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Russia Praises Latvian Leader

July 15, 1999

MOSCOW (AP) _ Russia praised Latvia’s president today for refusing to sign a language law that Moscow and the European Union say discriminates against ethnic Russians in the Baltic republic.

Latvia’s parliament overwhelmingly approved the controversial language law last week. The legislation attempts to counter Russian-language dominance during decades of Soviet rule, which ended eight years ago.

President Vaira Vike-Freiberga returned the law Wednesday, saying the parliament needed to reconsider several provisions, such as a clause that prohibited outdoor signs in languages other than Latvian.

In a statement Thursday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry called Vike-Freiberga’s decision ``realistic″ and repeated previous accusations that the law discriminates against Russian-speakers, who make up 40 percent of Latvia’s 2.5 million population.

The law also includes clauses that mandate the use of Latvian in public affairs and in private business.

Latvian has already been declared the country’s only official language, and proficiency in Latvian is a requirement of citizenship. Most Russian-speakers in the country speak little or no Latvian.

The Latvian language, also called Lettish, is one of the Baltic group of Indo-European languages that include Prussian and Lithuanian. Unlike Russian, it uses the Latin letters used by English and other Western European languages, and generally bears little resemblance to Russian.

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