Latvia PM under pressure on firing anti-graft boss

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RIGA, Oct 18 (Reuters) Latvia's prime minister was quoted today as saying he would resign if he failed to get parliament's support for a controversial decision to dismiss the head of the anti-corruption bureau.

Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis also faced a demonstration of more than 1,000 people and criticism from a senior minister for unseating the KNAB bureau's Aleksejs Loskutovs.

The website of leading newspaper Diena, strongly critical of the prime minister, quoted Kalvitis as saying he was not considering quitting simply due to the pressure of criticism.

But he added: ''If parliament does not vote to dismiss KNAB director Aleksejs Loskutovs that will mean the resignation of the head of the government.'' Kalvitis' spokesman Arno Pjaktins, speaking to Reuters, softened the remarks, saying the prime minister viewed a vote on Loskutovs as a ''serious exam''. A vote is unlikely before next week.

Critics say Kalvitis has meddled in the work of KNAB because its investigations were getting too close to his political allies and due to personal antipathy between the two men.

Kalvitis has rejected such accusations and has said KNAB was guilty of financial irregularities.

More than 1,000 people, called to a demonstration by Diena, gathered outside parliament to support Loskutovs. Some demanded the resignation of Kalvitis.

Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks, who this week supported a government decision to confirm the dismissal of Loskutovs, said a re-think was needed.

''I think that politicians have to be able to change their mind in the face of public opinion,'' Pabriks told Reuters.

''The government's decision to remove Loskutovs from his office has decreased public trust in public institutions and our international prestige.'' US ambassador Catherine Todd Bailey, in unusually strong terms for a NATO ally, raised on Tuesday worries about Latvian backsliding in reforms and its fight against corruption.

REUTERS SKB PM1645

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