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March 16 procession passes off peacefully

The annual pro- and anti- March 16 events passed off peacefully in Riga, Latvia, with barriers erected around the Freedom Monument, and just two people detained by police.

One man held a placard featuring a still from a Nazi concentration camp and shouted slogans in English. LETA reports that he was in a group of about a dozen people associated with pro-Kremlin politician Tatjana Ždanoka, the leader of the Russian Union of Latvia.

One other person was arrested for being intoxicated in a public place.

The procession, which commemorates the Latvian Legion that fought on the Axis side in World War II, passed without incident until it reached the Freedom Monument where the participants were met by a group of protesters and a man in a T-shirt with a slogan supporting Latvia’s Russian schools.

The man shouted “Shame to Hitler’s fans!” but failed to attract any special attention.

People in the Ždanoka-led group held posters reading in various languages “They fought on Adolf Hitler’s side”, shouted various slogans and engaged in verbal altercations with participants of the procession.

LETA further reports that Ždanoka had not notified the authorities that they'd be protesting, so police started talking with them. One of the protesters was detained after resisting police. 

March 16 is a date that always causes controversy and sparks a wave of negative press in international media.

Though it is not included on the nation's official calendar of events, several hundred people always turn out to parade through the center of Riga and pay tribute to Latvian soldiers who served in the Latvian Waffen SS Legion and fought on the side of Nazi Germany in World War II.

Controversy inevitably follows with participants saying they are honoring freedom fighters or unwilling forced recruits, while opponents say the event promotes rehabilitating and glorifying fascism.

A less controversial commemoration of those who fought in the Latvian Legion also takes place on March 16 at the regimental cemetery in Lestene.

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