the EU praised the Latvian government for establishing an updated monitoring system for the flow of budget funding and its implementation.
TURKEY STRONGLY SUPPORTS LATVIA'S ADMISSION TO NATO.
Turkish President Ahmet Necdet Sezer assured visiting Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Berzins on 20 November that Turkey strongly supports Latvia's membership in NATO, BNS reported. They also discussed the ongoing international antiterrorism campaign, Latvia's efforts to join the EU, and bilateral relations. Berzins, who began an official visit to Turkey on 18 November, discussed opportunities for increasing economic cooperation with officials of Turkey's External Economic Relations Council and Turkish businessmen the next day. He noted that Latvia is seeking cooperation partners in fields such as telecommunications, food industry, textiles, pharmaceuticals, and engineering. Berzins also held talks with Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit and parliament Chairman Omer Izgi on 21 November.
PROMISES TO BE A RELIABLE PARTNER IN NEW EUROPE.
In a speech at "The Baltic States, Austria, and the Enlargement of the European Union" conference held in Vienna on 27 November, Foreign Minister Berzins stressed that Latvia is a reliable partner in the new Europe due to its successful political and economic reforms, BNS reported. He said that, as a potential EU member, Latvia wants to see the EU as a union in which small states and their parliaments have guaranteed equal rights. Berzins discussed tax policy with his Austrian counterpart Benita Ferrero-Waldner. He also met with Austria's National Council President Heinz Fischer and noted the very good relations between their countries, emphasizing the active exchange of visits by parliament deputies.
ANTICORRUPTION EFFORT GETS HIGH MARKS FROM TRANSPARENCY INTERNATIONAL.
Transparency International-Latvia board Chairwoman Inese Voika said at a press conference in Riga on 26 November that the organization's report on world corruption considers the situation in Latvia to be positive, LETA reported. The report stated that the fight against corruption in the Baltic states has reached the same level as in the poorest EU member states and that the EU is consistently applying pressure to combat corruption. But she said that, while Latvia has passed the necessary laws to fight corruption, they are not being implemented effectively. Voika noted that the report devotes considerable attention to the financing of Latvia's political parties and calls for legislation requiring those parties to provide more information about the sources and size of donations they receive.
IMF SEES CURRENT ACCOUNT DEFICIT AS ONLY RISK TO DEVELOPMENT.
Adalbert Knoble, the International Monetary Fund's representative in the Baltic states, told a Latvian business daily on 29 November that the only factor that could threaten Latvia's development at present is its large current account deficit, BNS reported. He said the current economic decline in the West is likely to negatively affect exports, while Latvia's demand level for imports will remain very high and increase the country's deficit. Nevertheless, he acknowledged that Latvia's economy is positive in general and that it must grow faster than those of the West to even out the gap between their economies. Knoble also noted that the IMF decision not to continue negotiations on its cooperation agreement with Latvia because of its larger-than-agreed-upon budget deficit for 2002 is unlikely to affect the country's image since "Latvia has already shown its successful image of a reform maker."
COUNCIL OF EUROPE'S TORTURE CHARGES AGAINST POLICE REFUTED.
Normunds Belskis, the director of the Press and Public Relations Department of the Interior Ministry, asserted on 23 November that the report released the previous day by the Council of Europe's Committee for the Prevention of Torture accusing the Latvian police of beatings, electrical shocks, and asphyxiation during questioning of suspects is untrue, LETA reported. The report also charged that detention centers are overcrowded, have poor hygiene conditions, and detainees do not always receive regular exercise or food. Belskis agreed that the conditions in the detention centers are poor, but added that requests for additional funds intended to improve the conditions have not been approved. He said the report produced no facts to support the torture charges and that the level of transparency in the detention system is great enough that such mistreatment could not be concealed.
NATIONAL HARMONY PARTY HOLDS CONGRESS.
On 24 November, Russian State Duma International Affairs Committee Chairman Dmitrii Rogozin told the eighth Congress of the National Harmony Party in Riga that Latvia should respect the rights of minorities, LETA reported. The congress unanimously re-elected Janis Jurkans as the party chairman and a 43-member council. It also decided to participate in the 2002 parliament elections as part of the joint ticket of For Human Rights in a United Latvia with the Socialist Party and the Equality movement.
SPLIT AMONG SOCIAL DEMOCRATS.
Andris Zorgevics, director-general of the state-owned Latvijas dzelzcels (Latvian Railroad), released an open letter to the members of the Latvian Social Democratic Workers' Party (LSDSP) on 19 November, LETA reported. He wrote that he is leaving the LSDSP as "today, it is simply the party of [LSDSP Chairman Juris] Bojars, a Bolshevik organization, that has nothing in common with a parliamentary party." Zorgevics said he intends to form a new Social Democratic party. Zorgevics charged that after the 33rd congress of the LSDSP in late October, Bojars has been trying to "cleanse" the party ranks of people who do not support him. Plans to sign a cooperation agreement before the next parliament elections with For Human Rights in a United Latvia, whose leaders Tatyana Zhdanoka and Alfreds Rubiks had openly opposed Latvia's independence, are not acceptable. Zorgevics called on other party members to make their choice and join those Social Democrats who are represented by Egils Baldzens, Peteris Salkazanovs, and Arnis Mugurevics.
* Romanian President Ion Iliescu spoke with President Vike-Freiberga about common foreign policy goals -- admission to NATO and the EU -- on 27 November in Riga, LETA reported. Iliescu discussed the same topics as well as the role of OSCE missions in their countries with parliament Chairman Janis Straume. The next day at a working breakfast with Prime Minister Andris Berzins, the main topic was Latvian-Romanian cooperation.
* During a meeting between working groups from Riga and Moscow discussing cooperation in the spheres of culture, economy, and education, a Moscow government representative announced on 23 November that Russia's President Vladimir Putin had expressed support for cooperation between the two cities, BNS reported. Putin apparently considers that cooperation between the two capitals would be the start for good relations between their countries.
* Minister for International Financial Affairs Roberts Zile and head of the European Commission's delegation in Latvia Gunter Weiss signed on 29 November in Riga the Latvian-EU financial memorandum on the PHARE program for the year 2001, LETA reported. According to the memorandum, the PHARE program will provide 18.5 million lats ($29.2 million) for the implementation of projects in Latvia for which Latvia will contribute almost 8 million lats.
* The Riga Prosecutor's Office on 29 November reduced the charges against 16-year-old Daugavpils resident Alina Lebedeva, who attempted to strike Prince Charles in the face with red carnations on 8 November, to delinquency from the previous charge of threats against a foreign state official's life, LETA reported.
* Peter Semneby, the head of the OSCE mission to Latvia, declared on 17 November that the OSCE Permanent Council will decide on the future of its mission to Latvia at a meeting in Vienna on 20 December, BNS reported. He said that the decision would be based on his semi-annual report on Latvia which he intended to present to the Permanent Council after the OSCE Council of Ministers meeting in Bucharest in early December. In an article in "Diena" on 29 November, Semneby affirmed that the law on elections setting language requirements for candidates was an inappropriate instrument for protecting the Latvian language.
* The parliament passed a bill on 22 November which will place a 9 percent value-added-tax (VAT) on medicines, medical products, books, mass media, special infant food, hotel services, water supply and sewerage, waste removal, and undertaker services, BNS reported. Some of these goods and services were exempt from VAT while others were subject to an earlier 18 percent rate.
* The board of the Latvian Privatization Agency (LPA) decided to appoint three LPA officials as state trustees of the state-owned Latvian Shipping Company (LASCO), BNS reported on 28 November. The appointments are only a temporary measure since a meeting of LASCO shareholders on 3 December is expected to amend the company's statutes to reduce the number of state trustees to one and a new law getting rid of state trustees altogether will go into effect soon afterwards.
* Prime Minister Berzins and European Movement in Latvia President Ainars Dimants opened the second European Affairs Forum of Latvia's Society on 28 November in Riga, BNS reported. The forum had three discussion topics: "Latvia's Vision of the EU Future," "EU Pre-Accession Monitoring: Independence of Court Power," and on the protection of minorities during the pre-accession process.
* Some 100 deputies at the 12th congress of the Green Party on 24 November in Riga elected three co-chairmen, LETA reported. In the competition among eight candidates, Indulis Emsis and Valdis Felsbergs were re-elected co-chairmen and Viesturs Silenieks replaced Askolds Klavins. The Green Party currently has no deputies in the national parliament, but two deputies in the Riga City Council.
* In the first nine months of the year compared to the same period last year Latvia's imports grew by 14.1 percent to 1.59 billion lats ($2.52 billion) while exports rose by 12 percent to 942.8 million lats, BNS reported on 19 November.
LITHUANIAOIL SPILL AT BUTINGE TERMINAL.
In the early morning of 23 November an oil spill occurred at the floating oil terminal at Butinge during the loading of a Norwegian tanker, ELTA reported. The pumping of oil was halted immediately and it was later ascertained that the leakage came from an underwater hose. Unlike an earlier spill in March, the oil did not move north into Latvian waters, but south toward Lithuania's resort town Palanga. The weather was initially favorable and nearly 10 tons of oil was pumped to ships. Mazeikiai Nafta (Mazeikiai Oil), the owner of the Butinge platform, confirmed on 29 November that it agreed with the figures of the Environment Ministry that at least 40 tons of oil had been spilled, BNS reported. Environment Minister Arunas Kundrotas estimated that the damages from the spill will amount to more than 2.5 million litas ($750,000). He said the accident was caused by misuse of the terminal facility, lack of sufficient regulation and legislation, and lack of defined accountability among institutions for the terminal's use and the consequences of accidents.
ROMANIAN PRESIDENT VISITS VILNIUS.
Ion Iliescu began a two-day visit to Vilnius on 26 November with talks with Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, ELTA reported. The two discussed their countries' efforts to join the EU and NATO and the need to expand economic cooperation. They were present at the signing by Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis and his Romanian counterpart Mircea Geoana of agreements on free trade and the elimination of double taxation. With Adamkus, Iliescu opened the first-ever Lithuanian-Romanian economic forum at the Litexpo fairgrounds, and also met with Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas. On 27 November Iliescu addressed the Lithuanian parliament and had a meeting with its chairman, Arturas Paulauskas, before traveling to Riga.
THREE MORE CHAPTERS IN EU MEMBERSHIP TALKS CLOSED.
Lithuania successfully completed negotiating the chapters on the free movement of labor, customs union, and competition in its EU membership process in Brussels on 28 November, BNS reported. Delegation head Petras Austrevicius said he had reluctantly agreed to the maximum seven-year restriction on labor movement, but did obtain the right for Lithuania to impose similar measures on workers from current and future EU member countries. Four EU countries -- Denmark, Ireland, the Netherlands, and Sweden -- have announced that they will not place any labor restrictions on new EU states. In closing the customs union chapter, Lithuania agreed to improve its administration of import and export taxes, modernize its customs posts, and invest $12 million for improving the information communications system. Lithuania also agreed to ensure the efficient implementation of the state support mechanism and reinforce administrative capacities in the competition sector. Lithuania has now completed 21 of the 31 membership chapters.
SWEDISH ARMY CHIEF LAUDS LITHUANIAN ACHIEVEMENTS.
Swedish armed forces commander General Johan Ivar Hederstedt told Defense Minister Linas Linkevicius in Vilnius on 27 November that he is impressed by Lithuania's determination in building a new defense system not just in order to join NATO, but to defend itself, BNS reported. At a later joint press conference, his Lithuanian counterpart Major General Jonas Kronkaitis expressed his gratitude for Sweden's support since the beginning of 2000 with military equipment and weapons worth more than $50 million along with the necessary training to use them. Sweden has donated equipment for outfitting two air-defense battalions and a motorized infantry battalion, and has pledged to provide enough equipment by 2005 to outfit another two Lithuanian battalions.
EXPERT SAYS EU ENTRY ONLY IN 2005.
Jeremy Kourdi, an expert with the Economist Group publishing and consultations organization, told a press conference in Vilnius on 17 November that in the opinion of the Economist Group Lithuania will enter the EU not in 2004 but in 2005, because the EU will not be able to accept all 10 probable new members at one time, BNS reported. He said that the countries which began negotiations in 1998 -- Hungary, Estonia, Slovenia, Poland, the Czech Republic, and Cyprus -- will enter in 2004, while those which began negotiations in 2000 -- Latvia, Lithuania, Slovakia, and Malta -- will join the EU in 2005. Kourdi was in Lithuania to chair a two-day international business conference, organized by "The Economist," for the Lithuanian government and local and foreign businessmen.
GAZPROM MAY DROP PLANS TO BID FOR LITHUANIAN GAS UTILITY.
Sources close to the management of Russia's Gazprom said that the company does not like Lithuania's program for selling 34 percent of Lietuvos Dujos (Lithuanian Gas) to a Western strategic investor, BNS reported on 19 November. That day information about the program was published in the official website of the Lithuanian State Property Fund and in the "Financial Times." The program allows only investors from the EU, NATO, OECD, or EU associate countries, thus barring Russian companies from competing for the strategic stake. The Russian gas companies Gazprom and Itera have been mentioned as the most likely candidates for acquiring another 34 percent share of Lietuvos Dujos as the gas supplier. The contest for the gas supplier will, however, only begin in the second quarter of 2002 after the strategic investor has been selected.
PACE TO SEND MISSION TO BELARUS.
At its meeting in Vilnius on 19-20 November, the Political Committee of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) discussed the situation in Belarus and resolved to send a delegation there for talks with representatives of the government, the opposition, and NGOs, Belapan reported. Quoting Jonas Cekuolis, Lithuania's representative on the Political Committee, Belapan said Council of Europe Secretary-General Walter Schwimmer has recently sent a message to Minsk stating four conditions for the renewal of the council's dialogue with Belarus: giving more powers to the legislative branch, abolishing the death penalty, guaranteeing independence of the media, and establishing the post of an ombudsman. "A very good foundation has been laid for cooperation with Belarus, both the official authorities and the opposition," another Lithuanian lawmaker on the PACE Political Committee, Vaclovas Stankevicius, told RFE/RL's Belarusian Service, though he did not elaborate.
GOVERNMENT BACKS REDUCTION OF PROFIT TAX.
The cabinet approved on 20 November a draft law which would reduce the rate of the tax on profits from 24 to 15 percent, ELTA reported. The tax reduction in practical terms would not be applied until 2003 when profits for the year 2002 would be due. The bill, which still has to be approved by the parliament, would also abolish the zero tax rate on reinvested profits that has been in effect since 1997. In an effort to promote the development of small companies with less than 10 employees and annual revenues under 500,000 litas ($125,000), such companies would be subject to only a 13 percent tax on profits.
* Prime Minister Brazauskas, on a working visit to Sweden on 21 November, discussed the closing of the nuclear power plant at Ignalina and other environmental issues with King Karl XVI Gustav, ELTA reported. After talks with his Swedish counterpart Goran Persson, he announced that Lithuania would decide on the fate of the second reactor at Ignalina in 2002 and stressed that his country could not afford to close the plant without EU financial assistance. Brazauskas also met with Swedish parliament leader Birgitta Dahl and Minister of Foreign Trade and Regional Development Leif Pagrotsky.
* At a meeting of foreign and defense ministers from EU member and applicant states in Brussels on 20 November, Defense Minister Linkevicius announced that based on EU recommendations Lithuania was modifying its list of military units for EU crises management operations, ELTA reported. Two previously pledged frigates would be replaced by a helicopter and two minesweepers. The other promised units are three battalions, engineering and medical officer units, and two transport planes.
* EC Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom congratulated Lithuania on progress in safeguarding the environment on 23 November, BNS reported. She held talks with Environment Minister Kundrotas, chief EU negotiator Petras Austrevicius, and members of the parliament's European Affairs and Environment Protection committees. On the previous day, the EC delegation in Lithuania announced the granting of 5.26 million euros ($4.7 million) in aid for waste-treatment projects in the Siauliai region.
* The Environment Directorate-General of the European Commission awarded Vilnius a diploma for exceptional progress in the environment-protection field, ELTA reported on 27 November. Vilnius was one of the 13 winners among 122 cities from EU candidate countries participating in the competition.
* Israeli National Infrastructure Minister Avigdor Liberman became the first Israeli cabinet member to make an official visit to Lithuania on 20 November, ELTA reported. In talks with Deputy Foreign Minister Evaldas Ignatavicius, he confirmed Israel's backing of Lithuania's goal to join the EU and NATO. The officials also discussed bilateral economic ties, the future conclusion of a free-trade agreement, and joint efforts in international organizations.
* President Adamkus held talks in Vilnius on 19 November with the chief of Polish national security bureau, Marek Siwiec, on joint action in combating international terrorism and Lithuania's efforts to join NATO and the EU, ELTA reported.
* The European Commission announced on 26 November that it was accrediting the Lithuanian National Paying Agency to administer funds under the EU Special Accession Program for Agriculture and Rural Development (SAPARD) program, BNS reported. Lithuania should receive 30.34 million euros ($26.4 million) this year. Bulgaria, Estonia, and Slovenia are the only other EU candidates who have met the criteria to administer SAPARD funds.
* Nine right-wing and centrist parties signed a resolution on 23 November, disapproving the proposal by the Social Democrats to hold the elections for president and local councils simultaneously at the end of 2002, BNS reported.
* The Congress of the Center Union in Vilnius on 24 November re-elected Kestutis Glaveckas as its chairman and adopted a resolution confirming its commitment to remain a party acting together with center-right forces, ELTA reported on 26 November.
* An extraordinary general meeting of the Free Market Institute, an influential consulting group, on 23 November elected Vice President Ugnius Trumpa as the institution's next president to replace Elena Leontjeva who retired, ELTA reported.
* President Adamkus signed a decree on 16 November nominating Algirdas Kudzys, the former head of Vilnius district, as ambassador to Japan, ELTA reported. He will embark on his new duties on 17 December.