Off the Wire

  • 2001-02-08
FRESH SKETCHES: The Latvian police have produced two more composite drawings of men suspected of involvement in the explosion at the Centrs shopping mall in Riga last August. The composite drawings were made on the basis of new and valuable testimonies, according to Security Police deputy chief Didzis Smitins. But neither Smitins nor Security Police chief Janis Reiniks would give any detailed comments about the investigation. Reiniks has said recently, however, that the police were checking out leads pointing to the involvement of organized crime. One of the men is 40 to 45 years old, about 1.76 meters tall, with gray hair. He was wearing blue jeans and a matching shirt. The other is 30 to 35 years old, 1.70 meters tall, with dark, long hair gathered in a ponytail. This man was wearing a black leather jacket, black jeans and black cowboy boots.

BEEF BANNED: The Lithuanian Veterinary and Food Service banned the import on Feb. 5 of beef and beef products from many European countries as a precaution against the bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as mad cow disease. The service also banned the import of yogurts containing bovine gelatin, ground meat for human consumption, all sorts of by-products (with a few exceptions), meat and bone flour used for animal fodder, blood flour, and certain fodder additives. The import ban does not apply to Estonia, Latvia, Norway, Finland or Sweden. Also, the service allowed the import of certain products from Argentine, Brazil, Australia, South Africa and New Zealand.

FEARSOME FIGURES: The number of HIV carriers in Latvia has for the first time shot above 1,000. Today, the number is 1,022. In January, 64 new HIV infected persons were registered, 10 of them under age and two younger than 15, both of them intravenous drug addicts. One HIV carrier drug addict who was under 20 died in January. Experts have stressed that the true number of HIV-infected people is at least three times higher. Statistics from the AIDS Prevention Center show that 70 percent of HIV carriers are intravenous drug addicts, 10 percent have been infected through homosexual contact and as many again through heterosexual contact. Two babies have been infected with the disease from HIV-infected mothers. One of them has been diagnosed with full-blown AIDS.

HIT-MAN ACCUSED: Yevgeny Savenko, a former Soviet security agent charged with genocide in Latvia, again denied his guilt in a Supreme Court sitting on Feb. 6.The court has begun considering an appeal against the 87-year-old Savenko's two year jail sentence. The court session is taking place in the Latvian town of Liepaja, some 220 kilometers west from Riga, because Savenko cannot be taken to Riga due to poor health. Savenko cannot be held in the court room for more than an hour, medics say. He suffers from Parkinson's disease, heart weakness and other ailments. Savenko, a former KGB officer, was charged with participation in repression against over 60 people in Latvia in 1940, immediately after Latvia's occupation by the Soviet Union.

TEACHING MONEY: Great Britain has decided to allocate 45,000 ($73.770) lats to support the teaching of Latvian to non-Latvian adults in Latvia. An agreement was due to be signed between the British Embassy and the U.S. Development Program on Feb. 7. The British government has been supporting the Latvian language teaching program for four years. The latest donation will be used to cover cost of teaching Latvian to specific groups, such as the unemployed, disabled persons, medical staff and teachers.

ISLAND LINK: The Estonian Shipowners Association has presented a project to the regional affairs minister suggesting a direct sea link between Estonia's two largest islands and Finland from the summer of 2002. The presentation of the cruise line project was made to Regional Affairs Minister Toivo Asmer on Feb. 6 by the president of the shipping industry body, Rein Merisalu, former Maritime Administration Director General Kalle Pedak and European Union consultant Timo Strander from Finland. Ships with a capacity of 200 to 300 passengers could start sailing from the Estonian islands of Hiiumaa and Saaremaa. The project, funds for which would be sought from the EU's Phare program, is seen as a booster to tourism and employment in the western islands.

FALLING FAST: Latvia's population shrank last year by 0.6 percent, or 13,800 people, despite the fact that the birth rate has been climbing and the death rate decreasing for the second year in a row. At the beginning of 2001, Latvia had a population of 2.366 million. The natural movement of inhabitants brought the population figure down by 12,000 and migration by 1,800. The birth rate increased by 4 percent in 2000 as 20,100 babies were born last year, some 700 more than in 1999. Last year 8.5 babies were born for every 1,000 residents, up 5 percent from 1999 when the figure was 8.1.

UNSOLVED TRAGEDY: Germany's chief prosecutor has ordered the Hamburg prosecutor's office to investigate the circumstances that cast doubt on the official version of the 1994 sinking of the ferry Estonia and examine the version of a possible explosion as the cause of the catastrophe. "We're looking into our competence for this proceeding," head of the Hamburg prosecutor's office Martin Koehnke told the German daily Die Welt. According to the newspaper, it is the Swedish lawyer Henning Witte who is urging Hamburg officials to open criminal proceedings. The basis for a possible criminal case is the tests that one U.S. and two German laboratories carried out on pieces of metal that a diving expedition to the wreck, organized by the German television journalist Jutta Rabe and U.S. businessman Gregg Bemis last year, brought to the surface. These allegedly showed traces of an explosion.