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Watch as Soviet-era obelisk comes crashing down in Riga, Latvia

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By Euronews  with AP
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The Monument to the Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the German Fascist Invaders falls during demolition in Riga, 25 August 2022
The Monument to the Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the German Fascist Invaders falls during demolition in Riga, 25 August 2022   -   Copyright  Kaspars Krafts/F64 via AP

A Soviet-era obelisk, the centrepiece of a monument celebrating the Red Army's liberation of Latvia and its capital Riga from Nazi Germany, was demolished on Thursday.

The 80-metre concrete spire adorned with red five-pointed stars on top was a prominent feature in downtown Riga until it crashed into the nearby pond after heavy machinery brought it down, as onlookers cheered and applauded.

The demolition of the obelisk -- broadcast live by Latvian media outlets -- is the latest in a series of Soviet monuments brought down after Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

The monument stood between two groups of statues — a band of three Red Army soldiers, and on the other side, a woman representing the "Motherland" with her arms held high.

The Monument to the Liberators of Soviet Latvia and Riga from the German Fascist Invaders was built in 1985 while Latvia was still part of the Soviet Union.

It has stirred controversy since Latvia regained independence in 1991 and eventually became a NATO and European Union member.

On Twitter, Latvia's Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs said by taking down the monument, Latvia was "closing another painful page of the history and looking for better future".

But Latvia has a large population of ethnic Russians, some of whom have protested the dismantling of Soviet-era monuments.

The country shares a 214-kilometre border with Russia and has a large ethnic Russian minority, making up about 25% of the population. 

On Russia's annual Victory Day, which commemorates the Soviet victory in World War II, people gathered in front of the Riga monument to lay flowers.

Latvia's parliament voted to approve the demolition of the Victory Park monument in May, and the Riga City Council followed suit. 

Work to clear away the monument started three days ago with the removal of statues. The area was then cordoned off, and authorities issued a flight ban for drones. Police temporarily closed traffic near the park on Thursday, citing security reasons.

Latvia joins others in removal of monuments to Soviets

Russia's invasion of Ukraine in late February has prompted authorities in several eastern European countries to remove symbols from their communist eras.

The government in Poland -- another country that was once part of the Soviet sphere -- said Thursday that a memorial site in neighbouring Belarus containing the graves of Polish soldiers who died during World War II is being levelled to the ground by the Belarusian authorities.

Lukasz Jasina, a Foreign Ministry spokesman, said on Twitter that the cemetery in Surkonty, where Poland's resistance battled Soviet forces, is being "devastated by the services of the Minsk regime".

The development comes a day after Poland said it was demolishing a monument to Soviet Red Army soldiers in Poland, one of at least 20 that have been removed, while dozens of others remain marked for destruction as well.

Belarus has been a key ally to Moscow, while Poland, which lies on Ukraine's western border, has been supportive of Ukraine.

Last week, Estonia removed a Soviet World War II monument from near a city on the Russian border as part of a wider effort to dismantle Soviet-era symbols. The tank replica was sent to a war museum north of Tallinn.

In 2007, the relocation of a World War II monument of a Red Army soldier in Estonia's capital, Tallinn, sparked days of rioting while the country was struck by a massive cyberattack that was said to have been undertaken by Russian hackers.