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Eesti in brief - 2006-11-22

Nov 22, 2006

Tallinn will next year install traffic lights that give priority to public transport vehicles. Major intersections across the city will be equipped with controlling devices that allow buses, trams and trolleybuses to enjoy a clear run. The Tallinn City Council budget for 2007 will allocate 2.7 million kroons (173,000 euros) to purchase the traffic light controllers, Mayor Juri Ratas said. The system will help increase the speed of the public transport system and make it more attractive to commuters, officials said. An additional 7 million kroons will be spent creating separate traffic lanes for public transport.

British Prime Minister Tony Blair shook hands with Estonian soldiers serving in Afghanistan during his official visit to the NATO operation. Blair was visiting the 800 British servicemen stationed at Camp Bastion in the south of Afghanistan when he came across the Estonian troops, who are serving as part of the British battle group. The 15 mine clearance specialists shook hands with Blair, who was undertaking his second visit to Afghanistan, his first in 2002. Members of the Estonian military have been serving in the NATO-led operation since March 2003. On Nov. 12, another 100 soldiers flew to Afghanistan to boost the operation.

Former President Arnold Ruutel will henceforth be protected by a security team of 23 police. On Nov. 16, the government allocated 7.5 million kroons toward the cost of protecting the former head-of-state, based on a risk assessment of his residence and family activities. One leading constable, 16 senior constables and one constable will be employed to ensure Ruutel and his family are protected around the clock. Ruutel is entitled to such protection according to legal changes that took effect in February. The changes stipulate that a former head-of-state is entitled to the same level of protection as a serving president.

Relations between Estonia and Russia are set to remain icy for a long time, the chairman of the foreign affairs committee of the Russian Duma - the lower house of Parliament - Konstantin Kosachev told an Estonian newspaper. In an interview with Eesti Paevalet, Kosachev said one thing preventing relations from improving was the Bronze Soldier debate. Estonia's parliament is currently considering a bill which would give the government the power to remove all Soviet monuments, including the controversial bronze soldier. "In my opinion, it marks the apex of cynicism when a status of legitimacy is granted to the destruction of monuments erected to Soviet soldiers. They came to salvage, not to enslave," Kosachev said.

The government plans to spend 400,000 kroons (26,000 euros) to purchase an oak tree worth just 10 kroons, according to the money it's printed on. The Ministry of the Environment said it would purchase a property in southern Estonia that is home to the nation's oldest and most famous tree - the oak featured on the back of the 10 kroon banknote. "The tree is a symbol of Estonia, which even has been perpetuated on a banknote," said Olav Etverk, the Ministry's deputy secretary-general. "Once this property belongs to the state, we can ensure the best possible protection for the oak and its surrounding landscape."
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