Off the wire

  • 2001-06-21
FAT WALLET: The Latvian government resolved June 19 to double the monthly salary of the state president, raising it from 1,000 lats to 2,000 lats ($3,135) before tax. The government also resolved to increase the president's representation costs from 200 lats to 400 lats monthly. The decision was made after a review of proposals for the second reading of draft amendments to the 2001 national budget in the Parliament. No extra funds will be required to increase the president's salary; the pay rise will be effected by means of redistributing existing allocations to the presidential chancellery. A presidential spokeswoman said that the pay rise was not the initiative of Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, although the suggestion had been made earlier at meetings between representatives from the presidential chancellery and the Finance Ministry. The move still requires approval by the Parliament.

TROUBLE IN CHINA: Officials in Lithuania's second largest city Kaunas say they hope an upcoming visit by Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama at the end of June will not destroy their sister-city relationship with Xiamen (Amoy), China. China almost always reacts with hostility to receptions of the Dalai Lama abroad. Kaunas is the only Lithuanian city with a sister-city in the People's Republic of China. Both cities have hosted exchanges and signed cooperation agreements. Under one project, Chinese benefactors were to have granted $20,000 to the Lithuanian Student Sports Association to allow Lithuanian students to attend international student games in Beijing. Raimundas Smitas, deputy director of the Kaunas municipality's Foreign Relations Department, said the Chinese embassy had given "certain signs of dissatisfaction" with the Dalai Lama's visit.

A CALMER CHURCH: Estonia continues to be interested in settling the issue of formal registration of the Russian Orthodox church, but for this the statutes of the church have to be brought into line with Estonian laws, Prime Minister Mart Laar said on June 18. Laar met with Metropolitan Cornelius, head of the church, which looks to Moscow for spiritual guidance. The metropolitan and the prime minister decided that the Interior Ministry will, within two weeks of enforcement of a law on churches and congregations, present to Cornelius a draft of statutes consistent with Estonian laws that would allow the church to be registered. Before meeting the metropolitan, Laar spoke with the head of the Estonian Apostolic Orthodox Church under the jurisdiction of the Constantinople patriarchate, Metropolitan Stephanos. In Stephanos' opinion, Estonia's efforts to settle disagreements with its two Orthodox churches set a good example to the whole Orthodox world.

HEALTH BONUS: The Latvian trade union of medical nurses decided June 19 not to stage a nationwide strike, planned for July 5, as the government had complied with some of their demands, granting a pay rise effective as of July 1. Trade union leader Ruta Viksna said that under the new healthcare funding regulations a monthly salary of 84 lats ($132) will be paid to medium-level medical staff such as nurses, midwives and lab assistants. The current average monthly salary for this category of medical personnel is 50-60 lats. But the decision not to go on strike is provisional as Latvian medical nurses want a further pay rise next year. About 6,000 of Latvia's underpaid medics were ready to go on strike.

ARMY SAVES LIVES: Lithuanian army pilots will assist doctors in saving human lives by transporting organs and tissues needed for transplantation surgery. The Lithuanian Defense Ministry and the National Organ Transplantation Bureau signed a cooperation agreement on June 15. The agreement stipulates that the ministry should offer free helicopter services for the transportation of organs and tissues. Army helicopters have so far transported organs or accident victims on more than 20 cases without a formal agreement with the medical sector. The Defense Ministry said that three specially equipped search-and-rescue helicopters are on duty in Kaunas and Klaipeda round the clock 365 days a year, with crews ready to reach any location in the country within 30 minutes. About 340 patients are waiting for kidney transplants, 200 for cornea transplants, and 25 for heart transplant surgery.

RUSSIA CANCELS: A session of the Estonian-Russian intergovernmental commission headed by Estonian Prime Minister Mart Laar and Russia's Deputy Prime Minister Valentina Matviyenko, set for June 29, has been canceled on the Russian side's initiative. The Russian Foreign Ministry informed the Estonian Embassy in Moscow that the signing of a package of bilateral economic agreements will be put off. The Russian side said Moscow had failed to sufficiently prepare the accords. Another reason given by the Russian side was the unfavorable political climate. The most important result Estonia was expecting from the planned meeting was abolition of double customs duties Russia is levying on imports from Estonia. At the start of this month Laar voiced dissatisfaction with the Russian authorities' work in preparing the bilateral accords, saying the meeting of the intergovernmental commission may be canceled as a result.

SIGHTSEEING IN COMFORT: On June 13 the Vilnius bus depot presented on June 13 a roofless bus designed for tours in the central part of the Lithuanian capital. Presenting the bright colored bus to Vilnius Mayor Arturas Zuokas, board members and leaders of Vilnius administration, bus depot company representatives said the bus had been constructed from an old regular city bus. The bus, equipped with a roof at the front, will be used for tours in downtown Vilnius and other parts of the city. The main route runs from Rotuses Square in the Old Town, in front of the Town Hall, to desired locations elsewhere in the city, with excursions given by professional tour guides. The tour bus made its maiden trip around central Vilnius last weekend.