RIGA - Defense Minister Atis Slakteris publicly criticized Latvia's Independent Television for showing his clumsy and incoherent performance while handing out medals to soldiers who had recently returned from Iraq, while one daily went so far as to suggest the minister might have been under the influence.
The televised report of the ceremony was supposedly so unflattering that Slakteris' daughter reportedly called him at the urging of a friend who, after viewing the episode, became concerned for the defense minister's health.
A number of people who saw the program reportedly expressed their indignation by writing the media.
Latvijas Avize, a nationalist daily, insinuated in a story the following day that Slakteris' behavior suggested that he might have been drunk.
Slakteris angrily denounced the allegation and called the reports by Latvijas Avize "journalistic nonsense," according to the Baltic News Service.
The defense minister admitted that he had not yet seen the televised report, though he planned to search the Internet for it.
He added that he wanted to know "which reporter had been crazy enough to do something like this and who should be called to responsibility for damaging the immaculate image of the defense minister."
Slakteris denied any behavior out of the ordinary and claimed to be in fine health.
"I can assure those who thought I was drunk that I had not taken a drop, and the bad impression was created by a faulty microphone, which garbled the sound and my speech," the minister was quoted as saying.
"Yes, I did drop a box with a medal, but this could have happened to anyone. There were so many medals, the boxes were piled high - one on another. It's no wonder that one of them slipped down from the table," Slakteris said.
Slakteris had been welcoming home 111 Latvian soldiers who had served in Iraq at the Adazi military base when the controversial incident occurred.
While many observers admit that Slakteris is not a gifted public speaker and often appears very nervous, none of the sources The Baltic Times contacted knew of or suspected him of having a drinking problem.
Slakteris is thought to be the People's Party's choice for prime minister.
He traveled to Afghanistan on July 11 - 14 to visit the 11 Latvian soldiers serving with the international security assistance forces.
Slakteris was formally the minister of agriculture from 2000 to 2002 and has a professional and educational background in farming and agriculture.