Nationalists plan anti-refugee protest

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Members of parliament from the ruling right-wing nationalist National Alliance along with several public organizations are planning to stage a protest outside the main government building in Riga on August 4 against a plan to resettle hundreds of refugees in Latvia.

Janis Sils, a representative of the 'Tevijas Sargi' (Fatherland Guards) organization which has a paramilitary slant and describes itself as  for those interested in "militarism and Latvia's military history," told the BNS newswire that the aim of the picket is to "prevent a forced admission of immigrants in Latvia".

Sils claimed that most of the migrants arriving in EU member states from African are not refugees but migrants involved in illegal drug and arms trafficking, without providing the source for the claim.

"Most of those arriving by ships in EU states are young men, not families with children. They cannot be called refugees," said Sils.

"'Homeland Guards' is not the place to pretend to be a warrior. Training, hiking and competitions show who is who," the group's website declares. It also has a video showing members of the organization giving speeches while dressed in military fatigues.

Organizers expect the picket to draw more than a few dozen participants - including Saeima members, who would in effect be protesting against their own government's policies.

The National Alliance, a partner in Latvia's center-right government coalition, is also among the organizations expressing support for the protest.

Janis Dombrava, an MP of the National Alliance faction in parliament, told BNS that he is considering participation in the protest.

Asked if this will not amount to a protest against the government, represented by his own party, Dombrava said that it is "time for the government to become aware of the diversity of opinions among the government parties".

The lawmaker also criticized the government for deciding the refugee issue without consulting parliament.

He later tweeted an invitation "to everyone to participate in the protest action... AGAINST taking new immigrants into Latvia" - notably referring to "immigrants" rather than "refugees":

National Alliance co-chairman Raivis Dzintars also voiced support for the protest, describing it as a "welcome civic initiative". Dzinars is also set to call on fellow party members to take part in the picket. He did not reveal, though, if he will participate as well.

The Latvian government at an extraordinary meeting in early July agreed that over two years Latvia would voluntary admit 250 refugees from Africa who need to be relocated within the EU. The Ministries of Interior, Welfare, Culture and Environmental Protection and Regional Development in collaboration with local authorities will have to work out a policy for their integration.

At a meeting Monday, EU ministers agreed to accept 32,000 refugees, mainly from war-torn Syria. the target fell short of the 40,000 figure previously agreed.

Of that figure, Latvia agreed to take 50 for "resettlement" and 200 for "relocation".

A table containing the full numbers can be viewed here.

Speaking on LTV Tuesday morning, Interior Minister Rihards Kozlovskis said Latvia would prefer to take in refugees as families rather than as single individuals, but that he could not guarantee all arrivals would be migrants. 

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