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Wednesday 16.10.2019 | Name days: Daiga, Dinija

BNN summary of the week: Latvia’s negative fiscal space; Russia vs. Lithuania; Diena’s scandal

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUThis week, Latvia discussed its future fiscal space for 2020. It is expected to be -11.9 million euros. Meanwhile, public transport company Rīgas satiksme remains in the centre of a scandal, while Harmony actively stagnates any decision-making processes in this. While some are unable to decide others are actively making grandiose plans – one of the biggest announcements this week was the proposal to reduce the number of municipalities in Latvia from 119 to 35.

Lithuania and Russia have taken to each other’s throats over the trial of 67 former Soviet officials for violence committed in Vilnius in 1991. This has caused Moscow to commence an investigation against judges responsible for the ruling.

Meanwhile, Estonia has become concerned over a possible threat to the country’s liberal democracy, which has surfaced in the central power since Conservative People’s Party of Estonia has come to force.

BNN offers a summary of this week’s topical news in a variety of categories: Finances; Resignation; Change; Fight; Environment; Justice; Meeting.

FINANCES: Finance Ministry upgrades Latvia’s GDP outlook to 3.2% for 2019

Latvia’s Finance Ministry has upgraded the country’s GDP growth outlook for 2019 by 0.2 percentage points – to 3.2%, according to the ministry’s Latvia’s Stability Programme 2019-2020 project.

The ministry explains that Latvia’s Stability Programme is one of the elements of the annual state budget legislative draft and medium-term budget’s preparation cycle. With that, it covers macro-economic index outlooks for 2019, 2020 and 2022, fiscal outlooks and general government budget balance goals.

Considering the rapid growth of Latvia’s economy I 2018, GDP growth outlook for 2019 has been upgraded by 0.2 percentage points – to 3.2%. GDP growth outlook for 2020 is expected to be 3%.

According to estimates from Finance Ministry, the cyclic development of Latvia’s national economy reached its peak in 2018. In the coming years economic growth could be below last year’s, when GDP growth reached 4.8%.

According to the ministry’s estimates, the deficit of the government’s 2019 budget will be 0.5% of GDP. This is the same level previously estimated for the 2019 budget in initial stages of the budget’s development process. Medium-term budget’s general government budget deficit is not allowed to exceed 0.4% of GDP in 2020, 0.2% of GDP in 2021 and 0.3% of GDP in 2022.

Full article here

RESIGNATION: Earthquake at national media council? Prominent council members steps down

Gunta Līdaka, a member of Latvia’s National Electronic Mass Media Council responsible for supervision over commercial television industry, has announced her decision to step down, as reported by LTV.

Līdaka said that considering the current situation surrounding the National Electronic Mass Media Council, she finds it impossible to continue working there.

«There is a situation that requires a solution. Unfortunately, to look for a solution, the public media and council are being used as a political tool to settle scores,» said Līdaka.

BNN had previously reported that the National Electronic Mass Media Council has decided to approve Einārs Giels as the new chairman of LTV and Eva Juhņēvičs as an LTV board member. Neither has any experience working in the media sector.

Full article here

CHANGE: Latvian ministry proposes reducing number of municipal deputies from 1,614 to 686

Following the administrative territory reform, it is planned to reduce the number of municipal deputies from 1,614 to 686, said Latvia’s Environment Protection and Regional Development Minister Juris Pūce at a press-conference on Wednesday, 10 April.

Presenting the administrative territorial reform’s project, Pūce said the goal behind the reduction of the number of municipal deputies is ensuring fair representation in accordance with the number of residents to help better organize work of municipal committee and separate executive power from decision-making power.

Authors of the reform offer maintaining the same number of municipal deputies in Riga (60) and Jurmala (15).

Municipalities in which the number of residents is under 30,000 would have 14 deputies, whereas the number of deputies in municipalities in which populations range from 30,001 to 60,000 is proposed to be set at 19.

Full article here

FIGHT: Russia irked by Lithuania’s January 13 massacre ruling, seeks retaliation

Russia’s grudge against four Lithuanian judges who issued the ruling in the high-profile January 13 case has translated this week in a criminal investigation by Russia’s Investigative Committee (RIC) on the grounds of what Russia deems is unlawful criminal prosecution.

At the cusp are Aiva Survilienė, Virginija Pakalnytė-Tamošiūnaitė and Artūras Šumskas, the judges of Vilnius Regional Court, and also Ainora Kornelija Macevičienė, the retired chair of the judicial panel, all of whom handed down the sentence in late March.

Foreign minister: Russia is vengeful

Following the RIC decision, Lithuania’s Foreign minister Linas Linkevičius called it «some sort of revenge.»«It’s difficult to evaluate it in some way as this is a deplorable situation…Russia should realize that although many years have passed, justice must prevail and that there’s no statute of limitations for such cases,» he said.

He suggests that the judges implicated in the case refrain from making trips to Russia or Russia-friendly countries as they, according to him, can expect provocations or various other actions there.

Full article here

ENVIRONMENT: Ilves warns against Estonia turning back on liberal democracy

Former Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves, in an apparent criticism of the Conservative People’s Party of Estonia (EKRE), has expressed concern over the effects statements by the party could have, despite not mentioning EKRE by name.

Estonian public broadcaster ERR reports that in a social media post Ilves wrote on Wednesday, April 10: «Intolerance, hate, mockery, threats, calling Estonian citizens of other ethnicities a Kremlin-induced cancer, saying people with different skin colors should be ‘shown the door,’ calling people with different sexual orientations ‘invalids’ who should be stripped of their right to vote».

Full article here

JUSTICE: Diena newspaper associated with infamous Latvian oligarchs sued for possible defamation

If a media proudly reports unverified information with a goal to mislead society, sooner or later it will have to answer for it in court. This is what happened to Diena media – a criminal process has been launched against it for possibly intentional defamation of Swiss lawyer Rudolf Meroni, as confirmed by Financial and Economic Crime Investigation Prosecutor’s Office.

The criminal process was launched for both defamation in Diena newspaper and social media Facebook and Twitter.

The criminal process was launched in accordance with Part 2 of Section 157 of the Criminal Law: for defamation in mass media, which is punishable with temporary deprivation of liberty or community service, or a fine.

Diena’s offered apology, smaller than its self- advertisement panel, is not enough

As previously reported, after nearly six months Diena finally withdrew the false news that was reported by one of its journalists – Guntars Gūte – had reported without fact-checking about Swiss lawyer Rudolf Meroni, branding him with a status in some criminal process.

Diena confirmed in its official statement that its journalist had made a mistake and his article contained false information, specifically regarding Latvian State Police Organized Crime Enforcement Office making Meroni a suspect in a criminal process.

Full article here

MEETING: BATL says Belarus is very important for Latvia’s transit sector

The transit sector in Latvia has adapted to the market conjuncture in recent years. One of the biggest future potentials is associated with Belarus, which is an important region for railway freight. On top of that, Belarus is a major logistics hub on the transit way to China, said board member of Baltic Association – Transit and Logistics Ivars Landmanis during a meeting with a delegation from Belarus.

Representatives of BATL met this week with high-ranking delegation from Belarus. Members of the delegation included Belarusian state oil company Belneftekhim head Andrei Ribakov, Transport and Communications Minister Aleksey Avramenko, Deputy Economy Minister Yuri Chebotar, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Belarus in Latvia Vasily Markovich and other high-ranking officials.

BATL stresses that this visit was very important, because servicing freight from Belarus is very important for Latvia’s transit industry. Additionally, Belarus is an important hub for international freight headed from Asia through Latvia to Scandinavian countries. Cooperation with the joint Chinese-Belarusian industrial park Great Stone, which is part of the One Belt – One Way concept, is equally important for future growth.

«The visit of high-ranking delegation from Belarus to companies part of BATL and Ventspils Freeport demonstrates favourable future cooperation perspectives that will provide considerable contribution for our country’s economy,» says Landmanis.

Full article here

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Probing infections in Latvia, salmonella found in meat from Poland

As infection outbreaks in Latvia are under investigation, laboratory tests showed salmonella bacteria in Polish-origin poultry samples taken from SIA Gaļsaimnieks.

Germany to allow Huawei equipment on 5G networks

The Chinese tech giant Huawei will not be banned from the 5G mobile networks in Germany as Berlin stated it wants to create «a level playing field» for vendors.

OECD: Bribery prevention results in Latvia disproportionate to cross-border risks

Latvia’s results in fighting bribery are still disproportionate with the risks of cross-border bribery and money laundering the country is subjected to, says the Working Group on Bribery of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development.

In pictures: Ukrainian President Zelenskiy in Latvia

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy and the Ukrainian first lady made an official visit to Latvia on Wednesday, October 16.

airBaltic not planning to cancel flights with Airbus A220

airBaltic does not plan to reduce its flights with the Airbus A220-300 plane, after Swiss International Air Lines decided to do this being concerned over the aircraft’s engine problems, according to a statement of the Latvian airline on social media.

PM Kariņš recommends spending confiscated EUR 29 mln as single investment

Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš has recommended the 29 million euros confiscated by the Riga Regional Court for being criminally-acquired to be spent on a one-off investment, according to an interview to LNT programme 900 sekundes.

Latvian security service develops terrorism financing prevention strategy

The Latvian State Security Service (VDD) has prepared its Strategy for the Prevention of Terrorism Financing 2019-2021 with its goal being improvements of the system of preventing such financing, developing Latvia’s abilities to fight such illegal attempts and to improve the country’s reputation in foreign financial markets.

Estonian President sends invitation to Russian President

Estonian head of state Kersti Kaljulaid has invited her Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin to visit the Baltic country during a gathering of Finno-Ugric peoples in 2020.

Riga transport company needs additional 2.9 million euros

Rīgas satiksme, the transport company of the Latvian capital, will request from the municipal budget an additional allocation of 2.9 million euros, said Rīgas satiksme’s council chairman in an interview with Latvijas radio.

Government decides: Latvia will have 39 municipalities

The Latvian government has backed the draft Law on Administrative Territories and Populated Places that sets forth cutting the number of municipalities in Latvia from 119 to 39.

Rail Baltica: In rebuilding of Riga Central Station deadlines and quality are key

In Rail Baltica, the new railway project, the rebuilding of the Riga Central Station is planned, where meeting deadlines and quality are key, said the head of Eiropas dzelzceļa līnijas, the company responsible for the project in Latvia, commenting on how the project could be affected by involved builders ReRe grupa being under the scrutiny of the Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau and the Competition Council.

Deal or extension? Last day of Brexit talks on before decisive EU summit

The Brexit delegations from London and Brussels are on Wednesday, October 16, spending their last day of talks before a key European Union summit intended either to discuss a potential deal or to decide on an extension of the Brexit process.

Exclusive | Latvian MP: Top justice figures, Bičkovičs and Kalnmeiers, working like this in private sector, would be sacked long ago

The Moneyval report has told us not only that Latvia is unable to deal with financial crimes, but also that long court cases are under scrutiny. It is about the scale of money laundering – branding us a major power of money laundering. The expert committee also has questions: where are the guilty ones and where are the sentencing rulings? «The same Lembergs’ case; believe me, Moneyval is observing carefully, how it’s going forward,» MP Gatis Eglītis (NCP), the head of the Financial Sector Supervision Committee of Saeima Budget and Finance (Taxation), said in an interview with the BNN.

Latvian medical workers to hold unprecedented protests against funding cuts

Latvian Trade Union of Health and Social Care Workers has decided to hold protests it calls unprecedented against state budget plans that would result in reduced funding for health care, according to the LVSADA Council.

History repeating: Lemberg’s-linked medium recalls false news about Meroni

Once again, a medium linked to the criminally-accused Latvian politician Aivars Lembergs has been forced to admit its lies and to recall its unfounded claims directed at lawyer Rudolf Meroni. This time the recall has been published by Neatkarīgā Rīta Avīze daily.

Unity: Riga City Council tries to retain structure of despite liquidation

In the Riga City Council, opposition Unity faction fears a near-million increase of the municipality’s Public Relations Division could be coming in city budget effectively to transfer the structure of, the foundation up for liquidation.

Latvian minister: System wants its people as Prosecutor General, top court chairman

«There is information that the system prepares its heirs and wishes to appoint people close to it,» discussing reforms in the Latvian justice system, including the changing of the chairman of the Supreme Court and the Prosecutor General, has said the Latvian Justice Minister speaking to Latvijas Televīzija programme Rīta Panorāma.

Latvian coalition reaches deal to support changed administrative reform

Latvian government parties have agreed to support the country’s major administrative and territorial reform expanding the initial plan of cutting the number of municipalities in Latvia from 119 to 36.

Spain’s conviction of Catalan separatists sparks mass protests and clashes

The imprisonment of Catalan politicians and activists has sparked mass protests in the Spanish autonomous region leading to violent clashes with police and disruption of civil aviation. A total of 108 flights were cancelled on Monday

U.S. imposes sanctions on Turkey over incursion in Syria

U.S. President Donald Trump has stated he has issued an executive order to impose sanctions on Turkey’s officials and customs tariffs on steel imports from the country, which is continuing its military attack on Syria.

On safe side: Estonian tech minister changes Huawei to iPhone

Estonian Foreign Trade and Information Technology Minister, Kert Kingo, has changed her Huawei smartphone after criticism about alleged security issues with the device of the Chinese brand.

Ukraine's Zelensky to visit Latvia this week

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy will make a state visit to Latvia this week, the Chancery of the Latvian President informed.

Orbán’s party defeated in Budapest election

In the Hungarian municipal election, a rare win has been reached by opposition parties as they joined forces and overcame Budapest mayor István Tarlós from the ruling Fidesz party, led by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán.

Latvian city trio could retain special status after reform, minister says

As the massive Latvian administrative reform is to be discussed in government, its advocate, the Regional Development Minister, has suggested Liepāja, Rēzekne and Daugavpils could retain their special status thus increasing the number of prospective municipalities to 39.

Latvian budget to receive 20 million euros ruled to be criminally acquired

The Riga Regional Court has ruled that arrested 29 million euros have been acquired illegally and that they have to be transferred from a bank to the Latvian state budget, announced the Latvian Office of the Prosecutor General.