Latvian teachers, Lithuanian police protest pay cuts

Latvian teachers, Lithuanian police protest pay cuts Riga  - The Baltic states of Latvia and Lithuania on Thursday saw fresh demonstrations from workers affected by the sharp regional economic downturn and subsequent hard-hitting government spending cuts.

Teachers led the way in the Latvian capital, Riga, with around 8,000 arriving from across the country to stage a protest march in favour of better pay and working conditions and against cuts in education spending.

The numbers participating were larger than expected, causing several streets to be closed.

Finance Minster Einars Repse and Education Minister Tatjana Koke met with the demonstrators and attempted to point out that cuts were necessary due to the spendthrift policies of previous governments.

However, their arguments were given short shrift by a crowd waving banners saying "Send the ministers to school" and "You need to study logic."

A new Latvian government under Valdis Dombrovskis has been in place only since March 12. Policymakers insist there is no alternative but to prune public services as part of wide-ranging cost cutting measures.

Teachers are among the public employees who have been hit by wage cuts of up to 20 per cent as Latvia struggles to balance its books as part of an agreed
10-billion-dollar bail-out package brokered by the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

Further south, in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius, police officers, firefighters and border guards staged a smaller protest against similar pay and spending cuts announced by the government of Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius.

Around 150 officers led a procession to government buildings, with smaller demonstrations taking place in the regions.

To mark the extent to which they say they are being affected by pay cuts, several officers went barefoot.

Government representatives did not emerge to meet protesters, prompting union leaders to threaten a larger rally on April 25.

Both Riga and Vilnius were the scenes of violent clashes between demonstrators and security services in January, but Thursday's demonstrations passed without major incident. (dpa)