Politics and foreign affairs
Riga Mayor Andris Bērziņš was nominated to be the next Prime Minister by his party, Latvia's Way. All potential coalition partners have voiced support for his candidacy, though there appears to be a fight for the portfolios. Outgoing Prime Minister Andris Šķēle has been pushing to get the Transport Ministry portfolio, which is normally the fiefdom of Latvia's Way and its large transit interest.
However, the situation seems less than settled, as President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga again demonstrated her independence, by interviewing Bērziņš and several other candidates, including Central Bank head Einars Repše and former Economics Minister Ingrīda Ūdre. The President said she would make up her mind soon after the Easter holiday weekend.
This prompted a verbal challenge by the main player behind the scenes, Latvia's Way chairman Andrejs Panteļējevs, who said that if the president does not pick Bērziņš "sooner or later," there will be no choice but to call emergency elections.
And outgoing PM Šķēle also caused a commotion, when he tried to push through a reorganisation of the council of the Latvian Privatisation Agency (LPA). Šķēle sought to cut the number of seats on the council and to give the council control over the liquidation of the LPA. Though Latvia's Way supported the move, complaints by For Fatherland and Freedom and the New Party got Šķēle to leave it for the next government.
A fight could also erupt over who will be the next mayor of Rīga, once Bērziņš is officially nominated. Latvia's Way announced they will nominate Juris Visockis for that post, though possible coalition partner For Fatherland and Freedom is eyeing the post with their own candidate, Andris Ārgalis.
More uncertainties in the case against convicted war criminal Vasili Kononov arose, as acting Russian President Vladimir Putin awarded Kononov Russian citizenship. Kononov told an appeals court that he did not request the citizenship and learned about it only on radio, stressing he did not abandon his Latvian citizenship. However, his attorney later said that he did indeed ask for Russian citizenship, making the entire issue confusing. Kononov also charged that his case is a "political order," and that it is impossible to judge war crimes in a peacetime situation. Thus, he called for an international panel to assess his case. The case has been adjourned until after the Easter holiday weekend.
In the meantime, genocide suspect Vasili Kirsanov died of heart failure, while in pre-trial detention. Kirsanov, deemed insane by his attorney, was held in a mental institution. He was charged with processing reprisal orders while he was a Soviet security service officer, leading to deportations and deaths. However, the case goes on, as Latvian law states that genocide and war crimes cases do not close upon the defendant's death...
The Agriculture Ministry continues to warn the Saeima that if the pork import tariffs are not abandoned by mid May, the European Commission will launch countermeasures, which could devastate the dairy industry.
Latvia's honorary consul in Chicago, Norberts Klaucēns, quit his posting. He argued that his vision for Latvia does not correspond to that of the Latvian government.
Gas delivery from Russia to Latvia was disrupted, when a main pipeline broke and exploded in Russia. Russia promised that supplies would be restored in a few days.
Economics and business
Following the successful stock auction for gas utility Latvijas Gaze, the state plans to do the same with oil transit company Ventspils Nafta on 28 April. A total of 12.5 million state-owned shares will be sold off in two offerings, with the minimum price near LVL (Latvian Lats) two per share. Analysts voice concern, since the stock is currently floating below LVL one. If the offering is successful at the minimum price, it would bring the state at least LVL 25 million.
Social and local interest
A poll by SKDS indicates that Latvians have most faith in the church (55.1 points) and least faith in the Latvian Privatisation Agency (-63.8 points). Radio (50 points) and television (48.6 points) were on the trustworthy side, while the customs service (-56.4 points), the Saeima (-50.9 points) and the cabinet (-50.1 points) lagged at the very bottom.
The two largest mobile phone network providers say that 12.5 per cent of Latvians have mobile phones.
And in other news...
A massive mechanical failure with new printing machines at the Preses nams printing house kept daily Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze off the shelves on 19 April. The issue was printed later in the day, going out in Rīga with the set of evening papers and to rural subscribers the next morning. The print run of Lauku Avīze was also disrupted by the fault.
Police are stepping up against underage drinking in public, as Latvia baked in record April heat of 22 C. Police are on extra lookout for beer drinkers under the legal age of 16 with open containers.
And Latvia's first sperm bank began offering its products for artificial insemination this past week. The clinic said that among the 12 original donors, half have since dropped out. However, the director suggested that some of the donors were "offered some compensation" to "boost the activity of donors" with no further elaboration. The head of the clinic said before the opening of the sperm bank, frozen sperm was imported from Estonia. The clinic head, citing stress and drinking as reasons, also complained that Latvian men have poor reproductive health, as only one in 28 Latvian males have good reproductive health.
As of 21 April March 2000
|1 US dollar||0.59|
|1 British pound||0.94|
|1 German mark||0.28|
[For continuous updates see the Bank of Latvia Exchange Rates page].
Mel Huang, 21 April 2000