Latvia's Russian-language campaign eyes referendum

19th December 2011, Comments 0 comments

A campaign to make Russian an official language in Latvia made progress Monday as officials said a signature drive had gained enough backing for a referendum on the issue.

Throughout November, backers of the campaign were able to register their support for the measure, aiming to make Russian Latvia's second official language alongside Latvian, with the Central Electoral Commission (CVK).

CVK chairman Arnis Cimdars said Monday that 187,378 signatures supporting the move had been confirmed, well above the required 154,379 threshold that represents 10 percent of the eligible voters.

Under Latvian law, the general public has the right to send proposed legislation to parliament if more than 10 percent of the electorate can be proven to back the proposal.

If parliament opposes the measure, as is virtually guaranteed in the case of the Russian language issue, the proposal then becomes subject to a general referendum.

Cimdars named February 18 as a provisional date for the referendum to take place if parliament rejects the proposal as expected on Thursday.

Russian-speakers account for around a third of Latvia's 2.2-million population, but in order for the referendum to succeed it will need to attract more than half of the electorate, or the equivalent to 771,350 votes -- giving the measure little chance of becoming law..

Latvia regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, joining the European Union and NATO in 2004.

© 2011 AFP

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