Latvian minister sacked over 'Nazi' march

Environment minister dismissed for planning to participate in an annual event that Jewish groups say glorifies Nazism.

    Latvian minister sacked over 'Nazi' march
    Latvia's prime minister has banned her ministers from participating in this year's parade [AP]

    A Latvian government minister has been sacked for planning to participate in a march of veterans who sided with the Nazis during World War Two, according to the prime minister's office.

    Einars Cilinskis was due to take part in a parade on March 16 with veterans of the Latvian Legion, a group formed in 1943 and commanded by the Nazi SS.

    The environment minister's formal dismissal will take effect later on Friday, a spokesman for the Latvian prime minister, Laimdota Straujuma, said.

    "No minister has ever attended this event, so it is important the dismissal happens before it takes place, not afterwards," said the spokesperson.

    But Cilinskis said he would attend the parade as a Latvian "patriot" regardless of his dismissal.

    Legion veterans have staged a parade in the capital Riga every March 16 since 1991, when Soviet rule ended.

    The date marks a failed 1944 battle to repel the Soviet army, paving the way to nearly half a century of occupation.

    Jewish groups, Moscow and Latvia's large ethnic Russian community, which accounts for a quarter of its two million citizens, say the parade glorifies Nazism.

    But the veterans insisted they were trying to defend their small homeland against Soviet occupation.

    'Rebirth of fascism'

    Straujuma, who took office in January, has banned her ministers from joining this year's parade.

    There is concern in Riga that it could provide ammunition for Russian state media, which is currently claiming a "rebirth of fascism" in Ukraine and other neighbouring countries as Crimea prepares to vote Sunday in a controversial referendum on joining the Russian Federation.

    About 140,000 Latvians, mostly conscripts, fought in the legion and roughly a third died in combat or in Soviet captivity.

    Another 130,000 sided with the Soviets, of whom almost a quarter were killed.

    Moscow seized Latvia under a 1939 deal with Berlin and later deported 15,000 Latvians to Siberia. Germany then ripped up the pact and invaded the Soviet Union in 1941.

    Some Latvians hailed the Nazis as liberators even though they killed 70,000 of the country's 85,000 Jews.

    The Soviets recaptured Riga in October 1944 and remained in power until the communist bloc crumbled 50 years later.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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