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Thousands mark Soviet «Victory» in Riga

Latvia's large Russian minority gathered in the capital Riga May 9 by the thousands to mark the end of World War II and the role of the Soviet Union in victory over Nazi Germany.

Attendance was undoubtedly helped by blue skies and sunshine in the morning, in contrast with chilly temperatures the previous day.

Known as "Victory Day" to some, May 9 remains a divisive date in Latvia. While many ethnic Russians, who make up around a quarter of the population, see it as a day of commemoration and celebration, most ethnic Latvians see it as the start of a harsh 50-year Soviet occupation.

The official Latvian day for commemoration of victory over the Third Reich is 'VE Day', May 8, with May 9 designated Europe Day.

Caught between Russia and Germany, more than 100,000 Latvians fought on opposite sides during the second world war.

The event will conclude with a concert and a fireworks display.

The orange and black St George ribbon was worn by many attendees.

Riga Mayor Nils Usakovs was among those laying flowers, along with the ambassadors of Russia, Belarus, Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.

The Riga event is not a holiday in Latvia and far smaller in scale than the grandiose military parade taking place simultaneously in Moscow, but a fair sprinkling of foreign journalists at this year's event suggests many will manage to turn it it into a colorful addition to their NATO/Russia tensions stories in coming days.

On the other side of the River Daugava from the main event in Uzvaras park, a small demonstration of around 20 people protested against the celebration of Victory Day outside the Museum of the Occupation of Latvia.

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