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LATVIANS VOTE TO SCRAP GUARANTEE OF COMMUNISTS’ GRIP ON POWER

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A second Baltic republic in less than a month has voted to scrap constitutional guarantees of the Communist Party's grip on power, said local activists and journalists in Latvia.

The republic's parliament voted 220-50 on Thursday to drop the constitutional provision that makes the party the "leading and guiding force of Soviet society," said Viysturs Koziols of the Latvian People's Front newspaper Atmoda.Eriks Kehriks, chief of the official news agency Latinform, confirmed the action.

Neighboring Lithuania voted Dec. 7 to strip the Communist Party of its leading role in society, and most of Eastern Europe shed such provisions this year.

Koziols said the Latvian parliament voted after a stormy debate that lasted more than three hours.

Sarmite Elerte, spokeswoman for the grass-roots Popular Front movement, said the decision must be made final at parliament's next session, Jan. 10-11. Specific language is to be adopted then on constitutional amendments legalizing alternative political parties.

The change is expected to reduce the party's grip on all spheres of life in the republic. Like its neighbors Lithuania and Estonia, Latvia has a broad-based movement seeking independence from the Soviet Union, which forcibly annexed all three nations in 1940.

Lithuania also legalized alternative political parties.

Its action to drop constitutional provisions giving power to the Communists was the first threat to the party's guaranteed supremacy in the Soviet Union.

Since then, the issue has arisen in the national Congress of People's Deputies and the parliaments of Estonia and Armenia, all of which have similar provisions in their constitutions.

None has taken a formal vote on the issue.

Lithuania's legalization of a multiparty system also helped push the republic's Communist Party into breaking with the national party last week.

The Lithuanian Communists formed a separate party, which favors independence. That move infuriated many Kremlin Communists, and the national party's Central Committee decided to send its leader, President Mikhail S. Gorbchev, to Lithuania next week.