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After a brief period of independence between the two World Wars, Latvia was annexed by the USSR in 1940. It reestablished its independence in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union. Although the last Russian troops left in 1994, the status of the Russian minority (some 30% of the population) remains of concern to Moscow. Latvia continues to revamp its economy for eventual integration into various Western European political and economic institutions.
Update No: 265 - (28/01/03)
Problems on entry to the West
The Latvians have been put on the fast lane to join NATO and the EU, much to their relief after years of being deemed suspect and rife with corruption and crime, of which there is indeed, an abundance. Latvia is a natural for NATO, less so for the EU. Yet it is on track to join both, and in 2004.
The corruption and crime are anachronistic phenomena, which need not prevent NATO membership. Latvia is not supplying arms to Saddam Hussein after all, unlike Serbia and Bosnia.
But they are an impediment to EU membership. Who needs a nation of gangsters and 'the bent,' to join up with?
Yet the Latvians are not that at all. The geographical situation of the country is in one sense unfortunate. It is the natural and obvious route for land-locked Russia to the West, hence for legions of gangsters and like-minded traffickers in nefariousness.
The Latvians, however, are reacting strongly against them. Their Protestant sense of public morality has been outraged. They just need to be accepted within the various Western structures for it to be de rigueur to avoid crooks and the like.
The Latvian economy is doing well. In fact it has been doing so for some time. The statistics for nine months of 2002, the latest available, show GDP rising by 5.4%. This no-bust growth was fuelled by an upsurge in trade of no less than 11.8%. In the third quarter GDP growth actually surged by 7.4%, while trade soared by 17% on an annual basis.
Clearly Latvia's location as the natural entrepot for Russia, the Hong Kong of the North, is paying off handsomely. Ventspils takes a major share of Russian oil going westwards. If only the criminals can be kept at bay, the republic's future looks rosy.
Latvian agriculture ministry urges government to save sugar industry
The Ministry of Agriculture is calling on the government to review a draft that has been prepared for options to resolve the problems of the sugar industry in order to avert the collapse of the domestic sugar industry, Latvian Radio has reported. The Ministry of Agriculture is offering six possible options for a resolution: buying sugar at intervention prices; partial compensation for sugar prices; the introduction of a sugar tax; paying subsidies to sugar factories; subsidies for sugar-beet growers; or increasing the import duty on sugar and products containing sugar.
The chairman of the board of the Laima & Staburadze joint-stock company [Latvia's main confectionery producer], Juris Jonaitis said: "For six years now, in fact, Latvia has been doing everything to see that confectionery manufacturing in Latvia cannot survive. On the average, comparing ourselves with the manufacturer in Estonia, Kalev, for example, every year we are losing at least a million US dollars. All the action you see and hear from our side is - I can't help saying it - I think it's the last stage of desperation."
Latvia's only icebreaker works flat out to keep Riga port open
Ice caused by the low temperatures has covered Riga Bay. Scientists reckon the Baltic Sea may also freeze over completely, Radio Mayak has reported. Latvia's only icebreaker, the Varma, is working round the clock.
The Radio correspondent Yelena Kachayeva reported from Riga: Finnish marine research specialists reckon that ice caused by the severe frosts may cover the entire Baltic Sea. The last time this happened was in 1948, the scientists recall. The Finns base their prediction on the fact that, in a normal winter, ice covers about 200,000 sq.km. of the Baltic. This figure had already been exceeded by the start of 2003 - 370,000 sq.km. are currently frozen over
The Gulf of Bothnia and the Gulf of Finland are almost completely covered in ice. Icebreakers are already opening up routes for ships, but in the low temperatures these narrow paths freeze over again within a few hours.
However, Latvian specialists are in no hurry to sound the alarm. The head of the environmental protection department said that the likelihood that the sea would freeze over completely is not great. According to the executive director of the Latvian Ports Association, Anton Viktoris, Latvia can only benefit from the present freezing weather. The majority of Finnish and Russian ports in the Baltic are paralysed, while Ventspils and Liepaja ports, for example, are still working in winter conditions. However, most small ports are at a standstill. Keeping them clear of ice is not regarded as an economic proposition.
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