Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Call for new protests in Bauska, Latvia

A blogger on the Bauska newspaper Bauskas Dzīve website has called for another peaceful but possibly civilly-disobedient protest on Wednesday, September 30. The action will coincide with administrative hearings against four Bauska residents charged with public order violations during an unsanctioned August 31 protest against the planned reorganization of the local hospital.
The blogger urges people to impede traffic on a main highway by repeatedly (and in large numbers) crossing the highway at a legal pedestrian (zebra-striped) crosswalk. By law, all vehicles have to stop when there are pedestrians on the crosswalk. It is not clear whether deliberate and repeated use of the crosswalk for the sole purpose of backing up traffic could be considered a violation.
Several hundred Bauska residents blocked two bridges and a major highway through the town for several hours until they were dispersed by a special riot squad sent from Riga. Local police made attempts to persuade the demonstrators to clear the bridges, but apparently didn't use force or threats of arrest.
Three of the protestors facing a court hearing on September 30 are charged with disobeying police orders, the fourth, with violating rules concerning public gatherings.
Media reports say police are expected to be out in force along the possible site of the demonstration, which has been called for 09:30 on Wednesday. It is expected that protestors will raise the issue of the local hospital again, despite assurances by Minister of Health Baiba Rozentale (during a September 3 visit to Bauska) that the hospital would continue to offer reduced, but adequate health care services. Rozentale's visit to the town just days after the bridge-blocking protest passed without incident, although she was confronted by demonstrators and engaged in a dialogue with them.
A number of hospitals in Latvia are being closed or downgraded as part of harsh austerity measures demanded by the European Union, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and other lenders providing Latvia with loans to prevent state insolvency and to bolster the financial system. Bauska residents are especially upset with the closing of a maternity ward and the reduction of emergency services in a town straddling a major, heavily trafficed highway where accidents are frequent.

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