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Vol 2, No 14
10 April 2000
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Latvian NewsNews from Latvia
All the important news
since 1 April 2000

Mel Huang

Politics and foreign affairs

Latvia returned to political instability when Prime Minister Andris Šķēle sacked Economics Minister Vladimirs Makarovs over a row concerning Latvian Privatisation Agency (LPA) head Jānis Naglis. The incident occurred when Makarovs signed an order revoking the signatory rights of Naglis for the LPA, as the economics minister argued that the term of office for Naglis had expired.

However, Šķēle did not agree and sacked Makarovs and then re-instated the signatory rights for Naglis. There was a disagreement in the three-party coalition government on the legality of the employment contract for Naglis. For Fatherland and Freedom, of which Makarovs is a prominent member, argued that the letter of the law states that the contract ended in March. However, as a member of Latvia's Way, Naglis remained, as another document suggested the contract was open-ended and up to the discretion of the government. When the People's Party of Prime Minister Šķēle took the side of Latvia's Way on this issue, it caused the current friction.

On the same day, a group of 17 opposition MPs (mostly Social Democrats) filed a no-confidence motion against Prime Minister Šķēle, Education Minister Māris Vītols and Finance Minister Edmunds Krastiņš - all of whom are from the People's Party.

For Fatherland and Freedom has said it will not pull out of the coalition, but spared nothing in lambasting the decision by Šķēle. The usually well-liked Makarovs made an acid-tongued attack on Šķēle, concerning the PM's recent profit of USD 29 million from the sale of his company and its source.

Adding to the general instability of the coalition, Latvia's Way signed a co-operation agreement with the opposition New Party for next year's local elections. With the local elections more than a year away, many are wondering the exact reasons for this agreement so early - especially with the New Party languishing at the bottom of the polls. Simple, the New Party holds seats in the Saeima.

NATO Commander General Wesley Clark made a one-day farewell visit to Latvia. General Clark commended Latvia's development in a short time, calling Latvia a "real competitive contender" for NATO membership. Clark discussed NATO integration with President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga and other officials.

Supreme Court justice Voldemārs Čiževskis cleared ex-Prosecutor-general Jānis Skrastiņš of any legal or procedural wrongdoing during his tenure, including high-profile cases on paedophilia and energy sector fraud. However, Čiževskis did suggest that his former deputy, Biruta Ulpe, violated professional ethics when she commented to the press that there was a possible link in the paedophilia scandal with someone in the president's chancellery - something that has not been proven.

As Skrastiņš finished out his term on 3 April, Rudīta Āboliņa took over as acting prosecutor-general. Supreme Court Chairman Andris Guļāns is expected to nominate another candidate soon, following the Saeima's rejection of previous candidate and Supreme Court justice Ilgars Zigfrīds Šepteris.

Prime Minister Šķēle said that the Constitutional Protection Agency, which is the intelligence service in Latvia, had no evidence of involvement of prominent officials in the so-called paedophilia scandal. Šķēle and several other high officials, including Justice Minister Valdis Birkavs, were named by MP Jānis Ādamsons several months ago as possibly being linked to the sordid affair.

However, Ādamsons told the press he indeed has the documents supporting his allegations, adding that he has documents for many more civil and military officials involved - naming a high-ranking administrator of the Office of the Prosecutor-general as well.

The People's Party of Prime Minister Šķēle filed a motion to revoke the parliamentary mandate of Social Democrat Ādamsons. Ādamsons, who has led several ad hoc investigative committees, including for the so-called paedophilia scandal, could lose his seat due to legislation barring former KGB operatives from holding parliamentary mandates. A court earlier this year found a link between Ādamsons and the KGB, but the verdict to some MPs was not a clear sign of violation.

The Russian Duma sent a bill concerning sanctions against Latvia back to committee, and most believe it will either die or be watered down if it every reappears.


Economics and business

In aggregate, Latvia has received over LVL (Latvian lats) 3.5 billion in foreign investments, as of the start of 2000. The accrued FDI per capita as of the start of the year was LVL 453. Among foreigners with the largest investments in Latvian-registered companies, Denmark topped the list, with 14 per cent, followed by the US, with ten per cent, and Germany with eight per cent. For 1999, the biggest investment totals were made by Swedes and Estonians.

Following the failure to privatise Latvijas Kuģniecība (LK, Latvian Shipping Company) yet again, the Latvian Privatisation Agency now will follow a government directive to find an international investment bank to help in the sell-off. The government plans to sell LK by year's end.

Apparently Russia's Itera took the largest single chunk of shares - 4.5 million - of Latvijas Gaze (Latvian Gas), during the government share auction in March. Itera now apparently owns 21 per cent of the company. The other successful bidders have not made their acquisition public yet.

However, Germany's Ruhrgas and Preußen Elektra announced that, together, they have acquired about 5.5 million shares during the sell-off of Latvijas Gaze. Together, the two companies own over 40 per cent of the Latvijas Gaze.

Agriculture Minister Aigars Kalvitis visited Washington and received a promise from the US Department of Agriculture for agriculture support totalling USD 1.2 million for the Baltic countries.


Social and local interest

The Citizenship and Migration Department announced that, as of the 31 March expiration date for old Soviet passports, 38,500 of them remained outstanding. The passports, which are now invalid, should be exchanged with Latvian-made documents. As passports serve as identification documents, those without valid passports will face problems with pensions, marriages or any other official service. A fine of LVL 25 can also be levied against those without proper ID.

A new poll by SKDS shows that Latvians have the most faith in the church, with 55 per cent of respondents in the affirmative. Other institutions with favourable trust ratings include the military, the media and the border guard service, while those with unfavourable trust ratings include the government, Saeima and the customs service.

The Education Ministry and London's School of Slavonic and East European Studies signed an agreement on the exchange of scholars and students.


And in other news...

Latvia apparently owes USD 38,000 in dues to the Baltic Assembly for this year. Their Estonian and Lithuanian colleagues in the inter-parliamentary body are calling for the Latvian contingent to cough up the full USD 96,000 in annual dues.

The entry of pop singer Madara Celma to be Latvia's representative to the Eurovision song contest ended not in international success, but trouble with authorities. Turns out her entry, "Close to You," was stolen from the song, "Draw You Close," written in 1994 by Kelly Carpenter and released in 1998 in the United States by the band The Katinas. Local recording authorities have contacted ASCAP to see what the implications are for the young singer.

Scientists from London's Natural History Museum announced that fossils found in Estonia and Latvia substantially link for the first time the gap in evolution between fish and amphibians. The fossils found are of a creature half-way between the two, apparently shaped like a crocodile but with tail-fins.

Remember the fish processing plant, Jūraslīcis, that was shut down due to an outbreak of leptospirosis? Well, authorities have allowed it to start up again...

Exchange rates
As of 7 April March 2000

currency Latvian lats(LVL)
1 US dollar 0.59
1 British pound 0.94
1 German mark 0.29
1 euro 0.57

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

Mel Huang, 7 April 2000

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