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Week in Lithuania. Alleged CIA prison in Lithuania on international prosecutors’ radar screen

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RULithuania may face additional international pressure over suspicions that Americans operated a secret prison for terror suspects near Vilnius a decade ago as prosecutors of the International Criminal Court (ICC) are considering launching a full-scale investigation into allegations that prisoners were tortured at the Central Intelligence Agency’s secret detention facilities.

Law experts think that investigators may ask for information from Lithuania, but add that Washington’s refusal to cooperate may bring the case to a halt. Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of The Hague court, released last week a preliminary report on allegations that US troops and CIA agents might have tortured terror suspects.

The ICC is the second international court after the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that may look into what happened a decade ago in a building in Antaviliai, some 15 kilometers from Vilnius. The Lithuanian government has told the ECHR that the building housed «an intelligence support center», not a secret prison.

Bensouda says in the report that Americans may have committed war crimes by torturing detainees.

«Members of the CIA appear to have subjected at least 27 detained persons to torture, cruel treatment, outrages upon personal dignity and/or rape on the territory of Afghanistan and other States Parties to the Statute (namely Poland, Romania and Lithuania) between December 2002 and March 2008. The majority of the abuses are alleged to have occurred in 2003-2004,» the document reads.

Human rights activists suspect that the CIA operated a secret prison in Lithuanian between 2005 and 2006.

Unlike Lithuania, the United States has not ratified the Rome Statute and Washington has already said that it will not allow The Hague court to prosecute its troops and intelligence agents.

The Lithuanian Ministry of Justice and the US embassy in Vilnius would not comment on the report.

Minister warns over Russia’s behavior

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius has expressed his concern about what moves Russian may make in the weeks before Donald Trump becomes US president.

«The new administration doesn’t come in until the second part of January. I’m very afraid and concerned about this period not just because of the regions which are close to here but let’s hope that Aleppo is not smashed from the ground by then,» he said. When asked if Lithuania still saw Russia as a threat, the minister answered, «Russia is not a superpower, it’s a super problem.» Linkevičus warned that there was a danger that Russian President Vladimir Putin would see the period between now and the inauguration of Donald Trump in January as an opportunity to test the military preparedness and diplomatic determination of the Western alliance.

Street sign in Latvian language to be unveiled in Vilnius

A symbolic street sign in the Latvian language was unveiled in Latvių Street in Vilnius on Friday, November 18, as the neighboring Baltic country celebrates its Independence Day. Vilnius Mayor Remigijus Šimašius and Latvian Ambassador Einars Semanis unveiled the street sign in an official ceremony. It is the ninth symbolic non-Lithuanian street sight in Vilnius. Such signs have already been unveiled in the capital’s streets named after Jews, Iceland, Warsaw, Russians, Karaims, Tatars and Germans, and in the Washington Square.

Alcohol banned from Seimas restaurant

The board of the Lithuanian Seimas decided on Friday, November 18, that alcoholic beverages will no longer be sold in the parliament’s restaurant and cafes, but will continue to be allowed during official receptions. «There will be no alcohol in the Seimas restaurant. We are not consuming it and we are not selling it – this is our decision. We believe that the Seimas is not a place for drinking alcohol, any alcohol,» first deputy Speaker Rima Baškienė told reporters after the board’s meeting. However, alcohol will allowed to be served during protocol-regulated events.

Seimas committees’ chairpersons and deputies elected

Almost all Seimas committees have elected their heads – chairpersons and deputies. The «Peasants», who have formed the majority coalition, took ten chairperson posts in committees, while their coalition partners the Social Democrats took three. A representative of the opposition will be in charge of one committee. Conservative Ingrida Šimonytė was voted chairwoman of the Audit Committee, with Naglis Puteikis, a member of the «Peasant» fraction will be the deputy. Social Democrat Algirdas Sysas was elected the Social Affairs and Labour Committee chairman, with «Peasant» Tomas Tomilinas being voted in as deputy. Social Democrat Julius Sabatauskas was voted Law and Law Enforcement Committee chairman, with the post of deputy going to Conservative Stasys Šedbaras.

Lithuanians among EU’s least confident in their impact

Lithuanians are among the members of the European Union (EU) who are the least confident in their influence in their country, shows the latest Eurobarometer survey. Asked whether they felt that their voice was important in their country, less than a fourth of Lithuanian respondents (23 per cent) replied in the positive, which is the second-lowest result among EU members after Greece where voices are considered important by merely 17 per cent of those polled. The figure is higher in Estonia and Latvia (35 per cent each). Somewhat more Lithuanians (25 per cent) believe their voice is important in the EU, putting the country above other Baltic nations in terms of this indicator -in Estonia it was 17 per cent (the second-lowest result after Greece) and 19 per cent in Latvia. However, Lithuania leads the bloc by the number of people thinking EU membership benefited the country (86 per cent).

Landsbergis honored with France’s highest award

Lithuania’s first post-independence leader Vytautas Landsbergis was presented on Friday, November 18, with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor, France’s highest award. Philippe Jeantaud, France’s ambassador to Lithuania said that Landsbergis has been honored with the award by President Francois Hollande’s decree for his «special merits in serving the Freedom and Europe, which regained Lithuania thanks to him.» The National Order of the Legion of Honor, or the Ordre national de la Légion d’honneur in French, was established by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1802. Landsbergis presided over the parliamentary session of March 11, 1990 which declared the restoration of Lithuania’s independence from the Soviet Union.                   

Parties appeal election watchdog’s decision on state grants

Lithuania’s opposition Liberal Movement and the ruling Peasant and Green Union have turned to court over the Central Electoral Commission’s decision to distribute state grants to political parties by their performance in the 2012 parliamentary elections.

On November 9, the Central Electoral Commission distributed 2.7 million euros for political parties in line with the 2012 election performance rather than the results of this year’s elections. The majority of the commission’s members decided the older election results should be taken into consideration, as the new parliament had not yet then been sworn in.

The decision was the biggest financial shock for LPGU and the Liberal Movement, which this year secured far more votes than they did four years ago. Under the Central Electoral Commission’s decision, LPGU received 147,000 euros, while the grant by this year’s results would have been 548,000 euros. Meanwhile, the Liberal Movement would have been granted 394,000 euros instead of the 328,000 euros it received. Meanwhile, the existing scheme granted more money to other political parties, including the Social Democrats, the Labor Party, the Order and Justice Party and the Way of Courage party. State grants are provided to political parties that meet the requirements stipulated by law and have received at least 3 per cent of the vote in the last elections to the parliament, municipal councils and the European Parliament.

Lithuania plagued with deadly traffic accidents

Lithuania remains among the European Union (EU) countries where the highest number of deadly traffic accidents is reported, shows data published by Eurostat on Friday, November 18. In 2015, 242 deaths were reported on Lithuanian roads, i.e., 8.3 casualties per population of 100,000, putting Lithuania in the 4th place in the EU. It is behind Latvia and Romania, each with 9.5 casualties per 100,000 residents, and Bulgaria with 9.8. In Estonia, the figure equals the EU average of 5.1 casualties. As compared with the 2014 statistics, all three Baltic countries slashed their numbers by 9-14 per cent. The statistics of the past decade show that the numbers dropped by a factor of more than two – the EU average declined by 59.2 per cent from 1995, while that in Lithuania fell by 64 per cent.

Half-empty rural schools will stay

Lithuania’s new administration will search for ways of keeping the half-empty schools in rural areas open, the ruling Peasant and Green Union’s candidate for PM Saulius Skvernelis said on Thursday, November 17. He said that the existing school financing model did not work, adding that transition to staff-based payment of teachers may be discussed along with the budget sector reform. Earlier on Thursday, President Dalia Grybauskaitė submitted Skvernelis as candidate for prime minister to the parliament. The candidate will now meet with political groups before the parliament next week votes on his designation. In Lithuania, the prime minister is appointed by the president. The new government’s program envisages scrapping the current school financing model of student basket – it should be replaced by the model of class sets, with plans to improve the national assessment of student performance and focus on international criteria and methods.

Seimas confirms commitments to NATO

Lithuania’s parliament restated its plans to meet the commitment to NATO in terms of raising defense funding and reasserted the importance of strategic partnership with the United States. The resolution was supported by 116 Lithuanian parliamentarians on Thursday, November 17. In his call to support the resolution, Egidijus Vareikis of the ruling Lithuanian Peasant and Green Union stated that the United States needed allies, emphasizing the importance of the document. The resolution on strategic partnership with the US stipulates that Lithuania had always been a reliable US partner in Europe and the Baltic Sea region and would continue on the course.

Lithuania wants to continue sanctions against Russia

The Lithuanian parliament on Thursday, November 17, passed a resolution calling on the European Union to continue its sanctions on Russia over the country’s aggression in Ukraine. The resolution was adopted with 105 votes in favor, none against and one abstention. According to the resolution, «any attempts to soften or lift sanctions against the Russian Federation now would encourage Russia’s aggressive policy and heighten the threat to the security of Ukraine, Lithuania and Europe as a whole.»

Laurynas Kasčiūnas, one of the authors of the resolution, said that as EU leaders prepare to discuss next month whether to maintain the bloc’s sanctions against Russia, there have been calls in Europe for reviewing the sanctions policy.

PM candidate to seek «to reload» relations with Poland

Saulius Skvernelis, the candidate to become Lithuania’s next prime minister, sees  Poland as a strategic partner and vows to make every effort «to reload» relations with the neighboring nation, which are currently not in their best shape. «Poland is our strategic partner. Speaking about our national defense, (the Polish) army is among the biggest and strongest ones in NATO,» Skvernelis told the parliament when asked about Lithuania’s relations with the neighbor. Relations between Lithuania and Poland have been marred in recent years by disagreements over the situation of ethnic minorities.

Court adjourns hearing of Jan 1991 crackdown case

The Vilnius Regional Court has adjourned proceedings in the January 13, 1991 case for almost two months, until January 9, with the hearing of victims’ testimonies planned to start next year. Almost 500 people have been named victims in the mass trial of over 60 persons charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity for their roles in the bloody crackdown on protesters. Most of the defendants live in Russia or Belarus and are tried in absentia. Only two defendants are present in court. The court’s hearings in the case have been scheduled until late December 2017.

Lithuania sends aid to refugees in Bulgaria

Officers of Lithuania’s Fire and Rescue Department on Tuesday, November 15, left for Bulgaria with a shipment of civil protection international aid for refugees placed in the country on a temporary basis. In an effort to contribute to regulation of the international migration crisis, the Lithuanian government earmarked necessities from its state reserve. The shipment en route to Bulgaria includes 100 folding beds, 200 blankets, 10 heaters, 10 tents and five autonomous biotoilets, the Fire and Rescue Department said. The shipment is estimated at over 24,000 euros.  About 13,000 illegal migrants have been stuck in Bulgaria after their routes to the West on the Balkan route were blocked by other countries blocking borders due to even larger migration flows.

EU warning over budget deficit «means nothing’

Finance Minister Rasa Budbergytė says that the European Commission’s warning that Lithuania’s draft budget for 2017 risks breaking the bloc’s  rules «does not mean anything», adding that the EU’s executive body is still waiting to see if the country’s new government will continue the implementation of the so-called social model.

«What the European Commission said today does not mean anything. It did not draw any conclusion. EU and Eurogroup finance ministers are holding a meeting on December 3 and this is where the draft (budget) that has been submitted will be discussed,» the outgoing minister told reporters on Wednesday, November 16.

Troops take part in exercise in Iron Sword

About 4 000 Lithuanian and Allied troops are attending Iron Sword 2016 exercise that started on Sunday, November 20, in Lithuania. Allied troops from 10 countries and Lithuania are taking part in the drills. The exercise will also improve interaction with NATO Allies and train skills of conducting various operations in inhabited areas, the ministry said. The war drills will take place in training grounds of Gaižiūnai and General Silvestras Žukauskas.

Every fourth Lithuanian paid bribe

Lithuania remains among the most corrupt European countries – although Lithuanian residents paid fewer bribes to doctors and police officers in the past year, one in four residents have paid a bribe in the past 12 months, shows the Global Corruption Barometer published by Transparency International. The survey of 1,501 Lithuanian residents was conducted by TNS pollster on December 4 2015 through January 28 2016. According to the poll, the number of Lithuanian residents who have bribed traffic police declined by a factor of four over the year to 6 per cent from 23 per cent in 2013, while 24 per cent of those going to doctors admit having paid a bribe in 2015, as compared to 35 per cent of patients paying money to their doctors three years ago.

New Seimas endorses commitment to defense

Lithuania’s new parliament unanimously passed a resolution on Tuesday, November 15, on continuity of foreign, security and defense policies, which includes raising the defense funding to 2 per cent of the gross domestic product (GDP) by 2018. According to the document, Lithuania should follow the earlier parliamentary agreement on the strategic guidelines of Lithuania’s foreign, security and defense policies for the 2014-2020 period. With the agreement, the earlier parliament committed itself to meeting the obligation to NATO of granting 2 per cent of the GDP to defense by 2020, however; there is also a political resolution to reach the goal by 2018 already. Under the approved document, Lithuania should step up ties with the United States, Germany, France, Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Nordic and other democratic countries.

Lithuania in hot water over sale of valuable US guns

The United States Embassy has called for an explanation of how the semi-automatic weapons M14 used by US snipers and donated to Lithuania’s Armed Forces ended up in the hands of private individuals. The support granted by the US government to Lithuania had been unlawfully transferred to third parties, although Lithuania and the United States have signed an agreement banning sale of weapons granted by the US. M14, which are valued by collectors worldwide, were available for sale in Lithuania to any individual carrying a police permit to own a gun. The Weaponry Fund under the Interior Ministry sold the weapons at an incredibly low price – 347 euros apiece. The agreement between the Lithuanian and the US governments was signed in 2002, three years after the handover of the M14 weapons to the Lithuanian Armed Forces.

Pro-Russian wins in Eastern Europe poses challenges

Victories of pro-Russian candidates in presidential elections in Moldova and Bulgaria will make it more difficult for Lithuania to find allies on many issues on the European Union’s (EU) agenda, Lithuanian political scientist Linas Kojala says. In his words, election of Igor Dodon as Moldova’s president and his pledges to give up association agreements with the EU «will give us fewer arguments to say that the things started by the European Union are production and efficient.» Furthermore, the EU will decide in January on extending economic sanctions against Russia for its role in the conflict in Eastern Ukraine. Amid calls from some Western European countries to ease the stance on Moscow, «the unity of countries is increasingly cracking, as there are ever more leaders saying that we need a reconciliation policy with Russia,» he added.


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