BBC News
January 13, 2006
Laura Sheeter

People in the Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania mare marking the 15th anniversary of mass demonstrations against the Soviet Union.

In January 1991, hundreds of thousands of people went onto the streets of their capital cities to defend their newly declared independence.

Both Latvia and Lithuania regard the events as turning points.

They are honouring the protesters who faced Soviet troops, sent to re-impose direct rule from Moscow.

And many are also mourning those who lost their lives when the troops attacked.

The days of the Riga barricades – as they are known in Latvia – began on 13 January 1991 and lasted a week.

Latvia had declared independence from the Soviet Union in 1990 [May 4 and Lithuania on March 11].

About 700,000 people – nearly a third of the country’s population – gathered in the Latvian capital, after protesters in Lithuania capital, Vilnius, were attacked by Soviet tanks and paratroopers.

The Soviet troops took over the national TV and radio station, and surrounded the Lithuanian parliament, killing 14 people and injuring more than 100.

In Riga, they built concrete barricades all over the city, and the stand – off lasted until 20 January – when Soviet special forces attacked the Interior Ministry – killing five people.

But eventually, the Soviet troops retreated, protesters triumphed and military rule was imposed.

Both Latvia and Lithuania regard those momentous events as turning point on the road to full independence from the Soviet Union.

This year, the anniversary is being marked with series of special events. Bonfires are being lit a key points in both capital cities, and in Riga will be burning a week.

Memorial services are being held in both countries and the Bank of Latvia has issued a new coin to commemorate the anniversary.