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Latvians Rally Over Language Issue

March 13, 1989|From Reuters

MOSCOW — About 250,000 Latvians rallied Sunday in the Soviet republic's capital of Riga to press for official recognition of the Latvian language and voice support for political and economic reforms, organizers said.

Sarmite Elerte, head of information for Latvia's Popular Front organization, said speakers at the rally backed proposed legislation that would entrench the Latvian language in day-to-day affairs.

Many carried the red and white national flag of the Baltic republic and placards supporting Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev's program of economic reforms.

"Never before have I seen so many of our flags in public," Elerte said by telephone from Riga. "People wanted to show their support for our language. They also wanted to say that democratization cannot be stopped in Latvia."

Elerte said that although the language law has raised tension recently in the republic, there have been no incidents.

Some participants, she said, carried posters lampooning Interfront, a group representing mainly Russian speakers which has opposed the new language law in Latvia.

Interfront, in an open letter to a Latvian newspaper last week, denounced the planned legislation, saying it incurred needless costs and ignored the rights of what it said was a majority of non-Latvians in the republic.

According to 1979 figures, Latvians make up 53% of the republic's population after mass immigration of Russians in recent years.

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