VILNIUS - Some 2,000 people gathered in Vilnius and another 1,000 in Riga on May 8 to show their solidarity with Estonia in its conflict over the removal of the Bronze Soldier monument in central Tallinn. The rallies, held simultaneously in several Baltic cities, commemorated the Baltic Way, a mass anti-Soviet protest action held in 1989 in which roughly 2 million Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians joined hands to form a 600-kilometer human chain stretching from Vilnius to Tallinn.
In the largest of the May 8 events Vilnius' Cathedral Square was packed with demonstrators, many waving Lithuanian, Latvian and Estonian flags or carrying banners supporting Estonia and denouncing Russia's actions over recent days.
Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas joined the dozens of lawmakers, well-known musicians and television personalities present in the crowd.
"Today we say very clearly [that] despite the fact we are competing among ourselves, our countries are together. For Estonia!" Kirkilas said, speaking from atop a Lithuanian army truck that was used as a stage for the event.
He then joined hands with other rally participants in chanting "Estonia" under the sounds of the Cathedral's bells.
The event was organized by the RePublica student society of Vilnius Univeristy's Institute for International Relations and Political Sciences and by the Atgimimas weekly.
Songs from the 1989 event were performed at the rally, and a 50-meter Lithuanian flag, also used in the Baltic Way demonstration, was unfurled.
"I believe we have managed to send a clear message that the Baltic countries stand together. But we also need a resolute European voice, the absence of which resulted in a painful experience in the past," said Justinas Pagirys, member of RePublica's board.
"We hope that people abroad will hear what's happening in the Baltic countries and this will affect public opinion and the political processes," he added.
Pro-Estonian rallies were also held in Lithuania's second largest city Kaunas and at the Lithuanian-Latvian border at Salociai.
At the same time about 1,000 demonstrators gathered in Dome Square in Riga's Old Town to voice support for Estonia, show Baltic unity and commemorate the Baltic Way.
There Estonia's Ambassador to Latvia Jaak Joeruut addressed the public and thanked the people for their support of the Estonian nation.
Latvian ice-hockey star Arturs Irbe also addressed the meeting. "I am glad to see so many people with a conscience here," he said.
Support by lawmakers was more subdued. The only members of Parliament present were opposition center-right New Era party, who arrived at the meeting with an Estonian flag.
At noon members held hands and sang the unofficial Baltic anthem "Wake up, Baltic countries."
Latvia's Students Union, nationalist party All For Latvia!, student fraternities and sororities and other organizations also took part in the meeting.
Reaction in Estonia itself was far more subdued.
In Tallinn, where public meetings have been banned until May 11, no mass gatherings took place.
BNS reported that about 30 demonstrators were seen linking hands in front of the former Press House on Parnu road.
Small rallies were also held in Viljandi and Turi.
Estonia suffered its worst unrest since its 1991 independence from the Soviet Union at the end of April when riots broke out over a plan to remove a Red Army monument, locally called the Bronze Soldier, from Tallinn's center.
During two nights of rioting and looting on April 26 and 27, a young Russian national was stabbed to death and over 153 people were injured.