Latvian MailerJanuary 16, 2006

Energy, Defense, and Slave Trade

Sveiki, all!

The new year is well upon us! Changes are already afoot—including a new defense minister. In the news:

This edition's link is a "Wiki" one. This edition's picture is from one of Peter's long walks from home in Riga.

As always, AOL'ers, remember, mailer or not, Lat Chat spontaneously appears every Sunday on AOL starting around 9:00/9:30pm Eastern time, lasting until 11:00/11:30pm. AOL'ers can follow this link in their AOL browser: Town Square-Latvian chat.

Ar visu labu,

Silvija and Peters
Latvian Link  

Wikipedia (English version) is up to over 1,000 articles about Latvia. Work has also begun on a Latvia Wiki portal to provide a more timely window into all things Latvian. All those in the know are invited not only to browse, but contribute! That's the beauty of the Wikipedia!

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portal:Latvia

News  

Russia cuts gas to Ukraine
Kiev rejected offer to delay price increase
By Erika Niedowski
Sun foreign reporter
Copyright 2006 Baltimore Sun
Originally published January 2, 2006

MOSCOW — The tense relationship between Russia and Ukraine soured further yesterday when Russia's natural gas monopoly made good on its threat to cut shipments to its western neighbor after the two sides failed to agree on the terms of a price increase.

The bold step by Gazprom, a monopoly that supplies Ukraine with about a third of its natural gas, came after Ukraine rejected an 11th-hour proposal by Russian President Vladimir V. Putin that would have delayed for three months a steep increase.

Although Gazprom had insisted that supplies to Western Europe — which receives gas through the same pipelines — wouldn't be affected, some countries said last night that they were feeling the effects of the shutdown. Russia accused Ukraine of siphoning off for its own use gas shipments destined for the West, which Ukraine denied.

On the surface, the dispute between the two countries, both once part of the Soviet Union, is simply over the price of a natural resource that is critical to the two nations' economies.

Ukraine has been importing natural gas from Russia for use as heat as well as fuel to run many of its largest factories at a cost well below what some of Gazprom's other customers in Europe pay, in part as a holdover from Soviet times, and Russia has demanded an increase to bring the cost into line with world markets.

But what should have been a routine business deal turned into a politically charged crisis, as Russia seeks to maintain its influence in former satellites intent on gaining greater political and economic independence.

Gazprom, which could not act without at least tacit approval from the Kremlin, is seen in Ukraine as punishing the country for the peaceful revolution that toppled Ukraine's pro-Kremlin government last year and installed Viktor A. Yushchenko as president.

"They want to get closer and closer to the European Union," Andrei Kortunov, head of the Moscow-based New Eurasia Foundation, said of Yushchenko and his government. "I think that is something which really accelerated [Russia's] rather radical and rigid position toward gas."

"It's very difficult to see an exit in general," said Tatyana Stanovaya, an analyst at the Center for Political Technologies in Moscow. "What Ukraine is offering, Russia doesn't want to accept, and vice versa. This is only a political matter. After the change of government in Ukraine, the special relationship between Russia and Ukraine came to an end."

Yesterday, as Gazprom reduced the amount of natural gas flowing from a supply center in southern Russia across the border into Ukraine, Ukrainian officials tried to reassure residents that the country had enough heating fuel to get homeowners through the winter, even if it meant reducing commercial use. Ukraine has a domestic natural gas supply that can cover about a fifth of its needs; it also has significant storage capacity, though the country has not said how much natural gas it has set aside.

Gazprom, which provides the European Union with about 20 percent of its natural gas, said any disruption to supplies was a result of theft by Ukraine. News agencies said Hungary experienced a 25 percent drop, while Poland's supply was reportedly down 14 percent.

Last month, when Gazprom first threatened to cut off gas shipments, Ukraine's prime minister suggested that his country would be justified in siphoning off supplies destined for other customers, a threat Gazprom denounced at the time as amounting to "state theft." Ukrainian officials said last night that the country had not diverted any gas and that Gazprom's move to limit flow in one pipeline could reduce pressure in all the lines and reduce supplies to Europe as a result.

"We have not consumed a single cubic meter of Russian gas," Prime Minister Yuri Yekhanurov told reporters in Kiev.

Yesterday, the Russian news agency Interfax quoted Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov as saying that Ukraine's rejection of Putin's last-minute proposal — which was valid until midnight New Year's Eve — would "entail catastrophic consequences for the Ukrainian economy and, unfortunately, the fraternal people of Ukraine."

"We believe that it will be extremely difficult — impossible, to be more precise — for the authorities of Ukraine to explain to their people the reason for such a shortsighted policy," he said.

Each side has accused the other of using the dispute over natural gas to try to influence the outcome of Ukraine's parliamentary elections in March. Yushchenko and his allies face a significant challenge from his former opponent in the presidential election, Viktor F. Yanukovych, who was openly favored by the Kremlin. Yushchenko's party is also being challenged by Yushchenko's former prime minister, Yulia Tymoshenko.

Ukraine has agreed only in principle to pay market rates for natural gas and has contended that the amount Gazprom is demanding is unreasonable. The state-run gas giant, which controls about a third of the world's natural gas supplies, has set this year's price at $230 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, up from $50.

Ukraine has said it will never pay that amount. It wants a smaller increase to be phased in over several years; a larger increase imposed at one time, officials have said, would cripple the country's economy.

Russia maintains that its position is based on business interests alone. At a recent news conference, Alexander Medvedev, Gazprom's deputy chairman, said that maintaining the current price would be "absurd": "How, given the rise in world gas prices can we accept a situation where Ukraine ends up paying less for gas than we charge within Russia?"

Russia has raised gas prices for other former Soviet republics, though the increases have been far less steep. Georgia, Armenia, Moldova and the three Baltic states of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania will pay $110 to $160 per 1,000 cubic meters, or about twice as much as last year.

One country that has avoided a price increase is Belarus, whose staunchly pro-Kremlin government recently signed an agreement to continue importing Russian gas at the heavily subsidized price of under $50.

In televised remarks last week, Georgian President Mikhail Saakashvili accused Russia of using natural gas as a tool of foreign policy. "What is happening now in relation to Georgia and Ukraine is a response to the fact that Georgia and Ukraine have a good chance to become real European countries, and therefore virtually all levers have been employed," he said.

That accusation became more plausible last week when Gazprom signed a contract with Turkmenistan — which, as Ukraine's largest supplier, provides more than 50 percent of the country's imports — to purchase a larger-than-normal share of natural gas. That could limit the amount available to Ukraine.

A company spokesman said yesterday that Gazprom was receiving the entire amount of gas from Turkmenistan that had been intended for Ukraine, although details of that deal were not immediately clear.


January 2, This Date in History
Excerpt
Copyright 2006, UPI

Baltics — In 1990, elite Soviet interior ministry troops seized buildings in the Baltic republics of Latvia and Lithuania.


Vike-Freiberga alarmed by outflow of working hands
By The Baltic Times
02.01.2006
Copyright 2006 The Baltic Times

RIGA President Vaira Vike — Freiberga said in an interview that she is alarmed by the exodus of Latvias working-age population to richer EU member states and that this represented on of the greatest challenges facing the government. In an interview, published on Monday in Vesti, a hard-hitting Russian language daily that sympathizes with the Soviet Union, Vike-Freiberga acknowledged that Latvian employers could not compete with companies in Ireland and other richer EU countries that have opened their doors to low-skill laborers. As a result, young Latvians are moving abroad to work, a trend that has been diminishing the countrys labor pool and taxpayers base.

The government and society have to find a mutually acceptable solution for increasing wages in our economy, otherwise the situation will turn into a kind of a vicious circle, Vike-Freiberga said.

Indeed, all three Baltic countries are in the grips of a massive labor outflow, as both higher and lower skill workers shop around for better wages abroad. The situation has become so acute in some towns that several employers in the Baltics have been forced to import workers e.g., from Romania or Ukraine since there are not enough locals to fill the vacancies.

The president also defended planned salary increases for public sector workers.

People in Latvia should get rid of the opinion that public servants are parasites who do not need anything and grow fat at the states expense. And really, if we want the country to develop and the money that comes from the EU to be spent in the right way we need highly professional public servants, the president said.


Gasum to study pipeline link between Estonia and Finland
Copyright 2006 Helsingin Sanomat
Gas transmission system connecting Latvia, Estonia and Finland is an alternative to Russian gas

Helsinki — Natural gas supplier Gasum is to start studying the possibility of constructing a pipeline link between Paldiski in Estonia and the Vuosaari district of Helsinki. The cost of the new pipeline would be approximately EUR 80 million, and it would be ready by 2010.

The pipeline between Finland and Estonia is seen as one alternative way to ensure the extra deliveries of gas which are currently supplied by Russia. Furthermore, there is already an existing transmission pipeline from the Russian natural gas storage facilities in Latvia to Estonia.

The demand for natural gas is expected to increase in Finland and the current gas supply volume via the existing transmission pipeline from Russian Karelia will become inadequate. Other options to ensure the gas supply include an increase in the capacity of the existing pipeline from Russia or a link between the Baltic and Russian transmission systems.

The future co-operation between gas companies in the Baltic Sea region has become a really viable option recently as the Balticconnector gas network development project received an EU grant from the Trans-European Networks for energy, electricity and natural gas, TEN-E.

Balticconnector Project Manager Seppo Nurminen from Gasum says that the studies on the new pipeline's feasibility and its potential impact on the environment are expected to be completed by 2007. Sea-bed studies will be conducted during the open water season next summer, and Gasum will split the EUR 2.5 million cost with the EU.

According to Nurminen, the import capacity of the new gas pipeline would be around 20 TWh a year, which is the equivalent to some 50 per cent of Finland's current entire consumption and a quarter of the estimated consumption in 2010.

Nurminen believes that the decision on the possible gas pipeline construction will be made in the next couple of years. Currently no information exists on the possible funding or the make-up of the consortium in the building project, but the venture was launched by Gasum, national gas companies in the Baltic States, and the Russian Gazprom.

Gasum, which was formerly part of Neste, is owned by state energy company Fortum, Russian Gazprom, and German E.On Ruhrgas. Warm weather and cuts in demand brought by the lengthy forest industry dispute have reduced the demand for gas this year.


WMU communication professor going to Latvia on Fulbright
WMU News
Office of University Relations
Western Michigan University
Jan. 3, 2006

KALAMAZOO — A Western Michigan University professor has won a Fulbright scholarship to teach and lecture in Latvia.

Dr. Michael Kent, assistant professor of communication, will visit the Baltic nation February through May 2006 and will spend the four months at the University of Latvia in Riga. Kent will teach three classes: public speaking, an introduction to public relations course and a graduate class to be determined. Though the scholarship is for teaching, Kent also plans to conduct research while in Latvia, begin working on a public relations writing textbook and conduct interviews with scholars and public relations professionals.

"Receiving a Fulbright Award is a great honor," Kent says. "Many of the people who've been on Fulbrights have said that the experience changed their lives. I'm hoping for an equally rewarding experience."

Kent has traveled extensively and lectured in Eastern Europe. In 2001, he spent six weeks traveling across the region, visiting Bosnia, Croatia, Slovenia and Hungary and lecturing in Sarajevo. This past winter, Kent taught a graduate course in the Czech Republic and spent three weeks there.

"I have never been to Latvia before and I am looking forward to the experience very much," Kent says. "Everyone I have spoken to about Riga has said that the country is very beautiful. I am very excited."

Kent's upbringing in Fairbanks, Alaska, played a role in developing his affinity for Latvia. Though the climates are vastly different, the two areas share an assortment of cultural values, including a concern for preserving the environment and balancing progress with tradition.

Latvia also is an attractive location for a Fulbright because of its current efforts to attract investment while balancing environmental and cultural issues, Kent says.

Kent earned his doctorate from Purdue University in 1997 and served as a graduate advisor and assistant professor in communication studies at Montclair State University from 2000-05 before joining the WMU faculty earlier this year.

The Fulbright Scholar Program is the U.S. government's flagship academic exchange effort, on behalf of the U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Established in 1946 under legislation introduced by the late Sen. J. William Fulbright of Arkansas, the program's purpose is to build mutual understanding between the people of the United States and other countries.

During its 59 years in existence, thousands of U.S. faculty and professionals have studied, taught or done research abroad, and thousands of their counterparts from other countries have engaged in similar activities in the United States. More than 250,000 American and foreign university students, K-12 teachers, and university faculty and professionals have participated in one of several Fulbright exchange programs.

Recipients are selected on the basis of academic or professional achievement and because they have demonstrated extraordinary leadership potential in their fields.


Latvia grapples with EU over euro
Latvia is proud of its cultural heritage
Copyright 2006, BBC

Riga — The Baltic state of Latvia has stuck its mother tongue out at the European Union by refusing to call the single currency by its official name.

Despite pleas from the European Central Bank to stick to the official "euro" name, Latvia prefers to call the currency the "eiro" instead.

This is because euro is a non-existent word in Latvian.

"The 'eu' dipthong is alien to the Latvian language," says Latvia's education minister Ina Druviete.

National pride is also behind the country's refusal to budge on the matter.

Latvia has fought to re-establish its linguistic identity after the end of the Soviet occupation during which the Russian language was forced upon its citizens.

Latvian is now spoken by around two-thirds of the population of 2.3 million and is the official state language.

Spelling it out

Eiro is a part of the Latvian word for Europe, or Eiropa, so its claims for linguistic independence were justified, Latvia's language commission said.

"It is a very important issue which threatens the fundamental values of the EU, such as equality and identity." — Ina Druviete, education minister

But naming the currency by the masculine Latvian noun goes against the EU's policy that euro should be spelt the same way by all its member states.

This exception, so far, has been Greece which has a different alphabet.

Latvia is not the only new EU member state that has fought to spell the single currency's name in its own way.

Last month, Malta said it would spell the currency's name "ewro", while Lithuania and Hungary have agreed to use their own spelling in domestic life and the euro spelling in official texts.

But Latvia is determined not to back down and has vowed to defend its rights if necessary at the European Court of Justice.

"This is not caprice on the part of Latvians. It is a very important issue which threatens the fundamental values of the EU, such as equality and identity," said Ina Druviete.

"Even if all other countries were to use euro, we will never give up and will continue to use eiro."


Murniece a shoo-in for defense ministers post
By The Baltic Times
Copyright 2006, The Baltic Times
04.01.2006

RIGA Parliament was expected to approve the nomination of Linda Murniece for defense minister on Thursday after Einars Repse resigned last month. Both Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, a member of the Peoples Party, and Latvias First Party, have said they have no objections to Murnieces candidacy.

Murniece, 35, is a member of the right-wing New Era party and has headed Parliaments anti-corruption committee.

Her nomination for the post comes after the previous minister, Repse, suddenly resigned upon learning that the prime minister had asked for an investigation into his private investments.

There was a fear that New Era might pull out of the coalition, but with parliamentary elections scheduled for October, the partys leadership decided not to destabilize the situation in the country.

The biggest task for Murniece, a journalist by training and who holds a degree from the University of Latvia, will be to proceed with preparations for the NATO summit scheduled to take place in Riga next November.


Russia, Ukraine reach gas agreement
Copyright 2006, United Press International

MOSCOW, Jan. 4 (UPI) — Russia and Ukraine signed a five-year contract Wednesday on the delivery of Russian natural gas to Ukraine at a price of $230 for 1,000 cubic meters.

The deal ended three days of acrimony over pricing that caused Russia to cut off its supply to Ukraine, in turn causing shortages in Western Europe, CNN said.

Ukraine's new rate of $230 compares to $47 for Russian ally Belarus, and $110 for Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, which are all members of the European Union.

The news came from Russia's Gazprom Chief Executive Officer Alexei Miller after negotiations in Moscow with Naftogaz Ukrainy's chief, Olexiy Ivchenko, the Interfax news agency said.

Gazprom provides a quarter of Western Europe's natural gas needs, 80 percent of which flows through pipelines that traverse Ukraine.


Latvians send mixed signals on border treaty
04.01.2006
Copyright 2006, The Baltic Times
By TBT staff

RIGA — A series of opposing statements by Latvian leaders about whether the country could sign a border treaty with Russia this year has underscored key differences in the political stakes of an agreement with the Eastern neighbor. The issue resurfaced after President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said in an interview in late December that Latvia did not hold any territorial claims on Russia particularly the Pytalovo district that was part of Latvia prior to World War II and that a treaty between the two states could be signed as early as this spring.

If we could sign and ratify the current draft of the border treaty, it would remain so, as Latvia does not claim to regain the region, she told the Russian paper Izvestia in reference to Pytalovo, a region just across the Latvian border.

The signing could take place in the spring during our prime ministers visit to Moscow, she added.

Both the Foreign Ministry and the prime minister were perplexed by Vike-Freibergas statement. Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks told the Baltic News Service that he had no basis to believe that a document could be signed in a matter of months.

The current information through diplomatic channels does not give proof for such conclusions, he said, adding that he himself had not received any signal from Russia that would show its readiness to sign a border treaty.

Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis even seemed to reject any such possibility, saying that as long as Russia refused to admit the occupation of Latvia, there could be no treaty.

As long as Russia does not change its political position, no progress toward signing the border treaty is possible, he said. It was up to the Russians, he added, whether they recognize history and admit the fact of occupation.

A border treaty had been scheduled for signing on May 10 last year, in Moscow, but two weeks before the signing Latvias government adopted a unilateral declaration containing a reference to the 1920 Tartu Peace Treaty, according to which Latvia was given the Abrene (Pytalovo) region. Russia took the declaration as a territorial claim and said it would not sign the border treaty. For its part, Latvia said the declaration was necessary to avoid contradictions with the constitution.

A similar development prevented Estonia and Russia from signing two border treaties (one sea, one land) last year as well.

Kalvitis was adamant. As long as Russia does not change its position, the issue will remain unsolved both with Estonia and Latvia. Because we have defined our positions clearly Latvia has done it by adopting a unilateral declaration to the treaty, and Estonia by passing a ratification law underscoring the continuity of the statehood from the time of the first republic... This does not allow Russia to sidestep the fact of occupation.

The stark contrast in outlooks reflects the leaders broader ambitions. Both Kalvitis and Pabriks, members of the right-wing Peoples Party, are reluctant to sign any binding agreement in the run-up to parliamentary elections next fall. Conservative Latvian voters are unlikely to forgive any party for what could be perceived as ceding territory to Russia.

Commenting on information about a possible visit to Moscow, Kalvitis said that no such visit was planned.

Vike-Freiberga, for her part, has been trying to patch up bilateral relations, which sank to a low a year-and-a-half ago. In fact, she has been criticized for kowtowing to the Kremlin as part of her campaign to become a finalist-candidate for the position of U.N. secretary general.

She is currently considered to be a leading candidate and is believed to have the support of the U.S. administration.

Indeed, even her criticism of the Russian-German gas pipeline has toned down. In the Izvestia interview, she said the project did not contradict with the interests of the European Union though she didnt rule out the possibility that it had political, not just economic, aspects.

Speaking on Latvia-Russia relations, the Latvian president said that she wanted to build relations on a pragmatic footing. She told the Russian language Vesti newspaper that Russia has sent positive signals suggesting that an intergovernmental work group might finally begin working this year.

Of course, it is necessary to activate the dialogue on all levels including the highest level. It is not normal that two neighboring countries have so few contacts on the governmental level. Being neighbors we have to start negotiating bilateral issues, Vike-Freiberga said.

At the same time, she noted that Latvia and Russia still have a different understanding of history, and that cooperation between both countries is burdened by the statements of several Russian officials. Still, Vike-Freiberga hopes that the two sides will be able to come to a common position on the complicated issue of history. The further away we go from this painful period of history the easier it is to overcome stereotypes.

Prime Minister Kalvitis said that the next high-profile meeting between the countries would be Foreign Ministry State Secretary Normans Penkes visit to Moscow in January. Then Russias real willingness for constructive cooperation will be seen, he said.

Penke will lead a delegation that will meet with Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Vladimir Titov. They will discuss the possibilities of signing several bilateral agreements among other issues.


Call to wipe out the modern slave trade
Jan 5 2006
By Jonathan Walker, Political Editor
Copyright 2006 Birmingham Post, Trinity Mirror PLC

Birmingham — A major clampdown on people trafficking was launched today, following a police raid which found 19 women from ten different countries working in a Birmingham massage parlour.

Ministers pledged to wipe out what they called a modern-day slave trade.

Home Office Minister Paul Goggins said: "Human trafficking, often for the purpose of sexual exploitation or forced labour, is an appalling crime and amounts to modern-day slavery."

The initiative was prompted partly by a police raid on Cuddles massage parlour in Birmingham last September, which found women from countries including Moldova, Kosovo, Latvia and Albania, the Home Office said.

Two court cases relating to the raid are currently ongoing.

The Government is concerned about the rise in the number of people bought to Britain on false pretences or against their will.

Victims tend to be women or children, and are often forced to work in the sex industry.

Most come from Eastern Europe, the Balkans or Far East countries such as China or Thailand, the Government believes.

Planned measures include running publicity campaigns in the countries where traffickers operate to highlight successful prosecutions in British courts.

There will also be tougher laws aimed at British firms which employ illegal workers.

The new Serious Organised Crime Agency, Britain's version of the FBI, will lead the campaign. It is due to begin work on April 1.

There will also be more support for the victims of trafficking once they have been identified by police.

But Britain may refuse to sign up to a European convention which gives the victims of people trafficking the automatic right to stay in this country.

Instead, they will be encouraged to return home.

Tim Brain, spokesman for the Association of Chief Police Officers and Chief Constable of Gloucestershire Constabulary, said: "Much remains to be done in respect of scoping the size of the problem, insuring effective preventative measures are put in place, tackling demand and, most important-ly, providing the necessary support and protection for victims." The Government is also planning to introduce measures to reduce demand for prostitution generally, by targeting men who use their services.

In a consultation paper published yesterday, the Home Office admitted it did not know how many people were victims of people trafficking each year.

It said: "Currently most of our knowledge is based around the trafficking of women for sexual exploitation where there has already been some research work.

"One of the aims of developing an action plan is to increase our knowledge and understanding of other forms of trafficking, in particular trafficking for the purposes of labour exploitation."


Rug is pulled on Latvian stag parties
Copyright 2006, Cheapflights Ltd.
Craig McGinty

Riga — Stag parties are being asked to stay clear of the Latvian town of Riga as tourist bosses say 'enough is enough'.

The popularity of groups celebrating weddings, birthdays and office trips away has seen massive growth in the number of stag parties to many European cities.

But Mike Johnson, of the Riga tourist office, says that the groups are causing too much trouble and spoiling things for others.

After a recent series of bad experiences with 'Weekend Hooligans' from the UK, Ireland and other neighbouring countries, enough is enough, he said.

The Weekend Hooligans are bent on binge drinking and damaging personal property with not one bit of shame or remorse.

Its appalling as these groups come from prestigious companies and organisations.

Low-cost flights to Latvia are a relatively new phenomenon with the first services only laid on in the past twelve months, but in this time stag parties have developed a bad reputation.

Tales of bars being wrecked, hotels being damaged and fights breaking out are commonplace amongst many nightclub owners.

Riga has been working hard on promoting the town as a place of culture and style, which has even seen them place advertisements on the CNN news channel.

So rowdy groups of men, stumbling out of bars, is far from the image they wish to promote.

Here in Latvia, we cherish our long heritage and shy reserved personalities with rich traditions and customs, Mike Johnson said.


Latvian Parliament Approves First Woman Defense Minister
2006-01-06
Copyright 2006, Xinhua News Agency — CEIS

RIGA, Jan. 5 (Xinhua) — The Latvian parliament on Thursday approved Linda Murniece as the country's first woman defense minister.

Murniece's nomination was approved by a vote of 64-18 in the 100-seat parliament with 18 lawmakers absent.

Murniece, a 35-year-old lawmaker from the New Era party, becomes the fourth woman minister in Latvia's current coalition government and the first ever to hold the portfolio of defense minister.

She will replace her predecessor Einars Repse, who resigned last week after an anti-corruption committee launched a probe into his business deals.

Latvia has been trying to modernize its military since it joined NATO last year.


Delegations of 70 countries to participate in inauguration of Kazakh president
Copyright 2006 Kazakh Information Agency
January 9

ASTANA. KAZINFORM /Nazym Shakhanova/ — High-ranking delegations from 32 countries will take part in the inauguration ceremony of Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev, official representative of Kazakhstan Foreign Ministry Yerzhan Ashikbayev has told at todays briefing in Astana. Leaders of the Russian Federation, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Ukraine, Georgia, Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Croatia confirmed their participation, Y. Ashikbayev emphasized.

According to him, China and Bulgaria will be represented by Deputy Chairman and Vice-President accordingly. Azerbaijan and Latvia sent heads of their Governments, deputy Prime Ministers of Turkey and Romania will also participate in the ceremony.

Foreign delegations from more than 70 countries will take part in the solemn event. The representative of the Foreign Ministry has added, this information is not final and work on this question continues. Delegations from United Arab Emirates and Oman attested their participation as well.

Deputy UN Secretary General, head of UN department in Geneva S. Ordzhonikidze, special representative of European Union Yan Kubish, OSCE Secretary General de Brichambaut, SCO Executive Secretary Zhang Deguang, CIS Executive Secretary V. Rushailo, CSTO Secretary General N. Bordyuzha, EurAsEC Secretary General G. Rapota and delegations of many other international organizations are to participate in the inauguration.


Latvian court studying restrictions on ex-KGB officers
Jan 9, 2006, 17:44 GMT
Copyright 2006 RIA Novosti

Riga — The leader of Latvia's Socialist Party, Juris Bojars, asked the Constitutional Court Monday to lift the ban on having former KGB officers and Communist Party Central Committee members elected to parliament.

The court is now looking into the compliance of the ban with Latvia's Constitution and international legal documents.

Former KGB officers and Communist Party Central Committee members are not allowed to be elected to parliament or take government posts in Latvia that regained independence after the Soviet Union broke up in 1991.

Bojars said he had quit his job at the KGB 33 years ago, and his KGB record must not affect his civil freedoms in modern Latvia.


Lithuania Debates on Energy
By Darius James Ross
Copyright 2006 Reuters

VILNIUS Lithuanias government said on Monday it must decide soon on extending the Baltics states nuclear capacity by building a new nuclear power station.

Economy Minister Kestutis Dauksys told a news conference Lithuania was closely examining another power station, in addition to the existing Ignalina nuclear power plant which had been previously earmarked for closure.

In 2006 it is essential that a decision be made about building a new nuclear power station, Dauksys said.

He said the normal cost for such a new station was about $3.62 billion, but added that a precise estimate was premature at this stage.

He did not say how the station would be funded, but added that the Lithuanian government was keen on retaining a minimum 34 percent stake in the new power plant.

Last week the government said in a statement that it was considering extending the life of its Soviet-era Ignalina nuclear power plant despite a promise to shut it down by 2009.

Dauksys told the news conference on Monday his government wanted to negotiate with the European Commission about extending the operation of the Ignalina nuclear power plant. Lithuania closed the first of two units of the Ignalina power plant at the start of 2005, as part of its EU joining deal, and has promised a complete shut-down by 2009.

But talks to build a power bridge with Poland have failed, meaning the small Baltic country of 3.4 million which has almost no natural resources could be cut off from Western Europe, the government said last week in a statement after a high-level meeting with energy experts.

During the meeting it was noted that it has been in no way possible to agree with Poland on an electricity bridge, Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas was quoted as saying in a statement issued by his office.

Therefore, after the closure of Ignalina AE, Lithuania would be isolated from the European Unions electricity grid. Therefore ... this raises the possibility of extending the operation of Ignalina AE, Brazauskas added.

Proponents of keeping the plant operating have said that significant upgrades to the Chernobyl-style plant over the last decade, along with strict operating standards, mean it poses no safety threat.

Brazauskas said a new nuclear facility could be built if Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia bound themselves to take part in the project. If Ignalina were closed, Lithuania would be left with only fossil fuel fired plants.

Picture  

The corner of Piena iela and Sermullina iela, from Peters' trip in October, 1994.

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