Latvian MailerMay 7, 2006

Russia Takes on Latvia Above-Board and Below-Board

Sveiki, all!

Russia has taken on the cause of Vasily Kononov, convicted of crimes against humanity. How this plays out—whether the European Court of Human Rights upholds his conviction or not—will either put Russia in its place or newly embolden it to further agitate in the Baltics. Sources also have it that Russia is campaigning under the table to discredit Vike-Freiberga's possible future candidacy for U.N. Secretary General.

That, and much more, in the news:

This edition's link is to a bit of history off the beaten path. This edition's picture is from a future attraction.

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  

The web site declares, "The place where your travels around Kurzeme begin." It's Jaunpils, in the Tukums area. The Jaunspils castle has changed little since it was built in 1301. The site is in Latvian, but the pictures are easy enough to navigate!

http://www.jaunpilspils.lv/

In the News  

Mum's sadness at fruitpicker's death
Apr 7, 2006
© 2006 Express & Star Ltd

Lichfield — The mother of a Latvian teenager killed in a suspected hit and run in Lichfield has spoken of her sadness at her son's death.

Maija Sustins appealed for anyone with information about the death of her son Edijs, aged 18, to come forward.

He was found dead in Fosseway Lane at 3am on July 17 last year.

The student had been working as a fruitpicker at New Farm in Elmhurst for just two weeks before his death, which followed a night out in the city centre.

Officers have carried out road checks, spoken to dozens of potential witnesses and examined several vehicles as part of a police investigation, but no light has been shed on the death.

Mrs Sustins said:"We would appreciate if eyewitnesses or anybody else who has some information about this tragic event could come forward."

She added her family had been shattered by Edijs' death. "It is very sad. There are no more dreams,' said Mrs Sustins. "There is only pain and the thought, which is hard to accept, that I will never hear him say, "hello mum"."

After the death, Mr and Mrs Sustins travelled to England for Edijs' funeral at Sutton Coldfield Crematorium, before returning to their home in Latvia.

Mrs Sustins revealed how pleased her son was when she and his father supported his wish to live in England during the summer holidays to earn money.

In the hours before he died, Edijs was on a night out in Lichfield city centre on the last evening of the Lichfield Festival but became separated from friends.

Inspector Bob Butler, who is overseeing the inquiry, said it was thought Edijs got lost trying to find his way home to the farm.

The road was unlit and Edijs, who was around 5ft 10ins tall, was wearing dark clothes.

Anyone with information should call Insp Butler on 01785 235925 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.


Lavrov praises work of UN refugee commissioner
© 2006 Interfax
Apr 7 2006 6:32PM

MOSCOW. April 7 — Russia thanked the office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees for aiding the refugees of North Caucasus.

"We are thankful for the implementation of your programs of aiding North Caucasian refugees," Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at his Friday meeting with High Commissioner Antonio Guterres on Moscow.

Lavrov noted the role the refugee office plays in solving problems of non-citizenship. In relations to this, Lavrov noted that Latvia and Estonia must comply with world standards of the right of national minorities.

Guterres noted that the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees intends to continue its strategic partnership with Russia.


The Kremlin Crosses out Candidates for UN SG Post
© 2006 AXIS News
10.Apr.2006
Simon Araloff, AIA European section

Moscow — Russian diplomats and secret servicemen started actively diffusing information that tars Latvian President's reputation, in order not to allow her appointment as the UN Secretary General. Another target of the Russian discrediting campaign in the former President of Poland…

Moscow elaborated and started realizing a secret plan of discrediting the Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga, reliable sources told AIA. The Kremlin shows a growing discontent with regard of Washington's alleged intention to suggest Vike-Freiberga for the UN Secretary General at the end of this year. As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia has a right to veto any inconvenient candidature for that position. The Russian administration, however, decided not to bring the case up to the necessity of using this right, caring of its image in the eyes of the other members of the UN General Assembly (it is enough to recall the negative attitude of the UN members to the regular usage of veto by the USA in what concerns the resolutions condemning Israel). The Kremlin has elaborated another scenario. According to a special plan which was approved at the highest level, the Russian official institutions having contact with foreigners, and first of all the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Foreign Intelligence Service, are now deploying a propaganda campaign aimed at slandering the Latvian President.

The hallmark of this campaign is its confidentiality. Information about Vaira Vike-Freiberga's alleged neo-Nazi and revanchist views is being diffused through confidential contacts, without any reference to the official Russian sources. Most active in this sphere is the Russian Foreign Intelligence which since the Soviet times has the experience of the so-called "active measures" – promotion of the relevant information trough those journalists who have connections with the Russians, in particular in the countries of the "third world".

Today the scene for such "active measures" are first of all the countries of Western Europe. Russia stakes on antagonism of certain political and social milieus in such countries as Germany, France, and Spain against the American global policy, and particularly against "special relations" between the USA and such East European countries as Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, or Bulgaria. Officials in the Kremlin assume that confidential tête-à-tête conversations and newspaper articles about "atrocities of the Latvian regime" will be accepted in a positive manner in West European countries. And this, in its turn, will lead to a failure of the Latvian President's candidature in course of the next UN Secretary General election.

Here it is worth mentioning that the same negative attitude is being shown by the Kremlin towards the former Polish President Aleksandr Kwasniewski. According to AIA sources, Kwasniewski also became the target of the so-called "black P.R." coming from Moscow, and aiming at preventing his appointment as the UN Secretary General.

Elections of the next UN Secretary General are to be held in December 2006, when the present Secretary General Kofi Annan finishes his term in this office. Apart from Vike-Freiberga and Kwasniewski, the candidates for the UN SG post are the senior Adviser to the President of Sri Lanka Jayantha Dhanapala, South Korean Minister of Foreign Affairs Pan Gi Mun, and the Vice Premier of Thailand Surakiart Sathirathai. Russia has already announced, through its representative in the UN Andrey Denisov, that it will support the candidate from the Asian continent. Most probably it will be the abovementioned Thai politician, whom Beijing openly favors. As for Vike-Freiberga's candidature, it is unacceptable for Moscow not just because of highly strained relations with Riga in such issues as the state border and the Russian minority in Latvia. The Kremlin was extremely negative concerning Vike-Freiberga's recent speech during the Davos World Economic Forum, when she announced the necessity to reduce the authorities of the five UN Security Council permanent members, and called to view a possibility of changing the composition of this body.


Turkey to protect Baltic airspace
© 2006 UPI

BRUSSELS, April 10 — Turkey has sent four F-16 fighters to replace Polish Mig-29 airplanes patrolling the airspace of the three Baltic States, NATO has announced.

This will be the ninth consecutive air policing rotation deployed by the 26-member alliance since Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania joined NATO in April 2004.

The detachment, which will be made up of 77 pilots, controllers and support personnel, will be deployed for a three-month period, the Brussels-based organization said.

Based at the Siauliai Air Base in Lithuania, alliance members provide a 24/7 all-weather airborne supervision of the Baltic countries' airspace. The aim of the mission is to grant the three European Union states, which do not have the adequate aircraft to police their skies themselves, the same level of air defense as the rest of their allies.

This is the first time a southern member of NATO has taken over the Baltic mission. Turkey will also be the first country to deploy a female pilot to a NATO patrol, according to Turkish media. Spain is due to take over from Turkey when its detachment ends in August

Lt. Col. Robert Cerniak, who headed the Polish contingent, said his pilots carried out about 90 missions during their three-month stint and launched aircraft on 40 occasions after alarm signals, the Baltic Times reported.


Vodka Wars Spill Into U.S.
© 2006 The McGraw-Hill Companies Inc.
Who Owns The Stolichnaya Brand Name, And Is It Really "Genuine Russian Vodka"? Several Parties Are Mixing It Up In Court To Get Clear Answers

New York — What's in a name? Well, quite a lot actually, if the name happens to be Stolichnaya, the world's best-selling vodka. To be precise, some $2 billion in annual sales, including $400 million in the U.S., where Stolichnaya is the third most popular vodka, after U.S.-made Smirnoff and Sweden's Absolut. Americans developed a taste for the stuff back in the days of the Cold War.

Back then, Stolichnaya was the only Russian vodka on sale in the U.S., thanks to a barter agreement with PepsiCo signed in 1972. So it has been tense times for American Stolichnaya swillers while a lawsuit threatened to stop sales. But thanks to a crucial court ruling, they should be able to carry on their consumption.

On Apr. 3, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York ruled that Stolichnaya's manufacturer, a Russian-owned company called S.P.I., has the right to keep using the Stolichnaya trademark in the U.S. market. The ruling follows an 18-month court battle. It's the latest turn in a convoluted trademark dispute that symbolizes Russia's bitter "vodka wars" — the long-running legal fights for control over Russia's most famous and lucrative vodka brands.

OWNERSHIP DISPUTE

The Stolichnaya ruling is good news not just for S.P.I., but also for its international distributor, French drinks conglomerate Pernod Ricard. It recently became the owner of Stolichnaya's international distribution rights after acquiring Anglo-American drinks concern Allied Domecq, a co-defendant in the case, late last year.

The case was brought by two Russian companies, state import-export agency Soyuzplodimport, and private vodka distillery Ost Alco, which claim that they are in fact the rightful owners of Stolichnaya. They are, in turn, backed by the Russian government, which has been fighting for years to stop S.P.I. and its international partners from using the brand.

Why? It's a twisted tale, but the Russian government claims the brand was stolen. In 1992, the state agency that ran the Soviet-era vodka export monopoly was privatized [the government alleges illegally], and then, in 1997, it sold Stolichnaya and 42 other vodka brands to S.P.I. for only $300,000. The deal wasn't sanctioned by the government, and S.P.I's founder, Yuri Shefler, also headed the company that sold the other brands. In 2002, a Russian court overturned the transaction. Shefler, who lives in Switzerland, faces arrest if he returns to Russia.

READ THE LABEL

None of that history has cut any ice with the New York court, though. The court ruled that "when trademark rights within the United States are being litigated in an American court, the decisions of foreign courts concerning the respective trademark rights of the parties are irrelevant and inadmissible." The court also ruled that after five years of continuous use in the U.S., a trademark becomes "incontestable."

So it's game, set, and match to S.P.I. and Pernod Ricard? Not necessarily. The court decision is still subject to appeal. And although they have won one battle, a second battle remains unresolved — this time concerning Stolichnaya's claim to be "genuine Russian vodka." The Russian government argues that the labelling is misleading because the vodka isn't exported from Russia but actually comes from Latvia. Indeed, S.P.I. and Pernod Ricard are forbidden from selling their version of Stolichnaya within Russia itself.

To add a further twist to this complex Russian tale, another vodka maker — Russian Standard — is weighing in on the Russian government's side. Owned by Moscow-based vodka entrepreneur and banker Roustam Tariko, Russian Standard launched its own premium vodka, Imperia, in the U.S. last year. In promoting Imperia, Tariko claimed that Imperia — not Stolichnaya — was the only authentically Russian vodka on the U.S. market. That provoked an angry reaction from Allied Domecq, which threatened legal action.

GENUINE LATVIAN?

On. Apr. 6, just three days after the U.S. court ruling on the Stolichnaya trademark, Russian Standard repeated its claims in a statement issued to the media. Russian Standard "maintains that Stolichnaya brand vodka is not authentically Russian, and believes that Stolichnaya's marketing messages are inaccurate and misleading to vodka consumers," the statement said.

So what exactly is the row about this time? When the Russian government stripped S.P.I. of its right to the Stolichnaya brand in 2002, it also banned the company from exporting Stolichnaya vodka from Russia. That's when S.P.I. responded by moving the bottling of Stolichnaya to Latvijas Balzams distillery in Latvia. Yet the Stolichnaya on sale in the U.S. continues to be labelled as "genuine Russian vodka." S.P.I. and Allied Domecq testified in the U.S. court that the vodka continues to be produced in Russia, at distilleries in Kaliningrad and Tambov.

They say it is then shipped in bulk to Latvia for bottling and export to the U.S. Russian Standard is now challenging that claim. The company cites Russian customs documents that apparently show that none of the vodka shipped from Russia to Latvia in 2004 and 2005 was registered as Stolichnaya, or used the Stolichnaya recipe. "If Stolichnaya vodka comes from Latvia rather than Russia, then they should be honest about that. We think they should be proud of their Latvian heritage," Tariko commented in the Apr. 6 statement.

STOLICHNAYA, AKA.

Of course, there's some irony in Tariko's words. When it comes to brand image, Latvian vodka carries nothing like the same weight as vodka from Russia, the land of vodka's birth. That's why both sides are so touchy about the issue of whose vodka is "authentically Russian." True, the customs records cited by Russian Standard do not necessarily prove that Stolichnaya isn't made in Russia. Another possible explanation for the discrepancy could be that Stolichnaya is being shipped out of Russia with false customs declarations.

In fact, S.P.I. has already admitted to doing just that. In an affidavit to the New York court last August, S.P.I. frankly disclosed: "Because in 2002 the Russian Federation seized Stolichnaya vodka produced by SPI-RVVC [S.P.I.'s Kaliningrad distillery] for export, we now export the vodka under a different brand name."

It isn't clear if Pernod Ricard now intends to make good on Allied Domecq's legal threats, which Russian Standard is so publicly defying. Pernod Ricard is in the awkward position of having to tell the U.S. court that Stolichnaya is being produced in Russia, while at the same time, to avoid confiscation of Stolichnaya in Russia, its partner S.P.I. has been telling the Russian authorities exactly the opposite.

RAISE A GLASS.

In a written statement to Business Week, Pernod Ricard declined to comment on its dispute with the Russian government and Russian Standard, except to say, "Stolichnaya is an authentic Russian vodka made in strict adherence to tradition and using the methods that date back to the 15th century." A Pernod Ricard spokesperson confirmed that S.P.I. distilleries produce the vodka in Russia and ship it to Latvia in bulk for bottling.

Maybe it's significant that Pernod Ricard is staying fairly tight-lipped: There's a chance the French company could settle its dispute over Stolichnaya with the Russian government out of court. If that happens, vodka drinkers around the world may finally get to know once and for all to whom the famous brand rightfully belongs — and where exactly it comes from.


Daugavpils synagogue to undergo renovation
© 2006 The Baltic Times
Apr 11, 2006
TBT Staff

Daugavpils — A synagogue built in 1850 in Daugavpils, once a major center for Jews in Latvia, will undergo a major renovation, thanks to the aid of Keith and Christopher Rothko, children of one the country’s most famous native sons, the artist Mark Rothko.

The synagogue operated for nearly a century until German troops entered the city during World War II and closed it down. It was opened for a very brief time after the war, according to the city council.

President Vaira Vike Freiberga will attend the groundbreaking ceremony for the synagogue on April 11.


EU: Commission to pay nearly € 9.5 million to support Latvia in dealing with storm disaster in 2005
© 2006 European Union

Brussels — European Commissioner for Regional Policy and the Solidarity Fund, Danuta Hübner signed an agreement to pay 9 487 180 EUR to Latvia to reimburse emergency costs incurred after the severe storm of January 2005. The grant is being made available through the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF). It will reimburse public funds spent on the immediate emergency response, in particular on rescue services, cleaning-up operations in affected areas and the restoration of basic infrastructure to working conditions.

Commissioner Hübner, responsible for the Solidarity Fund, said: "Latvia was particularly hit by the storm disaster early last year. With today’s agreement we are able to provide financial support to offset a share of the unprecedented financial costs and to help improve the living conditions of the population heavily affected by this natural event?.

Northern Europe was struck by a severe wind storm on 8/9 January 2005, which caused significant damage in Northern Europe. Responding to a request made by the Swedish, Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian authorities, the European Commission proposed to mobilise the European Union Solidarity Fund (EUSF) for four grants totalling nearly € 93 million to help dealing with the consequences of the wind storm.

Among the three Baltic States, Latvia was hardest hit by the storm, in particular in the coastal zone where additional damage was caused by flooding. The damages caused by the wind storm, affecting in particular forestry (where some 6.9 million solid cubic meters of timber were felled), electricity networks, transport and communication were estimated by the Latvian authorities at over € 192 million. The population suffered in particular from major disruption of electricity, telephone and water/wastewater networks.

Background

The EU Solidarity Fund, created in 2002, grants aid to Member States and acceding countries in the event of a major disaster. Its annual allocation amounts to € 1 billion. To qualify for aid under the Solidarity Fund, countries must provide a documented estimate of the damage which is examined by the Commission in the light of specific criteria, which are intended to ensure that EU funds are used to meet the most urgent needs.

The conditions for implementing the aid by the recipient must be laid down in an agreement between the Commission and the beneficiary country.

On 6 April 2005, the Commission adopted a proposal for the new and improved EU Solidarity Fund (for 2007-2013), which would cover disasters other than those arising from natural catastrophes and with improved eligibility criteria and delivery mechanisms (see updated MEMO/06/153).

For more information please consult the following website:

http://europa.eu.int/comm/regional_policy/funds/solidar/solid_en.htm


Latvian MP in court over remarks against gays
© 2006 UKGayNews

RIGA, April 12, 2006 – A Latvian MP is in court today accused of “expressing disrespectful and derogatory remarks? against gays last year – and of “breaching ethical and moral standards?.

Leopolds Ozoliņš of the Farmers Party, which is in a parliamentary alliance with the Latvian Green Party, made the remarks last summer prior to the troubled Riga Gay Pride March. The remarks were widely quoted in newspapers and on the broadcast media.

The case, being held in Jūrmala, a costal resort 25 kilometres from the capital, Riga, is a ‘private prosecution’ which has been brought by a so far unnamed applicant. Latvian law says the formal criminal charges cannot be brought against an MP without the consent of parliament.

Ozoliņš was widely quoted as saying homosexuality is “a perverse cult? and is “a very nasty mental disorder?. He also said that “homosexuality promotes paedophilia and spread of HIV and hepatitis C? and is a “degenerating and human health mutilating lifestyle?.

He even went so far as to suggest that Latvia pulls out of the European Union if gay rights groups, “under the shelter of democracy, continues to jeer at normal people and basic values of our nation and family?.

Prior to the hearing, Ozoliņš said that the court should examine the facts on the basis of which he made mentioned statement and the court has to listen to his “collated evidence that homosexuality is a mental and physical disorder?.

He said that, while he did not recognise the claims of the applicant, he was ready for a settlement – even to apologise provided the applicant admits that homosexuality is a degrading physical and mental disease.

His defence is based on Article 100 of the Latvian Constitution, which provides a freedom of expression, and Article 10.2 of the European Convention on Human Rights which provides obligation, responsibility and restrictions on this right in order to protect health and morality.

Ozoliņš demanded that the court should request from the applicant evidence that applicant is indeed a homosexual. He also asked the court to obtain an opinion from the Medical University Department of Psychology on whether homosexuality is a disorder or a norm.

A judgement is expected later this month


Printing group Mukusala orders Latvia's first heatset web press from Komori
© 2006 Komori
Press Release

12th April 2006 — Latvian printers, Printing Group Mukusala, a subsidiary of leading Baltic publishing and media group AS Diena, placed an order at Ipex for a Komori System 38S heatset web press. The new four-unit machine, due for delivery in September this year, will be the first new heatset web press installed in Latvia.

Says Arvils Aseradens, chairman, AS Diena: "The Komori web press, part of an order that also includes a range of Muller Martini finishing equipment, is the result of a detailed seven-year strategic review by the company. When we began this process, we undertook an intensive analysis of our market and customers to ensure the press we ordered was a perfect fit for us moving forward. Our key considerations were service, delivery, reliability, people and price and Komori met all these requirements.

"We currently print 45 percent of all coldset products in Latvia, including half of the Latvian newspaper market, so the heatset printing of magazines, supplements and advertising materials is a natural progression for our business. We have a very strong team who bring with them many years of print and publishing knowledge, and with our new Komori press we now have the right technology to drive our business.

Mr Aseradens says the Baltic countries are in a period of tremendous economic growth, with the Latvian economy growing by 11 percent last year alone, and advertising up by 18 percent. "There are very significant opportunities in the Baltic commercial and magazine market and once the Komori System 38S is installed later this year the aim is to take 20 percent of Latvian magazine market and 10 percent of the advertising market over the next twelve months."

Adds Visvaldis Troksa, Vice-president, Mukusala: "When we began our operation in 1993 we started with a range of second-hand equipment, however, it's always been my belief that while second-hand equipment is great to start a business with, you need new top-end technology to be able to compete effectively in the market. The Baltic region is very competitive, so we needed to ensure any web press we purchased offered very quick make-readies to ensure maximum efficiencies in the production process as well as the flexibility to grow with the company.

"The Komori System 38S offers us the opportunity to add a fifth unit and a sheeter if required which is a major advantage. We are an ambitious company and have a clear path for growth and the System 38S web press is at the heart of this plan. We have a strong history of innovation in the industry. We were the first colour newspaper printing house in the Baltic region and see this investment as the next step in building our leading position in the market."

About Komori

For 80 years, since its establishment in 1923, the Komori Group has been producing offset printing presses. The flagship products include sheet-fed offset presses such as the 'Lithrone Series' and 'Sprint Series', web offset presses such as the 'System Series' and related equipment and devices, as well as currency printing machinery, exclusively supplied to the National Printing Bureau in Japan for many years.

The Komori Group endeavours to improve the quality and productivity of its basic printing presses and develop printing information networks and automated integrated printing systems to respond to the recent trend of digitalisation and networking, and realise a total printing production system. Web: http://www.komori.com


Lingerie maker AS Lauma Lingerie acquires lace Co Desseilles
© 2006 Fibre2fashion.com, India
April 15, 2006

Latvia — Textile firm AS Lauma Lingerie bought out Desseilles Textiles SAS. Desseilles is a French company which is involved in lace making. Luma took over the administration since November 2005.

Sources say that Lauma is planning to set up Desseilles as its design, research and development center.

Liepaja, Latvia based Lauma is a textile company supplying to well-known brands like Barbara, Christian Dior, Etam, Morgan, Ravage, Scandale, Lise Charmel, Le Bouget; Germany's Naturana, Austria's Luva acquired fabrics from Lauma Company.

Calais, France based Desseilles having five plants, completes cycle from creation to delivery, including dyeing and finishing of lace.

Alta Capital is a largest shareholder of this Latvian textile company.

Estonia based Alta Capital specializes in private equity investments, and has established itself as the largest and most active participant in the region.


Berlin to Buy Warsaw's Silence
© 2006 AXIS News
Simon Araloff, AIA European section

Warsaw — Diplomatic sources in Warsaw and Berlin inform that the German leadership lately makes vigorous efforts to involve Poland in Germany's economic and political relations with Russia. Among other things, a joint German-Polish working group was established to deal with the issue of German-Russian North European gas pipeline construction. Still, the largest German-Russian project, in which Warsaw is to be involved due to Berlin's plan, is the creation of the so-called International Transportation Corridor No.2 – Moscow-Berlin. Agreement on its creation was signed already in October 2003, during the German-Russian summit in Yekaterinburg, by directors of the Russian Railways and the German Deutsche Bahn AG companies. Based on that agreement, a joint German-Russian enterprise for maintenance and modernization of the International Transportation Corridor No.2 was created in April 2005. During the last year this enterprise was actively cooperating with the Polish and Belarusian railway companies, which could be seen, among the other things, in creation of a joint electronic system of an early warning about arrival of freight trains on the border. This system allows saving time in what concerns the procedures of freight border and customs control.

Considering the necessity of further cooperation between the railway companies of Germany, Poland, Belarus, and Russia, the German side proposed the Polish state-owned railway company — Polskie Koleje Panstwowe (PKP) – to sign a relevant agreement with participation of the Russians. Apart from modernization of one of Poland's main railroad thruways, this agreement offers the Poles the prospects of considerable financial receipts, coming as the subsidies for this modernization activity. In addition, the fact that the Germans and the Russians take part in this project means the increase in the railway transit through the Polish territory in the very near future. Therefore, it is no wonder that the PKP directorship, after getting governmental accord, positively replied to the German proposition. According to information at hand, the official ceremony of signing the German-Russian-Polish agreement on modernization and further exploitation of the International Transportation Corridor No.2 is due to take place on April 26-27 in Tomsk (Russia), during the German-Russian intergovernmental meeting.

In this context it is appropriate to mention the efforts that Berlin has been making of late to neutralize the Baltic States' counteraction to broadening of the German-Russian cooperation in the energy sphere. According to the diplomatic sources in Berlin, such efforts already took some positive effect in case of Latvia and Estonia, and the next in line is Lithuania, the Prime-Minister of which is scheduled to visit the German capital in the near future. It is perfectly clear that the attractive economical propositions to Warsaw, like the abovementioned partnership in railway sphere, serve the same purpose of breaking down the unified Polish-Baltic front that still confronts Berlin's and Moscow's attempts to rehash the energy and geopolitical map of Europe. In this connection it is also appropriate to recall the German leadership's generous compromise to Poland during recent discussion of the EU budget. It seems that Warsaw is ready to sacrifice its rather amorphous principles in exchange for a real amount in hard currency.


US Business Investment and Trade Mission to the Baltic States
© 2006 © Hugin ASA 2006
Investment Workshop, May 22 — 26, 2006 — Riga, Tallinn, Vilnius
SOURCE: Latvian Investment and Development Agency

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN — (MARKET WIRE) — 04/18/2006 — Do not miss a unique opportunity to develop business ties to the Baltic region; to meet with high-level state officials, influential representatives from the business community and potential partners; to learn about the latest economic developments of the region from leading experts in the field; to acquaint yourself first-hand with the dynamic business climate of the Baltic; to visit on-site innovative industrial and commercial sites; and to develop personal contacts with high-level officials and find partners for future endeavours.

The Baltic States represent for U.S. businesses a new dynamic and profitable location for doing business within the EU common market, and a direct and secure point of entry for accessing the CIS markets, first and foremost Russia and the Ukraine.

Click here (http://www.usabalticinvestment.com/program.htm) for the program of the workshop sponsored by the U.S. State Department, U.S. Department of Commerce, the Ministries of Foreign Affairs and Economics of the Republic of Latvia, the Latvian Investment and Development Agency, Enterprise Estonia, the Lithuanian Development Agency, the American Chambers of Commerce in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania

The PROPOSAL is to bring U.S. business representatives to the Baltic States to gain a first hand introduction to this fast growing and business friendly region located within the newly expanded EU and at the frontier of the emerging Russian and Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) markets. This event is a follow-on to the successful conferences in London, England (December 2004) and Washington D.C., USA (March 2005) attended by more than 250 U.S. company executives.

The OBJECTIVE is to promote the differentiating competitive advantages for U.S. businesses to invest and trade with companies in the Baltic States. Conference participants will have the unique opportunity to develop personal contacts with prominent government and business leaders in the region. The mission agenda begins with presentations on the regional business environment, followed by working group sessions with more focused industry specific topics, and on-site visits to industrial and commercial points of interest.

The MISSION is specifically designed to facilitate network development and B2B match-making between U.S. and Baltic business partners. The aim is to reveal the advantages of doing business in or from the Baltic States and create new opportunities for U.S. business.

The CENTRAL EVENT of the "U.S. Business Investment and Trade Mission to the Baltic States" will take place in Riga, Latvia on Tuesday, May 23, 2006 at the Radisson SAS Hotel "Daugava". Participants will also be given the opportunity to meet with business counterparts and make on-site visits to industrial sites and commercial points of interest in Latvia, Estonia and Lithuania, from May 24 through 26.

Contact:
Latvian Investment and Development Agency
Perses street 2, Riga, LV-1442, Latvia
Phone: +371 7 039 400
Investment and Trade Promotion Department
Head of Projects Division
Mr. Viktors Melbardis
Phone: +371 7 039 404
Fax: +371 7 039 401
usabalticinvestment[at]liaa.gov.lv
LIDA Representative Office in USA, Washington D.C.
Phone: +1 202 470 3183
www.liaa.gov.lv


Russian back to the USSR
© 2006 The Courier Mail
Nick Bray

April 19, 2006 — GEORGE W. Bush once famously looked his Russian counterpart in the eye and declared: "I was able to get a sense of his soul."

He must have liked what he saw of Vladimir Putin's spiritual side as not long after Bush gave the world the benefit of his insight, the BBC revealed that Dubya had coined a nickname for the Russian President. Pootie-Poot, apparently.

However, a lot of other people aren't quite so fond of the former KGB agent who came out of seemingly nowhere to replace the shambolic Boris Yeltsin.

Their number includes Boris Berezovsky, one of several billionaires created by Yeltsin when he sold off state assets at ludicrously low prices to a coterie of exceedingly colourful businessmen.

These obscenely wealthy people are known as oligarchs in some circles, but a documentary series starting next Tuesday cuts to the chase with its title, Russian Godfathers.

The three-parter looks at the protracted battle being waged between the billionaires and President Putin, who is using all means at his disposal to return their ill-gotten gains to state control.

Despite Russia's diminished state following the collapse of the Soviet Union, there's a great deal at stake for everyone involved, including us.

Chess master Garry Kasparov puts it thus: "The world doesn't understand the threat that the (Putin) regime presents not only to Russia but the rest of the world."

Although we're beginning to take notice.

Earlier this year, the Putin administration decided to show its displeasure at the success of the Orange Revolution in neighbouring Ukraine by turning off that country's supply of natural gas.

It was a clumsy but potent reminder that Russia holds 20 per cent of the world's known oil reserves and massive supplies of natural gas.

It is the energy reserves, not the size of the Russian economy, that guarantee Putin a seat at the powerful G8 group of wealthy nations, which meets in the imperial capital of St Petersburg this year.

Much of northern Europe is heavily dependent on Russian energy.

Pootie-Poot's battle with the billionaires is all about wresting control of these energy reserves into his hands.

Berezovsky, who takes credit for installing Putin in the first place, is now his bitterest foe.

Speaking from his extravagant country house in Surrey, where he now lives in exile, Berezovsky calls Putin a bandit. "We now have a right to everything we want . . . we are outside legal rules," he says.

And he walks the walk.

In episode one, we see Berezovsky funding the Orange Revolution that put Viktor Yushchenko in power, instead of the candidate favoured by Putin, flying into Latvia for a 15-minute visit that destabilises Russia's relations with its former satellite state and forming alliances with some very curious people.

At the end of the episode, the oligarch is seen walking through a crowded Independence Square in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev with a new business partner, Neil Bush, little brother to Dubya.

Meanwhile, Mikhail Khordorkovsky, whose tale is the subject of episode 2, can't walk anywhere much beyond the walls of the gulag in which he is imprisoned in Siberia.

Once Russia's wealthiest man, with a fortune estimated as northward of $11 billion, Khordorkovsky battled Putin through the Russian legal system for control of the massive Yukos oil company and lost spectacularly.

His American lawyer Bob Amsterdam always knew that would be the outcome. "Right from the beginning I said he'll be found guilty," Amsterdam says.

"The trial was a textbook study in state repression."

Quite so.

Charged with fraud and tax evasion, Khordorkovsky was imprisoned for the duration of the trial, his lawyers were forced into exile and Yukos was taxed almost to extinction before being sold by government auction to a company located in a vodka bar.

The two-day old company quickly onsold Yukos to the state.

You couldn't make this stuff up if you tried.

There's much more, but not all that the show promised.

A briefing note accompanying the preview tapes proclaimed the documentary would explore the role played by Jacob Rothschild and other London financiers in helping the Russian godfathers amass their fortunes.

Curiously, Lord Rothschild is nowhere to be seen, for which he is no doubt grateful.

None of the people involved in this sordid tale comes out smelling of roses, but it is Putin who reeks the most.

Russia has a long history of producing tyrants who have flexed their muscle much to the detriment of those around them.

Add to the mixture nuclear weapons and a willingness to use energy in political power plays, and you have a recipe for disaster.

Russian Godfathers, SBS, three-part series starts Tuesday, 8.30pm


Chernobyl, looking back
© 2006 The Baltic Times
Apr 19, 2006
By Elizabeth Celms

RIGA — On May 13, 1986, Andris Abramenkovs and hundreds of other Soviet Army reserves were loaded onto a train headed for Chernobyl. Two days earlier, while enjoying breakfast with his wife and two-year-old daughter, he received an order from the Soviet Union’s civil defense unit to lead a decontamination team in cleaning up what was already rumored to be the world’s worst nuclear disaster.

Abramenkovs returned to his home in Riga three months later. But to say he returned to the life he left behind would be succumbing to the cloud of denial that surrounds Chernobyl.

At 1:23 a.m. on April 26, 1986, a series of explosions destroyed Reactor No 4 at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in the Soviet Republic of Ukraine. Witnesses described it as a horrific, yet ethereal sight — 120 tons of uranium and 900 tons of fatal graphite blasting into the atmosphere. A massive plume of contaminants, which included plutonium isotopes with a half-life of 24,360 years, hung in the sky for days, blocking out the sun like an omen of death.

Within hours, the cloud had bellied its way across Ukraine, Belarus, and into Europe. It would be three days before the Soviet government announced the disaster, and only then because the toxic plume had set off radiation alarms in Sweden. The pollution would eventually travel across the world, depositing radioactive material in the far corners of Japan and Ireland.

Chernobyl was, and still is, the greatest man-made disaster in history, and more than half a million men and women, “liquidators? and “decontaminators,? were called to clean the mess up. Hundreds of them died, while thousands more suffered from cancer, early heart attacks, paralysis, thyroid disorders and chronic illness. Their children were born deformed, sickly or with cancer, if even born at all. Today, 20 years after the Chernobyl disaster, the suffering continues.

Some people’s voices say more than words. Abramenkovs is one of them. I wasn’t able to meet the Latvian in person, as he was spending Easter weekend with his family, so I spoke with him over the phone. He told his story without emotion, but in his voice hung sadness.

“I was very lucky,? Abramenkovs says slowly, letting the words sink in. “I only had health problems for three or four years. I went through intensive care. I got better.?

Two years after returning from Chernobyl, the nuclear chemist developed signs of cancer. Although he shied away from giving me medical details, the incongruous words he tossed out in a hasty attempt to change the subject revealed enough.

“I discussed my condition with radiologists in Latvia. They said I had been affected by alpha radiation – large amounts. I had many infections. Blood, bones… other things. My temperature was 39 degrees Celsius for many weeks. I was taken to the hospital. It stabilized.?

Over the next several years, Abramenkovs underwent intensive chemo-and radiotherapy. Eventually, his symptoms subsided and the cancer went into remission. Today the 50-year-old says he feels fine.

Abramenkovs attributes his “not so serious? health problems to his profession.

“You see I was an expert in nuclear chemistry,? he says. “While I was working in Chernobyl, I could measure the toxins in my body and knew how to keep the level down. If I hadn’t had this expert knowledge, my health conditions would have been far more serious.?

He pauses after saying this, and I wait for him to mention the possibility of death. He says nothing. A few seconds of dead silence linger over the phone. Abramenkovs’ health conditions are minor only when compared to the fate of others who helped “decontaminate? Chernobyl’s toxic wasteland. Those who knew the power plant best died first – agonizing deaths in Kiev’s radiation ward. But for the majority, the consequences of radiation came later.

“It was a terrible situation [the decontamination mission]… so many young men in their twenties or even younger. They began to feel their life was close to its end,? the nuclear chemist says, reflecting on the time he spent in Ukraine. “They gave up on the idea of a family, a future. They left it all in Chernobyl.?

Several men in Abramenkovs’ unit died at the site. They were brought home in body bags.

“These boys were young and naive,? he says. “They weren’t qualified to detoxify such a potent environment. They had no clue how to handle radioactive material. I had a taxi driver in my unit, sailors, fishermen, an 18-year-old student. They were all sent.?

While Abramenkovs would meticulously measure the toxins in his environment and monitor the radioactive level in his system, most of his team was careless. They ignored instructions, he remembers, removing their protective masks to stay cool in the summer’s sweltering heat and nonchalantly eating apples from trees. Whether it was from ignorance, apathy or youth’s blind notion of immortality was hard to judge.

“They thought it was a joke. Just as they couldn’t see the radiation, they couldn’t see the consequences. But later, they came.?

Soviet regulations didn’t help the situation. Only officers were given equipment to measure the area’s radiation, and the doses sent in for analysis were roughly calculated.

Therefore, it was little surprise that so many men developed terminal heath problems. The most tragic, Abramnekovs says, were the psychological consequences.

“We lost members.? His throat tightens on the words.

“After we came home, my team started drinking. They told me their life seemed so close to its end.? He pauses.

“Two of my men — health servants, twenty-seven years old — killed themselves. Two others hung themselves. It was sotragic.?

Denial

It is nearly impossible to know just how many people have suffered because of Chernobyl. Accurate statistics are difficult enough to collect without a government that deliberately distorted the evidence. In the months that followed, Moscow kept the health reports of the liquidators who helped clean up confidential.

Even today, when hundreds of Ukrainians and Belarusians, all who live within the explosion’s toxic wake, are diagnosed each year with cancer, Russia fails to blame Chernobyl, just as the Soviet government refused to accept the disaster on day one.

Janis Berzins was working at Latvia’s Salaspils Nuclear Research Facility in April 1986. At the time it was the most reputed nuclear research center in the Soviet Union. From their science lab, Berzins and his team watched as a plume of toxins gradually infiltrated Latvia’s skies.

“At first the sight wasn’t too shocking,? the researcher says. “But slowly we realized that the deposit was very big, and that the catastrophe was huge.?

The facility’s radiosensitive meters detected a growing amount of cesium and uranium in the air, along with several other radioactive elements. After two weeks, the levels were alarming.

“We sent the results to Riga immediately, and asked them to pass the information on to Moscow,? Berzins recalls. “They said Moscow didn’t want our information. They threw all of our work out. They discarded all of our tests.?

It would be three months before Chernobyl’s environmental effects were made public. And the news was devastating.

There were toxins in the ground, in the water, dappled on flowers in the form of dew, sprinkled over trees, gardens and homes, radiating from the earth, hanging in the air. Soviet and European society became paranoid. Mothers warned their children from playing outdoors and panicked if they came home wet from swimming in the local river.

“We were lucky it didn’t rain,? Berzins says. “Since the weather in April and May was so dry, the cloud just floated by. If it had rained, all of those toxins would have poured down onto us.?

Both Berzins and Abramenkovs were surprisingly phlegmatic when describing how the Soviet government dealt with the disaster. They spoke as if Moscow’s incompetence in handling the mess and negligence for human life was expected. And perhaps, for them, it was. After all, these men had lived under the Soviet system — with all its shortcomings — for nearly their entire lives.

But when it came to the disaster itself, they spoke with frightening severity.

“In the case of Chernobyl, the price of nuclear power was too high,? says Abramenkovs, who now works as the director of Latvia’s Hazardous Waste Management Agency. “That tragedy — losing my team, transporting the dead bodies back to Riga — it was too much.?

Before ending our conversation, I asked the nuclear chemist what he felt, looking back at Chernobyl 20 years on.

“I want to forget.?


Mubarak receives letter from Freiberga
© 2006 Bahrain News Agency
19 Apr, 2006

Cairo, April. 19, (BNA) — Egyptian President, Hosni Mubarak, received today a letter from Latvia's President, Vaira Vike Freiberga, related to the opening of Latvia's embassy in Cairo within the framework of reinforcing relations and cooperation.

The letter was presented to Mubarak by Latvia's Foreign Minister, Artis Pabriks during his meeting with Egypt's Prime Minister, Dr. Ahmed Nadefh.


Ambassador: Russia may halt all oil exports via Latvia
© 2006 The Baltic Times
Apr 19, 2006
From wire reports

RIGA — Russian Ambassador to Latvia Viktor Kalyuzhny was quoted in an interview last week as saying that Russia could cease exports of oil products through Latvian pipelines in the near future due to poor relations between the countries. But the ambassador, speaking to an audience at the Baltic Russian Institute, did say that Russia was eager to fill domestic pipelines first, particularly to the Visotsk port on the Gulf of Finland, though according to reports he said the main reason for the decision, which could go into effect as early as 2006, was the unsatisfactory state of bilateral relations.


Technical Problems Delay Bourse Openings
© 2006 Associated Press
April 20, 2006 06:17 AM ET

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) — The Nordic and Baltic stock and bond markets opened an hour late Thursday due to a technical glitch with the cash-trading system, the Swedish-based bourse operator OMX AB said.

Trade was postponed in Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Estonia and Latvia, which share the same trading systems, OMX spokesman Niclas Lilja said.

OMX owns the bourses in those countries, except for Norway and Iceland.

Jacob Wall, analyst at ABG Sundal Collier in Stockholm, said the glitch was not unusual.

"Bourses can collapse now and then when there is a lot of trade," he said.

OMX spokeswoman Ulrika Areskog said it was the second time this year that the operator faced such technical problems.

On the Net:

http://www.omxgroup.com


Latvia: Gagarin himself attends the presentation of Cosmos' Eurovision single
© 2006 Eurovision
Fotis Konstantopoulos reporting from Athens (Greece)

Latvia — In parallel with International Cosmonaut Day, Cosmos’ Eurovision song „I Hear Your Heart? has entered the world as a CD single. The disc’s unofficial presentation, which took place in Moscow, on the celebratory morning of 12th April, was also honoured by the presence of Yuri Gagarin’s statue. "We witnessed the release of our new CD single in Moscow, which fell on the same day as Cosmonaut’s Day, and so we sought out Gagarin himself. It has to be said that he has become a bit stony over the years, but music still finds a way to his heart" says Reinis Sejans. With sponsorship from Hansabanka, the CD has been released under music label MicRec and can be bought in large music retail stores and on the Internet – www.micrec.lv starting from Easter. The multilingual CD single comprises the following:

01. I Hear Your Heart

02. Billie Jean

03. Ticu un viss

04. Танго летнего ?ада (with Laima Vaikule)

05. I Hear Your Heart — remix (DJ Masulis)

In preparation for the Eurovision final in Greece on 20th May, the Cosmos boys have headed for several of the Eurovision countries and have attended a week long course in interview techniques in the Russian metropolitan of Moscow. They still have Lithuania and Germany to visit but currently the sextet are in the Ukraine demonstrating their talents on five TV channels and four radio stations. “It must be said that we have been pleasantly surprised that both in Russia and the Ukraine the right sounds have been heard. The sounds are full of people’s knowledge of us and pleasure in what we do?, says Andris Sejans.

http://www.cosmosmusic.lv/


Plastic fuel hits red tape
© 2006 © Sunday Times
An innovative Australian company had to take its ideas abroad to be recognised, writes Emma-Kate Symons
23 Apr 06

Australia — AUSTRALIAN technology that converts plastic bags, ice-cream containers, milk crates and wheelie bins into clean diesel fuel for cars, trucks, trains and buses is seducing environmentally conscious investors and governments in Europe.

But at home, OzmoTech, the group that developed the ThermoFuel process, is still a relatively low-profile waste-to-energy outfit battling government indecision over excise on fuels derived from plastics, and local council preferences for traditional waste-disposal methods.

Dutch environmental technology firm EnvoSmart paid $190 million for the exclusive continental European rights to OzmoTech's system for turning plastic waste – typically destined for landfills – into standard diesel.

It was the biggest joint venture between Australian and Dutch companies.

Later this year, OzmoTech will start shipping 31 plants – all manufactured in Melbourne – to 14 European countries, beginning with Germany. The Berlin plant will transform 42,000 tonnes of plastic waste into 38 million litres of diesel fuel a year.

Next year, plants will be established in the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden, followed by Luxembourg, Belgium, Slovakia, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Estonia and the Czech Republic.

Last year, OzmoTech signed an exclusive contract with Axiom, backed by the Victor Smorgon group, to begin building its plastic waste-conversion plants in Australia.

But the potential $90 million deal is on hold pending an Australian Taxation Office decision on excise applicable to diesel produced from plastic waste.

While Australia deliberates, most of OzmoTech's business is being conducted overseas, particularly in Europe where local authorities and investors are eager to jump on the alternative fuel bandwagon amid rising oil prices, diminishing fossil-fuel resources and concerns to promote "profits as well as the planet" in the waste industry.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, said developed nations would produce about 45 per cent more waste in 2020, compared with a quarter of a century earlier.

In late 2004, OzmoTech struck a $35 million agreement with British renewable energy firm Cynar to build seven plants for Britain and Ireland.

The firm is also expanding into Spain. Hungary, Turkey and eventually the US are identified as the next export market targets.

EnvoSmart chairman John Bouterse said the Australian technology appealed to European investors because of widespread concerns about sustainable energy sources.

"In Europe, people are realising that if you don't invest in waste, in clean water, clean air and clean soil, then your children and grandchildren won't have a life in 25 years," he said.

Technological advances helped EnvoSmart convince governments and venture capitalists that alternative fuels generated from waste were a sensible investment.

Local authorities were also under pressure across the EU to reduce landfills. Under a Brussels directive, biodegradable waste going to landfill must be reduced to 35 per cent of the total within 10 years.

"With the Australian technology . . . each kilo of plastic gives almost one litre of diesel. Boats, trucks, buses, generators, every type of diesel motor could use the diesel produced," Mr Bouterse said.

OzmoTech chief executive Garry Baker said the Melbourne group had orders for more than 60 plants worldwide, of which only 14 were destined for Australia.

"There are different sorts of pressures applicable to the European markets," he said.

"In Australia, many councils and waste-managing operators still operate normal landfills and don't have the imposition on them to seek alternatives."

Marketing manager Marc Middleton said he liked to give potential clients the example of one ice-cream container stuffed with plastic wastes that could be turned into diesel fuel that would drive a car 11km.


Drinking habits take toll in Baltics
© 2006 Aberdeen News
TIMOTHY JACOBS
Associated Press

RIGA, Latvia — Augustinas Grevys' glory was short-lived when he bested three friends by being the last to pass out when each downed nearly a quart of moonshine.

Grevys didn't get the chance to spend his 20 litas ($7) winnings — enough to buy two more bottles of booze — because the 34-year-old Lithuanian died within hours. His three friends were found comatose but eventually recovered.

That incident five years ago triggered calls for action to stem binge drinking in Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia, yet they remain near the bottom of European Union health categories linked to excessive drinking — incidence of liver disease, traffic deaths, suicides, alcohol poisoning and psychosis.

None of the three former Soviet republics has a comprehensive, well-financed program to fight alcohol abuse, and deeply entrenched cultural traditions of heavy drinking show no sign of fading.

"We are a tiny nation of 1.4 million people and one of the world's fastest shrinking populations," said Lauri Bekmann, an Estonian temperance activist. "A country like ours will die out if it keeps drinking like this."

Lithuania has a suicide and self-inflicted injury rate of 39 per 100,000 people — by far the highest in Europe, including non-EU countries such as Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, and experts link that to high alcohol consumption. Estonia ranks third and Latvia fourth in the EU.

Alcohol is partly blamed for making Baltic roads among the most perilous in the 25-nation EU. Latvia has the bloc's highest traffic fatality rate — 220 deaths per 1 million residents in 2004 — just ahead of Lithuania at 216.

The World Health Organization says the average Estonian consumes 3.54 gallons of pure alcohol a year, the third highest in the EU. Latvia and Lithuania have lower figures, but the statistics don't include consumption of illegal liquor.

WHO estimates the Baltic states and Slovakia have the EU's highest unrecorded alcohol consumption — as much as 1.85 gallons annually per person in Latvia. Dr. Astrida Stirna, head of Latvia's State Addiction Agency, estimates 25 percent to 30 percent of alcohol drunk in Latvia is illegal booze.

In the Estonian port of Parnu five years ago, 68 people died and 80 were injured by a single batch of methanol-laced alcohol, which can cause blindness or death in small amounts. Seven people from an eastern Latvian town died from a bad batch last year.

But Baltic residents earn some of the EU's lowest wages and are willing to risk periodic lethal batches of cheap illegal alcohol. Moonshine is readily available in virtually every village, town and city.

Health experts attribute the bingeing problem to poverty, a lack of political will to fight alcohol abuse, Baltic drinking traditions and the ease and low cost of obtaining alcohol, including bootleg booze.

"Even among the young people, I don't know a single person who doesn't drink to get drunk. Even 16-and 17-year-olds drink so much they can't make it home at night," said one moonshiner. He insisted on being quoted only by his first name, Mareks, to avoid criminal prosecution.

It is considered bad form in the Baltics to refuse the offer of a drink or not to finish a bottle of liquor once it has been opened. The person who finishes a bottle is expected to buy another one.

For many, the June 23-24 midsummer night celebrations often include dusk-til-dawn drinking bouts.

Ben Baumberg, a researcher at the Institute of Alcohol Studies in England, said the Baltic countries could learn from their Nordic neighbors, which have similar drinking traditions.

"In Finland, Sweden, Norway and Iceland, they also tend to drink the same way, but their level of drinking is much lower," Baumberg said.

He said people in those countries are more aware of alcoholism's harms, and their governments have the will to address the problem. "My impression is that you just don't have that right now in the Baltic countries," he said.

A few small steps have been taken. Estonia has a zero-tolerance drunk driving law in which just a single drink will put drivers in the wrong. Latvia enacted a law last year imposing an $850 fine or 15-day jail term for first-time offenders.

But experts say much more is needed. Some activists want Estonia to adopt a model like Sweden, where high taxes make drinking very expensive and all liquor is sold through state-run stores.

"If we limited alcohol sales and advertising, I think it would have a positive effect on alcoholism," said Bekmann, who heads the Estonian Temperance Union. "We can't change the older generation, but we can still try to reach young people."


Russia deploys advanced anti-missile systems near NATO's eastern borders
© 2006 The Hindu
Vladimir Radyuhin
Moscow warns against stationing Alliance troops in the Baltics

MOSCOW — Russia has begun deploying advanced air defence systems in Belarus near NATO's eastern borders in response to the continuing expansion of the Atlantic alliance to the east.

The first batch of S-300PS mobile surface-to-air missiles arrived in Belarus over the weekend, the Russian Defence Ministry's newspaper Krasnaya Zvezda reported. Russia will supply a total of four S-300PS batteries consisting of 24 missile launchers.

According to Russia's Deputy Air Force Commander Aytech Bizhev, the deployment will extend the effective range of Russia's western air defence by 150 km and the detection of air targets by 400 km. The S-300PS is an all-altitude air defence missile capable of shooting down aircraft, cruise and ballistic missiles at a range of 90 km.

Joint command planned

Belarus is Russia's closest ally in the former Soviet Union.

The two countries are planning to introduce a common currency and set up a joint defence command. Last month, Belarus leader Alexander Lukashenko, branded by the U.S. as "Europe's last dictator," won a third presidential term in an election denounced by the West as neither free nor fair.

Russia's Air Force Commander Vladimir Mikhailov described the deployment of S-300PS missiles as an "adequate response" to the admission of Poland and the former Soviet Baltic republics into NATO. Belarus shares borders with Poland, Luthuania and Latvia.

Russia is also concerned with U.S. plans to set up military bases in the former Warsaw Pact countries of Bulgaria and Romania, and deploy anti-missile systems in Poland and other East European states.

Russia's Defence Minister Sergei Ivanov warned that Moscow would view any deployment of NATO military forces in Poland and the Baltic countries as a violation of earlier agreements.

"Such redeployment could run counter to NATO commitment [under the 1997 Russia-NATO pact] to exercise restraint in deploying conventional forces," he said in an interview this week.

"In the event of a clear violation of the balance of forces near our borders, we reserve the lawful right to take all necessary measures to ensure the reliability of our national security."


New Era Gains, Rivals Drop in Latvia
© 2006 Angus Reid
Global Scan : Polls & Research
April 25, 2006

(Angus Reid Global Scan) – Support for New Era (JL) increased last month in Latvia, according to a poll by SKDS. 14.9 per cent of respondents would vote for the JL in the next parliamentary election, up 2.3 points since January.

The Union of the Green and Farmers (ZZS) is second with 9.6 per cent, followed by For Human Rights in Unified Latvia (PCTVL) with 8.9 per cent, the Union For Fatherland and Freedom / LNNK (TVP) with 7.4 per cent, and the People’s Party (TP) with 6.6 per cent. Latvian parties require at least five per cent of the vote to win seats in the Parliament.

Support is lower for the First Party of Latvia (LPP) and Way for Latvia Union (LC) coalition, the Harmony Centre (SC), the Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (LSDSP), Light of Latgale (LG), Homeland (Dzimtene) and New Democracy (JP).

In the October 2002 election, New Era received 23.9 per cent of all cast ballots and secured 26 seats in the Parliament. New Era founder Einar Repse became prime minister in November 2002, but was substituted by Indulis Emsis of the ZZS in March 2004.

In November 2004, the Latvian government changed again after president Vaira Vike-Freiberga nominated TP leader Aigars Kalvitis as prime minister. Kalvitis formed a coalition administration which includes New Era, the ZZS and the LPP. Repse served as defence minister, but left cabinet in December 2005 after a criminal probe into his financial deals was launched.

Earlier this month, New Era gave the prime minister an ultimatum to exclude the LPP from the current administration. After Kalvitis refused, the six New Era cabinet members—including defence minister Linda Murniece—tendered their resignations. Kalvitis now heads a minority government.

On Apr. 19, Kalvitis visited Japan, and declared, "I think (Latvia’s capital) Riga will become, like it was a hundred years ago, one of the central Baltic cities."

Polling Data

What party would you vote for in the next parliamentary election?

Mar. 2006Jan. 2006
New Era (JL)14.9%12.6%
Union of the Green and Farmers (ZZS)9.6%10.5%
For Human Rights in Unified Latvia (PCTVL)8.9%9.3%
Union For Fatherland and Freedom / LNNK (TVP)7.4%10.2%
People’s Party (TP)6.6%8.4%
First Party of Latvia (LPP) and
Way for Latvia Union (LC) coalition
3.8%4.9%
Harmony Centre (SC)3.4%4.0%
Latvian Social Democratic Workers’ Party (LSDSP)2.8%2.0%
Light of Latgale (LG)2.0%1.3%
Homeland (Dzimtene)1.5%1.6%
New Democracy (JP)1.3%1.1%

Source: SKDS
Methodology: Interviews with 1,006 Latvian citizens conducted from Mar. 17 to Mar. 28, 2006. Margin of error is 4 per cent.


Latvian president visits Finland
© 2006 STT
25.4.2006 at 8:54

Riga — Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the president of Latvia, is visiting Finland on Tuesday and Wednesday with her spouse, Professor Imants Freibergs.

Finland's President Tarja Halonen is to have a meeting with her Latvian counterpart Tuesday after the official welcoming ceremony at the Presidential Palace in Helsinki. The presidents are expected to talk about questions related to the EU draft constitution, the relationships between their countries and Russia as well as cooperation in the Baltic Sea region.

President Vike-Freiberga's programme also includes placing a wreath at Hietaniemi cemetery, a lecture at the University of Helsinki and visits to Parliament and the town of Porvoo.

A Latvian business delegation is to travel with President Vike-Freiberga. Both presidents will take part in a business seminar on Wednesday.

President Vike-Freiberga has not made an official visit to Finland previously. President Halonen visited Latvia in the spring of 2001.


Latvian man marks a year in sanctuary
© 2006 CBC News
Last updated Apr 25 2006 08:01 AM NDT

CBC report — Supporters of a man who has spent the last year living in sanctuary in a St. John's church say they are frustrated with what they call slow movement by the federal government.

Alexi Kolosov marked a full year Tuesday since he sought sanctuary in the West End Baptist Church.

Kolosov, who is facing deportation to Latvia unless he can convince the federal government to have a second look at his case, has won support not only from the church's congregation but from numerous people in the community.

Supporters say Kolosov was given terrible representation by an immigration consultant, who has since vanished with his clients' money.

Kolosov, who has grandchildren living in Newfoundland, struggles to find words to describe the past year.

"Every day I wait," he said. "I don't know what will be my future."

Rev. Gordon Sutherland said there has there has never been a shortage of food or support from the community.

"Alexi has had no problem with the law," Sutherland said.

"He's been a good worker and he wants to stay here for his grandchildren."

Kolosov's son was deported in December, although that man's children still live in the province.

Sutherland and other supporters have been trying to persuade federal immigration officials to review Kolosov's case.

So far, their appeal has not been heard.

Sutherland says the supporters are frustrated that immigration officials have refused to even contact the church in more than eight months.

"It's as if they said, 'We've made up our mind, it's now up to you to turn him over and let us deport him.' We think that would be unjust, unfair and lacking any compassion that Canada's known for."

Kolosov's supporters are starting an e-mail campaign to lobby the federal government.

Federal Immigration Minister Monte Solberg and Newfoundland and Labrador's cabinet representative, Loyola Hearn, were not available to comment.

Under Canadian law, church sanctuary provides no legal protection for would-be immigrants. However, authorities have not yet taken action against claimants seeking protection within church walls.

In January, authorities deported claimant Alexi Portnoy to Israel, after he sought sanctuary in a Roman Catholic church in Marystown.

In that case, however, Portnoy was apprehended by authorities after police detained him for a speeding violation. He had left the church to help a friend collect clothes for a charity drive.


Invitation to participate in the Baltic Challenge Award 2006
© 2006 learningbusinessportal.fi portal
26.Apr.2006

Stockholm — Leading innovators, entrepreneurs and producers of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) are invited to showcase ICT products and services that facilitate daily life for the users.

The Baltic Challenge is open for solutions and applications that illustrate innovative and useful ways to implement ICT for both public and private use within administrations, educational institutions, healthcare, businesses and other organisations, where ICT can play a crucial role for the individual and the society.

Participating projects compete in ten categories; Infrastructure & Access, Business Development, Culture, Tourism, Online Security, Education, Governance & Administration, Health, Emergency Response & Prevention, and Environment. The Baltic Challenge Award 2006 invites applicants from all Baltic Sea countries — Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Russia and Sweden — including Belarus, Norway and Ukraine.

Best ICT solution is awarded with 5.000 �, sponsored by Latvian ICT company Dati Exigen Group. Additional awards sponsored by the City of Riga will go to best Governance & Administration project and best e-Inclusion project. The winners will be announced at the Baltic Challenge Award Conference hosted by the City of Riga on August 24-25, 2006.

The City of Riga will host the Baltic Challenge Award's Conference & Event as part of the Riga Forum. The event will gather regional leaders, experts, entrepreneurs and innovators taking the opportunity to meet, discuss, exchange knowledge, find new partners and build useful networks. The event includes seminars, an exhibition of nominated ICT projects and a prize ceremony and banquet. Join the Baltic Challenge network and help create a strong and united ICT market, built on co-operation, partnership and exchange of knowledge in the Baltic Sea Region.

The online application form is accessible at www.balticchallenge.net until May 15th, 2006. Enter your project now!

For more information, please contact: Maria Hinas, Project Manager, County Administrative Board of Stockholm, email: maria.hinas@ab.lst.se tfn +46-8-785 42 35 or +46-70-201 59 96


Cesu Alus posts reduced loss for 2005
© 2006 just-drinks.com portal
26 April 2006
Source: just-drinks.com editorial team

Cesis — Cesu Alus, Latvia’s second-largest beer producer, posted a loss of LVL472,000 (US$836,000) for 2005, representing a significant improvement on the LVL1.07m loss incurred last year.

The company attributed the reduction in losses to its substantial investment in production and said it expected to close 2006 with a profit. Sales in 2005 rose by 26.3% to LVL11.87m.

Cesu Alus said it invested LVL4m in production development in 2005 and planned a further investment of LVL2.7m in 2006.


Latvia's Supreme Court leaves Berezovsky on blacklist
© 2006 RIA Novosti
20:46 - 26/ Apr/ 2006

RIGA, April 26 — The Senate of the Supreme Court of Latvia has upheld a decision by the court to reject an appeal filed by exiled Russian tycoon Boris Berezovsky, and ruled to keep his name on the Baltic country's list of personae non grata, a court official said Wednesday.

Berezovsky was put on the list after he made a two-day trip to the former Soviet republic in September last year to help promote an education software company in which he had invested.

Moscow accused Latvia of breaching its commitments to Interpol by allowing the oligarch into the country, in view of the international warrant for his arrest.

Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said at the time that Berezovsky had on several occasions put the country in "an embarrassing situation," and said he would seek his inclusion on a list of individuals barred from entry into Latvia.

The inclusion of Berezovsky on the black list in October 2005 was followed by the resignation of Latvian Interior Minister Eriks Jekabsons, after Kalvitis accused him of warning the Russian oligarch of the government's intention to put him on the list.

Berezovsky now lives in self-imposed exile in the United Kingdom, where he was granted political asylum after fleeing Russia to avoid an investigation into money-laundering charges.

He said he would appeal Latvia's decision to put him on a blacklist in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.


President of Ukraine visits Latvia
© 2006 LTD. Inter-Media, ForUm
News / 27 April 2006 - 12:14

Riga — At Riga’s airport Ukrainian delegation headed by the President Yushchenko met by Director of Foreign Ministry Diplomatic Protocol Artis Bertulis, Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of Ukraine to Latvia Raul Chilachava with his wife, Latvian Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador to Ukraine Andris Vilc?ns and Finance Minister of Latvia Oskars Spurdziņš.

President of Ukraine with the First Lady of Ukraine and official delegation have departed for Riga Castle for meeting with the President of Latvia Vairas Vīķes-Freibergas and her husband.

In the course of the meeting, the parties are to negotiate pressing question of the cooperation and to ink bilateral documents.


The CIS and Baltic press on Russia
Excerpt
© 2006 RIA Novosti
22:56 - 27/ Apr/ 2006

LATVIA — The national press is unhappy that Latvia, as well as West Europe, depends on Russia for energy. "The developments suggest only one conclusion — Europe (Latvia included) may discourse at length about the plans of energy self-sufficiency, but this is all wishful thinking... At least for Latvia Russia has and will be a major energy supplier, whether we like it or not. It is beyond doubt that business in Russia continues to be intertwined with politics, and, putting it mildly, the politicians of our neighbor are not very enthusiastic about Latvia, and other Baltic countries." (Dienas biznes, April 25.)

The Russian-language press is viewing the energy squabble between Gazprom and European Commission as the beginning of bidding.

"There are grounds to assume that the current 'exchange of strikes' is no more than the start of bargaining between Europe and Russia for the spheres of influence in the energy sector. Having claimed to be Britain's biggest supplier, Russia has come up with its highest bid (complete energy monopoly in Europe). Europe has made it equally clear that Russia will have to bid down. Probably, very soon we will hear proposals, which will reveal to which extent Gazprom is ready to let the Europeans take part in its various joint projects in exchange for a solid package of shares of European energy companies." (Telegraf, April 24.)


Solzhenitsyn Accuses NATO of Plotting Against Russia
© 2006 AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, MOSCOW
Posted 04/27/06 17:47

MOSCOW — Russian writer and Nobel Prize winner Alexander Solzhenitsyn lashed out at NATO, accusing it of plotting to subject Russia to its control, in an interview to be published April 28 in the Moscow News newspaper.

NATO’s actions amount “to preparations for the complete encirclement of Russia and its loss of sovereignty,? the former Soviet dissident said, in excerpts quoted by the Interfax news agency.

?Though it is clear that present-day Russia poses no threat to it, NATO is methodically and persistently building up its military machine into the east of Europe and ... continually surrounding Russia from the south,? Solzhenitsyn said.

The three former Soviet republics of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, as well as four other ex-Communist states, Romania, Bulgaria, Slovakia and Slovenia, joined the alliance in 2004, angering Russia.

Two other former Soviet republics, Ukraine and Georgia, have stated their aim of joining NATO in the near future. Three other former Soviet satellites, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, had earlier joined the alliance.

Solzhenitsyn also accused NATO of supporting democratic revolutions in former Soviet republics, and of stepping up its influence in Central Asia, Russia’s traditional backyard.

The United States, a leading NATO member, currently leases an airbase in the Central Asian former Soviet republic of Kyrgyzstan, where Russia also has troops stationed.

The Nobel Prize winner also accused Russia of thoughtlessly trying to copy Western democracy, which he described as being “in crisis.?

?We have opted for the most thoughtless form of imitation. And yes, present-day Western democracy is in a state of crisis, and it is still impossible to foresee how it will try to overcome it,? Solzhenitsyn said.

Solzhenitsyn, who won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1970 and revealed to the world a detailed story of the Soviet Union’s system of labor camps in “One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich,? “The First Circle? and “The Gulag Archipelago,? was stripped of Soviet citizenship in 1974 and expelled.

He lived in West Germany, Switzerland and the United States until his return in 1994. Since then, he has been critical of the West and also of Russia’s post-Soviet evolution, calling for a return to traditional moral values.


After EU accession number of immigrants to Latvia has not risen significantly
© 2006 The Baltic Times
Apr 28, 2006
By TBT Staff

RIGA – According to the Latvian Citizenship and Migration Board, two years after Latvia’s accession to the EU, the number of people immigrating to this Baltic country has not risen significantly.

As of Jan. 1, 2006, there were about 8,003 foreigners with fixed-term residence permits living in Latvia, which is 491 people more than a year ago. The number of foreigners with permanent residence permits grew over the two years from 25,570 to 29,487.

This data shows that the previous trend has continued, as in the period between January 1, 2002, and January 1, 2004, the number of foreigners with fixed-term residence permits grew by 836, while the number of foreigners with permanent residence permits increased by 2,043, the agency said.

The Citizenship and Migration Board expects that the number of immigrants in Latvia will rise gradually also in the future and that there will be no major leap in immigration figures, BNS reported.


President visits Ukrainian school in Riga
© 2006 LTD. Inter-Media, ForUm
28 April 2006 - 16:57

Riga — Accompanied by Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and her husband, Imants, Victor Yushchenko has visited a Ukrainian secondary school in Riga, President's press office reported.

The Head of State thanked the Latvian government for meeting the needs of Ukrainians residing in the republic. He assured his counterpart that our government was also ready to help and support Latvians in Ukraine.

“I am convinced that in our diverse world it is vital to preserve native language, literature and history in order to preserve nationalities,? he opined.

The Head of State said a special council to work with Ukrainians living abroad had been established in Ukraine and held its first meeting yesterday. He said its members had decided to give “passports of foreign Ukrainians? to hundreds of Ukrainians living abroad, including 144 Ukrainians in Latvia.

Mr. Yushchenko added that the government had also founded a special department within Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry to communicate and support Ukrainians abroad.

“We aim to help Ukrainian diasporas profoundly integrate with Ukraine and adopt its way of life,? he said.


KC lawyers trace scam from here to Latvia
© 2006 The Kansas City Star
Ponzi scheme sparks $16 million in claims
By DAN MARGOLIES
Columnist

Kansas City — Last Friday was the deadline for investors to file claims in the receivership of a Ponzi scheme that swindled hundreds of people worldwide out of millions of dollars.

So far, more than 1,000 investors in the Capital Enhancement Club, or CEC, have filed claims. The claims total around $16 million.

“These guys were using the Internet to steal money from people,? said attorney Ken Weltz of Lathrop & Gage, who along with colleague Brian Holland represents the receiver in the case, former Kansas Bureau of Investigation agent Larry Cook.

Cook has been tracing a winding electronic money trail and has managed so far to recover $5 million for investors. He’s looking to obtain millions more.

“He’s been tracing bank records all over the world,? Weltz said.

Most of the money made its way to Latvia and from there to a New York hedge fund, which so far has agreed to turn over $4 million. The hedge fund was supposed to fork over $9 million, but it claims it parked the remaining loot in companies in Scotland and Switzerland and hasn’t been able to free it up.

U.S. District Judge Sam A. Crow of Topeka has given the fund until May 16 to transfer the remaining funds to Cook. Otherwise, Wentz said, Cook will seek to have the principals of the fund, Seaforth Meridian Ltd., held in contempt and possibly thrown in jail.

In a complaint filed last spring, the Securities and Exchange Commission said that CEC falsely claimed it would pay investors compounded monthly interest of 7 percent to 11 percent —or as much as 260 percent annually — from trading in international markets.

In reality, the SEC charged, CEC’s trading program didn’t exist and investor funds were pocketed by CEC’s principals or transferred to a bank account in Riga, Latvia.

The securities watchdog charged that at least $1.5 million was misappropriated by Newport News, Va., resident Rocky D. Spencer, a convicted felon and “recidivist fraudster,? and Topeka resident Richard P. Kringen, one of CEC’s salesmen.

At the direction of CEC’s founder and managing partner, David Tanner, an additional $10.3 million was transferred to the Latvian bank, the SEC charged.

Kringen often hosted CEC meetings, including one last year at a residence in Overland Park, according to the SEC. Kringen allegedly told attendees that CEC was an invitation-only private investment club with more than 80,000 members in 120 countries.

In return for a minimum investment of $500, Kringen told prospective investors that they would receive compound monthly interest and additional money for bringing in new “downline? investors. He also told them that CEC’s partners had not revealed the exact nature of its investments — only that they involved “trading in international markets,? and that time was “of the essence? because the program would expire in 2008.

Cook said that CEC bilked consumers all over the world, about half of them residing in the United States. Investors also hailed from Germany, Poland, the Philippines and elsewhere.

The Justice Department, State Department, Securities and Exchange Commission and Latvian prosecutors are working with Cook to unfreeze money still in Latvia and repatriate it to investors.

“The thing we’re seeing here that’s kind of a new wrinkle on these schemes is they’re using electronic currencies almost exclusively,? Cook said. “Most of the money you have to trace through what are known as exchangers’ accounts for these currencies. So it’s been kind of a convoluted path to follow the finances.?

To reach Dan Margolies, call (816) 234-4481 or send e-mail to dmargolies@kcstar.com


Lithuania's 'Stalin's World' theme park
© 2006 Dominican Today
May, 2 — 2:53 PM

GRUTAS, Lithuania.– A Soviet prison camp may not sound like the ideal place for a good time. Even less so in a country that was occupied by the Red Army for half a century.

Yet Grutas Park, a quirky theme park dotted with relics of Lithuania's communist past, has become a major tourist attraction in this former Soviet republic.

Now celebrating its fifth anniversary, the park popularly known as "Stalin's World," every year welcomes hundreds of thousands of visitors who traipse along two miles of wooden walkways resembling those in Siberian prison camps to get from one exhibition to the next.

Statues of Vladimir Lenin, Josef Stalin and other Soviet leaders glower at visitors, and the barbed wire fences and guard towers surrounding the park help give it the feel of a Soviet gulag.

Today, though, the park attracts thousands to see, cheer and jeer symbols that used to instill fear and outrage in people in this former Soviet republic, which, along with Baltic neighbors Latvia and Estonia, regained its independence during the 1991 Soviet collapse.

"Why I am doing this? It's my gift to future generations," said park founder and owner Viliumas Malinauskas, a Lithuanian millionaire. "People can come here and joke about these grim statues. This means that Lithuania is no longer afraid of communism."

Malinauskas, 63, sunk $2 million into Grutas Park after amassing a fortune exporting mushrooms to the West.

The park, which opened in April 2001, spans 50 acres of drained swamp about a half-hour drive from the capital, Vilnius. Next to the sculptures, monuments and paintings charged with communist ideology is a merry-go-round, a restaurant and a small zoo.

The park receives about 200,000 visitors annually — a number Malinauskas said was increasing by 20,000 per year — and employs 80 people. It isn't profitable, said Malinauskas, but it isn't losing money either.

"Children just love this place. Busloads from schools come to Grutas every day from all over Lithuania," Malinauskas said as he watched a group of school children walk past him.

He even entertained thoughts of constructing a railroad track connecting Grutas to the capital city, with cattle cars like those that took the hundreds of thousands of Lithuanians deported by the Soviets to Siberia, to carry visitors to his park. He dismissed the idea as too complicated and expensive.

Danute Juodiene, a 45-year-old history teacher from the city of Kaunas, said he finds something new every time he visits.

"This time I found two new Lenin statues and new birds at their zoo," Juodiene said.

But not everyone is amused by the park. Some have bitterly criticized it as an affront to the those deported or killed during the Soviet occupation, which started during World War II.

"Malinauskas, a former farmer, does not care that these forests where Grutas park was built, once served as shelter for Lithuanian freedom fighters against Soviet occupants," said Juozas Galdikas, a former Parliament member. "He does not care about painful history of Lithuania. What is purpose of this park? To laugh at our pain?"

Galdikas led a group of lawmakers who tried, but failed, to shut the park down, which prompted Malinauskas to erect wooden statues of them alongside the Soviet leaders.

"Those who are still afraid of shadows of the past deserve to stand here," Malinauskas said.


Latvian PM: Keep WWII memorial events away from Freedom Monument
© 2006 The Baltic Times
May 03, 2006
TBT Staff

Riga — Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis told LNT on May 3 that events marking the end of World War II next week should not be held at the Freedom Monument in Riga’s center.

"[It] is clear to every resident of Latvia" that the right place for such celebration was the Victory Monument, he said. The Victory Monument was built during the Soviet era on the left bank of the Daugava River.

Kalvitis suggested that many organizers of these events only wanted to gather in the city center, “possibly with an intention to organize some public disorder.?


Latvia to keep grip on fuel excise
© 2006 The Baltic Times
May 03, 2006
From wire reports

RIGA — Latvia might continue the practice of not adjusting the excise tax rate on fuel to the euro/lat exchange rate fluctuations if oil product prices remain at current levels, Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis said last week. “We did not raise the excise tax on fuel at the beginning of the year, and it is apparent that the tax should not be raised at the present prices,? he told reporters, explaining what the government could do to prevent a further rise in fuel prices, one of the key reasons for Latvia’s high inflation.


Grass fires sear Latvian countryside
© 2006 The Baltic Times
May 03, 2006
By Elizabeth Celms

RIGA — Five people are dead, more than 18,000 hectares of land have been charred and the forest fires continue as Latvia faces one of its most destructive grass-burning seasons in recent history. The situation has leapt so far out of control that the government was called on April 28 to find a solution. “The burning of old grass has grown into a plague that is costing the state dearly,? President Vaira Vike-Freiberga said. “By setting their fields on fire, people unleash a monster they are unable to control,? she continued, adding that farmers clearly don’t understand the nature of fire.


Baltic Sea ports — a threatened cultural heritage
© 2006 The Nordic Council
04-May-2006

(NORDEN) — Many of the old, historic ports in the Baltic Sea are in the process of losing their original function with the result that an important maritime cultural heritage is disappearing. Stavanger Maritime Museum will make an effort to stop this trend with the exhibition ’Historic Ports’ which will tour museums, schools and libraries in the Nordic countries, the Baltic States, Poland and Germany.

Stavanger Museum acts as co-ordinator for a partnership with the Baltic Sea Heritage Co-operation which was established in 1997 by the ministers of culture in the Baltic Sea States.

The Nordic Cultural Fund has just granted 60,000 Danish kroner for the production the exhibition.

12 posters will be produced on the theme ‘Historic Ports’ which will show various facets of the history, preservation, maintenance, tourism and economy of the harbours. The posters will be produced in sets of 500 to be distributed in Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Germany and Poland. The exhibition will also have its own website so you will also be able to visit it online.

The production will start up in the summer and the posters will be ready for dispatch next autumn.

Contact in the Nordic Cultural Fund:
Adviser Kjell Austin
ka@norden.org,
+45 3396 0242

Chairman of the Working Group of Coastal Culture and Maritime Heritage:
Director Harald Hamre
+47 518 42700


Cheney chides Russia on democracy
© 2006 BBC News
Thursday, 4 May 2006, 15:49 GMT 16:49 UK

Vilnius — US Vice President Dick Cheney has accused Russia of backsliding on democracy and using its vast energy resources to blackmail its neighbours.

He said Moscow had a choice to make between pursuing democratic reforms and reversing the gains of the past decade.

Mr Cheney's comments — one of the sharpest US rebukes to Russia in years — came at an eastern European regional summit in Lithuania's capital, Vilnius.

Russia rejected Mr Cheney's remarks as "completely incomprehensible".

"The speech of Mr Cheney in our opinion is full of a subjective evaluation of us and of the processes that are going on in Russia," said presidential deputy spokesman Dmitri Peskov, quoted by Reuters news agency.

Cheney's warning

Addressing the Vilnius conference, Mr Cheney said Russia had "nothing to fear and everything to gain from strong stable democracies on its borders".

No-one can justify actions that undermine the territorial integrity of a neighbour, or interfere with democratic movements

He warned that opponents of reforms in Russia "were seeking to reverse the gains of the last decade" by restricting democratic rights.

"In many areas of civil society — from religion and the news media, to advocacy groups and political parties — the government has unfairly and improperly restricted the rights of the people," Mr Cheney said.

But he said "none of us believes that Russia is fated to become an enemy".

Mr Cheney also said that "other actions by the Russian government have been counter-productive, and could begin to affect relations with other countries.

"No legitimate interest is served when oil and gas become tools of intimidation or blackmail, either by supply manipulation, or attempts to monopolise transportation," he added.

Russia drew international criticism after briefly turning off its gas taps to Ukraine in January, in a row that disrupted supplies to Europe.

A number of Russian politician have said that the US policy of promoting democracy in the republics of the former Soviet Union is really a tool to establish Washington as the dominant power in the region.

In Vilnius, Mr Cheney also condemned the Belarussian government, describing it as a dictatorship which forced its people to live in a climate of fear.

'Imperial nostalgia'

The conference is discussing how Nato and the European Union can support democratic and security reforms as they continue to expand eastwards into Russia's historical sphere of influence.

The presidents of Ukraine, Georgia, Romania, Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland are attending the conference, sharing their experience of building democracy since the collapse of the Soviet Union.

Georgia's President Mikhail Saakashvili accused Russian politicians of "imperial nostalgia".

"Political forces in Moscow actively work to undermine our economies, our sovereignty, and even our system of governance," he said.


Lithuanian President Criticizes Russia and Germany Over Baltic Sea Pipeline
Created: 04.05.2006 11:52 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 12:44 MSK
© 2006 MosNews

Vilnius — Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus has accused Russia of using its energy supplies to secure political influence over its neighbors and condemned Germany for backing Russia’s controversial Baltic Sea Gas Pipeline, which will circumvent all of current transit countries, such as Poland, Ukraine and the Baltic states.

Adamkus spoke to the British Financial Times newspaper on Wednesday, May 3, on the eve of an international pro-democracy conference in Vilnius. Regarding Germany’s stance on the pipeline he said: “I believe I can understand the Russian position but I cannot understand Germany’s position. As a member of the EU, they acted without even extending the courtesy of advising the Baltic states [about their plans].?

Adamkus’s comments echoed those of Polish officials including Radek Sikorski, the country’s Defense Minister. Earlier this week Sikorski compared the Baltic pipeline deal with the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact — the secret German-Soviet agreement signed just before World War II. The agreement divided up Eastern Europe between Nazi Germany and the Soviet Union.

Referring to Moscow’s efforts to extend its influence through energy policy, Lithuanian President said: “I don’t want to use the world blackmail.? However he made it clear that he was very concerned about Russia’s economic and political pressure.


Russia answered the falling out of Lithuania
© 2006 NovoNews (Latvia)
05 May 2006 - Friday - 11:20 [versions for the press]
babelfish.altavista.com translation of Russian original, edited

Moscow — From 1 July the price of natural gas supplied to Lithuania will be raised from 105 to 130-135 dollars per thousand cubic meters. "Gazprom" established price schedules earlier for the year. However, now a source in the Russian company indicates that Lithuania buys gas more cheaply than Latvia and Estonia (those countries pay 120 dollars per thousand cubic meters).

An increase in the prices for Lithuania, explained source in "Gazprom", is caused by the fact that in "the company's [contractual] obligation ended with respect to the country, and from 1 July we can raise prices by 25-30%". Let us recall that the company already accepted the document, in the course of realization of which the prices for the Baltic States will be brought to the prices for West Europe. About this reports oilru.com.

Officially "Gazprom" did not comment on situation yesterday; however, the deputy chairman of the administration of company Aleksandr Riazanov at the end of April at the general meeting of the shareholders of the Lithuanian national gas company Lietuvos dujos rigidly criticized severely the gas bill, which regulates prices for the important users (15 mln. cubic meters per year), which is examined in the Lithuanian Seym (parliament). It was assumed that if Seym does not end a similar policy, then it is necessary for "Gazprom" to increase the price for gas in order to cover expenditures.

Another reason for cooling relations with Lithuania can be the following statements of the Lithuanian President Valdasa Adamkus, which again rigidly came out against the project SEG:

"I cannot understand the position of Germany... — being a member of the European Union — that it acted without having consider the Baltic states in the reaction to its plans". "Lithuanians attentively follow the fact so that their economic dependence on Russia would not become political", added Mr. Adamkus.

Source: http://www.rusenergy.com

Permanent address of this news article:

http://www.novonews.lv/news/2006/05/05/economy/003274.html


Concerns over reduction in oil transit through Latvia
© 2006 RIA Novosti
18:41 - 05/ 05/ 2006

The CIS and Baltic press on Russia [excerpt] — The third and final section of the Baltic pipeline system has been put into operation, which has provoked serious concern among the local media in Russian about a reduction in oil transit through Latvia. "One cannot say that Russia has put an end to the use of Baltic ports and transit routes: Tallin, Ventspils and Klaipeda will continue getting some crumbs from the master's oil pail... But the prospects for Russian transit are gloomy... Obviously, it will be our ports that will be sacrificed. Russian Industry and Energy Minister Viktor Khristenko has made it clear: 'The system was designed first of all to reduce the dependence of our domestic oil exporters on services of the transit states — Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.'" (Vesti Segodnya, April 26.)


Europeans turn against EU in greater numbers
© 2006 Independent News and Media Limited
By Stephen Castle
Published: 06 May 2006

Brussels — Just 39 per cent of Europeans think the European Union is heading in the right direction and fewer than half of all voters believe that membership is a good thing for their country, according to a comprehensive survey of public opinion.

Fears over the effects of globalisation and worries about the impact of the enlargement of the EU on local job markets emerged as strong themes in the pan-European poll commissioned by the European Commission. But there is widespread support for the EU to do more in matters such as the fight against terrorism and organised crime.

The survey will also encourage supporters of the European constitution to try to revive the document.

The survey of almost 25,000 people showsevidence of scepticism among countries that joined the EU in 2004, despite the fact that they will gain millions of euros in subsidies.

Britain has been dislodged from its position as the EU's most sceptical nation by Latvia, where only 29 per cent of citizens believe that membership of the 25-nation bloc is a good thing. Austria has the second lowest figure at 31 per cent, followed by the UK at 33 per cent. Several of the new, ex-Communist states appear disenchanted with the EU, with less than half of Hungarians, Estonians, Slovenes and Czechs believing membership to be a good thing.

The poll appears to support the decision by the European Commission to keep a focus on the economic agenda and to pursue growth and job creation.

But the findings will also intensify the debate about the frontiers of Europe. France wants EU heads of government to discuss the future of enlargement amid mounting anxiety over Turkish membership talks.

Overall, 47 per cent of Europeans were worried about the impact of globalisation on jobs. Moreover, 63 per cent of interviewees said that further enlargement of the EU would increase problems in their country's job market. In France, only 42 per cent of people see enlargement on the whole as good, the second lowest after Austria at 40 per cent.

The survey will give some heart to those who want to revive the European constitution rejected by voters in referendums in the Netherlands and France last year. The constitution is currently on hold and no concrete initiative will be taken until after next year's French presidential elections. But, given a list of options, one quarter of all Europeans selected a common constitution when asked what would be helpful for the future of Europe.

Asked to rank the EU's performance out of 10, voters gave it more than 5.5 in just four of 15 policy areas. But, more than half of those questioned want more decision-making at EU level in anti-terror measures, the fight against organised crime, research and innovation, environmental protection, health issues, energy, social rights, agriculture and promoting economic growth.

Just 39 per cent of Europeans think the European Union is heading in the right direction and fewer than half of all voters believe that membership is a good thing for their country, according to a comprehensive survey of public opinion.

Fears over the effects of globalisation and worries about the impact of the enlargement of the EU on local job markets emerged as strong themes in the pan-European poll commissioned by the European Commission. But there is widespread support for the EU to do more in matters such as the fight against terrorism and organised crime.

The survey will also encourage supporters of the European constitution to try to revive the document.

The survey of almost 25,000 people showsevidence of scepticism among countries that joined the EU in 2004, despite the fact that they will gain millions of euros in subsidies.

Britain has been dislodged from its position as the EU's most sceptical nation by Latvia, where only 29 per cent of citizens believe that membership of the 25-nation bloc is a good thing. Austria has the second lowest figure at 31 per cent, followed by the UK at 33 per cent. Several of the new, ex-Communist states appear disenchanted with the EU, with less than half of Hungarians, Estonians, Slovenes and Czechs believing membership to be a good thing.

The poll appears to support the decision by the European Commission to keep a focus on the economic agenda and to pursue growth and job creation.

But the findings will also intensify the debate about the frontiers of Europe. France wants EU heads of government to discuss the future of enlargement amid mounting anxiety over Turkish membership talks.

Overall, 47 per cent of Europeans were worried about the impact of globalisation on jobs. Moreover, 63 per cent of interviewees said that further enlargement of the EU would increase problems in their country's job market. In France, only 42 per cent of people see enlargement on the whole as good, the second lowest after Austria at 40 per cent.

The survey will give some heart to those who want to revive the European constitution rejected by voters in referendums in the Netherlands and France last year. The constitution is currently on hold and no concrete initiative will be taken until after next year's French presidential elections. But, given a list of options, one quarter of all Europeans selected a common constitution when asked what would be helpful for the future of Europe.

Asked to rank the EU's performance out of 10, voters gave it more than 5.5 in just four of 15 policy areas. But, more than half of those questioned want more decision-making at EU level in anti-terror measures, the fight against organised crime, research and innovation, environmental protection, health issues, energy, social rights, agriculture and promoting economic growth.


"Cheney's Boys. Dick Cheney Teaches Presidents of Former USSR Republics How To Treat Russia"
© 2006 Rossiyskaya Gazeta
via Johnson's list
May 5, 2006

Report by Nadezhda Sorokina — The great satirists Ilf and Petrov once wrote that alongside the big world of important affairs and ideas you always find a world of small things and ideas.

So alongside the great powers' "big 8," a 9 is trying to develop, albeit a "small 9." Comprising those neighbors of Russia that are trying to make something of themselves not by maintaining normal relations with our country, but through efforts to inflate and exploit differences between Moscow and some of its Western partners.

"Common Vision for Common Neighborhood" is the name of the international conference of the Community of Democratic Choice, which has opened in Vilnius.

The heads of eight states from the Baltic and Black Sea regions — Ukraine, Georgia, Moldova, Latvia, Estonia, Bulgaria, Poland, and Romania — came to the Lithuanian capital to attend the forum. The event was not overlooked either by US Vice President Dick Cheney, and Javier Solana, EU higher representative for the common foreign and security policy, and a number of other senior EU and NATO officials.

The Community of Democratic Choice was set up last year on the initiative of Ukrainian President Viktor Yushchenko and Georgian leader Mikheil Saakashvili. In Vilnius the meeting participants made no secret of the fact that this time they had met to study the issue of "new integrations" within the EU and strengthening of democracies in Eastern Europe. But in the "practical plane" the forum discussed how to "protect" the states of the South Caucasus and also Ukraine and Moldova from "pressure" on Russia's part.

The list of grievances put forward by the forum participants turned out to be very long: From support for countries holding dishonest elections, to centralized control of strategic national economic sectors.

For instance, US Vice President Dick Cheney was averse to Moscow's actions in the sphere of supplies of energy resources to foreign markets.

He also said that he sees no justification for Russia's actions to undermine the territorial integrity of neighboring countries or interfere in democratic processes taking place there.

The declarations adopted at the Vilnius forum plainly state that the West should rectify the prevailing situation. First, European countries are recommended to provide direct and flexible support for democratic processes in Eastern Europe. Second, the new East European democracies must conduct law reforms to facilitate their joining the EU. Third, the forum participants advised the European Community to formulate a common, united approach in relations with Russia. Finally, the European countries that are not EU members should create a free-trade zone with all European states.

The conference decided to promote Kaliningrad Oblast's inclusion in the European agenda. And it recommended Brussels to establish active ties with this region in order to "reduce its international isolation imposed by Russia." At the same time, the EU and NATO were recommended by the Community of Democratic Choice to continue the policy of isolating Belarus and strengthening civil society in that country.

Russia and Belarus had no official representatives at the forum. But Andrey Illarionov, former economic adviser to the Russian president, and Yevgeniy Kiselev, former Moskovskiye Novosti chief editor, were spotted in the conference hallways.

Both the tone of the forum and the issues raised at it were far from accidental. On the eve of the Vilnius conference US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was very clear about how the White House views Moscow's role in the post-Soviet space. Rice made no secret of Washington's concern about the issue of the development of Russian democracy, as well as the use of energy resources to pressurize Russia's neighbors. Addressing US newspaper editors, Rice said that Moscow should acknowledge legitimate US interests in the post-Soviet space. "We support democratization in Ukraine, Kyrgyzstan, Georgia, and other countries that have broken free and are now moving forward," Rice explained.

So against this background Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili's statements on the eve of the Vilnius conference about the CIS having lost its importance and about the possibility of Georgia's quitting the organization in the near future appear entirely logical. Like the obvious political component of the "Common Vision for Common Neighborhood," which is increasingly turning into an attempt at "neighborhood without Russia."


Russia to be 3rd party at court hearings on Kononov lawsuit
© 2006 MosNews
07.05.2006, 18.50

MOSCOW, May 7 (Itar-Tass) — Russia will be a third party at the European Court of Human Rights hearings on the Vasily Kononov vs. Latvia lawsuit, a source at the presidential press service told Itar-Tass on Sunday.

Russian representative to the European Court of Human Rights Pavel Laptev has submitted a memorandum to the effect.

He also suggested prioritizing the case because of the elderly age of Kononov, who was born in 1923. The memorandum was posted by the newspaper Rossiiskaya Gazeta.

Kononov is a citizen of Russia and a WW2 veteran. Latvian prosecutors have accused the former guerrilla of war crimes, including a punitive operation at the village of Malye Baty, where nine alleged civilians were killed. Kononov said that the civilians were accomplices to the Nazi.

The Riga court sentenced the former guerrilla to six years in prison, but the Supreme Court released him and ordered a new investigation in April 2001. The hearings resumed in September 2001, and the public prosecutor demanded 12 years in custody for Kononov.

The Latvian Supreme Court pronounced Kononov guilty of war crimes in 2004, but he was released in the courtroom for having served the 20-month sentence.

Last April Kononov filed a lawsuit at the European Court of Human Rights. He wants full acquittal.

Picture  

This edition's picture is from our upcoming feature on riding Riga's tram.

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