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Week in Lithuania. Ex-presidents convened in Black Sea forum in Lithuania

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Ukraine’s former Presidents Viktor Yushchenko (L) and Leonid Kuchma

Lithuania’s  city of Kaunas hosted Friday, March 10, an international forum of the Baltic and Black Seas where Europe’s future  was discussed by historic leaders and former heads-of-state of Central and Eastern Europe.

The topic of the Kaunas forum was Europe Today. The Baltic Consensus (1987–1991): Historical Significance and Lessons for the Today’s World, the Vytautas Magnus University said. The event was held on the eve of 11 March, the Day of Restoration of Independence of Lithuania.

The participants included former European heads-of-state who in the recent past dared to change the course of their respective states: Lithuania‘s ex-president Valdas Adamkus, Lithuania’s first post-independence leader Vytautas Landsbergis, former Ukrainian presidents Viktor Yushchenko and Leonid Kuchma, former Polish president Lech Walesa, former Moldovan president Petru Lucinschi, former Estonian president Arnold Ruutel and former secretary of state of Russia, Gennady Burbulis.

MP resigns from vice-speaker but keeps mandate

Amid the scandal over alleged ties with former KGB officials and shady relations with criminals, Social Democratic MP Mindaugas Bastys stepped down from the post of parliamentary vice-speaker; however, he plans to keep his MP mandate.

Bastys did not get a permit to work with classified information due to his personal links with representatives of Russian energy companies and the criminal community, a former KGB agent and a pro-Kremlin journalist, shows a report from the State Security Department.

The materials provided to the parliamentary speaker describe Bastys’ connections to Yevgeny Kostin, titled as a representative of the Russian nuclear energy corporation Rosatom, former KGB agent Piotr Voyeiko, Russian state channel RTR journalist Ernest Matskevich, former Kaunas mafia leader Saturnas Dubininkas and Vadimas Pachomovas, a businessman suspected of shady operations.

According to the department’s conclusion, the links make Bastys vulnerable and would threaten the safety of state secrets he has access to.

Official ethics chief resigns

Romas Valentukevičius, the head of the Lithuanian chief Official Ethics Commission (VTEK), presented his resignation from the post to Parliamentary Speaker Viktoras Pranckietis on Thursday, March 9, the parliament’s Public Relations Division said.

Valentukevičius wants to officially finish his service in the post on March 20. Pranckietis in January called on Valentukevičius to resign, saying that the chairman harmed the commission’s reputation when he made a unilateral decision that Greta Kildišienė, who was then a member of the Seimas, was not under the obligation to declare that she was driving a car leased by her mother from Agrokoncernas, a company owned by Ramūnas Karbauskis, the LFGU chairman.

Three Lithuanian troops in hospital with injuries

Three soldiers of Lithuania’s professional army suffered burns of their hands and faces on Wednesday, March 8, during the preparation of simulation gear for exercises, the Defence Ministry said. According to the press release, lives and vision of the troops are not in danger. The Lithuanian army’s Military Police has opened an investigation into the circumstances of the incident

President supports Tusk for EC presidency

President Dalia Grybauskaitė expressed her support for re-election of Poland’s ex-prime minister Donald Tusk for another term as president of the European Council, regardless from objections from the Polish government.

Riflemen’s Union sends aid to Eastern Ukraine

The Lithuanian Riflemen’s Union has sent three powerful electric generators, special headsets and other humanitarian aid to people in war-hit Eastern Ukraine.The humanitarian aid will be delivered to people living around Avdiivka, Mariupol and Severodonetsk.The Group for Assistance to Ukraine provides aid to Ukrainians on a continuous basis.

House of Basketball planned in Kaunas

The House of Basketball will be established in Lithuania’s second-largest city Kaunas to accommodate the Lithuanian Basketball Federation and an interactive technology-filled basketball museum.

The museum, which will also function as an educational tool, will present the history of basketball in a modern way. The building is expected to attract foreign tourists and serve as a good emotional charge for the young generation, which finds technological solutions attractive.The museum will consist of a few separate areas, namely, cinema, an exhibition of trophies, a game room and an interactive entertainment.

The project will require about 2 million euros. The money should be generated from sales of the federation’s securities and the existing office facilities in Vilnius, with the rest of the sum to be collected from private sponsors.

The time capsule marking the start of the construction should be placed on April 23 in celebration of 95 years of Lithuania’s basketball.

VDU, Euroleague establish a joint study program

Euroleague and Lithuania’s Vytautas Magnus University (VDU) on Thursday, March 9, announced plans to establish a joint program of master’s studies – management of sports business.VDU said it would be the only international program in Europe carried out in cooperation with the Euroleague.Organized by the VDU Faculty of Economics and Management, the studies will provide students with a systematic understanding and professional know-how about all key areas of sports business and management, namely, marketing, finances, public relations and communications, law, strategy and economy. The first students of sports business management will start their education in September of 2017 and complete it in October of 2018.

Prosecutors probe suspected denial of Soviet aggression

Lithuanian law-enforcement officials are conducting a pre-trial investigation on suspicions of a denial of Soviet aggression on January 13, 1991.The investigation was launched after receiving information about a Lithuanian-language book that allegedly contains false statements publicly denying the act of Soviet aggression and giving a biased interpretation of the events, the Prosecutor General’s Office said on Thursday, March 9.

Hungarian minister defends Russia in Vilnius

Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto said in Vilnius on Thursday, March 9, that the EU’s sanctions on Moscow are not working and should be reviewed and voiced his support for plans by Russia’s Rosatom to build new nuclear reactors in the country. In Szijjarto’s words, the sanctions applied against Russia did not bring closer the implementation of the Minsk accords on the ceasefire in Eastern Ukraine, furthermore, caused harm for European economy.

Prison Department chief contests her suspension

Živilė Mikenaitė, director of the Lithuanian Prison Department, has appealed to a court against the justice minister’s decision to suspend her from duties. She claims the justice minister provided no factual or legal arguments in her order to suspend her. The Prison Department’s director and Edvardas Kviatkauskas, head of the Kaunas Remand Prison, were suspended from duties a month ago amid an in-house probe into the purchases of goods through tenders at much higher than the market‘s prices.

Prominent figures speak out against MP seat number reduction

Tens of prominent public figures on Thursday, March 9, called on Lithuania’s leaders and heads of parliamentary political parties not to back a proposal to cut the number of seats in the Seimas from 141 to 101, saying that the move, if approved, will lead to worse representation of voters’ interests.

The public figures warn that amending the Constitution according to politicians’ whims poses a threat to Lithuania’s statehood, which is particularly dangerous in the current geopolitical situation.

The letter is signed by Lithuania’s first post-independence leader Vytautas Landsbergis, historians Egidijus Aleksandravičius and Alfredas Bumblauskas, philosophers Vytautas Ališauskas and Alvydas Jokubaitis, poet Kornelijus Platelis, lawyers Vytautas Nekrošius and Vytautas Sinkevičius, economists Teodoras Medaiskis and Gitanas Nausėda, as well as prominent publicists and journalists.

The ruling Lithuanian Farmers and Greens Union (LFGU), the initiator of the amendment, cites the country’s declining population as the reason for slashing the number of seats in the parliament.

Courts of first instance find majority of defendants guilty

Court of first instance in Lithuania find 97 percent of persons on trial guilty, shows statistics published on Wednesday, March 8. Last year, 552 of the 18,514 defendants were cleared of charges, which makes 3 percent of all defendants, reads the report of operations of prosecutors. The indicator does not differ much from the 2012-2015 statistics. According to the report, courts satisfied two in three appeals pleas and half of all appeals in cassation filed by prosecutors in 2016.

Donor heart flown to Lithuania

A Lithuanian warplane brought a donor heart from Riga to Vilnius, the Lithuanian National Transplant Bureau said on Wednesday, March 8. According to the press release, the donor organ was offered to Lithuania by a children’s hospital in Latvia.A surgical team went to the Riga hospital on an ambulance and returned to the Vilnius airport with the donor heart on the Spartan warplane on an early Wednesday morning. From the airport, another ambulance carried the heart and the doctors to the Vilnius University’s Santariškės Clinic.

Jailed man to get compensation for poor prison conditions

Andrei Oshurkov, a former military paramedic convicted of spying for Belarus, is to receive 1,500 euros in compensation from the Lithuanian state for non-material damage he suffered while waiting for his sentence in an overcrowded prison cell.The Vilnius Regional Administrative Court on Wednesday, March 8, ordered the amount of compensation to be paid to the man, who has already served his sentence. Oshurkov complained to the court about poor, unhygienic conditions in Vilnius’ Lukiškės Remand Prison where he spent 748 days between February 2014 and April 2016.

PM disapproves contracts termination with Hanner

The intentions of the Lithuanian National Land Service to terminate contracts with real estate developer Hanner over the lease of the territory of the former Žalgiris Stadium in Vilnius is a blow to the investment environment, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis said.

Last week, the National Land Service announced plans of cancelling two lease contracts of state-owned land with Hanner, which is building a 20 million euro Marriot hotel in the 8 ha territory, plans to launch construction of a business centre later this year and residential buildings in the future. Furthermore, a 20 million euro residential project Pilies Apartamentai is about to be completed. Total investment in the territory totals at about 200 million euros.

Ambassador wants stronger transmitter of Radio Free Europe

The signal of the US Congress-financed Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) rebroadcast via Lithuania should be amplified in an effort to resist the Russian propaganda, and the radio should be broadcast round the clock, Lithuania’s Ambassador to the United States Rolandas Kriščiunas told US senators on Tuesday, March 9.

Currently, the radio is broadcast 24 hours a day in the Russian and the Belarusian languages. The broadcasts to Russia, Belarus, Ukraine and Moldova are rebroadcast from the transmitter in Viešintos, north-eastern Lithuania. The radio station’s central headquarters are located in Washington, however, the operations are based in the radio broadcasting centre in the Czech capital Prague.

In the ambassador’s words, the RFE/RL signal needs to be amplified to cover larger territories in countries with societies more vulnerable to Russian propaganda, and this needs a more powerful transmitter.

MPs propose lowering election barrier

A group set up at the Lithuanian parliament to address national minority policy issues has proposed to consider lowering the Seimas election threshold for national minority parties. Conservative MP Andrius Kubilius, the initiator of the group, says that a lower threshold would contribute to the emergence of an alternative to the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania–Christian Families Alliance (EAPL-CFA), which is currently the dominant national minority party, and could reduce the Kremlin’s influence on the political attitudes of national minorities in Lithuania.

He said that certain safeguards, such a 2 percent threshold, could be put in place to prevent pro-Russian organizations from being elected to the Seimas.

Chief prosecutor in Brussels explained Paksas case

Prosecutor General Evaldas Pašilis attended a meeting of the European Parliament’s (EP) Committee on Legal Affairs and explained the reasons behind the request to lift the legal immunity of the Order and Justice party’s former leader Rolandas Paksas in a corruption case.

Lithuanian prosecutors last spring asked the European Parliament to lift the immunity of Paksas. They suspect that Gedvydas Vainauskas, CEO of the media group Lietuvos Rytas, offered a 10,000-euro bribe to Paksas for pressuring construction inspectors to authorize the opening of a new Norfa retail store in Prienai, a town in southern Lithuania.

The European Parliament’s committee decided to invite the Lithuanian prosecutor general for explanations.

Conservatives leader testifies in MG Baltic probe

Gabrielius Landsbergis, the leader of the conservative Homeland Union – Lithuanian Christian Democrats, has testified in the political corruption investigation surrounding MG Baltic concern.

He said he was questioned by the Special Investigation Service about two weeks ago as a witness, adding he had been asked questions about his meeting with MG Baltic vice-president Raimondas Kurliankis.

Court orders non-Lithuanian last names in ID cards

The Lithuanian Supreme Administrative Court has handed down yet another ruling on spelling of personal names in documents – it ruled that non-Lithuanian last names of Wardyn and Pauwels should be spelled in personal identification cards in both Lithuanian and non-Lithuanian characters.

A family of a Lithuanian and a Polish national had applied for an ID card for their child with the last name Wardyn, as listed in the register of residents, while a family of a Belgian and Lithuanian nationals, Pauwels, wanted their child to have his name spelled with the non-Lithuanian character w in both the ID card and the passport.

Last week, the court already ruled in the cases of Jaquet and Gorecki – Mickiewicz, instructing Vilnius migration authorities to issue passports with both versions of the names: the Lithuanian version on the main page of the passport, while the original spelling among other entries.

Riga minibus operator wins Vilnius contract

A consortium of Latvia’s minibus passenger service operator Rigas Mikroautobusu Satiksme (RMS) and Lithuania’s intercity minibus service operator Transrevis will operate one-tenth of Vilnius’ public transport service routes after winning one of two parts of a tender announced by the Lithuanian capital to select private passenger service providers. The winner of the second part of the tender, for large buses, is to be announced later.

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