Thousands rally in Latvia against Soviet monument

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Thousands rallied in Latvia on Friday near a Soviet-era monument, which has become a rallying point for pro-Kremlin supporters in the Baltic state, to call for the World War II memorial to be destroyed.

"Such monuments commemorating oppressive regimes are a form of pollution. Not for the environment but rather for heads and minds," Girts Kalnins, who organised the demonstration, told AFP.

Protesters could be seen carrying placards reading "Support Ukrainians" and "Our land, Our rules" and waved Latvian and Ukrainian flags.

Local media reported around 10,000 participants.

"If we finally got rid of the final remaining Soviet monuments, Latvia will finally lose that unlucky 'post-Soviet' name," said Kaspars Zemitis, a jazz guitarist, before playing at the rally.

A crowdfunding effort to destroy the 79-metre high monument, which was built in 1985, has raised more than 250,000 euros ($263,000).

The city council has given a preliminary go-ahead for the structure to be taken down.

"Over the decades, that monument has turned from a war memorial into a meeting place for those who justify Russian war crimes in Ukraine," said Martins Krusts, an economist.

Every year, thousands of ethnic Russians living in Latvia, who make up 30 percent of the population, rally at the monument on May 9 to commemorate the victory over Nazi Germany in 1945.

Most Latvians see this date as the beginning of Soviet occupation which lasted until 1991.

A group of activists attempted to demolish the monument with dynamite in 1997 but the explosives detonated unexpectedly, killing two people.