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Ironduke
22 Sep 03,, 00:43
Latvia votes yes to EU entry

The former Soviet republic of Latvia has voted overwhelmingly in favour of joining the European Union (EU).
Final results from a referendum on Saturday showed that 67% voted Yes and 32.3% said No.

The landmark decision is the final vote that will pave the way for the European bloc to expand its membership from 15 to 25 countries.

Malta, Slovenia, Hungary, Lithuania, Slovakia, Poland, the Czech Republic and Estonia have already voted in favour of EU entry. Cyprus will also join, but is not holding a referendum.

Prime Minister Einars Repse hailed the decision as one of the three most important decisions in the state's history, ranking it alongside gaining independence between World War I and II and regaining it with the collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

The electoral commission said turnout was 72.53% - higher than at the last parliamentary elections in October 2002.

New order?

Latvia's President Vaira Vike-Freiberga in the capital Riga said the vote would wipe out forever the divisions on the map of Europe.

The results showed that only Daugavpils, Latvia's second biggest town and a Russian-speaking stronghold, voted against joining - by 52% to 48%.

There are about one million mother tongue Russian speakers among Latvia's 2.4 million residents.

The No campaign had attempted to appeal to Latvians' nationalism, urging them not to cede to Brussels any of the sovereignty they have only recently won back from Moscow.

Euro-sceptics warned Latvia's 2.5 million people will suffer economically, as the country is the poorest of the candidate nations to vote on the EU accession.

Break with past

Ms Vike-Freiberga, a firm supporter of accession, had predicted that, despite the country's reputation for Euro-scepticism, more than 60% of Latvians would follow her lead and vote Yes to Europe.

She said voting for Europe would help Latvia cement its transition to a democratic, market economy and mark a decisive break with the past.

"It means the end of years of hard work on our part to fulfil the criteria for the EU membership," the president said.

"But it means more than that symbolically.

"For Latvia, it is putting the final full-stop to the sequels of the Second World War and wiping out forever the divisions on the map of Europe that the odious Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact of 1939 had placed there."

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/3126100.stm