Latvia leads EU candidates in growth
Latvia had the greatest economic growth among ten European Union (EU) candidate states last year, according to Bank of Latvia President Einārs Repše. If Latvia maintains its current pace of development, it may become 75 percent closer to the average EU living standard within 20 years, Repše said.
Last year, the Latvian gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 6.6 percent, as compared to 6.4 percent in Estonia and 3.3 percent in Lithuania.
Two bids for LASCO
Beating out three potential contenders, the Latvian Privatization Agency received two bids to buy the government's 68 percent stake in Latvian shipping company LASCO, one of the world's largest oil product transporters.
The agency did not name the bidders, and the government has not provided estimates on the amount of the sale. The Latvian Cabinet declared the minimum price for the auction confidential and said it would not be disclosed until the auction, which is scheduled for May 11.
Since 1996, three attempts to privatize LASCO failed due to political bickering and lack of interest. LASCO, which operates 49 vessels, including 34 tankers, was the world's third largest shipping firm in terms of oil product handling in 1999.
Government announces oil exploration licenses
Latvia announced a licensing tender for crude oil exploration, research and extraction in Latvia's territorial waters in the Baltic Sea. Three licenses covering respectively 1143, 765 and 767 square kilometers were offered. The 30-year licenses will allow five years of exploration. The government will hold a ten-percent share in each license.
Political jugglery continues in Riga City Council
More than a month after local elections, Riga is still without a city council government, and political parties are still talking to form a coalition. Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK, a junior partner in the national government, found itself in a strange position, trying to strike a deal with the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDSP) and push the leftist group For Human Rights in a United Latvia (PCTVL) out of the ruling group.
PCTVL, placing second in Riga elections, signed a cooperation agreement with LSDSP earlier, which the former considers a basis for coalition. Fatherland and Freedom announced they would not join in a coalition with PCTVL, their ideological opposites. At the same time, two of Fatherland's members have agreed to head committees in the Riga City Council, thus joining its "partners" from PCTVL who chair two other committees.
Russian National Bolsheviks charged with terrorism
Three members of a Russian hard-line Communist party, who seized and threatened to blow up St Peter's church in Riga, were convicted last week on charges of terrorism and illegal border crossing.
Last November, the three Russian citizens, members of the Russian National Bolshevik Party, barricaded themselves in St Peter's church demanding that Latvia improve its treatment of the Russian-speaking minority, scrap plans for NATO membership and halt genocide trials against Stalin-era security agents.
The court has yet to announce the sentences for Maxim Zhrukin, Sergei Solovei and Dmitri Gafarov, who could face between 15 years and life imprisonment on terrorism charges, and either three years' imprisonment or a fine of up to USD 4750 for illegal border crossing.
Putin wants improved ties with Latvia
President Vladimir Putin sent a letter to Latvian President Vaira Vīķe-Freiberga stating that he shares her view that relations between the two nations are in need of major improvement, reported the Russian news agency ITAR-TASS.
In response to Vīķe-Freiberga's message on the results of their meeting in Austria last February, Putin said: "A radical change in the situation on the problems, which are a source of concern for Russia and for our compatriots in Latvia, will become a strong starting signal for the development and deepening of Russian-Latvian relations in all spheres."
Another ex-Soviet official charged
Nikolajs Tess, an 80-year-old former Soviet Defense Ministry official, was charged with genocide and crimes against humanity for his alleged role in mass deportations on 25 March 1949.
Tess, a Russian citizen, is being kept under police surveillance before his trial, for which no date has been set. Tess is the tenth Soviet-era official since 1991 to be charged by Latvia with genocide and crimes against humanity.
Latvia gets 'C' grade for Nazi hunting
Latvia was given a 'C' grade by the Jerusalem-based Simon Wiesenthal Center for its prosecution of Nazi war criminals.
The Center graded 18 countries in five groups on their performance over the past few years in prosecuting Holocaust perpetrators. Latvia, Great Britain, Argentina, Lithuania, Croatia and Costa Rica were all in the third group. The countries in this grouping were characterized as having "minimal success" and in need of urgent additional steps. Estonia, Australia, Sweden and several other countries received worse ratings.
Recently, Latvia opened a case against Latvian-Australian Konrāds Kalējs, requesting Kalējs' extradition from Australia. Another Latvian war crime offender, Kārlis Ozols, recently died in Melbourne. Still, Latvian prosecutors plan to pursue their investigation of Ozols.
About 90 percent of Latvians distrust government
About 90 percent of the Latvian population do not trust the government and its agencies, according to a survey on public integration conducted by the Naturalization Administration.
The survey, "Road to Civic Society 2000," also showed that 75 percent of the population do not have deep ethnic differences and support the need for public integration.
According to the survey, about 20 percent of non-citizens are willing to naturalize during the next year. Additionally, the number of non-citizens who are proud of living in Latvia was found to be less than in previous years.
And in other news...
- The government decided to trim the 2002 state budget deficit to one percent of the GDP, down from 1.7 percent in 2001 plan; it also targets total revenue at LVL (Latvian lats) 1.4 billion (USD 2.23 billion). The one percent deficit would constitute LVL 50.9 million (USD 80.8 million) in 2002.
- Parliament approved a law that sets 2002 spending for defense, security and integration into NATO at 1.75 percent of the GDP. In 2001, the figure will reach 1.3 percent of the GDP or LVL 54.6 million (USD 86.83 million), an increase of LVL 5.2 million (USD 8.2 million).
- Moody's international rating agency reaffirmed credit ratings assigned to Latvia, including the long-term foreign currency sovereign rating which remained at Baa2. The long-term foreign currency rating for bank deposits was Baa3.
- Of Latvia's 22-strong banking sector, 18 institutions reported a total profit of LVL 36.9 million (USD 58.69 million) in 2000, up threefold year-on-year, with two showing an aggregate loss of LVL 7.8 million (USD 12.5 million).
- The average monthly income per household member rose 4.2 percent year-on-year to LVL 69.19 (USD 109.7) in 2000, the Department of Central Statistics reported.
- The Environmental Maritime Administration asked the Lithuanian oil company Mazeikiu Nafta to pay for the environmental damage caused by an accident on March 6 at the Butinge Oil Terminal, during which about 740 liters of oil products leaked into Latvia's waters. The compensation amount was not disclosed.
- Juris Sinka, a member of the Latvian Parliament, died of a heart attack while on a business trip to China. Sinka, 73, was an outspoken advocate of Tibetan independence from China. His family fled to Germany in 1944 and later settled in Great Britain. Sinka returned to Latvia in 1993, the same year in which he became MP.
Ieva Raubiško, 21 April 2001
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