Local elections change power structure in Riga
Opposition Social Democrats and other left-leaning parties scored a major victory in the capital Riga and surrounding areas on 11 March in local elections, while in other parts of the country right-center parties maintained their supremacy.
The Social Democrats (Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party) won 14 seats (23.4 per cent voter support) in the 60-member Riga City Council. The leftist coalition For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) was a close second, with 13 seats (21.4 per cent), while Riga Mayor Andris Ārgalis' party, For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, won 11 seats (17.3 per cent). The People's Party won six seats (10.3 per cent) in city council, and Latvia's Way five seats (8.7 per cent). The Latvian Green Party (4.1 per cent), the Latvian Democratic Party (2.9 percent) and the Prosperity Party (3 per cent) won two seats each. At the bottom of the table, the Russian Party, Latvian Farmers Union, Labor Party, Christian Democratic Union and New Christian Party each won one seat.
Social Democrats gained most votes in the Riga-area towns of Jūrmala, Jelgava, and Bauska, but in more distant towns, such as Ventspils, Valmiera, and Liepāja, mostly right-center parties maintained their hold on power.
With a fractured mandate, the parties struggled throughout the last week to form a coalition rule in the Riga City Council. Latvian government coalition parties voiced support for a coalition of three government parties (Fatherland, People's Party and Latvia's Way) and Social Democrats in Riga City Council. However, a disapproving Social Democrat leader, Juris Bojārs, said such a coalition would mean betraying the will of those voters who trusted the Social Democrats.
The Social Democrats hope to win the backing of nine votes from different smaller parties in the council and attract the Fatherland (11 votes), which would secure a majority in the council. However, the Fatherland, which wants to see two other government parties—Latvia's Way and People's Party—in the ruling Riga City Council coalition, said it wouldn't join the coalition proposed by Social Democrats. Latvia's Way said earlier it was ready to be in the opposition in the city council.
New head of President's chancellery linked to KGB
The Latvian public protested last week when a prosecutor who had links to the KGB was appointed head of the Latvian president's chancellery.
The appointment of Aivars Zaķis, who was in charge of KGB cases at the Prosecutor General's Office in the 1980s, caused indignation among former political prisoners and the wider public. Many consider the appointment of a person employed by the Soviet repressive organs to one of the country's top offices "unethical and even immoral."
Jānis Rožkalns and Jānis Vēveris, two anti-Soviet dissidents, sent a letter to President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga asking her to explain her choice of Zaķis. They said they had suffered from actions of Zaķis as a prosecutor when Latvia was a Soviet Republic. Zaķis was "a diligent prosecutor devoted to the occupation regime," who aggressively turned against Rožkalns and Vēveris as "betrayers of the Soviet State," the dissidents wrote in the letter.
Vīķe-Freiberga said the state security services, which examined Zaķis' suitability for the post, hadn't opposed his nomination. The president admitted she knew about Zaķis' past.
Zaķis is now a prosecutor at the International Cooperation Division of the Prosecutor General's Office. Recently, he was responsible for gathering materials in the case against Konrāds Kalējs, who is charged with war crimes committed during the Second World War.
Latvian President urges joint Baltic NATO approach
Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga suggested during her visit to Lithuania that the presidents of the three Baltic states should appeal for their countries' immediate integration into NATO. However, her Lithuanian counterpart Valdas Adamkus preferred a joint statement of all nine NATO candidates, similar to his last year's address in Vilnius.
The inclusion of Lithuania alone into the next NATO enlargement round would be a mistake, Vīķe-Freiberga told a Lithuanian TV show. Her statement contradicted a view that even an invitation to only one Baltic state would be a significant achievement for all Baltic people.
The Latvian President also said in her address to the Lithuanian Parliament that a great deal of work has to be done to improve the Lithuanian-Latvian bilateral relations.
Latvian legion commemorates their dead on low-key note
In a low-key ceremony, surviving members of the Latvian Nazi Waffen SS unit, or the so-called Latvian Legionnaires, commemorated their fallen brethren-in-arms on March 16.
This year the Legionnaires had to give up their annual procession to the Freedom Monument in downtown Riga, as it was being renovated, but the commemoration service at the Dome Church was held as usual.
Addressing an audience of some 500 Legionnaires and their relatives, Lutheran Archbishop Jānis Vanags thanked the Legionnaires for their contribution to Latvia and called on others not to judge the 16 March commemoration day from the Soviet perspective. The particular time in history and love towards Latvia brought some people to fight under a strange flag and against an alien power, the archbishop said.
Popular support for the EU falling
Support for Latvia's entry into the European Union decreased by 3.9 per cent in February, according to the SKDS polling center. Only 41.4 percent of people would vote in favor of Latvia's accession to the EU, if a referendum were staged in February, down from 45.3 percent in November. Almost 33 percent would vote against the entry into EU. Almost 50 percent said their attitude towards the EU was generally positive, compared to 58.3 in November. About 36 percent said they had negative impressions about the EU, up from 34 percent in November.
Self-styled Latvian "knights"
A gang of five youths who belonged to a self-styled society of ancient knights admitted that they killed a fellow knight. The five youngsters, members of Curonia club, were detained as suspects in the kidnapping and killing of a 15-year-old boy, whose body was later found in a ditch near a local road.
Ventspils police said the kidnappers had called the victim's father on the telephone and demanded LVL (Latvian lats) 20,000 (USD 32,300) in ransom when their victim was already dead. The ruthless youngsters had buried their victim alive. It turned out that late November last year the youngsters had killed another Curonia member, 24, with whom they had had differences.
And in other news...
- The unemployment level grew from 7.8 percent in the beginning of January to eight percent in February. The number of unemployed increased by 1800, bringing the total to 95,800 in March, while the number of registered job-seekers grew by 1600 to 98,000.
- Current account deficit will not exceed seven percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP), according to Einārs Repše, president of the Bank of Latvia. Annual inflation rate will not exceed three percent this year, Repše said last week.
- The Saeima passed a long-term financial agreement between Latvia and the European Commission that will serve as an umbrella agreement for the use of funding allotted by the EC. The EU funding will come through SAPARD programs. Latvia will use 22 million euros in 2001and 2002.
- Latvia still ranks first in Europe by the number of diphtheria cases, according to the National Environment Health Center. The diphtheria rate grew by 36 per cent in the first two months of this year compared to last year. This January and February, 15 people contracted diphtheria in Latvia, and nine disease carriers were registered.
- British Airways' High Life magazine apologized for misinterpreting the meaning of Latvia's Freedom Monument in its March issue where it described the monument as "(Mother Russia) holding up three stars (the Baltic states)." The magazine promised to carry the correction in its April issue. The airline withdrew the copies of the magazine from flights into and out of Riga.
Ieva Raubiško, 17 March 2001
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