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Latvia voters reject referendum to add Russian as official language

Latvian voters on Saturday rejected Russian [press release] as a second official state language in Latvia [official website]. Preliminary results from the national referendum show that 74.8 percent of voters rejected adding the Russian language with only 24.88 percent in favor of having two state languages. The percentage split of domestic votes also represents approximately the decision of those citizens abroad in foreign countries. The referendum vote had the highest national voter turnout since 1991 (when Latvia regained its independence) with 70.73 percentof eligible voters casting a ballot. There are approximately 300,000 non-citizens in Latvia [AP report]. This is because under current law anyone who moved to Latvia during the Soviet occupation after WWII must pass the Latvian language exam to gain citizenship. The hope of the referendum, even though failed, is that it will draw attention to the nation's minority who have not received the right to vote or work in government and to encourage dialogue between the government and national minorities.

In 2008, Latvian voters rejected a referendum [JURIST report] to amend the country's constitution that would have given voters the power to dissolve the country's parliament, even though some voters remained discontented with the government and say that the Latvian MPs do not act in accordance with voter's wishes. Latvia was formally part of the Soviet Union, but joined NATO in April 2004. A month later the country officially entered the EU. The Latvian parliament has since adopted [JURIST report] the new EU reform treaty [JURIST news archive], properly known as the Treaty of Lisbon [text, PDF; official website].

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