Off the wire

  • 2001-04-05
CLOSE TO MOSCOW: Riga and Moscow could become sister cities, and good relations with the Russian capital could only benefit Riga, newly elected Riga mayor and leading Social Democrat Gundars Bojars has announced. He thinks that it is not only the Russian speaking residents of Riga who are waiting for an improvement in relations, but also "numerous Latvian business people." Although the leftist union For Human Rights in United Latvia, who are partners with the Social Democrats in Riga, frequently visit Moscow, Bojars is taking the initiative of his own accord. "I myself have good relations with Moscow's city government. The assistance of the leftists is not needed there. But I believe they will not resist any development in these relations," said Bojars. He said a high ranking official from Moscow paid him a visit earlier in the week and Moscow is very interested in developing relations.

BUS DISASTER: The death toll resulting from the collision of a Lithuanian bus and a truck in Poland has increased to eight after a Japanese citizen, Yoshihiko Seki, died of his injuries in hospital early March 30. A total of six people, including German citizen Natalija Muller, were killed on the spot when a Lithuanian truck ran into a Lithuanian passenger bus on its regular route from Vilnius to Munich near Lomza, northeastern Poland, at about 2 a.m. on March 29. Two more have since died in hospital, including Seki. Two other passengers from the coach of tourists remain in serious condition in hospitals in Poland. Among the victims are the two bus drivers, two passengers and the two people in the truck.

NICE LITTLE EARNER: Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga owns Canadian treasury, municipal and corporate securities worth over 49,000 lats ($78,000) and 22 Latvian privatization vouchers, according to her declaration for last year. She got a 14,400 lat wage last year and a 23,000 lat pension from Canada, 850 lats in royalties from Karogs literary magazine and 18 lats as author's remuneration from a copyright agency. Meanwhile, she lent 25,000 lats. She is the owner of 500 shares worth 2,000 lats in a food store, a plot of land in rural Latvia, and a summer cottage in Canada. She has a residential building and a plot of land owned jointly with her husband and other persons. She does not have a vehicle and did not hold any other posts last year.

ALMOST IN EUROPE: More and more Lithuanians support the country's bid to join the European Union - but the number of supporters wouldn't suffice if a referendum were held this week. Representative groups of residents in Central European countries in March were asked about EU membership. The Lithuanian daily Lietuvos Rytas announced the results of the poll, conducted by Vilmorus in Lithuania, on March 30. Asked whether they would vote in favor of joining the EU, 49 percent answered in the affirmative and 29 percent in the negative in Lithuania. The Lithuanian law on referenda says that 50 percent of registered voters must vote in favor to carry a referendum. The majority of Euro-lovers in Lithuania are young urbanites, have a higher education and earn a decent living.

TOP SCOUTS: The Estonian Defense Ministry wants an additional 180 million kroons ($10.13 million) from next year's budget to buy anti-tank equipment for the army. Defense Ministry spokesman Madis Mikko said NATO has clearly stated that the Estonian army must boost its defense capacity, and it is absolutely necessary to buy arms to beat back heavy weaponry. "According to the Defense Ministry's plans, the purchased arms would be handed over to the future rapid reaction unit Estbat," he said. A decision by the government to form Estbat, or the Skautpataljon (Scout Battalion), as it is known in Estonian, was made on March 20. The purpose of the unit is to quickly and efficiently take part in NATO operations and to repel sudden attacks. The battalion must be ready for combat by 2005.

TECHNO-FLOWER: One of the biggest business groups in the Nordic countries, Telia, will give one million kroons ($56,000) for the development of the Estonian IT College. Rector of the IT College Kalle Tammemae used flowery language to express her appreciation. "Telia's large financial support is very timely and we're very grateful. Like a sprouting plant in spring, the college must make big efforts now, so the fragile shoots can become a viable hotbed of IT and telecommunications specialists." Telia's support is a targeted investment toward the development of the college in its period of growth. The IT College opened in newly refurbished premises last September. During the first three years, the college is projected to grow by one class a year.

NOT HUNGRY: Around 800 prisoners at three different Latvian prisons - the central prison, Brasa prison and Griva prison - refused their breakfast on the morning of April 3 and began what they called a hunger strike against a new order by which convicts are banned from receiving food supplies from their relatives. But, according to Vitolds Zahars, chairman of the prison board, the prisoners are continuing to eat their own supplies, which means that it's not really a hunger strike. The ban on receiving food from relatives is supported by Latvia's Human Rights Office. Its director Olafs Bruvers said the prisoners' protests are ungrounded. "This will erase one channel by which convicts can receive drugs inside the prison. It will discriminate against some of the relatives of rural prisoners, but this is justifiable for the good of the rest," said Bruvers.

MINISTER OUT: Lithuanian Health Minister Vinsas Janusonis, who recently found himself the center of attention of Lithuania's Ethics Commission, has handed in his resignation. Janusonis submitted his resignation to Prime Minister Rolandas Paksas on March 30, and the premier accepted the request to relieve him of the post. Until a new health minister is designated, Paksas suggested appointing Social Security and Labor Minister Vilija Blinkeviciute as acting minister of health. No reasons behind Janusonis' resignation have yet been given.