After a brief period of independence between the two World Wars, Latvia was annexed by the USSR in 1940. It reestablished its independence in 1991 following the breakup of the Soviet Union.
Although the last Russian troops left in 1994, the status of the Russian minority (some 30% of the population) remains of concern to Moscow. Latvia joined both NATO and the EU in the spring of 2004.
Population: 2.3 million (July 2004).
Population growth rate: -0.71 % (2004).
Life expectancy at birth: 70.9 years.
Religions: Lutheran, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox.
Ethnic groups: Latvians 56.5%; Liivs ~0.008%; other nationalities: Russian 30.4%; Byelorussian, Ukrainian, Polish 9.7%, others 3.4%.
Language: Latvian (official), Lithuanian, Russian, other.
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Country name: Republic of Latvia (local: Latvijas Republika).
Government type: parliamentary democracy.
Legislation: Unicameral parliament (Saeima), which consists of 100 seats (elected for 3 years, since 3 October 1998 - the 7th Saeima).
Independence: 21 August 1991 (from Soviet Union).
Administrative divisions: 26 regions (496 parishes) and 7 cities of national significance (Riga, Daugavpils, Liepaja, Jelgava, Jurmala, Ventspils, Rezekne).
Terrain: low plain. Most of the country is composed of fertile, low-lying plains, with some hills in the east
Total area: 64,589 km˛.
Coastline: 531 km.
Highest point: Gaizinkalns 312 m.
Climate: maritime; wet, moderate winters.
Ports and harbors: Liepaja, Riga, Ventspils.
Latvia's transitional economy recovered from the 1998 Russian financial crisis, largely due to the SKELE government's budget stringency and a gradual reorientation of exports toward EU countries, lessening Latvia's trade dependency on Russia. The majority of companies, banks, and real estate have been privatized, although the state still holds sizable stakes in a few large enterprises. Latvia officially joined the World Trade Organization in February 1999. Preparing for EU membership continues as a top foreign policy goal. The current account and internal government deficits remain major concerns, but the government's efforts to increase efficiency in revenue collection may lessen the budget deficit.
GDP (purchasing power parity): US$ 23.9 billion (2003).
GDP per capita (purchasing power parity): US$ 10,200 (2003)
GDP growth rate: 7.4 % (2003).
Unemployment rate: 3.8 % (2003).
Currency: Latvian lat (LVL).
Industries: buses, vans, street and railroad cars, synthetic fibers, agricultural machinery, fertilizers, washing machines, radios, electronics, pharmaceuticals, processed foods, textiles. Note: dependent on imports for energy.