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Monday 20.01.2020 | Name days: Aļģirds, Orests, Oļģerts, Alģis

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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Weather in Latvia to be volatile this week; nights to be chilly on some days

This week’s weather is expected to be volatile in Latvia – the sky will be covered with clouds on some days and clear on others, some precipitation and strong wind is also expected. This week also air temperature will mostly stay at above 0° C.

Week in Lithuania: police on hunt of a child’s kidnapper, 2020 conscription list announced, Belarus seeks Lithuania’s help

In Lithuania, the top news stories last week were the police hunt of a child’s kidnapper, the announcement of the 2020 conscription list and Belarus seeking Lithuania’s help court.

BNN summary of the week: Lay-offs at LDz. KNAB wrapped around ZZS’ finger. Ķuzis steps down

The last week demonstrated that not everything that glitters is gold. Although previously Latvian Railway proudly reported growing freights and revenue, the statement released in the middle of the week suggests the company is not in the best state – the company plans to lay off 1 500 workers by the end of the year.

FKTK lists exceptions in which banks are allowed to service Aivars Lembergs

Latvian Finance and Capital Market Commission has listed cases in which Latvia’s finance market participants will be allowed to service Aivars Lembergs, who is subjected to US OFAC sanctions and accused of serious crimes, and three organizations associated with him – Ventspils Development Agency, Business Development Association and Latvian Transit Business Association.

Appropriate jobs promised for laid-off LDz workers

Latvian State Employment Agency promises to find appropriate jobs for laid-off Latvian Railway workers. If need be, those people will be provided the opportunity for re-qualification, raise their qualification or train for a new profession, as confirmed by the agency’s representative Signe Bierande.

Bordāns selects potential candidates to lead the Supreme Court and Prosecutor General’s office

I can see people who could take the reins over the Office of the Prosecutor General and the Supreme Court and change their work standards, Latvian Justice Minister Jānis Bordāns told TV3 programme 900 seconds when asked about any potential candidates to lead those institutions.

Ukrainian Prime Minister ready quit after leaked voice recording

Ukrainian head of government Oleksiy Honcharuk has offered to resign following the circulation of an audio recording, where criticism of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and his knowledge in economy is voiced.

Inflation in Latvia reportedly higher than Europe’s and Eurozone’s in December

In December 2019 inflation in Latvia was higher than the average in the European Union and Eurozone, according to information published by Eurostat on Friday, 17 January.

Estonian population growth continues in 2019 due to immigration

Estonia has registered in 2019 population growth for the fifth consecutive year and it can be explained with immigration not with natural growth, according to preliminary data released by Statistics Estonia.

BNN investigation | Raunas street property: quiet assistant with a «secret wallet» for Lembergs

There are suspicions that Aivars Lembergs, subjected to international sanctions, has sold real estate located on Raunas Street 27 in Riga to his sister «on paper only». This may have been done to avoid confiscation of properties in the event of a guilty verdict or a possible arrest over the real estate property. However, it is possible Lembergs maintains full control over this real estate property and, most likely, the property is used to fatten his wallet on a regular basis.

Audit: majority of Latvian housing stock has degraded to a state of a slum

Since the denationalization effective access to housing security in Latvia does not exist and most of the housing stock has degraded up to a state of a slum, as concluded by the Latvian State Audit.

Prime minister affirms possibility of carrying oil supplies for Belarus through Latvia

During his meeting with Belarusian President Aleksandr Lukashenko on Thursday, 16 January, Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš affirmed that oil supplies for Belarus may be possible using Latvia’s ports.

Rain in Australia provides relief to continuing fight against bushfires

In eastern Australia, which has been suffering in prolonged and disastrous bushfires, heavy rain has been falling for the past 24 hours.

Weather to remain warm in Latvia at week’s end

At the end of the week the sky in Latvia will become clear and the sun will shine. No precipitation is expected. However, a low atmospheric pressure area will approach the country from the west during weekends, as reported by Latvian Environment, Geology and Meteorology Centre.

GKR helps overthrow Riga’s vice-mayors and put an end to ruling coalition

Riga City Council vice-chairperson Anna Vladova and deputy Druvis Kleins lost their respective posts at an extraordinary meeting on Thursday, 16 January. This happened because multiple deputies from Honour to Serve Riga voted together with the opposition in favour of dismissing them.

Latvian Railway plans to lay off 1 500 employees

Latvian Railway plans to terminate labour relations with approximately 1 500 employees before the end of 2020, as reported by the company’s representative Ella Pētermane.

Russian State Duma approves Putin’s new Prime Minister

The Russian State Duma has approved on Thursday, January 16, the candidacy of the country’s next Prime Minister appointed by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Ventspils opposition invites Pūce to act to prevent US sanctions from spreading to city council

Environment Protection and Regional Development Ministry and especially Juris Pūce have to act to resolve the current state of Ventsils City Council. It should be dismissed, as the municipal government does not have moral, ethical or legal foundation to continue managing and implementing the criminal management’s policy, according to Ventspils City Council opposition deputies.

Trade unions urge Latvian government to resolve transit businesses’ blocked bank accounts problem

Multiple trade unions associated with the transit industry have turned to Latvia’s highest ranking officials with a request to resolve the situation with bank accounts of multiple transit companies having been blocked because of US sanctions against Aivars Lembergs. If the government does not act, trade unions promise to organize massive protests.

Anris Leimanis picked as RB Rail council chairman

Anris Leimanis, independent council member from Latvian shareholder, has been picked as Rail Baltica joint Baltic company AS RB Rail council chairman. Ahti Kuningas and Karolis Sankovskis will serve as vice-chairmen, as confirmed by the company.

CSP: number of residents at risk of poverty declines in Latvia

In 2018 a total of 434 thousand persons or 22.9 % of the population of Latvia were at risk of poverty – 0.4 percentage points less than in 2017.

Latvian Saeima to ask Denmark to not extradite Kristīne Misāne to South African Republic

On Thursday, 16 January, Latvian Saeima made the decision to protect the rights of Latvian citizen Kristīnes Misāne, asking the Danish parliament and Danish law enforcers to support their Latvian colleagues and find a solution to avoid extraditing her to the South African Republic, as reported by Saeima’s press-service.

Smiltēns: Riga City Council’s situation can be described – divide, redistribute and plunder

«The situation in at Riga City Council can be described with three words – divide, redistribute, plunder,» said leader of Latvian Association of Regions Edvards Smiltēns in an interview to LTV programme Rīta panorama on Thursday, 16 January.

One single vote left the Lithuanian election system intact

The understanding that Lithuania’s election system needs changes is nearly overwhelming, but the ruling Farmers and Greens’ attempt to lower the Parliament election threshold in parties’ multi-member constituency from current 5 per cent to 3 per cent suffered a setback this week.

Estonian power grid executive detained over bribery suspicion

The Estonian Internal Security Service has detained a board member of the Elektrilevi power grid operator over suspicion of taking a bribe.

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