Riga mayor aware of March 16 security risks

  • 2006-03-08
  • From wire reports
RIGA - Riga mayor Aivars Aksenoks said on March 7 that he had information about alleged threats 's even terrorist acts - to disrupt civic order during the March 16 commemoration events of the Latvian Waffen SS unit, the so-called Latvian Legionnaires who fought on the side of Nazi Germany in World War II.

Meeting with Latvian Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis, Aksenoks said he had been informed by security services about possible terrorist threats during the planned event. To ensure public safety, the Riga City Council will most likely deny authorization for the Latvian Legionnaires and other participants to march, the Baltic News Service reported.

Aksenoks added that he was also informed about "provocations planned by radicals of various colors."

However, Kalvitis has described the mayor's warnings as "rash," and said they wouldn't be used as an excuse to ban commemorative events on March 16. Nevertheless, the prime minister called on people to exert caution and avoid provocations.

"Security services are working very seriously, and their information suggests that various provocations are being prepared. They are being organized so that they could be filmed and shown on world television channels," Kalvitis said in an interview with LNT television.

He added that there was no official information categorizing these provocations "as terror acts," and urged officials to be more cautious with their remarks.

"An act of terror is a very serious signal. By using this term recklessly, we divert people's attention. It is clear that provocations will be organized, it is clear that the date will be used for political ends, and it is clear that there will be attempts to use this date on international level to humiliate the Latvian state," the prime minister said.

The City Council will base its decisions mostly on the Latvian Security Police's opinion, Kalvitis explained.

Aksenoks said that plans to renovate the Freedom Monument, where the Latvian Legionnaires traditionally commemorate, will not interfere with the procession, despite having already begun. He added that the renovation had to be started since there were several international events scheduled for spring.

Ugis Vidauskis, a spokesman for Riga city executive director Eriks Skapars, told the Baltic News Service that the renovations "have nothing to do with March 16," and that the commission examining applications for the event wouldn't use the renovations as an argument.

So far two nationalist organizations, Klubs 415 and the National Force Union, have submitted applications for holding commemorative events in Riga on March 16. The Riga City Council must decide whether to grant or withhold the required authorization no sooner than 10 days before the planned event.

The annual public gatherings of former legionnaires and nationalist patriotic organizations on March 16, especially the traditional march to the Freedom Monument, have caused great commotion at home and abroad despite desperate attempts by ex-soldiers to explain to the world that they are not the former SS-men.

The legionnaires are widely revered at home for fighting against the Soviet occupation, yet the Nazi connection causes great controversy within Latvia's non-Latvian minorities, which comprise some 40 percent of the population. Russia media uses the events to propagate stories of a "rebirth of fascism" in the Baltic state.

The Latvian Legion was established in February 1943, but March 16 was picked as the commemoration date because on this date in 1944 the 15th and 19th divisions of the legion locked in a fierce battle with the Soviet Army at the Velikaya river in Opochka region in Russia.

A total of 140,000 people were called up to form the Latvian Legion, and about 50,000 of them died in the war or post-war deportations.

The Culture Ministry has granted nearly 100,000 lats (140,000 euros) for renovation of the Freedom Monument and the surrounding square. News about funding the monument was released only last week, prompting speculations that the decision would be used as an excuse to ban any commemorative events on March 16.