Latvians are marking the 25th anniversary of building barricades across the country to defend against Soviet attempts to quash the small Baltic nation's quest for independence.

Hundreds of people have gathered in the freezing capital, Riga, lighting torches and bonfires at Cathedral Square and outside Parliament, where in 1991 sandbags were erected to ward off a feared attack by Soviet troops.

Former policeman Renars Zalais said Wednesday that the real barricades "were the Latvian people themselves" who helped guarantee the country's independence, which it gained later that year.

Wednesday's gathering was part of a series of events this year in the three Baltic countries of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia to commemorate the end in 1991 of nearly 50 years of Soviet occupation.