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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)

Books on Latvia

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: 022 - (01/09/05)

Lockerbie Surprise
In August Libya made efforts to appease some Western concerns over its human rights record and the case of the jailed Bulgarian nurses, which has virtually (if not officially) become the last remaining obstacle to a full normalization of Libyan-Western relations. However, behind the curtains there were some disquieting revelations by a reputable Scottish newspaper suggesting the evidence in the Lockerbie bombing trial was fabricated. The Scotsman said a retired police officer - of assistant chief constable rank or higher - has said that the CIA planted the tiny fragment of circuit board, which led to the conviction of a Libyan for the 1989 crash of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland in 1989 killing 270 people. The unidentified police chief revealed this to the lawyers for Abdelbaset Ali Mohmed Al Megrahi, who is currently serving a life sentence in Greenock Prison, and was the sole convicted Libyan in the Lockerbie trial in 1999. The case against Libya in the Lockerbie crash was indeed questionable, and according to the Scotsman newspaper, a former CIA agent had already claimed that CIA bosses concocted the evidence against the Libyans. 

Syria, Iran or Libya - the question lingers
Indeed, for the two years after the PanAm 103 crash in December 1988, American and British intelligence were following a different route to find those responsible, which aimed toward the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) and the group's Syrian and Iranian backers. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August of 1990 and the United States led coalition needed to secure the cooperation of Iraq's neighbours Syria and Iran, attention for the Lockerbie crash shifted to Libya. The shift was made all the more palatable by the fact that the Libyan leader, although a critic of Saddam Hussein, was concerned by strong pro-Iraq popular opinion prompting his support for Iraq. During the Lockerbie trial at Camp Zeist, Holland, United Nations officials, notes the Scotsman, "expressed disquiet about the verdict and the conduct of the proceedings at Camp Zeist, Holland. Those doubts were first fuelled when internal documents emerged from the offices of the US Defence Intelligence Agency. Dated 1994, more than two years after the Libyans were identified to the world as the bombers, they still described the PFLP-GC as the Lockerbie bombers". Meanwhile, say sources close to Megrahi "Britain and the US were telling the world it was Libya, but in their private communications they acknowledged that they knew it was the PFLP-GC". However justified the doubts, they do suggest an oddly serendipitous turn of events, which allowed the US to obtain Syria's support against Iraq while shifting attention to Libya, which was the object of a considerable demonising campaign in the Reagan years. 
Senior police officers told the Scotsman there are credibility questions over the former police chief's accusations and why the matter has been raised now rather than at the time of the trial. The officer responded to these accusations saying " was afraid of breaking ranks" by claiming that the key piece of evidence, a fragment of circuit board from a timing device that implicated Libya, had been planted by US agents. A key element in the case against Megrahi and the Libyan involvement in Pan Am 103 was a tiny fragment of circuit board that investigators found in a wooded area many miles from Lockerbie months after the crash. An FBI agent, Thomas Thurman, whose credibility and reputation the newspaper also attacked identified the fragment as belonging to an explosives detonator made by the Swiss firm MEBO, which made the item for Libya and East German Stasi (which had trained Libyan security officers in the 19780's and 80's). Megrahi did, in fact, have connections to MEBO, and is even aid to have had an office at the firm given the frequency of his dealings. 
Meanwhile, in 2003, a retired CIA officer told Megrahi's lawyers that the MEBO fragment was planted. Nobody has commented from the Association of Chief Police Officers, says the Scotsman, and the story, which emerged at the end of August has not been carried by other sources; however, the political timing and the evidence warrant further investigation. Certainly, the Lockerbie trial never adequately addressed the issue for Megrahi's motive. Al Amin Khalifa Fhimah, the other Libyan to stand trial over Pan Am 103, was freed on lack of evidence. Libya endured UN sanctions from April 1992 to 1999, because of its failure to comply with US and British demands the Libyan suspects stand trial in the US or the UK and Col. Qadhafi always maintained Libya's innocence in the Lockerbie affair, even as it paid compensation to families of the victims. It would be nave to suppose that the official verdict will be changed on the basis of the evidence submitted by the former Scottish police chief; however, there were always doubts over the trial and the degree of Libya's culpability. There was of course other damning evidence regarding the route the suitcase containing the bomb travelled to join the doomed flight - also the contents of that case, of goods shopped for in Malta, linked to the accused. The average Libyan citizen suffered considerable economic setbacks during the period of sanctions as the gap between the poorest and the richest grew with the rising costs of basic consumer goods, and lack of investment in sectors other than oil and the great Man Made River (GMMR). 

Justice for all
Nevertheless, the Lockerbie doubts have not entered the mainstream and Libya's rehabilitation in the world community continues apace. Qadhafi's son Seif-ul-Islam, suggested in an interview that the US would shortly open its embassy in Tripoli. For its part, the US Department Of State did not rule this out, but made its token requests that normalizing relations with Libya would come after Libya takes more steps to improve its human rights records and fight terrorism. The Libyan leader also invited Condoleeza Rice and George W. Bush to Tripoli. Libya has taken some steps toward 'human rights' in August, as Seif ul-Islam (whose position is still unclear in terms of actual influence and credibility in state matters) hinted that 131 political prisoners would be freed from Libyan jails, including some members of the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood organization (one wonders how this move would appease US concerns, given the current emphasis on having members of such organizations arrested around the world). Seif ul-Islam also criticized the Revolutionary Committees, the enforcers of the 'revolution', during the interview hinting the powerful institution, which usually applies pressure on citizens and their political mechanisms (popular committees) to vote in favour of the leadership's decrees, could be scaled down in its size and scope. The spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, Nasser al-Mane, told al-Jazeera from Geneva that the Muslim Brothers would deal seriously with any reform steps by the government. Al-Mane considered Seif's statements concerning the Revolutionary Committees interesting. Moreover, Al-Qadhafi invited all Libyans residents abroad, whose money and properties were confiscated, to return to Libya and earn back their rights. In occasion of the September 1st, anniversary of the al-Fatah revolution that brought Qadhafi to power in 1969, Libya also plans to grant general amnesty to all convicts sentenced to more than 10 years in prison, even those serving life terms, said. Justice Minister Ali Hasnawi.

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