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Wednesday 24.04.2019 | Name days: Nameda, Visvaldis, Ritvaldis
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BNN summary of the week: pre-election heat, rule of law in Latvia, Baltics prepare for Pope’s visit

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Baltic news, News from Latvia, BNN.LV, BNN-NEWS.COM, BNN-NEWS.RUBNN offers a summary of this week’s topical news in a variety of categories: Elections; Change; Stagnation; Fight; Visit; Investigation.

ELECTIONS: Latvian parties’ pre-election promotion costs reach EUR 1.64 million

Three weeks prior to Saeima elections, expenses of Latvian political parties on promotion have reached EUR 1,638,393. Concord remains in the least expense-wise, according to information from Corruption Prevention and Combating Bureau.

As of 14 September, Concord’s declared expenses on promotional activities were EUR 461,873. The Union of Greens and Farmers, according to their submitted documents, has so far spent EUR 406,372; ‘Attīstībai/Par!’ party has spent EUR 250,794, and New Unity – EUR 216,540.

National Alliance ‘All for Latvia!’ – For Fatherland and Freedom/LNNK has declared expenses worth EUR 79,401; KPV LV – EUR 69,140; New Conservative Party – EUR 45,858, and Latvian Russians Union – EUR 44,638.

The expenses declared by other parties do not exceed EUR 24,000. Two smaller parties – Latvian Centrist Party and Alternative Party – have yet to declare their pre-election promotion costs.

During the official pre-election period, political parties mostly publish promotional materials on billboards, social networks, radio and printed press. Compared to the last elections, there has not been a lot of activity on television. This is 6 September marked the coming into force of a restriction to use television to promote parties prior to Saeima elections.

Full article here

CHANGE: Lithuanian PM, a presumable presidential hopeful, set to curb grocery price growth

Having chastised food retailers on many occasions for high grocery prices, Saulius Skvernelis, the Lithuanian Prime Minister, stepped forward in the bid to harness local supermarkets. The presumed presidential candidate of the ruling Farmers and Greens (LVŽS) has summoned this week executives of major retail food chains, scolded them and reaffirmed his pledge to rein in the edging up prices.

Before, PM spearheaded a plan to set off the big players’ dominance by strengthening small and medium-sized grocers (it was purposely or not leaked), proposed a VAT cut on food products and, this week, invited foreign retailers, including Germany’s Kaufland, to invest into Lithuania.

«Indeed, Skvernelis, as the most likely presidential candidate of the ruling party, is smart prioritising the topic of food prices. Their growth is an acute topic to all and his efforts to reduce them play out well with voters from different electoral layers. The intent is populist, yet can be efficient in garnering support in the election,» Lauras Bielinis, a political analyst and associate professor at Kaunas Magnus University, told BNN.

After the meeting on Wednesday, PM continued to criticize supermarket operators, claiming that they did not say «anything new».

«Essentially, I heard the same, i.e. that all (regarding the prices) here is well functioning, that Lithuania remains one of the EU countries with the lowest food prices, that we do no face any problems and so on. I really cannot agree with that, therefore the Government has already scheduled a meeting next Wednesday to consider concrete plans and measures aimed at increasing competition and fostering small and medium-sized businesses,» Skvernelis said. He added: «It is difficult to refute the fact that over the last seven years food prices grew at a speedier pace than the prices of feedstocks and the import. However, our food retailers are denying it».

Asked by reporters how he intends to put prices under control, Skvernelis mentioned the necessity to strengthen small and medium-sized food vendors, increase competition in the trade sector, and to attract more investors to the market.

Full article here

STAGNATION: Latvian police points towards stagnation in road traffic safety

So far this year 91 people have died in road traffic accidents in Latvia. According to State Police Road Traffic Safety Office Chief Normunds Krapsis, stagnation is present for road traffic safety.

The situation with road traffic safety has improved in the past ten years. Nevertheless, this year’s and last year’s results show that a kind of stagnation is present in the sector, because it threatens the goal for the number of lethal outcomes and inured in road accidents to be reduced by 50% by 2020, said Krapsis.

The main risk factors for serious accidents include people’s nihilistic attitude towards road traffic rules, poor technical state of their vehicle and the state of road infrastructure. Statistical data for September proves the presence of nihilism among people, because out of six people killed in road accidents, four did not have reflective gear at night.

Another risk factor is that the number of drunk drivers has not reduced much.

Krapsis says state institutions have to work and think of other ways to influence road traffic participants’ conscience. Road traffic safety campaigns are not enough. He believes the only way to influence the situation is by using several measures together: police visibility, speed cameras and appropriate road infrastructure.

Full article here

FIGHT: Vitol Group concerned over state of rule of law in Latvia; turns to state officials

One of the largest energy resource traders in the world – Vitol Group – has sent a letter to Latvia’s highest ranking officials, expressing deep concern over the rule of law and application of legislative acts in the litigation between LatRosTrans and Polocktransneft Druzba over the EUR 66 million worth technological oil.

Vitol Group indirectly owns 66% of LatRosTrans shares.

As BNN was told by the company’s representatives, in its letter to Latvia’s state officials, Vitol Group asked them to secure competent, professional and transparent review of this litigation in the court justice system of the Republic of Latvia to prevent violations of investment protection principles, as well as possible threats to national security.

«Following the restoration of Latvia’s independence, both the pipeline and the technological oil that was contained there on Latvia’s territory became state property in accordance with legislation of the Republic of Latvia. After the foundation of LatRosTrans, legislation stated that these assets are part of the company’s capital as its property. When Latgale Regional Court was making its decision regarding the ownership of this oil, the judge did not take into account the decision made by the Supreme Council, which stated that all businesses and civilian objects that were formally owned by USSR in the past and were registered or located on territory of the Republic of Latvia became state property if international agreements did not decide otherwise. Instead, when making its decision, the court referenced entries from the company’s accounting balance entries left from USSR,» said Vitol Group representative and LatRosTrans council chairman Robert Kirkup.

Vitol group believes Latgale RegionalCourt has ignored Latvia’s legislation by making interior, former USSR documents as a priority. On top of that, Latgale Regional Court has not taken into account documents submitted by Latvia’s Foreign Affairs Ministry and Saeima Legal Affairs Office, which conform that the oil pipeline is located on Latvia’s territory and the oil contained in it is to be considered Latvia’s property, considering that the country has not voiced any intentions to transfer this asset to a different owner.

LatRosTrans has decided to appeal the ruling of Latgale Regional Court. Vitol group expects the Supreme Court to pay more attention to this case.

Full article here

VISIT: As Pope heads to Baltics, more attention to Catholic sex abuse

The time, when Roman Catholic Pope Francis is set to visit the Baltics, greatly differs from the visit by Saint John Paul II in 1993. There is public resentment over the countries spending several million euros to host the trip of the pontiff and the Catholic sex abuse scandals are topic of discussion.

French news agency AFP reports on Friday, September 20, that the Catholic Church is under increasing scrutiny because of the escalating worldwide sex abuse crisis, involving cases claims of abuse and cover-ups by clergymen and lay members in Australia, Europe, and North and South America have involved widespread claims of abuse.

This March, the Lithuanian church also admitted to a sexual abuse case in the 1970s after an internal two-year investigation.

Full article here

INVESTIGATION: U.S. looking into Danske Bank operations in Estonia

Danske Bank, the leading bank in Denmark, is being investigated by U.S. authorities in relation to alleged money laundering from Russia involving Danske’s Estonia branch, American media report.

The U.S. media organisation CNBC reported on Friday, September 14, citing the Wall Street Journal that the investigation is conducted by the U.S. Justice Department, the Treasury Department and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) over transactions at Danske Bank’s Estonian branch for several years including 2015.

In a whistleblower complaint submitted to the SEC few years ago, it has been pointed to Germany’s Deutsche Bank and American banking multinational Citigroup as possibly linked to transactions going into and out of the Danske Estonian branch, the Wall Street Journal reported.

Full article here


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Medicines for people with mental disorders to become more accessible in Latvia

To improve accessibility of medicines for people suffering from psychological and behavioural disorders, Latvia’s government decided to expand the list of diagnoses eligible for state-compensated medicines on Tuesday, 23 April.

Belarus halts exports of low quality oil products to Baltics, other neighbours

Belarusian Oil Company has announced the temporary suspension of light oil products to the Baltic states, Poland and Ukraine explaining that low-quality oil products have been supplied by Russia to Belarusian refineries.

Producer prices in Latvia: increase of 4.1% in March

Compared to March 2018, average level of producer prices in Latvian industry increased by 4.1 % in March 2019. The level of prices of products sold on the domestic market rose by 6.5 % and that of exported products – by 1.9 %.

Saeima deputy confident on the need to dismiss National Mass Media Council

Considering recent development, the National Electronic Mass Media Council should be dismissed, says head of Saeima’s Human Rights and Public Affairs Committee Artuss Kaimiņš.

Estonian President continues to meet with ministerial candidates

As outgoing Estonian Prime Minister Jüri Ratas' is likely to form his second government with the controversial Conservative People's Party of Estonia and the national-conservative Pro Patria, Estonian President is meeting with his ministerial candidates.

Teachers demand from Latvia’s ministry specific amendments to regulations

Latvian Trade Union of Education and Science Employees sent a letter to Latvia’s Education and Science Ministry on Tuesday, 23 April. In it, representatives demand strict guarantees and specific amendments to regulations to ensure increase of wages for teachers in accordance with the schedule.

Catalonia – key issue in Spanish pre-election debate

As Spain nears its early general election on Sunday, April 28, its outgoing Prime Minister faced criticism from his opponents over Catalonia's secession crisis.

Latvian minister orders closure of Deglava Bridge in Riga

Latvia’s Interior Affairs Minister Sandis Ģirģens has ordered State Police to close down Deglava Bridge starting with Thursday, 25 April.

Sri Lanka death toll rises. Authorities had been warned about possible attacks

In Sri Lanka, the number of people killed in attacks on churches and hotels has reached 290 people, while it has been revealed that national authorities had been warned about possible attacks.

Road construction company Binders to attract workers from Ukraine and Belarus

Latvian road construction company SIA Binders experiences a shortage of workers. Because of that, the company plans to attract guest workers from Ukraine and Belarys, says Bindars board chairman Aigars Sēja.

Ukrainian presidential election won by Zelensky on hopes of change

The run-off of the Ukrainian presidential election has been won by comedian Volodymyr Zelensky, who has promised change and better relations with Russia.

Air temperature to reach +23° C in Latvia this week

Dry weather will remain in most of Latvia this week. The sun will shine often and there will be slow eastern and south-eastern wind. However, strong wind is expected to come on Wednesday, 24 April, and precipitation is expected at the end of the week.

Forevers: 615 tonnes of grilled meat was consumed in Latvia last year

615 tonnes of meat products for grilling was sold in Latvia in 2018, according to sales data from meat processing company Forevers.

Every day hens in Latvia produce an egg for every resident

The number of laying hens in Latvia, when compared to 2017, had increased 19.2% in 2018, reaching 3 million, according to data from the Central Statistical Bureau of Latvia. Compared to the previous year, the total number of domestic birds has increased 9.3%, reaching 5.4 million, which is the largest index since 1992.

73% of residents believe they benefit from Latvia’s membership in EU

Approximately 73% of residents believe Latvia benefits from membership in the European Union. Interviewed residents mainly outline job opportunities, economic growth and security, according to the latest data compiled by Eurobarometer.

General government budget deficit in Latvia reached EUR 295.4 million last year

In 2018 general government budget deficit accounted for EUR 295.4 million or 1 % of the Gross Domestic Product and general government consolidated gross debt amounted to EUR 10.6 billion or 35.9 % of the GDP.

Egils Levits optimistic about his chances becoming Latvia’s president

Presidential candidate and European Court of Justice Judge Egils Levits is optimistic about his chances of becoming Latvia’s next president.

Estonia’s government to be formed by standing Prime Minister Jüri Ratas

On Thursday, 17 April, Estonia’s parliament entrusted formation of the country’s government to Centre Party’s chairman and standing Prime Minister Jüri Ratas.

At least 29 die as German tourist bus runs off road in Portugal

At least 29 people were killed and 27 were injured when a German tourist bus ran off the road on Madeira Island in Portugal, as reported by BBC.

EY: businessmen show very positive outlook towards global economy

The latest Ernst&Young EY Global Capital Confidence Barometer reveals a generally optimistic outlook businessmen have around the world – 93% of interviewed company CEOs believe the economic situation in the world is steadily improving. The same opinion was voiced by 73% of interviewed CEOs last year.

Orkla Latvija signs contract for construction of Laima manufacturing plant in Ādaži

On Wednesday, 17 April, Orkla Latvia signed a contract worth EUR 8.9 million with construction company Merks on the construction of a Laima manufacturing plant in Ādaži, BNN was told by Orkla Latvija representative Lineta Mikša.

As police arrive, Peru’s ex-president commits suicide

Ex-president of Peru Alan García committed suicide on Wednesday, 17 April, when police arrived to arrest him for corruption.

Estonia’s president to meet with Putin; the two will discuss Baltic security

On Thursday, 18 April, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin will meet with Estonia’s President Kersti Kaljulaid, as reported by Estonian public media ERR.

Europe’s borders to be reinforced – a specialist corps to be formed by 2027

On Wednesday, 17 April, the European Parliament approved a new law to strengthen Europe’s border and coast guard, as reported by EP representative in Latvia Signe Znotiņa-Znota.

Latvian residents engage in marriages more often than before

Over the past three years the number of registered marriages has risen slightly. In 2018, 13.4 thousand marriages were registered, which is 200 marriages more than in 2017 when the increase recorded over the year constituted 148 marriages.