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Ex-banker sworn in as new Latvia president

08 july 2011, 18:27
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Latvia's newly elected President Andris Berzins. ©Reuters
Latvia's newly elected President Andris Berzins. ©Reuters
Ex-banker Andris Berzins was sworn in Friday as president of Latvia, after his shock defeat of incumbent Valdis Zatlers, who clashed with powerful politician-businessmen in a drive to clean up politics, AFP reports.

After taking the oath of office in a ceremony at the Baltic state's parliament, 66-year-old Berzins addressed a packed chamber of lawmakers and diplomats.

He said one of his goals would be to do more to encourage Latvian migrants to return home to this nation of 2.2 million.

"Many people have been forced to go overseas against their will, so we have to think about who will be living here for the next generation or twenty years, and our mission is to bring them back home. This can't happen just by giving rousing speeches," Berzins said.

Since the former Soviet-ruled republic joined the European Union in 2004 -- as one of the bloc's poorest members -- tens of thousands of Latvians have left to seek work and a better life in other member states, notably Britain, Ireland and Sweden.

That put Latvia's labour market under pressure, contributing to fast-rising wages during a credit-fuelled economic boom that turned to bust in 2008.

Britain and Ireland's economic crisis has done little to encourage the migrants to return, because Latvia was itself hit by a breathtaking slump and remains locked in a biting austerity drive

Berzins retired from banking in 2004, and entered politics last year when he was elected to parliament for the Greens and Farmers Alliance, part of Latvia's coalition government.

He only emerged as a presidential challenger on May 23, a week before Zatlers challenged Latvia's so-called "oligarchs" -- powerful individuals who straddle politics and business -- by moving to call a snap election.

After Zatlers threw down the gauntlet, he lost to Berzins in a June 2 parliamentary vote on a second term in office.

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