President Valdis Zatlers is asking state and Rīga officials to develop an action plan to ensure the safety of foreign tourists visiting Latvia’s capital city, the president’s press office announced April 29.
In a letter to Interior Minister Linda Mūrniece, Economics Minister Artis Kampars, Foreign Minister Māris Riekstiņš and Rīga Mayor Jānis Birks, the president said he is concerned with the inability of government institutions to guarantee tourists’ safety and prevent damage to Latvia’s reputation.
The criminal and administrative codes provide enough power to penalize those who break the law, Zatlers said in the letter. He criticized authorities as being either incompetent or unwilling to enforce the law.
A number of foreign governments have for months been warning about increasing dangers facing tourists in Latvia’s capital.
The United Kingdom’s Foreign & Commonwealth Office, for example, warns of “an increased number of reports recently of foreign tourists being charged extortionate prices for drinks in bars or having fraudulent transactions debited against credit/debit cards.” The warning adds that some tourists have been assaulted or forced to withdraw money from automatic teller machines.
Similarly, the U.S. State Department cautions tourists in Latvia.
“Street crime is a serious problem, particularly for tourists,” warns the department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs. “In addition to pickpockets in all public areas, there are numerous scam artists targeting foreigners in the tourist pubs and restaurants.”
Non-Caucasian foreigners and “individuals displaying alternative lifestyles” have been victims of verbal and sometimes physical harassment, the bureau adds.
Recently Finland’s National Bureau of Investigation has warned that Rīga is bad news for Finnish tourists. More than 40 cases of crimes against Finnish tourists are suspected to have occurred in 2008, according to the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat.
The latest issue of the Latvian tourism trade magazine Tūrisms devoted its cover story to the problem of taxi drivers and bar owners who cheat customers. According to the magazine, about 10 bars in Rīga are particularly problematic.
More than 5.2 million foreign tourists visited Latvia in 2007, according to the Central Statistical Bureau in Rīga.
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