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Wednesday 29.01.2020 | Name days: Valērijs, Aivars

Week in Lithuania: Soldiers removed from Iraq, authorities scramble to inspect polluting facilities

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Lithuania, Iraq, president, pollution, climate change, Alvora, Kuwait

In Lithuania, the top news stories of last week were the withdrawal of Lithuanian soldiers from Iraq, authorities scrambling to inspect polluting facilities, as well as the U-turn on the decision on green arrows on traffic lights.

Government initiates monument to ex-president

Lithuania’s government is initiating the erection of a monument to the country’s first President Antanas Smetona in Vilnius. Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis has set up a special working group to organize all monument-related work, the government said on Thursday, January 9. The group is tasked to find a location for the monument in cooperation with Vilnius Municipality, and also draft proposals on how the monument should look like and submit them to the government by March 16. Smetona served as Lithuania’s president in 1919-1920 and 1926-1940. He was killed in a fire at his home in the US in 1944.

Matulionis proposed for Lithuania’s NATO Ambassador

Deputy Government Chancellor Deividas Matulionis is being proposed for Lithuania’s permanent representative to NATO, according draft legislation produced by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. If approved by the government and president, Matulionis would assume his new position on April 20. He was backed by the parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs in late December.

Court refuses to halt GIPL contract signing with Alvora

A Vilnius court has refused to temporarily halt the signing of the contract, worth almost 80 million euros, by Lithuania’s gas transmission company Amber Grid and Alvora, a Lithuanian pipeline construction company that won the public procurement procedure earlier this year, for the construction of the Lithuanian part of the Gas Interconnector Poland-Lithuania (GIPL). Vilnius Regional Court on Thursday, January 9, rejected gas pipeline construction company MT Group’s request to introduce interim measure and halt the implementation of the contract with Alvora and its partner Šiaulių Dujotiekio Statyba, Lina Nemeikaitė, spokeswoman for the Vilnius court, said.

Soldiers moved from attacked Iraqi base to Kuwait

Six Lithuanian soldiers who served at an Iraqi military base attacked by Iranian missiles are being redeployed to Kuwait on Thursday, January 9, the Defence Staff and Defence Minister Raimundas Karoblis said. The Lithuanian soldiers trained local forces fighting the Islamic States at the al Asad base as part of a Danish contingent. According to Karoblis, the decision to move the military instructors was made by Denmark. Another six Lithuanians are serving in a NATO-led mission in Iraq. They remain in the country for the time being.

President dismisses criticism of his intelligence bill

President Gitanas Nausėda has dismissed as overblown criticism of his legislative initiative to expand the powers of intelligence services. The proposed amendments to the Law on Intelligence would help to better regulate the existing practice of preventive conversations. The measure would only apply to people on the radar of hostile intelligence officials according to Nausėda.

Government set to inspect all polluting facilities

Following the release of untreated industrial wastewater into the Curonian Lagoon, the Lithuanian government on Wednesday, January 8, gave the relevant authorities a month to analyse the pollution situation in Klaipeda and come up with proposals on how to better control the situation. The government wants other similar facilities to be inspected, too. Prosecutors in Klaipeda said on Tuesday, January 7, they had launched an investigation on suspicions that Grigeo’s cardboard plant could have been discharging untreated wastewater into the lagoon through a special pipe, bypassing the port city’s sewage system.  Most of untreated wastewater allegedly released by Grigeo’s cardboard plant into the Curonian Lagoon must have been carried by prevailing currents into the Baltic Sea, the mayor of the Curonian Spit municipality of Neringa said on Wednesday, January 8.

Vice minister declines EU advisor job offer

Lithuanian Deputy Finance Minister Miglė Tuskienė has declined the offer to work as European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen’s economic advisor siting personal reasons. The Lithuanian Finance Ministry said last November that Tuskienė had been invited to join von der Leyen’s team as an advisor on economic issues.

President calls for diplomatic solution of Iran-U.S. standoff

President Gitanas Nausėda called on Wednesday, January 8, for a diplomatic solution of the standoff between the Iran and United States. Tensions in the Middle East heightened after a US airstrike killed Iranian General Qassem Soleimani last week and Iran launched a missile strike on two Iraqi military bases housing U.S.-led troops last Tuesday, January 7.

Ex-judge’s case goes to court

Prosecutors in Lithuania’s second-biggest city of Kaunas said on Wednesday, January 8, they had concluded their pre-trial investigation in the case of Neringa Venckienė, a former judge and lawmaker who was extradited from the United States last year. The case will be handed over to Kaunas Regional Court, where Venckienė has worked in the past. It will be up to the court, which earlier recused itself from hearing the case, to decide what to do next. The former lawmaker was flown back to Lithuania from the US, where she had spent almost two years in a prison, on November 6. She is suspected of refusing to obey a court order, resisting a police officer, hindering a bailiff, and hitting Laimutė Stankūnaitė, the mother of her niece, in the face.

Government allows putting green arrows back on traffic lights

The Lithuanian government on Wednesday, January 8, gave the go-ahead for municipalities to indefinitely put green arrows back on traffic lights to allow drivers to turn right at a red light. The Cabinet thus reversed its previous resolution ordering the removal of these signs by January 1, 2020. The green arrow signs allowing a right turn on red were removed from all intersections in Lithuania in early January, but local authorities in Vilnius and other cities say that the measure has increased traffic congestion, but has done little to improve safety. The Transport Ministry suggested removing the green arrow signs back in 2014 after a study carried out in Kaunas years linked the presence of green arrows at intersections to higher numbers of road accident involving fatalities or injuries.

January 13 case handed over to Court of Appeals

The January 13 case was handed over to the Court of Appeal of Lithuania on Wednesday, January 8, Vilnius Regional Court. It also said it had received 61 appeals. The victims, defendants, lawyers and prosecutors appealed against the March ruling in the case. The Court of Appeal is scheduled to start hearing the case on March 26. The court received over 760 volumes of case materials, including the 16-volume indictment.

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Levits: search for a new location for VDD would delay project and create losses

If the government decides to look for a new location for the State Security Service’s new headquarters, it could delay construction by several years and create considerable financial losses, Latvian President Egils Levits told journalists on Wednesday, 29 January.

Estonian children start school with 49.5% missing some vaccines, study finds

In Estonia, 49.5% of first-graders are not fully vaccinated in the framework of a state vaccination programme, a study, cited by Estonian public broadcaster ERR, has found.

Four persons detained in criminal case on the laundering of 50 million euros

Four persons have been detained in the criminal process on the laundering of no less than EUR 50 million, as part of which searches were performed at ABLV Bank on Tuesday, 28 January, according to information from LETA.

SEB operating revenue in Estonia was EUR 173.5 million in 2019

The operating revenue of the Estonian branch of the Swedish SEB bank was 173.4 million euros in 2019, Estonian public broadcaster ERR reports.

Retail trade turnover in Latvia increases 2.3%

Compared to 2018, total retail trade turnover rose by 2.3 % in 2019. Turnover of retail trade in food products increased by 1.2 %, turnover of retail trade in non-food products, except for retail sale of automotive fuel, rose by 4.0%, whereas turnover of retail sale of automotive fuel – by 0.4 %.

Latvian State Police warn about encryption ransomware virus attacks

Latvian State Police periodically receive complaints from private and legal persons regarding different encryption ransomware virus attacks. Viruses of this kind encrypt files and hard disks, denying owners the use of their computers and information stored therein, police report.

Lithuania operations announced by US military firm NBC Security

An announcement of entering the Lithuanian market has been made by the American military and defence company NBC Security, which aims to open a manufacturing facility in the Baltic country.

Kariņš: coalition’s partner wants to combine all three special services in Latvia, but I won’t allow it

One of the ruling coalition’s partners wants to combine all three of Latvia’s special services, said Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš in an interview to TV3 programme 900 seconds, on Wednesday, 29 January, adding he would be against such a proposal.

Estonian parliament to vote on divisive pension reform

In the Estonian parliament votes on pension reform are planned as the opposition has pledged to do its utmost to keep it from being passed amid concerns what effects the chance of withdrawing second pillar payments ne masse could have.

Six persons reportedly involved in case for laundering of 50 million euros

According to LETA, six people are involved in the criminal process regarding the laundering of illegally obtained funds of nearly EUR 50 million. As part of this criminal process, Latvian Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau performed a search at ABLV Bank on Tuesday, 28 January.

International evacuations from China held as coronavirus infections exceed SARS

The European Union and other countries are organising the evacuation of their citizens from China, where the infection cases of the new coronavirus have exceeded the SARS outbreak.

One step closer towards changing prosecutor general replacement order

On Tuesday, 28 January, Latvian Saeima’s Defence, Internal affairs and Corruption Prevention Committee conceptually supported planned law amendments that provide for changing the order under which the country’s prosecutor general is replaced.

Trump offers new Middle East peace plan

US President Donald Trump has offered a new peace plan for the turbulent Middle East region. It envisages the recognition by the US of Israeli occupied territories and a map of territories for the establishment of a state of Palestine.

Government: climate and energy plan for 2030 is a step towards climate neutrality

The National Energy and Climate Plan for 2030 (NEKP) supported by Latvian Cabinet of Ministers is an intermediate stage on the path towards accomplishment of climate neutrality in 2050, ministers admitted during a meeting on Tuesday, 28 January.

Latvian Economy Minister does not have plans to make taxes «green»

Currently there is no specific plan to use taxes to improve state goals in relation to climate neutrality in Latvia, said Economy Minister Ralfs Nemiro at a press-conference after a government meeting on Tuesday, 28 January.

KNAB’s search at ABLV Bank related to laundering of 50 million euros

The search performed at ABLV Bank by Latvian Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau on Tuesday, 28 January, is related to the laundering of at least EUR 50 million between 2015 and 2018, as reported by the office of the prosecutor.

Aviation giant Airbus concedes to corruption investigators in France, UK and US

World’s largest airplane maker, European multinational has agreed to potentially very expensive settlements with bribery investigators in France, the UK and the US.

Latvian government sets term for Riga and Ventspils port board members – five years

On Tuesday, 28 January, Latvian government adopted amendments to the by-laws of Riga and Ventspils port management boards, setting the term at five years for port board members.

Delna: Latvia is not doing well with corruption prevention

For years Latvia’s position has stagnated in the Global Anti-Corruption Coalition Transparency International composed Corruption Perception Index because our country is not doing well with corruption prevention, said Society for Openness Delna director Liene Gātere in an interview to Latvijas Radio on Tuesday, 28 January.

In Estonian choice of child names, Western European names replace Russian ones

In Estonia, the lists of most popular child names in 2019 have shown changes in trends compared to the year 1989 as the popularity of Russian language names has lost ground to names associated with German and English-inspired ones.

Corruption watchdog performs search at liquidated ABLV Bank

On Tuesday, 28 January, Latvian Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau performed investigative activities at the liquidated ABLV Bank.

Ķirsis: the current Riga City Council should not be the ones to decide on 2020 budget

Considering to the shadow of corruption looming over the current composition of Riga City Council and their failures, they should not be the ones to approve the municipality’s budget for 2020, said opposition deputy Vilnis Ķirsis in an interview to TV3 programme 900 seconds.

Nausėda in Auschwitz: «We must identify the hate-inciting forces»

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nausėda has visited the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial for the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the notorious death camp, where pointed to the need to « identify the hate-inciting forces», who can lead to devastating consequences.

Olainfarm: Olmafarm misleads society about alleged shareholder meeting

By reporting information about the shareholder meeting that allegedly took place Friday, 24 January, medicines manufacturer Olainfarm’s largest shareholder LLC Olmafarm council and board mislead society and ignore the ruling of the court, Olainfarm representatives say.

U.S. military plane crashes in Afghanistan

In eastern Afghanistan, a U.S. military plane has crashed. U.S. forces in the country and NATO alliance have not provided details on possible casualties and the cause of the crash.

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