Few days after the riot in Vilnius
There is lots of reassessment and analysis is taking place in Vilnius at the moment. It is natural since the riot on Jan 16, or as I call it ‘eggs riot’ in Vilnius was a most serious political action in Lithuania since it regained independence 18 years ago. The last time Special Forces had to be employed was two years ago by calming down the Polish football fans riots in Vilnius.
As the BNS reminds the demo called by Lithuania’s trade unions drew a crowd of around 7,000 people. However, the demo ended in a riot.
The atmosphere in the peaceful protest heated up as aggressive protesters attempted to break into the Seimas (Parliament) building. The crowd at first chucked snowballs at parliament windows, later employing stones, bottles, eggs, tomatoes and even coconuts. This fusillade resulted in 30 broken parliament windows. However, claimed damaged of 2 mln Litas was reduced to more than 200.000 litas today.
The Public Security Service units, who were first only observing the situation and took the matters into their own hands after rowdy protesters started throwing smoke balls. The crowd attempted to charge the parliament building a few times, however were blocked by the officers, who shoved them away. The most aggressive of the rioters have been detained.
The BNS writes that some 32 individuals have been presented with suspicions in a criminal case concerning the riot. The police had initially detained 151 individuals over the incident in question. Detained demonstrators not suspected to have contributed to the riot will be charged with resisting police and violations of public order. The second district court of Vilnius on Jan 18 granted prosecution’s requests and arrested 15 individuals who were detained in connection with the riots broken out last Friday. Some 50 of those detained were drunk.
The Presidential spokeswoman Grumadaite said today; “In the opinion of the president, Friday’s unrest is a serious signal for the government to once again re-evaluate the burden imposed by the crisis prevention plan on businesses and all inhabitants. The president urges the government to take immediate measures in view of reducing tension in society and evade another wave of strikes”.
The PM Kubilius assured that the new ruling coalition as having held intensive communication with representatives of various a stratum of society – including trade unions – right after the Seimas elections, however acknowledged that the dialogue in question was later aborted as the BNS reported.
“It is a pity that while passing the entire package for stabilizing state finances we had to spend all our time in Seimas sittings, and many times in rather unfruitful discussions. But we saw as of utmost importance the task to approve before the end of the year and have by the beginning of this one a more optimism-rendering budget, which allows timely delivery of pensions and wages. Financing for an entire array of functions would have started cracking otherwise”. Kubilius also said that “assuming this tempo in passing legislation made it difficult to maintain those contacts. We are prepared to draw inferences from the current developments”.
As the BNS reminded the Interior Minister Raimundas Palaitis, Police Chief Vizgirdas Telycenas, State Security Chief Povilas Malakauskas and leaders of public security services and the VIP service on Jan 19 met for a sitting of the parliamentary National Security and Defence Committee, to address actions undertaken by public security services in order to maintain public order during the rally called by trade unions in Vilnius.
The riots in Vilnius are not necessarily a thing of the past, warned the State Security chief. “Assessing the situation at hand in Lithuania, I can say that yes, this can happen again, and we don’t need special services to ascertain this. This is already in the public arena, a protest rally is in the cards for February”, Malakauskas said. The small business Trade Unions are planning a meeting in the front of the parliament on 3 Feb.
The BSN writes that the actions employed by the officers amid the riot were adequate to the situation, however the extent of the unrest was underestimated in advance, said Interior Minister Raimundas Palaitis, who wasn’t in Lithuania on the day of the riot.
The minister noted the public security service squads as having reacted to the attack after rioters starting throwing a tear gas device as those previously employed by the Soviet militia, as interior affairs system representatives informed him.
The police didn’t have sufficient information to prepare for Friday’s events, in turn said Defence Minister Rasa Jukneviciene reminded BNS. “The police was ready, information was what was lacking. About the planed use of a dangerous weapon, more so than tear gas – the ‘cheriomucha’ – I found out only today. Neither the State Security Department nor any other institution had any information about this beforehand”, the minister spoke. It is interesting how come this tear gas reached the hooligans.
The most controversial aspect of the riots was use of the rubber bullets by the Public Security Service units. However, the head of this unit admitted that the decision to use the bullets was taken after the unit run out of the tear gas. The gas run out when the crowed of the hooligans began advancing towards the police officers. According to the chief of the Public Security Service unit some more than 2.000 rubber bullets were fired in duration of the riot. As he commented on the Lietuvos Rytas TV programme ‘Reporteris’ on 19 Jan the French colleagues in such a circumstance would have had fired 15.000 or 16.000 bullets.
Mr Kubilius also said that; “I am sorry about one thing, that is failure to perceive in time just how fast such rallies and demonstrations can evolve into such rowdy riots, and I stand convinced that we could have sought out better and more intensive communication with the trade unions themselves and other organizations, however I wouldn’t agree that their voice was left unheard”. Kubilius also said that he sees no grounds for resignation.
However the PM said to the BNS that the Trade Unions and other social groups should bet honest and admit that many meetings and conversations held with the government as the latter was preparing the program and crisis prevention plan.
“Of course, it is very regretful that the election in Lithuania was just in Oct and we were forced to take all determined measures in view of stabilizing state finances on the very last weeks before Christmas”, said Kubilius. Demands previously made by trade unions lacked “an actual aim to tend to the needs of the neediest citizens”.
“The suggestion put forth by trade unions to put a halt to our plan to stabilize state finances means one single thing, that is should we agree to go ahead with this, we would no longer be able to pay out pensions as early as Feb and be left with nothing other than devaluing the litas in a matter of another month. This would impose the heftiest burden on those simple workers, who haven’t acquired any savings”, the prime minister reasoned.
As the BNS noted on the other hand, the prime minister said to have found rational suggestions among those made by the trade unions as well. He mentioned; “For example that on the real estate tax is already included in our program. We will negotiate the best time and manner to implement this”.
On the other hand a demonstration of about 1,000-1,500 on Saturday called by Lithuanian trade unions in port city Klaipeda ended peacefully. The police detained around 30 individuals, most of who were drunk. The detained will be charged under the administrative procedure for appearing drunk in public BNS writes.
The disturbing news is that one of those provocateurs Mr Algirdas Paleckis who had try to ignite disturbances, is seen in one company with Mr Audrius Butkevicius. Those both marginal politicians belong to different parties. Mr Paleckis founded his socialist party ‘Frontas’ and wants to be associated with Che. Mr Butkevicius is associated with impeached President Rolandas Paksas and known as the ‘expert on the civil disturbances’. Furthermore, unofficial sources claim that the additional few dozen diplomats have remanded the Russian Federation Embassy in Vilnius just few weeks ago. However, the police confirmed that all detained are citizens of Republic of Lithuania.