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Showing Independence from Moscow, Latvia Launches Flights to Israel

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Latvia, struggling for independence from the Soviet Union, has taken at least a symbolic step in that direction by inaugurating direct flights between Riga and Tel Aviv.

Moscow has not yet sanctioned regular commercial service between the Soviet Union and Israel.

But a jet belonging to Aeroflot, the Soviet national airline, landed Wednesday at Ben-Gurion Airport with 130 tourists and officials from the Baltic republic, including the mayor of Riga, Andreas Rikamis.

He said the flight was another sign of Latvia’s move toward independent democracy.

It was the first of a planned series of seven weekly charter flights operated by the Latvian Civil Aviation Authority. The authority’s director, Anatoli Bleichik, who was one of the passengers, said Riga hoped to become Latvia’s “window to the West.”

Travel agencies in Riga and Tel Aviv are planning package tours to Latvia and the other Baltic states for $750, including a $399 return flight.

The Soviet authorities still have not ratified an interline agreement reached two years ago between Aeroflot and El Al, Israel’s national airline.

But El Al is already operating 20 direct charter flights between Tel Aviv and Moscow. They are not, however, permitted to carry immigrants.

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