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Pro-Russian party fights for slot in Latvian government

A pro-Russian party that topped the polls in last month’s Latvian general election upped its efforts Wednesday to win a slot in government, after the ruling centre-right shut it out of a coalition deal.

Nils Usakovs, a leader of the left-leaning Harmony Centre movement, urged supporters to write to the Baltic state’s President Andris Berzins and press him to include it in the government.

“We’re asking people to voice their opinion and send letters to the president,” Usakovs told Latvian radio.

Usakovs, who is mayor of the Latvian capital Riga, denied that if Harmony Centre is kept out of government it could lead to clashes between the ethnic Russian minority that forms the core of its support and the Latvian majority.

“Everything we do, will be done within the limits of parliamentary traditions,” he said.

In a statement, Usakovs said that Harmony Centre had already gathered more than 2,000 letter, emails and tweets which were being passed on to Berzins, who under the constitution has the power to nominate the government.

On Monday, the Unity party of centre-right Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis announced it had reached a coalition deal with the Zatlers Reform Party — created this year by ex-president Valdis Zatlers — and the right-wing National Alliance.

Together, the trio hold a majority of 56 seats in Latvia’s 100-member parliament.

The Zatlers Reform Party, Unity and the National Alliance came second, third and fourth in the September 17 general election.

Harmony Centre topped the polls with 31 seats, its best-ever result, and argues that the slender majority of the proposed coalition means it would be unstable and unlikely to last a full term.

Berzins has said he would prefer the broadest possible coalition and that he will not make a decision before returning from an overseas trip on Friday.

Any new coalition must also win parliamentary approval, with a vote expected on October 19.

The Russian-speaking minority makes up 27 percent of European Union nation’s 2.2 million people.

Its presence is largely a result of five decades of Soviet rule over Latvia, which ended in 1991. Its various parties have never been in government since then.