Latvia's pro-Russian leader urges euro referendum

19th September 2011, Comments 0 comments

A pro-Russian party which won Latvia's general election but was unlikely to find coalition partners to govern, Monday urged a referendum on joining the crisis-mired eurozone.

"It would be appropriate for the citizens of Latvia to have a chance to express whether they support euro adoption or not," Nils Usakovs, leader of the leftist Harmony Centre, told the Dienas Bizness daily.

Despite topping Saturday's polls for the first time with over 28 percent of the vote -- 31 seats in Latvia's 100-seat parliament or Saeima -- analysts say Harmony Centre is likely to continue as the opposition.

Mainstream parties wary of its ties to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin's United Russia party are unlikely to team up with it in a coalition.

Emerging from Europe's deepest recession, Latvia hopes to meet all the Maastricht criteria for eurozone entry, including limits on the national debt and public deficit, by 2013 in order to adopt the single currency in 2014.

Riga pegged its lat currency to the European single currency in 2005, a year after joining the EU, as part of its drive to adopt the euro. The rate is 0.702804 lat cents to the euro.

Usakovs' party has also vowed to push for a revision of the terms of a 7.5-billion-euro ($10.9-billion) bailout agreed in December 2008 with the European Union and International Monetary Fund.

The agreement included provisions to speed up Latvia's eurozone entry along with biting austerity measures which hit public sector wages and the elderly on fixed-income state pensions.

Apparently shunning the Harmony Centre, Latvian centrist parties launched coalition talks Sunday in the wake of Saturday's snap general election triggered three months ago by the dissolution of parliament in a public referendum called over corruption concerns.

The new anti-corruption Zatlers Reform Party (ZRP) created by ex-president Valdis Zalters, debuted in the election with an impressive second spot finish.

It tapped the third-spot centrist Unity bloc of incumbent Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis to discuss a new government.

The Zatlers Reform Party, the Unity bloc and the smaller National Alliance scored a combined 56 seats in the 100-seat parliament, or Saeima -- raising the possibility of a majority government excluding the top-spot Harmony Centre.

President Andris Berzins has said he will launch a first round of talks with parties on the formation of a new government on September 28 before naming his nominee for prime minister.

© 2011 AFP

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