Ilves visits Washington, DC
Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves' visit to Washington, DC confirmed the US' growing support for the Baltic countries' NATO membership. During his three-day visit to the US capitol, Ilves met with Secretary of State Colin Powell, President Bush's national security advisor, Condoleezza Rice, Republican Senator John McCain, head of the Congress delegation to the NATO Parliamentary Assembly Douglas Bereuter and House of Representatives International Relations Committee Chairman Henry Hyde. Ilves also met with representatives of US Jewish organizations and with members of the United States NATO Enlargement Committee.
Secretary of State Powell told his Estonian counterpart that the US administration favors NATO expansion, that enlargement will go on and the decision is up to NATO member states alone. Powell acknowledged Estonia's fast development and successful integration of non-citizens and showed interest in Estonia's cooperation with other countries that share its experiences.
Ilves emphasized that the next round of NATO expansion should definitely take in the Baltic states. "There have been great developments with regard to NATO enlargement in the United States in recent months and serious attention is being paid to the issue of the Baltic states'entry. This gives us confidence and optimism to continue our efforts, " Ilves said, summing up the results of his visit.
Tallinn has new mayor
On 5 June, the City Council of Tallinn elected Tõnis Palts, 48, mayor of Tallinn. Palts was the candidate of the capitol's present power bloc, collecting 37 votes. His opponent, Center Party leader Edgar Savisaar, received 27 votes from the 64-seat body.
Thanking former Mayor Juri Mõis for his support, Palts told the Council that Mõis' firmness of mind had set an example he would follow. Palts vowed to put the citizens' interests first and declared himself ready to cooperate with the opposition. Palts was not a member of any political party until 6 June, when he decided to join Pro Patria Union.
A 1976 graduate of Tallinn Technical University, Palts worked as radio engineer in the early years of his career. In the second half of the 1980s, Palts set up a cooperative, Levi, which built Estonia's first cable TV network in Kuressaare. Palts also founded the telecommunications group Levicom, now largely taken over by Sweden's Tele2.
Police detains bank robbers
Estonian police, with the help of Austrian and German police, have since April arrested 20 Estonian residents involved in dozens of bank robberies in Central Europe. Two ringleaders, allegedly organizing the bank robberies, were arrested last week in Tallinn, according to the daily Eesti Päevelaht.
The masterminds recruited well-known shoplifters in Tallinn and took them to Germany and Austria where they robbed banks and shops, armed with cigarette lighters shaped like pistol lighters or toy guns. The gang, composed of approximately 100 members, started plundering shops and filling stations in Germany late last year and advanced to robbing banks at the beginning of this year. Police allege the group is responsible for around 80 robberies in Germany and a dozen in Austria.
On 2 June, the new and yet to be completed Lilleküla football stadium in Tallinn hosted its first game, the World Cup 2002 qualification match between Estonia and Holland. Holland won 4-2. Estonia's national team played Ireland in the same series, losing 0-2. A capacity crowd of 9000 watched both games.
Lilleküla stadium has been the solo undertaking of FC Flora owner Aivar Pohlak, whose organizational skills enabled him to accumulate the money to start the project, slated for completion in 2003. The cost of the stadium will total EEK (Estonian kroons) 170 million (USD 9.24 million). So far, EEK 110 million (USD 6.4 million) have been spent on the stadium, which will seat 15,000 spectators upon completion.
The sports associations FIFA and its European branch, UEFA, have financially supported the project, but the largest amount, EEK 40 million (USD 2.15 million), has come from the Tallinn city government. Furthermore, on 8 June, the government decided to give an additional EEK 15 million (USD 0.81 million) to the project.
And in other news...
- As many as 285 Estonian residents posted their annual income at more than EEK one million (USD 54,000) in tax returns for 2000, an increase of 105 people over the previous record dating back to 1997. The new earners of one million kroons or more came mostly from Tallinn and the surrounding Harjumaa region. Still, the number of legal tax millionaires is believed to be much bigger, as under Estonian law one doesn't have to show dividend income on tax returns.
- The government appointed on 5 June a new intelligence chief, Tarmo Türkson, who will head the information board coordinating the work of intelligence institutions. Türkson, 34, has worked for security institutions and held different posts in the Foreign Ministry since 1992.
- The Estonian service of the Voice of America celebrated its 50th birthday on 2 June. The first broadcast to Estonian listeners on 2 June 1951 comprised a summary of world news and a message from a US politician saying the United States would never recognize the Soviet occupation of Estonia.
- Peugeot led new car sales in May, with sales growing from 156 in April to 237 units. Toyota, Nissan, Lada, Citroen and Honda followed Peugeot. In total, Estonians bought 1496 new passenger cars, 349 more than in April.
Kristin Marmei, 8 June 2001
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