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Latvian Group Demands Independence

October 9, 1989

RIGA, U.S.S.R. (AP) _ Members of a Latvian nationalist movement have voted nearly unanimously to work to achieve not just autonomy but outright independence from the Soviet Union.

Delegates at the second annual congress of the People’s Front of Latvia, voted late Sunday to approve a program aimed at preparing for independence - though without specifying just when that might come.

There was only one vote against the 126-point program from the 1,074 delegates, who carefully discussed the nuances of each clause in a debate that stretched into early today.

The vice chairman of the Latvian state planning commission said the independence call could create problems in negotiating more economic freedom from the Kremlin.

″There is a direct link between the political situation and economic negotiations,″ Janis Aboltins said. ″The more radical the slogans, the more difficult it is for us the day after in the corridors of power in Moscow.″

However, Sunday’s debate was fairly free of the fiery rhetoric that would upset Moscow bureaucrats, he said.

The program calls for human rights, competing political parties and private business in a free-market economy. It is designed to build an independent economy and social structure before the republic secedes.

On the autonomy clause, the delegates approved a declaration saying the front’s goal ″is to restore the independence of the Latvian state by creating a democratic parliamentary republic.″

″Latvia’s social and political life has changed radically,″ the draft said. ″The possibility actually exists that an independent Latvia can be renewed through non-violent means.″

The Soviet Union annexed Latvia and its Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Estonia in 1940. In the past year, movements for autonomy have gained strength in all three republics, which have adopted measures calling for greater freedom from the Kremlin.

Latvia’s Parliament has voted itself the right to veto Soviet laws, made Latvian the official language and restored schools for ethnic minorities.

The People’s Front has gained the support of a leading Communist, Latvian Premier Vilnis-Edvins Bresis.

He told the congress it should strive for ″real power for the people, with the fate of our native Latvia determined and governed by the Latvian people.″

Bresis said he believed the republic’s most urgent task is wresting control of the Latvian economy from Moscow. He did not explicitly back independence.

He also warned that Latvia’s reforms must not move too far ahead of countrywide efforts to overhaul the economy and political system, championed by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev.

The People’s Front claims 300,000 members among the Baltic republic’s 2.7 million people.

Its program was carefully worded to ensure wide support.

The congress dropped a direct complaint about the Communist Party and wording that could have been interpreted as a threat to voting rights of Russian and other non-Latvian immigrants, who comprise half of the population.

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