Violence Due to the Economic Crisis
In December the head of the IMF warned about widespread civil unrest due to the deteriorating economic situation across the globe. There have already been problems in Greece, Russia, and China in the last several months. Now there are problems in Latvia and Bulgaria. I am no expert on the politics of these countries and I certainly do not profess any special knowledge about this situation, but the civil unrest in certain countries is just part of the unfolding tapestry of the economic crisis. We'll see how things go. Text in bold is my emphasis. From the NY Times:
Violent protests over political grievances and mounting economic woes shook the Latvian capital, Riga, late Tuesday, leaving around 25 people injured and leading to 106 arrests.
Officers cleared demonstrators on Wednesday in Sofia, Bulgaria. Several countries have faced protests over economic issues.
A protester faced riot police officers on Tuesday in Riga, Latvia. About 25 people were injured when the rally turned violent.
In the wake of the demonstrations, President Valdis Zatlers threatened Wednesday to call for a referendum that would allow voters to dissolve Parliament, saying trust in the government, including in its ability to deal with growing economic problems, had “collapsed catastrophically.”
For years, Latvia boasted of double-digit economic growth rates, but it has been shaken by the global economic downturn. Its central bank has spent a fifth of its reserves to guard against a steep devaluation of its currency, the lat, and experts expect a 5 percent contraction of the country’s gross domestic product in 2009. Salaries are expected to fall substantially, and unemployment is expected to rise.
The violence followed days of clashes in Greece last month over a number of issues, including economic stagnation and rising poverty as well as widespread corruption and a troubled education system. In Bulgaria on Wednesday, separate riots broke out in the capital, Sofia, after more than 2,000 people — including students, farmers and environmental activists — demonstrated in front of Parliament over economic conditions, Reuters reported.
Mr. Zatlers has long been aligned with the governing coalition, so his threat to dissolve Parliament came as a surprise — and was testament to nervousness about how economic troubles in the region could intersect with simmering political grievances.
The rioting broke out Tuesday after around 10,000 people protested in historic Dome Square over the economic troubles and grievances involving corruption and competence of the government.
Several hundred protesters lingered after most of the crowd had left and started throwing snowballs and cobblestones at government buildings.
Several demonstrators also threw Molotov cocktails, according to Mareks Mattisons, a spokesman for Latvia’s Interior Ministry. In a public statement on Wednesday, President Zatlers denounced the violence, but said it was more important to ask “why people gathered in Dome Square.”
“We must not face further confrontation, we must do the things that are demanded by the public,” he said. “I refer to constitutional amendments, a plan to stimulate the economy, and reform of the national system of governance.”
Krisjanis Karins, a member of Parliament and former leader of the opposition New Era party, said the violence showed that financial woes had injected a new vehemence into old political complaints.
Protests in Latvia, he said, tended to follow a pattern of “standing, singing and just going home,” but the young protesters who showed up on Tuesday evening “seem to think the Greek or French way of expressing anger is better,” he said.
“In our neck of the woods, this just doesn’t happen,” he said. “But it did this time. Everyone is trying to figure out how much of this was provoked. Who are these people? Where did they come from?”
Whatever the answer, he said, Tuesday’s protests seem likely to force political change.
“In six months, we’re going to look back and yesterday will be a watershed,” he said. “I would be deeply surprised if it were not.”
President Zatlers made a series of strict demands of the Parliament, including a constitutional amendment that would allow voters to dismiss Parliament, and a new supervisory council to oversee economic development and the state’s use of loans.
He called for “new faces in the government,” chosen for competence rather than “their influence in the relevant party.” He said the changes must be made by March 31, or else he would propose a referendum that could dissolve Parliament.
“Only with such specific work can we calm the public down and offer at least a bit of hope that the process in this country will develop in a favorable direction,” he said.