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More Latvian Protesters Detained; Officials Vow To Punish Journalists

March 7, 1989

RIGA, U.S.S.R. (AP) _ Police on Tuesday detained more than 30 people protesting a crackdown on an earlier demonstration. Authorities called for punishment for journalists they said are trying to drive a wedge between ethnic Latvians and Russians.

The developments were in line with the Communist Party’s growing intolerance toward a growing nationalist movement in Latvia and its two neighboring republics on the Baltic Sea, Estonia and Lithuania.

The Russian-language newspaper Sovietskaya Latvia published a directive of the Latvian party’s Central Committee accusing the republic’s state-run radio, television, newspapers and magazines of ″one-sidedness, bias, and jumping to conclusions that does not weaken but heats up the situation.″

It urged Communist Party organizations to punish party members in the media who ignored an order in January to cool the atmosphere.

Anticipating the crackdown, Latvian actors demonstrated Monday outside Communist Party headquarters, and the official Tass news agency said 26 were detained.

Hundreds of Latvians gathered Tuesday evening at the Riga headquarters of the Interior Ministry, which is in charge of the police, to protest the detentions, said one of the demonstrators, Boris Sokolov.

In a telephone interview, Sokolov told The Associated Press in Moscow that the demonstrators carried posters saying Monday’s detentions were illegal.

Police moved in and ripped down one poster that called Interior Ministry officials ″Today’s Stalins,″ said Sokolov, a member of an independent political group called the Democratic Union.

Sokolov said he and 33 other demonstrators were detained.

Tass quoted a government official as defending Monday’s detentions.

″Interior Minstry officers have nothing against meetings and demonstrations, provided the organizers comply with the law,″ Tass quoted Latvian Interior Minister Bruno Steinbrik as saying.

But it said he added: ″This time, picketers’ unsanctioned actions hampered public transport. They were asked to disperse, but some of the protesters started insulting militiamen.″

Most of the 26 detained Monday were freed without charges, but three will face administrative punishment, Tass said.

The directive published in Sovietskaya Latvia did not give specific examples of biased reporting. But journalists and Latvian activists said the party leadership was upset by news coverage that led to the adoption of limits on the immigration of non-Latvians into the small republic, and by reports that some of the immigrants were jumping queues for housing.

The journalists also have covered protests on ethnic, environmental and other sensitive issues.

The newspaper did not specify how the journalists would be punished.

Of Latvia’s 2.6 million inhabitants, 54 percent are Latvians, and 33 percent are ethnic Russians.

Latvia, like the other Baltic republics of Lithuania and Estonia, was absorbed by the Soviet Union in 1940, one year after a pact between the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany consigned the area to the Kremlin’s sphere of influence.

In January, the Latvian Communist Party chief, Janis Vagris, expressed alarm over rising tensions in the republic. He said the party itself was feeling the effects of ″ethnic stratification.″

Political ferment has increased markedly in the Baltic states with the liberalized atmosphere fostered by President Mikhail S. Gorbachev. Some residents now openly say they want to gain their homelands’ lost independence.