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    RIGA SCHOOLCHILDREN PROTEST AGAINST LATVIA'S EDUCATION POLICY WITH REGARD TO ETHNIC MINORITIES

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    RIGA, February 5, 2004. (RIA Novosti) -- A many-thousand action of protest against the Latvian authorities' education policy with regard to ethnic minorities started this morning in the Latvian capital of Riga.

    Amendments to the Education Law, under which 60 percent of the subjects in the senior classes of the secondary schools for ethnic minorities, including Russian schools, will be taught in the official, that is, Lettish, language beginning with September 1, this year, will be put to vote in the Saeima on Thursday.

    Over 10,000 students from nearly 40 Russian schools in Riga, Jurmala, Ventspils and some other Latvian cities, as well as their relatives and teachers, take part in the protest meeting.

    They filled the square outside the Saeima building and all the streets leading to it. The police and metal entanglements encircle the parliament.

    The protesters are scanning: "No to reforms!" "Yes to Russian schools!" The schoolchildren carry plates with the names of the schools, which they represent and slogans: "Yes to the Lettish Language, No to the Reform!" "We like the Lettish Language but We Want to Be Taught in Russian," "Let us Speak Lettish Voluntarily!" "Latvia - a Shame of Europe." Some of the picket participants are swinging the European Union flags.

    Talking with reporters, a member of the headquarters for the protection of Russian schools in Latvia, Yury Petropavlovsky, called these protests "a youth revolution" which cannot be stopped now, he believes.

    Chairman of the parliamentary faction "For Human Rights in United Latvia" Yakov Pliner told RIA Novosti that the defenders of the Russian schools were ready for a dialogue with the authorities but were not going to surrender.

    "If we do not prevent the reform of the Russian schools, drafted not by us, we shall lose everything," he noted.

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