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RIGA, Latvia — About 1,500 Latvians on Sunday celebrated Legionnaires Day by paying tribute to World War II veterans who fought alongside Nazi troops. Their government abolished the day in 2000.
After a church service in the Lutheran Cathedral in Riga, the capital, marchers went to the Freedom Monument and laid roses in the red and white colors of the Latvian flag, watched by police and security guards.
A few dozen anti-fascist demonstrators protested at a nearby park behind police barricades. They included Germans and members of Latvia’s Russian-speaking minority. Police said their abundant presence and cold, windy weather helped cool tensions. Seven people were arrested for minor offenses. The annual event stokes ethnic animosity between Latvians and minority Russians.
Einars Cilinskis, a member of the right-wing National Alliance who was dismissed as environment minister Friday for announcing he would participate in the procession, ignored Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma’s orders not to attend. The Jewish human rights organization the Simon Wiesenthal Center denounced the march and welcomed the ouster of Mr. Cilinskis. “We welcome the steps taken by the Latvian government against the minister who indicated his intention to participate in the march,” the group said.
Latvia was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940, by Nazi Germany a year later, and again by the Soviets in 1944. It regained independence in 1991.
In World War II, about 250,000 Latvians fought with the Germans or the Soviets. About 150,000 Latvians died in the fighting.
Nearly 80,000 Jews, or 90 percent of Latvia’s prewar Jewish population, were killed in 1941-42, two years before the formation of the Latvian Waffen SS unit.