President vetoes gambling law
President Valdas Adamkus has issued a sixth veto in the current Seimas, declining to sign into law a measure to legalize gambling. He made the decision after seeing a document on supervision procedures from the state security department. Keen to prevent the circulation of "dirty money" in the gambling venues, Adamkus has asked the Seimas to work out a more efficient licensing process.
Finance Minister Jonas Lionginas supported the President's veto, saying that the proposed changes should improve the law and make it more transparent. The opposition parties, who voted against the law in the Seimas, also approved the veto, saying that it will crack down on corruption.
Scandal in the Seimas
After being accused of having connections with the criminal world, New Union (Social Liberals) parliamentary faction whip Gediminas Jakavonis has spoken of a plot by the President's adviser, Albinas Januška, and state security department head Mecys Laurinkus. The two, according to Jakavonis, allegedly plan to cast shadows over his reputation, and, by extension, over Social Liberal Seimas Chairman Arturas Paulauskas, a potential presidential candidate.
Recently, pictures of Jakavonis, with allegedly well-known Kaunas criminal gang leaders and suspicious business people were published. It also appeared that he allegedly had repeated contact, including lengthy phone calls, with people of dubious reputation. The press also dredged up a 1983 criminal case brought against Jakavonis in which he was accused of stealing from a Soviet military base.
Doctors still need not apply
After President Valdas Adamkus declined to approve Social Liberal candidate Eduardas Bartkevičius for the post of health minister. However, the prospects of finding another mutually acceptable person seem dim. So far, Social Liberals are mulling over the President's requirement that the candidate come from outside the health care system.
The Social Liberals' deputy chairman, Gediminas Dalinkevičius, who has a musical career behind him, has turned down the job. He said that only a comfortable majority in the Seimas and Adamkus' unequivocal support could change his decision.
Church and state liaison office to open
Since Petras Plumpa resigned the post of religious advisor to the government this March, there has been no official institution to deal with relations between the church and state. Catholic bishops, and especially Cardinal Audrys Juozas Bačkis, have deplored the situation, thus leading to plans to create a department of religion in the Ministry of Justice.
The new office will employ even civil servants and have a budget of Lithuanian litas (LTL) 0.5 million (USD 125,000).
Farm displays have less competition
The biggest annual agricultural exhibition in the country, Agrobalt, is substantially smaller this year, in comparison with the success of previous exhibitions. Especially diminished is the meat producers' division, with fewer stands this year. However, some producers have said that, with less competition, it has become easier to promote themselves in the tight market. In contrast, poultry producers, especially after the numerous animal disease scares, are rejoicing over a 15 to18 percent rise in sales. Around 34,000 people have visited the Agrobalt exhibition so far.
1 May celebrations subdued
Neither encouragement from Social Democrats nor beautiful weather attracted large crowds to the 1 May holiday celebrations. Several hundred took part in a demonstration in Vilnius, which ended with a party in the Vilnius' concert and sport hall. In Kaunas and Klaipeda, the celebrations were a fiasco after only 100 people turned out at the city hall and central squares.
President Adamkus vetoed the law making 1 May a public holiday, stating that it is not a festival advancing national unity. Opposition Social Democrats voted for the holiday, which is fiercely opposed by the ruling coalition who cites the LTL 177 million (USD 44.3 million) cost of establishing the public holiday.
Delegation grounded by Russian officials
After considerable diplomatic effort, a delegation headed by Lithuanian Communications Minister Dailys Barakauskas was allowed to return from Russia.
The incident occurred on the way back from an official visit to Kazakhstan when suddenly the pilots announced the plane was landing in the Russian city Samara to refuel. The Lithuanian delegation did not hold Russian visas and were made to collect their luggage and go through customs procedures.
Barakauskas was allowed to continue his journey while the other members of delegation were told to stay, accused of violating Russian customs and visa regulations. After intercession by the Lithuanian Embassy in Moscow, the Lithuanian delegation was allowed to continue their return flight to Lithuania.
The Russian Embassy in Vilnius has received a note of protest from Lithuania stating that such an incident should never have occurred and requesting compensation for additional expenses incurred by the delegation.
And in other news...
- The Kaunas jazz festival ended this week with huge success and critical praise.
- Lietuvos Telekomas (Lithuanian Telecom) announced price cuts in local calls, but an increase in monthly fees effective 1 August.
- Market Minister Eugenijus Gentvilas stated that Lithuania would attempt to postpone the closure of the Ignalina nuclear plant planned for 2009.
- The Palanga Town Council has abolished fees for tourists who arrive at the resort by car.
- Two elder Seimas members, Valentinas Indriunas and Kazys Bobelis, have proposed to establish a second chamber in the Parliament. The Senate would be comprised of 31 members.
- In the first four months of 2001, Mažeikiai Nafta suffered around a LTL 80 million (USD 20 million) loss. Last year, the first quarter loss was around LTL 18 million USD 4.5 million).
- Five new cases of HIV infection were registered in the country in April, bringing the total to 299. This is one of the lowest figures in Central Eastern Europe. Most of the cases are in Klaipeda.
Inga Pavlovaitė, 4 May 2001
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