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Latvia Assures Gorbachev : ‘Respect’ for Soviets Told in Message

From Associated Press

Latvia’s Parliament today assured Soviet President Mikhail S. Gorbachev that despite the republic’s declaration of independence, it will respect Soviet interests and hopes to open talks soon.

The Parliament’s message was in response to a request from Gorbachev for information on Latvia’s May 4 declaration of independence.

“We express the certainty that the character of the declaration, the retention of current constitutional norms and sincere desire to respect the interests of the U.S.S.R. will meet with your understanding and open the way to a fruitful dialogue in the spirit of honest cooperation between equals,” the letter to Gorbachev said.

Latvian President Anatoly Gorbunov had told the Parliament this morning of the Kremlin’s request and charged several deputies with preparing a reply.

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Dainis Ivans, chairman of the Latvian Popular Front, which has led the independence drive, called Gorbachev’s request for more information “wonderful.”

“This gives us a chance to present our point of view,” he told reporters.

Ivans said Latvia also planned to send a delegation to Moscow within days and he believed that the group would be received by the Kremlin.

Delegates from Lithuania, which has also voted to secede, went through a similar exchange with the Kremlin but to no avail.

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Unlike Lithuania, however, Latvia did not suspend the Soviet Constitution when it declared independence, instead merely adding several sections calling for independence and democracy.

Gorbunov and other Latvian leaders have said the republic’s declaration, with its unspecified transition period to full independence, is calculated to “leave the door open” to talks with the Kremlin.

They said today that the Kremlin’s request for an explanation indicated that Moscow’s reaction might not be as strong as initially indicated.

Latvia’s Communist Party chief, Alfreds Rubiks, had said Saturday that Gorbachev might retaliate because of the secession vote.

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The Soviet news agency Tass quoted Rubiks as saying in a statement on television Gorbachev told him that the vote violated the Soviet Constitution. Gorbachev said in a telephone call he might impose political, economic and administrative sanctions if the Baltic republic did not reverse its course, Rubiks reported.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Gennady I. Gerasimov, at a briefing today, declined to answer questions about Latvia. “There is no official response yet,” he said.

He said Rubik’s statement was “not a direct response” to the republic’s declaration of independence.

Neighboring Lithuania declared immediate independence from Moscow on March 11, and Gorbachev responded by sending troops to occupy some Communist Party buildings and by cutting off fuel and other vital supplies.

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The third Baltic republic, Estonia, last month declared its intention to secede but set no date and left the door open for negotiations with the Kremlin.

As the Latvian Parliament convened today, about 50 Soviet soldiers approached the building and unfurled a red banner reading, “Comrades! Have No Doubt We Will Defend the Interests of the U.S.S.R. With Honor.”

Thousands of Soviet troops are stationed in Latvia.

Several Latvians, incensed by the ominous tone of the slogan, shouted, “Shame!” in Russian at the soldiers. The argument remained peaceful.

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