Doctors need not apply
The recent resignation of Health Minister Vinsas Janušonis has created a serious crisis in the political establishment concerning his successor. The ruling coalition partners Social Liberals New Union firmly insist that Deputy Minister Eduardas Bartkevičius should take over the job.
However, President Valdas Adamkus said he would not accept the Social Liberal candidate, because he wants someone who is not connected to the medical profession to take the post. His position has thrown Parliament and government work into disarray and caused great controversy among the coalition parties.
A meeting between Social Liberal leaders and Adamkus has not solved the problem. Social Liberals were complaining about their partners who ostensibly are not paying enough attention. They, however, dismissed rumours about a possible breakaway from the government.
A meeting between the President and the proposed candidate has not helped to clarify the situation. Social Liberals claim they want to hear concrete reasons for their candidate's unsuitability, but nothing has emerged from the talks so far. Adamkus maintains he would like to see a good manager from outside the healthcare circle in the ministerial post.
In the meantime, Liberals have announced that their Prime Minister, Rolandas Paksas, would not put forward a candidate who is unacceptable to the President.
Bloody clash in Spain
A confrontation between illegal Lithuanian immigrants and criminal racketeering gangs ended in a bloody fight on 24 April in the Spanish province of Almeria. One person was killed, another injured.
This is not the first example of such an incident, but it is the first one to result in death. About 20 people are believed to have been involved in the tragic fight. The injured Mr Petruškevičius, nicknamed "the Pepper," is a person well known to the police for a number of crimes, including failure to show up at his last court case.
Spanish police have detained 19 persons in connection with the incident. The officers believe that both victims are members of a criminal gang who were met with violence when they went to extort payment from the illegal workers.
Left wins holiday
After a four-year break, 1 May is again a public holiday in Lithuania. After hard lobbying on the part of left opposition Social Democrats, the Seimas has included International Labour Day on the list of official public holidays.
Sixty-four MPs voted in favour of the holiday after a passionate debate in the Seimas. The Conservatives and Social Liberals were less than enthusiastic about the holiday and opposed the opposition's haste in demanding the law's passage before 1 May.
Prevention of Lisco sale fails
Attempts by the Social Democrats to thwart the sale of Lithuanian maritime company Lisco have failed twice. The Seimas refuted a proposal to delay the sale for three months, albeit with a very narrow margin. Only 57 parliamentarians voted against the halt, while 55 supported the motion. The liberals and conservatives were rejoicing afterwards, claiming that "reason has won," and the company would be sold to Danish-owned DFDS Torline.
While the main opposition to the sale came from the left-wing and farmers' parties, ruling coalition Social Liberals were uneasy about the privatisation as well, with some MPs abstaining from the vote. Some were not allowed to vote because they or their family members own shares in Lisco.
The state property fund signed a contract with DFDS Torline about the Lisco sale on 24 April. A contract with Estonian Hansabank was also signed at the same day. The Estonian bank will buy 90.733 per cent of the Lithuanian savings bank's shares for LTL (Lithuanian litas) 150 million (about USD 37 million).
Another minister resigns
Deputy Minister Aleksas Bartkus handed in his resignation letter this week, citing personal and health reasons. It has emerged, however, that he allegedly almost ruined a recent Lithuanian visit to Kaliningrad, when he consumed a considerable amount of alcohol and was unable to head the negotiations the next morning. His family problems and alleged violence were also made public recently.
This is the fifth resignation at the ministerial level in the current government. Deputy Interior Minister Juozas Galginaitis resigned amidst similar circumstances after a visit to Brussels.
EU negotiations setback
Lithuanian authorities have expressed strong disapproval over the European Commission's proposal of a five-year transition period for the free movement of persons for the new member states in Central Europe.
This measure would restrict Lithuanian citizens from taking up employment in the EU countries for five years. However, it seems that the clause would be conditional and would be reviewed after two years. Moreover, bilateral agreements about free movement exist, for instance, with Spain and Ireland.
Preliminary census results reported
Lithuania's general census was completed this week and preliminary results have emerged.
Lithuanians are sincere and helpful, often have an aggressive dog and hate questions about work, census officials claim. It seems that many people are working illegally, because they refused to state the name of the company for which they work so as not to lose their jobs. On one page of the form, respondents state their main income as coming from paid employment, but then leave the space to enter the employer blank.
The biggest setback will, most likely, result from numbers. Since the last census in 1989, the country's population has shrunk by about five per cent, or 179,000 people.
Final census results will be reported in October.
And in other news...
- The Seimas has set a record for absences. In one proceeding this week, only 12 MPs of 141 were present.
- The eleventh Lithuanian jazz festival started in Kaunas on 26 April with a huge international and domestic programme.
- According to The Economist's Big Mac Index, the lita is undervalued in relation to the USD.
- After several years of hesitation, the government has decided to create a special department to deal with issues concerning information and telecommunications.
Inga Pavlovaitė, 27 April 2001
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