Pro-Russian party rallies for berth in Latvian government

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Several thousand supporters of a pro-Russian party that topped the polls in Latvia's general election rallied outside the Baltic state's parliament Monday to demand a landmark slot in government.

The demonstrators, numbering around 3,000 according to an AFP reporter, blew vuvuzelas and waved banners demanding an end to "ethnic discrimination" which has seen the Harmony Centre shut out of a planned coalition government.

"People came here to express their will in a clear, democratic way," veteran Harmony Centre lawmaker Boriss Cilevics told AFP.

"Almost one-third of Latvian voters belong to ethnic minorities and they supported Harmony Centre in the election. Those parties which lost the election are trying to bypass the voters' clearly expressed view and form a government without Harmony Centre," he added.

Harmony Centre came first in Latvia's September 17 general election, with 31 seats -- its best-ever result in the 100-member parliament.

But despite its demands for a bigger say in the political destiny of the nation of 2.2 million, it has been frozen out of talks on forming a new coalition government.

The Zatlers Reform Party -- created this year by ex-president Valdis Zatlers -- and the Unity movement of centre-right Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis have decided to form a three-way coalition with the right-wing National Alliance.

The three parties came second, third and fourth respectively on September 17.

In theory, they would have had a majority with 56 seats, but plans were thrown into disarray Sunday when six lawmakers split from Zatlers' party.

Harmony Centre's leader, Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs, said President Andris Berzins should break the deadlock.

"At present, there is neither a government nor a coalition in Latvia, and we are calling on the president to task Harmony Centre with forming the coalition," Usakovs told the Baltic News Service.

The Russian-speaking minority makes up 27 percent of European Union nation's population.

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.

© 2011 AFP

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