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Police shore up security in downtown Riga

RIGA, February 3 (RIA Novosti) - Police in Latvia's capital tightened security at government and parliamentary buildings on Tuesday as farmers took to the streets to protest against agricultural policy, a police source said.

Around 50 people used tractors and other vehicles to block access to the Agriculture Ministry in downtown Riga. The demonstrators lit fires in front of the building. Another several hundred tractors blocked the city's orbital road.

The farmers oppose the government's move to raise income tax from 18% to 21% and demand financial aid worth some $48 million. Farmers' organizations demanded on Monday that Agriculture Minister Martins Roze step down.

The Union of Greens and Farmers announced last week it would quit the ruling coalition unless the government help farmers endure the economic crisis. Prime Minister Ivars Godmanis invited opposition parties to join the coalition, but they refused.

Parliament will hold an emergency meeting on Wednesday for a no-confidence vote in the government.

Latvia had the worst-performing economy in the European Union last year. By the end of the third quarter of 2008, the country's GDP had fallen 4.6% in 12 months. Opinion polls show more than 70% of Latvians do not trust the government.

The economic situation in the country led to protests outside parliament in mid-January, which turned violent with stones and bottles thrown at the building.

In addition to income tax rise, parliament approved in December the Finance Ministry's proposal to raise VAT from 5% to 10% as part of the country's economic stabilization plan.

In an effort to stabilize the country's economy, Latvia agreed a credit line late last year with the International Monetary Fund and other international organizations that could be worth 7.5 billion euros ($9.7 billion) by 2011.

In late December, Latvia received the first part of the three-year package estimated at 589 million euros.

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