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City news, 23.09.2005 15:23

Baltic Leaders Tackle Environmental Threat

baltic_sea The leaders of Sweden and Finland joined President Vladimir Putin on Thursday to inaugurate a wastewater treatment plant in St. Petersburg in the latest effort to cut back on the copious pollutants flowing into the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea.

The $213 million Southwest Wastewater Treatment Plant is to treat up to 85 percent of St. Petersburg’s effluent using ultraviolet light.

Putin pledged further cooperation in large international environmental projects after Governor Valentina Matviyenko ceremonially turned on the sluices at the facility.

“We have made an important step in improving the life of people living in St. Petersburg and the Baltic region,” Putin said, pointing out that city and surrounding Leningrad Oblast is home to 50 million people.

“The result of this work demonstrates that we can be very efficient in our common work,” Putin said.

Finnish President Tarja Halonen said the Baltic Sea had always connected people in the region.

“It is natural that our concern for the Baltic, too, is common. The coastal states have cooperated for decades in order to improve the condition of the Baltic, and great advances have been made,” Halonen said, noting that the treatment plant was one of those advances.

“The success we feel today should also serve as a strong incentive for continuation of environmental work. The Baltic Sea is still very polluted,” Halonen said.

Authorities say the project, which also includes a facility for burning solid waste left over from the treatment, should significantly cut back on phosphorus, nitrogen and other organic pollutants that clog the Gulf of Finland and leach into the wider Baltic Sea.

Construction of the facility started in 1987 but was halted eight years later due to financing problems. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and the Nordic Investment Bank were among the chief creditors for the project, more than half of whose financing is coming from loans.

Environmental groups says some fish caught in certain areas of the Baltic Sea exceed European Union limits on toxins. The sea is highly sensitive to pollution, since there is little exchange of water with the Atlantic Ocean.

Much harm was done to the Baltic Sea during the last few years, with depleted reserves of codfish and many beaches in the Baltic region becoming unusable, Swedish Prime Minister Goran Persson said.

“We must solve the major environmental problems in our region. We owe this to our children and grandchildren,” he said.

The three leaders were later expected to discuss Russian-European Union relations, a Kremlin official said, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with Kremlin practice.

Russia’s economic ties with the EU are vibrant, with the bloc accounting for half of Russia’s trade, but relations are frequently strained by EU criticism of Russia’s human rights record and prickly bilateral ties among the new EU members that border Russia. Russia is also a major energy supplier for Europe.

The three leaders were also to discuss efforts to reform the United Nations and the Security Council, the official said.

Earlier, Halonen attended opening ceremonies for a $63 million Nokian Tires manufacturing plant.

Earlier Thursday, Putin unveiled a musical water fountain near the Finlandsky train station and said he would throw a coin into the fountain for luck.

When he found that he had no change, a smiling man stepped forward from the crowd and gave him a coin. Putin threw it, thanked the man and shook his hand. Other onlookers also offered Putin coins and he tossed those into the water too, Russia’s Channel One reported.

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(c) 2000