Local election campaigns culminate
Local election campaigns climaxed last week, with many parties scrambling for the support of undecided voters in the final hours before the 11 March elections.
The Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDSP) was predicted to gain the most votes (19.8 percent), leaving For Fatherland And Freedom/LNNK with 11.3 percent of votes in the second postion and the People's Party with 10.4 percent in third place, according to a joint poll by the SKDS polling center and the television channel LNT. Latvia's Way was predicted to receive 10.1 percent and For Human Rights in United Latvia, 9.1 percent.
Political analysts expect the four leading parties to form a coalition in Riga Municipality. Riga Mayor Andris Ārgalis of Fatherland is likely to be easily reelected.
Nearly half of Latvia's registered voters—43.5 percent—will take part in the elections, the latest SKDS opinion poll revealed. More than a third—36.8 percent—said they were likely to cast votes, while 7.1 percent were still undecided. Almost half of the voters—42.5 percent—said they had spent little time analyzing party pre-election campaigns, while 31.5 percent admitted that they had not spent any time at all on the issue. Only 2.7 percent admitted to having spent a lot of time in analysis.
Voters are to elect 4335 local officials out of 13,122 candidates. Sixty Riga Municipality posts are coveted by 881 candidates from 17 parties.
Butinge oil comes to Latvia
About 740 litres of oil drifted into Latvian waters after an accident at Lithuania's Būtiņģe Oil Terminal on 6 March. The pollution initially covered 112,500 square metres of water, but after winds partly dispersed the oil slick, oil covered only 27,000 square meters.
By 9 March, no traces of oil pollution could be found in the Baltic Sea on the Latvian coast. The oil had either dissolved or been absorbed by the water, said the Environmental Maritime Administration. Yet, there was a risk of the submerged oil products being washed ashore on western Kurzeme shores.
Prime Minister Andris Bērziņš said Lithuania must assume liabilities and provide guarantees for compensating possible damage to Latvia. The Foreign Ministry handed a note and a letter from Minister of Environmental Protection and Regional Development Vladimirs Makarovs to the Lithuanian Embassy in Riga requesting information on the Būtiņģe accident.
Environmental Protection Club members staged protests in front of the Lithuanian Embassy in Riga, demanding that the operation of the terminal be suspended until additional safety measures are taken.
Latvian government raises minimum wage
The Latvian government has decided to raise the minimum monthly wage from LVL (Latvian lats) 50 (USD 81) to LVL 60 (USD 97) on 1 July.
Meanwhile, the country's nurses went on strike demanding higher wages. More than 1000 nurses rallied outside the cabinet building in Riga on 8 March. Similar protest marches were staged in other Latvian towns.
Nurses demanded their average monthly wages be increased by LVL 25 (USD 40) from LVL 59 (USD 95) to LVL 84 (USD 136) by 1 July. They want the wages to go up to LVL 150 (USD 243) by the beginning of next year.
The government postponed its decision for two weeks. The nurses said they would go on strike for several days by the end of March if their demands are not fulfilled.
EC report praises Latvia's economic growth
The economic growth in Latvia, boosted by exports and investments in 2000, will continue this year as well, said a report on the development of economies in the European Union candidate countries.
A report from the European Commission Directorate-General on Economy and Financial Affairs report mentioned low inflation and the reduction of the current account deficit as positive factors, but cautioned against further delays in the privatization of large enterprises.
The report said almost all sectors of the economy showed strong development. The growth of the services sector by 15 percent, compared to 1999, was particularly outstanding, it said. Latvia's gross domestic product would increase by a total of 5.5 percent in 2000, the report predicted.
Latvia rolls back foot-and-mouth prevention measure
Latvia lifted a ban on the transit of freight from the UK. The State Veterinary Service also lifted a ban on animal imports from 28 countries that could be potentially affected by the foot-and-mouth disease.
Transit freight must pass through Latvian territory in a maximum of ten hours, which will be timed by the Sanitary Border Inspection.
Veterinary Service and Sanitary Inspection also introduced disinfection at all Latvian border crossing points and places with intense passenger and transit flow.
Latvia had previously banned the import of livestock and meat products from 59 countries.
And in other news...
- Latvia had the highest level of HIV infections in the Baltic countries in 2000, the Ministry of Welfare and AIDS Prevention Center reported. Latvia registered 466 HIV cases last year. Estonia discovered 390, and Lithuania 65. Two HIV and AIDS infected people have died in Latvia this year, with the number of infected rising by 141 in the first two months of 2001. Among the infected, most are drug addicts.
- 40,000 people have been naturalized as Latvian citizens in the last four years. The most recent citizens were naturalized last week in a formal ceremony attended by Latvian Prime Minister Andris Bērziņš. Latvia had 720,000 non-citizens when naturalization started in 1995. There are still about 500,000 non-citizens in the country.
- The Parliamentary Defense and Internal Affairs Commission has given green signals for the construction of a military airfield. The Riga airfield project will be launched by the Defense Minister in 2002, with an initial investment of LVL 400,000 (USD 647,000). The National Armed Forces will first start using the airfield, which will also be used for civil transportation from 2004 onwards.
- The Freedom Monument Restoration Fund has called on British Airways to withdraw all copies of the airline's controversial in-flight magazine that mistakenly explains the symbolic meaning of Riga's Freedom Monument. In the magazine, the monument was described as "(Mother Russia) holding up three stars (the Baltic states)." Actually, the monument signifies Mother Latvia and its three regions of Kurzeme, Vidzeme and Latgale.
- Emergency medical tests showed none of the ten Latvian soldiers who recently returned home from a peace-keeping mission in Kosovo have signs of the so-called Balkans Syndrome.
- Consumer prices fell by 0.2 percent in February, the Central Statistics Bureau reported. The price of goods fell by 0.3 percent, but services' prices increased by 0.2 percent. Compared to last February, average consumer prices grew by 0.7 percent.
- The economic activity index increased by 12.2 percent in January, compared to the same period last year, according to a report by the Finance Ministry.
- Russian oil company LUKoil wants to buy at least 51 percent of the shares in the joint-stock company Ventspils nafta (Ventspils Oil), Biznes&Baltija newspaper quoted Haim Kogan, the LUKoil Baltija board chairman, as telling the Interfax news agency. The Latvian government holds 43.62 percent of VN's shares, five percent of which will be sold to the company's biggest shareholder, the company Latvijas Naftas Tranzits. The Latvian Privatization Agency plans to sell an additional 38.62 percent of shares.
Ieva Raubiško, 12 March 2001
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