Tragedies on the road
This week was deadly for a number of Lithuanian car drivers and passengers. On 29 March in Poland, a night coach going from Vilnius to München collided with another car driven by a Lithuanian, about 20 kilometres from Lomza. Seven people died, and 23 were injured, four of them severely. Neither driver survived the crash. The injured, among them some foreigners, have been taken to hospitals in Lomza.
Authorities suspect that the accident occurred because the driver of the car fell asleep at the wheel, veered off to the wrong side of the road and crashed into the coach. This year alone, seven Lithuanians have died in car crashes in Poland.
Meanwhile, a similar disaster struck in Lithuanian when a car with five passengers left the road, turned over and then finally went into a pond near Daugai in the Alytus district. The five young passengers drowned in the pond, which is not more than ten metres long, when a rescue operation could not help them get out of the car, which was trapped underneath a thick layer of ice.
Russia visit quickly sours
President Valdas Adamkus began his first official visit to Moscow this week despite unfavourable background conditions. Russian officials have recently stepped up rhetoric, arguing that Russia will not pay any of the compensation demanded by Lithuania for the occupation period.
The Russian Duma is also dragging its feet over the ratification of a border treaty signed in 1997. It wants to make the treaty conditional on an agreement guaranteeing Kaliningrad's oblast sustainability, should Lithuania attain EU membership.
President Adamkus' visit started on the wrong foot. During the conference about Russian-Lithuanian relations in the new millennium, Lithuanian representatives left the room after Stanislav Mickevich, wanted by Lithuanian authorities for his participation in the events of January 1991, appeared as an official for the Russians. Later, when President Adamkus was giving his speech, Mickevich was no longer present.
In Moscow, there are about 100 members in the Lithuanian delegation, half of them businesspeople. Additionally, about 300 Russian businesspeople have turned up to meet the Lithuanian President. Adamkus has also met Moscow Mayor Jurij Luzhkov, who made a contact with Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas.
Adamkus is also scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin during his visit.
Turbulent week in Seimas
The opposition faction of Social Democrats has demanded the resignation of Agriculture Minister Kestutis Kristinaitis. If he does not resign, the left-wingers will make an interpolation to him. This is the first call for resignation from the opposition in this Seimas.
Social Democrats accuse the minister, a member of the New Union (Social Liberals), of inability, incompetence and lack of authority to lead one of the most crucial ministries in the country. They say the rural situation is further deteriorating, and agriculture is completely unprepared for the spring season.
New Union Party representatives also confessed that the minister did not fulfil party expectations and that they will not oppose Adamkus' decision to remove him.
Another surprise came from Kestutis Glaveckas, leader of the ruling coalition party, the Centre Union. He suggested a confidence vote in Parliament for Rolandas Paksas' government. Allegedly, his main aim is to speed up the reforms that are now stalled because of lack of confidence in the government among Seimas members.
The other coalition parties immediately dismissed the possibility, deeming Glaveckas' dubious, but high profile, call for a confidence vote an act of self-promotion.
Farmers' war continues
Local farmers in Suvalkija are again out on the roads to protest their plight, demanding higher minimal sugar prices and bigger quotas for the sugar plant in Marijampole.
This week about 400 protestors completely obstructed the Via Baltica motorway, approximately three kilometres from the Kalvarija border passing point, halting traffic to Poland. Kilometres-long queues of long-distance haulers have formed on both sides of the border.
Additional police officers from neighbouring towns were brought in to deal with the protestors, and border guard units were also stepped up. Yet police have remained restrained.
In the meantime, negotiations between farmers' representatives and Agriculture Deputy Minister Vytautas Grusauskas were under way and lasted until midnight. The government so far has responded with a freeze on quotas, pointing out that the sugar business is the most profitable for farmers. Social Democrats, the opposition party, have supported the farmers' demands and put pressure on the government to meet them.
Initially, after negotiations with police at the border, farmers allowed 80 haulers to pass. Later, furious drivers already standing in ten-kilometre queues at the border broke the blockade and drove through the farmers' blockade.
Police units are stationed at the borders to prevent farmers from renewing the roadblock.
And in other news...
- The government has finally decided to propose a law to the Seimas concerning compulsory car owners' insurance. So far, Lithuania is the only country left in East Central Europe without a law, one of the requirements in membership negotiations with the EU.
- The US has deported another Lithuanian citizen, 81-year-old pensioner Juozas Naujalis, suspected of collaboration with Nazis during the Second World War. Naujalis immigrated to the US in 1949.
- In the World Cup qualifying match, Lithuania lost to Italy 0-4. The country is in the last place in its group.
- Anders Henriksson, head of the EU group from the European Commission negotiating with Lithuania, has confirmed the official EU position to close the Ignalina nuclear plant by 2009.
- The Seimas has finally passed a law to legalise gambling, but it envisages strict control and limiting gambling venues to bigger towns.
- Mazeikia Nafta was fined LTL (Lithuanian litas)
10,000 (USD 2500) for an oil spill in the Baltic Sea in early March.
Inga Pavlovaitė, 30 March 2001
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