Latvija in brief - 2008-07-16

  • 2008-07-16
Riga City Council Development Department head Peteris Strancis has been suspended pending an ongoing corruption investigation. The move came after the anti-corruption bureau prohibited the official from working at the City Council, approaching certain people or leaving the country. In February the anti-corruption bureau detained two former department heads, along with one Estonian citizen, on charges of bribery and graft. The officials were released from detention at the end of last month. Gvido Princis will take over as acting head of the City Development Department.

On July 12, President Valdis Zatlers met with his Estonian counterpart Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Finnish colleague Tarja Halonen to discuss the future of European Union political and institutional reform following Ireland's rejection of the Lisbon Treaty. The presidents also discussed the role of national identity in an increasingly globalizing world. The three leaders met at the Latvian Open Air Ethnographic Museum. Following the meeting they all attended the final performance at the prominent Latvian Song and Dance Festival.

The Riga Criminal Police have arrested a gang of Lithuanian con artists that recently swindled elderly Latvian residents out of thousands of lats. The gang reportedly called the victims posing as police officers and told them that they needed to pay large sums of money to keep relatives out of trouble. The most common tack used was that their children had gotten in a car accident and were facing prison sentences. The gang operated primarily in Riga, Daugavpils, Jelgava and other cities for more than a year and a half. Police managed to detain several members of the gang who went to collect the money 's members who allegedly received a 10 percent cut for their role in the con 's effectively putting a stop to the operation.

Animal rights activists staged a large picket on July 15 outside the British Embassy to protest the killing of black bears to make bearskin hats for the British Queen's guards of honor. The protesters wore only their underwear and fake bearskin hats and wielded signs reading "Bare Skin not Bear Skin." Participants of the protest noted that tradition cannot serve as a justification for cruelty, and that each hat translates to the death of one black bear.  "Many bears are shot at several times before they die. Some bears that manage to flee after the first few shots usually bleed to death. If a female bear is killed her little cubs die of hunger," the activists said. The Welsh Guards, dressed in red uniforms and black bearskins, have been guarding Buckingham Palace and St. James Palace in London since 1915.

Elizabeth Longworth, executive director of the office of the UNESCO director general, has expressed her amazement at the Latvian Song and Dance Festival and compared it to the opening ceremony of the Olympics. During her trip, the UNESCO official also met with numerous ministers and government officials. UNESCO Director General Koichiro Matsuura originally planned to make the trip himself, but was unable to do to health problems.