Riots in Latvia Leave Dozens Injured

ReutersDemonstrators clashing with Latvian riot police in front of the parliament building in central Riga on Tuesday night.
RIGA, Latvia -- 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 the 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.

Roman Koksarov / AP
People passing police cars damaged in rioting in Riga on Tuesday night.
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 the parliament was because of a lack of competence on the part of the Interior Ministry," Stokenbergs said.

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.

Police officials say the police force in Riga would be on alert Wednesday evening to prevent more disturbances.