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Week in Lithuania. Lithuania extends deadline for paying compulsory health insurance arrears

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After causing uproar by warning thousands of Lithuanian citizens to pay overdue compulsory health insurance contributions or face sanctions, the Lithuanian state-run social insurance fund Sodra said on Friday, February 3, that it will wait for a month before taking action to recover the arrears.

The fund in late January informed 20,000 people that it if they failed to pay off their outstanding contributions for 11 to 12 months, it would take action to recover the money, Sodra Director Mindaugas Sinkevičius said.

According to Sodra, around 300,000 people owe compulsory health insurance contributions for at least a month. All of them will be urged in writing to pay off the arrears or submit the necessary documents to have their debt annulled. Outstanding compulsory health insurance contributions total 80 million euros, including around 50 million euros in long-term arrears for a year or more.

Seimas to hold extraordinary session

The Lithuanian parliament will hold on February 12 a one-day extraordinary session to address children’s protection issues. Among other things, lawmakers will debate and vote on a new wording of the Framework Law on Children’s Rights Protection that would ban corporal punishment of children. Politicians are divided on whether the law should define corporal punishment as violence against children. The Social Security and Labour Ministry’s working group is still finalizing the concepts. In addition to banning corporal punishment, the new wording of the framework law would cover a wide range of issues, such as child custody and a child’s right to a safe environment, etc.

Army expects Germans’ assistance

Lithuania’s Armed Forces expect German troops to cooperate in the training of Lithuanian troops to use the purchased infantry fighting vehicles Boxer. The possibility was Thursday, January 2, discussed by Lithuania’s Chief of Defence Lieutenant General Jonas Vytautas Žukas and German Land Forces Commander Lieutenant General Jorg Volmer. German troops have earlier helped training Lithuanian army drivers and mechanics after the country bought German self-propelled howitzers PzH2000. The first dozen of Boxers should arrive in Lithuania in late 2017. Lithuania’s Armed Forces have purchased a total of 88 of the infantry fighting vehicles.

Air Navigation chief sacked

Algimantas Raščius, long-time top executive of Oro Navigacija (Air Navigation) state-run company, was dismissed from office last Thursday, February 2. This is the second Lithuanian enterprise controlled by the Transport and Communications Ministry that has seen its leadership replaced after Rokas Masiulis took helm of the ministry. In the minister’s words, the Public Procurement Council has established abundance of public procurement tenders that lacked transparency and were possibly intended for a single supplier.

Geopolitical situation may affect Rail Baltica funding

Tense geopolitical situation in the European Union over Brexit, refugee crisis and security matters may after 2020 reduce the European support to the European-gauge railway project Rail Baltica estimated at billions of euros, Baiba Rubesa, board chairperson of the joint Baltic enterprise, has said in Vilnius. In her words, if it turns out that the EU does not provide 85 percent of support in the future, the Baltic States would have to find ways of ensuring project continuity; however, there should be no fears of the project being terminated. In her words, very rough estimations are that the project will require a total of 4 billion euros, therefore, the three Baltic States expect the EU to continue providing 85 per cent of support. Lithuania has also said that it was only participating in the project on the condition of 85 per cent of the costs covered by the EU.

Lithuania appointing new defence attaché to Russia

Lieutenant Colonel Petras Montvila should be appointed as Lithuania’s next defence attaché to Russia, members of the parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee confirmed after discussing candidates on Wednesday, February 1. Montvila, a member of the Lithuanian defence system since 1992, will be sent to Moscow to replace Saulius Pikturna who was recalled from the post last September due to marriage to a resident of Crimea annexed by Russia. After taking the post at the embassy on August 1, Pikturna married the Crimean resident on August 18 and notified the ministry on Aug. 26. The officer was recalled for consultations on September 13.

Lithuanian, Swedish police seize stolen car parts

Lithuanian police officers, in cooperation with Swedish police, have seized a consignment of suspected stolen car parts worth 10,000 euros. The consignment, which was detained in late January, contained multimedia devices, car wheels and airbags, the Kaunas County Police Headquarters said in a press release on Thursday, February 2. According to preliminary information, the parts were stolen from BMW and Mercedes-Benz cars manufactured between 2013 and January 2017. Lithuanian police officers have detained two men, born in 1983 and 1993, who live in the district of Kaunas

German, Lithuanian military commanders meet

Brigadier General Valdemaras Rupšys, the commander of the Lithuanian Land Force, and Lieutenant General Joerg Vollmer, the chief of staff of the German Army, have signed a letter of mutual cooperation, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said on Thursday, February 2. The letter is aimed at establishing mutually beneficial partnership in exchanging knowledge and experience between Lithuanian and German land troops, as well as strengthening cooperation in military training and exercises and in preparing defence plans, concepts and doctrines, and in other important areas, the ministry said.

Lithuanian, UK officers conduct joint probe

Lithuanian and UK officers are conducting a joint probe into human trafficking, police in the port city of Klaipeda said on Thursday, February 2. A pre-trial investigation was launched in Lithuania in April 2016 after receiving information that a 53-year-old man living in the district of Klaipeda and the owners of a British company «brutally exploited» people who had come to England to work. It is suspected that a number of men, who did not speak English, had no money and did not know the local laws, «were subjected to slavery» by false promises of easy and well-paid jobs. The men, who worked as chicken catchers, were subjected to physical and psychological violence, the Klaipeda police said in a press release.

EP panel summons prosecutor general

The European Parliament’s Committee on Legal Affairs has asked Lithuanian Prosecutor General Evaldas Pašilis to attend hearings on stripping MEP Rolandas Paksas of his immunity in an influence peddling 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. Both Paksas and Vainauskas have denied the suspicions against them, branding the case as politicized.

President in Malta

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė met Thursday, February 2, with Malta’s leaders and took part in an informal EU summit to discuss the migration crisis and relations with the United States. On Friday, February 3, the Lithuanian president participated in the EU summit in Valletta.

Ministry calls on cease fire in Ukraine

Lithuanian Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius on Wednesday, February 1, called on all sides to stop hostilities in Eastern Ukraine to avoid a humanitarian crisis, but at the same time underlined that the main responsibility for the conflict lies with Russia. He discussed the escalating situation with his Ukrainian counterpart Pavlo Klimkin by telephone.

Audience of Russian channels shrinks

The number of viewers news broadcasts on Russian-language television channels has declined by a third in Lithuania, shows a poll published by the Foreign Ministry on Wednesday, February 1. According to the survey, 24 per cent of respondents said they constantly watched news and broadcasts on global events on the First Baltic Channel in late 2016, while 14 per cent said they watched them on RTR. In 2015, 32 per cent of those polled specified the First Baltic Channel as their main source of news, while 26 per cent said they watched RTR.

German troops from NATO battalion land

Around 70 German troops to join the international NATO battalion to be stationed in Lithuania landed in the Karmėlava airport, the Kaunas district, on Wednesday, February 1. They arrived aboard two warplanes and will now proceed to Rukla. The initial plan was to send 140 troops to Lithuania on Wednesday, however, the number of troops is lower, Captain Vaidas Žiogas, spokeswoman for the Motorized Infantry Brigade Iron Wolf, said. On February 1-10, about 450 German troops with tanks, infantry fighting vehicles and other equipment should come to the Baltic state.

EC member indirectly criticizes Trump, other officials mum

European Commissioner Vytenis Andriukaitis of Lithuania has indirectly criticized the immigration ban imposed by US President Donald Trump, while other Lithuanian officials have chosen the tactic of silence and refrained from comments. Without mentioning Trump’s name, Andriukaitis of the Social Democrats issued a statement on a social network, saying that the «merciless bans on immigrants» run counter to his beliefs, warning that border only bring setbacks and isolation.  President Dalia Grybauskaitė and Foreign Minister Linas Linkevičius have decided to give no comment about the Trump bans.

Poll: 1 in 4 Lithuanians worried about Trump

One in four Lithuanians believes that Donald Trump’s accession to the United States’ White House may affect the security situation in the region, shows a poll published on Wednesday, February 1. Asked whether Trump’s election as US president may have an impact on the Lithuanian-US ties and the regional security situation in general, 39 per cent said nothing would change, 27 per cent chose an answer «things may change for the worse, as the international environment is becoming unpredictable,» while another 8 per cent said the situation should improve.

Britain to strengthen embassy

Britain is set to strengthen its embassies in Lithuania and other Central and Eastern European countries in an effort to win support for Brexit negotiations, the media and diplomats say. «British ambassadors to Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia, Slovenia, and Slovakia will be given higher status and additional political and lobbying staff. The prime minister’s team wants to cultivate good relations with like-minded EU states ahead of Brexit talks due to start by March 31,» a statement by a senior British official says.

Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian brigade reaches combat readiness

The Lithuanian-Polish-Ukrainian brigade LITPOLUKRBRIG in late January was declared to be at full operational capability, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said. The tri-national brigade’s combat readiness was certified after the Common Challenge 16 certification exercise, which took place in December. During the exercise, a multinational certification team identified points of improvement in the procedures and structure of the brigade command and proposed possible solutions. It is planned that the brigade will have between 3,500 and 4,000 soldiers.

Lithuania concerned over Russia’s decision

The Lithuanian Foreign Ministry is concerned over Russia’s decision to grant political asylum to Raimondas Baranauskas, a former chairman of the management board at the now-bankrupt bank Snoras. «The Foreign Ministry underscores it regret that Russian authorities’ have once again refused to cooperate with Lithuanian law-enforcement bodies in investigating this and other high-profile criminal cases, despite requests for legal assistance from Lithuanian authorities,» the ministry said in a press release on Monday, February 1. British courts ruled in 2015 to extradite Antonov and Baranauskas, who then lived in London, to Lithuania, but the men fled the UK and are now hiding in Russia.

NATO jets scrambled for first time in 2017

NATO fighter-jets serving in the Baltic air-policing mission were last week scrambled for the first time this year to intercept Russian military aircraft, the Lithuanian Defence Ministry said on Monday, February 1. NATO’s jets escorted Russia’s aircraft flying in international airspace over the Baltic Sea four times between January 23 and 29. Three of the aircraft had their onboard transponders switched off. The Alliance’s jets guarding the Baltic skies first took off on January 25. Last year, the first scramble took place on January 18.

Preventive measures after troop’s death

After a Lithuanian troop died of meningitis, an extremely contagious disease, preventive measures were taken on Monday, February 1, in the unit of his service. The 19-year-old member of the mandatory initial military service died in a Vilnius hospital of acute meningitis. According to data provided by the Centre of Communicable Diseases and AIDS, 75 cases of meningitis were reported in Lithuania last year, including seven with lethal outcome.

Court opens case of bilingual street signs

A Vilnius court on Monday, February 1, opened hearings into the bilingual street signs in the Lithuanian capital. The government’s representative says that non-Lithuanian signs run counter to the law and may instigate hatred, while the municipality maintains the signs are merely a decorative element. The government’s representative in the Vilnius County, Vilda Vaičiūnienė, says that all names should be strictly Lithuanian and in the form that is provided in the official register of addresses. She emphasized that street names can only be granted by the City Council, not individual politicians.

Scandal took toll on LPGU, Karbauskis’ ratings

The scandal surrounding car lease and relationship with MP Greta Kildišienė has affected the rating of the ruling Lithuanian Peasant and Green Union (LPGU) and its leader Ramunas Karbauskis, says sociologist Vladas Gaidys. According to the survey, LPGU would secure 25 per cent of the vote in elections, down from 31.5 per cent a month ago. In his words, the support to Karbauskis also fell by the analogous 6 percentage points, while the party’s other leader, Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis, retained his popularity, while the other members of his Cabinet are becoming increasingly valued and known.

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