Precede MOSCOW Thousands of Latvians Battle Police On Independence Anniversary
STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) _ Thousands of Latvians on Wednesday battled Soviet police and security forces trying to block demonstrations on the anniversary of Latvia’s independence, a human rights group said.
″Several thousand young people broke through double police cordons and fought a bloody battle with security forces around Latvia’s freedom monument in Riga,″ said the Baltic-Helsinki group, citing Latvian exile sources in West Germany.
The group cited a report from the World Federation of Free Latvians in West Germany that said as many as 8,000 demonstrators were involved in the demonstrations. It said demonstrators also fought with police in the Latvian port city of Liepaja.
Spokesman Imans Freimanis of the West German organization group said there had been many arrests and injuries, the Baltic-Helsinki group said. No figures were available.
The Baltic-Helsinki group is an organization based in Stockholm that monitors human rights movements in the Baltic republics.
Groups in Latvia had called for protests Wednesday against the forced incorporation of their homeland into the Soviet Union in 1940. Latvia became independent of Russia Nov. 18, 1918.
The West German exile group quoted a Latvian activist at the scene as saying rioting broke out Wednesday evening in Liepaja when a young man carrying the red-and-white flag of independent Latvia was seized by security police.
The witness, Eva Bitenieks, said at least one person was seriously injured during clashes between protesters and police near a cemetery. She was quoted as saying three busloads of people were arrested and taken away.
Ms. Bitenieks, who is a member of the Baltic-Helsinki group, said the rioting in Liepaja lasted about four hours.
An editor of Express Chronicle, a Moscow-based dissident journal, said he was told by Mikhail Bombim, a Latvian activist, that police cordoned off much of Riga’s downtown and stopped car traffic Wednesday to prevent a repeat of demonstrations last summer.
Earlier, the official Tass news agency reported that Alfred Rubiks, Riga’s mayor, was placing restrictions on traffic in the city’s center and temporarily changing the routes of some bus, tram and trolley lines.
Those actions were said to be due to a government-sponsored rally Wednesday to protest alleged U.S. interference in Latvian affairs.
The United States has not recognized the incorporation of the three Baltic nations by the Soviet Union. On Nov. 5, the House Foreign Affairs Committee called on the Kremlin to allow peaceful demonstrations marking Latvian Independence Day.
Protests in Riga on June 14 and August 23 were believed to be the largest unsanctioned rallies since the signing of the Soviet-Nazi pact in 1939. That pact consigned Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to the Soviet sphere of influence.
Exile sources said those protests involved thousands of people.
Ms. Bitenieks, 19, led a march June 14 in Liepaja to in memory of the deportation of 15,000 Latvians by Soviet leader Joseph Stalin to Siberian labor camps after the signing of the Nazi-Soviet pact.
Ms. Bitenieks’ father, Raimonds Bitenieks, was a founding member of the Helsinki ’86 group, a human rights group formed in the summer of 1986 in Liepaja. It organized the two demonstrations in Latvia last summer but did not issue any call for Wednesday’s protest.