• 2002-08-22

Support in Latvia for joining NATO has edged above 50 percent, with 51.3 percent of residents in favor of joining the defense alliance compared with 47.2 percent in March, according to a poll by Latvijas Fakti.

In a survey of 1,005 people between July 12-23, some 26.5 percent of respondents said they were against joining NATO, up from 24.5 percent last month. Opposition among non-Latvians, mostly ethnic Russians, continues to grow. Nearly 44 percent of non-Latvians said joining NATO is not necessary.

Latvia hopes to receive an invitation to join NATO when the alliance's leaders meet in Prague in November. (Agence France-Presse)

Mideast meetings

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Antanas Valionis will visit Egypt, Jordan and Syria in October to boost economic cooperation with those countries. Ministry officials said Valionis would meet Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Jordan's King Abdullah II.

Bilateral agreements on promotion and protection of investments should be signed during the visits. (AFP)

Radio relocation

Officials from U.S.-funded Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty will meet with Latvian Prime Minister Andris Berzins this week to discuss a possible move from the Czech Republic.

Czech authorities have asked the broadcaster to consider leaving its Prague headquarters, near the Czech Parliament, citing terrorism concerns. Radio Free Europe officials have so far rejected several alternative locations in the Czech Republic.

Latvia has offered the use of its under-utilized state television building, and Berzins will meet four RFE representatives to discuss the broadcaster's needs and Latvia's ability to meet them.

Radio Free Europe broadcasts throughout Eastern Europe, the

Middle East and Central Asia and has an estimated 35 million listeners.(AFP)

Fire brigade

Forest fires blazed through several hundred hectares in Estonia and Latvia over the weekend, destroying crops.

Some 250 hectares in Estonia were afire Aug. 17 in Kuusalu, some 40 kilometer east of the capital, Tallinn. In Parnu county, about 50 additional hectares were on fire.

Latvia suffered the most damage in the eastern region of Latgale, with the largest fire covering some 100 hectares of wood breaking out in Preili. Flames occasionally rose as high as 15 meters, fire and rescue officials said.

The major fires in both countries have been contained but not all are extinguished. (Baltic News Service)

Here's Zhirinovsky

Outspoken Russian lawmaker Vladimir Zhirinovsky has said he plans to come to Riga later this year to take part in a talk show hosted by the private television company LNT but immigration authorities say he will not be granted a visa to enter.

Zhirinovsky, head of Russia's Liberal Democrat party and famous for his virulent anti-Baltic statements, has been declared persona non grata by immigration authorities and is indefinitely on the country's "black list," according to officials. (BNS)

Contraband crackdown

Officials in Narva said last Aug. 19 they had prevented three attempts to smuggle large amounts of pure alcohol into Estonia from Russia in rebuilt automobile fuel tanks.

The first of the discoveries was made the morning of Aug. 16 when an Audi 100 arriving from Russia was subjected to additional checks at the border, customs officials said, and two pipes were discovered that led to the fuel tank.

A 33-year-old Kohtla-Jarve resident was detained and customs officials said he admitted the tank had been rebuilt to hold 80 liters of alcoholic spirits.

That evening, a similar setup was discovered on the car of a 46-year-old Narva resident.

The usual punishment is a fine and confiscation of smuggled goods. (BNS)

Crash in Ukraine

A Lithuanian Cessna-172 four-seat plane with three Lithuanians aboard crash landed near the Ukrainian village of Devinkove last week, about 12 kilometers southwest of the capital, Kiev. None of those aboard was injured.

The plane was heading to Kiev when it went down in a forest because of an engine malfunction, said Alvydas Sumskas, head of the Lithuanian Civil Aviatino Administration.

Ukrainian aviation authorities are investigating.

The plane's pilot, Gintautas Zube, said he and his two passengers walked away from the wreck to a nearby village for help. He said the plane was heavily damaged.

The plane is owned by the Klaipeda company Laivyte and used by the Aeronika company. Zube has a commercial pilot's license. (BNS)