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Putin critic and chess champion Kasparov seeks Latvian citizenship

Opposition leader Garry Kasparov (C) speaks during a court hearing after he was detained during Saturday's opposition march in Moscow Novemb
Opposition leader Garry Kasparov (C) speaks during a court hearing after he was detained during Saturday's opposition march in Moscow Novemb

RIGA (Reuters) - Former world chess champion turned Kremlin critic Garry Kasparov has asked Latvian politicians to grant him citizenship to help him pursue his political activities in Russia.

In a letter seen by Reuters, Kasparov, 50, said Latvian citizenship would give him the security to work "in Russia and in other countries across the world where civil rights are denied and democratic norms are trampled on".

Kasparov, a veteran opposition leader in Russia and a well-known critic of President Vladimir Putin, has in recent years spent much of his time abroad. He said the mother of his son, Vadim, was a Latvian citizen and he had won an important chess victory in the former Soviet state when he was 14 years old.

"Every Latvian has the right to express his opinion freely, participate in the political process and not be afraid of unlawful persecution," Kasparov wrote of the Baltic state.

In the letter, Kasparov said he wanted to retain his Russian citizenship as well.

Latvian citizenship can be granted by parliamentary vote to a person who has done something exceptional for the country, but some politicians were lukewarm to the idea of allotting such status to Kasparov.

His appeal comes amid tension between the Baltic states and Moscow after Russia last month suspended imports of dairy products from Lithuania, the current holder of the rotating EU presidency, while Latvia is hosting a major NATO military exercise together with Poland. Russia cited quality concerns for its suspension of Lithuanian dairy imports.

Kasparov's letter, written in Latvian, was addressed to all parties and independent members of parliament except for the Harmony Centre party, said Andrejs Klementjevs, a member of parliament for the party.

The Harmony Centre party signed a cooperation agreement in 2009 with the United Russia party founded by Putin.

This a very political issue, because formally there is no real merit in terms of having done something for the good of Latvia," said Dzintars Zakis, leader in parliament for Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis' Unity Party.

"I would be very careful with it," he added.

Edmunds Demiters of the Reform Party, the third biggest party in the Latvian parliament, also said it remained unclear what exceptional services Kasparov had rendered Latvia to make him eligible for citizenship.

(Reporting by Aija Krutaine via Stockholm newsroom; Editing by Elizabeth Piper, Sonya Hepinstall and Barry Moody)

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