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Latvian parliament votes to work for independence

The parliament of Soviet Latvia voted Thursday to work for independence in the latest separatist challenge to the Kremlin from the restive Baltic republics. After heated debate, the Latvian Supreme Soviet adopted by 177 votes to 48 a declaration that said: "It is necessary to do all to restore the state independence of Latvia and transform it into a free, independent Latvian state."

The declaration denounced a 1940 parliamentary resolution that brought the republic into the Soviet Union, saying it could not serve as a basis for the future.

The vote brought the republic into line with neighboring Estonia and Lithuania, which have already condemned their occupation by the Red Army.

In July 1940, the newly elected parliaments of all three republics asked to join the Soviet Union after what Western and Baltic historians say were rigged elections which gave at least 90 percent majorities to Communist candidates.

Although nationalists in all three republics have long called for

independence, the Latvian decision to couple this with a demand for an

independent state appeared to go further than declarations by the Estonian and Lithuanian parliaments.

Valdis Berzins, a Latvian journalist, said after the resolution was approved: "It is a kind of disease which plagued the people for 50 years. People always knew the (1940) elections were rigged but now we can start a real revision of the history books."

The parliament's declaration said the Latvian state would "stay on the path of humanitarian and democratic socialism and will base its relations with other countries on the basis of treaties."

The Latvian decision appeared likely to add further fuel to a likely debate due in the Soviet parliament on defining precisely the terms under which a Soviet republic may decide to secede.

In a visit to Lithuania last month, President Mikhail Gorbachev said the Kremlin would draw up legislation to define how a republic can exercise the right of secession.

However, in a move which has angered Baltic politicians, senior Soviet officials have since suggested the republics may in effect have to buy their way out by paying compensation to the Kremlin for 50 years of investment in their republic.

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