Tallinn mayor under scrutiny
Tallinn Mayor Jüri Mõis' link with Tallinn-based Estonian businessman Meelis Lao is causing friction in the ruling coalition at the national and Tallinn municipal levels.
According to Estonia's private KUKU Radio on 26 April, when Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus met FBI Director Louis Freeh in the United States in March, Freeh warned Loodus that Russia's St Petersburg underworld was engaged in large-scale economic activity using connections in the Tallinn city government. The FBI director referred to the money laundering operations of the Russian mafia and mentioned Mõis' friend Meelis Lao by name as a mediator.
An Estonian Embassy official, serving as translator at the meeting, drew up a memorandum to the Foreign Ministry providing other Cabinet members the information from the FBI. The Foreign Ministry said the information was classified, and other state officials refused to comment, citing the law on state secrets.
On 23 April, after a telephone conversation with FBI representative in Tallinn William Moschella, Mõis said that the claims of he and Lao's connections with the St Petersburg mafia were groundless. Lao stated that assertions of his connections with the St Petersburg mafia were slanderous and part of political faction fighting. He added that he had been doing business with partners in Russia for years, but all his deals had been totally legal.
The same day, Prime Minister Mart Laar asked Interior Minister Tarmo Loodus to report on possible connections between Meelis Lao and the Russian mafia. On 24 April, the government held a closed session on Loodus' report. Neither the Estonian security police nor central criminal police found evidence to justify criminal charges against Lao.
On 25 April, Laar, who is also a chairman of Pro Patria Union, warned Mõis against associating with Meelis Lao, demanding that he observe the party's position. Mõis promised to avoid close contact with Meelis Lao for the duration of his term. "As public opinion is against Meelis Lao, I decided to avoid contact with him in the future," Mõis said.
Sociologists warn of division in Estonian society
Twenty-six Estonian social scientists made a strongly worded public statement, expressing concern for the country's development and criticizing politicians.
"The Estonian society has come to a political, social and ethical crisis. Power has become alienated from the people to such an extent that we must now speak of two different Estonias," the sociologists said in their address.
The scientists said two of three Estonian children live in poverty, people lack basic security and many young people want to leave the country. Self-centered and unethical politicians have become commonplace, and the notion of responsibility has become blurred, the address said.
As a solution, the sociologists asked for the observation of democratic principles, a retreat from early capitalist individualism, acceptance of the principles of a unified society and a return to general moral principles.
Prime Minister Mart Laar acknowledged the problems pointed out in the statement and said it would be necessary to concentrate on finding solutions to them. "The problem is whether there is a clear alternative and solution to these problems. Politicians should fight each other less and pay more attention to alternative programs, and, if there are none, to work them out," Laar said.
Luik and Shevardnadze discuss regional security
Estonian Defense Minister Jüri Luik and Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze met in Tbilisi on 26 April to discuss cooperative policies on issues of defense and regional security.
Luik and Shevardnadze found that Estonia and Georgia had experiences worth sharing, as both were at similar developmental starting points. "I'm happy with all my heart for each of your steps forward. Georgia has much to learn from Estonia," Shevardnadze said.
Miners protest layoffs
Northeast Estonian oil shale miners held a rally in the town of Jõhvi last week, demanding an end to lay-offs and seeking unemployment compensation.
The protesters, numbering 800 by police estimates to approximately 2000 by organizers' accounts, called for higher severance pay and an extension of pension benefits paid to retired workers by the state-owned mining company Eesti Põlevkivi (Estonian Oil Shale).
In a declaration adopted at the meeting, the miners blamed the government for all the social woes plaguing the region while the large mining company has been restructuring. The protestors emphasize the loss of 2000 jobs over the past two years.
The miners' representatives said that if protests don't achieve results, more radical measures, such as blocking roads and rails, might become options.
And in other news...
- Two losing bidders in the Estonian air space surveillance radar tender, French firm Thales and Italian firm Alenia Marconi, have protested the government's decision to award the deal to American firm Lockheed-Martin. Following a year-long tender, the government decided on 2 March to spend nearly EEK (Estonian kroons) 200 million (USD 11.5 million) on a radar for the Baltic countries' joint air space surveillance The Defense Ministry is hoping to negotiate with the firms directly to persuade them that further litigation would prove fruitless.
Kristin Marmei, 27 April 2001
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