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Polish-Lithuanian deal surprises some

RIGA, Latvia --Estonian and Latvian officials expressed dismay on Wednesday at an agreement signed between Poland and Lithuania on the construction of a new nuclear power plant in the Baltics.

The agreement, signed in Warsaw on Friday by the prime ministers of Poland and Lithuania, provides for Poland's full participation in the $5 billion project that the three Baltic states initiated last year.

"It is amateurish," Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis was quoted by the Baltic News Service as saying. "We have not agreed to it."

The original agreement calls for equal 33 percent stakes for each of the three Baltic countries in the plant, which will replace the existing atomic facility in Ignalina, Lithuania, due to be decommissioned in 2009.

In December, Poland expressed interest in joining the project, and last week Poland and Lithuania signed the agreement granting Lithuania a 34 percent stake and the other three countries 22 percent each.

"This was totally surprising," said Andris Siksnis, spokesman for Latvenergo, Latvia's energy utility. The Baltic states' state-owned power companies will operate the proposed plant, which has is targeted for completion in 2015.

Helen Sabrak, spokeswoman for Eesti Energia, Estonia's power company, said the company did not object to Polish participation but no specific proposals had been put forward. Bringing Poland on board would require renegotiating the original three-party deal, she said.

A spokesman for Lietuvos Energija, Lithuania's state-owned utility, refused to comment on the agreement, saying a copy had not yet been obtained.

On his return from Warsaw over the weekend, Lithuanian Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas said his country would insist on a slightly larger stake since the atomic plant will be on its territory.

"Our demand is reasonable and it seems to us that the partners in the project more or less agree with it," Kirkilas was quoted as saying by BNS.

Latvian officials disagreed. "First, we want equality between the Baltic countries," Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks told The Associated Press.

"And second, all changes to the agreement should be accepted by all sides," Pabriks said, adding that he too had been surprised by news of the Polish-Lithuanian agreement.

Other than an underwater cable connecting Estonia and Finland, the Baltic states are not connected to the European Union's energy market and fear an increasing dependency on Russian supplies when the Ignalina reactor is shut down.

EU Energy Commissioner Andris Piebalgs, a Latvian, has repeatedly stated he does not support a new nuclear power plant in the Baltics.