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Latvian Parties Launch Coalition Talks To Counter Win By Pro-Russian Party

Former Latvian President Valdis Zatlers

Former Latvian President Valdis Zatlers

Centrist parties in the Baltic country of Latvia have launched coalition talks in the wake of elections which saw a pro-Russian party score an unprecedented victory.

The center-left Harmony Center, which is backed by members of Latvia's large ethnic Russian minority, scored a first-place return with nearly 30 percent of the vote.

It was not clear, however, that Harmony -- which has ties to Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and is distrusted by many Latvian politicians -- would be able to tempt another party into a governing coalition.

The second- and third-place finishers -- the Reform Party of former President Valdis Zatlers and the Unity bloc of Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis -- have entered coalition talks.

A nationalist party that won the fourth spot may also join the talks as a junior partner.

Harmony Center politician Andrejs Klementjevs told Reuters the results show his party cannot be ignored and should have a place in the cabinet.

"It would be disrespectful towards our voters -- because each third of Latvian citizens supported and voted for us," he said. "To spit in our face and not involve us in the work of the cabinet would be disrespectful to us."

No party backed by ethnic Russians has ever served in a Latvian government since the Baltic state regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Ethnic Russians make up around one-third of Latvia's 2.2 million people.

The vote in European Union member Latvia was called after the previous legislature was dissolved in connection with a corruption scandal involving "oligarch" businessmen who are also members of parliament.

Corruption and the Latvian-Russian divide are seen as the two main challenges facing a new government in Riga.

Officials said voter turnout in the September 17 elections was about 56 percent.

compiled from agency reports