Politics and foreign affairs
So much for teleconferencing testimonials, as the two high-profile trials against accused Nazi war criminals ground to a halt, due to health reasons. The trial of Kazys Gimzauskas never even made it to screen, as medics pronounced him unfit mentally or physically to participate from a remote location. His trial is due to reconvene in September, but it is likely it will be halted indefinitely, as doctors say he cannot understand or control his actions now.
The trial of Aleksandras Lileikis, which was suspended minutes into his testimony via video-conferencing, has now been suspended indefinitely. Lileikis is in hospital for a variety of ailments, and medics will not permit the trial to continue with the defendant in this state.
The Conservative-led Seimas passed an unthinkable set of new election regulations just months before the next general election. The changes, of which opponents say are designed to help the Conservatives win more seats, turns the 71 single-mandate seats into first-past-the-post plurality voting, rather than the usual two-round run-off system. In earlier elections, the top two vote-getters would go to a run-off in a few weeks, but now the top vote-getter wins outright.
A CER study shows that if the rule was in place during the 1996 general elections, the Conservatives would have benefited most from it, as 16 of the 22 affected slots would have been gained by the party (see this week's Amber Coast - Lithuania, for more on this controversial move).
Following a televised speech criticising the Conservatives a week ago, President Valdas Adamkus is now the target of heavy criticism. Harsh criticism against the president came from the Union of Political Prisoners and Deportees, an election ally of the Conservatives, who all but accused Adamkus of not respecting the legacy and deeds of Lithuanian patriots during occupation. But the statement became fully political after it took pot-shots at the head of the Liberal Union, Rolandas Paksas, and the President's cosiness with the centrist alliance.
This comes as Lithuania celebrated Mindaugas Day on 6 July, which commemorates the crowning of the nation's only king in history in the 13th century. President Adamkus awarded members of the supreme council, which restored Lithuania's independence in 1990, though several rejections marred the event earlier in the week. Five well-known former activists refused the award, and Rūta Gajauskaitė went as far as to give up her pension, saying wryly that it should be donated to Vytautas Landsbergis. The Seimas recently passed a bill to give Landsbergis a presidential pension.
President Adamkus and Conservative Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius had a meeting to clear the air, though very little has come out in the media. Relations between the President and the Conservatives have been downright nasty since the infamous televised speech a week earlier.
Turkish Parliament Speaker Yildirim Akbulut visited Lithuania to promote bilateral ties. Over the past few months, Turkey has shown increasing interest in the Baltics. Akbulut reaffirmed his country's support for Baltic membership in NATO.
The New Democracy / Women's Party, led by former premier Kazimira Prunskienė, has joined the left-wing election alliance of the Lithuanian Democratic Labour Party (LDDP) and the Social Democrats. Rumours suggest that the Russian Party may join the coalition as well.
Disgraced ex-Premier Gediminas Vagnorius managed to collect enough people to officially found his new party, the Modern Conservatives. Vagnorius was the only candidate for leader. Criticism came in when a high-ranking judge was named to the party's governing board, a membership "suspended" until he quits the bench.
The Seimas ratified a treaty with the United States on the promotion and protection of investments. This is a part of the extended Seimas session, due to last until 18 July. Opposition members cried foul, but the ruling Conservatives extended the session, perhaps due to criticism from President Valdas Adamkus a week earlier on television, saying that the body was passing useless pieces of legislation and letting important issues go.
The Seimas also passed a law regulating the use of polygraphs. Now lie detectors can be used in background checks, especially for classified work. Though the machine can be used in the criminal justice sphere, it is not legally binding.
Economics and business
The Statistics Department announced that Q1 GDP growth was at +4.1 per cent. Analysts, though optimistic, warned of a weaker second quarter and have not amended the GDP predictions for the year as a whole.
Following that, the central bank announced that Lithuania's current account deficit in Q1 was about 2.8 per cent of GDP, or LTL (Lithuanian litas) 278 million (USD 69.5 million).
At mid-year, budget collection fell short by LTL 142.4 million, equivalent to 5.11 per cent of revenues from the first half of the year.
The government announced that foreign companies setting up shops in Lithuania no longer need to document the origin of their funds. The government says this change will remove bureaucratic barriers to foreign investment, but opponents say it opens up doors for illegal businesses, money laundering operations and the like.
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Lithuania resumed exporting electricity to Belarus, through a barter deal with a Russian company for nuclear fuel rods. Some 30 million kWh are due to be exported to Belarus in July alone.
Dutch consortium BB Bredo, which is comprised of Danish and Israeli companies, won the right to negotiate to buy a 75 per cent stake in the Lithuanian Shipping Company (LISCO). LISCO's privatisation has dragged on for many years.
Dairy farmers ended their boycott on dairies, after only a few days. Farmers are protesting the cancellation of the minimum purchase price of LTL 0.55 per litre of milk, saying that the market has pushed the price down to an unsustainable level of LTL 0.40 per litre. The supply of milk did decrease by 18 per cent at one point, according to officials.
Social and local interest
Vincas Kunca has been removed from his position, which deals with the collapsing social welfare fund SoDra, in the Social Welfare Ministry. Kunca was the former director of SoDra, and the discovery of his new post was heavily criticised before the ministry sacked him.
A bus bringing Lithuanian tourists to Croatia crashed near the Polish town of Czerniewice. Two children and a pregnant woman were killed and more than 20 people were injured. Officials suspect the bus driver may have dozed off, as it was 04:00 a.m.
Unemployment remained steady at the end of June, at 11.1 per cent nation-wide. The highest jobless rates remain in Pasvalys (20.9 per cent), Akmenė (19.9 per cent), Lazdijai and Šalčininkai (19.6 per cent each). Highest urban unemployment rates remain in Šiauliai (15.8 per cent) and Panevėžys (14.8 per cent).
And in other news...
The city of Kaunas has lifted a smoking ban on the main thoroughfare, Laišvės alėja (Freedom boulevard). Now people can light up and not pay the LTL 50-200 fine. Years of smokeless tradition up in smoke.
As of 7 July 2000
|Currency||Lithuanian lita (LTL)
|1 US dollar||4.00|
|1 British pound||6.03|
|1 German mark||1.94|
Mel Huang, 7 July 2000
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