Nationalists in Latvia and Estonia hope the independence referendums they hold Sunday will duplicate one approved by Lithuanian voters and unite the Baltic nations in their march away from the Soviet Union.

The votes represent a pre-emptive strike against a March 17 Kremlin-ordered nationwide referendum asking citizens if they want to preserve the union.Approval of independence would be "a good starting point for the national Supreme Soviet to recognize our declaration of independence," Latvian President Anatolijs Gorbunovs said late Saturday.

"People of all nationalities living in Latvia have to understand that only a state created by ourselves in an independent and democratic way can secure a national consensus," he said.

"One important reason (for the votes) is to have all three Baltic states moving in the same direction in their course for restoring independence," said Juris Dobelis, a Latvian legislator and coordinator of the referendums.

Dobelis spoke to reporters Friday in Latvia's parliament building, which is surrounded by walls of huge concrete blocks and sandbags. The separatist government erected the barricades following the January crackdown by Soviet troops that left 22 people dead in Lithuania and Latvia.

Dobelis said even though his republic's poll is non-binding, it had "political and tactical" significance.

"We decided to show in spite of the fact that after World War II, more than a million immigrants were flooded into Latvia (by the Kremlin), that we can even find in the midst of these immigrants people who support the independence of democratic Latvia," Dobelis said.

Meanwhile in Moscow, lawmakers tightened rules on foreign currency in an effort to curtail the use of U.S. dollars in the Soviet economy.

The legislators said the new rules approved Friday made no major changes in financial laws but signaled their anxiety over "dollarization," the widening use of the U.S. currency in both official and underground transactions.

Foreign businesses and joint ventures will continue to operate as exceptions and be allowed to accept dollars and other Western currencies, an official said.