Flower girl faces 15 years in jail

  • 2001-11-15
  • Leah Bower
RIGA - A carnation-wielding schoolgirl who whacked Britain's Prince Charles during a tour of the Baltic states could face up to 15 years in prison, despite a wave of protest from abroad.

Sixteen-year-old Alina Lebedeva told reporters after the Nov. 8 attack that she hit the prince in protest against the war in Afghanistan and NATO enlargement.

"Britain is the enemy of the world," she exclaimed, before being bundled into a police car close to the Freedom Monument, where the heir to the British throne and President Vaira Vike-Freiberga had completed a wreath-laying ceremony.

This was not the first hitch in the prince's packed six-day schedule. An anthrax false alarm in the Lithuanian Parliament almost prevented him from addressing MPs there, while in Estonia he was snubbed by young celebrities who failed to turn up to a reception.

But it was the flower attack that caught the world's imagination, with publications as far away as Japan anxious to get the details.

Latvian security police are assembling evidence they believe will lead to a charge of endangering the life and health of a foreign official - punishable under Latvian law by up to 15 years in prison for adults and minors alike.

Latvian security police deputy chief Didzis Smitins said the flowery slap was no innocent prank, but a real threat to the prince.

"I see it as a very serious incident," said Smitins, adding that Lebedeva deserves to serve some time in prison.

A spokesman for St. James' Palace, Charles' official residence in London appealed for Lebedeva to be treated leniently, telling The Daily Express newspaper, "It was an unfortunate but trivial incident which did not affect the prince ... and we hope and trust that the Latvian authorities will take that into account when looking into this case."

The prince's tour marked 10 years of renewed relations between Britain and the Baltic states. "My visit will help symbolize Britain's wholehearted support of their preparations" for joining the European Union and NATO, Prince Charles wrote in Britain's Daily Telegraph on Nov. 5.

The day after the incident Charles traveled to the eastern Latvian town of Daugavpils - usually absent from the itineraries of visiting dignitaries - to learn about British-funded development projects in an area that is among the poorest in any of the countries applying for EU membership.

Lebedeva's mother was waiting to apologize to the prince, while her father has appealed for leniency as well.Lebedeva was released from custody Nov. 12 under orders to report daily to the Daugavpils police and not to meet with members of the pro-communist National Bolshevik movement, which she told reporters she supported.

The only child of two music teachers, Lebedeva is an emotional loner upset by the economic condition of Latvia and Daugavpils in particular, said teachers at Secondary School No. 9, the English-language school Lebedeva attends.

"It was a real shock," said teacher Inna Yermachkova, who taught her last year. "She's strange, but I didn't think she was this strange."

Lebedeva tends to laugh at inappropriate moments during lessons, has few friends and gets mixed grades, she added. Her only hobby is listening to rock music and her best subject is English.

But the student with a talent for languages may not stay long at the school. After legal proceedings are concluded, administrators at Secondary School No. 9 will decide if she should be expelled.

Yermachkova believes Lebedeva must have been encouraged in the attack by others. "She's a child. As a teenage girl she's easily influenced by other people," she said.

Vladimir Linderman, head of the Latvian branch of the National Bolshevik movement, said his organization was "proud" of Lebedeva's actions and would take steps to prevent her being charged.

"Should we need to attract the attention of the whole world to Latvia for that purpose, it will be done," he said.

The Baltic Times' office has received a deluge of letters from the United Kingdom and the United States calling for Lebedeva's release.