Latvia's centrists to launch talks with pro-Russian party

20th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

Latvia's centrist parties said Tuesday they would launch joint talks with a pro-Russian movement that topped the polls in a snap election, although it is not expected to enter government.

The Zatlers Reform Party -- created this year by ex-president Valdis Zalters -- and the Unity bloc of incumbent Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis said they would meet with the left-leaning Harmony Centre on Thursday.

With a combined 42 seats in Latvia's 100-member chamber, the ZRP and Unity must seek support from other parties in order to govern the Baltic state.

The Harmony Centre came first in Saturday's election, with 31 seats.

It draws support from the Russian-speaking minority, which makes up some 27 percent of the ex-Soviet republic's population of 2.2 million.

Parties rooted in the Russian-speaking community have not governed in Latvia since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, and Harmony Centre insists its time has come.

But other movements are wary of its ties to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party.

In addition, there are economic policy differences, with Harmony Centre pushing to revise a 7.5-billion-euro ($10.9-billion) bailout agreed in 2008 with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

The deal included biting austerity measures amid a deep recession, from which Latvia is now emerging, and provisions to speed up its eurozone entry.

On Monday, Harmony Centre leader Nils Usakovs called for a referendum on the planned 2014 eurozone accession, even though Latvia pledged to adopt the currency under the terms of its 2004 EU entry.

ZRP and Unity's alternative would be the right-wing National Alliance, which came fourth with 14 seats, and with which they are to hold talks Wednesday.

The fifth-placed Greens and Farmers Union, with 13 seats, had ruled in tandem with Unity but is now sidelined by graft claims which sparked a clash with Zatlers when he was president.

Responsibility for nominating a prime minister falls to President Andris Berzins, who has said he will start talks on the formation of a new government on September 28.

© 2011 AFP

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