Bugging row fells Estonia coalition

ADRIAN BRIDGE

Central Europe Correspondent

The Estonian government collapsed yesterday in the wake of a bugging scandal that has conjured up chilling reminders of the country's KGB past.

Tiit Vahi, the Prime Minister, announced the effective dissolution of the governing coalition after firing his deputy, Edgar Savisaar, the man at the centre of the scandal.

Last night, Mr Vahi was set to meet President Lennart Meri and other leading politicians in an effort to resolve the crisis, the biggest since the Baltic state regained its independence from Moscow in 1991. The President has promised that there will be no cover-up.

The bugging allegations surfaced earlier this month when police raided the Tallinn headquarters of a private security firm believed to have dealings with the city's underworld. To their astonishment, they found tapes of recorded private conversations between Mr Vahi, Mr Savisaar and other politicians and businessmen during the tense coalition negotiations that followed Estonia's March general election. Mr Savisaar, whose Centre Party ultimately teamed up in government with Mr Vahi's Coalition Party and the Rural Union, came under immediate suspicion when it emerged that the owner of the security firm had been one of his closest advisers.

The allegations caused uproar and demands for Mr Savisaar's removal which, ironically, were stepped up after an assistant to Mr Savisaar claimed that she had ordered the buggings without his knowledge. "Nobody fell for that one," said an official.

Mr Savisaar, who yesterday announced that he was stepping down as Deputy Prime Minister, Interior Minister and leader of his party, served as prime minister from 1990 to 1992. He held a junior post in the old Communist administration, but in the late Eighties was a co-founder of the Estonian Popular Front, which spearheaded the drive for independence.

With the old centre-left governing coalition in tatters, Mr Vahi was said last night to be exploring the possibility of a new alliance. Few favoured the prospect of a fresh poll.

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