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Officials trade blame for Latvia's riot

 Latvians gather for an anti-government rally in Riga's historic Old Town, Latvia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Thousands of protesters gathered in downtow...
 Damaged police cars are seen on the street during an anti-government rally in Riga's historic Old Town, Latvia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Thousands of ...
 Damaged police cars are seen on the street during an anti-government rally in Riga's historic Old Town, Latvia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Thousands of ...
 Riot police officers use pepper spray during an anti-government rally in Riga's historic Old Town, Latvia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Thousands of prote...
 Riot police block a street during an anti-government rally in Riga's historic Old Town, Latvia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Thousands of protesters gathe...

Latvia Anti-Government Protests

Latvians gather for an anti-government rally in Riga's historic Old Town, Latvia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Thousands of protesters gathered in downtow...

Latvia Anti-Government Protests

Damaged police cars are seen on the street during an anti-government rally in Riga's historic Old Town, Latvia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Thousands of ...

Latvia Anti-Government Protests

Damaged police cars are seen on the street during an anti-government rally in Riga's historic Old Town, Latvia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Thousands of ...

Latvia Anti-Government Protests

Riot police officers use pepper spray during an anti-government rally in Riga's historic Old Town, Latvia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Thousands of prote...

Latvia Anti-Government Protests

Riot police block a street during an anti-government rally in Riga's historic Old Town, Latvia, Tuesday, Jan. 13, 2009. Thousands of protesters gathe...

Latvia's government and opposition politicians blamed each other Wednesday for rioting in the capital that left more than 40 people injured in the worst violence since the country split from the Soviet Union in 1991.
The violence erupted late Tuesday after a peaceful anti-government demonstration in downtown Riga, where participants criticized ministers for the country's worsening recession and called on the president to dissolve Parliament.
Most demonstrators left the area after the protest, but about 100 of them turned violent and tried to storm the Parliament building. Riot police kept them away from the building, using tear gas and truncheons.
The rioters pelted officers with cobblestones and chunks of ice and vandalized three police vehicles. They smashed windows of boutiques, the Finance Ministry and a bank, and looted a liquor store.
More than 40 people were injured in the violence, mostly protesters but also six police officers and eight military police, Interior Ministry spokeswoman Sigita Pildava said. Police detained 106 people.
Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis told the LNT TV station that protest organizers bear responsibility for the melee, given their decision to hold the rally despite tensions over Latvia's deepening economic crisis.
Opposition lawmaker Aigars Stokenbergs, who was one of the rally's main organizers, called the government incompetent for not providing sufficient security at the protest, which gathered some 10,000 people, according to police estimates.
"What happened at Parliament was because of a lack of competence on the part of the Interior Ministry," Stokenbergs told The Associated Press.
He called on Interior Minister Mareks Seglins to step down.
Both sides agree that the initial attack on the parliamentary building appeared to be organized. Police said they were investigating who was behind the rioting, which was the worst such violence since the break from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s.
Police officials say the police force in Riga would be on alert Wednesday evening to prevent more disturbances.
Latvians are angry about rising unemployment and economic reforms including tax increases, and many blame Godmanis' center-right government for the country's woes.
The country's economy was once the fastest-growing in the European Union, but it has undergone a dramatic reversal and is expected to contract 5 percent this year.
International lenders including the EU, the International Monetary Fund and Nordic countries have pledged $10.5 billion in financial assistance to help the nation of 2.3 million recover.


Updated : 2021-04-23 05:29 GMT+08:00