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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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Update No: 317 - (30/05/07)

Experts predict intense elections battle
As the first round of parliamentary debate over the next president quickly approaches, Latvians are getting ready for an intense battle between political parties. The wildly popular incumbent Vaira Vike-Freiberga is set to leave office on July 7 without the option of running for another term. "This time it will be a very difficult election, much more so than in the past. It is a very difficult situation because of internal relations, domestic politics and the prominence of the current president.

This year there is an especially hot discussion about the next president," Andris Runcis, a political science professor at the University of Latvia, told The Baltic Times.

The coming presidential elections promises to be one of the most exciting since Latvia regained independence. There are a number of very ambitious parties vying for a shot at the post, and no candidate has yet emerged as a clear leader. "This will be a fight between parties, which is stronger and has more influence," Runcis said. 

Parties in the ruling coalition hope to put their collective influence to good use, and have recently agreed to discuss putting forward a common coalition candidate, someone who would already have a large portion of the votes needed to become Latvia's new head of state. 

Speaking of the plans to negotiate, People's Party lawmaker Janis Lagzdins said, "Considering the politically red-hot situation, I am sure that it would be in the interests of the coalition and the parliament to agree on a common candidate."

Latvia's Way and Latvia's First Party (LC/LPP) bloc leader Andris Berzins was a little bit more sceptical about the coalition's ability to successfully agree on a candidate. "We will participate in the negotiations and offer our candidate … I do not know if it will be possible to agree on one person, but it might reduce the candidates' list to two or three," he said. 

Choosing a president in Latvia is a relatively convoluted and complicated process. The president is elected by the Saeima (Latvian parliament), which goes through several rounds of debate over the candidates. An intense back and forth debate between the parties inevitably leads to a number of candidates being offered up as sacrifices and can make the eventual outcome very hard to predict.

Ultimately, the election process is an elite affair. "Public opinion will have some influence, but the main decision rests with the political parties," Runcis explained. And while parliamentarians need to keep voters happy, getting their candidate appointed president would give their party a massive amount of political sway.

Runcis pointed out that despite the rapid pace at which candidates are eliminated - most are considered little more than sacrificial lambs to gain some foothold in the negotiations. The presidential debates, he says, largely focus on party strategy. "[This is about] long-term strategy: who will benefit in the future, [and which] party will be stronger in the future," he said.

Whatever the outcome of the negotiations and debates, the eventual winner of the upcoming elections will most likely be someone nobody expected. "This is a very unpredictable time, and there are not so many days left. If you remember when Vaira Vike-Freiberga was elected, she was very much a last minute candidate. Who knows who will be the last minute candidate this time," Runcis said. 

At press time, the only party to officially declare a serious candidate was New Era, who will nominate Sandra Kalniete for the position.

The first parliamentary debate on the presidency is scheduled to take place on June 4. 

Latvia takes Estonia's side against Russia
Latvian Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks on April 27th denounced the riots that took place in the Estonian capital Tallinn and said such protests were unacceptable in a democratic society. local Russians were protesting the dismantlement of a Soviet-era war memorial and the reburial of Soviet soldiers.

The minister told BNS that the he had very negative opinion of the latest developments in its neighbouring country, saying that "we cannot allow youngsters who have not experienced the World War II to use these things to wreak havoc and vandalize". The minister noted that in the given situation, not only law enforcement authorities, but also integration specialists should be involved in solving the situation to help consolidate society.

Asked whether something similar could happen in Latvia, too, Pabriks pointed out that there are no grounds or reason for such fears. The minister said the duty of any country in a similar situation would be to do the utmost to avert such large-scale unrest.

The ministry notes in the statement, that the "decision to rebury the remains of the soldiers buried by the Bronze Soldier monument is exclusive competence of the Estonian government."

"In a democratic society, any group that disagrees with the government's decisions is entitled to express its opinion, but it must be done in compliance with the law. Acts of vandalism threatening the lives and health of people, as well as damaging and destroying property, have nothing to do with forms of democratic protest," the statement says.

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FOREIGN RELATIONS

Plans to cooperate in agriculture field with Bulgaria 


Bulgaria and Latvia's Ministers of Agriculture, Nihat Kabil and Martins Roze, outlined the major perspectives for cooperation in the field of agriculture, forestry development and unified payment scheme for agriculture land, Kabil was cited as saying at a briefing held after the meeting between the two ministers, New Europe reported.
Kabil reportedly emphasised that this was the beginning of a future cooperation, focus-fen reported. Roze was cited as saying the two countries had a lot in common and Latvia could serve as an example as to how to absorb European Union funds as the country had achieved 100 per cent success.

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