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Vol 2, No 17
2 May 2000
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Latvian News Review News from Latvia
All the important news
since 22 April 2000

Mel Huang

Political and foreign affairs

President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga officially nominated Rīga Mayor Andris Bērziņš to be Prime Minister. Bērziņš said he wants to re-establish the trust people have in the state. The new government is likely not to be approved until next week. The coalition is likely to contain The People's Party, Latvia's Way, For Fatherland and Freedom and The New Party, together holding 69 of 100 seats in the Saeima.

From a draft document, the government plan appears to want to focus on making Latvia competitive in the world economy, developing Latvia into an information society and preserving national identity. However, parties note that this remains a draft. The document also suggests that, starting in 2001, economic growth of five to seven per cent should be expected, as well as the shrinking of the budget deficit to one per cent of GDP by 2001.

Bērziņš also said that it is unlikely that the government will be in office before the tenth anniversary of the declaration of restoration of independence on 4 May. Bērziņš has called on the divorcing of business interests and politics, pointing out the problems caused in the last government by Prime Minister Andris Šķēle and Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs. The incoming PM also said he does not want any former premiers in the cabinet, which rules out outgoing PM Šķēle and a set of his own party members, such as Justice Minister Valdis Birkavs.

However, that has seriously angered Šķēle, who has called the ban "unacceptable." Apparently, the People's Party of Šķēle is pushing for either the transport or foreign affairs portfolios, despite Latvia's Way being adamant about keeping them.

The Supreme Court released convicted war criminal Vasili Kononov and ordered the prosecution to sort out several issues, including issues relating to the charge of war crimes. Kononov returned home and signed a document pledging he would not evade prosecution. Russian Ambassador Aleksandr Udaltsov gave Kononov his Russian passport, and Kononov said he will abandon his Latvian citizenship. The prosecutor in the case, Ausma Rubene, called the order a "compromise," and said she will file a procedural appeal soon.

Latvian and Australian officials have agreed to the text of the draft extradition treaty. However, officials in Latvia say there is nothing extraordinary within the document that pertains to specific cases. The two countries accelerated discussions over the text with the case of accused Nazi war criminal Konrāds Kalējs.

Chinese press agency Xinhua opened its Baltics bureau in Rīga.

Heads of the civil guards in the Baltic states met in southern Estonia, on the invitation of Kaitseliit head Benno Leesik. Along with Arvydas Počius, the head of Lithuania's KASP, and Jānis Kononovs, chief of Latvia's Zemessardze, the civil guard chiefs discussed further co-operation. The three also visited several training sites and inspected an ongoing training exercise.

Joint control over the Lithuanian-Latvian border point at Rucava-Butingė will commence in July. This will simplify border crossing and cut out the double stoppage for travellers on the road.


Economics and business

The Latvian central bank gave permission to Hansabanka to acquire all of Ventspils Apvienotā Baltijas Banka (VABB, Ventspils International Baltic Bank). The Latvian affiliate of Estonia's Hansapank has been waiting to take over the regional bank, in order to increase its hold in the economically important port city.

The central bank issued some "advice" on the proposed buy-out of Saules Banka, which caused the deal to collapse. In December 1999, Estonia's Ühispank, the full owners of Saules Banka, signed an agreement with real estate tycoon and banker Ernesto Preatoni to sell the bank to him. However, apparently due to Preatoni making the bid personally and not via one of his companies, he had trouble showing all the documents and requirements the Latvian central bank wanted. So both sides have since annulled the deal.


Social and local interest

Although the organizers of the petition are angry, a petition drive on holding a referendum to stop the privatisation of power utility Latvenergo will be held in June. Organisers argue that in the late part of the month, many are off on holiday.

The trial of reputed terrorist group Perkonkrusts has been halted until mid-May. Most of the defendants are claiming patriotism, others say they did not know of the violent nature of the group's leadership.

It appears that members of the illegal Russian extremist group National Bolsheviks (led in Russia by Eduard Limonov) have registered an organisation called "Uzvara" ("Victory" in Latvian). Authorities promised to keep a close watch on the group, as it should not partake in political activities since it is not registered to be a party.


And in other news...

The Russian Embassy said it has issued about 2000 visas for Latvians travelling to St Petersburg, to support their national team during the World Ice Hockey Championships. It is expected that about 4000 Latvian fans will attend the event. Latvia's team has a tough beginning on 30 April against perennial giants Sweden. With all-star defenceman Sandis Ozoliņš still involved in the NHL playoffs with the Colorado Avalanche, extra pressure will be on Artūrs Irbe in front of the net.

The cities of Rīga and Florence (Firenze) have become sister cities.

Roland goes home. The 104-year-old statue of Roland in Rīga's Town Hall Square has returned to St John's Church for retirement. The statue survived the firebombing of Rīga in World War II, though the square - and the adjacent House of the Blackheads - were decimated. During the last half century, Roland was housed in St John's Church, until the December 1999 rededication of Town Hall Square and the rebuilt House of the Blackheads. A copy of the statue, built using donations from Rīga residents, has replaced the original in the figurative centre of town. Roland statues are found in most Hanseatic towns, marking the town's centre point with the tip of his lance.

Exchange rates
As of 28 April March 2000

currency Latvian lats(LVL)
1 US dollar 0.60
1 British pound 0.95
1 German mark 0.28
1 euro 0.55

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

Mel Huang, 28 April 2000

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