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Week in Lithuania. Foreign minister dismisses Lukashenko's accusations as fiction

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Belarussian President Alexander Lukashenko

Lithuania’s Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius has dismissed the statement by Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko about training of armed provokers in Lithuania as fiction out of the blue.

«I would like to hear well-grounded statements from a head-of-state. In this case, this is fiction out of the blue,» the minister said.

Linkevičius urged the Belarusian administration to stop looking for enemies in foreign countries and within the state who could be blamed for the tense situation in Belarus. The Belarusian hard-line president stated earlier on Tuesday that Lithuania and Poland could have been training fighters who were behind provocations in his country. In Lukashenko’s words, a few dozen persons have been detained over the armed provocations. Last week, Belarus started hearing a case of 50 individuals detained during protests against Lukashenko.

MEP Guoga blacklisted by Russia

Antanas Guoga, a Lithuanian member of the European Parliament, has been included into the list of persons unwanted in Russia. Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius confirmed last week that other two MEPs, Laima Andrikiene and Algirdas Saudargas of the conservatives, had also been listed as personas non grata. The list of European Union (EU) politicians unwanted in Russia are Liberal MEP Petras Austrevičius, the Lithuanian Radio and Television Commission chairman Edmundas Vaitekūnas and Lithuania’s Ambassador to the EU Jovita Neliupšienė.

Acknowledgment of Lithuanian president

US business magazine Fortune has included Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaitė into the annual list of 50 world leaders. The list is made to assess leadership characteristics of professionals of various fields. This year’s list is headed by Chicago baseball club CEO Theo Epstein, followed by Jack Ma, founder of China’s electronic commerce company Alibaba, and Pope Francis.

Prosecutors probe spill of untreated wastewater in Nemunas

Prosecutors of Lithuania’s second-largest city Kaunas have opened a pre-trial investigation into the release of untreated wastewater into the River Nemunas by what the authorities suspect is Kauno Vandenys (Kaunas Water) company. The pollutants are currently being tested in a laboratory, however, it is already clear that the allowed concentration was exceeded by a factor of about 40. Prosecutors later said that the nitrogen concentration in the pipe was nearly 400 the allowed level. The test lab results are expected next week.

The illegal wastewater pipe was built below the ground at the depth of 1.5 m in the Marvele suburb in Kaunas, the authorities said. No suspicions have been brought.

Dutch troops arrive in NATO battalion

A Dutch contingent arrived in the NATO battalion under establishment in Lithuania on Thursday, March 23, with over 100 troops landing in the Lithuanian Air Force Aviation Base in Siauliai, the Defence Ministry said. The international combat group will include about 250 Dutch troops who have already brought their military weaponry and equipment, including infantry fighting vehicles CV 90, reconnaissance vehicles Fennek, multiple-function vehicles Boxer and armoured repairs and evacuation machines. The NATO Enhanced Forward Presence Battalion already includes over 400 German and 100 Belgian troops. Norwegian soldiers due to join the international combat team should arrive in Lithuania in May.

PM sees no fast remedy to emigration

Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis admits that the government has to step up efforts to combat migration in Lithuania, but he underlines that there are no easy and fast solutions to this problem.

«Jokingly, I could say if we passed a law banning people from leaving Lithuania, that might be a fast solution. But if we want to stop at least those who are leaving because they are unhappy and they are unhappy because they cannot live in dignity socially, then these steps will not be something we could feel or see within the government’s first 100 or 150 days in office,» he told reporters on Thursday, March 23.

Official statistics show that over 50,000 people emigrated from Lithuania last year and nearly 14,000 left the country during the first two months of this year. Almost half of the migrants last year went to the United Kingdom.

State security agency eyes new building by 2020

The Lithuanian State Security Department (VSD) expects to fully move into its new building complex in Vilnius by 2020, the agency’s director said on Thursday, March 23. The estimated cost of the project totals 80.5 million euros, according to Kęstutis Jauniškis, the VSD director, said. Over 53 million euros had been invested in the complex as of early 2017 and another 17 million euros were still needed to fully equip the building.

Lithuania mulls enhanced fight against ISIS

Lithuania may double its contribution to international efforts against the Islamic State (ISIS), Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius said. He participated on Wednesday, March 22, in a meeting of ministers of the US-led coalition against ISIS. As a member of the coalition, Lithuania early this year sent six military instructors to Iraq to train local forces. The parliament has given the green light for sending up to 30 troops to Iraq this year.

Lithuania to draft legislation on sex change

The Lithuanian government on Wednesday, March 22, gave two ministries until September to draft legislation that would make it possible to legally change one’s sex in the country. The ministries for health and justice were instructed to draw up legislation on the provision of health services for persons with gender identity disorders after the Cabinet discussed the 2016 annual report from the government’s representative at the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR). The Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, which monitors the execution of the Strasbourg court’s judgments, last June called on Lithuania to pass the required subsidiary legislation and take all necessary measures to ensure the right to change one’s sex.

Lithuania’s Civil Code, which allows changing one’s sex, was adopted back in 2000, but this provision has not been working due to the absence of the necessary subsidiary legislation.

Lithuanian Railways expects ties with China Merchants Group

State-owned Lietuvos Geležinkeliai (Lithuanian Railways, or LG) expects to transport China Merchants Group’s freight from a 280-million-euro industrial park under construction in Belarus’ capital of Minsk.

LG and CMG officials discussed possibilities for freight transportation via Lithuania during their meeting this week. However, Egidijus Lazauskas, director of the state railway company’s Freight Transportation Directorate, admits that there are no tangible agreements yet. CMG President Li Jianhongu said in March 2016 that Lithuania was an increasingly close partner.

Baltic defence chiefs to meet with Tillerson next week

The Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian foreign ministers are to meet with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in Washington next week. The ministers on March 28 will discuss the fight against regional and global threats, the strengthening of NATO and transatlantic cooperation, and energy security issues, the spokeswoman said. The officials will also speak about the Baltic countries’ commitments to enhance their national defence capabilities, she added.

European institutions put pressure on Lithuania

European institutions are increasing pressure upon Lithuania, urging it to allow impeached president Rolandas Paksas to run for the parliament – additional measures are considered by the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers monitoring the execution of Strasbourg’s findings. Karolina Bubnytė, the Lithuanian government’s representative at the European Court of Human Rights, said that the committee’s resolution may be initiated with regard to Lithuania for the first time. According to the report, public debates on Paksas’ rights should be held by the committee’s Human Rights Commission in June. Paksas cannot run for the Lithuanian parliament since his removal from the President’s Office by way of impeachment in 2004. The Constitutional Court has ruled that impeached persons cannot hold any position involving a Constitutional oath for life. It said changing the provision would require amending the Constitution. The European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) ruled in January 2011 that the lifetime ban on Paksas to run for parliament was disproportionate and in violation of the European Convention of Human Rights.

Ex-MP wants his seized money back

Eligijus Masiulis, Lithuania’s former MP faced with political corruption charges, has turned to court for recovery of the cash discovered during a search in his home and later arrested. Lithuanian law-enforcement officers reportedly found and seized 250,000 euros in cash from Masiulis’ Vilnius home last May. Consequently, suspicions against the former MP have been extended from political corruption and influence peddling to unlawful enrichment. Masiulis had already turned to a Vilnius court for recovery of the money, however, his plea was rejected in mid-February.

Shipment of smuggled cigarettes busted

Lithuanian customs officers have busted a large shipment of smuggled cigarettes aboard a train from Latvia, the Customs Criminal Service said. In cooperation with the state-run company Lietuvos Geležinkeliai (Lithuanian Railways), officers of the mobile teams of the Klaipeda territorial customs discovered about 100 boxes of illegal cigarettes were found during a check of the Riga-Vilkaviškis train in Radviliškis, northern Lithuania. The tobacco products were hidden in the ceiling of a train car. The 100 boxes contained 50,000 packs of Fest cigarettes estimated at 142,000 euros including taxes.

Seimas refuses to strip lawmaker of MP immunity

Lithuania’s parliament on Tuesday, March 22, refused to allow prosecution of MP Petras Gražulis of the Order and Justice party over picket outside the home of prosecutor Irmantas Mikelionis. The resolution against the call from Prosecutor General Evaldas Pašilis to strip Gražulis off his legal immunity was supported by 67 parliamentarians, against 45, with six abstentions. The resolution to leave Gražulis with his legal immunity was proposed by a Seimas panel after examination of a plea from Pasilis. Gražulis, together with Kęstas Komskis and Valdas Vasiliauskas, who at that time were also members of the Order and Justice political group at the parliament, staged the picket outside Mikelionis’ home after the prosecutor said that he would ask the European Parliament to strip MEP Rolandas Paksas, who was then the party’s leader, of his immunity in a suspected corruption case.

Financial crimes body cracks mobile phone VAT fraud ring

In an international operation, Lithuania’s Financial Crime Investigation Service (FNTT) has uncovered an organized crime group involved in a complex VAT and corporate profit tax fraud scheme. The gang sold mobile phones and accessories to Lithuanian online retail shops, mobile operators and small stores, thus distorting the market, the FNTT said. The group is suspected of having caused 4 million euros in damage to the Lithuanian state budget. As part of the joint international operation, the FNTT and Spanish law-enforcement officials have carried out around 20 searches. A Vilnius resident with a previous conviction led the criminal activity from Spain, where he rented a villa. The leader and five other members of the gang were detained last week.

U.S. House Speaker Ryan expected to visit Baltics next month

U.S. House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, America’s third-ranking official after the president and vice-president, is expected to come to one of the Baltic countries next month, the media and diplomats have said. The British newspaper the Times has reported that Ryan is likely to visit Lithuania, but some diplomatic sources have said that the U.S. politician may come to neighbouring Latvia.

Refugee family loses their residence permit

The Iraqis who in December 2015 became the first refugee family relocated to Lithuania under the EU’s resettlement program have lost their residence permit as they failed to return to the country from Sweden within six months. According to the Migration Department, the family of four left Lithuania more than half a year ago and are currently in Sweden. They have not been stripped of their additional legal protection status yet, which allows them to live in Lithuania on a temporary basis. This means that the Iraqis would be able to apply for a new document if they came back to the country.

Lithuania gets reinforcement from Poland over Belarus NPP

Poland has become Lithuania’s first ally in its efforts to stop the construction of the Russian state corporation Rosatom’s nuclear power plant in Belarus when it stated its intentions not to purchase electricity from the facility under construction in Astravyets, just 50 kilometres from Vilnius, Lithuanian politicians and experts said on Monday. Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius sees Poland’s statement as a blow to Russia’s geopolitical project, not to Belarus. Belarus’ media reported last year that Poland did not rule out buying electricity from the Astravyets. Linkevičius says that Belarus has now received a clear signal that it may have difficulty selling electricity generated by the plant.

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