Party coalition snub prompts demo in Latvia

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Party coalition snub prompts demo in Latvia

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An estimated 2,000 people have protested outside the Latvian parliament angry that a prominent party representing the Russian-speaking minority was left out of coalition talks.

The party, Harmony Centre, put the exclusion down to ‘traditional Latvian distrust’ of Russian influence, even though it holds nearly a third of seats in parliament.

Party supporters chanted, blew horns and banged drums to show their disappointment.

“No to ethnic discrimination,” read banners held by many of the Harmony Centre supporters at parliament, which was sitting for the first time since the snap election on 17 September.

Many in the crowd had come from heavily Russian-speaking Eastern Latvia, where Harmony Centre won 52 percent of the vote.

“How can a party which wins the election not be in the government. How can that happen in an EU country?” said Ilona Fyodorova, 46, from the eastern town of Kraslava.

Harmony’s hopes of joining in government could be salvaged, however, since talks among the other parties have not gone smoothly.

Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis is hoping to stay on at the head of a coalition formed by his Unity party with the Reform Party of former president Valdis Zatlers and the nationalist bloc. But on Sunday six of Zatlers’s 22 legislators defected to form their own parliamentary group.

Despite an assurance by the six rebels to support Dombrovskis, their defection leaves the three would-be coalition parties with only 50 seats of their own. That would leave the government vulnerable as Dombrovskis seeks to keep Latvia on a path of fiscal austerity in order to adopt the euro in 2014.