Latvia to sack minister over Waffen SS march

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Associated Press

Posted on March 14, 2014 at 3:00 AM

Updated Friday, Mar 14 at 4:36 AM

STOCKHOLM (AP) — Latvia's environment minister will be fired for rejecting government orders not to participate in annual commemorations of Latvian soldiers who fought in Nazi units during World War II, a government spokesman said Friday.

Einars Cilinskis, of the right-wing National Alliance, declared Friday that he would attend the events Sunday in Riga, ignoring warnings from Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma.

The prime minister's spokesman, Andis Blinds, told The Associated Press that Straujuma had no choice but to dismiss Cilinskis, the minister of environmental protection and regional development, and would formally do so Friday evening.

Straujuma had called on Cabinet ministers to stay away from the March 16 events, which are expected to prompt counter-protests from members of Latvia's Russian-speaking minority. The situation is particularly sensitive this year due to the crisis in Ukraine.

"She gave him time to reconsider his participation, but unfortunately he decided to participate," Blinds said.

Cilinskis explained his decision to attend the parade by saying that a "nation that does not respect its heroes has no future," the Baltic News Service reported.

Many Latvians consider the Waffen SS veterans as heroes who fought for independence against the Soviet Union, while Russians see the march as an attempt to glorify fascism and whitewash a black chapter in Latvia's history.

About one-third of Latvia's 2 million residents are native Russian-speakers.

The march will take place on the day that Crimea is set to hold a referendum on seceding from Ukraine. Russian forces took control of the semiautonomous Black Sea region last month, and President Vladimir Putin received parliamentary approval to use the military to protect Russian-speakers in Ukraine from violent nationalists, even though there have been no signs they are facing such a threat.

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