Target shooting scandal
Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar will, in the near future, face a confidence vote in the Riigikogu over using Center Party leader Edgar Savisaar's picture for target shooting almost two years ago. This will be the first time the opposition has taken action against the Prime Minister, who took office in the spring of 1999.
Mart Laar admitted last Friday that Savisaar's picture was used for target shooting in May 1999, even though his advisers emphatically denied the accusations made in an article published two days earlier in the Centrist weekly Kesknädal entitled "Who Misses is a Friend of Savisaar."
In a statement Friday, Mart Laar apologized to everyone whom the incident concerned but still maintained that it was former Võru county governor Robert Lepikson who put Savisaar's picture up as a target during military shooting practice at the Meegomäe military training center.
Laar also said it was dusk, as the practice was nearing completion and participants in the exercise were practicing shooting with night-vision equipment, when Lepikson put up a postcard-size picture of Savisaar next to his target.
"Whether anyone shot at it or hit it, I cannot say with any certainty now, almost two years later. I feel deeply embarrassed over failing to call Lepikson to order and prevent his actions and for not taking an immediate a stand on it from the ethical point of view," said the Prime Minister.
Mart Laar's party, Pro Patria Union, condemned Prime Minister Laar's thoughtless actions in the target shooting incident, as well as his initial haste in offering explanations, but is firmly in favor of the party leader staying on as head of the government. Politicians from Pro Patria Union say the publication of the shooting incident two years later, and the ensuing political pressure for the prime minister's resignation, is a plot orchestrated by Edgar Savisaar.
On Tuesday, the Center Party sent a press release to foreign embassies and offices of international organizations located in Estonia complaining of bias in the media and the military's alleged involvement in politics. "This is unprecedented and reminds me a bit of Africa," said Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee member Kristiina Ojuland of the ruling coalition's Reform Party.
Ojuland said she knew of no other case in Europe where a political party had sent a cry for help to foreign embassies amid domestic political struggles.
President Lennart Meri has ordered Defense Forces commander Rear Admiral Tarmo Kõuts to conduct an in-house investigation and present him with a report. On Wednesday, the President and Prime Minister decided in a meeting that the findings of the investigation would be published in full.
Baltic states' readiness for NATO
Estonian Defense Minister Jüri Luik held a meeting Tuesday in Tallinn with his Latvian and Lithuanian counterparts, Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis and Linas Linkevičius, to discuss joint arms and equipment purchases and NATO enlargement.
The three Baltic states decided to carry out joint arms and equipment purchases in the future but did not specify what kinds of weapons they might seek to purchase. With joint purchases, the Baltic states can save significant amounts of money, as bigger quantities are less expensive, Luik said.
The defense ministers also agreed that they regard none of the countries more prepared for NATO membership than others and do not think it is necessary to put together such lists.
Estonian Defense Minister Luik said it was not up to any of the countries to decide whether one was more or less prepared for NATO than others. "After all, it's NATO who will decide about readiness for membership in the alliance and all the Baltic states must do everything in their powers to be ready for accession as quickly as possible," Luik said.
Last week, a NATO expert group visited Estonia to check the implementation of Estonia's individual partnership program. Assistant Secretary-General of NATO Klaus-Peter Klaiber acknowledged the progress of the Estonian defense forces and confirmed that Estonia has, thus far, not slacked in its efforts to join the alliance, adding that he leaves Estonia with very good impressions.
Rapid spread of HIV
The council supervising Estonia's national program for the prevention of AIDS and other sexually transmitted diseases declared on Tuesday that the spread of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, has taken on epidemic proportions in Estonia.
The program council, along with the Social Affairs Ministry, evaluated the epidemiological situation and found that it corresponds the World Health Organization's definition of a concentrated epidemic, according to sources from the Social Affairs Ministry. An epidemic is concentrated when it spreads mostly within a specific risk group; in Estonia, the HIV risk group is made up of intravenous drug users.
The number of people who have tested positive for HIV since the beginning of the year is 152, of whom 53 come from the border city of Narva and 69 from elsewhere in the northeastern Ida-Viru county. The total number of people infected with HIV in Estonia presently stands at 594, of whom six have developed AIDS.
And in other news...
- On Tuesday, the government endorsed its information policy framework document for 2001, calling for the introduction of digital signatures of documents and electronic IDs before the end of this year. The information policy network also sets out the requirement for creating other systems to support digital management of affairs.
- On Thursday, the registry department of the Tartu Regional Court registered a new political party—the Republican Party—that unites young people opposed to the European Union. Kristjan-Olari Leping, chairman of the party that was established in Tartu two years ago, said the party had a membership of roughly 1800 as of the beginning of this month. "The party's members are mostly students and other young people who have defined their political orientations as rightist. Of existing parties in Estonia, the Republican Party is the most rightwing. It is for the continuation of a liberal economic policy, values highly an independent and democratic Estonia and is categorically opposed to Estonia's accession to the European Union," said Leping.
- Hansapank Group, the leading Estonian financial organization, saw a profit in 2000 of EEK (Estonian kroons) 1.29 billion (about USD 75.2 million), up by EEK 470 million (USD 27.5 million) from the year before.
- According to the data of the Labor Market Department, some 57,500 jobless persons, or 6.6 percent of Estonia's population ranging from 16-year olds to pensioners age were looking for work through state employment agencies in January.
Kristin Marmei, 16 February 2001
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