Belarus opens criminal case against Latvian officials over ice hockey flag swap

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A historical white-red-white flag of Belarus flies next to national flags of nations participating in IIHF World Ice Hockey Championships in Riga, Latvia May 24, 2021. REUTERS/Janis Laizans/File Photo

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MOSCOW, May 28 (Reuters) - Belarus on Friday opened a criminal case against Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkevics and Riga Mayor Martins Stakis after they replaced the Belarusian state flag with a historical Belarusian red and white flag in Riga, Belta reported.

The two Latvian officials on Monday hoisted the red and white flag, now the symbol of the opposition in Belarus, in the centre of the Latvian capital during the Ice Hockey World Championship. They were acting in response to Belarus' forced landing of a Ryanair passenger jet on Sunday to detain dissident journalist Roman Protasevich. read more

Andrei Shved, Belarus' Prosecutor General, said Rinkevics and Stakis stood accused of fuelling "national enmity" by taking down the country's state flag.

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Rinkevics wrote on Twitter that the Belarusian move "shows desperation and the insanity of the Lukashenko region."

Stakis also dismissed the case as "madness."

"If we are discussing criminal activities, I offer Mr Lukashenko to seek justice in The Hague Tribunal," Stakis wrote on Twitter.

Minsk had originally been supposed to co-host the Ice Hockey World Championship with Riga but was stripped of the right to do so because of political unrest following a contested presidential election last August and the coronavirus pandemic.

Latvia also showed its support for the Belarusian opposition by opting to stop flying the flag of the International Ice Hockey Federation (IIHF), rather than remove a flag used by the Belarusian opposition. read more

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Reporting by Maria Tsvetkova; Writing by Alexander Marrow Editing by Andrew Osborn

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