Railway privatization deal signed
Estonian Privatization Agency (EEA) head Jaak Liivik and Baltic Rail Services (BRS) signed a contract for privatization of 66 percent of the shares in Eesti Raudtee (Estonian Railway) on 30 April. Immediately after the signing, BRS deposited Estonian kroons (EEK) 100 million (USD 5.7 million) to seal the deal. The remaining EEK 900 million (USD 51.4 million) will be paid in the next few months by BRS owners and a syndicate of Estonian and international banks financing the purchase. Hansapank and Swedbank head the syndicate.
The shareholders of Baltic Rail Services are Jarvis International of Great Britain, 25.5 percent, US rail operator Rail World Inc, 25.5 percent, Railroad Development Corporation of the United States, 5 percent, and Estonian-owned Ganinger Invest, 44 percent.
The government has earmarked 25 percent of the proceeds from the sale for regional programs.
Tallinn power bloc threatens censure motion
The Reform Party and the Moderates did not carry out a threat made in Tallinn's city council on 3 May to take a no confidence vote against Mayor Jüri Mõis, saying that they still expect Pro Patria Union to make the mayor go of his own accord. Reports earlier in the day said the Reform Party faction planned a vote of no confidence to be supported by the Moderates, the third senior member in the coalition. Leaders of the Reform Party and Moderates have told Prime Minister Mart Laar's Pro Patria Union party that they want Mõis to quit so that the present coalition can stay together.
News of the Moderates' possible action against the mayor came in the wake of an accord between Pro Patria Union and the Center Party, the largest opposition force in both the national parliament and the Tallinn city council, about the Centrists' support for key city government bills.
The Reform Party claims that people perceive Mõis as being linked to organized crime. The party says the mayor has failed to give exhaustive answers to the accusations and has neglected municipal affairs, instead concentrating on securing his own power and official position.
The Moderates, meanwhile, issued a statement on 30 April, saying that the credibility of the city government had suffered primarily because of several scandals related to the mayor, and the excessive work time wasted on explaining and solving them.
Home interests neglected for EU chase?
Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves, in a foreign policy address before Parliament on 30 April, spoke about EU and NATO enlargement, Baltic cooperation and Estonian relations with Russia.
In his address, Ilves denied allegations that Estonia was moving too fast toward the EU at the expense of the nation's own interests. "During more than three years we have closed a mere three-fifths of the chapters, which disproves all claims to the effect that we're moving forward too fast," said Ilves. Ilves maintained that with its allegedly overzealous advancement Estonia has defended the interests of its economy and citizens.
In Ilves' words, the decline in popular support for Estonia's accession to the EU may lead to a setback in the country's aspirations to join NATO. "Estonia's political success with the NATO axis is greatly due to its progress toward membership in the EU. We have been told on several occasions that the main reason why Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania are being taken seriously as candidates for NATO, is that since we're moving towards the EU anyway, we should also think about its security aspect," stated Ilves.
Ilves dedicated a big part of his speech to Estonian-Russian relations, saying they could be characterized as normal, with no major breakthrough expected in coming years. "Estonia has for several years continued the policy of so-called positive involvement. Following that course has helped get rid of excessive emotions in bilateral relations," Ilves said. He added that despite many positive developments, the usual accusations against Estonia's internal and foreign policy continue to be heard from leading Russian politicians, senior officials and military. Minister Ilves said Estonia, meanwhile, has not let itself be drawn into a war of words, but is relying both on a sober evaluation of its state affairs by international organizations and the generally accepted right to make its own choices about security.
And in other news...
- Defense ministers from Germany, Poland and Denmark meeting in Berlin last week supported the Baltic countries' aspirations to become NATO members, while underlining the importance of cooperation and bilateral and multilateral assistance, calling special attention to the Kiel pact for cooperation among Baltic area navies.
- On 25 April, Estonia's Parliament passed the State Liability Bill, establishing a basis for compensating damages resulting from violations committed by state or local officials, or any other carrier of government authority. The state's obligation to compensate for damages caused to a citizen implies the state's right to present a claim against the official whose actions resulted in the damage.
- A total of 524 people tested HIV positive in Estonia during the first four months of 2001. Records show 368 of the new carriers live in northeastern Estonia, with the remainder living in Tallinn or its outskirts. The majority of the new virus-carriers are intravenous drug users. Overall, 1010 HIV-infected people have been registered in Estonia.
Kristin Marmei, 4 May 2001
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