Four kidnappers are in custody

According to information received by the Foreign Ministry, the organisation that carried out the abduction of seven Estonian citizens has been identified through co-operation with the Lebanese internal security forces. Foreign Minister Urmas Paet has stated that there are seven people in the group and currently four of them are in custody. “The interrogation of those who have been arrested and the gathering of information continue, so that we may uncover the location of the Estonian citizens,” said the foreign minister.

Paet said that a statement reached the Lebanese news portal Lebabon Files early this morning from an organisation called the Renaissance and Reform Movement. In its statement, the group declared that they have the abducted Estonian citizens and that demands would be issued later. The foreign minister said that as of right now the demands have not yet been stated.

Within the past few days Foreign Minister Urmas Paet has been in contact with many nations in the region in order to discuss co-operation in locating the Estonian citizens. “I have spoken to the foreign ministers of Turkey, Palestine, and the United Arab Emirates on this subject. Late last night I had a phone conversation with the deputy foreign minister of Syria,” said Paet.

The foreign minister stated that the work of the Lebanese authorities, including the Lebanese Ministry of the Interior, internal security forces, and army, in finding and freeing the Estonian citizens deserves to be recognised.

Estonia, Lebanon and our international partners will continue working together to free the Estonian citizens.

Source: Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs

Estonia one of the safest countries

A survey of EM-DAT, a global database of disasters, says that Estonia is among the five countries in the world that registered no major natural disasters between 1900 and 2009 which allegedly makes Estonia one of the safest countries in the world in terms of natural disasters.

The other four countries listed by EM-DAT as the world’s safest were Qatar, Bahrain, United Arab Emirates and Andorra.

Read more from BBN

Oil shale processing company may have to lay off 625 people

A large shale oil processing industry in Northeast Estonia, Kiviõli Keemiatööstus, announced yesterday that it may have to close down operations and lay off 625 employees for dispute with land owners who oppose oil shale mining operations, writes Äripäev. A court ruled last week that because of the dispute with Nikolai Reismann, a local businessman who has been acquiring private land in which the oil-processing company extracts oil shale, the company must stop its mining operations in Põhja-Kiviõli sector.

Read more from BBN

Rapid growth of industrial production continues

According to Statistics Estonia, in February 2011 the production of industrial enterprises grew 31% compared to February of the previous year.

The situation in the manufacturing did not change during February – the rapid growth of industrial production which had begun at the end of 2010 continued. The growth of production has been mainly influenced by the increase in external demand as previously, but the domestic demand also increased compared to February of the previous year.

In February 2011, the production of manufacturing increased 42% compared to February 2010. Export sales of the manufacturing production grew significantly (71%). About three quarters (73%) of the whole production of manufacturing was sold on the external market. The demand on the domestic market was continually lower – the domestic sales increased 14% compared to February of the previous year.

In February, the production exceeded the volume of the previous year in most branches of industry. The manufacturing of electronic products where the production increased by more than four times compared to February of the previous year, obtained the biggest share in manufacturing (almost a quarter) over the year. The next branches holding bigger shares were the manufacturing of wood and metal products where the production grew 18% and 49%, respectively. With respect to the branches of manufacturing holding smaller shares, the production increased considerably in the manufacturing of chemicals, motor vehicles, machinery and equipment mainly due to the increase in exports.

In February 2011 compared to January, the seasonally adjusted industrial production remained on the same level; the production of manufacturing grew 1%.

In February 2011 compared to February 2010, the production of electricity did not change and the production of heat increased 4%.

The volume index and trend of production in manufacturing, January 2002 – February 2011 (2005 = 100)

Diagram: The volume index and trend of production in manufacturing, January 2002 – February 2011

Read more from Statistics Estonia

The ratio of labour taxes in GDP decreased last year

According to Statistics Estonia, in 2010 the ratio of labour taxes in gross domestic product (GDP) was 18.3% and it decreased by a half percentage points compared to the previous year.

In 2010, the general government’s revenue from taxes and social security contributions decreased by 112.8 million euros (1.7 billion kroons) compared to the previous year, bringing in to the state 4.8 billion euros (75.7 billion kroons). Receipts from the labour taxes were 2.6 billion euros (41.6 billion kroons), which represents more than a half of the state tax revenues. A higher share of labour taxes falls on the employer, including pension contributions, health insurance and unemployment insurance. Employees carry the obligation of income tax and part of the unemployment insurance.

In the European Union (EU 27) the ratio of labour taxes in GDP was 23% in 2009. The similar ratio of labour tax as in Estonia was in Luxembourg and United Kingdom (18.9% and 18.3%, respectively). The most highly was the workforce taxed in Sweden, Denmark and Austria and the lowest in Romania, Malta and Bulgaria. Latvia and Lithuania belong to the ten EU Member States with the lowest labour taxation. In 2009, in Latvia the ratio of labour taxes in GDP was 13.9% and in Lithuania 15.8%.

However, it should be taken into account that in the European Union the implementation of direct taxes belongs to the competence of each Member State and they can develop their own tax system. The share of income tax and social contribution among labour taxes varies in different countries. An important role is played by both the tax rates as well as differences in financing of the social system. Thus, the real burden of labour taxes may in some countries be higher due to the additional contributions to the private pension funds and private health insurance. Sweden, where labour taxes accounted for 29.4% of GDP in 2009, receives the majority of taxes on labour from income tax. Germany, which is also one of the countries with higher labour taxes than the EU average, receives the major part of labour taxes from social contributions. In Estonia the share of social contributions exceeds the receipts from the income tax more than twice, but in Finland the share of income tax and social security contributions are more or less equal.

The ratio of labour taxes in the European Union Member States, 2009

Diagram: The ratio of labour taxes in the European Union Member States, 2009

Source: Statistics Estonia

Sales increased in most economic activities

According to Statistics Estonia, in February 2011 compared to February of the previous year, the retail sales of goods of retail trade enterprises increased 2% at constant prices.

Compared to the same month of the previous year, the retail sales of retail trade enterprises started to increase in September 2010, the growth continued in October, November and December. In January this year the retail sales slightly fell but in February it turned to a rise again.

In February, the retail sales of goods of retail trade enterprises were 260 million euros (4.1 billion kroons). The increase in retail sales of goods was most influenced by the stores selling manufactured goods, where the retail sales decreased 10% compared to February 2010. The sales increased in most economic activities. Only the retail sales in stores selling textiles, clothing, footwear and leather goods and the retail sales of pharmaceutical goods and cosmetics were smaller than in February of the previous year. The retail sales were the highest in stores selling household goods and appliances, hardware and building materials and in non-specialized stores with industrial goods predominating. In these stores the retail sales increased 26% and 24%, respectively.

Compared to February of the previous year, the retail sales in grocery stores decreased 3%, mainly influenced by the price increase of food products that had still accelerated in February.

Compared to the previous month, the retail sales in retail trade enterprises decreased 2% at constant prices. According to the seasonally and working-day adjusted data the retail sales increased 2% compared to the previous month.

In February 2011, the revenues from sales of retail trade enterprises were 317 million euros (nearly 5 billion kroons), out of which the retail sales of goods accounted for 82%. Compared to February 2010, the revenues from sales increased 8% at current prices. Compared to the previous month, this indicator decreased 1%.

Retail sales volume index of retail trade enterprises and its trend, January 2002 – February 2011 (2005 = 100)

Diagram: Retail sales volume index of retail trade enterprises and its trend

Source: Statistics Estonia

City dump becomes fuel source for buses

As part of the closure of a landfill in Tartu, a company is developing a biogas system that could fuel the city’s fleet of municipal buses.

A study by the company, Doranova, found that Aardlapalu dump had six times the initially estimated amount of biogas reserves – big enough to consider them a potential source of fuel for public transport.

The municipality plans to introduce five biogas-fueled buses this year.

The study determined that it would be possible to produce 533 cubic meters of biogas per hour, enough to supply 20 buses a year with biogas.

Read more from ERR News

Tallinn widens field for jobs creation project

More companies are eligible to take part in a Tallinn-funded jobs creation program now that the City Council has made key changes to the project’s parameters.

The support project, backed by nearly 1 million euros from the city budget, is designed to cut down the ranks of the capital’s unemployed by paying companies to create new positions for them.

But whereas earlier only companies with at least 30 employees could participate, now businesses with as few as 15 employees are eligible. Non-profit organizations and foundations are also being allowed in for the first time – these only need to have two employees, reported.

To take part, the companies need to create at least five jobs, and the non-profit organizations three jobs, for a period of six months to a year.

Read more from ERR News

Interbank euro payments do not take place on 25 April

On Monday, 25 April, no interbank and international settlements in euro will take place, since TARGET2 and TARGET2-Eesti are closed on Easter Monday. Intra-bank payments are settled according to each bank’s rules.

Interbank payments do not take place on 22 April, either, because this is Good Friday. Since the days in between the two dates are a weekend, interbank payments are not settled from 22 to 25 April. It is possible to initiate interbank payments on these days, but payees receive them on 26 April. Starting from 26 April, all payments are settled as usual.

Eesti Pank manages two interbank payment and settlement systems: TARGET2-Eesti, which is part of TARGET2, the Trans-European Automated Real-time Gross Settlement Express Transfer System, and ESTA, the settlement system for domestic retail payments. TARGET2-Eesti settles large payments in euro in Estonia and also with other European countries in real time.

Domestic retail payments between commercial banks are done in ESTA. In order to be participants in the system, commercial banks must hold sufficient collaterals with the central bank. Cash collateral transactions are done in TARGET2-Eesti. Since TARGET2 is closed on 25 April, cash collateral transactions cannot be performed, which means ESTA cannot be used, either.

Intra-bank transactions are performed according to commercial banks’ own rules. Turn to your bank for further information.

More detailed information about payment and settlement systems managed by Eesti Pank is available here.

The legal framework of the interbank settlement systems is available here.

Harmonised conditions for participating in TARGET2-Eesti define the TARGET2 settlement day as follows:

TARGET2 is open on all days, except Saturdays, Sundays, New Year’s Day, Good Friday and Easter Monday (according to the calendar applicable at the seat of the ECB), 1 May, Christmas Day and 26 December.

According to the general terms and conditions of ESTA, the ESTA settlement day is a calendar day, which is a TARGET2-Eesti working day and which is not a national or public holiday.
Easter is a moveable Christian feast that starts on the first Sunday after the full moon following the northern hemisphere’s vernal equinox.

 Source: Bank of Estonia

Estonian tourists kidnapped in Lebanon

According to information held by the Foreign Ministry, an organisation has been identified that may be connected to the abduction of seven Estonian citizens. The Lebanese army and security forces are carrying out an operation in the Bekaa Valley that includes the participation of more than one thousand members of the security forces and army, the Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reports.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet met with President of Lebanon Michel Sulayman, Minister of the Interior Ziad Baroud, prime ministerial candidate Najib Mikat, who is currently responsible for forming a new government, Parliament Speaker Nabih Berr, Chief of the Lebanese Armed Forces General Kahwaji, top Foreign Ministry personnel, and other officials on Monday, March 28 in Beirut. Paet also met with representatives of EU and NATO countries in Lebanon.

Foreign Minister Paet said that in every one of his meetings, the Lebanese representatives gave a clear signal that finding the seven abducted Estonian citizens and catching the perpetrators is an important priority for Lebanon. “The president, interior minister, chief of the armed forces, and others all confirmed that Lebanon is doing all it can to solve this kidnapping and free the Estonian citizens,” he asserted.

The foreign minister noted that there are still many possible versions of the event being investigated, but so far none of them have enough factual evidence. “Different versions are being investigated and the Lebanese security forces and army are continuing their operations in the area where the Estonians were abducted,” he added.

Paet said that close co-operation with Lebanon as well as our partner countries is very important.

On 23 March seven Estonian citizens were kidnapped in the city of Zahle in the eastern part of the Bekaa Valley in Lebanon, 53 kilometres east of Beirut.

Previous news about the case from 25.03.2011:
A group of Estonian tourists who were travelling through Bekaa Valley on their bicycles have been kidnapped in eastern Lebanon during a cycling trip, reports ERR.

After crossing the Syrian border earlier in the day, the cyclists traveled were abducted on a road in an industrial complex between Zahle and Kfar Zabed.

The Estonians were forced into two white vans without license plates by men who were armed and masked. Their bicycles were left behind and later found, BBN reports.

Foreign Minister Urmas Paet stated that during a telephone conversation today, Lebanese Foreign Minister Ali Sham confirmed that the Lebanese government is taking the abduction of Estonian citizens very seriously and is undertaking serious measures to resolve the situation.

Paet has also spoken about the incident with High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs Catherine Ashton, French Foreign Minister Alain Juppé, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini. The Foreign Ministry and its representations have been in touch with diplomats of Great Britain, the United States and Poland. Estonia is grateful to the countries, organisations and individuals that have offered their help and expressed their support.

Tonight an Estonian diplomat will arrive in Beirut, whose task is to maintain contact on-site and exchange information with the Lebanese ministries and authorities as well as with the embassies of NATO and EU countries there.

The Foreign Ministry has been in contact with the families of all the kidnapped citizens and will continue to be in contact with them and pass along information.

The crisis commission will continue working until the situation is resolved.

If we obtain any new information, we will announce it immediately.

Currently the ministry does not know the identities of the kidnappers nor the motives for the kidnapping.

An interdepartmental crisis commission led by Foreign Minister Urmas Paet has been formed.

According to ERR, after capturing the seven tourists, the three cars without license plates – two minivans and one Mercedes sedan – allegedly drove to the village of Kfar Zabad that hosts the base of the militant PFLP-GC group. This has given rise to the speculations that PFLP-GC captured the men to trade them for a member of the group recently detained in Kiev, Ukraine.  However, PFLP-GC has denied any involvement in the abduction.

Source: BBN and Estonian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Estonian Public Broadcasting

Read also: No word yet on fate of 7 abducted Estonians, search effort continues
Analysis of phone records and raids near Syrian border yeild no new information

Friday, March 25, 2011