Between NATO and the EU
Finnish President Tarja Halonen, in a meeting with President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga in Helsinki, praised Latvia's consistent progress in Euro integration. The Latvian president, in turn, expressed hope that "constructive and practical decisions" will be made at the upcoming EU Nice Summit. European security policy issues were also discussed, including Latvia's possible involvement in the EU rapid-reaction force and the current situation in the Balkans and in the Baltic Sea region.
On the issue of NATO enlargement, Halonen stressed that Finland recognizes each country's right to select its security guarantee. Vīķe-Freiberga said Latvia's NATO Membership Action Plan is the best instrument to show the country's ability and progress in strengthening its defense forces. Earlier in the week, the Latvian president met with NATO Secretary-General George Robertson.
As for EU accession, Latvia can catch up with the first group of candidate states on the way to the European Union, Vīķe-Freiberga said after a meeting in Brussels with European Commission President Romano Prodi and Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen.
National Bolsheviks to be prosecuted
Criminal cases against four National Bolsheviks who jumped off a train in Latvian territory were turned over to the Latgale District Prosecutor's Office for criminal prosecution. The criminal cases have been initiated for illegal border crossing. On 23 November, the four Russian nationals, who admitted to membership in the extremist organization, were detained as a measure of precaution.
Meanwhile, the Constitutional Protection Bureau, the Security Police and the parliamentary faction of right-wing party For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK agreed on the need to amend the Criminal Code, in order to allow criminal prosecution of the National Bolsheviks for their offenses. As CER reported last week, Russia's National Bolsheviks staged a series of anti-Latvian incidents at the time the country was celebrating its 82nd anniversary of independence.
To comply or to push?
Latvia will comply with international commitments and the verdict of the International Court of Arbitration in the case concerning a dismantled Swedish ship, Prime Minister Andris Berzinš said. The Swedish company demanded compensation for the Feederchif, which was brought to Riga in 1993 for the purpose of setting up a trade center on board the vessel at the Port of Riga; however, the vessel was ultimately dismantled into scrap metal.
The International Court of Arbitration ruled that Latvia is to pay the Swedish company SwemBalt USD 2.5 million. The court decided that Latvia has violated its liabilities described in the Latvian-Swedish intergovernmental agreement on promotion and mutual protection of investments. Officials from the Foreign and Justice Ministries have said that Latvia can still push for the court decision to be changed.
The British government is ready to boost development of rural areas in Latgale. Implementation of a rural development project financed by the British Foreign Office will begin soon in Latgale, the British Ambassador in Latvia Stephen Nash said during his meeting with the municipal leaders in Daugavpils. The project will take about three years and will be carried out in all three Baltic States, with the total cost at GBP (British pounds) 1.9 million. One of the main goals of the project is to improve standard of living for rural residents. The project will also work on helping NGOs and boosting cooperation among municipalities and businessmen.
Latgale region farmers, meanwhile, have complained about the poor conditions for those in the field of agriculture in an open letter to President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga, Agriculture Minister Atis Slakteris and Saeima deputies. The farmers demanded subsidies and support for forming agricultural organizations. The letter points out that the complicated situation has resulted in a tense psychological atmosphere in Latgale, resulting in an increase in criminal activity and people becoming "habitual drunkards." "Many farmers see suicide as the only escape. The deaths of young people and suicides are also becoming habitual," the letter points out.
Cable to revolutionize Latvians?
Latvian computer companies will request that the government allot at least LVL (Latvian lats) two million in student credits to IT studies programs annually. Since two-thirds of IT students halt their studies in their second or third year, they should be attracted to the studies by sufficient credits, Juris Borzovs, president of the Latvian IT and Telecommunications Association, said during a conference on IT organized by the leading Latvian information technology firm, Dati.
Meanwhile, Baltkom TV started offering Internet connections through its cable grid. Expensive telephone lines are hampering the Internet's development in Latvia, according to experts. However, with new Baltkom TV offer, there is no fee for the time spent online. About 4000 to 5000 people use the Internet in Latvia through the TV cable network; however, the figure could soon jump to 60,000, experts added. In 2001, some 150,000 people could have the access to the Internet with the help of cable TV, with the figure rising to 255,000 in 2002.
Coincidently, a failure of an e-store project demonstrated the current limits of the Internet marketplace in Latvia and Latvian consumers' lack of readiness for transactions in cyberspace. Delfi International's project manager, Aldis Erglis, said its Internet store has been visited by 7000 people a month, however, only 15 to 30 purchases were made with a total turnover of LVL 400. The store has been renamed Delfi Passage and will continue offering information on various goods. However, the goods will not be up for sale.
And in other news...
- Education and Science Minister Karlis Greiškalns has confirmed the information on child abuse in the Aleksandrova boarding school in Kraslava. The issue was raised by child protection organization "Save the Children," which claimed that various forms of child abuse have taken place in the school.
- The budget deficit could increase by LVL 3.5 million due to the possible allocation of funds for the construction of the eastern border. The deficit, however, has already received criticism from the International Monetary Fund.
- Finnish businessmen plan on constructing the biggest movie theater and retail center in Northern Europe at the Riga Central Railroad Station. The Riga City Council has approved the project, which will cost USD 40 million and provide for 500 new jobs.
- No options for increasing child benefits next year were found by the Saeima Budget and Finance Committee. Newspapers suggested that Finance Minister Gundars Berzinš has probably forgotten his People's Party's (TP) pre-election objective to reach a standard of living where a family could afford raising three children.
- Riga drugstores say issuing free medication could be suspended in case the Riga Area Health Insurance Fund does not pay the drugstores a debt of more than LVL 500,000 for free medication supplies.
- Salmonella spread rapidly in Riga last week. Most of the 27 people diagnosed with the disease had consumed smoked chicken, purchased at kiosks on the street.
- An exhibition describing the life of Latvian refugees in Germany between 1944 and 1949 was opened at the Latvian History Museum.
- Bildes 2000, the fifteenth annual Tija Auzina-organized pop/rock/folk music and art festival, was launched in Riga this week.
- Sir Elton John will perform in Latvia on 21 July 2001.
- The first of three of Riga's Christmas trees was set up at Dome Square.
As of 30 November 2000
|1 US dollar||0.63|
|1 British pound||0.89|
|1 German mark||0.28|
Daria Kulagina, 30 November 2000
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