Mass protest calls for dissolution of Parliament

  • 2007-11-07
  • By Talis Saule Archdeacon

JUSTICE SERVED COLD: Thousands of protesters braved the bitter cold and the season's first snow to protest government corruption and call for the dissolution of Parliament. Protesters stood shoulder to shoulder, front to back, filling the Old Town's largest square.

RIGA - Thousands of peaceful protesters flooded the streets of Riga's Old Town on Nov. 3 to protest corruption in the government and call for the dissolution of Parliament.
Police estimate that approximately 7,000 to 9,000 people attended the demonstration, making it one of the largest political protests since Latvia regained independence in 1991.
Protesters wielded signs reading "Saeima without clouds" (a reference to so-called Latvian "oligarch" Andris Skele) and "Zatlers, show some backbone - dismiss Saeima," along with signs in support of the opposition New Era party.

The demonstration, titled "For Law-Governed Latvia! For Fair Politics!," was the second major protest staged against the government since it was plunged into crisis by Prime Minister Aigars Kalvitis' late September decision to suspend the nation's top anti-corruption official, Aleksejs Loskutovs.
The protest was held in response to a flurry of scandals that recently emerged 's the most prominent of which has been the Loskutovs affair 's involving the country's top level judiciary and political officials which have ultimately damaged the ruling coalition beyond repair (see story Page 1).
The rally was organized by Delna, the Latvian branch of Transparency International, with the support of opposition parties and prominent figures from the political, artistic and academic communities. Supporters of the event included some of Latvia's most well known actors, journalists, philosophers, politicians and human rights activists.

President Valdis Zatlers made a surprise appearance at the demonstration, but his speech was interrupted numerous times by calls for him to dissolve Parliament.
"One president cannot do this alone, we must all do this together," Zatlers said in response to the calls.
The president also took the opportunity to praise the Latvian democratic process and urge its citizens to act in accordance with the constitution.
"Democracy should be observed and actions should be carried out in accordance with the Constitution," the president said. Zatlers also praised the lofty ideals behind the event and said that he would like to be a "people's president."

Protestors sang a number of hymns that were symbolic of the famous "signing revolution" in which the Baltic states won independence from the Soviet Union. The use of the well-known songs garnered a wide range of reactions from the rally's participants.
While some protesters were clearly moved by the songs, others thought the hymns were inappropriate to the theme of the demonstration.
"It was different when this was against the Soviet Union. But now these are Latvian songs against a Latvian government, it just doesn't seem right to use them," one protester said.

Delna had originally planned for approximately 12,000 people to attend the demonstration. A number of protesters at the rally said that while the demonstration could still be considered a success, many more people would have come if the weather had been more amiable 's the protest took place amid near freezing temperatures and the season's first snowfall.
Some of the protesters traveled from as far as Estonia and Lithuania to take part in the rally.