Vol 2, No 4
31 January 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 22 January 2000
Politics and foreign affairs
Lithuania faces public embarrassment, as Austrian Ambassador Florian Haug cancels a charity Vienna Ball, due to threats from a radical organisation, the Lithuanian Freedom League. The party and its leader, Vytautas Šustauskas, planned to organise a "feast of the poor" at the Vilnius City Hall, the intended location of the Vienna Ball. A similar protest occurred last year, with guests harassed by the protestors. Šustauskas told a crowd, many of whom were drunk and, oddly, wearing nice clothing, that they have shown the "'fat cats' cannot ridicule the nation." The Ambassador regretted that the cancellation would also mean no donations to a boarding school for handicapped children in Ukmergė, where the proceeds from the Ball were intended to go.
Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius led the Lithuanian delegation to the international conference on the Holocaust, which took place in Stockholm. During his speech to the gathering of international leaders, Kubilius stressed Lithuania's commitment to prosecuting war criminals, calling it "a moral duty." Kubilius also met several of his counterparts, such as Ehud Barak (Israel), Paavo Lipponen (Finland), Kjell Magne Bondevik (Norway) and Viktor Yushchenko (Ukraine).
Latvian Defence Minister Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis hosted his counterparts, Jüri Luik of Estonia and Česlovas Stankevičius of Lithuania, in Riga to discuss various co-operation projects. During the meeting, the three ministers signed an agreement detailing the operations of the command centre for the joint airspace surveillance programme, BALTNET. The three ministers also discussed other topics, such as other joint projects and the possibilities of joint purchases of arms and equipment.
The Lithuanian customs has yet again found a large haul of bad meats from the European Union. This time, some 22 tonnes of chicken shipped from Denmark and one ton of Salmonella-tainted pork from France were seized. This is one of many cases in which EU countries have sent substandard and often inedible produce to associated members.
The Confederation of Lithuanian Industrialists, headed by former Premier Bronislovas Lubys, said they will not support any single party in the coming local elections, but will still decide about the general elections later in the year. In the general elections of 1996, the group supported the Conservatives. However, allegations came of undue influence by Lubys in various ministries and large projects, such as the still moribund PowerBridge project, which was to link the power grids of Poland and Lithuania.
President Valdas Adamkus left Lithuania for his traditional annual holidays in the Mexican resort town of Ixtapa. For many years, Adamkus has joined a group of friends in the Mexican holiday getaway, even after becoming president of Lithuania.
Lithuanian Greens are protesting Defence Ministry plans to increase military training grounds at the expense of forests. The plan foresees the acquisition of 20,000 hectares of forest (about two per cent) for enlarging training grounds. The Greens plan to protest until the plan is reversed.
The attempt to stage a referendum to do away with proportional representation failed, as it gained just over half of the needed 300,000 signatures. Former Seimas member Kazimieras Uoka pushed for the constitutional amendment, which, among other things, would remove the 70 (out of 141) seats allocated by PR.
Economics and business
The Statistical Department said preliminary figures show a three per cent GDP drop in 1999. This was calculated from results of the fourth quarter, which showed a GDP rise of 1.2 per cent, the first GDP rise in several quarters.
The Lithuanian Chamber of Commerce plans to open a branch office in the Russian city of Krasnoyarsk, while the Siberian town will open a trade office in Vilnius.
Regulators refused to approve the new set of tariffs put forward by Lietuvos Telekomas (Lithuanian Telecom). The issue of telephone charges, especially for domestic calls, has been heated among the region's privatised phone companies.
Kaunas City Council gave permission to Mayor Henrikas Tamulis to sign a controversial deal with Sweden's Vattenfall. In the deal, the state-owned Swedish energy giant will "lease" Kauno Energija (Kaunas Energy) for the next 15 years. The company promises to invest USD 39 million out of a total of USD 81 million for investments, with other funding to come from international lending agencies, such as the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD). Many are concerned about this deal, as Vattenfall has made no secret of its desires to participate in a forthcoming privatisation of Lithuania's energy sector, and Tamulis has been hinted as the next head of power utility Lietuvos Energija (Lithuanian Energy).
A Lithuanian-US consortium that runs the Centrum hotel and others in Vilnius surprisingly pulled out of the deal to privatise the hulking Naujasis Vilnius hotel. Executives from the consortium said that it would be cheaper to build a new hotel than to modernise the former Intourist hotel. Naujasis Vilnius has done considerably well among former Intourist hotels, especially compared to the Lietuva hotel, across the street in Vilnius.
Lithuania introduced its version of online auctions at the website www.aukcionai.lt.
The Lithuanian Central Bank gave permission to Latvia's Parex Bank to take over the small Industrijos Bankas (Bank of Industry) in Lithuania. The window of opportunity is for six months, though some local media already reported the deal as done - which is unconfirmed.
A minor agreement was signed between US-operated Mažeikių Nafta (Mažeikiai Oil) and Russia's LUKOil for regional supplying, but price differences keep the two sides from sealing a long-term crude supply contract. The agreement signed gives Mažeikių Nafta about one million tonnes of crude oil for processing, which is then to be sent to Kaliningrad and St Petersburg for LUKOil.
Social and local interest
A total of 1267 police jobs were cut in 1999, leaving the force with 13,833 employees. Many municipalities were forced to make employees redundant, due to budget cuts, averaging at about nine per cent, except in Vilnius.
Prosecutors say charges will not be pressed against makers of a controversial calendar that showed Polish, Belarusian and Russian territory as "temporarily occupied" lands.
Prosecutors are launching a case against the tabloid Vakaro Žinios for slander against many politicians. The paper has printed stories alleging members of parliament have used the services of prostitutes, as well as "outed" a former prime minister.
Seven people were injured on a ferry travelling between the Lithuanian mainland and the Curonian Split. Investigators are examining why the ferry hit a quay, though most point to the pilot and the alcohol on his breath.
Mel Huang, 28 January 2000
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