Monday, February 23, 2009

Latvia’s government collapses

By David L. Stern 
Published: February 20, 2009

Latvia’s center-right coalition government collapsed Friday, a victim of the country’s growing economic and political turmoil and the second European government, after Iceland, to disintegrate because of the international financial crisis.

The government in Riga, faced with forecasts of a severe drop in the economy this year, was the first in Eastern Europe to succumb to turmoil caused by the crisis. Its collapse rounded out a week that saw worries about feeble investment, banks and output in Central and Eastern Europe coursing through international markets.

Latvia has had a history of revolving-door politics and complex coalitions since pulling free of the Soviet Union in 1991. Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis, who presented his resignation to President Valdis Zatlers on Friday, had been in power only since December 2007. But the precipitous plunge of Latvia’s economy, which helped provoke the worst riot since 1991 last month, played a major part in the government’s downfall.

Godmanis said he would continue to govern until a new coalition was formed.

"I am ready to continue working, but I think that responsibility for the consequences created by this government’s resignation must be taken by those parties that overturned the government," Godmanis said, according to news reports. Two of his coalition partners, the People’s Party and the Greens and Farmers’ Union, had demanded his ouster, he added. His departure comes at a critical juncture for Latvia, a former Soviet state with 2.2 million people. After entering the European Union in 2004, Latvia and its two neighbors, Estonia and Lithuania, posted Europe’s highest growth figures, earning the moniker the "Baltic Tigers." Now Latvia shows the Continent’s biggest losses.

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