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Vol 2, No 30
11 September 2000
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News from Latvia
All the important news since 2 September 2000
Daria Kulagina


Politics and foreign affairs

In a 47 to 47 vote, the Saeima rejected a prosecutor's request to lift the parliamentary immunity of opposition MP Jānis Ādamsons (Social Democrats), in order to allow his criminal prosecution. Prosecutors want to charge Ādamsons with "abuse of power" for making public the names of government officials who were allegedly "linked" with the so-called "pedophilia scandal" investigation. Valdis Birkavs and Andris Šķēle, two former premiers whom Ādamsons "linked" with the "pedophilia" case, promised to file civil suits against him on charges of defamation.

The vote in Parliament indicated a deepening split within the ruling coalition, as a majority in both Birkavs's and Šķēle's parties voted to lift the immunity, while a majority of For Fatherland and Freedom faction voted against the motion. Prime Minister Andris Bērziņš was clearly unhappy with the Parliament's decision and hinted that it may affect the "stability of the government." The Prosecutor-General is considering appealing the Saeima's decision to the Constitutional Court.

In other news related to the "pedophilia scandal," prosecutors appealed a court decision to sentence Ainars Eisaks, a former head of a beauty contest company, who has charged with pedophilia, to only 2.5 years in prison instead of the requested seven years. Despite public outcry, the judge argued that the old version of the Criminal Code did not interpret pedophilia as a serious crime and applied the Amnesty Law that lessened the sentence.

Addressing the UN Millennium Summit in New York, President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga urged the UN to reconsider the allocation of resources. The President believes the UN should also reevaluate its not-always successful peacekeeping operations. In New York, Vīķe-Freiberga held a number of meetings with other world leaders and addressed Holocaust remembrance and education issues with Nobel Prize laureate Elie Wiesel and foreign members of Latvia's Historical Commission.

Prosecutors did not find sufficient evidence to bring charges against former Kapitals magazine editor Guntis Rozenbergs, who resigned after an offensive article titled "Jews Rule the World" was featured in the magazine's August issue. Although the Constitutional Protection Bureau initiated an investigation into the possible provocation of ethnic hatred, prosecutors say they lack an expert opinion on whether publishing the article constitutes a crime.

"The US commends Latvia, as its State Language Law goes into effect," a US Embassy statement said after the controversial regulations to the law became effective on 1 September. "We expect that Latvia will continue to treat all its people fairly and meet its international obligations fully as implemented in the language law," the statement said.

The government called upon the Latvian people not to participate in a "non-violent civil disobedience campaign" proposed by a leftist opposition party that supports Russian as a second state language. The opposition movement has called on Latvia's Russian-speaking population to file petitions to the Russian Duma and the Belarusian Supreme Soviet to exert pressure on Latvian authorities and to boycott services of companies, television stations, radio programs and public events where the Russian language is not used. The government said that such a campaign would divide the people along linguistic and ethnic lines, and arouse mutual distrust and hatred.

Prisoners in a Rīga jail went on a hunger strike to protest a court decision on halting the final statement of former Banka Baltija President Aleksandrs Lavents. The judge cut the defendant's statement short, saying that he was not concentrating on issues relevant to the criminal case against him. A few minutes later, Lavents had an attack of angina and was rushed to the hospital. Lavents is accused of fraud in the failure of the large bank several years ago and faces a prison sentence. The National Human Right Office pointed out that, "Lavents has been waiting for this court session for five years" and called the judge's action a violation of human rights.

The number of supporters for Latvia's entry into the European Union has increased, now at 44.5 percent, according to a recent poll. If the referendum on the country's accession to the EU was held in August, 32.4 percent would vote against it, while 23.1 percent are still undecided. Citizens are slightly more euro-optimistic (45 percent would vote yes) than non-citizens living in Latvia (41 percent).


Economics and business

Latvia's leader brewery, Aldaris, opened a Pepsi plant, investing LVL (Latvian lats) 4.5 million in the new venture.

The Finance Ministry has prepared legal amendments that foresee up to a 50 percent tax break for large investment projects. Under the proposal, companies will be entitled to an income tax reduction of between 30 to 50 percent for investment projects worth over LVL ten million. The proposed tax breaks, which are aimed at promoting investments in Latvia, have yet to be approved by the Saeima.

Latvian fixed-line telephone operator Lattelekom reduced tariffs for Internet service providers, cutting the connection price by up to 60 percent.

New media continues to develop, as Latvia's major daily, Diena, launched its fully-reconstructed site, while the news and community portal TVNET was launched. Also, Lattelekom's Apollo portal has significantly expanded and now provides original content.

Finnish retail group Kesko will invest around EUR (euro) 6.7 million for the first of four supermarkets it plans to open in Rīga within the next two years. The first outlet, which is to become the largest in Latvia, should be built by next summer. Kesko is aiming for a 20-25 percent share of the daily consumables market in the Baltics.


Social and local interest

More than half of Latvia's residents think they are powerless in the fight against corruption, according to a recent survey by the SKDS polling firm. Some 56.3 percent say they cannot prevent or restrict the spread of corruption in Latvia, because it is a fight to be carried out on the national level, while 35.7 percent admit that they could prevent or limit corruption by refraining from bribery. Only 4.2 percent of respondents expressed readiness to join an NGO to fight corruption.

The Bank of Latvia honored the Sydney Olympic games by releasing two special coins. One features a javelin thrower in honor of Latvian Olympic champion Inese Jaunzeme, and the other features track cyclists. The Latvian contingent in this year's Summer Olympics opening in Sydney will be one of the country's largest yet, with a total of 45 athletes participating.

Measures to heighten safety on the roads will be adopted in September by the government, taking into account the numerous traffic accidents and fatalities in Latvia.

A generous donation to fight cancer was made by Australian-Latvian Tatiana Buks, who donated USD one million to the Latvian Center of Oncology to purchase radiology equipment. Publications in the press and a television broadcast are said to have prompted her to make the generous donation. The Welfare Ministry will contribute another USD 1.6 million over the next two years to make fuller use of the valuable donation.

The end of summer brought a record number of tick-borne encephalitis cases, bringing the total number of people stricken with the disease this year to 290. Latvia suffers from the highest rate of contracting the disease among European countries.

Early frost was registered in Latvia last week. Meteorologists say more is to come, as night temperatures are already falling to -2C.

Exchange Rates
As of 8 September 2000
Currency Latvian
1 US dollar 0.61
1 British pound 0.88
1 German mark 0.27
1 euro 0.53


Daria Kulagina, 8 September 2000

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