Latvian Defense Minister Einars Repse officially handed in his resignation Friday, expressing doubts that Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis is fit to lead the country, officials and news reports said. Repse announced Thursday he would resign, saying his reputation had been tarnished by allegations of shady business deals. His financial dealings, including loans and property deals, have been subject of a parliamentary investigation since 2004. His resignation was triggered by an announcement by Kalvitis Wednesday that an anti-corruption unit had launched a preliminary investigation into Repse's financial deals. Repse, in turn, accused Kalvitis and his People's Party of running a smear campaign against him, and said he could not remain in office when his integrity was being questioned. In his resignation letter to Kalvitis, Repse said "a long-term political slandering has been run under your rule and with your direct and active participation," news agency BNS reported. "The actions contradict the basic principles of a law-based state, openly ignoring ethical, legal and political consequences. It raises doubts about you and your party's ability to lead the (country) in a selfless and fair way."
Repse, a 44-year-old former prime minister and central bank chief, has said he will remain leader of the New Era party, one of four members of a center-right coalition government that has been in power in the former Soviet republic since December 2004.
Despite the fallout, New Era's secretary-general, Edgars Jaunups, told television station LNT Thursday that the party will remain in the coalition, easing concerns that the entire government may have to resign. Latvia has had 12 governments since gaining independence in 1991 as the Soviet Union collapsed. Government spokesman Arno Pjatkins said Justice Minister Solvita Aboltina, also of New Era, would temporarily fill in for Repse, until a permanent replacement is found, reports the AP. N.U.