Two quit Latvian government amid crisis

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RIGA, Oct 19 (Reuters) Latvia's foreign minister quit and one cabinet member was sacked today for disagreeing with the prime minister's dismissal of the country's anti-corruption boss in a growing political crisis.

Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis has been accused of meddling in the workings of anti-corruption bureau KNAB. He accuses its chief, Aleksejs Loskutovs, of financial irregularities.

A demonstration of several thousand people yesterday demanded Kalvitis resign and the prime minister cut short his visit to the European Union summit and returned home.

He was due to meet the four coalition partners at 2 pm 1630 hrs IST to discuss the political situation.

Cracks appeared in the cabinet as Foreign Minister Artis Pabriks told Reuters he had quit the government.

Regional Affairs Minister Aigars Stokenbergs was dismissed from largest coalition party, the People's Party, according to the website of largest daily, Diena.

Pabriks had yesterday called for Kalvitis to change his mind on sacking Loskutovs. Stokenbergs had earlier been quoted by local media as saying he had disagreed with the dismissal.

Despite the calls for his resignation, Kalvitis has said he has work to finish, such as getting the 2008 budget through parliament.

A vote on the finance bill is due next week. It is not clear when a parliament vote on Loskutovs will take place.

PERSONAL ANTIPATHY The head of the parliament group of Kalvitis's Popular Party, Maris Kucinskis, told Latvian news agency LETA the prime minister had no intention of resigning on Friday.

Critics say Kalvitis, 41 and longest-serving post-Soviet prime minister, dismissed the KNAB chief as its investigations were getting too close to his political allies and government officials.

They saw there was also personal antipathy.

Kalvitis insists his only motive was the fact that the state auditor found financial irregularities at KNAB.

Kalvitis became the first prime minister in October 2006 to win re-election since Latvia broke from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Previous governments had lasted about 18 months.

The coalition includes the People's Party, the Union of Greens and Farmers, Latvia's First Party and the For Fatherland and Freedom party. It has 58 seats in the 100-seat parliament.


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