Weekly News Update: February 5th-11th, 2018

Good evening, and welcome to another edition of Latvia Weekly's news summary and analysis update! For those of you living in Rīga or nearby, you might have been happy about the thaw we've had in the weather over the last few days. It looks like the relatively warm weather will continue throughout the next few days, although most nights look to be below freezing, so be careful of glazed sidewalks. Inclement weather seems not to have affected those involved with our first major story of the week though...

Major Stories

Thousands attend rally in support of Rīga mayor


At least 3,000 supporters of Rīga Mayor Nils Ušakovs (Saskaņa) attended a rally in Rīga's old town in a show of support for the embattled city leader whose office and home were searched last week seemingly in connection with the ongoing public transit bribery scandal that has engulfed both the Rīgas Satiksme transit authority and the city government. Although he has not been formally charged with any wrongdoing, there have been multiple calls for his resignation from city council opposition as well as the national government.
Source: LSM

Gobzems loses his place in KPV LV


The long and messy divorce process between the KPV LV faction and former prime minister candidate Aldis Gobzems seems to have been made permanent today, with the party voting to kick the Saeima deputy out of its ranks. An increasingly public power struggle between Gobzems and party founder/chairman that has snowballed since early December seemed to have become irreconcilable over the past few weeks, with the two leaders using their speaking time during the confirmation of Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš to trade insults and accusations.
Source: LSM

English and Russian LSM funding briefly threatened


Despite fears this week that the English and Russian language divisions of Latvian Public Media (LSM) were in danger of losing their funding, it appears that the new Krišjānis Kariņš-led government has found a solution that will allow the media organize to continue its work in both languages. English LSM was set up only since 2014 in the lead up to the Latvian presidency of the EU Council, and Russian LSM (including Latvijas Radio 4) is one of the only significant Russian language sources of news in Latvia that does not have connections with the Russian government.

Business and Economics



  • Budget revenue for 2019 has been planned at €9.2 billion with expenditures at €9.4 billion according to new Finance Minister Janis Reirs (Jaunā Vienotība) after a meeting with the Cabinet of Ministers this week.
  • The state's tax service (VID) has announced that they plan on increasing budget revenue from the country's value added tax (VAT), with the next most important priority being fighting the so-called "shadow economy."
    Source: LSM
  • Latvia's financial regulator (FKTK) has announced that its plan to significantly decrease the amount of foreign deposits in the country has been successful so far, with only 20% of all deposits being of foreign origin compared to more than half in 2015.
    Source: LSM

Crime


  • According to an investigation by the state's audit office, €5.4 million was mis-spent by the city of Rīga on transportation and another €9.1 million cannot be traced, adding another layer to an ongoing corruption scandal involving bribery and misuse of funds.
    Source: LSM
  • Former Director of Rīgas Satiksme Igors Volkinsteins was released from custody on a €100,000 bail while the transit authority's corruption case remains ongoing.
    Source: The Baltic Times
  • Jaunā konservatīvā partija Saeima deputy Juris Jurašs was formally charged this week with the leaking of classified information, an expected move following his loss of immunity protection as a member of parliament last week.
    Source: LSM
  • TV channel LNT reported Friday that Latvia's Security Police are paying attention to a potential risk of espionage activity by Chinese agents days after a warning by Lithuanian authorities about possible activities in the Baltics that could threaten national security.
    Source: Skaties.lv (in Latvian)
  • Officers from the state's corruption prevention bureau (KNAB) apparently visited the Free Port of Rīga this week but did not conduct any searched or arrests.
    Source: LSM

Culture and Society


  • Latvian conductor Andris Nelsons won two more Grammy awards this weekend for his work with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, bringing his total Grammy award count to four with wins in 2016 and 2017.
    Source: The Baltic Course
  • Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš (Jaunā Vienotība) announced Thursday that teachers' salaries would not increase this year as was planned according to a timetable agreed upon by the previous government, promising to instead revisit the issue in April when the next year's budget is being discussed.
    Source: LSM (in Latvian)
  • Saeima (Latvian Parliament) voted Thursday 87-0 to adopt a declaration stating that the status of British citizens in Latvia will not change after the expected "Brexit" on March 29th, regardless of whether a last-minute deal is reached, until at least December 31, 2020. The measure was adopted with the expectation that the British government would take similar steps to ensure the rights of the estimated more than 100,000 Latvians living in the UK. Parliament has now called on the cabinet of ministers lead by newly confirmed Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš to begin drawing up legislation related to Brexit.
    Source: LSM
  • The newest generation of speed cameras will be installed on sections of the Tīnūži-Koknese motorway and red-light cameras installed in areas of Riga later this spring.
    Source: LSM

Politics



  • Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš made his first foreign trip to Estonia to discuss a variety of issues including transportation, energy projects, regional security, and strengthening bilateral relations.
    Source: LSM
  • According to the newest party ratings made available by the SKDS firm, Saskaņa, KPV LV, and Jaunā Vienotība have suffered a decrease in popularity over the course of the month whereas Jaunā konservatīvā partija, Zaļo un Zemnieku savienība, Nacionānlā apvienība, and Attīstībai/Par! each saw an increase in popularity.
    Source: LSM
  • Latvian State President Raimonds Vējonis encouraged Saeima to improve both their legislative process and quality of laws in an address he made during the week.
    Source: LSM
  • The U.S. has sent an additional 13 helicopters to Latvia, helping to strengthen their regional security and American presence in the country as part of the Atlantic Resolve mission.
    Source: The Baltic Times

Sports



  • Anastasija Sevastova and Aļona Ostapenko scored major victories this weekend at the Federations Cup hosted in Rīga, allowing them to move on and compete in the World Group Playoffs this April.
  • Newly traded for Dallas Mavericks player Kristaps Porzinģis announced this week that he did not plan on playing throughout the remainder of the NBA season, focusing instead on healing his knee that was badly injured last year when he was still a member of the New York Knicks.
    Source: CBS
  • Latvia earned two medals at the Luge World Cup, taking bronze. Andris Sics and Juris Sics finished about one-third of a second off of the winning time in the event.

Transportation

  • According to a study released today, there are 126 historically or culturally significant sites that will be affected by the construction of the planned Rail Baltic infrastructure project, including the historic Torņakalns station in Rīga which will need to be physically moved. Engineers and protectors of these sites will need to agree upon ways in which the project can be implemented without damaging the country's cultural heritage.
    Source: LSM
  • An extension of the Rīga-Kiev train line all the way to the Estonian capital of Tallinn could be launched as soon as this summer according to representatives from Estonian Railways.
    Source: The Baltic Course 
  • According to Latvian State Roads, over 296 km of highways, 1,440 km of regional roads and 3,764 kilometers of local roads are currently in so-called "critical condition."
  • New speed cameras are expected to be introduced to the Tīnūži-Koknese highway this spring, and traffic light cameras will be placed in Rīga's outer regions and suburbs.
    Source: LSM 

Poll of the Week:



This weekend, Kris Akenfelds wrote a column in favor of ending the immunity from criminal prosecution enjoyed by Saeima deputies, while Otto Tabuns wrote a response in favor of those protections. We asked our Facebook readers, and it seems that the overwhelming majority side with Kris on this issue.

That's all for this week! If you haven't gotten a chance to yet, you can check out Otto and Joe's podcast version of this news update that got recorded yesterday and published a bit earlier this afternoon. Make sure to also press "subscribe" at this top of this page and "like" us on Facebook for "stories of the day" at the end of each evening. Take care!

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