Large-scale protest against Saeima turns violent

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.

Protests par Saeimas atlaišanu

Thousands of demonstrators gather Jan. 13 in the Dome Square to call on President Valdis Zatlers to dissolve the Saeima. (Photo by Andris Straumanis)

13.janvāra demonstrācija

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)

Andris Straumanis is a special correspondent for and a co-founder of Latvians Online. From 2000–2012 he was editor of the website.

4 thoughts on “Large-scale protest against Saeima turns violent

  1. No one can rip a cobblestone out of the street without having the necessary equipment with them. This was a planned and organized event, and I hope that the book is thrown at every single person who was guilty of the offense.

  2. Event organizers Artis Pabriks, Aigars Štokenbergs, Maira Dzelzkalēja, Egons Liepiņš, and police union honcho Agris Sūna (who bragged that he and a thousand of his fellow officers attending the event would ensure order) all ought to be frogmarched by the Security Police and put in the pokey for a very long time. These people created the conditions for a riot and did little or nothing to stop the violence.

  3. One of the very basic rights in a democracy is the one that allows its citizens the right to be able to protest about situations, the government’s actions or inactions or other worthy concerns in a responsible manner. Democracy also requires responsibilities of its citizens that accompany these rights and that is that violence is not an accepted norm for protest. Those persons who organized the violence that took place recently at the Parliament Buildings have waived their rights to protest anything. Violent demonstrations serve only to further inflame passions which then lead to further disruption and just plain hooliganism. This solves absolutely nothing. The simple fact that this Saeima has been a do-nothing parliament at the expense of the people is frustrating to say the least. For government to work for the people, those elected are required to forget about their own egos and infighting and forge the necessary requirements that makes the country a better place in which to live and earn a living. The very old and the very young and everyone in between depend on its elected officials to do the right thing. The will of the people is paramount in a democracy and the Saeima should amend the constitution to recall an inactive and negligent Saeima. Conversely, a plea to the elected representatives in the present Saeima is, get your act together, stop fighting like children and do something to help the people in a time of monetary crisis and productivity. If not, none of you deserve to be re-elected, for anything, not even to guard the front door of the Parliament Building. In addition, it is necessary to add, that twisted behaviour like the recent violence is definitely not conducive to tourism, one of Latvia’s achievements. Constructive discourse is always the better way and it is hoped that the hooligans who orchestrated the violence learn that, sooner, rather than later.

  4. If you have a look at some of the videos you can see that you can kick out a cobblestone with your boots – no crowbar in sight… not saying it wasnt organised just the cobblestone isnt the smoking gun.

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