• 2002-03-28
SHAKE UP: The Lithuanian Parliament on March 26 adopted controversial amendments that will cut down on the number of political appointments in Lithuanian ministries. The amendments will change the administrative structure of the ministries by leaving only one politically appointed deputy minister. The changes will hand the leadership of a ministry's administration over to a career public servant, which will be appointed to the new post of state secretary. Lithuanian Interior Minister Juozas Bernatonis told BNS that the current deputy ministers, all political appointees, will be dismissed. The minister will be allowed to chose one of his or her deputy ministers as a political appointment. The rest are allowed to apply for ministerial civil servant jobs. Opposition parties opposed the amendments, calling it an attempt by the ruling coalition to install its members in the ministries for long-term service. "This is a method for protecting one's appointed politicians for several terms to come," said Conservative faction MP Jurgis Razma. Eligijus Masiulius of the Liberal Union said, "These amendments will bring confusion to the work of the government because in the near future it won't be engaged in the most important problems of the state, but in the distribution of posts." Ruling coalition members said the amendments would ensure the continuity of the ministries' work despite changes in political power. The amendments were approved 63-35 with six abstentions. The amendments now move on to the president's office for approval. (Baltic News Service)

RUSSIAN IN SCHOOLS: Estonia's Parliament on March 26 adopted an amendment that will keep state-funded high school education in Russian after 2007, the year it was due to be phased out. The amendments are designed to address schools in predominately Russian-speaking areas, like the northeastern city of Narva. Permission for instruction in a language other than the country's official language must be issued by the government based on an application from the respective local council. The proposal would be made by the school's board of trustees. Another provision was added to the law stating that schools must propose measures that would provide for the eventual transition of instruction to Estonian. The amendments were approved 44-34 with 23 abstentions in the 101-seat Parliament. The Estonian government has proposed a plan to eliminate Russian as a language of instruction in state-funded schools by the 2007/2008 school year. Authors of the bill said Estonian has done too little to prepare for the transition and that it would adversely affect students in mostly Russian-speaking areas. They argued that only five of the 700 teachers in Narva are competent to teach in Estonian. In 1993 the Parliament pushed to change the language of instructions for all state-funded schools by 2000. That was later pushed back to 2007. (BNS)

OCTOBER SURPRISE: A final decision on which countries will be invited to join NATO will not take place before October, AFP reported a U.S. State Department official saying in Bucharest on March 26. Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage said that at an upcoming meeting in Iceland in May "nations will probably get a sense of how close they are to accession or not, but the decision will not be made before October." Armitage was in Bucharest to attend a two-day meeting of officials from 10 NATO candidate countries. "I encourage our friends here not to rest on their laurels but to redouble efforts," he said at a news conference. In particular, he called upon candidate countries to continue political reform efforts, restructure their armed forces and pursue the fight against corruption. The leaders of nine formal NATO candidates – Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Romania, Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania – were in Bucharest along with officials from Croatia to discuss accession to the alliance. NATO candidates have been meeting regularly over the last two years, but their gatherings are becoming more frequent and more urgent as the key summit in Prague in November draws near. "The U.S. looks forward to the fullest, widest possible accession" to NATO, Armitage said, adding that "no country is excluded from consideration because of its history, its geography or the views of any outside power." (AFP-BNS)

THAT SEAT'S TAKEN: A Vilnius municipal court fined a man 250 litas ($62.50) for forcing a plane to be delayed from taking off because he was drunk. The Scandinavian Airline Systems plane was preparing to take off from Vilnius for Copenhagen on March 6. Witnesses said Ceslovas Gureckis, 41, of the Lithuanian region of Moletai went berserk in the passenger section of the plane. The court convicted Gureckis on a charge of disorderly conduct. As the plane prepared to take off he became boisterous and bothered other passengers, according to the flight crew. Airport officials reportedly warned SAS of the man's condition, but the airline allowed him to board the plane. The captain steered the plane back to the terminal and it took off 20 minutes later. (BNS)

RELIGIOUS RIGHT: The New Christian Party, which is represented both in Latvia's Parliament and in the Cabinet, is considering merging with other religious parties to create a stronger religious right in Latvia. The party is asking members to consider uniting with a party that is in the process of forming and is tentatively called the "parsons' party." The new Christian Party chairman, Lutheran Evangelical Church parson Guntis Dislers, said at a recent party congress that Christian forces should consolidate. "One small party cannot build Latvia's fate," said Dislers. The New Christian Party is currently a ruling coalition member, though it only has three MPs in the 100-seat legislature. Its members include Special Task Minister for State Reform Affairs Janis Krumins and Justice Minister Ingrida Labucka. (BNS)