Latvian MPs nix Russian language, paving way to plebiscite

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Lawmakers in European Union member Latvia rejected a motion Thursday to enshrine Russian as the second official state language after Latvian in the ex-Soviet Baltic state's constitution.

Legislators in the 100-member parliament voted 60-0 against a proposal to make Russian an official language, a move which forces a referendum on the subject early next year in line with a popular citizens' initiative.

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 of 771,350 votes.

There is therefore little chance of the measure ever taking effect.

All 31 members of the opposition Harmony Centre party, which draws most of its support from the Russian minority, boycotted the Thursday vote after their efforts at a compromise deal were rejected.

Parliament was forced by law to consider the matter after a November signature collection campaign saw more than 10 percent of the electorate back the move.

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

© 2011 AFP

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