Nearly a half century after the late dictator Josef Stalin ordered thousands of Latvians sent to Siberia, the Soviet government has ended its official silence on the the brutal deportation.

Flower-laying ceremonies were held Tuesday at several monuments in the Latvian capital of Riga, the official Soviet news agency Tass reported.More than 30,000 Latvian citizens were forcibly uprooted in 1941, one year after Soviet troops occupied the Baltic republic. Latvian emigre organizations say 1,300 people were executed in 1941 and 290,000 were forced out during several waves of deportations over the subsequent decade.

The United Nations has never recognized the Soviets' designation of Latvia as one of the country's 15 republics.

"In solemn silence, people placed flowers at the Monument of Freedom, near which marched a parade of the Latvian Corps - which as part of the Red Army brought the Latvians' liberation from German fascism in 1944," Tass said in a dispatch from Riga. "Among the participants . . . were many aged people, those who had endured from the times of Stalinism."

The news agency reported smaller ceremonies in Lithuania and Estonia, neighboring Baltic states whose residents also suffered under the brutal policies of Stalin.

Tass said the ceremonies were held to protest "the unlawful act" that forced "thousands of families" to leave the region and "to honor the memory of victims of Stalin's repressions."

The news agency noted that the deportations to Siberian labor camps - where many Baltic residents died in harsh conditions - were being marked "for the first time."

Tass said "more than 31,000 deportees" were victimized in Latvia, but it was not clear whether the figure covered the entire decade or only 1941, when emigre sources say 17,000 Latvians were brutally deported during the single night of June 13.

"We decided to give an opportunity to all citizens of the republic to revere the memory of all those who fell victim to arbitrary actions during Stalin's personality cult," Tass quoted Riga city chairman Alfred Rubiksas as saying.

The central government's acknowledgment of the Latvian deportations is part of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's campaign to discredit Stalin's 29-year rule, which ended with his death in 1953.