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Participants of Latvian Song and Dance Celebration set off on traditional procession through Riga

RIGA - The participants of the XXVI Latvian Song and XVI Dance Celebration set off on the traditional procession through Riga on Sunday afternoon.

The Latvian national anthem was played and the Latvian top state officials addressed the participants, who had gathered at the Freedom Monument in the Riga center.

The participants of the Song and Dance Celebration will walk 1.8 kilometers from the Freedom Monument to the Skonto Stadium where a concert will take place.

The procession is headed by the chief conductors, chief choreographers and the organizers of the celebration, including representatives of the Culture Ministry and the Latvian National Culture Center. As usual, large crowds have turned out in the streets of Riga to watch the procession.

Latvian President Raimonds Vejonis said that through the times Latvia had kept its most precious values - folk songs, folk dances and freedom. "This celebration is the greatest gift to our Latvia on its centenary. This gift will bring together all generations and strengthen our spirit," he said.

Latvian parliament speaker Inara Murniece (National Alliance) said that Latvians were singing when they founded their own country and they were singing when they won back Latvia's independence. "Songs always held us together, gave us strength and showed us the way to tomorrow. Songs were our shield during the Soviet occupation. Through songs, we passed our spiritual heritage onto our children and grandchildren. We know that songs will be forever and Latvia will be forever," she said.

Latvian Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis (Greens/Farmers) said that 45,000 participants from all over Latvia would be walking in the procession today. "This is where we feel our pride, our love and our strength. This is where we see that we can accomplish much more than we ourselves might sometimes think. May every step made by each of the participants be a step towards our future! May Latvia be forever, may our songs be forever, and may our state be forever," he said.

Culture Minister Dace Melbarde (National Alliance) wished the participants of the Song and Dance Celebration to remain joyful throughout the week-long event, stressing that folk songs and folk dances will make everyone great and great people make for great Latvia.

As reported, the XXVI Song and XVI Dance Celebration is under way in Latvia from June 30 to July 8. The number of the participants has reached a new record-high this year - a total of 43,219 people representing 1,788 choirs and dance groups from almost all Latvian municipalities and from Latvian communities in 21 world countries.

The Song and Dance Celebration program in Riga this year comprises 65 events to be held at 25 venues, and attendance will be free at most of those concerts or 44.

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