Government eases naturalization process
The government decided to ease the naturalization process by lowering fees and simplifying the Latvian language test procedure.
The standard naturalization fee was reduced by LVL (Latvian lats) 20 (USD 32). The number of applicants eligible for a 50 percent fee reduction was enlarged to include university students and all groups of the disabled that had not been exempted from the requirement. Low-income applicants are either exempted from paying the duty or have to pay a reduced fee of LVL three (USD 4.7), depending on their level of income.
Graduates from Russian-language high schools, who have passed the standard Latvian language test upon graduation, from now on will not be asked to take another language test while going through naturalization.
More than 40,000 people have become citizens since the beginning of the naturalization process in 1995.
Military commanders meet in Riga
Top military commanders from nine NATO candidate countries met in Riga to trade experiences and boost their readiness to join the security alliance.
Army commanders from Albania, Bulgaria, Croatia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia talked about a more practical cooperation following their countries' statements in Vilnius and Bratislava urging NATO to proceed with another round of enlargement in 2002. Colleagues praised the military cooperation among the Baltic countries.
In a joint statement, the commanders stressed the participation of their countries in NATO peacekeeping missions as evidence of their ability to contribute to European security.
In an ongoing campaign for NATO enlargement, Latvian Poles sent a letter to their counterparts in the United States urging them to promote the admission of Latvia into the alliance.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Defense invited the public to express their opinion on Latvia's aspirations to join NATO on the ministry's Web site.
Six EU chapters almost closed
Latvia has almost completed six chapters of the European Union accession negotiations planned for the period of Sweden's EU presidency, Andris Ķesteris, deputy state secretary of the Foreign Ministry, told the European Integration Council.
Two of the unfinished six chapters—on the free movement of services and social policies and employment—are slated for closure on 12 June.
Latvia has closed 13 of 31 chapters of EU membership talks so far and ranks tenth among the 12 candidate countries.
Salaries raised for government employees
The government decided to raise the salaries of government workers whose current monthly pay is under LVL 150 (USD 238).
About 67,000 central government and 68,000 municipal employees will see salary increases. Depending on current pay rates, the increases will be in the range of LVL two to LVL ten (USD 3.17-15.90).
The amendments were adopted in compliance with an earlier decision to raise the minimum monthly salary from LVL 50 to LVL 60 (USD 79-USD 95) effective 1 July.
Also, the Finance Ministry said the cabinet has been lingering on the review of the amendments to the 2001 budget, which would allow nurses' salaries to be raised.
Fatherland gains position of Deputy Mayor
The Riga City Council structure was finalized last week when Inese Vaidere of the right-of-center For Fatherland and Freedom (TB/LNNK) Party was voted into the post of deputy mayor.
Vaidere's appointment came after the Social Democratic Workers' Party and Fatherland signed a coalition agreement on 24 May. She will now work with Social Democratic Mayor Gundars Bojārs and the other deputy mayor, Sergejs Dolgopolovs, from the leftist For Human Rights in a United Latvia Party.
Vaidere said her election "changed the picture." She noted that the vote showed "this coalition can work. It is a more rightist formation." However, it still remains whether Fatherland will succeed in minimizing the influence of For Human Rights, who placed second in local elections. For Human Rights' members already doubt the future stability of the Council.
Swedish ship on EU agenda
Latvia will have to explain its decision to turn a Swedish vessel into scrap metal when officials go to the Latvian-EU Association Committee meeting scheduled for 13 June.
The EU and the European Commission decided to satisfy the request of the SwemBalt Company, the owner of the ill-fated vessel, to review the case at the committee meeting.
The scrap-ship story dates back to 1993, when SwemBalt brought the ship to Riga, intending to open a recreation center aboard the vessel. But the ship remained unattended for a long time and hindered navigation in the channel where it was anchored. Therefore, the municipality dismantled the vessel.
The Swedish company turned to the International Court of Arbitration, which ordered Latvia to pay over USD three million in damages. Latvia wants another ruling by an international panel.
The EC said the conflict over the ship shouldn't be discussed under the European Treaty and expressed hope that Latvia and Sweden will be able to solve the dispute themselves.
The Latvian government is expected to decide soon whether to ask the Danish court to reverse the ruling, to pay the damages to SvemBalt or try to reach a settlement.
Another ex-OMON fighter detained
Prosecutors accused Sergey Kuzmin, another former Soviet OMON fighter, of taking part in efforts to oust the government in 1991.
Kuzmin, detained at the Terekhovo border point early in June, was questioned at the prosecutor's office, but later released against a signature that he would not change his place of residence. Kuzmin's former comrade Mikhail Sidorov, who was detained by Security Police last month, has been accused of similar crimes.
OMON, an elite Soviet militia group that played a major role the January 1991 Soviet coup, was found guilty of attacks on the Latvian Interior Ministry and the Press Building which took several human lives.
And in economic news...
- The consumer price index (CPI) grew faster than expected in May, with a monthly rise of one percent and a year-on-year increase of 2.7 percent, according to the Central Statistics Bureau. The average wage grew by 4.9 percent.
- The economic activity index, measured in comparative prices, rose 12.3 percent year-on-year in April. The year-on-year index growth in April 2000 was 7.2 percent.
- The government is on track to keep the six-month budget deficit within the LVL 46 million limit (USD 72.55 million) set by the International Monetary Fund. Latvia agreed in an IMF memorandum to keep its 2001 fiscal deficit from rising above 1.75 percent of the GDP.
- The Latvian Privatization Agency decided to sell two percent of the state's remaining eight percent stake in natural gas utility Latvian Gas at the Riga bourse auction.
- Latvian fish cannery Kaija signed a one-year tinned fish delivery agreement with Mongolia. 60 tons of tinned fish are to be dispatched monthly.
- Four publishers—the largest daily Diena, Preses Nams, Petits and Žurnāls Santa—agreed to join forces to back a wholesale network aimed at withstanding growing competition from Norwegian Narvessen that currently holds 60 to 70 percent of the press retail market.
- Hansabanka and mobile phone firm Latvijas Mobilais Telefons (LMT) said they have upgraded their mobile phone banking to include a full range of services. The expanded service integrates Hansa's Internet bank—for feeding in the client's payment details—and the client's GSM mobile with the short message (SMS) function for activating it. LMT currently has 300,000 clients, and Hansabanka has 35,000 active users of its Internet bank.
- New car sales came to 820 units in May, up from 599 in April and 687 in May 2000, the state road safety department said 4 June.
- Japan and the Latvian government signed a deal for a gift of USD 495,000 towards preparing Latvia's World Bank housing development project. Total costs of the project are expected to reach USD 5.3 to USD 6.3 million, of which the Bank will loan USD two million, the Danish government USD two to USD three million, Latvia USD 0.8 million, and Japan the mentioned USD 495,000.
Ieva Raubiško, 8 June 2001
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