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Vol 2, No 23
12 June 2000
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Latvian News Reviews
News from Latvia
All the important news
since 3 June 2000

Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder continued his Baltic tour with a two-day stop in Rīga. There he met with various officials, including German-speaking President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, whom Schröder called "wise" and "charming." Schröder reiterated Germany's support for Latvia's EU integration, though he was a bit vague on issues relating to NATO. Accompanied by a large business delegation, Schröder also called for the two countries' economic links to intensify.

The US-Baltic Partnership Committee had their annual meeting in Tallinn during the week, hosted by Estonian Foreign Minister Toomas Hendrik Ilves and attended by US Deputy Secretary of State Strobe Talbott, Lithuanian Deputy Foreign Minister Vygaudas Ušackas and Latvian Foreign Ministry State Secretary Māris Riekstiņš.

Talks focused strongly on economic and defence co-operation, as Talbott talked about the progress being made towards NATO integration in the Baltics. The joint communiqué also applauded continual war crimes prosecution, regardless of ideology and very much in defence of the prosecution of Nazi and Soviet war criminals. The latter infuriated Moscow.

In Lithuania's Karmelava, the headquarters of the joint Baltic airspace surveillance system, BALTNET, was opened on 6 June. Defence ministry and military officials from the Baltic countries as well as partner states (mostly NATO members, such as the United States and Norway), took part in the opening ceremony. Estonian Defence Minister Jüri Luik called it a step closer to NATO for the countries.

Bilateral ties between Latvia and Russia can improve only if both sides take a fresh approach, said influential Russian analyst Sergei Karaganov at a conference in the resort town of Jūrmala, criticising both Latvia's push away from Russia and Russia's "imperialistic" policies. Karaganov said that Latvia would risk its lucrative transit trade if it joined NATO, a stronger and less emotional argument than the one presented by Duma member Aleksei Arbatov, who basically said that Russia would do everything possible to avoid being threatened.

Turkish Foreign Minister Äsmail Cem began his Baltic tour in Rīga, meeting with various officials to discuss bilateral links as well as EU and NATO integration. Cem reaffirmed Turkey's commitment to NATO's open-door policy and predicted that Latvia will be a member of the EU before Turkey.

Speaker of the Czech Senate Libuše Benešová also visited Latvia during the week. She reaffirmed the Czech Republic's support for Latvia's NATO bid, while speaking to parliamentary and government officials. EU integration as well as strengthening bilateral ties also featured highly in the talks.

On the issue of severance pay for the former government under Premier Andris Šķēle, the ex-premier has his solution: give it to charity. Šķēle, a multimillionaire, asked to have his severance package donated to a special education school near the town of Cēsis.

Economics and business

The consumer price index fell by 0.2 per cent in the past month.

Finance ministers from the Baltic and Nordic countries met for their annual meeting in Tallinn. The issue of tax co-ordination was high on the agenda, with the divide between harmonisation and co-ordination, which is a sensitive topic for many of the attendees. Estonian Finance Minister Siim Kallas spoke out against the harmonisation of taxation policies, saying that free but fair competition, like in business, is good for countries.

Officials are investigating five members of the council of the Latvian Privatisation Agency (LPA) - Normunds Lakučs, Normunds Luste, Sergejs Dīmanis, Augusts Kūravs and Anatolijs Jerumanis - for possible violations of the anti-corruption act. The five are accused of holding more than one paying position and office, which apparently violates the conditions of serving on the LPA board.

Another new spiffy multi-star hotel, The Grand Hotel Palace, opened its doors in Rīga. Very quickly, Rīga is becoming the hub of the top hotels in the region, with several popping up in a year. The city is poised to be ready for Rīga 2001, the city's 800th anniversary.

Social and local interest

A scary figure, but there are 655 registered cases of HIV infection in Latvia currently - 163 this year alone. Experts predict that the number will top 1000 infections by year's end, a frightening figure for a country of 2.4 million.

A drug courier with about a kilo of cocaine was apprehended at Stockholm's Arlanda Airport en route to Latvia, with drugs in his pockets and capsules in his stomach. Co-operation by law enforcement officials in several countries led to the nabbing of the trafficker before the cocaine hit the streets of Rīga - his destination after Stockholm.

The Finance Ministry predicted that the frost that came unexpectedly in spring caused about LVL (Latvian lats) 2.5 million worth of damage to crops. In response, the government earmarked LVL 1.06 million for relief.

A poll by SKDS indicates that about half of Latvian residents believe that their economic well-being is mostly dependent on Russia. The poll shows that more than half of Rīgans agreed with the assertion, while over three-quarters of Russian-speaking respondents also agreed.

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And in other news...

Rock veteran Joe Cocker performed in front of 10,000 happy Latvian fans at Mežaparks in Rīga. Cocker was said to be thrilled with his performance.

Rīga Mayor Andris Ārgalis is ordering an investigation into allegations that German television RTL filmed a soft-porn film at the pool of a Rīga secondary school. A member of the crew vouched that no "lewd" acts were performed, but officials are livid at such a thing being filmed at a school.

Mayor Ārgalis said to save money Rīga should cut down contacts with sister cities that make less economic sense. The mayor did not list the dodgy sister cities, but, in the less-than-friendly comments, he did stress the need to promote ties with those sister cities that can bring a lot of advantage to Rīga. So much for the concept of sister cities.

And now for the bizarre. Already bogged down by construction, Rīga's Kalnciems Bridge was host to a new obstruction this week - an airplane. Apparently, someone hauling an airplane with his car (despite not having a permit to haul something that large) lost the aircraft on the bridge. Civil aviation authorities refused to get involved, saying the plane had no wings or other necessary equipment to define it as an airplane. Police are still investigating the case of the wingless plane.

Exchange Rates
As of 9 June 2000
Currency Latvian
1 US dollar 0.60
1 British pound 0.90
1 German mark 0.29
1 euro 0.57

[Up-to-date exchange rates].

Mel Huang, 9 June 2000

Moving on:


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


Borce Gjeorgjievski
Learning to Fail

Jindřich Ginter
Sadists at School

Mel Huang
The Death
of a Master

Catherine Lovatt
and Confusion

Gusztáv Kosztolányi
Blind Date

Sam Vaknin
Mapping Lies

Darja Zajícová
Media Demythtified

Wojtek Kość
Democratic Rebellion

The Arts:
Culture Calendar:

The Union of Death

Czech Republic

Mixed Nuts