Vol 2, No 12
27 March 2000
C E N T R A L E U R O P E A N N E W S:
News Review for Lithuania
All the important news from Lithuania
since 18 March 2000
Politics and foreign affairs
Lithuania held local elections on 19 March. The voters appeared to be heavily disenchanted with the main five parties, as they gave their votes to several parties that were formerly at the fringe. This is seen as an indicator of voter attitude, with a general election coming up in autumn (see this week's Amber Coast and accompanying election result table for the full story).
This and other factors prompted 13 Conservative MPs to defect, creating a new faction in the Seimas. The new faction is led by ex-Premier Gediminas Vagnorius, and includes several of his former cabinet ministers. Vagnorius and the group said they want to return to the policies of the "prosperous" era, while the mantle was under Vagnorius in 1996-1998, before the others ruined it with unsound policies. They forget to mention that under Vagnorius they all but ignored the Russian economic crisis and pursued totally unrealistic budget policies, which exacerbated the crisis in Lithuania more than the other Baltic countries.
MP Audrius Butkevičius was released from jail and returned to the Seimas this past week. The MP, who served 2.5 years of his sentence for taking a bribe, remains on parole for the year or so left on his sentence. This would effectively prevent him from running in the autumn parliamentary election, unless he is pardoned. Butkevičius maintains that he is innocent and accused the Conservatives of the political intrigue that landed him in jail. In a shameful session of the Seimas, the body failed to revoke the mandate of Butkevičius despite his conviction, which was upheld by the Supreme Court, back in June 1999 (see the Amber Coast entitled, Lithuanian Parliament Fails to Clean House, from 19 July 1999, for more on this shameful story).
An appellate court returned the war crimes case against Aleksandras Lileikis back to the Vilnius Regional Court. This comes after a law on trials in absentia was adopted, allowing for court proceedings to continue despite the defendant not being present. The defendant would be able to observe proceedings via closed-circuit television. Lileikis's lawyer criticised the possible restart of the trial, suggesting the ex post facto imposition of the regulation is unconstitutional. Lileikis is charged with genocide for his alleged role during the Nazi occupation.
A first of its kind, the interior ministers of the three Baltic countries signed an agreement on cross-border witness and victim protection. Now victims and witnesses can be housed across borders before testifying in court. The agreement was signed in Tallinn by Tarmo Loodus of Estonia, Mareks Segliņš of Latvia and Česlovas Blažys of Lithuania.
President Valdas Adamkus scolded the Conservatives and the government for not ridding the country of mandatory registration of places of residence. The old Soviet-era relic remains in practice, as officials said a lack of funds is preventing the proper creation of a residency database.
The Seimas accepted the veto instructions from President Adamkus in two separate pieces of legislation - one on higher education and another on state secrets. The Seimas agreed to the protest of Adamkus that the law on higher education partly eroded the autonomy of schools, and also that a grace period for the return of state secrets was necessary.
The Seimas also ratified the Lithuanian-Russian agreement on protection and promotion of investments.
The government approved a plan of action in case of an accident at the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant. The document encompasses clean-up, management, safety, funding, and all issues dealing with a potential disaster.
The government also annulled the law on emigration. The law required people to seek approval before emigrating from Lithuania. The government called it a relic of the Soviet system and got rid of it as an unconstitutional measure. About 1200 Lithuanians emigrate annually.
Foreign Minister Algirdas Saudargas made a week-long visit to China, promoting bilateral ties. During the visit, Saudargas visited several cities and met with Premier Zhu Rongju and Foreign Minister Tang Jiaxuan.
Social Affairs Minister Irena Degutienė and her Belarusian counterpart Olha Darhel signed an agreement on pensions, which under some circumstances could result in an individual receiving payments from both countries.
Economics and business
The government approved the sacking of the board chairman of the large state-owned Taupomasis Bankas (The Savings Bank), Romualdas Visokavičius. At the same time, rumours that former Finance Minister Algimantas Križinauskas could take the helm is circulating, as he served in government while the opposition LDDP was at the helm. The new breakaway faction of the Conservatives in the Seimas heavily criticised the sacking, and Visokavičius called it political.
The producer price index rose by 0.6 per cent in February, compared to January.
Social and local interest
A horrific court case grew more confusing, as the Supreme Court rejected the appeals from Darjus Lavrinovic, Ksystof Lavrinovic and Andrei Borodkin over their rape conviction - as well as that of the former accuser, Natalija Lavrinovic. After the initial conviction, Natalija recanted the story, suggesting it was consensual - going as far as marrying Darjus. However, authorities are planning to charge Natalija as well in this strange case.
A UN report shows that Lithuania has one of the fastest aging populations in Europe and the world. Currently, about 18 per cent of Estonians are over the age of 60. However, in 2050, the projected figure goes up to 35 per cent, putting Lithuania in eleventh place in Europe.
Farmers in the south continued protesting for over a week against government policies on sugar and beets. The protests continued during the local elections, clearly indicating farmer anger towards the government.
The government gave provisional approval to another arms legalisation programme. The earlier programme, held between June and August 1999, brought in 1255 firearms, 42,853 pieces of ammunition and 23 explosives.
The leader of an uprising by a volunteer defence force in 1993 in Kaunas, Jonas Maskvytis, was apprehended by police this past week. The culprit was found hoarding a large cache of firearms, ammunition and explosives. This came after three accomplices were arrested with a large cache of arms in their vehicle.
The commander of the 82nd battallion in the Vilnius territorial defence HQ, Captain Rimas Karlas, committed suicide citing family reasons. This is the first military suicide in 2000, and there have been three in the past two years.
And in other news...
There is increased queuing at the Kybartai-Kaliningrad border exclave, as regional residents realised that goods - especially petrol - were much cheaper over the Russian border. For example, a litre of petrol costs about LTL (Lithuanian litas) 2.70, fully affected by the global rise in crude prices. However, in Kaliningrad the price is only about LTL one.
Lithuania could be facing its first Viagra death, as a 64 year-old dropped dead after using the pills - according to his girlfriend.
Mel Huang, 24 March 2000
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