RIGA'S BURNING: Latvia ranks second in the world after India by the rate of burns per head of population, according to information provided by the National Burn Center. The center's head Monika Savicka told reporters on April 17 that the underlying reasons for such a high rate of burns was probably due to inadequate knowledge of labor safety, especially in employment involving the welding and cutting of metals. The number of household burns is also increasing in Latvia, from 360 cases in 1996 to 595 cases in 2000. The Latvian population has also become more prone to other kinds of burns, including those sustained in a drunken state and through inhalation. In most cases where burns resulted from alcohol abuse people fell asleep while smoking in bed.
FLUENT TV: Latvian President Vaira Vike-Freiberga does not rule out the possibility of Latvian law changing to make requirements concerning the use of the state language in radio and television broadcasts less severe. At a press and business club meeting organized by the magazine Karjera (Career) this week, the president said that current provisions requiring media to use the state language in a certain large percentage of their broadcasts had been aimed at strengthening the position of the state language but "laws governing the language use in the media are not everlasting and it is quite possible that the provisions will change in a couple of years." As an example, Vike-Freiberga referred to Canada, where television stations are required to air a certain amount of broadcasts dedicated to Canada to prevent the Americanization of culture.
FINE FINNS: The Estonian State Chancellery and the Finnish Foreign Ministry signed an agreement April 18 on Finnish technical and monetary assistance to regional Euro-information projects in Estonia. Under the agreement, Finland will over a period of 18 months support the "balanced dissemination of EU-related information in the regions of Estonia," head of the State Chancellery's EU information secretariat Mare Haan announced. The accord was signed by State Secretary Aino Lepik and the Finnish charge d'affaires, Nyyrikki Kurkivuori. The two countries concluded a similar pact in April 1999, under which Finland backed nearly 100 projects. In 1999-2000 Finland gave Estonia more than 1.3 billion kroons ($73.8 million) in aid through various projects implemented by different government departments, companies and non-profit organizations.
SMOKERS' ZONE: Although the chancellery of the Lithuanian Parliament spent several thousand dollars on outfitting special smoking facilities in the building, some MPs are saying they will stubbornly continue to smoke in front of the door to the parliamentary floor. Ashtrays that used to adorn the entrance disappeared this week. In their place are directions to the new smoking area. Most of the Parliament's smokers say they are dissatisfied with the new order, since the new official smoking area is on the first floor, while the entrance to main hall is on the second. MPs have begun ducking into toilets flanking the floor to have a smoke, or are carrying their own "portable" ashtrays around with them. MP Julius Veselka complained that he was "a non-smoker, but a drinker," and demanded that shot glasses be placed next to the ashtrays in the new area. Leather-covered furniture, nickel-plated ashtrays and a television are there instead.
AIRMAN SACKED: The Latvian government dismissed Air Force Commander Ojars Ivanovs on April 17 over malpractice discovered during a complex check-up, and appointed Air Force Chief-of-Staff Vitalijs Viesins as the acting commander. Defense Minister Girts Valdis Kristovskis said that Ivanovs had been dismissed after an in-house investigation due to lack of professionalism and managerial qualities. The minister said that the situation in the Air Force had not improved as quickly as had been expected from Ivanovs. It had on several occasions failed to provide the Defense Ministry with information and submitted reports only after repeated inquiries. Kristovskis had been displeased with Ivanovs' performance back in 1999. Ivanovs is the second Latvian defense forces official who has been fired recently. Earlier the defense minister sacked the National Defense Academy rector, Ilmars Viksna, as he was displeased with Viksna's actions after a mass outbreak of diphtheria at the academy.
DEFENSELESS: An unidentified gunman shot three people dead in Tartu on April 15. One of the victims was the acting head of the Tartu Defense Academy. Investigators found at the scene the bodies of Tiina, a 20-year-old student, her father Ermo, 44, and Captain Urmas Aal, 30, acting head of the college and a family friend of the other two victims. All had died from gunshot wounds, but the murder weapon has not been found. Tiina's friends had started looking for her when she did not reply to calls to her cellular phone. They called a specialist to unlock the door to her apartment and found the bodies. The Tartu police chief has formed a team to investigate the murder and central criminal police officers have also come to help. One possibility the police are examining is that the killer was already in the apartment when his victims entered it.