Off the wire

  • 2001-07-19
DEADLY STORM: A thunderstorm that swept across Latvia on July 15-16 ended in tragedy for a horse breeder in the northeastern region of Valka, when 12 of his equestrian horses were killed by lightning. The breeder, Rihards Circenis, said that a lightning bolt killed 12 of his Latvian-breed equestrian horses, including a colt, four mares and a number of young horses. The farm is now left with 15 horses, some of which were in a different part of the field, while others were in a stable. At around 2 a.m. July 16 the strong thunderstorm approached and about 20 or 30 minutes later Circenis heard the horses neighing loudly. "I saw the animals dead, fallen into a heap, where they had obviously been struck during the lightning." The lightning had struck the horses in a flat field with no trees nearby. The surroundings had also been damaged considerably with trees and electricity poles toppled and lines cut. After a very hot day on July 15, the huge thunderstorm swelled across Latvia, including the capital Riga, late in the evening, damaging electrical lines, trees and houses. No people were injured.

EMBASSY BANDITS: After a period of two months, the Latvian Embassy in Russia has received a response from the Russian Foreign Ministry to Latvia's note about two acts of vandalism perpetrated against the embassy early in May, an embassy official reported. In the note dated June 15, Russia reported to the embassy that one person had been detained who smeared the embassy building with paint April 30 and two had been detained over an act of vandalism on May 5. The note said the Russian police had opened criminal cases that will determine the degree of guilt and compensation of losses. Embassy security, which has to be provided by Russia, has been stepped up with the placing of two sentries instead of one. "Everyone can see the security has been stepped up," said Hardijs Baumanis, the first secretary at the embassy. Although the paint has been removed from the smeared building, a trace is still left and the building will need refurbishment.

FATAL FALL: A parachute jumper died in an accident in Panevezys district, northern Lithuania, on July 15. Andrius Beksta, 23, fell from an altitude of 1.5 kilometers onto a flax field in the Vytautas Lapenas airdrome in Paistris after his parachute failed to open. This was his 519th jump. Official conclusions on the cause of the accident will be presented in three weeks. According to preliminary information, Lapenas made a mistake while opening the main parachute and started opening the reserve parachute too late.

MARINE SKILLS: A three-day marine safety seminar began July 16 in the Lithuanian Baltic Sea port of Klaipeda, under NATO's Partnership for Peace program. Twenty-eight officers from Great Britain, the United States, Algeria, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, Lithuania and Latvia are attending the seminar. Marine safety seminars are usually held in Lisbon, Portugal, but this year it was decided to hold it in a non-NATO member state for the first time. According to NATO's South Atlantic Regional Headquarters' Commander Richard Mitchell, all partner states received invitations to host the seminar. Lithuania was chosen since it was among the first to send an answer to the invitation. The seminar is designed for naval officers from Partnership for Peace countries who may be involved in planning and conducting exercises or operations in conjunction with NATO maritime forces, and will focus on NATO maritime and maritime-aviation operations and associated safety procedures. There are currently 26 states enrolled in NATO's Partnership for Peace program.

CITY CRIME: The Lithuanian capital Vilnius ranks second in the country after the port city Klaipeda in number of crimes committed. However, Vilnius city police, though working in poor conditions, are fighting crime successfully, Vilnius police representatives told journalists on July 16. Over 20 percent of all crimes and over 21 percent of criminal offenses registered in Lithuania are committed in Vilnius. The number of murders and assaults has decreased in Vilnius, but the number of vehicle thefts and robberies is still increasing. According to Vilnius Police Commissioner Erikas Kaliacius, with more money allocated for the police the results would have been better. Over 70 percent of all the funding allocated to police transport is used for the repairing of old cars.

DOUBLE STANDARDS: Most Estonian hydrotherapy establishments have higher prices for their services for foreigners than for Estonians, which is illegal under Estonian law, the Finnish daily Helsingin Sanomat wrote on July 16. Having two sets of prices is against the Estonian consumer protection law, the paper writes, quoting deputy head of the Estonian Consumer Protection Society Maria Kokk. "There can be only one price for a service. Differentiation on the basis of nationality or color of skin is not allowed. Price cuts are permissible for certain hours of the day or certain days, but not for Estonians only," Helsingin Sanomat quoted Kokk as saying. The policy of two sets of prices is held at the sanatorium Laine in Haapsalu, a well-known seaside resort in western Estonia, as well as other service enterprises outside Tallinn. For example, tickets for the ferry running between the mainland and the island of Muhu off Estonia's western coast cost more for foreign coaches. Estonian businesspeople justify the double pricing policy with their country's lower standard of living.

HIGH CRIME: A top-level seminar on fighting organized crime, sponsored by the U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation and with participants from 17 countries, opened July 16 in Tallinn. Among the speakers at the four-day seminar organized jointly by the Estonian Interior Ministry and the FBI are leading specialists from Europe and the United States. The reports will be about the FBI, Scotland Yard and other European countries' police operations against organized crime and the situation of organized crime in different countries. Participants will also visit the Tallinn police headquarters and forensics center.