European court judge elected as Latvia's new president


HELSINKI (AP) — Latvian lawmakers on Wednesday elected former dissident Egils Levits, a judge with the European Court of Justice, as the Baltic nation's new president.

Levits, a 63-year-old lawyer and political scientist educated at the University of Hamburg, received 61 votes in the Saeima, Latvia's 100-seat legislature, well above the 51 votes needed to win the election.

Incumbent Raimonds Vejonis declined to seek another four-year term in office.

Two other candidates, lawmaker Didzis Smits and human rights ombudsman Juris Jansons, were also in the running.

The president is Latvia's formal figurehead, representing the European Union country of 1.9 million abroad and acting as the supreme commander of the armed forces in this small NATO nation neighboring Russia. The head of state also signs bills into laws, ratifies treaties, appoints the prime minister and has the right to dissolve the parliament.

Levits, a member of the Luxembourg-based European Court of Justice since 2004, is a former Soviet-era dissident who was a key figure in Latvia's independence movement in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He was also a judge at the European Court of Human Rights.

Addressing the Parliament in Riga, the Latvian capital, Levits pledged to be "the president of all people — those living in Latvia, those living abroad, the poor, the rich, the marginalized, as well as those living good lives."

Tens of thousands of mostly young Latvians have left since the country's 2004 EU membership, leading to a continuously shrinking population and a shortage of skilled workers, among other issues.

Levits, who will assume office in July, said Latvia should actively try to attract people to return.