Decked out in pink, hundreds of blondes marched through the streets of the Latvian capital Riga Saturday in a rally started to lift the Baltic state's spirits in a deep slump.

"We have more than 500 participants registered, including a 15-member team from New Zealand, seven ladies from Finland and Italy and 32 from Lithuania,¨ said Marika Gederte, head of the Latvian Association of Blondes.

The brainchild of like-minded local blondes, the parade began in 2009, the year the economy of this ex-Soviet nation of 2.2 million shrank by 18 percent. Saturday's march was the third of its kind.

European Union member Latvia is still locked in a biting austerity drive, giving locals little to smile about even as the economy slowly emerges from the doldrums.

Dubbed the "Go Blonde Festival", the rally has snowballed to include side events such as a Marilyn Monroe lookalike contest, a concert by blonde divas, and a pink fashion and accessories show.

Money collected during the event is donated to local charities.

"We hope to raise enough to refurbish two rooms at a special unit for disabled children. We do not have a specific sum we want to raise but we hope businesses will be generous," said Gederte.

The parade has also become a tourist attraction in Riga for visitors drawn by more than the city's fine Art Nouveau architecture, and around a thousand people, mostly men, lined the route.

Among Saturday's onlookers was Charlie Loader from Oxford in England, who had organised a 10-man stag party to Riga which coincided with the blonde parade.

"I read about the blondes festival online about a month ago, but I had already organised the trip," he said. "It's good that they give the money raised to charity and obviously it's nice to see lots of beautiful women!."

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