Bush's visit to Latvia to push hundreds of hotel guests out to sea

Hundreds of people with reservations to stay in Riga's finest hotels will be bumped from their rooms and housed on a ferry during U.S. President George W. Bush's visit to Latvia next month.

The Latvian government on Monday chartered a ferry to accommodate visitors whose hotel reservations were revoked to make room for Bush and his delegation of hundreds during his May 6-7 visit.

The delegation needed more than 700 rooms in central Riga, prompting the government to ask many of the city's best hotels to clear space.

Arturs Stikuts, sales and marketing director for one of the affected hotels, the Reval Hotel Ridzene, said it's an unusual problem but not a major concern.

"It's not a normal situation but we understand it has to be done," he said. "Colleagues have checked out the ferry and say it is very nice and will be a very good alternative."

It hasn't been determined yet how much displaced guests will have to pay for rooms on the ferry.

Ojars Kalnins, Latvia's longtime ambassador to the U.S. who currently runs the Latvian Institute, a government-funded organization responsible for promoting Latvia's image abroad, said it's not ideal, but the government and hotels had no alternative.

"We get a presidential visit once every 11 years, so this is the only way around it that I can see," he said. "Imagine if Latvia turned down a presidential visit so they wouldn't displace tourists?"

The Latvian government will charter the ferry for a week, although the Economics Ministry estimated it would be fully occupied for only three or four days.

The cabinet allocated 700,000 lats (Ђ996,000, US$1.27 million) to pay for the charter.

Bush's visit will be the second visit from a U.S. president to Latvia. President Bill Clinton visited the Baltic country of 2.3 million people in 1994, three years after it regained its independence amid the collapse of the Soviet Union.

TIMOTHY JACOBS, Associated Press Writer

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