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Riga city will allow mass protest against education reform on Eurovision eve -- mayor

RIGA, May 20, BNS - The Riga City Council will be allowing the planned mass protest against Latvia's planned education reform for minority schools on May 23, a day before the Eurovision finals in Riga, said the Riga Mayor Gundars Bojars. The Riga mayor said that the city council will approve the demonstration, officially requested as a meeting,at the Esplanade park in the very center of the capital, the decision being made after consultations with security agencies.

The city will be suggesting the meeting take place from 4 pm to 6 pm. The city council will also be suggesting that organizers of the protest provide for security at the meeting, as an estimated 10,000 people are to arrive, many of which will be children and school kids. The Latvian Russian Language Tuition School Support Association head Igors Pimenovs said that they have agreed with a security company for the hiring of 15 security guards at the event, as "some radical organizations may use the event for their own means."

The Riga Police Administration head Andris Dzenis said that the police are very busy in these days with the Eurovision events, but it would be better that the protest is approved and controlled, thus there will be people responsible for how the event proceeds. The order for allowing the protest will have to be signed by the Riga City Council executive director maris Tralmaks, who previously rejected a request to allow a demonstration. Tralmaks gave no other comment than saying "I simply have to do it."

The Riga Municipal Police head Janis Gedusevs said that he will definitely be requesting that organizers of the event provide more than 15 security guards, as this is "logically too few." The Riga municipal police and the state police will be meeting on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss plans for the event and how many policemen may be needed at the scene. The organizers of the event initially wanted to stage a demonstration and march through the city, but were refused. A number of public organizations backed by opposition politicians have organized the mass protest against the country's planned education reform for minority schools, set to be launched in September 2004.

The educational reform envisages a gradual transition to 60 percent tuition in the Latvian language at all minority high school classes, starting with grade 10 next year. 40 percent of the tuition will remain in minority languages. Currently around 30 percent of the tuition at minority schools is already held in Latvian. The move will effect around 150 minority schools in Latvia, most of which will be ready for the reform by September next year, according to a survey carried out by the Latvian Education and Science Ministry amongst the schools.

Organizers of the protest promise to gather thousands of people, including many school kids, for the event. The organizers mostly claim that the reform is against the human rights of minorities in Latvia, who should be allowed to chose their own language of education. They claim that teaching subjects like maths and physics in latvia will result in the minority kids knowing and understanding these subjects at lower levels than Latvian kids at the roughly 700 Latvian language schools in Latvia. The Education Ministry on the other hand says that raising the knowledge of Latvian for minority school kids and teaching them subjects in Latvian will raise their chances of getting into state universities, where tuition is only in Latvian. The move is expected to also lower unemployment amongst minority populations. A recent visit by the OSCE high commissioner on minority issues, Rolf Ekeuss, resulted in his stating that there are no problems with Latvia's planned education reform.

In simple terms, the reform expects to make minority high schools teach 5 classes in Latvian, instead of the 3 classes already done so according to current state educational regulations. Organizers of the event have on numerous account been accused of politicizing the issue which the government claims is essentially aimed at the own good of minority populations.


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