Linda Murniece, Latvia's new Minister of the Interior, has threatened to fire any police officer who participates in a symbolic 10-minute stoppage of non-essential work today, March 16.
The police union had called for the action to bring attention to wage cuts and poor working conditions as well as the general state of the Latvian economy. The union stressed that work related to saving lives or interventions against ongoing crimes would not be affected.
The union has, under threats from Murniece, called off its action on a day when possibly hundreds of police will be massed in downtown Riga to prevent both a march by veterans of the World War II Latvian Legion and their supporters, as well as counter-demonstrations by so-called anti-fascist groups.
Murniece's statement comes after a decision by Riga city authorities to essentially suspend the right of free assembly and free expression because of unspecified threats. The new minister is taking a repressive hard line against her own employees, many of whom may be reluctantly doing their duty in a dubious repression of basic civil rights.
In 2006, the veteran's commemorative march was stopped by building a fence around the entire Freedom Monument area, but was permitted again in 2007 and 2008, with police separating mutually hostile groups.
My take on this is that this action is not so much aimed at the Legion march and its opponents as it is to make a show of force to deter potential rioters should the first economically-motivated disorders break out later in the spring. The government was caught off-guard and scared by the January 13 riots, which may be a prelude to wider civil disorder as the weather gets warmer.
On March 16, however, the hard line may backfire as people angered by the suspension of their rights of assembly may gather to defy the ban on organized marches and rallies.