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10:58 GMT +3 hours20 December 2014
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Latvia's Non-Citizens 'Need Solution' - President

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Latvian President Andris Berzins has said he did not back a campaign to "automatically" grant citizenship to tens of thousands of non-citizens in the Baltic country but admitted the issue needed to be resolved.

Latvian President Andris Berzins has said he did not back a campaign to "automatically" grant citizenship to tens of thousands of non-citizens in the Baltic country but admitted the issue needed to be resolved.

Berzins was speaking amid a campaign to gather signatures in support of a referendum on the fate of some 319,000 people, most of them Russian-speakers, who remain without citizenship in the former Soviet republic. Their status means they cannot vote in elections or work in many government jobs.

"This problem should be solved," Berzins told LNT television. But he dismissed the referendum plan as "not viable," saying "other solutions" were needed.

The activist group For Equal Rights, which is behind the campaign, still needs to gather another 150,000 signatures in order for the ballot to go ahead.

The non-citizens make up about 16 percent of Latvia's 2.1 million population.

Non-citizens are those who were born in Latvia during the Soviet rule if none of their direct relatives lived in the country before 1940.