Railway scandal continues
Former head of intelligence Eerik-Niiles Kross has left his post as adviser to President Lennart Meri, amidst allegations that he improperly assisted convicted criminal and businessman Antonio Angotti's entrance into the country in 1999. Angotti is a project manager with a firm interested in privatizing Eesti Raudtee.
Border guards at Tallinn Airport refused to allow Angotti into Estonia upon his arrival from Helsinki on 20 November 1999, because Angotti, a resident of California traveling on an Italian passport, had previously stayed in Estonia longer than pemitted by visa-free travel regulations.
However, a phone call from Kross, then chief of intelligence, to border guard chief Tarmo Kõuts cleared the way for Angotti to enter Estonia, where he was granted a two-year residence permit barely six days later. Kross said security interests necessitated his intervention in this one-time deal. Yet, Kõuts said Kross had made a similar request to him also three-days earlier. Kross, who also sits on the council of Eesti Raudtee, maintains that although he coordinated the cooperation of security institutions until last Christmas, he did not learn of Angotti's criminal record until February. Kross said additional information is classified.
On 17 April, Meri sent a letter to Prime Minister Mart Laar, expressing his security concerns because of the high-ranking official's possible illegal actions in the privatization of the rail company. Laar said he has not ruled out halting the rail privatization. "If the data submitted by the bidders is unacceptable from the aspect of security of the Republic of Estonia, the privatization of the rail company will not take place," the Prime Minister told the President.
Kross is now visiting the Caucasus Republic of Georgia with a Defense Ministry delegation to share Estonia's experience in achieving the withdrawal of Russian troops.
Pro Patria selects presidential candidate
On 14 April, Pro Patria Union's congress elected Peeter Tulviste, 55, as its presidential candidate for the August elections. Tulviste beat out the deputy speaker of Parliament, Tunne Kelam, winning 264 of 249 votes.
Tulviste, in the presidential race for only 23 days before being elected, said after his victory: "It is a time in Estonian politics when a newcomer has a greater chance to be elected than those who have been long in politics and would deserve it more."
According to a poll by the Emor polling firm in April, Tulviste rose to second place as a presidential candidate, following the Reform Party's Tooma Savi.
Tulviste has a doctoral degree in psychology from Moscow University. A member of Tartu University's teaching staff since 1974, Tulviste held the post of rector from 1993 to 1998. After local elections in 1999, Tulviste became chairman of the city council of Tartu.
EU enlargement commissioner visits
European Commission member Guenter Verheugen began a multi-day visit to Estonia on 18 April, meeting with the President, members of the government and other top officials. Main issues discussed were questions concerning the free movement of labor and its possible restriction for new members of the EU, Estonia's relations with Russia and Estonia's aspirations to join NATO.
Verheugen ruled out a compromises on the length of the transition period for the free movement of labor for new members of the 15-nation club. The EU's executive commission has come under pressure from several EU members to deny workers from new member countries access to jobs in the EU for up to seven years after gaining Union membership. This possibility has sparked protest in the candidate countries.
Verheugen said candidate countries' protests against what they call violation of basic rights and freedoms disregard the simple fact that without a transition period restricting the free movement of labor, there would be no enlargement. He also said each member state could open its labor market to the candidate countries if it so wished, and there is no reason to believe the Estonian workforce would not have opportunities to work in EU member countries after enlargement.
Laar's government sets
Effective 20 April, Prime Minister Mart Laar's second cabinet, seated on 25 March 1999, exceeded his first cabinet's term by one day. The first cabinet, in power from 31 October 1992 through 8 November 1994, held the previous longevity record.
Trust in government declines
Aproximately, only one-third of the Estonian population trusts the Parliament, the government and the Prime Minister, an opinion poll taken in late March and early April by Saar Poll has shown.
According to the survey, 22 percent of Estonian residents trust Prime Minister Mart Laar, 28 percent the government and 31 percent the Parliament, down from 31 percent, 34 percent and 32 percent, respectively, in November. The President's rating has meanwhile risen from 58 percent in November to 62 percent currently.
The survey also showed that 11 percent of the population trusts no state institution.
Some 47 percent of Estonian, and 51 percent of non-Estonian, respondents voiced the opinion that life in Estonia is changing for the worse.
And in other news...
- The first Spanish foreign minister to visit Estonia, Josep Pique, met with President Lennart Meri, Prime Minister Mart Laar, Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves and other high officials on 17 April. Pique said Spain fully supports Estonia's accession to the EU and NATO, adding that each candidate country has to be evaluated individually on its merit.
- The Tallinn police registered 607 drug-related crimes in the first three months of the year, up by more than 18 times over the same period a year ago. Police chief Jüri Kasesalu said the jump in drug-related crimes is the result of a recent legislative amendment that makes testing twice positive for use of narcotic substances a crime.
Kristin Marmei, 21 April 2001
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