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1990: Latvia to declare independence
Members of the new parliament of the Soviet republic of Latvia have met to discuss independence from Moscow.

Leaders of the Latvian Popular Front are confident they can muster the majority they need to change the constitution.

In March this year, neighbouring Lithuania became the first Soviet republic to pass a unilateral declaration of independence. In retaliation, the Kremlin shut off supplies of crude oil and natural gas.

Latvia is hoping to avoid a similar confrontation with the USSR's President Mikhail Gorbachev by calling for a transition period before full independence takes effect.

We have to avoid any confrontation because it would be useless, unproductive
Nikolai Neiland, head of the Independent Communist Party
This morning, their elected representatives led a procession to a memorial in the capital, Riga, dedicated to those who fought and died for Latvian independence after World War 1.

The Lithuanian president, a guest at today's opening of parliament, had this advice for the Latvians - "Courage!"

One strategy put forward was to adopt parts of the Soviet constitution to avoid being accused of breaking the law.

"We have to avoid any confrontation because it would be useless, unproductive," said Nikolai Neiland, head of the Independent Communist Party.

Russian demonstrators outside the parliament building held up banners reminding politicians inside that almost half of Latvia's population is ethnically Russian and that independence might provoke a backlash.

Also out on the streets of Riga were groups of Soviet paratroops. They say they are here for a parade but nationalists believe their presence is a crude reminder of Soviet power.

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Russian soldiers demonstrate outside the Latvian parliament
Russians are nervous that independence will lead to a backlash against their people

In Context
The following day the Latvian parliament declared "de jure" independence of Republic of Latvia. President Gorbachev could not resist pressure from hardliners in Moscow determined to prevent the break-up of the Soviet Union, and he issued a decree annulling the declaration.

Then in January 1991 Soviet special troops stormed and took over Latvia's Interior Ministry building.

The occupation continued until the failed Moscow coup in August that year, when the Latvian parliament voted for full independence and banned the Communist Party.

A few weeks later, on 7 September, Russia's President Boris Yeltsin recognized the independence of Latvia and its Baltic neighbours Estonia and Lithuania. All three were admitted into the United Nations the same month.

Moscow hardliners were particularly concerned for the large numbers of ethnic Russians and other migrants who live in the Baltic states.

In fact, tough legislation was soon introduced making it very difficult for Russians to gain Latvian citizenship.

But the law was eventually modified after international criticism.

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