Latvian MailerApril 7, 2006

Estonian Patriot Passes Away, Russian Posturing Continues

Sveiki, all!

Much to catch up on. Before we get to the usual mailer features, we do want to mention that we've added a new "Music" section to our site and look forward to bringing you the same kinds of "unique" items as elsewhere.

In the news:

This edition's links are of Latvians past and present. This edition's picture is from one of Peters' many tours of Old Riga.

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

Ar visu labu,

Silvija and Peters
Latvian Link  

We've only begun exploring the following sites, recently sent to us:


Russian Communists Protest Proposed PACE Debate on Soviet Crimes
Created: 16.01.2006 15:14 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 15:14 MSK
Copyright 2006 MosNews

Moscow — Russian communists have staged protests against the Parliament Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) which is to consider a resolution on the international condemnation of crimes by communist regimes.

On Monday, communist activists held a rally outside the Swedish embassy. Sweden was the initiator of the proposed resolution and will give a speech on it at PACEs January session.

The communists are planning similar rallies near the embassies of France, Latvia, Azerbaijan and the United States.

The draft resolution published on the PACE Web site says, the Assembly is convinced that the awareness of history is one of the preconditions for avoiding similar crimes in the future. Furthermore, moral assessment and condemnation of crimes committed play an important role in the education of young generations. The clear position of the international community on the past may be a reference for their future actions. Moreover, the Assembly believes that those victims of crimes committed by totalitarian communist regimes who are still alive or their families, deserve sympathy, understanding and recognition for their sufferings.

However, it mentions that in spite of the crimes of totalitarian communist regimes, some European communist parties have made contributions to achieving democracy.

The Assembly is of the opinion that there is an urgent need for an in-depth and exhaustive international debate on the crimes committed by totalitarian communist regimes with a view to giving sympathy, understanding and recognition to all those affected by these crimes, the draft resolution says.

Russians Protest EU Resolution
Copyright 2006, Prensa Latina

Moscow, Jan 16 (Prensa Latina) — Members of the Russian Federation Communist Party (PCFR) protested Monday in front of the embassies of Sweden, France, Latvia and Azerbaijan in Moscow, against what they called provocation by the European Parliament.

The demonstrators are repudiating an anti-communist resolution to be presented to the Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) at the initiative of Sweden, asserted PCFR Vice President Ivan Melnikov.

The document reveals a two-faced attitude toward the countries that assumed socialism as a political system, as well as distorting the history of the Soviet Union.

We condemn that provocation plotted in the Swedish Parliament and hope Switzerland, which maintains friendly ties with Russia, refuses to support the proposal, the PCFR leader was cited by RIA Novosti as saying.

"PACE is not a place to make political provocations," anti-communism gives way to Nazism" read the banners carried by demonstrators, who also announced new actions for Tuesday.

Russian Federation Communist Party President Guennadi Ziuganov also denounced the campaign arranged by PACE against leftwing forces and socialist governments.

They are trying to put the communists in the dock, along with the fascists and Francos regime, because of "serious crimes committed", which actions are part of the anti-communist wave in Europe, he explained.

A press communication revealed that in addition to a resolution, the promoters propose to revise school texts with this new point of view, and to organize an international conference to debate the issue.

The PCFR leader in the Russian Duma emphasized that the Parliamentary Assembly is acting as organizer in a witch hunt for communists to establish thought control and use European attitudes to forge history.

The European Parliament must tell everyone the truth, since it has been in crisis for a long time and its decision affects its relationship to the international community, warned the leader.

This institution has long been questioned, he stressed, because of its marked anti-communist positions, support for apartheid, and two-faced policies.

Finally, Ziuganov said the Russian delegation would present a demand that the European Council Parliamentary Assembly close ranks against this action and withdraw the resolution.

Minority rights in Latvia still unresolved — Lavrov
Copyright 2006 interfax
Jan 17 2006 2:30PM

MOSCOW. Jan 17 (Interfax) — Until the problems of Latvia's Russian-speaking citizens are resolved, Moscow will not be satisfied with Russian-Latvian relations, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said at a press conference on Tuesday in Moscow.

"Our relations will hardly be assessed positively, until the problems of national minorities, primarily Russian speakers, are resolved," the minister said.

These problems should be settled in accordance with recommendations from European and international organizations, he said.

Record low temperatures hit Latvia
Jan 20, 2006, 15:18 GMT
Copyright 2006 RIAN Novosti

Latvia — Record low temperatures hit Latvia Thursday-Friday night, with thermometers in the country's Latgalia region falling to minus 35 degrees Celsius (minus 31 degrees Fahrenheit), the Latvian meteorological service said.

The capital Riga also experienced a record, with temperatures falling to minus 27 degrees Celsius, below the previous record of minus 25 degrees registered in 1907.

The freeze is expected to intensify further at the weekend, with temperatures dropping to minus 30 degrees Celsius in Riga and to below minus 37 degrees in the eastern regions.

Dozens die of cold in Baltic states
Date: 24/01/06
Copyright 2006 REUTERS, Seven Network (Operations) Ltd

Baltics — About 40 people have died in the three Baltic states in a wave of bitter cold gripping northern and eastern Europe, as one capital city shivered in its lowest temperature for half a century.

Emergency services said 20 people died in Latvia and at least five in Estonia, while Lithuanian state radio reported 14 deaths as a result of the freeze.

Temperatures in the Baltics plunged to between minus 20 and minus 30 Celsius late last week and the region remained in the grip of the big freeze-up over the weekend.

Officials in Romania and the Czech Republic reported nine deaths in the past two days as the cold wave shut Black Sea ports and disrupted transport and energy supplies in parts of Eastern Europe.

Winter weather also hit several parts of Turkey, cutting off nearly 4,000 villages.

The three Baltic states — which joined the European Union and NATO in 2004 — are among the EU's fastest-growing economies. However, they remain among Europe's poorest countries and many of the dead were homeless.

In the Latvian capital Riga, temperatures sank to minus 29C on Friday, the lowest recorded since 1956, and the Baltic news agency BNS said 10 people froze to death in the capital during the weekend.

Latvia's lowest temperature was minus 33C recorded in the northeast of the country.

On Monday, the mercury rose in the region, to about minus 12C in Tallinn, minus 15C in Vilnius and minus 20C in Riga.

Riga Emergency Centre director Martins Sics said the toll could rise as hospitals were filled with people.

"At the moment we have around 80 people in hospitals in Riga with frostbite injuries and some 50 people in rural hospitals with the same problem," he said.

"Some might face amputations."

In Estonia, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Maia Burlaka said: "Yes, more people could die, but the temperature is expected to rise in the coming days."

Lithuanian weather services spokeswoman Eugenija Sakaliute said that many in Lithuania were surprised by the cold snap.

In Romania, temperatures of about minus 25C killed six men in the east of the country, state radio said.

Romania closed Black Sea ports on Monday, including its largest, Constanta, because of strong winds and shore temperatures as low as minus 17C.

Also closed to shipping was the Sulina canal, north of Constanta, and the Danube-Black Sea canal.

Gas agency DNGN said it cut deliveries to the safety level for several chemical plants across Romania, including Azomures SA and fertiliser producer Amonil Slobozia.

Three people froze to death overnight in various parts of the Czech Republic where temperatures dropped as low as minus 30C and broke historical records in some cities, the Czech news agency CTK reported.

The Temelin nuclear power station in the Czech Republic said it had to shut down its sole functioning reactor for several hours early on Monday because of the low temperatures.

In Germany, the temperature in Berlin hit a low of minus 17.8C on Monday, the lowest for the date in 64 years.

The Spree River that flows past the Reichstag building was frozen solid and two rail lines cracked, causing widespread disruption.

Several underground stations were kept open overnight to provide shelter for the homeless.

At least four deaths were recorded in Germany, including a jogger found dead in a field in Saxony-Anhalt and a homeless man in Wiesbaden.

Heavy snow in Turkey caused the collision of a bus and a Foreign Ministry service vehicle, killing at least nine people including diplomats, the ministry said.

Blizzards also forced the closure of the narrow Bosphorus straits to all shipping.

Meteorologists forecast temperatures of minus 25 to minus 30 Celsius for the rest of the week.

PACE's anticommunist resolution against Russia as USSR successor — expert
Jan 25 2006 3:38PM
Copyright 2006 Interfax

MOSCOW. Jan 25 (Interfax) — The adoption by the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) of a resolution condemning the crimes of communist totalitarian regimes will hit Russia, Political Studies Institute Director Sergei Markov said.

"PACE interests are obvious. The first is to hit Russia, which is the legal successor of communist USSR. The resolution does not exist by itself. It will give an ideological basis to sue Russia," he told Interfax on Wednesday.

Moreover, the adoption of the resolution will be an "attempt to strengthen non-democratic post-Soviet regimes in Latvia, Estonia, Georgia and Ukraine based on the legitimacy of anticommunism," he said.

"The resolution should lay ideological grounds for the absence of democratic changes in these countries and will hit their democracies," the political expert said.

As of today, communism does not constitute a threat to the existing world order and that is why PACE has to deal only with the past, Markov said.

Kazakhs mulling refinery in Latvia?
Copyright 2006 Baltic Times

By TBT — If the choice of Yukos and the Lithuanian government doesnt fall on the Kazakhs, there is speculation that the latter will proceed with plans to build a new petrochemical refinery in the Baltics. Latvia is ideally situated for such a project and has the infrastructure pipelines and export terminal to make it successful.

Russian ambassador to Latvia condemns fascism in open letter
Copyright 2006 RIA Novosti
21:28 26/ 01/ 2006

RIGA, January 26 (RIA Novosti, Yury Guralnik) — The Russian ambassador to Latvia sent an open letter Thursday to a Latvian parliamentary political faction condemning the revival of fascism in Latvia, the Russian embassy said.

"History allocated a place in a garbage heap for servants of fascists, no matter what kind of national dress they wore," Viktor Kalyuzhny said in his letter to the Green and Christians Union political faction.

Earlier, members of the Latvian parliament sent a letter to Kalyuzhny asking him to ban the Russian-made film Nazism the Baltic Way from screenings in Russia, saying it instigated ethnic hatred. The film was about the participation of Estonian and Latvian legionnaires in punitive operations on the territories of Russia and Belarus during World War II.

"Today, no one in Russia can ban from screening the film product of a private company on private television channels," Kalyuzhny said.

In August 2005, the Russian Foreign Ministry said Europe and the international community were ignoring the sharp growth in neo-fascist and revanchist sentiment in Latvia.

The ministry said that, on August 13, 2005, the seventh annual parade of former Waffen SS Nazi officers was held in Smarda in the Tukumse Region in Latvia. Among the guests were the chairman of the Latvian parliamentary faction of the New Time Party Karlis Shadurskis, parliament members from the Fatherland and Freedom party Yuris Dobelis and Peteris Tabuns and the former head of the parliamentary Foreign Affairs Committee Alexander Kirchsteins.

You Say Euro, I Say Eiro-All is not well in the house that euro built
Copyright 2006

Latvia — The European Central Bank is trying to curb varying spellings of the word euro. But Latvia, which has fought hard to keep its own language, says no amount of EU rhetoric will change it back from eiro.

Latvia's government has decided to change the euro to fit their language, in which Europe is Eiropa and euro eiro. But the European Central Bank and other EU bodies have told the country it has gone too far. Latvia should use the standard written form when it adopts the currency in 2008, the EU says.

Latvia, however, has remained steadfast, saying it will take the issue to the European Court of Justice if necessary. It's a matter of protecting both national heritage and EU ethics, according to Latvian Education Minister Ina Druviete.

"It's not an issue of monetary policy. It's an issue of Latvian language policy, and we have to protect our languages," said Druviete. "The motto of the European Union is unity in diversity, and languages are the most specific representation of this diversity. I regret that officials from European institutions were so ignorant because it's not a detail. Language is a representation of national identity, and any interference in such a subtle sphere would have very serious consequences."

Battle for Latvian

At least the symbol seems to work for everyone.

Language protection is an extremely sensitive issue in Latvia. During Soviet occupation, Moscow forced Russian on the nations that made up the USSR. The result was the near death of the Latvian language, not to mention the massive displacement of tens of thousands of Latvian people to make space for Russians to move in and impose a Russian-language school system.

After Latvia gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, there was a countrywide drive to re-establish the Latvian language. Today it's spoken by two-thirds of the population.

Latvian belongs to the Baltic group of Indo-European languages. "It's a language with ancient spelling traditions, and we have no such diphthong as 'eu' in our language," Druviete explained.

39% of respondents put wealth ahead of freedom in Latvia
Copyright 2006 RIA Novosti
17:03 30/ 01/ 2006

RIGA, January 30 (RIA Novosti, Yury Guralnik) — Thirty-nine percent of respondents in an opinion poll conducted in the Baltic republic of Latvia in late 2005 said their personal financial success was more important for them than political freedoms, according to the SKDS public opinion center.

Just 35% of the respondents put democratic freedoms ahead of financial success.

This question has been asked in polls in the former Soviet republic for three years running and respondents have increasingly tended to prefer affluence to democratic freedoms.

The poll covered about 2,000 people, aged from 18 to 60.

Latvia Ratifies Bulgaria, Romania EU Accession Treaty
Copyright 2006 Sofia News Service
30 January 2006, Monday.

Politics — Latvia has ratified Bulgaria and Romania's European Union (EU) Accession Treaty.

The accession treaty was ratified at a January 26 session of the Latvian Parliament. Of all 85 MPs a total of 79 MPs supported the ratification, five sustained and no one opposed the ratification.

Latvia's president is expected to sign the final ratification document in two weeks, Bulgaria's Foreign Ministry announced.

Bulgaria and Romania's EU Accession Treaty has been ratified by Greece, Estonia, Italy, Spain, Cyprus, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Malta.

The two Balkan countries are to join the bloc January 1, 2007.

Ice sculptors in Latvia festival
Copyright 2006 Zee News (India)

Latvia, Feb 01 — Latvia made the best out of the cold weather during the eight annual Ice Sculpture festival.

Twenty artists from eleven countries gathered in Jelgava, in central Latvia, to work the ice and celebrate this year's theme — wedding.

Each artist received a giant ice chunk weighting 120 kilograms, and spent three days to sculpt the ice before the opening of the festival on Saturday (January 28).

The theme of the festival was 'wedding' and artists' works show couples, rings and joined hands.

Ice sculptor Wilfred Stijger from the Netherlands has participated in several ice sculpture festivals. He designed his own tools to work the ice better.

"With some imagination, you can make anything with ice," Stijger enthused.

The nature of the material means the sculptures are ephemeral.

''Working the ice is relaxing. You go to different places, stay outdoors so it's good for health...'' Konstantin Selsikham from Belarus described.

Twenty thousands visitors came to view the sculptures. Some were sceptical with this year's theme.

"I don't think one can express love with ice..." Lauris Sermulis said.

Temperatures rose on the second day to four degrees Celsius, and the ice was melting fast.

A British sculptor, Daren Jackson, won the competition with a sculpture entitle 'Love encapsulated'.

EU says Latvia likely to miss euro target
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press/BRUSSELS, Belgium
AP Business Writer

FEB. 1 8:15 A.M. ET — Latvia's soaring inflation — the highest in the European Union — will likely derail its plan to adopt the euro currency in 2008, EU Economic and Monetary Affairs Commissioner Joaquin Almunia said Wednesday.

Estonia and Slovenia, however, were likely to reach their targets to sign up next year, Almunia said.

To join the euro, nations must meet targets of low inflation, low budget deficits and low national debt, as well as limiting currency fluctuations against the euro.

Copyright 2006 Baltic Times

Politics — Allegations of a grand conspiracy orchestrated by distant, powerful, yet obscure forces are nothing new in this part of the world. It was, after all, the czarist police who penned the Protocols of the Elders of Zion, the anti-Semitic treatise that is still read and quoted by a handful of Baltic fanatics today. In recent weeks, however, the conspiracy-mongering in the Baltic states has reached an alarming level. In Latvia and Lithuania, marginalized politicians have used their own media to conduct a smear-campaign against philanthropist George Soros, his foundation and the myriad organizations that survive in part from its contributions. The recriminations in Latvia were spiked during the scandal surrounding Ingrida Udres nomination to the European Commission in 2004, then again during last years municipal election, and will likely follow the same course as the country prepares for parliamentary elections in October.

The two main catalysts are Ventspils Mayor Aivars Lembergs and Transport Minister Ainars Slesers. Both men are independently wealthy (though the source of that wealth remains a mystery, and in Lembergs case a matter of criminal investigation), and both head their own parties. Curiously, both were arch-rivals two years ago but seemed to have set aside their mutual distrust in order to battle their new common enemy. Meanwhile, Indulis Emsis, chairman of the parliamentary national security committee, has become increasingly unstable judging by his paranoiac statements.

In Lithuania, the conspiracy has taken an even nastier spin, with allegations of Soros links to drug cartels and calls for an investigation. As Gintaras Naslenas, a representative of the public organization Parents Against Drugs, told Vilnius Laikas last November: During one of the international conferences, I heard that Soros owns a company that produces methadone. Some say that part of Soros wealth comes from the pharmaceutical industry. First they turn an individual into a narcotics user, and then they treat him. The treatment pays off. The methadone and syringe exchange programs in Lithuania have already bred a group of such zombies.

The main accusers in Lithuania are impeached president Rolandas Paksas, who believes he is the victim of a massive conspiracy (and not his own lousy sense of judgment), the Viktor Uspaskich-led Labor Party and Respublika-publisher Vitas Tomkus. The latter believes gays and Jews control the world and wrote a four-part article expounding his deranged thoughts on the theory.

So what is behind the onslaught of media attacks? The media and political assault against the Soros Foundation coincides amid calls for increasing transparency and monitoring of the political system and the financing of political parties. Charges of conspiracy, and secret networks controlled by a billionaire Jew, are simply a convenient cover for people who dont like the direction that the countries are moving in, the enforcement of the rule of law, and the careful eye on the financing of political parties.

Perhaps, if we were to juxtapose the antagonists in the two countries and reduce them to a common denominator, what we have is essentially fear. Fear of a loss of wealth, status and, of course, power. All these individuals propagating myths about Soros and NGOs and foreign influence 1) have something to hide, and 2) have no power base abroad. Outside their local cells, they are paeans. In Brussels, Strausbourg or Washington no one will listen to them (and rightfully so). Even at home they are estranged. They are marginalized in the purest sense, and they strike back the only way possible through rabid xenophobia and anti-Semitism. They create their own political market based on popular fear.

Unfortunately, it works. The audience for fear-consumption in the Baltic states is tremendous, and this is both a product of the Soviet background and a failure of the last 15 years of reforms. Those who think otherwise should spend a bit more time in Daugavpils or Panevyzes.

It remains to be seen what common sense can do to extinguish this madness. Mainstream politicians, including presidents Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Valdas Adamkus, need to address the issue urgently.

Mayor of Ventspils: Latvia should not turn from Russian into Soros colony
Copyright 2006 REGNUM

Politics — Mayor of Ventspils and President of the Latvian Association for Transit Business Aivar Lembergs confessed he did not exclude the possibility of his participation in the parliamentary elections in fall this year. He believes he has been pushed to it because of the increasing influence of billionaire George Soros in Latvia. As a REGNUM correspondent reports, Lembergs made the satetment on February 1 in his interview to the First Channel of the Latvian TV.

Mayor of Ventspils maintains that political processes in Latvia are substantially directed by organizations financed from Soros funds, like the Society for Transparency Delna (Palm) and the Providus Social and Political Center, which exert influence upon intelligentsia, politicians, political scientists and journalists. From Lembergs point of view, all these facts are very dangerous especially in connection with the newly appeared unique possibilities concerning distribution of EU funds. Answering the question of the TV-channel about the main decisive factors for his participation or nonparticipation in the election he stated: If Soros people dominate and Latvia becomes fully politically controlled by Soros, it will be very bad. I did not want Latvia to turn from a Russian colony into a totally Soros one.

According to Lembergs forecasts, right before the elections Soros followers will certainly try to get into election lists of all political parties. As REGNUM reported, Latvian organizations sponsored by Soros Foundation have been lately harshly criticized by mass-media controlled by a group of enterprises from Ventspils.

Latvian MP expelled from foreign affairs commission
Copyright 2006 RIA Novosti
16:30 02/ 02/ 2006

RIGA, February 2 (RIA Novosti, Yury Guralnik) — A member of the Latvian parliament was expelled from the international affairs commission Thursday.

Nikolai Kabanov, a deputy of the For Human Rights in United Latvia faction, was expelled by a vote of 64 "for" and 18 "against" after he organized a public screening of a Russian documentary depicting Latvian and Estonian SS officers' actions in Russia and Belarus in World War II.

The film, Nazism the Baltic Way, was shown December 14 in the parliamentary commission's building, officials said.

Kabanov said if he were expelled from the commission, he would "turn directly to EU organizations and report discrimination in Latvia based on nationality and political views."

The movie provoked a huge response in Latvia's political establishment.

Representatives of right-wing parties demanded that the prosecutor's office ban the film in Latvia and asked the Russian ambassador to prevent the documentary from being shown in Russia.

Nazism the Baltic Way is based on the archives of Wehrmacht, Germany's combined armed forces in 1935-1945, and the NKVD, the Soviet interior and security ministry.

British employers now prefer east Europeans to Indians
Copyright 2006 Manoroma
3rd FEB 12:05 hrs IST

London — The British employment market for immigrants is fast changing — employers now prefer hiring citizens from the 10 new countries that joined the European Union in 2004 to those from India or the Commonwealth countries.

In the latest tracking of employment trends by the authoritative Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the 10 countries — for the first time — have emerged as "a more popular source of migrant labour" than the old EU, Commonwealth or the "rest of world".

The 10 countries that joined the EU on May 1, 2004, — better known as the 'accession states' — are the Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia.

The trend has been revealed in the latest edition of CIPD's 'Labour Market Outlook'. The CIPD is the professional body for those involved in the management and development of people in Britain.

"Migrants from the EU accession states are currently the most popular with employers, whether looking for skilled or unskilled workers," the CIPD assessment revealed.

"This represents a big shift compared to last year's figures, which showed that British employers were most keen to recruit from 'old Europe' and the rest of the world than from the new EU accession states."

After the 10 countries joined the EU, their citizens have the right to work in Britain. Many of them have entered Britain's employment market and bid for jobs along with those from the 'old EU' countries, the Commonwealth countries and the 'rest of the world'.

Owners of Indian and Chinese restaurants have already expressed concern over problems in obtaining work permits for chefs from the Indian sub-continent and China to work in the multi-million-pound food industry.

According to an industry estimate, Indian restaurants alone need at least 20,000 workers a year. Their owners have reportedly been told to employ east Europeans in their kitchens.

The CIPD survey revealed that public sector employers and employers in London and southeast England were the most likely to fill vacancies with migrant workers. It also revealed that many employers were actively soliciting applications from abroad.

"In the case of skilled workers, employers are, not surprisingly, hiring migrants primarily for their skills and qualifications. For less skilled or unskilled migrants, the key attributes sought are work experience, commitment and willingness to work.

"Proficiency in English is considered important by around half of employers of both skilled and non-skilled migrants," the survey revealed.

Almost two in five employers said that the government's proposed new points system for managing migration would be a "bureaucratic barrier to actively recruiting migrant workers".

Latvia mulls tougher control over Russian-language media
Copyright 2006 RIA Novosti
17:23 03/ 02/ 2006

RIGA, February 3 (RIA Novosti, Yury Guralnik) — A senior member of Latvian parliament said Friday that it was necessary to regulate the local Russian-language media's activities in the republic and bring them under tougher control.

"The Latvian media's policies have been subject to stringent regulations, whereas no rules have existed for the Russian-language print and other editions," Indulis Emsis, the head of the parliamentary security commission, told Latvian radio. "I mean that we have 'tightened the belts' for the Latvian media, but have not done so with respect to the Russian media. This is not fair."

On Wednesday, Emsis said he had evidence that Latvia's Russian-language media had been secretly receiving funds from Russia's federal budget.

The Russian Foreign Ministry vehemently denied the allegation. Viktor Kalyuzhny, Russia's ambassador to the Baltic nation, which has a significant ethnic-Russian population, demanded that Emsis either provide evidence or apologize for his comments.

LTV presents tonight the first Eirodziesma 2006 semifinal
Copyright 2006
Fotis Konstantopoulos reporting from Athens (Greece)

Latvia — Tonight the first national semifinal of Eirodziesma 2006 will be aired by LTV 1. The Latvian broadcaster made a nice effort this year after the succesful result of the national entry last year in Kyiv. The concert which will be broadcast live on Latvian TV will start at 21:00 local time. Venue Olympic Centre in Ventpils.

The invited guests will make the Final a spectacular event — Walters & Kazha, last year's winners of the Latvian National Final who took the fifth place in Kyiv, as well as a sensation of the Latvian entertainment business group Borowa MC that has outravaled "BrainStorm" in many tops lately. The list of guests is still open to surprise you. And as every year we expect guest from other participating countries.

Ventpils where the Latvian National Final will take place also this year is one of the biggest cities in Latvia with a well-developed economical infrastructure. It has many tourist attractions which cannot be missed. It takes only 2 hours drive to get from Riga, the capital, to Ventpils. The televoting will last for ten minutes. There is no webcast so far or satellite broadcast. Here is the complete line up for the national semifinal of Latvia:

01. We Are The Best — Beitiku family

02. Frozen Flower — Fidji

03. I Hear Your Heart — Cosmos

04. Say It Is — Marts Kristians Kalnios & Melomania

05. Find You — Kerija Kaleja & Santa Ozolina

06. Every Mother And Every Child — Z-Scars

07. Bring The Sun — Gunita Ozola & Guntis Dumins

08. Player — Nicol

09. Later — Amber and Sonja Bishop

10. Feelin' — PRego

MPs from Baltics, South Caucasus Meet in Tbilisi
Copyright 2006 Civil Georgia
2006-02-06 11:16:21

Tbilisi — A forum of parliamentarians from the Baltic and South Caucasus states is being held in Tbilisi on February 6-7 to discuss a strategy of reforms and cooperation, the Georgian Parliaments press office reported.

The forum is being held in frames of the so-called 3+3 format, involving three Baltic Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and three South Caucasus Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan — states.

Georgian Parliamentary Chairperson Nino Burjanadze and Chairman of the Latvian Parliament Ingrida Udre will also participate in the forum.

U.S. to spend millions in Belarus to ensure free, fair elections
AP WorldStream Tuesday, February 07, 2006 9:18:00 PM
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press
Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) — The United States is spending millions of dollars to ensure the voting in Belarus' presidential election next month is free and fair, the State Department said Tuesday.

Dan Fried, the assistant secretary of state for Europe, said he and European officials have met with Alexander Milinkevich, the main opposition candidate in the March 19 election. Fried insisted, however, that neither the United States nor the European Union has thrown its official support behind Milinkevich's candidacy.

"Our position is not to pick winners. Our position is to do what we can to promote a free and fair election," Fried told reporters. "It is also true that the Belarusian opposition has united around Milinkevich."

Still, he said, "as far as I can tell, the opposition is a collection of different groups with different political views, but they are now united around a platform of democracy and basically a kind of democratic patriotism."

The former Soviet republic's president, Alexander Lukashenko, has been in power since the creation of independent Belarus in 1994. While the Belarusian constitution limited the presidency to two five-year terms, he had it changed in a 2004 referendum that the United States says was neither free nor fair by international standards.

Lukashenko, an ally of Moscow, is now standing for a third term.

Fried said Congress has provided more than $21 million (17.5 million) to finance pro-democracy activities in the landlocked country surrounded by Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Latvia and Lithuania.

"In historical experience, you do what you can to send two messages: to exert diplomatic pressure on authoritarian regimes, to support civil society," Fried said. "And that's what you do, and in many cases democracy advances in ways that you don't expect."

The historical experience he referred to was the uprisings in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan, where throngs of demonstrators took to the streets and made their countries ungovernable after disputed elections returned unpopular rulers to power.

"Our support is for democracy, not a particular path to it," he said. "I don't want to create the impression that we see the only outcome as being some massive street-based change. As I said, our assumption is that after the election, this would be a long-term process."

Milinkevich said Friday at a democracy conference in Vilnius, Lithuania, that "I have no doubt the people of Belarus will come into the streets if the government tries to fake the election." He added: "We do not want revolution, only just and fair elections."

Fried said the United States would not any under circumstances "support street violence even in response to flawed elections."

Still, he said, "Peaceful demonstrations are a right, and certainly we're not going to suggest that people don't exercise that right. So that's what happens. It's not up to us.

"But under no circumstances would we support violence. That is not what we do, and that is not what we favor."

EU seeks transport corridor to Russia via Baltics
Copyright 2006 RIA Novosti
12:06 21/ 02/ 2006

RIGA, February 21 (RIA Novosti, Yury Guralnik) — A new transport route between western Europe and Russia via Latvia has been included in a European Union transport program, a Latvian spokesman said Tuesday.

According to the spokesman from Latvia's transportation ministry, the EU High Level Group decided to include the Ventspils-Riga-Moscow route on the list of priority corridors within the Northern Axis program, which aims to extend a trans-European network far beyond the EU.

Inaugurated in October 2004, the commission is chaired by the former European Commission Vice President Loyola de Palacio and includes representatives from the 25 EU member states, Romania, Bulgaria and 26 other countries, including Russia.

Until recently, Russian-EU oil-transit routes included a pipeline connecting the Russian city of Polotsk and Latvia's ice-free port of Ventspils, which had a major oil terminal on the Baltic Sea. However, following the construction of a new oil terminal in the Russian town of Primorsk, Russia's oil supplies to Europe through Ventspils have all but stopped.

Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia to Jointly Build Nuclear Reactor
Created: 08.03.2006 22:52 MSK (GMT +3), Updated: 22:52 MSK
Copyright 2006 MosNews

Energy — Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia have signed a memorandum on preparations for building a new nuclear reactor to replace the Ingalin nuclear power plant in eastern Lithuania, Interfax news agency reported on Wednesday.

The new reactor will be bought in the West and installed at the plant before 2020. Three countries agreed to divide $3-billion expenses on its construction in equal parts. But they also may offer cooperation to Poland and private investors.

Ingalin nuclear power plant used to operate the worlds most powerful RBMK-1500 nuclear reactors, but it was closed down due to EUs safety concerns. However, without a nuclear power plant Baltic countries will remain dependent on Russia, constantly buying energy.

No improvement in treatment of Russians in Baltics — Russian Foreign Ministry
Copyright 2006 RIA Novosti
14:24 09/ 03/ 2006

MOSCOW, March 9 (RIA Novosti) — No progress has been made in improving the rights of ethnic Russians living in Latvia and Estonia, a Foreign Ministry official said Thursday.

Alexander Chepurin, head of the ministry's Department for Russian Compatriots Overseas, said: "This is not merely an ethnic minority, but a very substantial portion of the population, who have actively contributed and continue to contribute in creating the national wealth of these states, and which should by rights be an integral part."

Latvia and Estonia have an "urgent problem of mass statelessness for 600,000 of our compatriots, permanent residents, who have the humiliating status of non-citizens," he said.

"There is clear discrimination at elections for political motives. Discrimination against non-citizens is also widely practiced in the social and economic sphere. Several dozen restrictions are imposed on them as to profession and purchase of real estate."

"Russians are discriminated against as a language minority — by law, they are deprived of the right to receive official information from state authorities in their own language. Compulsory knowledge of the national language is legally enforced not only by the state, but by the private sector, which amounts to a prohibition to jobs. The system of schooling for children of ethnic minority families is being dismantled, and Russian schools are being closed."

"While legal investigations are being carried out against aged veterans of the Great Patriotic War [the Eastern Front of WWII] in Latvia and Estonia, while residence permits are being denied to Russian military pensioners in Estonia, and current intergovernmental agreements are being violated, the cynical lionization of former Hitler supporters is going on in these countries."

Estonia has held parades involving former Nazi Waffen-SS officers, while the Latvian Cabinet has approved tax law amendments granting bigger tax breaks to surviving members of the Forest Brothers guerilla movement, which collaborated with the Nazi regime during World War II.

Russia "basis its relations with other states on their readiness to take into account Russia's interests, including fulfilling the rights and legal interest of our compatriots," Chepurin said.

Russia's demands to these countries "do not go beyond the recommendations of authoritative international organizations to provide ethnic minorities with basic political and socio-economic rights."

Rolf Ekeus, the OSCE Higher Commissar on National Minorities, called on Latvia in June to provide equal rights both to minorities who have been living in the country for a long time, and for those that have arrived within the last decade.

Latvia to expose former KGB agents
Copyright 2006 UPI
Mar. 8, 2006 at 2:43AM

Latvia — Latvia will open and publish the personal archives of those who worked for the Soviet KGB, including well-known national figures.

The Latvian parliament's legal committee made the decision Tuesday, almost two years after parliament sanctioned the opening of the archives, the parliamentary press service said.

The more than 4,000 personal files in the archives are believed to include some well-known people who deny their involvement with the Soviet security agency, the RIA Novosti news agency reported.

Last year the Latvian government adopted a declaration condemning the Soviet regime. Former KGB agents do not have the right to vote or stand for election in Latvia. Moreover, the declaration demanded the repatriation of former Soviet officers.

Latvia, which joined the European Union in 2004, has demanded that Russia provide compensation for damages to Latvian citizens and the country as a whole during the Soviet era. Russia has repeatedly said these claims were groundless.

Latvia announces memorial to Stalin's victims
Copyright 2006 RIA Novosti
10:25 09/ 03/ 2006

RIGA, March 9 (RIA Novosti, Yury Guralnik) — The Latvian parliament Thursday backed a plan to erect a memorial to victims of the Stalinist regime.

The parliament's Riga development committee approved a resolution on a monument to be erected on a central city square that will be dedicated to those deported and shot in the repressions of 1940, the parliamentary press service said.

The Latvian parliament adopted a declaration condemning the Soviet regime on May 12, 2005. Following the declaration, the Latvian government created a committee to assess damages to the country and the number of victims of deportation.

The declaration also mandated the government to support demands that Russia, as the Soviet Union's recognized s uccessor state under international law, provide compensation for damages to Latvian citizens and the country as a whole.

Russia's foreign ministry has repeatedly said there are no grounds for compensation claims.

Latvia: Cosmos edge Latvian final by 1.378 votes to take Athens ticket
Luke Fisher reporting from Kent (United Kingdom)

Eurovision Song Contest — Cosmos have won the right to represent Latvia in the 51st Eurovision Song Contest in Athens, Greece. The boy band, who sang ''I Hear Your Heart'' (composed by Reinis Sejans and Andris Sejans, and written by Molly-Ann Leikin and Guntars Racs) received 21.479 votes, whilst Marts Kristans Kalnin & Melo Mania singing ''Say It Is'' came in second with 20.101 votes. Third place went to Jenny May with 9.201 votes. The voting figures are not 100% confirmed as of yet, but the top three is certain, and Cosmos will by flying out to Athens come May!

Former Estionian President Lennart Meri, First to Serve After Soviet Independence, Dies at 76
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press

TALLINN, Estonia Mar 14, 2006 (AP) Former President Lennart Meri, a writer, film director and statesman whose relentless struggle against communist oppression helped the Baltic nation break free from the Soviet Union in 1991, has died, the presidential office said Tuesday. He was 76.

A survivor of a Soviet labor camp in Siberia, Meri became Estonia's first president after the country regained independence, serving from 1992-2001. He died overnight at a hospital in Tallinn after a long illness, the presidential office said.

"A politician and a visionary has left us," President Arnold Ruutel, Meri's successor, said in a statement.

Among ordinary Estonians, Meri was a beloved, charismatic father-figure, whose dry humor and razor-sharp wit only added to his charm. Government officials, however, were often wary of him because of his scathing attacks on unethical practices and corrupt civil servants.

Internationally, he was a respected statesman who had close ties with several world leaders including former President Clinton and the late Pope John Paul II.

Meri was widely credited for remaining tough with Russian President Boris Yeltsin in negotiations on the withdrawal of Russian troops from Estonia in 1994.

Born in Tallinn on March 29, 1929, Meri and his family were deported to Siberia after the Soviet invasion of Estonia during World War II a fate shared by tens of thousands of people in Estonia and Baltic neighbors Latvia and Lithuania.

The family survived and returned to Estonia, where Meri studied history at the University of Tartu, worked as a theater dramatist and, later, as a producer of radio plays and films.

Among his most well-known films is the 1977 documentary "The Winds of the Milky Way," describing the lives of Finno-Ugric people, which won a silver medal at the New York Film Festival but was banned in the Soviet Union for its culturally sensitive content.

Meri was one of the leaders of the Baltic country's independence movement, known as the "singing revolution."

In the late 1980s and early 90s, thousands of Estonians protested against Soviet rule by amassing at outdoor music festivals where they sang nationalistic songs. Meri often attended the festivals and urged the crowds to peacefully resist Moscow's rule.

In March 1990, the Soviet republic of Estonia officially declared it was on the path toward independence and held its first noncommunist elections, after which Meri was appointed foreign minister.

Following the failed Kremlin coup that led to the collapse of the Soviet Union, Estonia declared independence in August 1991. Unlike its Baltic neighbors, Estonia escaped violence in its transition to freedom.

After a brief period as ambassador to Finland, Meri was elected as president in October 1992 and was re-elected in 1996.

He remained active in politics after stepping down, and attended the pope's funeral last year.

However, Meri's health started to deteriorate and in August 2005 he had surgery to remove a brain tumor and was treated at hospitals for long intervals.

Meri is survived by his wife Helle, three children sons Mart and Kristjan and daughter Tuule and four grandchildren. Funeral arrangements were not immediately announced.

Latvia unlikely to be ready for euro by 2008 — Central bank head Commentary, News, & Analysis.
03/14/06 04:28 pm (GMT)

RIGA (AFX) — Latvia's central bank governor Ilmars Rimsevics said it is unlikely the republic will be ready to adopt the European single currency in 2008, BNS news agency reported. Rimsevics told reporters: "Looking from today's perspective, there are no signs suggesting that in 2008 we could be able to adopt the euro, but at the same time, if all the measures that have been proposed earlier were introduced, we could still fight for 2008".

He added that it would be very difficult for Latvia to adhere to this timetable, particularly as it is holding general elections this year.

Rimsevics also said Latvia has to wait for the EU's decision on Slovenia and Lithuania regarding euro adoption in those countries.

On Feb 28, the government had set a date of Jan 1, 2008 to adopt the euro, but this plan is threatened by Latvia's high inflation rate, BNS said.

The central bank head said the business community are already expecting this date to be postponed. "... I believe the failure to introduce the euro in 2008 will not cause any major harm. It is important to stick to the new date when it is announced."

Latvia uneasy as it parades Nazi past
Copyright 2006 The Scotsman

Latvia — The glory days of the Latvian Waffen SS come alive again as Visvaldis Lacis, a sprightly grandfather with blue eyes, tells war stories in his house, deep in the snow-laden countryside.

"I was so scared," says the former platoon commander, recalling going into combat for the first time. "But I knew I would be the first to give the order to attack. I was the fhrer. I did it and started running."

Veterans such as he are at the heart of a storm 75 miles away in the capital Riga, where an annual parade today commemorating the Latvian Waffen SS Volunteer Legion's fight against the Red Army has been banned.

Last year, anti-war protesters and far-right groups fought as veterans looked on.

The march exposes the sensitive position of Latvia, newly part of the European Union but overshadowed by its former ruler and neighbour, Russia.

Latvians fought on both the Nazi German and Russian sides in the Second World War. Russia has said the parades glorify war criminals.

The Latvian government, which won its independence from Moscow in 1991, has rejected accusations that the parade is fascist. But its attitude is uneasy, shifting from open support in the past to a ban on official attendance.

Many Latvians see those who fought the Russians as part of Hitler's infantry elite, the Waffen SS, as heroes. They say the veterans had no connection with atrocities, such as the mass murder of 70,000 Latvian Jews.

"There needs to be an understanding of the dilemma they faced," says Gundega Michel, of the Occupation Museum of Latvia.

"Thousands and thousands who desperately wanted to restore Latvia's independence were faced with serving in the Red Army or in the Waffen SS."

But Efraim Zuroff, the head of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre's office in Israel, said: "Up to a quarter of the Latvian Legion were volunteers. My problem is that many of them were cold-blooded killers of Jews."

Lacis, however, says: "How could I be a Nazi if I was never a member of the party?"

Latvian Waffen SS Vets Honor Their Dead
March 16, 2006
Copyright 2006 The Associated Press

RIGA, Latvia — Dozens of aging veterans from a Latvian Waffen SS unit celebrated Mass in Riga's Dome Cathedral on Thursday before heading to a World War II cemetery to honor 50,000 comrades who died in battle.

The group held their annual commemoration in the village of Lestene, some 70 kilometers west of Riga, instead of their traditional march through the capital, which has provoked clashes between Latvian nationalists and pro-Russian demonstrators in recent years.

Later Thursday, about 200 nationalists rallied near the Latvian Occupation Museum in downtown Riga, defying a city council ban. They shouted "Latvia, Latvia," and sang patriotic songs as a wall of riot police tried to separate them from a group of some 70 Russian-speaking counter-demonstrators replying "Fascism won't prevail." There was a minor scuffle between some demonstrators, but no other violence.

Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis have urged people to forego demonstrating on March 16 and to remember all of Latvia's war dead on the country's official memorial day, Nov. 11.

Some Latvians regard the Latvian Waffen SS as heroes who fought not for the Nazis, but for Latvian independence against Soviet occupiers. Some of the veterans, most of whom are in their 80s, say they regarded the Nazis at the time as the lesser of two evils.

Soviet forces occupied the Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia in June 1940 but were driven out by the Germans a year later. The Red Army retook the Baltics in 1944, and reincorporated them into the Soviet Union.

The Primate of the Russian Church to visit Latvia for the first time in history
22 March 2006, 11:16
Copyright 2006 Interfax

Moscow, March 22 — A visit of Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia to Latvia next May will be the first in history visit of the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church to this country.

We are looking forward to the visit as an historic event, Metropolitan Alexander of Riga and All Latvia said in an interview to

According to him, the three-day stay of Patriarch Alexy II in Latvia will include his visit to the Convent of the Holy Trinity and St. Sergius in Riga and the restored to liturgical life cathedral of the Nativity of Christ, where the primate will celebrate the Divine Liturgy.

The metropolitan remarked that the cathedral had been built during the reign of the emperors Alexander II and Alexander III and had been consecrated in October 1884. It housed a planetarium during the Soviet time.

Also planned is the Patriarchs visit to the Hermitage of the Transfiguration near Yelgava that was historically intended for solitary life of the nuns from the Convent of St. Sergius but became an independent monastic abode.

The metropolitan believes the visit of Patriarch Alexy, who is not only spiritual but also authoritative and respected public leader, would contribute to strengthening mutual understanding between the Russian Federation and sovereign Latvia and commence a friendly dialogue.

Lithuania wants Russia to pay $28 billion
Copyright 2006 United Press International
Mar. 23, 2006 at 5:02AM

Vilnius — Lithuania wants Russia to pay more than $28 billion in compensation for the "Soviet occupation," the speaker of Lithuania's parliament has said.

Arturas Paulauskas told national radio Wednesday, "There are legal documents, our people's will that has been expressed at a referendum, and it should be fulfilled."

Paulauskas said he has raised the issue in meetings with Russian officials "and will continue doing so in the future," the Russian news agency RIA Novosti reported.

A special committee of the parliament, after evaluating the damage caused to Lithuania by nearly 50 years of being part of the Soviet Union, determined an appropriate compensation as totaling more than $28 billion, Paulauskas said.

Russia has repeatedly said there are no grounds for these claims.

Not only Lithuania but also the two other Baltic states, Latvia and Estonia, have been trying for several years to receive compensation from Russia, as the legal successor to the Soviet Union, but with no results so far.

Latvia wooing Indian investors
Copyright 2006 Navhind Times

UNI Bangalorem, March 23 — Latvia has rolled out a red carpet welcome for Indian investors, spelling out the plethora of areas wherein the two nations could explore avenues of bilateral trade, especially education, communication and bio-technology.

Addressing members of the Bangalore Chamber of Industry and Commerce here last night, visiting Latvian External Affairs Minister, Dr Artis Pabriks said the European Union nation, with its strategic location at transit point connecting the East and West, and South and North could offer better trade links between Asia and Europe.

He said Latvia, a former Russian republic state, had rich potential for investment in communication, biotechnology and education. The country with a strong education base was open to Indian students pursuing higher studies there, especially in medicine, business administration and engineering.

Stating that he was here to create opportunities for opening up trade relations with India, emerging as one of the strong global economies, Dr Pabriks said that Latvia was expected to sign a trade treaty with the Indian government within a couple of months, after completing a wide range of consultations.

After getting independence from Russia, the country had undergone a lot of political and economic reforms to move from a state-owned economy to a market economy. The country was witnessing an economic growth of over ten per cent, he said.

The BCIC president, Mr Anant R Koppar, also spoke on the occasion.

CDC reports increase in resistant TB, Latvia the worst
Friday, March 24, 2006 Last updated 6:23 a.m. PT
Copyright 2006 API

ATLANTA — Health officials said Thursday they are seeing what appears to be a disturbing increase around the world in tuberculosis infections resistant to both the first-and second-line antibiotics used against TB.

"It's basically a death sentence. If people are failing first-and second-line drugs and we don't have in the pipeline a new drug for immediate use, that's a crisis," said Dr. Marcos Espinale, executive secretary of the World Health Organization's Stop TB Partnership.

The CDC and WHO surveyed a network of 25 tuberculosis laboratories on six continents from 2000 to 2004 and found that one in 50 TB cases around the world is resistant not only to the usual first-choice TB treatments, but also to many medications that represent the second line of defense.

The survey represents the first international data on what is being called "extensively drug-resistant" TB.

For more than a decade, health officials have worried about "multidrug-resistant" TB, which can withstand the mainline antibiotics isoniazid and rifampin. One in five TB cases falls into that category, according to the survey.

But the survey also found many cases of a more difficult form of TB — one that does not respond to at least three of six classes of second-line drugs. That is especially worrisome, because second-line drugs are generally considered more toxic and less effective.

"These are individuals who are virtually untreatable with available drugs," said Dr. Kenneth Castro of the CDC.

The survey looked at 17,690 TB cases that were analyzed for drug susceptibility. Of those, 20 percent were multidrug-resistant and 2 percent were extensively drug-resistant.

The problem was worst in Latvia, where public health care deteriorated after the Soviet Union collapsed. Doctors believe TB develops resistance to drugs because some patients fail to complete a full course of medication.

In the United States, health officials looked at 169,654 TB cases from 1993 to 2004 that were analyzed for their drug response and found that 1.6 percent were multidrug-resistant and 0.04 percent extensively drug-resistant.

U.S. multidrug-resistant cases rose from 2003 to 2004, from 113 to 128. Though the number was small, it represented the largest single-year increase in more than 10 years. Ninety-seven of those 128 cases were in people born in other countries, mostly Mexico, the Philippines and Vietnam.

Overall, the TB rate in the United States has never been lower. In 2005, about 14,100 cases were reported, or 4.8 cases per 100,000 people. That is a 4 percent decline in the rate from 2004. However, the TB rate in foreign-born people in the United States was 8.7 times that of U.S. natives.

"Worsening resistance around the world poses a problem in the U.S.," Castro said.

Dr. Henry Blumberg, an Emory University medical school professor, said the figures are preliminary and the problem may be bigger than the numbers indicate.

Some drugs under development might become effective treatments for these difficult forms of TB. But CDC funding for TB control and research has not kept up with inflation in the past decade, Blumberg said.

Latvia's presidential office evacuated amid bomb scare
UPDATED: 07:36, March 24, 2006
Copyright 2006 Xinhua

Riga — Latvia's presidential office was evacuated for almost an hour on Thursday after an anonymous phone call told of a bomb planted nearby, a presidential spokeswoman said.

The presidential office received the phone call at around 1:00 p.m. (1100 GMT), said spokeswoman Aiva Rozenberga, adding that President Vaira Vike-Freiberga had not been in the building at the time.

She said staff from the president's office had been moved to a safe place after the bomb scare.

Imants Kasparans, the head of security for parliament and the president's chancellery, said a thorough search by security personnel failed to find anything.

"Everything is over. Work is resumed as usual," he said.

In 2003, the presidential office received a similar phone call which also turned out to be a hoax.

Baltic States to Have First Arab Culture Center
Copyright 2006
The main church's square in Riga.

RIGA, Latvia, March 25, 2006 ( & News Agencies) — The first centre promoting Arab culture in the Baltic states is to be opened in the Latvian capital, Riga.

"The aims of the centre will be to dispel commonly held stereotypes about the Arab world and to educate the Baltic public about the richness and diversity of Arab life," Center Director Houssam Abou Merhi, who has lived in Latvia for 13 years, told Agence France-Presse (AFP) on Friday, March 24.

He said that there are not that many Arabs in Latvia or in the Baltics in general, but there are some misinformation about Arabs in the media.

"We want to show that Arabs are diverse, not just Muslims, but of different religions including Christian and Jewish," he noted.

The centre, which is sponsored by Arab non-governmental organizations, will also offer language courses and translation services, as well as classes related to Arab culture.

The centre is due to open in one month. It was presented Friday as Latvia marked European anti-racism week.

The population is mostly Christian in Latvia with the largest section being Lutheran with smaller percentages of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox, according to the CIA World Factbook.

The Dievturi religion, which has historical roots based on pre-Christian era mythology, also has followers in Latvia.

There is not exact census of Jews and Muslims in the northern European country.

The Baltic states are three specific countries: Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. All three countries were controlled by Soviet Union in 1940-1941 and 1944(1945)-1991.

The trio joined the expanding European Union in 2004.

Latvian Delegation To Arrive In Tbilisi
Copyright 2006 Prime-News
March 27, 2006, 3:33 pm

Tbilisi. March 27 (Prime — News) A Latvian delegation will arrive in Tbilisi on Monday on a two-day working visit to the Ministry of Justice of Georgia.

Martins Bichevski, State Secretary of Ministry of Justice of Latvia will lead the delegation, Prime-News was told by the representatives of the Ministry of Justice.

The parties will sign a memorandum of mutual understanding for definition of priority issues in cooperation.

A joint briefing will be held after singing of the agreement.

Latvian killer's gang ran protection racket
Copyright 2006 Yorkshire Post
Dave Mark

Humberside — Detectives who tracked down the killer of a Latvian criminal have revealed how the conviction smashed an international gang which created a climate of fear among eastern Europeans living in Hull.

Officers from Humberside Police uncovered an organised extortion operation which fed on the fear of its victims a community of migrant workers in the city as they sought the killer of Latvian-born Vladamir Derbakovs.

As Oleg Saldugejs was beginning an eight-year prison sentence for the manslaughter of Mr Derbakovs, the detective who led the operation spoke of how the probe had unearthed a protection racket run by the killer and his associates.

The racket saw Saldugejs and his associates demand money from fellow Latvians, threatening them with beatings if they refused. The victim was also a professional criminal, who police believe ran a similar operation in the city and that the two had clashed over a territory dispute.

Det Supt Colin Andrews revealed Saldugejs came to Britain with the sole intention of extorting money from Latvian workers, and how, even after the killing, he had fled to Ireland to set up a similar racket.

Saldugejs, 25, repeatedly stabbed and punched Latvian Vladimir Derbakovs to death at his home in Zetland Street, west Hull, on February 28 last year.

Det Supt Andrews said Saldugejs, and the three other men who helped dispose of Mr Derbakovs's body in nearby woods, believed they could commit their crime without coming to the attention of the police, thinking the migrant worker community would be too frightened to talk and the police would not care about Latvian people. Two of them also thought that by leaving England they could avoid capture.

Det Supt Andrews said: "The majority of migrant workers in this country are hard-working people. These professional criminals came here to feed on them and create of culture of fear and violence. There is no doubt in my mind that these people thought they would get away with their crimes. They thought people in the Latvian community wouldn't dare speak to the police.

"This has been an extremely sensitive inquiry in which we have had to work very hard to build the trust of some of the witnesses who were very vulnerable and had an inherent mistrust of the police. They were very brave and should feel proud for helping jail these dangerous men.

"They never banked on the professionalism and commitment of police forces in three different countries who worked extremely well together to bring offenders to justice. The co-operation between Humberside Police, the Garda and the authorities in Latvia was excellent."

The convicted men came to the UK early last year and knew Mr Derbakovs from their native Latvia. One worked in a local food factory, but Saldugejs made his living by extortion.

Saldugejs claimed Mr Derbakovs attacked him with a knife and when he wrestled it free he stabbed him a number of times. A post mortem examination revealed Mr Derbakovs died from a fractured skull and three stab wounds to the neck. After the killing the men wrapped his body in a duvet and bin bags, bound it with tape and buried him in North Cliffe Woods, near North Cave.

Ibragimovs and Saldugejs fled to Ireland, where Saldugejs again set up a racket to extort money from Latvians. Andrejs Cipans, 22, of St George's Road, west Hull, was given a four-and-a-half-year sentence, Igor Fjodorovs, 49, of White Street, west Hull, received two-and-a-half years and Ali Ibragimovs, 25, also of St George's Road, was jailed for three-and-a-half years, for their parts in disposing of the body.

Saldugejs had a previous conviction for stabbing a man and is wanted in Latvia for grievous bodily harm.

Latvian Report: Government Seeks Removal From US Copyright Blacklist
BBC Monitoring Former Soviet Union
Copyright 2006 BBC
Text of report by Latvian newspaper Dienas Bizness on 31 March

Riga — Latvia hopes that next year it will be removed from the blacklist which the United States has used for nearly 15 years — a list which says that Latvia is a country which is doing inadequate work in protecting intellectual property. Specialists think that if Latvia were to be removed from the blacklist, that would lead to millions in new investments.

As was the case in becoming more active against money launderers, Latvia's government last year radically changed the attitude of the state and of law enforcement institutions vis -a -vis the protection of intellectual property rights. Last year the Prosecutor-General's Office assigned three prosecutors to deal specifically with copyright and related issues.

This year an Intellectual Property Council has begun its work. It is chaired by the prime minister. The Interior Ministry has a Public Consultation Council on Intellectual Property Rights Protection. Last year the Economics Police set up a new unit to deal only with intellectual property rights in relation to information technologies, audio, video, trademarks, and so forth. A new procedure has been established on how better to engage in customs controls so that intellectual property rights can be protected.

Because of all of the things that were done last year, Latvia had hoped to be removed from the blacklist this year, but the United States still have some complaints about issues concerning the work of customs officials and courts, Dienas Bizness was told by the commander of the new Economic Police division, Evalds Karitons. He admits that there are still "certain holes" in Latvia's border, particularly with Russia, but he also thinks that the work of customs authorities has become much better.

"We do not need to look at this issue in great detail to understand that the eastern border causes problems. Latvia is more of a transit country — abnormal amounts of Russian products pass through Latvia on their way to the European Union," Dienas Bizness was told by Sarmite Zumbure, who coordinates the Baltic projects of the Coalition for Intellectual Property Rights (CIPR). "The main thing is that the police and the prosecutors have significantly changed their attitudes, because they finally understand the fact that this is one of the most important types of crime, one from which illegal businesses can receive amazing profits," says Karitons.

Situation Improving

The US blacklist has more to do with illegal recordings and programmes, and that is a major problem in Latvia, Dienas Bizness was told by Mara Uzulena, who represents Latvia's Authorized Patent Association. Latvia is also shamed by the fact that there are fraudulent products of various kinds. Various kinds of products are produced illegally, and there has been notable theft of ideas. Generally speaking, protection of intellectual property rights is important to other countries, including those in Europe. Uzulena confirmed that work is being done to remove Latvia from the blacklist in 2007: "Latvia still has many problems, but we are dealing with them. The situation is improving, though not as rapidly as we would like." Illegal business is still very much present in Latvia, but not as much as was the case before. "Latvia's long-term goal is to draw as close as possible to the European level, where piracy of intellectual property is at a level of 30 to 35 per cent," said Karitons.

He also said that the work that was done last year is hard to compare with the situation a year earlier, because back then only four or five people worked on intellectual property issues. That was just one aspect of the work of an institution which basically dealt with money laundering issues. Now, however, the Economic Police division has 22 jobs, and virtually all of them have been filled.

Other Views

Valdis Birkavs, board chairman of the Business Software Alliance, said that he does not want Latvia to be removed from the blacklist, because that would cause people in Latvia to forget about intellectual property rights: "I will support Latvia's removal from the blacklist at such time as I clearly see the government's plans for the next three to five years. Work that has been started very well must continue." Birkavs also said that even though there have been more criminal cases and greater compensation, the number of new computer users is on the rise, too, and among them, there are greater numbers of those who use illegal software.

Major Benefits

Referring to research studies, Birkavs said that a reduction in computer piracy from 58 per cent to 48 per cent would allow Latvia's information technology sector to earn 239m lats [416m dollars] a year by 2009, as opposed to the 137m lats that it earns now. The state would receive several million lats in additional taxes. Karitons thinks that computer piracy causes the national budget to lose around 15m lats a year. He admitted that it is hard to eliminate piracy among private individuals — the battle focuses more on private and state-owned companies so as to put an end to the use of illegal software.

Important for Investments

This is one of the main problems which hinders US investments of the type that the US company Jeld-Wen made — 60m dollars in Aizkraukle, Dienas Bizness was told by the Latvian ambassador to the United States, Maris Riekstins. Intellectual property is a subject which the United States monitors very closely, because the influence of the industry there is enormous. Riekstins expressed the view that it is Latvia's job to make sure that it is not listed on blacklists, because that influences public attitudes towards other countries. Several studies have proven that protection of intellectual property goes hand in hand with a country's economic flourishing, he said.

Janis Bordans, a sworn attorney, says that Ireland, for instance, first dealt with intellectual property protections, and only then did investments start to flow into that country — among the investors were some of the world's leading software designers. Protecting intellectual property is one factor which suggests that the environment is favourable for investments, said Zumbure.

Lack of Experience

Zumbure also said, however, that one problem is that there is not enough experience with property rights and their protection. What is more, new demands were put in place when Latvia's border became the EU's external border. Zumbure admitted that the public at large does not have sufficient information about violations of the law — people may not even really understand what intellectual property is. "I do not think that when people buy some cheap sportswear at the public market with a check mark on it, they realize that it is a violation of the property rights of Nike," says Zumbure. Owners of intellectual property rights most prove that their rights are protected just like any other rights. "If we look at the level of competition among businesses, then we see that competition involves non-material values — the bicycle was invented a long time ago," says Zumbure. She adds that protection of intellectual property has much to do with the level of interest among the owners of those rights. The Baltic and Latvian markets are small, and so sadly, there is not much activity in protecting one's intellectual property rights.

Georgia, Ukraine and Latvia Looking For Seats In UN Human Rights Council
April 4, 2006, 5:51 pm
Copyright 2006 Prime-News

Tbilisi, April 04 (Prime — News) Georgia, the Ukraine and Latvia have announced their candidacies for next month's election to the new 47-member UN Human Rights Council.

The elections are scheduled to take place in the General Assembly on 9 May and the Council will hold its first meeting on 19 June, goes the information at the UN website.

So far the following 17 Member States have announced their candidacies for next month's election — Algeria, Bangladesh, Pakistan, CzechRepublic, Georgia, Hungary, Ukraine, Latvia, Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Peru, Nicaragua, Germany, Greece, Portugal and Switzerland.

The new 47-member Human Rights Council will replace the Human Rights Commission, which held its final session last Monday.

Addressing the final session of the Commission last week, Louise Arbour, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said the overwhelming General Assembly vote on 15 March setting up the Human Rights Council marked a major stride forward for the UN's human rights system, although she said there was still much to do, the UN website goes.

Battle over Stolichnaya
Russian Standard Company Rejects Allied Domecq's Cease and Desist Legal Request; Cites Newly Discovered Official Documents Revealing Stolichnaya Vodka is Not Authentically Russian
Copyright 2006 PRNewswire

MOSCOW, April 6 /PRNewswire/ — Russian Standard, a leading Russian consumer goods and financial services company, has rejected Allied Domecq's formal legal request to cease and desist with its public relations, advertising and marketing campaign stating that Russian Standard is Russia's leading premium vodka. Additionally, newly discovered Russian government documents regarding exports of distilled vodka products from Russia, as well as public information obtained from court documents, reveal that Stolichnaya is not authentically Russian.

In a letter received by the company, Allied Domecq claims that Russian Standard's marketing campaign implies that its Stolichnaya brand vodka is not truly a Russian vodka. Russian Standard Company affirms this position and maintains that Stolichnaya brand vodka is not authentically Russian, and believes that Stolichnaya's marketing messages are inaccurate and misleading to vodka consumers.

Roustam Tariko, President of Russian Standard Company, said: "Russia is the birthplace of vodka and the largest vodka market in the world. The fact that a vodka is authentically Russian is one of the most significant attributes a vodka can have."

Legal documents filed by Allied Domecq, and their vodka producer SPI, in U.S. Federal Court state that its Stolichnaya vodka is produced in Russia and then shipped in bulk into Latvia, a neighboring country, where it is filtered, bottled and labeled as Stolichnaya vodka.

Newly discovered documents from the Russian government declare that the only vodkas exported to Latvia in 2004 and 2005 were shipped under different names than Stolichnaya vodka, and were based on different recipes than the recipe for Stolichnaya vodka. The Russian government further confirms in writing that their records reveal no exports of Stolichnaya vodka, or vodkas based on its recipe, were made in 2004 and 2005 from the distillery in Kaliningrad Russia to Latvia. In addition, press releases found on SPI's website indicate that Stolichnaya vodka is actually produced in Latvia.

Tariko added, "Russian Standard Company is the leading producer of premium vodka in Russia, and we will vigorously defend the value of our vodka making heritage, the quality of our products and our brand name. We will not be intimidated by competitors." Tariko continued, "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."

Documents in the public record also include the following:

1. The Russian Government has sued Allied Domecq in the courts of the United States (New York) and Australia arguing that their Stolichnaya branded vodka is not of Russian origin, that consumers are misled by their claims that Stolichnaya is Russian, and that the trademark Stolichnaya is actually owned by the Russian Government. On April 3, 2006, the court in New York dismissed the claims of the Russian Government contesting the ownership and use of the trademark STOLICHNAYA in the United States. The court in New York stated that the trademark STOLICHNAYA is not a geographical indicator, and that the issue as to the actual place of STOLICHNAYA's production was not relevant to the court's decision

2. Despite the Russian Government's position that Allied Domecq's Stolichnaya vodka is not Russian vodka, Allied Domecq takes the very unusual position that a U.S. government regulation defines what is Russian — not the Russian Government.

3. Allied Domecq's Stolichnaya vodka which is labeled as "Russian Vodka" cannot be sold in Russia. In New York court in declarations under oath, Allied Domecq's business partners admitted that when they tried to use the Stolichnaya trademark in Russia for their vodka, that vodka was seized by the Russian Government.

4. The Russian Government has argued in court papers in New York that Allied Domecq's Stolichnaya vodka is distilled in Latvia. As previously noted, Allied Domecq's producer SPI has issued press releases declaring that Stolichnaya vodka is produced in Latvia and that: "It's important to have rights for Russian vodka in its country of origin."

Russian Standard vodkas sell over one million cases a year and command a 67 percent share of the premium vodka market in Russia. Roustam Tariko introduced Russian Standard Original in Russia in 1998 and Russian Standard Platinum in 2001. After becoming the market leader in premium vodka within two years, Roustam and Russian Standard Company launched IMPERIA in Russia in 2004. IMPERIA is uniquely based on famed Russian scientist Dmitri Mendeleev's original formula, decreed by Czar Alexander III in 1894 as "The Standard of Vodka" for the royal court of St. Petersburg. IMPERIA was most recently introduced to the US market in September of 2005. ...

Distributed by PR Newswire on behalf of Russian Standard Company

New Era Party pulls out of Latvia's ruling coalition
07.04.2006, 00.56
Copyright 2006, Itar-Tass

RIGA, April 7 (Itar-Tass) — Latvia's New Era Party passed a decision Thursday to pull out of the ruling coalition, where it was the largest building block.

Following this decision, the cabinet of Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, who represents People's Party, lost parliamentary majority.

To keep the cabinet going, Kalvitis will now have to rally support among the oppositionists — either rightwing Latvian nationalists or left-wing unions of ethnic Russians and other Russian-speaking non-Latvians.

The New Era decided to quit the coalition after a chain of corruption scandals.

First, Latvian state television made public the results of bugging of conversations between some Latvian politicians. The police was said to have done the bugging as part of investigation on grafting during election of mayor of beach city of Jurmala.

The transcripts of the conversations spotlighted active involvement in the affair of the former Communications Minister, Ainars Slesers, whose party was a member of the coalition last year.

Slesers's guilt was not proved in the courtroom, but the New Era managed to press him into a resignation then.

Soon after that, the New Era instituted a criminal investigation procedure against Economics Minister Krisjanis Karins following reports that a private company had received financing in bypass of law from Western funds handled by the Economics Ministry.

An exchange of reciprocal threats and accusations followed, and the New Era said eventually it was pulling out of the ruling coalition. All the ministers representing it are expected to file resignation requests Friday.

Prime Minister Kalvitis said to this it is much better to have a minority government that is eager to work than a majority government based on quarelling.


This edition's picture is of St. Peter's church, from one of Peters' tours of Old Riga from some years ago.

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