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Vol 2, No 15
17 April 2000
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Latvian News Review News from Latvia
All the important news
since 8 April 2000

Mel Huang

Political and foreign affairs

Prime Minister Andris Šķēle resigned on 12 April in the culmination of weeks worth of political turbulence. This came after both junior coalition members - Latvia's Way and For Fatherland and Freedom - both withdrew support for Šķēle. The final straw apparently came when Šķēle rejected the re-nomination of Vladimirs Makarovs by For Fatherland and Freedom to be economics minister, while the cabinet voted to keep Jānis Naglis as head of the Latvian Privatisation Agency until its end in 2001 (see this week's Amber Coast for the full story on this messy situation). Parties are now jockeying for position in a new coalition, likely to be led by Latvia's Way.

Because of the resignation of Šķēle, Latvian Ambassador to Denmark Aivars Baumanis represented Latvia at the gathering of prime ministers of the 11-country Council of Baltic Sea States (CBSS) in Kolding, Denmark. During the summit, European Commission President Romano Prodi confirmed that enlargement is a top priority, and will be done "as soon as we can." The group also discussed regional co-operation, as well as developments in Russia. Many bilateral meetings were also held within the context of the summit.

While that was happening, defence ministers from the so-called "3+3" group - Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Denmark, Germany and Poland - met in Copenhagen, to discuss co-operation. The three NATO members of the group also reaffirmed their support for Baltic integration into NATO.

Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Bērziņš made a quick visit to Estonia to meet with his counterpart, Toomas Hendrik Ilves. Various bilateral and international issues were discussed, ranging from EU enlargement to Russian developments. The pair also decided to make joint arms acquisitions, citing cost and interoperability as reasons. The two also discussed the possibilities for Latvia to dump its controversial pork import tariffs.

During that trip, Bērziņš reiterated the point by Agriculture Minister Aigars Kalvītis that the tariffs must be revoked. He proposed its replacement with direct subsidies to pig farmers. Latvia has come under heavy criticism from Estonia (which is also a WTO member) and Lithuania, as well as the European Commission. The European Commission is looking into retaliatory measures, which Kalvitis fears could ruin Latvia's dairy industry. The government gave approval to the lifting of the tariffs.

An ad hoc committee in the Saeima investigating the so-called paedophilia scandal released their final report this past week. There were no surprises on the list, though all of the prominent individuals named earlier were in the final report. The report also charges that threats were made against its members during the investigation. However, four members of the commission voiced anger at the report, as it did not contain their objections. The Office of the Prosecutor-general also said there is no evidence of wrongdoing by any of the named officials. The panel is led by MP Jānis Ādamsons of the Social Democrats.

A Saeima committee on mandates rejected the bid by the People's Party of outgoing Prime Minister Šķēle to revoke the parliamentary mandate of Ādamsons. Ādamsons, found by a court to be linked to the KGB, could lose his mandate by parliamentary rules, however, there seems to be different interpretations amongst the parties. The motion goes to the plenary session of the Saeima, but it is likely dead at this session.

A plenary session of the Seimas also threw out the legislation on stopping the privatisation of power utility Latvenergo. The opposition fought to have the privatisation and reorganisation of the company stopped. However, this issue could yet go to referendum, as a union-sponsored petition drive appears to have crossed the needed barrier to go to a public vote.

The scandal around alleged threats to former Latvenergo chairman Valdis Ginters continues, as Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze reported that threats made by a close associate of the outgoing Prime Minister was recorded on tape. Ginters maintained that he was pressured to resign from the post at an early date.

Despite the mess at home, Saeima Speaker Jānis Straume continued his foreign travels, this time to Sweden. In Stockholm, Straume met with King Carl XVI Gustav, Rikstag Speaker Birgitta Dahl, Justice Minister Laila Freivalds and other officials.

Russian President Vladimir Putin granted Russian citizenship to convicted Latvian war criminal Vasili Kononov. Kononov said he learned of this only by radio, and he has not given up his Latvian citizenship. The appeals process for Kononov's conviction began during the past week, and Kononov, a former Soviet partisan, said that issues like war crimes cannot be viewed in perspective during peacetime and that the case should be looked at by an international panel.

Supreme Court Chairman Andris Guļāns nominated Cēsis regional prosecutor Jānis Maizītis to be the new prosecutor-general. The earlier nomination of Guļāns, his fellow Supreme Court justice Ilgars Zigfrīds Šepteris, was rejected by the Saeima.

Lithuanian Environment Minister Danius Lygis visited Latvia to meet his counterpart, Vents Balodis, to discuss environmental protection for the Baltic Sea.

The Saeima passed a law on copyrights that is fully compatible with EU legislation. The copyright remains with the author for 70 years after death.


Economics and business

Latvia registered a mild deflation of 0.2 per cent, in March.

Latvia's ports reported a nine per cent rise in cargo handling in Q1.


Social and Local Interest

Latvia's unemployment rate dropped by a point to nine per cent, in the end of March. The highest regional rate remained in Rēzekne, at 27.5 per cent, and Balvi, at 22.7 per cent, while Rīga had the lowest rate, at 4.6 per cent.

A total of 452 people were naturalised as Latvian citizens this past week, bringing the total number of naturalised citizens up to 27,567.

A report shows that 136 inmates in Latvian prisons are HIV-positive.

A poll by Latvia's affiliate to Transparency International shows that 75.9 of respondents feel it is not possible to get rich by honest means. Respondents also said that they feel bribes are necessary with the current bureaucracy (78.2 per cent) and that corruption is unfair but inevitable (72.1 per cent).


And in other news...

Officials nabbed two large consignments of ethyl alcohol, probably doomed to end up as moonshine. The first, about 13 tons worth, was found at a heavily-guarded site. The second, about 40 tons, was found in transit labelled as "construction material."

A memorial plaque was unveiled in Liepāja for US naval airmen who likely perished off the coast of Liepāja in 1950, when shot down by the Soviets. A solemn ceremony took place on the fiftieth anniversary of the shoot-down.

Exchange rates
As of 14 April March 2000

currency Latvian lats(LVL)
1 US dollar 0.59
1 British pound 0.94
1 German mark 0.29
1 euro 0.57

[For continuous updates see the Bank of Latvia Exchange Rates page].

Mel Huang, 14 April 2000

Moving on:


Baltic News Service (BNS)
The Baltic Times
Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty
Reuters news on Yahoo



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