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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Latvian President Urged To Veto Citizenship Law

RIGA -- The Latvian government appealed to President Guntis Ulmanis on Wednesday to reject a controversial new citizenship law and send the legislation back to parliament. The new law would allow some 230,000 Latvian-born people to become citizens by the end of the century. But it would severely limit early prospects of citizenship for about half a million, mainly Russian, long-time settlers. A statement issued after a government meeting said the law, which parliament approved Tuesday by 66 votes to 11, would threaten the Baltic state's relations with the Council of Europe and with the European Union. "Latvia cannot hope that the Council of Europe will change its position on the law. Talks on an association agreement with the European Union and integration into European security structures are also threatened," the statement said. "For these reasons the cabinet of ministers appeals to the president not to publish the law but to return it to the Saeima (parliament)." Parliament had passed the law despite objections from opposition deputies and from Prime Minister Valdis Birkavs. Under its terms, 500,000 non-citizens, mainly Russians who came to Latvia after it was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940, can seek citizenship only after the year 2000. But this would be under a quota system that would only allow a couple of thousand people a year to become Latvians. Deputies struck a clause on the quota system out of the law Tuesday, but quotas remain in effect because deputies also rejected the whole of that section of the citizenship law. This means a previous draft, which also includes quotas, is brought back into effect. Russia says nationality limitations on ethnic Russians violate human rights since non-citizens do not have the right to vote or buy property. Latvian nationalists say the restrictions are essential to protect their national identity. Soviet-era immigration means ethnic Latvians make up little over half the population. Few Russians speak Latvian and there is relatively little contact between the Russian and Latvian communities. Relations between Russia and Latvia had already been soured by the presence of 10,500 Russian soldiers based on Latvian soil. Russia has promised to withdraw these by Aug. 31.