Latvia parade set to celebrate Nazi invasion

A parade to commemorate the day Nazi troops marched into Latvia during World War II is set to proceed on Thursday after a court on Tuesday overturned an earlier ban on the event.

The march is intended as a counter-measure to the Soviet Union's May 9 Victory Day parade, in which thousands of Latvia's Russian minority participate.

Latvian Prime Minister Valdis Dombrovskis and Foreign Minister Aivars Ronis said Wednesday in a joint statement that they were "puzzled and upset" by the decision of the district court, which reversed a ban on the event imposed by Riga city council.

"The Latvian government respects human rights guaranteed by the constitution and the court's independence, but freedom of expression cannot extend to Nazi propaganda," Dombrovskis and Ronis said.

The timing of the decision is acutely embarrassing for the government, as Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman is due to visit Latvia on July 4 to take part in a commemoration of the genocide that all but destroyed Riga's Jewish population.

Nazi-hunter Efraim Zuroff of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Jerusalem called for "saner minds" to prevail.

"To celebrate the anniversary of the Nazi invasion is to celebrate the mass murder of all those victimized by the Nazis in Latvia - primarily Jews, but also communists, Gypsies and the mentally ill," Zuroff said in a statement.

Unlike a March 16 parade that commemorates Latvians who fought on the German side during World War II and which itself is a cause of controversy, July 1, 1941, was the day when Hitler's German forces 
attacked Latvian territory, which had been annexed to the Soviet Union under the terms of the secret Molotov-Ribbentrop pact.

Caught between rival superpowers, the independent Latvian republic found itself occupied first by the Soviet Union, then by Nazi Germany and then again by the Soviet Union before regaining its independence in 1991. Thousands of Latvians fought on both sides.

Uldis Freimanis, the individual who applied for the July 1 march, has said he wants the event to counteract commemorations of the Soviet Union's Victory Day on May 9.



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