LOSING MY RELIGION: About 20 percent of people living in Latvia say they don't believe in organized religion and another 13 percent don't associate themselves with a particular religion, according to a poll released this week. The country's three main religions Lutheran, Catholic and Russian Orthodox – still dominate organized religions. Of those surveyed, 23.8 percent said they were Lutherans, 22.3 percent Catholics and 19 percent Russian Orthodox, according to the poll carried out by SKDS. Other religions, including Judaism, Old Believers and Baptists, total 4 percent. The percentage of non-believers is evenly divided between ethnic Latvians and other residents, but the portion that doesn't identify itself with a specific religion is higher among Latvians, the poll showed.
PARDON: A Lithuanian court has halted the case of Utena resident Fyodor Syomin, who is suspected of assisting Soviet forces in the deportation of Lithuanian citizens, after a panel of psychiatrists found him incapable of answering for his actions. Judges from Lithuania's Panevezys district found the 85-year-old defendant guilty of the charges, but pardoned him based on the commission's conclusions. The prosecutor general's office pressed charges against Syomin last December, accusing him of participating in the deportation of two families from the Anyksciai district in 1948-1951 as a staff member of the militia force and Soviet security.
LETHAL COACHES: One person was killed and 20 passengers suffered injuries when a Lithuanian tourist coach crashed into a truck about 80 kilometers from the Polish capital Warsaw on July 9. The accident occurred close to the city of Ostrow Mazowiecki at about 8:15 p.m. when the Paris-bound bus spun out of control and crossed into an ongoing lane, Lithuania's Consul General in Warsaw Irena Valainyte told the Baltic News Service. Ten passengers were rushed to local hospitals, including one woman treated in the intensive care unit. She remains in serious condition. Gediminas Siaudvytis, deputy director of the Lithuanian Foreign Ministry's consular department, said that group leader Genadijus Aleksovas, 50, died in hospital of injuries. This was the sixth bus crash in Poland this year that has claimed the lives of Lithuanian citizens.
CRIMINALS SEEK SUN: Estonian criminal police received on July 9 official notice of a decision by Spanish authorities to extradite Margus Unt, 25, a man wanted in Estonia since 1999. Unt, who is accused of extortion, fraud, forgery and use of forged documents, theft and threatening a victim, has been in hiding in Marbella, Spain, and elsewhere in Europe for the past few years. He is the second Estonian national Spanish authorities have decided to extradite to Estonia this year, a spokesman for the police board said. One Estonian, Runno Kristjuhan, has already been returned to Estonian custody from Spain.
GREASED PALMS: Latvian businessmen consider corruption in Latvia fairly widespread, though they say bribery is not nearly as bad as the country's complicated regulations, according to a poll released this week by the Latvian office of the international corruption watchdog Transparency International. Bribes were mentioned as a frequent problem by 9 percent of businesspeople surveyed. Twenty-four percent said they never had to pay a bribe. Of those who acknowledged paying bribes, most would not comment on the amount paid. Twelve percent said that bribes of up to 50 lats ($78) had to be paid often. Thirty percent of those who paid said problems with a specific institution could not be overcome without paying a bribe. The most corrupt institution is the police. Next is the state sanitary service, followed by construction permit offices and the State Revenue Service. Most of the businesspeople surveyed were from retail industries (65 percent). Almost all – 95 percent - were businesses with 50 or fewer employees.
AHOY: A NATO squadron arrived in Lithuania's port city of Klaipeda on July 6. It's the largest unit to visit the country, the Defense Ministry said in a report. According to a press release, it is a rare occurrence that a squadron visits a country that is not a member of NATO. The military unit will participate in the international exercises named Cooperative Ocean 2001, which are scheduled to start in Lithuanian territorial waters in the Baltic Sea on July 16. The Lithuanian frigate Zemaitis will also join the training session. The exercises will include detection and inspection of ships and an exchange of crew members. The international squadron includes seven frigates from Canada, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, a Norwegian submarine and a UK tanker with a total crew of over 1,500 men. A Polish vessel will also join the war games.
BELOW THE RIM: Martin Muursepp, who on July 7 received an award for being Estonia's best basketball player, was the same day denied an entry visa to the United States and will therefore miss the NBA summer camp in Florida beginning July 8. Muursepp, who handed his visa application to the U.S. Embassy in Tallinn the day before, was informed his application had been turned down. The reason for the rejection was reportedly insufficient information about the economic situation of Muursepp, one of the most well-off sportsmen in this country. According to the daily Postimees, the real reason behind the refusal could have been Muursepp's drunken-driving arrest on Midsummer Day, aggravated by his hurling insults at police and a subsequent court sentence. The policy of the U.S. Embassy is not to give visas to people who have fallen afoul of the law.