Latvija in brief - 2004-10-13

  • 2004-10-13
As all three candidates for Latvia's seat at the European Court of Human Rights are women, a new competition may need to be held in order to meet gender equality requirements at the Council of Europe, said Andris Berzins, head of the state's delegation to the council. The three candidates are Gita Feldhune, head of the University of Latvia's Human Rights Institute, Ineta Ziemele, professor at the Riga Graduate School of Law, and Supreme Court Senator Jautrite Briede. The council will choose the judges in the first session of next year.

Nikolajs Kabanovs, an MP from the left-wing For Human Rights in a United Latvia, was denied the right to travel to Belarus and serve as an election observer, something he claimed was political reprisal for supporting Alexandr Lukashenko's government. Kabanovs blamed the right-wing party For Fatherland and Freedom for the decision. Aigars Petersons of New Era was also turned down, while Oskars Kastens from Latvia's First Party and Alexanders Golubovs of the Socialist Party were given permission to attend the election.

Ambulance drivers have asked the government to raise their monthly salaries significantly from as little as 90 lats (134 euros) to 240 lats or they could strike in the near future. The low wages have remained unchanged since 1994, with only an extra 0.05 lat added per hour if the drivers also worked as nurses. The pay raise could take place next year after the Riga City Council renews its budget.

Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks has created a new department to deal with Latvia's diaspora. Juris Audarins, the new special task ambassador, previously worked with Latvia's diaspora in Russia.

Pabriks wrote a letter to EU foreign ministers requesting that Latvia be allowed to use "eiro" instead of "euro," since phonetically, the latter cannot be pronounced in the national language. At Latvia's initiative, the EU's general and external relations committee discussed the issue on Oct. 12. Lithuania has also reportedly supported the decision, adding its own request.

A poll conducted by the SKDS pollster in September revealed that 61.8 percent of Riga's residents would like to elect their mayor in a direct election, while 22.5 percent said they would prefer that the City Council continues to do so. An association of large cities came up with the initiative, suggesting that mayors of larges cities should be elected directly. The parliamentary committee said it has not considered this proposal, nor has it been included in amendments to the law on local elections currently under consideration in Parliament.

The Health Ministry has proposed new limits on smoking in public areas, including sporting events, tram and bus stops, and within 10 meters of government institutions. In addition, if the amendments are accepted it will be illegal to smoke while driving a car. The amendments were submitted to Parliament's social and employment matters committee.