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Vol 2, No 24
19 June 2000
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Latvian News Review
News from Latvia
All the important news
since 10 June 2000

Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

Thousands gathered at the Freedom Monument in Rīga on 14 June to commemorate the anniversary of the massive deportations carried out by Soviets in 1941. President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga called for the recognition of crimes committed during the Soviet occupation, saying they should never be forgotten. Many victims of the deportations also took part in the solemn events.

Foreign Minister Indulis Bērziņš travelled to China for most of last week to strengthen bilateral ties and to open the new Latvian Embassy alongside Ambassador Einārs Semanis. Bērziņš also met with various government officials, including his counterpart, Tang Jiaxuan, and Vice President Ho Jintao.

The EU temporarily closed five chapters of negotiations with Latvia. The simple chapters closed include CFSP and audio/visual policy.

The Saeima passed changes to the law on local governments, giving them the right to restrict sales of spirits. This came after several municipalities, such as Valmiera, banned the sale of spirits late in the evening to fight alcohol abuse.

Lithuanian Defence Minister Česlovas Stankevičius hosted several of his counterparts in Vilnius for a meeting of the Nordic and Baltic defence ministers, which was augmented by US Defense Secretary William Cohen. Speaking about future NATO enlargement, Cohen stressed that geography and history will not play a role, but, rather, criteria would be based on individual nations' achievements and integration efforts. Cohen and Stankevičius were joined by their counterparts, Jüri Luik (Estonia), Ģirts Valdis Kristovskis (Latvia), Björn von Sydow (Sweden), Hans Hækkerup (Denmark) and Bjørn Tore Godal (Norway), as well as officials from Finland and Iceland.

Following the successful visit by Turkish Foreign Minister İsmail Cem, Defence Minister Sabahattin Čakmakoğlu paid a visit to Latvia to discuss co-operation. The Turkish defence minister reiterated statements by Cem on Turkey's full support for Latvia's bid to join NATO. The Turkish delegation also visited a memorial in Cēsis for Turkish POWs from the war fought between the Ottoman Empire and the Russian Empire in the 1870s.

Finnish Foreign Minister Erkki Sakari Tuomioja made a quick visit to Latvia to discuss bilateral ties with Latvian officials, including Foreign Minister Indulis Bērziņš. Tuomioja reaffirmed Finnish support for Latvia's EU integration.

The paedophilia scandal raised its ugly head again. The now-defunct Saeima committee investigating this scandal said that Interior Minister Mareks Segliņš was involved in the sordid affair, but he has denied the charge.

All the hype generated by the yellowest of yellow journals was quickly tempered by the announcement that the Prosecutor General's Office has launched criminal cases against several people for giving false testimony in the paedophilia scandal.

Members of the opposition gathered enough signatures to call a special session of the Saeima to discuss rural issues. Many coalition politicians are angry, as the petition was signed by some members of the New Party, which is a member of the ruling coalition. Some are accusing the MPs of violating the coalition agreement.

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Normunds Popens presented his credentials to Norway's King, Harald V, to become Latvia's new ambassador in Oslo.

Several dozen members of Communist youth groups picketed in front of the Latvian Embassy in Moscow. The sanctioned protest was broken up by police, after several youths began defacing a Latvian flag.


Economics and business

The Seimas decided to cut excise for diesel fuel by 25 per cent, setting it at LVL (Latvian lats) 100 per 1000 litres. Petrol excise will remain the same until 2003. This move is seen as a way to balance the excise amongst regional countries, in order to boost fuel sales in Latvia.


Social and local interest

Controversy raged over a news report by LNT that has been called "defaming" to gypsies. LNT reported on a case in which a young woman was swindled out of her family heirlooms by a fortune-teller, but it was seen by some as degrading into anti-Roma statements.

The official unemployment rate in May dropped by 0.4 per cent to 8.6 per cent nation-wide. The highest regional jobless rate remains in Rēzekne, which posted 26.9 per cent, followed by Balvi, at 22.6 per cent. The unemployment rate in Rīga is 4.2 per cent.

Polling agency SKDS released results from a poll showing that only 38.1 per cent of respondents want Latvia to join the EU. A small 7.5 per cent suggested Latvia join the CIS, though 32.6 per cent did not want Latvia to join anything. Over 20 per cent did not know what they wanted.

An IT company in Latvia revealed a poll showing that one-third of Latvian IT specialists are willing to leave Latvia for work or study. The survey indicated financial reasons as tops, but also cited experience and skills acquisition.

More outrage from officials, as a parent filed a complaint against a local photographer for taking nude pictures of his 15-year old daughter at a swimming pool in a local secondary school. This came as officials discovered Germany's RTF filming something "lewd" at the school, and has escalated since. School officials are under fire for hiring the pool out for such purposes, and the photographer is in trouble himself and might face charges.

A poll by SKDS shows that 71.7 per cent of respondents are against the sale of genetically-modified foods in Latvia. About 16 per cent had no opinion.


And in other news...

A freak storm blew through parts of Latvia, leaving plenty of damage and downed power lines. Dozens of poles came down, and thousands of customers went without electricity in the east of the country.

Rīga hosted the F-1 World Powerboat Championship series on the Daugava River. Surprisingly, Latvian pilot Viktors Kuņičs came in third behind American Scott Gillman and Italian Fabio Comparato. However, due to a minor technical fault (a pipe was made of steel and not aluminium), the Latvian boat was disqualified, but a protest of the decision has been filed.

Exchange Rates
As of 16 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, 16 June 2000

Moving on:


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



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The Arts:
Culture Calendar:
Poland | UK | USA


Mixed Nuts