Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Latvians Plot Freedom Strategy BALTIC INDEPENDENCE DRIVE

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Latvians Plot Freedom Strategy BALTIC INDEPENDENCE DRIVE

Article excerpt

IF Latvia's Popular Front gets its way, the new Latvian parliament will adopt some form of independence declaration by the end of this week.

The vote will be close. After runoff elections last Sunday, the Popular Front now controls 128 seats in the 201-seat legislature, or Supreme Soviet - six seats shy of the required two-thirds vote needed to change the republic's Constitution. The new Supreme Soviet begins its work May 3.

Popular Front leaders say they believe they can count on an additional 10 nonaligned deputies to go along with the front's independence move. But the front will be treading a delicate path. Front leaders say they want a declaration that comes somewhere between the all-out independence line of Lithuania and the Estonian variant of declaring the beginning of a transition period toward independence.

But to win the swing votes, the front will nevertheless have to come up with a formula that is muted enough to satisfy such voters. And with Latvia's demographic makeup the least favorable of the three Baltic republics, the Popular Front is risking retaliation on the part of anti-independence Russians. (Ethnic Latvians make up only about half the population, as compared to 80 percent ethnic Lithuanians in Lithuania and 60 percent ethnic Estonians in Estonia.)

So in the end, says Maverick Wolfson, a front leader and Latvian parliament member, Latvia's declaration will wind up looking something like Estonia's.

At press time, the Popular Front was still working out the final wording of its draft declaration. But according to Mr. Wolfson, the resolution will declare the start of a transitional period for discussion of a new Latvian treaty with the Soviet Union.

"Such a treaty would consider the interests of the USSR," Wolfson said by telephone from Riga. "That would include security and economic concerns, such as the use of our ports."

"Soviet citizens will be able to live here calmly, and will be guaranteed their rights," he added. …

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