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Visa waiving for Latvia's 'non-citizens' jeopardizes Russia-EU talks

RIGA, June 18 (RIA Novosti) - Moscow's move to waive visa requirements for Latvia's 'non-citizens' harms the naturalization process and puts at risk Russian-EU negotiations, the Latvian Foreign Ministry said on Wednesday.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed on Tuesday a decree simplifying visa requirements for former U.S.S.R. citizens currently residing in Latvia and Estonia and who are without citizenship status.

People holding non-resident passports in Latvia and those holding non-Estonian passports in Estonia will from now on be able to travel to and from Russia without visas.

"Russia's decision to waive visa requirements for Latvia's non-citizens undermines the naturalization process in Latvia and disrupts Russia-EU negotiations. These negotiations cover, among other topics, a general facilitation of visa procedures, not exemptions for certain groups of EU residents," the ministry said in a statement.

Latvia, with a population of 2.3 million, has around 400,000 people without citizenship - mainly former U.S.S.R. citizens who have failed to acquire Latvian passports since 1991. During the 17 years of the republic's independence, about 120,000 people have been naturalized, including 6,826 in 2007.

Non-citizens are not considered stateless persons under Latvian law. Nevertheless, the UN special rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance refers to Latvian non-citizens as to stateless persons, recommending that Latvia review its naturalization requirements.

Estonia's foreign minister has also criticized Russia's decision, saying it will slow down the naturalization process.

Estonia, with a population of almost 1.5 million, has over 115,000 "non-citizens."

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