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Latvia to Hold Referendum on Russian as Second Language

RIA Novosti

00:40 18/02/2012 RIGA, February 18 (RIA Novosti) - Latvia will hold a national referendum on Saturday on whether to accept Russian as the country’s second official language, the Latvian Central Election Commission said.

Russian-speakers make up 44% of Latvia's 2.3-million population. Latvian is the official state language and Russian is treated as a foreign language.

Latvia’s Central Election Commission gathered signatures last November for a petition to hold a nationwide referendum on granting Russian official-language status. The move was initiated by the Native Language organization and backed by Riga Mayor Nil Ushakov.

Over 187,000 eligible voters signed the petition, well above the minimum requirement of 154,379 signatures.

At least 771,893 Latvian citizens, or half of eligible voters, must approve of the initiative for the Russian to become the second state language.

Latvian President Andris Berzins, Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and Speaker of the Parliament (Saeima) Solvita Āboltiņa on Friday called on electorate to vote against the adoption of the Russian language.

If passed, the referendum would force the adoption of five amendments to the constitution.

Moscow has repeatedly accused ex-Soviet Baltic states Latvia and Estonia of discrimination against their Russian-speaking minorities.

Many people from the large ethnic Russian population in Latvia and Estonia have been assigned "non-citizen" status, which denies them a national passport and other rights, and prevents them from voting.

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