RIGA - As The Baltic Times was going to press, crowds of protesters and onlookers were set to gather outside of the Chinese Embassy to focus the public's attention the situation in Tibet.
The protest is one of three which will be held on April 9, 10 and 11. The protesters were hoping to highlight human rights abuses in China and Tibet ahead of the 2008 Olympic Games due to take place in Beijing in mid-August (see story Page 10).
Protesters and pundits have pointed to similarities between the Baltics and Tibet as a reason Latvians should be particularly sympathetic to the Tibetan plight. Both countries had a spell of independence in the early 20th century followed by forced occupations.
"The developments in the province of Tibet is a recurrent reminder to the residents of Latvia that history is repeating, as Latvia was in the same situation not a long time ago," Mikus Trautmanis, organizer of one of the protests, told the Baltic News Service.
The first two protests will focus on human rights abuses in Tibet, while the last one is aimed at highlighting the oppression of the Falun Gong religious movement.
Though there has been a popular show of support for Tibet and the Falun Gong, Latvian politicians have been characteristically evasive about the issue. The government has yet to voice any strong condemnation of human rights abuses in the country, and top politicians only say that they are "torn" by the events taking place in China.
"I am seriously considering the decision as I have dual feelings 's on the one hand support for athletes and on the other condemnation of China," President Valdis Zatlers said in an interview with Latvian public radio.
"I believe that the Tibet issue should be solved peacefully, and this is China's chance to show good will and make one step forward as protest campaigns will be held for the whole Olympic torch relay," the president said.
Though the president's representatives earlier said that he planned to attend the games, Zatlers has not yet made a formal announcement. The president did say, however, that it would not be fair to the athletes if the country chose to boycott the games.
The Riga City Council sports subcommittee has also thrown its support behind the participation of Latvian athletes in the Olympic Games. During an April 1 meeting, subcommittee head Dzintars Abikis said that experiences in boycotting the Olympics never end well.
"A boycott never leads to anything positive," he said.
The committee concluded that the athletes should be allowed to compete, while it will be up to individual politicians to decide whether to attend the Games. Abikis told the Baltic News Service that he would not personally be attending the events.
Opposition New Era party member Inguna Ribena, by contrast, has said that both politicians and athletes should boycott the Olympics as a show of support for Tibet. She said resolving the situation in Tibet is more important than "some games taking place here or there."
Earlier, Latvian Olympic Committee President Aldons Vrublevskis ruled out the possibility of an athlete boycott of the event, saying that it would not be right to mix politics and sports. The Olympic Committee has already approved a 16.7 million lat (23.8 million euro) budget for 2008 's most of which is earmarked for the Beijing games.
Riga's environmental committee has also condemned China's actions in Tibet. The committee agreed to send a letter of protest to Beijing authorities expressing their disapproval.
Committee head Dainis Ivans said that, in addition to human rights violations, there was also significant environmental damage occurring as a result of the unrest in Tibet.
Tibet proclaimed independence from China in 1911 amid the fall of the Qing Dynasty. The country remained independent until the People's Republic of China launched an invasion in 1951, easily defeating the Tibetan army to again take control of the country. China then embarked on a campaign of political and religious oppression of Tibet, encouraging Chinese migration to the country.
The Dalai Lama, the chief Tibetan spiritual leader, was forced to flee Tibet after a failed coup attempt in 1959. He then formed an exile government in India, home to more than 200,000 Tibetan refugees.
On March 10, thousands of monks and freedom fighters took to the streets to peacefully protest Chinese rule. Four days later, the protests turned violent as demonstrators began burning and looting after hearing of monks being arrested. The Chinese government responded with a military crackdown.
Officials from numerous countries throughout the world have said they will boycott the opening and closing ceremonies of the Games in response to the Tibetan crisis.