Latvia named among best EU candidates
Latvia was named among the best second-group EU aspirants during the fourth meeting of the Latvian-EU association council in Brussels last week. EU Enlargement Commissioner Günter Verheugen and Sweden's Foreign Minister, Anna Lindh, said Latvia and Lithuania were likely to catch up with the so-called fast-track candidates.
Lindh, a representative of the EU's current presiding country, said she expects to open all chapters of the EU's negotiation process with Latvia during the Swedish presidency.
Latvian Foreign Minister Indulis Bērziņš stated from Brussels, "If anything threatens Latvia's progress now, it will be ourselves.... What matters is to show progress in talks. If we catch up with the fast-track candidates this year, no one could turn us down."
US representative to NATO praises Baltic defense cooperation
The US military representative to NATO praised defense cooperation between the Baltic states during his visit to Latvia. David S Weisman said militaries favored the simultaneous admission of all the Baltic states over the separate entrance of each of the three neighboring countries.
Meanwhile, some US Senators, high-standing members of the military and policy analysts in Washington expressed strong support of the Baltic states' admission to NATO. "...It is my firm belief that the alliance can only benefit from a Baltic dimension within its ranks," said Senator Gordon Smith (R-OR), at the "State of NATO" hearing of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee's European Affairs Subcommittee.
General Wesley Clark, the former Supreme Allied Commander of Europe, said at the hearing: "...I see the move to NATO with a Baltic dimension as essential to showing the outlines of a peaceful, integrated, stable Europe, which can then draw Russia in a constructive fashion."
International NGO to monitor campaign finances
Twelve Latvian political parties agreed to reveal their campaign finances to Latvian NGO Delna, an affiliate of Transparency International that will monitor municipal elections financing in the country.
Excluding the Social Democrats (LSDSP), all parties represented in Parliament and seven outside parties promised to disclose their campaign finance information.
According to the law, parties will have to file annual financial reports but do not have to report their election spending. Municipal elections are scheduled to take place on 11 March.
Latvia takes steps against diseases
The Latvian National Veterinary Service ordered that the footwear of all UK passengers be disinfected upon arrival at the Riga airport to prevent the outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease in Latvia. The Veterinary Service also banned the import of animals and animal products from all countries affected by the disease.
Earlier last week, the Veterinary Service took precautions against Mad Cow disease" (BSE) by prohibiting all imports of animal feed to Latvia. The ban applies to imports of bone meal, meat meal, blood meal, meal from fowl intestines, fish meal, gelatin and other products used to feed animals.
Drug abuse looms large in Latvia
Drug use in Latvia is not a second-class problem any longer; rather, it is an epidemic, said Jānis Strazdiņš, director of the Anti-Narcotic Center, during an anti-drug conference last week.
The conference focused on poor cooperation among state agencies, a lack of public and financial support and ineffective legislation as factors hindering the anti-drug war.
The International Narcotics Control Board, at the same time, named Latvia among the countries to have made the most significant legislative improvements last year to stop drug money laundering. Additionally, the Russian Interior Ministry said two attempts of drug trafficking from Latvia to Russia were detected last year.
US State Department issues Latvian human rights report
Discrimination against women in the workplace, domestic violence and prostitution in Riga appear as new human rights ailments in Latvia, a human rights report issued by the US State Department concluded.
The annual report also criticized the excessive force used against prisoners, poor prison conditions, a weak judicial system, corruption and lengthy pretrial detentions, all of which have been mentioned in previous reports.
And in other news...
- The Latvian Parliament upheld, in a second reading, a bill that would increase national defense allocations in 2002 to 1.75 percent of the gross domestic product (GDP). The move was taken to meet the NATO standard of spending two percent of the GDP on national defense.
- About 48 percent of the Latvian population feels happy, according to the latest poll by the SKDS polling center. Another 37.9 percent say they are not happy, but 14.1 percent do not know if they feel happy. Polling data shows that young people are happier.
- Three Riga families—the Juneli, Konahoviči and Šakeli—were honored as "Righteous Among the Nations," the highest gratitude that Jews express to citizens of other nations for saving Jews during the Nazi Holocaust.
- The Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party (LSDSP) was the most popular party in February, according to a SKDS poll. The Social Democrats enjoyed the support of 17.7 percent of voters, while the People's Party got 13.6 percent support. Latvia's Way received 13.4 percent.
And in economic news...
- Aldaris, the largest Latvian brewery, reported a profit of LVL (Latvian lats) 2.313 million (USD 3.736 million) on a net turnover of LVL 19.062 million (USD 30.74 million) in 2000. Aldaris earned LVL 3.71 million (USD 5.98 million) on a net turnover of LVL 19.349 million (USD 31.208 million) in 1999.
- Latvian Rietumu Bank announced its purchase of Saules Bank from Estonian Uhispank. The move ranks as the fourth largest in the Baltics in terms of end-2000 assets of LVL 302 million (USD 487.1 million). Rietumu President Michael Bourke said the soon-to-be-completed 56.2 percent buy-in by Iceland's Islandsbanki-FBA will make Rietumu bank the largest in the Baltics.
- The Riga City Council approved the design of a EUR 150 million traffic tunnel under the Daugava River, for which international funding will be obtained. Scheduled to be completed by 2005, the tunnel is intended to help relieve congestion on the Latvian capital's three bridges over the Daugava. The European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) and the European Investment Bank (EIB) have expressed an interest in the project.
- The Latvian leasing and factoring market grew 61.9 percent year-on-year in 2000 with Hansa Lizings leading, with a 39.14 percent market share, followed by Parex Bank with 32.22 percent.
- Timber exports grew by 12.6 percent in Latvia last year. Latvia exported timber for a total of LVL 423.3 million (USD 683 million) last year, up by 12.6 percent from 1999, the Latvian Timber Exporter Association reported.
- Latvia's largest mobile phone operator, Latvijas Mobilais Telefons (LMT), reduced its basic rate by 21 percent. Domestic calls will now cost LVL 0.13 (USD 0.21) per minute on a weekday and LVL 10.6 (USD 0.17) on evenings and weekends. LMT users amount to more than 270,000 (11.51 percent of the Latvian population).
Ieva Raubiško, 5 March 2001
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