Vol 1, No 6, 2 August 1999
C E N T R A L E U R O P E A N N E W S:
News Review for the Baltic States
All the important news from Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania since 24 July 1999.
This review of the week's events contains several parts. Click below to move to your area of interest:
Four presidents - Martti Ahtisaari (Finland), Lennart Meri (Estonia), Vaira Vike-Freiberga (Latvia) and Valdas Adamkus (Lithuania) - travelled together to the Balkans summit in Sarajevo from Helsinki on the Finnish President's plane. No details were forthcoming from the meeting on the flight. All four leaders took part in the summit and met with their respective troops in Bosnia and Hercegovina.
Pan-Baltic military exercise - "Baltic Hope '99" - began on 24 July in Lithuania. The exercise will last until early August.
British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook paid a one-day visit to Estonia to meet with officials and open the new British Embassy in Tallinn. Cook met with President Lennart Meri, Prime Minister Mart Laar, Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Defence Minister Juri Luik. Most of the discussions focused on EU and NATO integration as well as bilateral ties and Kosova. Cook re-affirmed the British government's support for Estonia in EU enlargement, stressing that "nothing has changed" on the NATO enlargement front since the Washington NATO Summit. He also praised Estonia's policies on integrating its ethnic minorities, saying that it sets a good example of "how a small country integrates its minorities."
The EU warned Estonia about the development of its police and customs, saying that officials must be "qualified, motivated, well-paid and well-equipped." It also pointed out other problems, such as security of passports and visa-free travel with Bulgaria. Simultaneously, Estonia will ask for some exemptions, such as later dates of compliance on environmental issues and some excise harmonisation.
More details float in about the case of the drunk driving parliamentarian Kalev Kallo. Kallo was dimsissed from his post as deputy chairman of the Centre Party. Though most politicians called on him to resign his Riigikogu seat, he said he will make the announcement when the Riigikogu is back in session and he can make his statement on record (see this week's Amber Coast for more details).
A related story has Tallinn Mayor Peeter Lepp calling for the removal of two officials in separate drink-related incidents. The MP of Tallinn's Mustamae suburb, Vladimir Ivanov, showed up at a Tallinn City Council meeting drunk, while the head of Tallinn's property office, Rene Kuulmann, has been accused of assault while drunk on holiday (see this week's Amber Coast for more details). Kuulmann, already targeted by suspected underworld figures, found his father's yacht in flames during the week. This comes after his and his girlfriend's cars were torched earlier this month. Some blame him for masterminding the sale of the Tallinn Central Market to a rival underworld group.
A public survey showed that half of the population found the work of Mart Laar's government successful. The same survey showed that the government's biggest accomplishment, the negative supplemental budget, was supported by two-thirds of the population.
A Baltimore-based pastor, Joyce Perdue, was sentenced to 27 months in jail by a Maryland court. Perdue brought a group of Estonian youths to Maryland and put them to slave labour. She apparently purchased an expensive home and perfumes with the earnings of the young slave labourers, who were forced to clean squalid buildings.
The government issued an implementation order for the Language Law passed in February. This will apply to public sector officials and some private sector workers in the medical field. The new regulations govern the mandatory fluency in Estonian by employees.
Some 18 political parties registered for the October local elections before the cut-off date. However, the number will likely diminish since several mergers are already in progress. The elections have particular significance, as they will determine the next president of Estonia in 2001. The Riigikogu needs a commanding two-thirds majority to elect a president, which will likely fail - thus bringing the presidential decision to the electoral college, which is comprised of local officials.
Details on Latvia's budget cuts started to trickle in this week, preliminarily showing 60 million lats in cutbacks. It appears that the Transport Ministry will feel the brunt of the cuts, losing as much as 17.5 million lats. The Defence Ministry also faces a cut of some 3 million lats; at the same time, officials continue to call for hikes in order to reach the magical 2 percent of GDP in a few years.
Details are also coming in for Latvia's 2000 budget. The Finance Ministry stated that they will work on the premise that GDP growth will be 3.5percent and inflation at 3 percent.
NATO Supreme Commander General Wesley Clark travelled to Latvia after a visit to Lithuania - which was mired in controversy due to the Pentagon decision (see below). In Latvia, Clark stressed the open door of NATO enlargement and startled Defence Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis when he said that there are "no pre-conditions of a military nature" for NATO membership.
Since the opening of the Butinge Oil Terminal in Lithuania, the Latvian press has run plenty of stories on oil slicks found on the Baltic shore. Nothing has been proven as of yet regarding the many sites discovered by environmentalists and journalists over the past week.
The government sacked the head of the State Real Estate Agency (VNIA) Janis Motte and the entire board over allegations of corruption. The prosecutor's office called on the government to take action, stating that anti-corruption laws have been violated by VNIA in handing out flats owned by the state.
Unemployment remained steady at 10 percent at the start of July.
The news of him being "rotated out" by the Pentagon reached NATO Supreme Commander Wesley Clark while he was in Lithuania. Clark commented that it was a "normal rotation" for him to leave his post four months early - in April 2000. During the visit, Clark commended the progress made by the Lithuanian military and inspected the Rukla training grounds.
Russian Duma Deputy Speaker Sergei Baburin took a trip down a distorted memory lane during a visit to Kaliningrad. He stated that Lithuania should vacate the port city of Klaipeda (formerly Memel) before "denouncing the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact," forgetting that Kaliningrad itself is a more contentious property than Klaipeda. He also linked Lithuania's NATO bid to the stalled border agreement between the two states, saying that "only a madman, a fool or traitor" would approve the border deal and not at all tying in the NATO situation.
US citizen Petras Bernotavicius has been charged by Lithuania with war crimes. Bernotavicius is suspected of playing a part in the killing of many innocent people during the Nazi occupation period. He still resides in the US.
The Finance Ministry drafted a preliminary set of cuts for the 1999 budget. It will cut the budget by 600 million litas, which is 8.3 percent of the original budget.
Much to the ire of the Seimas, President Valdas Adamkus vetoed two laws. One was the controversial law on ethnic culture, of which the Polish minority has been rather critical. The President also found inconsistencies in the law on state secrets.
The first unit of the Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant has been granted an operating licence and will be back on line shortly. The licensing was delayed due to paperwork errors, which led to its shutdown for nearly two months.
As of 29 July 1999
Mel Huang, 30 July 1999
Baltic News Service (BNS)
The Baltic Times
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Reuters news on Yahoo
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