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Latvia Takes Big Step To Joining Euro

"I believe southern Europe is acting irresponsibly .... we don't want to pay for their problems," said Normunds Bernups, a financial manager in a construction firm who took part in a small protest outside Parliament before Thursday's vote. "They already have a better standard of living than we do."

Critics of euro membership have demanded that the government hold a referendum on the issue, but officials have rejected the idea, arguing that Latvians agreed to euro membership when they voted to join the wider 27-nation EU in 2004.

European officials have said that Latvia has a good chance to join. The country meets the key criteria on debt, deficit levels, and inflation, and the economy is growing strongly, which would make it some sort of a standout in relation to its potential euro partners. Latvia's economy is expected to have grown approximately 5.5 percent last year, making it the fastest growing economy in the EU.

In the vote, 52 lawmakers supported the law on adopting the euro, while 40 were against in the 100-member legislature. The remaining eight either abstained or were absent.

Copyright 2011 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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