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Removal of Soviet-era war memorial in Latvia angers ethnic Russians

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By Mark Armstrong  with AP
Police officers detain an activist protesting against the demolition of The Monument to the Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the German Fascist Invaders, in Riga
Police officers detain an activist protesting against the demolition of The Monument to the Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the German Fascist Invaders, in Riga   -   Copyright  Credit: AP   -  

Latvia has started work to dismantle a Soviet-era monument that commemorates the Red Army's victory over Nazi Germany.

The statue in the capital Riga was built in 1985 when Latvia was still part of the Soviet Union.

In the light of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Latvian government has introduced a law requiring such monuments to be pulled down.

"Of course, this is a question of values," explained the city's executive director, Janis Lange. "For Latvians, this monument symbolises Latvia's occupation after the Second World War and after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, we can't tolerate it anymore."

But not everyone agrees with the new policy.

There's a large group of ethnic Russians living in Latvia. On Russia's annual Victory Day holiday in May, they always gather in front of the monument to lay flowers and hold concerts in memory of the soldiers who died in the fight against Nazi Germany.

Demolishing the monument has upset many people including Dmitry Prokopenko, co-chair of a monument support group.

"I think Latvia is a land where Latvians and Russians live together," said Dmitry. "Riga is half Latvian, half Russian, and I think that one part of the state, one part of the country should also respect the rights of the other part."

Since regaining independence in 1991 Latvia has become a member of NATO and the European Union.

Last week neighbouring Baltic state Estonia also removed a Soviet-era monument for the same reasons as Latvia.