Songwriter festival awards rioter pending extradition

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A Latvian songwriters' festival has awarded a prize to Ansis Ataols Berzins, a convicted rioter who's pending extradition from the Czech Republic. 

Berzins was awarded the 'Pan' prize by the eighth Latvian Songwriter and People's Get-together for the songs he made abroad after fleeing Latvia to escape a prison sentence for participating in the 2009 riot in Riga.

The 'Pegasus', another award at the same festival, was given to poet and songwriter Valdis Atāls. 

Berzins is currently under arrest after Latvia issued an European Arrest Warrant in April. A Czech court is to decide on his extradition on September 18.

Berzins has been convicted for participation in the 2009 riot in Riga but fled Latvia to avoid serving his sentence of one year and eight months, which was regarded as too harsh by some people.

During an online news conference via Skype in July 2016, Berzins announced that he felt let down by the Latvian state. As a young boy, he had actively participated in the drive for Latvia's independence but now the Latvian authorities want to put him in jail, he complained.

However, he did not deny that he had been throwing cobblestones at the Latvian parliament building during the riot, which soon afterwards contributed to the collapse of the government. Berzins said he had left the country to avoid going to jail but would not say in which country he was staying currently.

On January 13, 2009, a peaceful protest against the government turned into a riot and over 50 rioters have been convicted, although only nine were given real jail terms. The conditional sentence given to Berzins by the court became a real jail term after he failed to register with the State Probation Service, which was one of the conditions of his conditional sentence.

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