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2021.08.25 12:54

Police gear up for another anti-vaxx rally in Vilnius, intent on preventing riot repeat

Giedrius Vitkauskas, LRT TV, LRT.lt2021.08.25 12:54

The organisers of May's anti-LGBTQ Big Family March and the anti-vaccination rally earlier this month are planning another event in early September. While Vilnius authorities are concerned about public order, the police say enough officers will be deployed to prevent scuffles like the ones during the last event.

The rally is planned for September 10, the day when the Lithuanian parliament, Seimas, assembles for its autumn session. While the organisers want to hold the protest by the parliament building, the police note that rallies are not allowed within 75 metres.

Read more: Deep dive into Lithuania's emerging protest culture

On August 10, around 5,000 people gathered on the square by the National Library, adjacent to the parliament. In the evening, several hundred remaining protesters surrounded the Seimas building and clashed with police officers, as the event turned into a riot.

This time, the organisers should pick another venue, says Police Commissioner General Renatas Požėla, as the only site that could accommodate a big rally 75 metres from the parliament building is a parking lot.

“During the day, it is filled with vehicles. No other site, either from the river side or any other, would do without breaking the Law on Assembly,” Požėla tells LRT TV.

Instead, he has suggested to have the September 10 rally in Vingio Park. However, the organisers disagree.

“The site is chosen specifically because the parliament starts its session. To make them understand that it's their employers who have gathered to check how they're working,” says Raimondas Grinevičius, head of the Lithuanian Family Movement NGO which is organising the event.

Freedom of assembly means that it is the organisers who get to pick the time and the venue for a rally, he adds.

Wherever it takes place, the police say they will be better prepared to prevent a repeat of the August 10 riots.

“There will be essential changes,” says Požėla. “What they are – that's classified. But you'll be able to see it, there will be as many officers as necessary.”

After the previous event, the authorities of Vilnius have suspended all event permits and said they will be evaluated anew in order to assure public order. Decisions are expected next week.

“The municipality has the right to do it. Naturally, if there's a dispute, it will move to court and a third independent party will hear the arguments of both sides,” says Adomas Bužinskas, deputy head of the administration at Vilnius Municipality.

“It is important that such events be organised in line with the law and not turn into what we witnessed on August 10,” says Parliament Speaker Viktorija Čmilytė-Nielsen.

The protest organisers say they would like to meet Čmilytė-Nielsen for a discussion before the event – but rules prohibit unvaccinated visitors in the parliament.

“They won't let anyone into the Seimas without a vaccination certificate. And no one on the board of our organisation has it or plan to get it,” says Grinevičius of the Lithuanian Family Movement. “We will ask the Seimas chancellery to suggest another place.”

On May 15, several thousand people took part in the so-called Big Family Defence March. The rally was a protest against the parliament's plans to ratify the Istanbul Convention and legislate same-sex civil partnership.

Read more: Lithuanian president addresses rally against 'genderist propaganda', backs traditional families

The rally on August 10, largely organised by the same people, targeted the government's efforts to vaccinate the population against Covid-19. While there have not been proposals to make vaccines mandatory, a slew of non-essential services will only be accessible with immunity certificates from mid-September.

Several dozen police officers were injured when the rally turned violent. Some 40 protesters have been detained, 31 of them are investigated for rioting.

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