Latvija in brief - 2008-03-12

  • 2008-03-12
Riga city Mayor Janis Birks said on March 11 that he plans to symbolically lay flowers at the foot of the Freedom Monument on Legionnaires day. The controversial March 16 holiday commemorates the Latvian Waffen SS unit, also known as the Latvian Legionnaires, which fought against the Soviet Union in the 40s. Supporters of the day 's mostly Latvian nationalists 's claim that the soldiers were not Nazis and only allied with the troops in order to fend off Soviet forces. Critics 's mostly pro-Russian groups 's express fears that the day symbolizes a rebirth of Nazism in the Baltic state. There were violent clashes between the two groups at the 2006 event. 

The National Fire and Rescue Service have acquired a new fire-fighting device which can put out fires in enclosed areas by punching holes in the walls. The device, known as a cobra, is a water jet with metal oxide granules which are able to puncture construction materials. The stream is launched at a pressure of 300 atmospheres and is able to puncture a brick wall in 45 seconds, a concrete wall in one minute or a sheet metal roof in only 10 seconds. "With the help of this device we will be able to enter the apartments overtaken by fire. We will not have to waste time by attempting to break the deformed or over-secured doors," Andris Krots, the head of special equipment department, told journalists.

After going on sale on March 10, demand for tickets to the 2008 Latvian Folk Song and Dance Festival was so high that the ticket sales portal crashed when it was unable to handle the massive number of orders. More than 36,000 tickets were booked by noon the day they went on sale. "Interest was much higher than could be expected earlier," Aiva Rozenberga, the spokeswoman for Latvian Folk Art Center, told BNS. The festival will take place in the Riga from July 5th to 12th.

Police busted a major money laundering ring involving some of Latvia's most prominent sports stars and musicians. In a few months time, the 10 member group managed to launder some 6.5 million lats (9.2 million euros). Nearly 100 Latvian businesses were reportedly involved in the operation, some of which were prominent companies. The State Revenue Service's financial police have already launched three criminal procedures during which officials have conducted 16 searches, detained three suspects and seized more than 60,000 lats in cash, along with documents concerning the illegal transactions and other evidence.

As The Baltic Times went to press, Latvia and Estonia were preparing to sign a landmark memorandum of understanding with the United States which is widely seen as the first major step toward establishing a visa free regime. U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Michael Chertoff was due to arrive in Riga shortly after visiting Tallinn to sign the document. The memorandum establishes cooperation between the Interior Ministry and the U.S. equivalent and specifically lays out the security and passport requirements which must be met to join the Visa Waiver Program.