Latvians Riot Over Credit Crisis
Wednesday, January 14 09:40 am
Several hundred demonstrators have smashed up police vehicles and broken office windows in an anti-government protest that turned into a riot.
The violence, which followed a peaceful protest by thousands calling for early elections, was some of the worst seen in Latvia's capital city Riga since the collapse of the former Soviet Union in 1991.
Following the initial demonstration, hundreds of protestors marched on parliament.
Some tried to storm the building but were dispersed by police using tear gas and truncheons.
Once officers had control of the area around parliament, a large group of rioters began roaming the city centre, smashing storefronts and office windows with cobblestones dug up from the streets.
Windows at the finance ministry and several buildings were destroyed, and an off-licence was looted.
Rioters overturned a police van and a police car before smashing it with wooden planks and makeshift weapons.
Latvians are calling for political change as the country's economy has suddenly deteriorated.
It has had to take a £7bn loan from the International Monetary Fund and European Union after sliding into recession.
The larger, earlier demonstration, which included patriotic songs, was similar to protests late in 2007, which eventually forced the then-prime minister to resign.
However, the same four parties stayed in coalition and the organisers of the demonstration accused them and Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis of mismanaging the country.
"We have only one demand of the president: call early elections and dissolve parliament," Artis Pabriks, a former foreign minister who is now an opposition parliamentarian, told the crowd in a central city square.
Latvia was the European Union's fastest-growing economy until last year, when credit dried up and a consumer-fuelled boom suddenly ended.