Police and ambulance sirens were heard Jan. 13 in downtown Rīga after hundreds of people attacked the Saeima building following a peaceful evening protest that drew an estimated 10,000 demonstrators.
Initial media reports said rioters numbering in the thousands threw rocks at the parliament building, broke windows and set automobiles on fire. More than 30 protesters were reported to have been injured and more than 100 arrested. At least one police officer was hurt, too.
The action against the parliament building followed a 90-minute demonstration featuring speeches by politicians such as Aigars Štokenbergs, trade union officials and others. The speeches were interrupted by frequent shouts of “Atlaist Saeimu!” (Dissolve the parliament!).
The demonstration was organized by the political party Sabiedrība citai politikai and a number of other groups demanding that President Valdis Zatlers call for the dismissal of parliament, a move that could lead to new elections. Organizers had said they expected 20,000 demonstrators.
Banners from a number of opposition political parties, including Jaunais laiks (New Era) and the Latvian Social Democratic Workers Party, were interspersed with signs critical of the Saeima or of specific political leaders, Latvians Online observed. One man carried a sign professing his love for a woman named Līga.
Zatlers, attending a meeting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, was sent a letter with the demands earlier in the day.
The large demonstration began at 5:30 p.m. and concluded about 90 minutes later with singing of the national anthem. Organizers urged the demonstrators to peacefully leave the square or to head to Zaķusala for a ceremony commemorating the January 1991 anti-Soviet barricades movement.
The attack on the Saeima building began shortly thereafter. Video on Latvian television stations and Web portals showed people hurling bottles at the structure and police in riot gear attempting to push the crowd back away from the Saeima. Some people ripped cobblestones from the streets.
Windows in a number of storefronts were broken as well, and one report said the Latvian National Library’s Letonika Division on Jēkaba Street also sustained damage. One local police vehicle was overturned and at least one other damaged.
Local media reported that most of the disturbance had been quelled by about 10 p.m.
The State Security Police was reported to be investigating postings last week on several Web sites urging an attack on the parliament with Molotov cocktails.
By the end of the night, accusations were flying between rival political forces about who was to blame for the unrest. Sabiedrība citai politikai demanded the resignation of Interior Minister Mareks Segliņš, saying he should have done more to prevent the unrest. Segliņš belongs to the People’s Party (Tautas partija), of which SCP leaders Štokenbergs and Artis Pabriks once were members.
Thousands of demonstrators gather Jan. 13 in the Dome Square to call on President Valdis Zatlers to dissolve the Saeima. (Photo by Andris Straumanis)
In the foregound, a demonstrator holds up a sign referring to the Jan. 12 resignation of Culture Minister Helēna Demakova, while in the background another demonstrator waves one of several Latvian flags seen during the protest. (Photo by Andris Straumanis)
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