On August 18, several thousand Latvians protested against “mandatory vaccination”, demanding for their government to immediately change its plans. Tomas Kaikaris, the chairman of the Lithuanian Youth Association of Latvia, says that the protest passed calmly, but he perceives similarities to the wave of discontent that surged in Lithuania wrote in lrytas.lt news portal.
Wouldn’t describe the protesters as radicals
Commenting on the Wednesday events, T. Kaikaris recounted on the Lietuvos Rytas show Nauja Diena that the crowd began to gather for the protest around 7 PM, the protest was guarded by police officers.
“I was coincidentally driving past, it was a really large crowd of people, almost the entire square next to the president’s castle was occupied, police officers were present. In general, the event passed smoothly, calmly, without major incidents,” T. Kaikaris explained.
According to him, based on the laws adopted by the Latvian government, vaccinations are to be mandatory for social workers, medics and police officers. The main goal of this protest was to protest such restrictions impacting individuals working in other professions.
The chairman of the Lithuanian Youth Association of Latvia said that the picture of the average participant in this protest is similar to that of those in Lithuania.
“You could say that these are people who receive information about vaccines from non-official portals and people are, of course, afraid. These are regular people, not radicals, but they think that the vaccines bring more problems for the vaccinated and not the other way round,” T. Kaikaris explained.
According to him, around 45% of the Latvian population has gotten vaccinated so far, but the process has slowed down greatly.
“There are currently numerous initiatives ongoing, there are efforts to publicise information to society about the benefit of vaccination, how it functions and how it can save lives. Interviews are taken from people who had been infected and recovered, they recount the progression of their illness and how they survived this misfortune,” T. Kaikaris says.
According to him, businesses are definitely urging their staff to vaccinate, but mandatory vaccination would turn into absurdity.
“When the government says that it will have the right to dismiss unvaccinated persons, that’s absurd. Who then will hold those positions and do work?” the chairman of the Lithuanian Youth Association of Latvia asked.
He added that the Latvian parliament also holds controversial politicians who are particularly opposed to the restrictions.
“The Latvian parliamentary elections are next year and the opposition parties will definitely make use of it. They are demonstrating initiative in portraying that the government is unable to function or is making absurd decisions, while other parties are exploiting the situation. Currently, these political forces are mobilising,” T. Kaikaris said.
Thousands protest against “mandatory” COVID-19 vaccination
Several thousand people protested in the Latvian capital on that Wednesday against coronavirus restrictions and the government’s plans to make vaccines mandatory for most workers.
“For freedom!” chanted the protesters, gathered for the largest demonstration in the Baltic Country since 2009, calling for Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš to resign and the parliament – to abandon stricter COVID-19 rules.
Most protesters were not wearing protective masks and didn’t maintain a safe distance during the march that passed the president’s and prime minister’s residences.
The current restrictions do not include a requirement for protective masks in outdoor events. Nevertheless, the number of participants in the protest was beyond the maximum permitted under current rules.
Deputy chief of Latvian State Police Andris Zellis said on Latvian public radio on Thursday that no more than 3,500 people gathered for the protest, but overall, the event passed smoothly.
The police initiated criminal processes in regard to several persons due to assaulting a police officer and breaking the window on a police vehicle. A. Zellis indicated that there were several arrests.
Smaller violations were also recorded, enacted by inebriated individuals.
The Latvian state police also indicated that it would review violations related to non-compliance with epidemiological safety regulations.
“Our task was to bar the way for provocations and riots, which we were able to achieve,” A. Zellis said.
Around 200 people gathered at the Freedom Monument at around 7 PM Latvia time, led by politician Ainārs Šlesers whose team has announced plans for establishing a new party – Latvia First (LPV). When the crowd swelled in size, the protesters marched toward Riga Castle.
According to reports, the opposition deputy of the Saeima (Latvian parliament) Aldis Gobzems also called people to protest.
After several politicians’ speeches, the organisers directed the crowd back toward the Freedom Monument, but protesters did not stay there and immediately proceeded to the nearby cabinet building. Even larger police forces were gathered there. Along the way, the crowd of people blocked traffic, but the police did not interfere.
Around 10 PM, the protest organisers called for the protesters to disperse. Some did, but a significant number of people remained in smaller groups.
At 11 PM nearing, there were still many people next to the cabinet buildings, but around midnight, they too dispersed and the police began to free up passage for traffic on the central street of Riga.
According to data from the national police, officers filmed events in order to record violations using cameras and drones.
The organisers had initially presented requests for three protests, but they were retracted. One request was resubmitted by Tuesday afternoon, as well as a request made for organising a public event.
Police chief Armands Ruks told Latvian state television that the protest organisers will be held accountable for violations of epidemiological safety rules.
He said that these will be the persons who registered the protest at the institutions, but these are not the “known politicians” who participated in the event.
On Wednesday, the country of 1.9 million people reported 180 new coronavirus infections, with the total number reaching 140,505. 2,566 persons have died of COVID-19 in Latvia since the start of last year.
Up to now, more than 43% of the country’s citizens have received at least a single dose of the vaccine and 38% are fully vaccinated.