RIGA, Latvia (AP) - Latvia has become the 18th member of the eurozone, which for all its dents and bruises still represents stability and security to the Baltic country's leaders.

RIGA, Latvia (AP) Latvia has become the 18th member of the eurozone, which for all its dents and bruises still represents stability and security to the Baltic country's leaders.

The euro became Latvia's official currency after midnight local time Tuesday (2200 GMT) as New Year's rockets exploded in the skies over the capital, Riga.

Latvia's political leaders see eurozone membership as a natural step, deepening the Western integration they have sought since Latvia broke away from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.

However, polls show about half the country opposes the currency switch. Some are reluctant to give up Latvia's own currency, a powerful symbol of independence.

There's also concern over the eurozone's recent financial woes and resentment toward the austerity imposed by the government to fulfill the bloc's stringent membership criteria.