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    MOSCOW, March 9, 2004 (RIA Novosti) - OSCE High Commissioner on National Minorities Rolf Ekeus will arrive in Moscow today on a working visit. The Russian Foreign Ministry reported that Russia and Mr. Ekeus would discuss the rights of Russian speakers in Latvia and Estonia in connection with Latvia and Estonia's entry into the European Union.

    The Foreign Ministry said that Russia wanted to develop good neighborly relations with Latvia and Estonia, but the level of the relations would depend on Latvia and Estonia's observance of the Russian population's rights and on Riga's and Tallinn's steps in this direction.

    The Foreign Ministry stressed that Moscow was concerned that the Latvian parliament did not ratify the Framework Convention for the Protection of National Minorities, that the parliament adopted discriminatory amendments to the law "On Education and that secondary education reforms in Latvia led to fewer opportunities for Russian speakers to receive education in the native language. As far as Estonia is concerned, positive changes have been made, but the observance of minorities' human rights is far from international standards. The Foreign Ministry said laws on foreigners, elections, language and many other laws limit the non-native population's participation in political and economic life.

    Russia also intends to discuss the situation of the Russians in some CIS Central Asian republics with Mr. Ekeus. The Foreign Ministry said that the reason for the outflow of Russians from the region were not only economic but also the result of direct and purposeful ousting of the Russian language from the public, political and cultural life, and of Russian speakers from the labor market. Religious extremism and intolerance, which play a negative role in the region, should be countered by pooling the efforts of all sides concerned, the Foreign Ministry said.

    Mr. Ekeus's working visit will last until March 11. He is expected to meet with acting Foreign Minister Igor Ivanov and Vladimir Zorin, the acting minister who is responsible for nationalities policy.

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