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Latvia: Ethnic Russians Protest Planned School Closings

Riga, 23 May 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Some 10,000 people rallied today in Latvia's capital Riga against the government's plans to eliminate state-funded Russian schools. The protesters included thousands of students who would be affected by the decision to switch the language of instruction in 150 schools from Russian to Latvian.

Latvia's government plans to phase out state-funded education in Russian by next year and replace it with Latvian. Russian is spoken by about 35 percent of Latvia's 2.4 million people.

Many Latvian ethnic Russians are descendants of industrial workers and others sent to Latvia during the Soviet era. Most speak Latvian poorly or not at all.

Organizers scheduled the protest a day before tomorrow's annual Eurovision Song Contest. Hundreds of journalists from across Europe have gathered in Riga to cover the contest.