RIGA - Riga's Central Market, crowded daily with local shoppers picking up their black bread, cabbage and chicken wings, and with tourists experiencing the bustling activity, is running rife with criminal groups, claims Riga vice-Mayor Ainars Slesers (Latvia's First Party/Latvia's Way), reports news agency LETA.
"Many have asked me if we are not afraid of getting down [to cleaning it up]. Whether this could lead to shootouts, and whether we are not in fear of our lives. Yes, we are concerned about people's lives, but I hope that the authorities will prevent shootouts in 2009, and we will not see something similar to the recent developments in the taxi business," says the vice mayor.
He asserts that the Latvian authorities have been covering up criminal gang activities for years. "It has to be said that the entire Central Market is troubled by all kinds of agreements, which are often very disadvantageous [to the city], that were signed by the previous Riga City Councils."
"Let's be frank. Until now, [the police] would not touch the market with a ten-foot pole because the market is a place where contraband goods pass through and where gangs collaborate with the authorities," Slesers said. "When we got down to the taxi business, we had the feeling that the police do not want to help. Only after I asked the police chiefs whether they supported gangsters did raids finally begin," he said.
Riga's central market is the largest in the Baltics and one of the biggest markets in Europe, and world-wide. It has occupied its converted Zeppelin hangars since 1930. Latest published figures from the owner's Web site show 2003 sales at 3.6 million lats (5.1 million euros), with profits of 196.4 million lats.
Slesers says that he is not happy. "The authorities have been covering up these gangsters all these years. All the [criminal] developments at the market were directly supported by the authorities. The problem is that people in close contact with the underworld often turn a blind eye to many things," he says.
Corruption is widespread, says Slesers. "To implement all that I have planned, Interior Minister [Linda] Murniece must call all the chiefs of the authoritiesâ€¦ because I accuse all the institutions that are responsible to the minister. She must finally take action."