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LATVIA


 

 

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Key Economic Data 
 
  2003 2002 2001 Ranking(2003)
GDP
Millions of US $ 9,671 8,406 7,500 94
         
GNI per capita
 US $ 4,070 3,480 3,230 79
Ranking is given out of 208 nations - (data from the World Bank)

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REPUBLICAN REFERENCE

Area (sq.km) 
64,589

Population
2,306,306

Principal 
ethnic groups 
Latvians 52.0%
Russians 34%
Belarusians 4.5%

Capital 
Riga

Currency 
Lats

President
Mrs Vaira 
Vike-Freiberga




Update No: 299 - (28/11/05)

The Matriarch of the Baltic in the Caucusus
Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga is a feisty lady, who is making a big impression on the world stage, despite coming from a small country. She is the representative of all the Baltic states on the international arena. She enables Latvia to punch above its weight.
She was doing exactly that in a visit to the three South Caucasus states in early October. There is no reason for Latvia not to have excellent relations with all three. They are taking the Baltic states as something of a role model for post-Soviet development.
The presidents of Azerbaijan and Latvia met in the presence of their delegations at the Presidential palace in Baku. People nearly always speak in banalities, and hyperbolic ones at that, on these occasions. But this is out of formal politeness and does not mean that important issues are not being discussed. 
Greeting Mrs Vike-Freiberga, the Azerbaijani leader said that the visit would open new opportunities for further strengthening of the two countries' ties. "Political relations between our two countries are now on a very high level, and I hope our economic relations will also be steadily developed," he said. 
Stressing the visit as an extremely important event in the history of the two countries interrelations the Azerbaijani leader congratulated Mrs. Vike-Freiberga on Latvia's becoming a full member of both NATO and the European Union. "Azerbaijan is also pursuing the policy towards integration into Europe. At this point, Latvia's support is of great importance to our country. We are satisfied with the fact that our views and opinions on security issues and those concerning regional conflicts are the same. Azerbaijan will continue to promote development of bilateral relations," President Ilham Aliyev said. 
The Latvian president expressed satisfaction with her first visit to Azerbaijan also calling it an historical event. "We have achieved successful political cooperation but have much to do to expand our economic relations, she said. In this connection, Mrs. Vike-Freiberga reminded of the Azerbaijan-Latvia business-forum, which according to her would foster economic development between the two countries. 
The Latvian leader once again confirmed her country's standing for resolution of the Armenia-Azerbaijan, Nagorno-Karabakh conflict on the base of the territorial integrity of Azerbaijan. Latvia will continue to support Azerbaijan on its way to European integration.
She arrived in Tbilisi, capital of Georgia, on the second leg of the tour, on October 5th. She said at the opening ceremony of welcome that it is possible that her country would be involved in the peace processes to help solve the conflicts in South Ossetia and Abkhazia. "I would not be against Latvia, as a NATO member state, participating in the peacekeeping process; moreover, Latvia has great experience participating in peacekeeping operations in Afghanistan and Iraq," the Latvian President said at a joint news briefing with President Mikhail Saakashvili in Tbilisi.
Within the framework of a three-day official visit the Latvian President signed several agreements, including that on resumption of direct flights between the capitals - Tbilisi and Riga.
She then went on to Yerevan, capital of Armenia on the final leg of her official tour of the three South Caucasus countries.
President Robert Kocharian told his visiting Latvian counterpart that he is keenly interested in the Baltic state's dramatic post-Soviet transformation and hopes it will help Armenia move closer to the European Union. 
Vaira Vike-Freiberga was accompanied by a large delegation comprising Latvian government officials and dozens of businessmen. 
Speaking at a joint news conference with Vike-Freiberga, Kocharian said Armenia has a lot to learn from Latvia's rapid transition to democracy and the market economy which enabled it to join NATO and the European Union. "The path which Latvia has followed in becoming a member of the European Union is extremely interesting," he said. "In some areas relating to reforms, we would like the Latvian side to help us within the framework of the European Neighbourhood Policy," he added, referring to an EU scheme designed to build closer ties with the bloc's neighbours. 
Armenia as well as neighbouring Azerbaijan and Georgia were included in the ENP last year and are each to negotiate individual plans of action stemming from the programme. EU officials were scheduled to simultaneously open negotiations on those action plans with all three governments in September. But the talks were postponed due to a diplomatic dispute between Cyprus and Azerbaijan. 
The EU's special representative to the region, Heikki Talvitie, indicated that the bloc will start the talks with Armenia and Georgia in November. Vike-Freiberga said her government would agree with this. 
It is not clear if Armenia's action plan will stress the need for democratic elections, human rights protection and the rule of law. None of the Armenian elections held since independence have been judged free and fair by international observers. By contrast, the legitimacy of Latvian elections has never been questioned both within and outside the country. The former Soviet republic also boasts a much more independent judiciary and mass media. 
Officials said the talks between the Armenian and Latvian presidents were dominated by economic issues. The two sides signed agreements on protection of mutual investments and cooperation between their customs agencies. 

Latvia declares Berezovsky persona non grata 
There are other figures on the post-Soviet scene whom the Latvian president and premier are less keen to consort with, namely dubious Russian billionaires in exile. Latvia's Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis has signed a decree on entering notorious Russian entrepreneur Boris Berezovsky in the list of persona non grata. 
Vike-Freiberga had said in the summer that Latvia should consider putting Berezovsky on the country's list of persona non grata. In the president's words, "I as the President would expect an opinion from the Prosecutor General's Office and other law enforcement authorities as to likely threats from Berezovsky's visits to Latvia." 
The president, who heads the National Security Council, met with Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis to discuss Berezovsky's recent visit to Latvia, the second in several months. One visit could be a coincidence, but two visits require more consideration, the president said. 
Berezovsky was in Riga along with Neil Bush, the brother of the US president, to discuss an educational project with Latvian businessmen. 
Berezovsky and Bush are promoting new educational software developed by Ignite Learning. The software is designated for primary school students teaches curriculum by developing children's thinking and imagination, according to reports. 
Much controversy surrounded the meeting, since Berezovsky is wanted for arrest in Russia, and the exiled Russian businessman, who now lives in London, met with a relative of the US president. 
Russian authorities sent an official request to Latvia to extradite the former oligarch, but the request was ignored by Latvian law enforcement officials. 
He is widely suspected of having helped to foment the Orange Revolution in Ukraine - that is the rub. During the visit, Berezovsky met with Parliamentary Chairman Ingrida Udre, former PM Andris Skele, businessman Peteris Smidre and others, not in the present establishment in power. Sinister goings-on to the powers that-be. 
The principal decision to blacklist Berezovsky was made by the Latvian National Security Council, headed by Vike-Freiberga. Earlier Kalvitis reported that information submitted by the country's security agencies did not leave any doubt that Berezovsky should not enter the country. Kalvitis supposed that the businessman had certain political interests in Latvia and he wanted to intervene before Berezovsky realized them. Indeed.

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ENERGY

Baltic presidents want to join Russian gas pipeline


The presidents of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania agreed in a summit recently to work together to be included in a proposed Russian-German gas pipeline under the Baltic Sea that under current plans would bypass the three countries, Deutsche Presse-agentur (dpa) reported.
The proposed pipeline has drawn criticism from Poland, and was one issue during talks between Lithuanian President, Valdas Adamkus, and German Chancellor, Gerhard Schroder, during a recent visit to Germany.
Adamkus met with his Latvian and Estonian counterparts, Vaira Vike-Freiberga and Arnold Ruutel, to discuss regional cooperation at an annual rotating summit of the Baltic states near the Estonian capital Tallinn.
The Baltic presidents cited the environmental dangers the proposed gas pipeline would pose if laid under the Baltic Sea, and vowed to cooperate on the issue in addition to others concerning regional infrastructure. "It is obviously necessary for all of us to coordinate actions and properly represent regional interests in the EU. To this end, it is important that cooperation be expanded at all levels," Adamkus said at the summit. Cooperation is also planned to implement a regional rail network, dubbed Rail Baltica, and a highway system, named Via Baltica.

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INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY

Lattelekom turns Latvia into a Wi-Fi hotspot 

Lattelekom, Latvia's dominant Telecommunications Company, is leading the charge to fit the country out with Wi-Fi access points. Tomass Tikmers, wireless Internet service manager for Lattelekom, said, "At the moment, Lattelekom is the only company developing what we call hotspots, which are public Internet access points. Right now we have 150 hotspots in Latvia, some 75 per cent of which are in Riga. By the end of this year we plan to have opened 200 hotspots, while we plan to create 350 in 2006. We want to provide Wi-Fi, data and voice services for all those many new laptop owners."
Lattelekom also launched a partnership with Statoil gas stations. By the end of 2005 every Statoil will have Wi-Fi coverage. According to industry research, there are currently about 45,000 laptop owners in Latvia, with some 3,500 new laptops being sold on average each month. Tikmers said local retailers anticipate a sharp rise in the sale of laptops, and Lattelekom planned to tap into this potentially lucrative new market, New Europe reported.
The company has created a pre-paid Wi-Fi card to make wireless Internet access as simple as possible. People can either buy a 0.95 lat card for one hour's worth of access, or a 9.95-lat card for 24-hour access. There is also a much more economical option for regular Wi-Fi users. "Our clients can sign a monthly agreement which is a very good value. For just 2.95 lats per month, you pay 0.005 santims for the traffic you use, or the other option is you pay 10.95 lats per month for unlimited Internet access," Tikmers explained.
Bite Latvija, the country's third GSM mobile operator, is planning to install its own Wi-Fi hotspots in the near future. And a new technology called Wi-Max, which is being developed by Intel, could drastically shake up the whole industry. Although it won't be ready until 2008, Wi-Max would be able to combine Wi-Fi, data and voice services. 
This, in turn, could greatly affect Lattelekom and mobile phone operators. But that is still some way off for now, and the task at hand is to concentrate on maximising the existing technology. "Our mission is to increase Internet access," Tikmers said.

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