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Official Name: Republic of Latvia Capital: Riga Total area: 65 000 km2 GDP per capita: $18,100 Native Language: Latvian Government: Parliamentary Democracy Population: 1,911,108 Major Religion: Evangelical Lutheranism Monetary Unit: Euro (EUR) Latvia regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Located on the Baltic coast, Latvia is a flat country with large forests that provide timber for the construction and paper industries. The surrounding area is rich in wildlife. Latvia also produces consumer goods, textiles and machine tools. The country attracts tourists from all over Europe.
Ethnically, the population is 59% Latvian and 29% Russian, and more than a third live in the capital, Riga. Riga was founded in 1201 and is the largest city in the three Baltic States with a population of 730,000. At 43 meters, the Statue of Liberty is one of the tallest monuments in Europe.
Latvia's 100-seat unicameral parliament, the Saeima, is elected every four years by direct popular vote. The President is also elected by Parliament every four years.
The best-known Latvians include the expressionist painter Mark Rothko and the contemporary composer Peteris Vasks.
Characteristic specialties of Latvian cuisine are speķapīrādziņi (bacon pies) and a refreshing, cold sour cream soup.
Health & Wellbeing Social security and benefit programs are being developed, including free provider choice, free medicines and prescriptions, and inclusive health insurance for all citizens.
Economy & Jobs Service, tourism, shipping, trade and agriculture.
Main attraction Riga, Bauska Castle, the cities of Jurmala, the historical town of Kuldiga and the medieval castles of Sigulda.
Economy Latvia is a small, open economy, with exports accounting for almost a third of GDP. Because of its geographic location, transit services are highly developed, along with timber and wood processing, agriculture and food products, and manufacturing of machinery and electronics. Corruption remains a barrier to attracting foreign direct investment, and Latvia's low birth rate and declining population pose major challenges to its long-term economic vitality. The Latvian economy recorded GDP growth of more than 10% per year in 2006/07, but slipped into a severe recession in 2008 due to an unsustainable current account deficit and high levels of debt amid the ailing global economy. Triggered by the collapse of the second largest bank, GDP collapsed by 18% in 2009. The economy has not returned to pre-crisis levels, despite strong growth, particularly in the export sector in 2011-12. The IMF, the EU and other international donors provided significant financial support to Latvia under an agreement to defend the currency's peg to the euro in exchange for the government's commitment to tough austerity measures. The IMF/EU program was successfully completed in December 2011. The government of Prime Minister Valdis DOMBROVSKIS has maintained its commitment to fiscal prudence, reducing the budget deficit to 2.7% of GDP in 2012 from 7.7% of GDP in 2010. The majority of companies, banks, and real estate have been privatized, although the state still holds significant stakes in some large companies, including 99.8% of the Latvian national airline. Latvia officially joined the World Trade Organization in February 1999 and the EU in May 2004. Latvia intends to join the eurozone in 2014.