Latvia Debates Secession; Vote Expected Today
Latvia’s legislature opened debate Thursday on whether to declare independence from the Soviet Union and was urged by visiting President Vytautus Landsbergis of neighboring Lithuania to “be strong and have courage.”
A vote on the independence question is expected today, and the separatist Latvian People’s Front predicted that it would muster the two-thirds majority vote needed in the legislature to adopt an independence declaration.
Landsbergis said that he traveled to Latvia “to be with my (Baltic) brothers,” and he cautioned Latvians against moving more slowly than Lithuania has done on the path to secession.
Pro- and anti-independence demonstrators surrounded Latvian deputies as they entered the legislature building.
About 50 Soviet army officers who live in Latvia gathered with signs proclaiming, “The People and the Army Are United,” and “We Won’t Go the Way of Lithuania.”
A few steps away, pro-independence supporters carried banners saying, “The Soviet Army Must Go Home” and “Independence for Latvia.” Protesters carried Soviet flags or the red-and-white Latvian flag.
The Latvian Supreme Soviet (legislature) has 201 members, but only 197 will vote on independence because four seats are still disputed from elections in March. A two-thirds majority of 132 votes is needed to pass the independence measure.
Anatoly Gorbunov, reelected president of Latvia at Thursday’s session of the legislature, backed independence in a speech.
“I believe that the renewal of a legally sovereign nation must be accomplished,” he said, declaring it a “normal way of life for all the residents of Latvia.” Gorbunov, 48, is a former Communist Party functionary who has shown himself skilled at negotiating with Moscow.