Latvia asks Belarus be dropped from hosting joint World Hockey Championship

Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņš said on August 17 that after recent events in Belarus, he sees no possibility for Latvia to hold next year’s World Ice Hockey Championship jointly in the Latvian capital Riga and Belarus’ capital Minsk.

Following an emergency meeting of the Latvian government to discuss developments in Belarus, which shares a 172 kilometer border with the NATO and European Union (EU) member, Karins called for talks with the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF) about moving the championship elsewhere.

Nils Ušakovs, mayor of Riga at the time (right) and a Belarus official shake hands on the planned joint World Hockey Championship to be held in the Latvian capital and Minsk (Photo: Belarus.by)

He indicated Latvia would be willing to host the games together with any other country in the IIHF other than Belarus. However, if Belarus is not dropped from hosting the World Championship by the IIHF “and if the situation in Belarus does not change, the government could consider Latvia’s withdrawal from organizing the 2021 championship,” Kariņš said.

Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs in a slightly more conciliatory tone said that the World Championship could be held as planned “if there was a political turnabout” in Belarus

It had been planned to have championship games played in Riga and Minsk in May 2021. Both countries have invested resources in preparing sites and facilities for the games. Latvia last hosted a World Hockey Championship in 2006.

Ready to host Belarus refugees

Following the August 17 government meeting, Kariņš and Rinkēvičs also told journalists that Latvia was prepared to accept political refugees from Belarus, although the Foreign Minister said it was unlikely there would be a large refugee flow.

While the situation remained tense in the neighboring country of 9.48 million, the days leading up to the Latvian government meeting saw a release of thousands of detainees in Belarus, many of them showing injuries from beatings and torture. There was also an apparent end to repressive violence by the authorities as a crowd of up to 200 000 gathered in Minsk on August 16 to demand incumbent President Alexander Lukashenko’s resignation.

The Latvian government also announced it was allocating EUR 175 000 to aid “civil society” in Belarus, with the funds to be used for joint projects by Latvian non-governmental organizations with their counterparts in Belarus.

Belarus ambassador summoned to explain aggression allegations

The Latvian Foreign Ministry also summoned the ambassador of Belarus in Latvia to explain statements by Lukashenko and other Belarus officials that Latvia was planning military aggression against its neighbor. According to social media, Belarus TV showed old footage of US Marines staging a landing exercise on a Latvian beach to support its allegations.

The youth social activist organization Protests.lv and other activist groups announced they were organizing a march on August 22 and 23 along the Latvian and Belarus border to commemorate the 1989 Baltic Chain. The marchers are asked to go along the border from the town of Zilupe (where there is a “triple” border intersection between Latvia, Russia and Belarus) on August 22 and then cross into Lithuania to joint a human chain between Vilnius and the border with Belarus.

Lithuania has been sheltering Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, the leader of the opposition in Belarus who ran against Lukashenko in the disputed presidential election. She is now calling for the formation of a transitional council to take over if Lukashenko resigns and to organize new elections. Tikhanovskaya ran for president in place of her husband, who was arrested for entering his candidacy.

A freelance journalist based in Riga, Latvia who has covered the country and region for 20 years. Speak native Latvian and English, fluent Swedish and German.

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