| RIGA, June 28
RIGA, June 28 U.S. Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton pressed Latvia on Thursday to return property to Jewish
groups which was seized by the Soviet Union and whose owners
were killed by the Nazis, a rare point of tension between
Washington and its Baltic ally.
The issue of returning property such as schools, some
synagogues and other communal buildings is controversial in
Latvia, one of the EU's poorest states and which is just
recovering from a deep crisis. A nationalist minister quit the
ruling coalition last week over the issue.
"The United States strongly supports restitution or
compensation for those whose property was confiscated by either
the Nazis or the Communists," Clinton told a news conference
during a brief visit to the Baltic state.
Clinton, whose tour of Finland, Latvia and St Petersburg has
been overshadowed by U.S.-Russia tensions over Syria, said she
had raised the issue in all her meetings, with the president,
prime minister and foreign minister.
"We think that resolving these issues quickly and fairly is
in everyone's interest and we hope that the process ... will be
able to move forward and that this issue about communal property
restitution can be addressed as soon as possible because it is a
piece of unfinished historical business," Clinton said.
Latvia's main Jewish organisation has claimed back the
property which belonged to Jews before World War Two and which
was seized when the Soviet Union annexed Latvia in 1940.
It says it is acting in the name of the tens of thousands of
Jews who were killed during a subsequent Nazi occupation of the
Baltic state in 1941-1944. Of a pre-war population of about
94,000, some 70,000 Jews were murdered during the Holocaust.
Latvia regained its independence in 1991 and introduced laws
on returning nationalised property. But with no one left to
claim communal Jewish property, the issue was left unresolved.
Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics said the government had a
good dialogue with the Jewish community and was establishing a
process for restitution, but the process had to move gradually.
"We have to exercise extra caution because they (the
situation) is very sensitive due to historical considerations,"
he said, referring to the Soviet and Nazi occupations.
The nationalist minister for justice of junior coalition
party All For Latvia/For Fatherland and Freedom resigned last
week, saying the main coalition party of Prime Minister Valdis
Dombrovskis was being too pushy on the restitution issue.
The nationalists say Jews should not get special treatment
as laws already exist for returning nationalised property.
(Additional reporting by Patrick Lannin in Stockholm; Editing
by Jackie Frank)