20 September 2000, Volume 1, Number 32
REGIONALBALTIC LEADERS SPEAK AT UN SUMMIT.
Two presidents and a prime minister represented the three Baltic countries at the UN Millennium Summit in New York on 7 September. Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga in her speech focused on ways to make the UN more efficient and productive, saying that the UN should develop assistance programs that "do not compete with each other, do not overlap and do not squander," BNS reported. Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus called on the UN to play a larger role in assisting people coping with the transformation from communism. Adamkus said that people are "looking for justice, which is perceived as compensation for their losses in the past." Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar focused on the role of information technology in today's world, in which small countries can compete by being economically open.
NATO PARLIAMENTARIANS SUPPORT BALTIC ACCESSION.
The deputy president of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly, Tahir Kose, said that the Baltic countries should be part of the next round of NATO enlargement. Kose, who led a 30-strong delegation to the three from 1-9 September, said that the delegation members would do what they could to make NATO accession a fact for the three countries, BNS reported. Estonian deputy parliamentary speaker Tunne Kelam said that NATO enlargement to the Baltics would strengthen the security of the Baltic countries, as well as that of Russia. The high-ranking delegation also includes the assembly's second deputy president, Frank Cook, and the body's secretary-general, Simon Lunn. In Latvia, the delegation visited the Liepaja port, the special economic zone, as well as the Latvian Naval Forces Base, LETA reported on 6 September. The NATO parliamentarians also met with defense ministry officials, as well as officials in the port city of Ventspils during their stay in Latvia. In Lithuania, the delegation met with the parliament's chairman, defense and foreign affairs committees, and the ministers of foreign affairs and defense. Dutch parliamentarian Wim van Eekelen asked parliament chairman Vytautas Landsbergis whether Lithuanians understand democracy since the Soviet occupation cut short the development of democracy in Lithuania. Landsbergis said that Lithuania adopted a code of laws, the Lithuanian Statute, in the 16th century and therefore, "Lithuania, as a state ruled by law, reaches back several centuries." During a press conference in the port city of Klaipeda, Kose praised the progress of the Lithuanian army, ELTA reported on 8 September.
TIBET ISSUE DOGS CHINA'S PARLIAMENT CHAIRMAN IN BALTICS.
Chinese parliament speaker Li Peng encountered protestors against China's continued occupation of Tibet during his swing through the Baltic region 5-9 September, BNS report. At the same time as Li was meeting with Estonian President Lennart Meri, the conference of Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO), meeting in Tallinn on 9 September, adopted a resolution expressing their indignation over China's continued occupation of Tibet and accusing China of engaging in ethnic cleansing there. The UNPO conference included representatives from Taiwan and Tibet, ETA reported. Li was also personally condemned by Estonian human rights activists for his role in the crushing of student demonstrations in Tiananmen Square that led to many deaths. According to reports by dpa and AP on 4 September, Li cut short his planned visit to Lithuania because of an anti-Communist tribunal being held in Vilnius the week of 4-9 September. The organizers of the tribunal consider it to be a "Nuremburg II" in which communist regimes are being charged with crimes against humanity. After meeting with Lithuanian parliament chairman Vytautas Landsbergis for two hours at the Vilnius Airport, Li flew to Belarus. While he was at the airport, a dozen demonstrators marched outside to protest the occupation of Tibet, and parliament deputy Vidmantas Ziemelis, a member of the Homeland People's Party, introduced a resolution in the Lithuanian parliament calling for the restoration of Tibetan independence, ELTA reported on 5 September.
* Russia's Baltic Fleet is ready to help Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania clear their waters of Soviet-era mines, Vice Admiral Vladimir Valuyev told BNS in Kaliningrad on 8 September. Valuyev said, "We are ready to not only show you where the minefields are but also to take part in the clearing the sea of mines and preparation of the continental shelf, so that your countries would prosper, live autonomously, and seamen wouldn't have to fear hitting a mine." He also said that in the next five years corroded World War II shells sunk in the Baltic Sea will no longer be able to contain the chemical charges and the sea will be polluted with chemicals which cause mutations in fish and pose a threat to humans. Valuyev estimated that an international project to render these bombs harmless would cost $2.5 billion.
* The transport ministers of Lithuania, Latvia, and Estonia meeting in Lithuania's port city of Klaipeda agreed that the countries should re-open the Tallinn-Warsaw railway link if it is economically feasible, ETA reported on 8 September. The Tallinn-Riga-Kaunas-Sheshtokai-Warsaw rail link was closed several years ago by the Estonian railway company because it was unprofitable. The ministers also reviewed the progress made in building the Via Baltica highway, compliance with European Union standards, and created a working group to draw up proposals for a third generation mobile phone system (UMTS) which could operate on a common standard in all three Baltic states.
* A conference of army reservists from the Baltic and Nordic states met in Vilnius on 7-8 September to discuss joint efforts in strengthening peace and security in the region, BNS reported. Reserve military officers from Sweden, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, France, Latvia, and Estonia attended the meeting. Brigadier-General Michael Clemmesen, commander of the Baltic Defense College, and Brigadier-General Jonas Kronkaitis, commander of Lithuania's Defense Forces, addressed the conference.
* Estonia and Latvia are against the decision of the International Baltic Sea Fishing Commission to cut next year's Baltic herring and sprat quotas, ETA reported on 8 September. The commission has imposed a 25 percent cut in the 2001 Baltic herring quota and an 11 percent decrease in the sprat quota. Estonia and Latvia have decided to unilaterally disregard the quotas, which are only advisory. Kristiina Muhlbaum, head of Estonia's Fishing Department, said, "While it is clear that fish reserves are in danger, the situation in Estonian and Latvian waters is not as bad as in the rest of the Baltic Sea."
* Lithuania and Latvia signed a bilateral agreement on cooperation in sea and land search and rescue operations on 8 September, BNS reported. The agreement stipulates that both countries must be ready to render emergency assistance in designated areas within both countries. It also provides for notification of rescued or perished people.
ESTONIAAUDITOR REFUSES TO CONFIRM 1999 ESTONIAN BUDGET.
The head of the State Audit Office, Juhan Parts, on 5 September asked the parliament not to confirm the government's report on budget expenditures for 1999, saying it is impossible to see how state funds were used by looking at the report. Parts said "the information contained in the report is unreliable, it is incomparable, and incomprehensible," ETA reported. Parts also attacked the accounting methodology and record-keeping, and criticized the failure of the report to include the off-budget funds and various government endowments. Parts warned that if the parliament approves the report, it bears full responsibility for it. Finance Minister Siim Kallas fired back, accusing Parts of interfering in politics. Kallas said that the report was done in conjunction with the State Audit Office, adding that the 1999 budget was originally drafted before this current coalition took over from the government of Mart Siimann of the Coalition Party after the March 1999 elections.
MERI SUBMITS KOUTS AS CANDIDATE FOR DEFENSE FORCES CHIEF.
During a meeting with the parliament's committee for national defense and representatives of the parliament's factions, President Lennart Meri nominated director of the border guards, Rear Admiral Tarmo Kouts as candidate for commander of the defense forces, ETA and BNS reported on 8 September. Tiit Tammsaar, chairman of the parliament's State Defense Committee said, "We all believe that the Riigikogu would approve Kouts." The nomination could be considered in the parliament within the first two weeks after it resumes its work on 11 September. Meri met with both Kouts and the former commander of the defense forces, Johannes Kert, on 7 September to discuss the nomination of Kouts, as well as legislative proposals on defense issues. Kouts told BNS earlier that he would be willing to assume the responsibilities of defense forces commander. Although Kert intends to leave the military, he said he is willing to help Kouts.
MORE DETAILS ON ESTONIAN SPY EXPULSIONS.
More details are emerging about the reasons Estonia expelled two Russian diplomats last week for "action incompatible with their status." An anonymous government official told "Postimees" on 2 September that it is no secret that Estonia's eastern border is monitored by sensors, "but what's secret is the type, parameters, and their placement on the border." Another anonymous official from the security service told the daily, "[Yuri] Yatsenko and [Vladimir] Telegin went to places they shouldn't have visited and wanted to speak with people they shouldn't have talked to." Estonian officials were unwilling to specify whether the diplomats had been working for the Russian federal counterintelligence agency, FSB, Russia's military intelligence agency, GRU, or Russia's foreign intelligence agency, SVR, ETA reported on 4 September. BNS added that the two likely left Estonia on 3 September.
'ESTONIA' SINKING INVESTIGATORS VIEW DIVE VIDEO.
In Tallinn on 5 September, members of the international commission that investigated the 1994 shipwreck of the "Estonia" ferry viewed the video taken from the recent diving expedition sponsored by U.S. millionaire Gregg Bemis, BNS reported. The video was shot by a German film crew headed by television producer Jutta Rabe. Although Uno Laur, head of the commission, said the video changes nothing, Rabe intends to return to the shipwreck next spring with one of the Finnish members of the commission who is an expert. Rabe said that the diving team wants to more thoroughly examine the hole in the sunken ferry with the help of Kari Lehtola, the commission member who can "give us exact directions as to what to look for and how and where to do it to finally clear up all the question marks," BNS reported on 7 September. Lehtola told the daily "Eesti Paevaleht" that he only consults the Finnish government and that "there's no doubt that I'll turn down the offer." Estonian Justice Minister Mart Rask said on 4 September that the Bemis diving expedition produced no new evidence that would compel the Estonian government to consider a new dive to the sunken ship, BNS reported. Among the 852 known victims, 501 were Swedish citizens and 280 were Estonian citizens. Some 80 percent of Estonians polled said they don't believe the official conclusions about why the ferry sank six years ago, AP reported on 4 September.
* Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves told a meeting of Seto Congress representatives and the Association of Seto municipalities that the full visa regime which becomes effective on the Estonian-Russian border on 11 September "will facilitate the freedom of movement," BNS reported on 7 September. Ilves said the new rules which provide multiple-entry visas will grant equal opportunity to all residents of the border territories who need to enter the other country for humanitarian reasons. Ilves recognized the efforts of local governments in the border areas in compiling lists of residents which will be used when applicants seek multiple-entry visas on favorable terms. The Seto are ethnic Estonians who live in the far southeastern corner of Estonia and the adjacent Pechory district of the Russian Federation. The Seto representatives voiced full support for the new border crossing regime. In the Russian town of Ivangorod, 700 residents who come to work in Estonia daily have been issued the new Estonian visas, ETA reported on 9 September.
* Russia's next ambassador to Estonia will be Konstantin Provalov, BNS reported on 4 September. Provalov currently works in the General-Secretariat of the Russian Foreign Ministry but has served in Russia's embassies in Burma and India. The present ambassador, Aleksei Glukhov, will leave Estonia in October after three years service in Tallinn. Glukhov, age 63, is expected to retire once he leaves his post in Tallinn.
* A Russian refrigerator ship ran aground off Estonia's western island of Hiiumaa on the night of 5 September, BNS and ETA reported. No injuries have been reported and the vessel was not in danger of sinking. According to the Border Guard Department, the Aldabaran sailing under the Russian flag was en route to St. Petersburg with a 272-ton load of frozen herring when it ran aground near the Tahkuna point on Hiiumaa's northern coast. The Tallinn Sea Rescue Center used its helicopters to evacuate the 13-member crew, ETA reported on 8 September. The 55-ton ship remains stuck listing 18 degrees with its engine room flooded.
* The U.S. Department of State's 2000 annual report on religious freedom released on 5 September said that the Estonian Constitution provides for freedom of religion and the government respects this right in practice, BNS and ETA reported on 6 September. The single controversy cited is the internal division of the Orthodox Church, but the Interior Ministry has tried to find a solution to this dispute. The report makes mention of a new draft law on churches and congregations which seeks to simplify and clarify existing procedures such as switching responsibility for registry of religious organizations from the Interior Ministry to the courts. No church or missionary groups reported problems in obtaining necessary residency permits. Government officials have voiced concerns about extremist religious groups such as Satanists establishing themselves in Estonia, according to the report.
* Estonia's Pro Patria Union party is going to again raise in the interparliamentary Baltic Assembly the need for claiming compensation from Russia for damages inflicted during the 1939-1991 Soviet occupation, BNS reported on 5 September. The board of Pro Patria Union gave its representatives in the interparliamentary body powers to urge the assembly to call on Russia to accept the Council of Europe's and European Parliament's position on the occupation of the Baltic states by the Soviet Union, board member Sirje Kiin told BNS. The party also wants Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to jointly assess the exact sum of damages for the five decades of Soviet occupation and turn to Russia with a proposal to open talks on paying compensation. Experts in international law say there is a legal basis to such claims, but both lawyers and politicians have expressed doubt whether Russia will open talks on the issue.
* Prime Minister Mart Laar's first online news conference, held on his party's website (http://www.isamaaliit.ee) on 4 September, was marred when an impostor answered some question after the session lapsed. The secretary-general of the Pro Patria Union, Andres Ammas, said they are trying to identify the prankster and to learn how the interactive news conference was infiltrated, ETA reported. Some of the bogus answers include "Laar" confessing about the mistake made in ending the switch to summer (daylight savings) time and worrying the Tallinn city council coalition is about to split. The local media were slow to issue retractions due to the false answers, and at times did not offer any retractions at all. Nevertheless, the Pro Patria Union plans on holding such interactive news conferences twice monthly, the next planned to feature Education Minister Tonis Lukas.
* Opposition parties in the Estonian parliament are opposed to the appointment of Deputy Chancellor of the Justice Ministry Priit Kama, 28, as law chancellor on the grounds that he does not meet the academic qualifications, BNS reported on 8 September. Villu Reiljan, head of the opposition's Estonian People's party criticizing Meri's selection said, "The position requires maturity, very good knowledge, and political independence." A spokeswoman for President Lennart Meri said Kama was appointed because he is thoroughly familiar with the entire judicial sphere and the state system. Kama has worked as a university lecturer, worked in the legislative process, represented the state of Estonia in the Constitutional Court and has written textbooks on the law. If confirmed by the parliament, Kama will serve for a seven-year term.
* The City of Tallinn will have to take a short-term loan to bridge its budget gap for the year of 280-300 million kroons ($16.4-$18 million), ETA reported on 6 September. The gap has been caused because of the delay in selling off the city's water utility and port facilities. The city had planned to earn 391 million kroons ($23 million) from the sale of various property and only 82.83 million ($4.8 million) has been brought into city coffers. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development board decided on 5 September to lend 22.5 million euros (351 million kroons) to Tallinn's water utility Tallina Vesi, which would be used for refinancing, according to ETA.
* The Tallinn city council's plan for the development of the Estonian capital until 2005 considers a possible decrease in the population of the city as the greatest threat to the city, BNS reported on 4 September. A decline in residents would mean a decrease in the number of taxpayers, which decreasing revenues. Another threat is the stratification of society and an increase in the level of crime in city. As one of its strengths the development plan cites the city's extensive area of vacant land--Tallinn has nearly 22 square kilometers of open space for possible construction.
* The Raudtee Erastamise Rahva AS (RER), a syndicate of Estonian businessmen formed to bid on the privatization of Estonian Railways, announced that the German state railway company Deutsche Bahn will not participate in RER's bid, ETA reported on 7 September. RER chairman of the board, Rain Tamm, said that the German firm may participate as a cooperation partner rather than as a strategic investor. Despite the setback, RER is going to bid on the railways and expects to disclose a new strategic partner for the project by the end of September. The Estonian Privatization Agency unexpectedly changed the terms of the privatization process on 5 September, requiring the presence of a foreign strategic investor, ETA reported.
* The council of Estonia's oil shale mining giant Eesti Palevkivi decided on 4 September to close two of its mines over the next two years, cutting 900 jobs, the daily "Postimees" reported. Mati Jostov, director-general of the company, said that the primary reason for the closure of the mines is excess capacity. Last year, Eesti Palevkivi laid off 1,272 employees and in 2004 will eliminate another 2,000 jobs. Jostov said the company can continue producing oil shale at current volume for at least another 50 years.
* The new Eesti Telefon (Estonian Telephone) tariffs for fixed-line telephones will double the cost of internet dial-up services starting in October, ETA reported on 4 September. The increased prices will also be included in the lower rate service packages from the company. The company will also charge from the first second of the Internet connection rather than the eighth second, as is has been doing. An average Internet user currently pays some 150 kroons ($8.90 per month) and the new rate will increase that cost to nearly 300 kroons ($17.80). Internet dial-up services account for 40 percent of all local calls in Estonia.
* Four Estonian drug couriers sentenced to long-term sentences in jail in Thailand four years ago hope soon to be transferred to a prison in Estonia, BNS reported on 6 September. Estonian Foreign Ministry Deputy Chancellor Priit Pallum and Thai Ambassador Prasat Mansuwan--who will soon leave his post--signed a bilateral agreement on the transfer of convicted persons and cooperation in administering criminal punishments. The agreement will have to be ratified by both countries' parliaments followed by an exchange of ratification letters. The four Estonians were arrested in June 1995 at Bangkok airport as they attempted to leave Thailand for Prague carrying 5.8 kilograms of heroin. Originally the four were sentenced to life imprisonment, but their prison terms have been reduced individually to between 30 to 50 years.
* In a poll conducted by Gallup Finland, up to 36 percent of Estonia's residents consider it likely that they will go to work in Finland after Estonia joins the European Union, BNS reported on 4 September. The percentage of Estonians ready to work in Finland has grown in the last two years when only one in four or 28 percent considered such an option likely. The largest share of respondents indicating they are willing to work in Finland are people under 25, students, and the unemployed. The poll also reveals that Russian-speaking residents are more eager to work in Finland than are ethnic Estonians.
LATVIABANKA BALTIJA TRIAL HALTED WITH DEFENDANT HOSPITALIZED...
The long-running criminal trial against ex-banker Aleksandr Lavent was halted in Riga on 5 September because the defendant became ill and was transferred to Riga Prison Hospital, LETA reported. Lavent, the former council chairman of the failed Banka Baltija, has been incarcerated for the duration of the investigation and trial, about 62 months. Doctors said Lavent suffered an attack of angina and court officials adjourned proceedings. Lavent was stricken as the court attempted to stop Lavent from completing his closing statement, ruling that he was making open threats against the court. In his statement, Lavent charged that there is a major conspiracy among top state officials against him, saying lapses in the investigation "were done on state orders," and threatened the judge saying that he'll make sure that she never gets another job, BNS added. Lavent is likely to remain in the hospital for at least a week according to doctors, LETA reported. The other two defendants, the bank's former president, Talis Freimanis, and Alvis Lidums from the bank's investment department, are scheduled to speak next as the trial draws to a conclusion, BNS reported on 6 September. Lavent and his colleagues are charged with sabotage, fraud on a massive scale, attempted destruction of Latvia's monetary system, and lesser crimes such as forgery of documents.
...WHILE SYMPATHETIC PRISONERS STAGE HUNGER STRIKE.
Six inmates being held for pre-trial detention announced on 6 September they are going on a 10-day hunger strike to protest the treatment of ex-banker Lavent, BNS reported. Police officials confirmed that there are six prisoners on a hunger strike that were being monitored by prison doctors, but declined to release their identity or other details. The striking inmates are protesting Judge Inara Steinarte's ruling on 6 September which prevented Lavent from finishing his closing statement, because he threatened the court.
CONTROVERSIAL LATVIAN DEPUTY KEEPS IMMUNITY...
The Latvian parliament on 7 September failed to revoke the parliamentary immunity of controversial deputy Janis Adamsons by a vote of 41-47 with five abstentions, BNS reported. The vote was not a surprise, as most parties represented in the parliament voiced objections to the proposal and two parliamentary committees voted against it as well. Most parliament members of the ruling coalition in the People's Party and Latvia's Way voted to strip Adamsons of his immunity, but the Social Democrats and the leftist faction For Human Rights in a United Latvia voted against. However, six members of the New Party and the For Fatherland and Freedom Party, which are part of the ruling coalition, also voted against the measure. Adamsons, head of a parliamentary ad hoc group investigating the so-called "pedophilia scandal," in February named three high-ranking officials, including then-Premier Andris Skele, of being involved in the affair. Prosecutor-General Janis Maizitis on 8 August asked the parliament to lift Adamsons' immunity in order to file libel charges against the parliament member.
...VOTE SPARKS REACTION.
Prime Minister Andris Berzins called the vote "a slap in the face" for Latvian democracy but not a threat to the stability of the government despite the fact that members of the ruling coalition parties voted against lifting Adamsons' immunity instead of abstaining from the vote, BNS and LETA reported on 7 September. Berzins added that this was a vote of no confidence in the Office of the Prosecutor-General and the entire court system. Berzins accused the parliament of "attempting to be simultaneously both the prosecutor and the court," thus "banning the prosecutor's office and the court from fulfilling their duties." Berzins expressed concern that the vote undermines the principle of "division of power" necessary in all democratic countries. Prosecutor-General Janis Maizitis said that the vote was not an indictment of his office but was another example of the conflict caused in government by "parliamentary investigation commissions attempting to work as investigating institutions." Maizitis said the vote was a political decision. Maizitis is considering taking the issue to the Latvian Constitutional Court. Before the vote ex-Justice Minister Valdis Birkavs, one of the officials named by Adamsons, said he will file a civil suit for 100,000 lats ($163,132) for defamation of character. Birkavs told LETA that "the goal of the scandal was carried out...the nation was disgraced, the government subverted, and several politicians eliminated." Adamsons said he will file a counter suit, LETA added. Skele called the decision "sad and regrettable" and said he plans to file civil action against Adamsons as well.
RESISTANCE TO LATVIAN LANGUAGE LAW REGULATIONS.
The Association for Human Rights in United Latvia adopted a resolution on 4 September calling on non-governmental organizations and residents to use all non-violent means to resist the newly adopted state-language law and its regulations, BNS reported. The resolution calls on residents to use Russian in all spheres of life where it is not restricted under the law, not to use services of companies that are not providing services to customers in Russian, and to disregard the regulations when they are in direct contradiction of the European Human Rights Convention, the UN Pact on Civil and Political Rights, and the Latvian Constitution. The Latvian parliament's education, culture, and research committee chairman, Dzintars Abikis, asked the prosecutor-general and the Constitution Protection Office to assess the resolution adopted by the association as to whether it is inciting the population to national hatred, BNS reported on 8 September. Abikis views the appeals to residents not to obey the law as illegal. The Latvian Cabinet of Ministers urged residents to refrain from heeding irresponsible and provocative declarations urging non-violent civil disobedience against the language law, LETA reported on 5 September. The ministers' statement says that such appeals are an attempt to "arouse mutual distrust and hatred among people of various nationalities." Nils Muiznieks, director of the Human Rights and Ethnic Studies Center, told BNS on 4 September that he believes leftist forces will not succeed in mobilizing many people for the non-violence campaign.
* The Latvian parliament voted to extend the mandate of the Latvian Defense Forces units on duty in SFOR (Stabilization Force) in the former Yugoslavia for six more months, BNS reported on 7 September. Ten Latvian soldiers are serving in Kosova along with troops from Great Britain.
* Latvia began its term as co-chair of the OSCE's Security Cooperation Forum, which holds weekly plenary meetings to discuss arms control in Europe and adjoining regions, BNS reported on 6 September. The chairmanship rotates among the 54 nations which make up the organization. Latvia has never presided over the committee to date and will share the chairmanship over the next month with Macedonia, which was the presiding country the previous month and Italy, which will preside over the committee the following month.
* According to the U.S. State Department's latest annual report on religious freedom, the Latvian government generally respects freedom of religion, although bureaucratic problems for minority religions persist, BNS reported on 7 September. Relations among the various religious communities are generally amicable, but lingering suspicions remain towards newer, non-traditional faiths. Registration problems can arise because the Law on Religious Organizations does not allow simultaneous registration of more than one religious union (church) in a single confession, therefore the government cannot register splinter groups, including an independent Jewish congregation and a separate Old Believers group. The Christian Scientists have been refused registration because of opposition from the Physicians' Association of Latvia. The report said that the visa application for missionaries remains cumbersome, and foreign religious denominations have complained that under the law they are not allowed to hold meetings and to proselytize without an invitation from domestic religious organizations. The report notes that although the process for restitution of religious property is slow and complex, the Jewish community has been able to regain a number of major properties around the country, and the legal framework for property restitution is adequate.
* If the referendum of Latvia's accession to the European Union had been held in August, 44.5 percent of the residents would have voted in favor, up 4.8 percent from May, according to a public opinion poll conducted by the survey firm SKDS, BNS reported on 6 September. The poll was conducted in cooperation with the European Integration Bureau. The number of EU opponents has declined from 37.3 percent in May to 32.4 percent in August. The opinions of Latvia's citizens and non-citizens differ on the issue of EU accession, with 45.7 percent of citizens supporting and only 41 percent of non-citizens in August supporting Latvia's candidacy. The difference is even significant among those who oppose EU accession where 30 percent of citizens oppose the candidacy, but 39 percent of non-citizens oppose Latvia's candidacy for membership.
* Finance Minister Gundars Berzins told a press conference on 7 September that the 2001 national consolidated budget plan has a 79.09 million lats ($131.6 million) deficit which is 1.74 percent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP), LETA reported. The International Monetary Fund's mission to Latvia has recommended a budget deficit no larger than 1 percent of GDP. The budgets for local governments are to be increased by 8 percent over this year while investments in national infrastructure will be decreased.
* Prime Minister Andris Berzins said that Latvenergo will increase its energy tariffs to consumers an average of 9 percent annually for the next 10 years in order to finance renovations and repairs to its energy production and distribution system, LETA reported. The Ministry of Economy will present its reorganization plan for Latvenergo within the next week, as required by law, since the parliament rejected plans to privatize the state-owned energy monopoly. A key factor in the reorganization plan is the EU's directive to liberalize the energy market.
* More than half of Latvia's population believes that corruption is a serious problem in Latvia and that the government's efforts to curb the problem have not been sufficiently successful, according to the latest opinion poll from the SKDS agency, BNS reported on 7 September. Respondents to the survey were asked to evaluate the corruption problem on a 5-point scale. The results showed that 57.3 percent of the population rated the problem of corruption with a five -- the highest measure. On a separate question, 30 percent consider the anti-corruption efforts of the government inadequate, 32.8 percent say that the government even promotes corruption, and 22.4 percent are certain that the government does not even try to fight corruption. Naming the most corrupt areas of Latvian society, 74.1 percent said politics, 66.8 percent named public administration, 48.1 percent named business, and 38.7 percent said local governments were corrupt. Although 56.3 percent of residents believe they are powerless to prevent or restrict the spread of corruption, 35.7 percent admitted that they could limit corruption by refraining from bribery.
* The Riga City Vidzeme District Court on 7 September rejected the prosecutor's request to extend the custody of Didzis Azanda, the former Latvian Privatization Agency board member who is suspected of taking bribes, BNS reported. The current custody period for Azanda expired 9 September, which is a holiday, so he was released the afternoon of 8 September. The prosecutor's office has appealed the court's decision, but the appeal will only be heard next week. Azanda remains under police surveillance. The Security Police arrested Azanda on 28 July when he accepted a package with $3,000 previously marked by the police from an individual involved in the privatization of a state-owned facility.
* The joint-stock company Latvija Naftas Tranzits (Latvian Oil Transport), a major shareholder in the joint-stock company Ventspils Nafta (Ventspils Oil), attempted to scare off potential consultants for the open tender of state-owned shares in Ventspils Nafta by sending them specially prepared letters, LETA reported on 6 September. Latvian Privatization Agency Director-General Janis Naglis told a press conference that the letters were meant to intimidate consulting companies to slow down the tender. Nonetheless, the consulting companies did not retract their bids to prepare the shares for privatization. Latvija Naftas Tranzits officials countercharged that the Latvian Privatization Agency was trying to derail the privatization by insisting on unreasonable conditions for the tender.
* Aijo Beness, a member of the illegal Russian nationalist organization National Bolsheviks, was given a two-year suspended sentence for delinquency. The Riga Central District Court on 1 September handed down the sentence to Beness for defacing private property with graffiti with the slogan "kill [ex-Premier Andris] Skele," LETA reported. After the sentencing, Beness said, "I hate Latvia's laws, and if this country wants to declare war on me, it will get the war," adding that he would appeal this decision all the way to the Russian Supreme Court.
* A total of 357,000 pupils are enrolled in Latvian comprehensive and vocational schools grades one through twelve this school year, LETA reported on 7 September. About one-third, 105,392 pupils, attend school in the capital city of Riga. The number of students have decline over 3,000 in the last year and a total of 2,410 registered pupils have failed to show up for school since the beginning of the school year on 1 September.
* Riga Mayor Andris Argalis said that one million lats ($1.6 million) is needed to buy the land necessary for the building of the new Latvian National Library, LETA reported on 5 September. An additional $600,000 is needed to compensate apartment owners and renters in the buildings which may have to be torn down to make way for the project.
* The Latvian population has aged over the last decade, BNS reported on 5 September. The number of children and teenagers in the population decreased by 5 percent from 22.8 percent in 1990 to 17.8 percent in early 2000. At the same time, the percentage of people over the age of 60 increased from 16.8 percent to 20.7 percent in the population in the same decade. Since 1991 the Latvian population has dropped by 244,000 people to 2.424 million at the beginning of 2000.
* The National Environmental Health Center registered a record number of tick-borne encephalitis cases at the end of August, LETA reported on 4 September. This year 290 people have been stricken with encephalitis, with Riga topping the list of regions with 52 of those cases. The Liepaja district and city registered 32 cases, Ventspils and Ventspils district 29, with 18 cases in the Riga district.
* The AIDS Prevention Center in Riga has recorded 765 persons infected with HIV since 1987. Of those cases, 64 persons have been diagnosed with AIDS and 20 persons have died of HIV/AIDS, LETA reported on 5 September. Approximately half of the HIV cases are due to intravenous drug use. Specialists at the center are concerned that more teenagers were diagnosed with HIV this year than in previous years--most of those cases are also intravenous-drug related. Interior Minister Mareks Seglins supports legislation to enable local municipalities, particularly the city of Riga, to close down nightclubs where people have been detained for drug dealing and possession.
LITHUANIALITHUANIAN PARLIAMENTARY ELECTION CAMPAIGN BEGINS.
Candidates and political parties began their campaign for election to the country's parliament on 8 September, BNS reported. Representatives of political parties planning to take part in the proportional representation part of the elections, by which 70 of 141 seats are allocated, met at the Central Election Commission on 7 September to draw numbers for the election list, ELTA reported. A total of 27 parties are participating in the elections, but due to coalitions, there are only 15 lists with a total of 1,180 candidates. About 700 individuals -- most of them party members -- will compete for one of 71 constituency seats. One minor controversy exists because the Electoral Commission rejected the candidacy of current parliament deputy Audrius Butkevicius, because the lawmaker is still on probation for a bribery conviction. Butkevicius has filed an appeal with the courts. An additional 12 registered parties are sitting out the parliamentary election, which will take place on 8 October. A recent survey published on 7 September in the weekly magazine "Veidas" reported that almost two-thirds of the population is likely to vote, and that 72 percent of likely voters had already made up their mind for whom they would be casting their ballots.
HIGH-PROFILE HUNGER STRIKE ENDS, WHILE OTHERS CONTINUE.
The prosecutor's office in Kaunas is filing charges against three persons for causing the bankruptcy of the Inkaras footwear factory because of massive financial fraud, ELTA reported on 5 September. Among those to be indicted is Arturas Vilkelis, director-general of Inkaras Holding Company, and Andrius Pauliukaitis, head of the Inkaras joint-stock company. Prosecutor-General Kazys Pednycia criticized the director of the Audit Department for failing to complete the auditing of the Inkaras firm. Pednycia is also considering punishing those state officials who ignored their responsibility to inspect the use of state-guaranteed loans by Inkaras. A hunger strike by employees of the insolvent footwear maker ended on 4 September after some wage arrears were finally paid. Ten workers who had not been paid for more than a year began the hunger strike on 1 August amid a larger strike and picket at the plant. Some 430,000 litas ($107,500) was transferred into the company's accounts after the military and other state institutions purchased running shoes from the plant. Each of the 1,200 workers owed money got some money, BNS reported. Before the distribution the company owed some 3.8 million litas ($900,000) to its workers. President Valdas Adamkus urged workers from other insolvent companies around Lithuania to give up their hunger strikes. A group of workers from the insolvent Litoda leather plant in the western Lithuanian town of Plunge continue their hunger strike in front of the presidential office in Vilnius. Workers at Litoda are owed about 1.8 million litas ($450,000).
* U.S. President Bill Clinton submitted the U.S-Lithuania agreement on reciprocal protection of investment to the U.S. Senate for ratification, BNS reported on 7 September. The agreement was signed in Washington, D.C., in January 1998, and was ratified by the Lithuanian parliament in June 2000. The treaty, if ratified, would protect U.S. investment and assist Lithuania in its efforts to develop its economy. According to the Lithuanian Statistics Department, the U.S. ranked second in terms of investments in Lithuania with over $276 million as of 1 January 2000.
* Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus made a three-day visit to Iceland on 3-5 September en route to New York for the UN Millennium Summit. On 3 September Adamkus met his counterpart, President Olafur Ragnar Grimsson, with a focus on improving economic and cultural ties, ELTA reported. Prime Minister David Oddsson reiterated Iceland's support for Lithuania's membership in NATO during a meeting the next day. Adamkus also met with visiting Chinese Parliamentary Chairman Li Peng, who was also visiting Reykjavik, focusing on bilateral relations and economic links. Li Peng stated that China does not feel threatened by Lithuania's aspirations to join the EU and NATO.
* Leaders of Lithuania's ruling Conservative Party questioned the intentions of Belarus for conducting war games on the Lithuanian-Belarusian border, BNS reported on 8 September. Poland's major daily, "Gazeta Wyborcza," reported on 7 September that the games, held in conjunction with Russian forces, was to prepare for reaching the Russian Kaliningrad region sandwiched between Poland and Lithuania from Lithuanian territory. The daily reported that "the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency believes that the training session was targeted at reducing Lithuania's chances of joining NATO during the second round of enlargement." The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry said that Belarus was not obligated to notify Lithuania about the war games which began on 5 June, the day after U.S. President Bill Clinton concluded his visit to Moscow. Under the Conventional Forces in Europe Treaty, an exercise must involve more than 9,000 troops, 250 tanks, and 300 armored vehicles before notification is obligatory.
* The Lithuanian Embassy in Warsaw received a letter from a Polish charity apologizing that its charity campaign aimed at helping Polish school children in eastern Lithuania had upset the Lithuanian people, BNS reported on 8 September. The non-governmental organization, Polish Humanitarian Action, had been raising money by running ads on Polish radio and television urging people to help allegedly starving Polish children in Lithuania. The ads also appeared to use irredentist appeals because they used quotations from a 19th century poem by Adam Mickiewicz "Lithuania, you are my fatherland." Janina Ochojska, chairperson of the organization, wrote in the letter: "We did not intend to imply that Lithuania was the Polish people's lost homeland."
* The U.S. Department of State in its 2000 Annual Report on International Religious Freedom stated that relations between the government and the officially registered Jewish community are good, in spite of a certain level of anti-Semitic sentiment that still persists in the country, BNS reported on 6 September. In 1999, the Lithuanian Jewish community was concerned about anti-Semitic statements made by politicians such as the mayor of Kaunas, Vytautas Sustauskas. The report pointed out that in April 2000 the Lithuanian Catholic Church apologized for indifference and the crimes committed by some Lithuanians during the Holocaust. The statement was the first acknowledgement by the church that some Lithuanians participated in the mass murder of Jews during World War II. The report gives an exhaustive description of legislation on religious communities both recognized by the state and those which are seen as non-traditional religious associations. There are 921 traditional and 165 non-traditional religious associations in Lithuania according to the Ministry of Justice.
* In an interview with RFE/RL in Vilnius on 8 September, Vytenis Andriukaitis, chairman of the Social Democratic Party, and Gediminas Dalinkevicius, vice chairman of the New Union/Social Liberal Party, agreed that management control and decision making at the Mazeikiu Nafta oil refinery must be taken away from U.S.-based Williams International. The representatives of both left of center parties said that foreign investors could buy shares of Lithuania's major state-owned firms but would not be allowed to manage or control decision making, if either of their parties came to power this fall. Dalinkevicius said that the New Union would "hold a referendum or do whatever needed to be done" to take back state control at the oil refinery. Both parties would also reorder the country's foreign policy priorities. Andriukaitis told RFE/RL that the top priority should be good relations with Lithuania's neighbors and efforts to join NATO should only come third, emphasizing that "it is certainly not the first priority." Dalinkevicius agreed, saying that the present government had worsened relations with Russia by demanding compensation for the Soviet occupation, and that current military spending was "beyond the bounds of reason" and "beyond what the country could afford."
* The Vilnius International Tribunal on Communism resumed its deliberations by holding a second session 4-9 September, BNS and ELTA reported. The tribunal's verdict on the crimes of communism and communist regimes in Eastern Europe has been delayed until a third session scheduled for 27 September. The reason for the postponement was a flood of new documentation submitted by petitioners from Bulgaria, Belarus, Poland, Moldova, and Chechnya. Two supporters of communism, Yuri Radovicius, 49, a philosophy professor at Vilnius Technical University, and Mykolas Okulic-Kazarinas, a 29-year old Lithuanian engineer, participated in the second session to offer a defense of communism and its practicing regimes -- no one agreed to offer a defense in the first session, which was held in mid-June. The seven member tribunal of judges include three Lithuanians, one Latvian, and one member each from Ukraine, Germany, and Romania. Organizers of the public tribunal call it the follow-up to the Nuremberg trials held after World War II.
* A Vilnius-based international group of parliamentarians in support of Chechnya sent a letter to Chechen President Aslan Maskhadov on the 9th anniversary of Chechnya's declaration of independence, BNS reported on 5 September. The letter denounces Russia's year-long military campaign in Chechnya. Algirdas Endriukaitis, head of the support group, said in the letter that the Chechen nation "displayed its democratic and political will on September 6, 1991 to restore the country's independence" and work out its relations with Russia through negotiations conducted in line with international law. The letter also states, "Russia's war against Chechnya will be seen in the history of Russia and the world as a shameful act of annihilation of the Chechen nation, dissembling and jeering at international law."
* The Lithuanian government approved two measures to improve the country's depressed economy, ELTA reported on 6 September. The first is an export development and promotion strategy for 2000-2002, which will cost about 45 million litas ($11.2 million) annually, with most of the funding coming from the private sector. U.S. experts assisted the Economy Ministry in developing the plan. The second initiative aims at helping to develop small- and medium-sized businesses in Lithuania. The program includes proposed legislation to improve the legal and economic climate for small business.
* In July, total exports from Lithuania increased by 1.9 percent, while total imports were down by 3.2 percent compared to June data, ELTA reported on 7 September. In the first seven months of 2000 exports from Lithuania grew by 26.1 percent and imports by 11.1 percent. Lithuania's main trading partners are Latvia, with 16.5 percent, Germany (14.4 percent), Russia (6.3 percent), and the United Kingdom (6.1 percent). Lithuania imports the most from Russia (27.3 percent), Germany (14.6 percent), the United Kingdom (5.5 percent), and Poland (5.1 percent).
* Executives at the Netherlands-based consortium B.B.Bredo B.V., which won the public tender to buy Lithuania's state-owned shipping company Lisco, finished a series of consultations with state officials and politicians in Vilnius, ELTA reported on 8 September. The executives did not conceal their "amazement at the reluctance of Lithuanian politicians" to accept the government-approved privatization terms for Lisco. The Center Union party of Lithuania, led by deputy Romualdas Ozolas, has publicly protested the privatization of Lisco and threatened to reverse the deal when "it comes to power" after the 8 October national elections. The Dutch consortium has offered to buy 75 percent of the shares of Lisco for $50 million and invest an additional $50 million in the shipping company during the first year of operations. This is the second public tender for Lisco because the previous bids -- some as high as $35 million -- were rejected by the government last year.