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President gives govt two weeks to work out refugee plan

Latvian President Raimonds Vējonis has taken the unusual step of issuing a Presidential decree, giving the government two weeks to work out a clear-cut plan for admitting refugees or face the consequences, BNS newswire reported on Wednesday.

The president announced his decree on Wednesday, following his weekly meeting with Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma.

Vējonis said that, during this week's meetings with representatives of the political parties, he has heard a clear message of support for saving those refugees that are fleeing warfare.

"Sadly, I have to admit that, along with the wish to help in this matter, the government and political parties have also been showing a lack of cooperation and statesmanship," he said.

"The parties have mostly tried to gain popularity by irresponsibly manipulating issues of national importance in the name of higher ratings, often forgetting how compassionate and ready to help our society can be," the president said.

Vējonis said he was dissatisfied with how the government has been tackling the issue of asylum seekers so far. The president criticized the government for a failure to explain the situation not only to the wider public, but also to coalition partners, leaving them without essential information.

"What kind of assistance will we provide to the refugees? Where will they be accommodated? Where will they be working and how will they integrate with society?" Vējonis asked.

"These are only some of the questions we must be ready to answer irrespectively of EU member states' voluntary or politically binding decision on the war refugees' resettlement," he said.

"Yet the question, what to do with the people who have arrived in Europe fleeing war-ravaged countries, requires an immediate response. Latvia as a state and its politicians will not be able to avoid a decision in the long term. And this time it's our turn to show solidarity and help instead of looking for pretexts for not doing so," the president said.

The Latvian government and coalition are going to hold extraordinary meetings on Thursday to decide on the refugee issue. Latvia has to adopt a position by September 22 when EU interior ministers are due to convene for their next meeting.

At a cabinet meeting Tuesday, Straujuma had said it would take until September 29 to formulate Latvia's position.

However with the political pressure building, on Wednesday morning an emergency cabinet meeting was announced for Thursday 17 September to establish what Latvia actually plans to do. 

Latvia has not agreed to take in additional refugees because two of the three coalition partners, the National Alliance and ZZS, are strongly objecting to it. Latvian Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis did not go to a ministerial meeting in Brussels on Monday because his country lacked a position on the refugee issue.

Unity, the leading partner in Latvia's center-right coalition, has warned that the refusal to admit more refugees might have negative implications for Latvia's economy and security.

The Latvian government agreed earlier to voluntarily accept 250 refugees, but, in line with the new European Commission proposals, Latvia might have to admit additional 526 refugees.

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