Riga rocked by riots

  • 2009-01-14
  • By Kate McIntosh

RAMPANT DESTRUCTION: Rioters smashed numerous police cars throughout the night, injuring 10 officers. Most of the people that participated in the riots were young and under the influence of alcohol. More than 100 rioters were detained.

RIGA - Riga is reeling in the wake of mass riots following what began as a peaceful demonstration on Jan. 13 calling for parliament to be dissolved.

Riga's historic Old Town appeared more warzone than tourist attraction as several hundred youths went on a rampage, attempting to force their way into the parliament building and destroying nearby property.
In unprecedented scenes of violence, not seen since the struggle for independence, mobs of youths destroyed several military vehicles, looted stores and hurled rocks at police.
Groups of intoxicated youth, many with their faces covered, could be seen drinking and using drugs while posing for photographs with the smashed vehicles.It is understood police detained more than 100 people during the riots.

Earlier more than 10,000 people packed Riga Dome Square for a demonstration organized by opposition party Society for Other Politics and a handful of non-governmtental organizations.
Protesters called on President Valdis Zatlers to dissolve parliament and announce fresh elections.

Riga erupts
State Police Riga Regional Department spokesman Edgars Dudko told The Baltic Times several aggressive splinter groups made their way to the parliament building in Jekaba Street following the protest's conclusion, sparking mass riots.

Protesters shouting anti-government slogans converged on parliament and began pelting police with glass bottles, snowballs and cobblestones, injuring several officers and shattering the windows of Parliament.
Dudko said Riga's entire police force 's including officers from the city's municipal, state and military units 's were mobilized to calm the unrest.

As the violence intensified police were forced to use tear gas and rubber bullets to subdue the mob.
Police also made attempts to disperse protesters, cordoning off many of Riga's narrow streets in a bid to contain the riots, which continued for more than three hours.
"We have a government that is poison. If we leave them where they are then all of Latvia will be poisoned….We want something better for ourselves, for Latvia," said Karlis Kinderis, a 22-year-old protester.
The police spokesman said several people injured during Tuesday's violent outbreak were hospitalized, including a number of police officers.

Dudko declined to comment on speculation that the violent outpouring was pre-planned by extremist elements.
However, he said police were satisfied their response was adequate.
"We were ready for such a situation to happen, although we had no information that there would be definite violence," the spokesman said.
"There are many unknowns and we will work to investigate if this was organized and planned before [the protest]," he said.

The events followed a police probe into a public appeal posted on an internet Web site ahead of the Jan. 13 protest, urging Latvians to overthrow the government in a "violent coup."
In an online statement, the unknown authors encourage participants to arm themselves with pitchforks and petrol bombs.
The posts also included instructions on how to make so-called Molotov cocktails.

Calm start
Tuesdays public rally, which included musical performances and speeches by key union and opposition figures, gave little clue to the chaos that was to follow.

The demonstration is among the largest in Latvia's recent history, with people across the country traveling to Riga to attend.
Participants waved Latvian flags and placards, many of them lampooning Finance Minister Atis Slakteris' disastrous interview with Bloomberg television weeks before.
Protesters blame the current government and its ruling politicians for the devastating economic crisis currently gripping Latvia.

"We need a government that cares about the people. This government, all they care about is money. They don't do anything to help the people," said Riga builder Valdis Kalnaos, who took part in the protest.
Pensioners, students, farmers, police officers and firefighters were among those in the crowd voicing support for the government's immediate dismissal.

However, the general overall mood was one of solidarity 's not violence.
In a speech delivered at the rally Artis Pabriks, a leading member of the Society for Other Politics, said the current government had failed the Latvian people and should stand aside.
"People who do not listen to the voice of the nation should not be in power today," he said.
Krisjanis Karins, spokesman for opposition party New Era said public resentment towards the current government ran deep.

He said further mass demonstrations across the country were likely should the president fail to initiate fresh elections.
"What has become clear is that we have an elected parliament who does not seem at all to represent the will of the majority of people. The best way to address that is to give voters a fresh chance to vote in a new mix and end the abysmal governing of this country," said Karins.
"This is just the beginning of a bigger change…We should stand by side each other until the job is done," he said.

Protest organizers have since condemned the violent uprising, saying they had no role in planning or coordinating the mass riots.
Police are expected to conduct a full investigation into the violent outpouring.