Latvian faces jail for flower protest

Arifa Akbar
Saturday 10 November 2001 01:00
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The teenage protester who slapped the Prince of Wales across the face with a carnation in the former Soviet republic of Latvia has been charged with "endangering the life of a foreign dignitary".

Alina Lebedeva, 16, faces a possible 15-year prison sentence if convicted.

She made the protest against the bombing of Afghanistan on Thursday during the Prince's visit to Riga, the capital of the Baltic state. He had stopped to speak to a group of children waving British flags after laying a wreath at the Freedom Monument.

As security officers led her away she was heard saying in Latvian: "I'm protesting against Latvia joining Nato and I'm against the war in Afghanistan. Britain is the enemy."

A spokeswoman at St James's Palace said that the Prince had been "unaffected by the incident, which was over in a couple of seconds".

As the Prince arrived home yesterday after his five-day tour of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia, Ms Lebedeva was in custody at the central police station in Riga.

Vaira Vike-Freiberga, the Latvian President, and Tamara Vasilievna, Ms Lebedeva's English teacher, have apologised for the episode.

Under Latvian law, the Prince could be given an opportunity to influence the case. Alleged victims are asked if they want to testify. If she is found guilty, the Prince would be able to express an opinion on her sentence.

Kristina Apse, a Latvian police spokeswoman, could not say when Ms Lebedeva might be released, but said: "Since she is only 16, the court would likely give her probation if she is found guilty."

The St James's Palace spokeswoman said: "The Prince has not been hurt in this incident and immediately afterwards he carried on chatting to the crowds. But we cannot comment on the case any further. It is a matter for the Latvian authorities and we don't want to pre-empt any judicial process."

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