Ructions in Riga as opposition walks out of debating chamber

The opposition walked out of an extraordinary meeting of the Riga City Council on Monday as the members of the ruling coalition in the city council adopted new restrictions on the questions that the councilors can asked at the local council meeting.

Earlier on March 26 the Latvian Minister of Environment and Regional Development, Kaspars Gerhards (National Alliance), issued a decree annulling amendments to the municipal rules of procedure adopted by the Riga City Council in early March that limited the number of questions that councillors can ask at each of the local authority's meetings to just three.

Few hours later, Riga Mayor Nils Ušakovs (Harmony) announced that he was calling an extraordinary meeting of the Riga City Council within hours in order to lift the municipality's decision limiting the number of questions council members may ask at the meetings and instead to put a limit on how long such questions may continue.

The resolution adopted by the Riga City Council now establishes a time limit for questions - 20 minutes per draft resolution and an hour-and-a-half for matters concerning the municipal budget. The respective amendments to the municipal rules of procedure take effect immediately.

Gerhards said earlier today that setting a time limit for the questions was an attempt by the Riga City Council leaders to create a comfort zone for themselves and to ignore the opinion of the municipality's opposition members.

He said that the ministry would assess also the new restrictions, if the Riga City Council adopted them. "To review a budget of almost EUR 1 billion in just one-and-a-half hours - I don't think that's possible," said the minister, adding that Usakovs' latest initiative could disrupt the city council's work. Residents expect that municipality members they have voted for will do everything in their power to protect these residents' interests, but if the new initiative is endorsed, that may become much more difficult for the opposition councilmen, Gerhards said.

The relationship between Ušakovs and the opposition in the city council has deteriorated markedly since municipal elections last year.

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