RIGA 's President Vaira Vike-Freiberga met with her French counterpart, Jacques Chirac, in Paris on Monday. Though the purpose of her three-day visit was to take part in the opening of Latvian cultural days in France, it was overshadowed by the debilitating riots and vandalism sweeping across the country.
During their meeting the two presidents discussed topical issues for the European Union, including the next budget, the Constitutional Treaty and the bloc's continuing expansion to the East.
Vaira Vike-Freiberga told reporters afterward that the two leaders' opinions coincided on all the major issues.
Not surprisingly, the president's visit, coming in the middle of increasingly dangerous riots throughout France, provided tremendous exposure to the Baltic country, since it was Vike-Freiberga's relay of Chirac's words that were carried by news services across the world.
While speaking to reporters, the Latvian president said Chirac "deplored the fact that in these neighborhoods there is a ghettoization of youths of African or North African origin." The French president acknowledged the "incapacity of French society to fully accept them," Vike-Freiberga said.
By way of explanation, Chirac told the Latvian president that unemployment runs as high as 40 percent in some suburban neighborhoods, or four times the national rate.
Vike-Freiberga did participate in the opening of Etonnante Lettonie (Amazing Latvia), a cultural festival that will last some 50 days and feature music, art, literature, film and food. The two presidents agreed on the festival in 2001, and France will have its chance in Latvia in 2007, according to reports.
Vike-Freiberga was also scheduled to take part in the presentation of a biography about her written by a French Latvian.