Estonia backs down on statue

A statue of a Red Army Soldier, which has been at the heart of the deadly riots in over the weekend, gazed sombrely over dozens of Russian war graves today in its new location at a military cemetery in Tallinn.


Authorities re-erected the Bronze Soldier at the Defence Forces burial ground –which also holds remains of British, Estonian and German troops – three days after removing it from a downtown square, provoking protests by ethnic Russians.

In the next step of its contentious plan, the government plans to move the remains of Soviet soldiers believed to be buried near the statue's original site.

Archaeologists excavating the grave said they had found nine coffins by today, but had not yet opened them.

In violence that lasted through the weekend, police clashed with Russian-speaking Estonians angered by the decision to move the memorial.

One man was stabbed to death, more than 150 people were hurt and 1,100 detained in the worst riots since Estonia quit the Soviet Union in 1991.

Some ethnic Estonians consider the monument a bitter reminder of the Soviet occupation, while ethnic Russians view its removal as a slap at Soviet contributions and another example of discrimination against Russians.

The dispute has strained already tense relations between Russia and Estonia, and highlighted long-standing Russian complaints about the treatment of Russian-speaking minorities in the ex-Soviet Baltic states.

A group of visiting Russian MPs called on the Estonian government to resign, while the Baltic country was growing increasingly uneasy about pro-Kremlin protests at its embassies in Moscow and Kiev.

"We are keeping those from the embassy (inside).

It is our boycott so that they can't move around Russia," Lev Venetsky, a ‘Young Russia’ activist, told AP Television News in Moscow.

"We think there is nothing for fascists to do in Russia."

Activists from pro-Kremlin youth groups have all but blockaded the Estonian embassy in Moscow, erecting tents on an adjacent sidewalk, holding candle vigils, plastering cars in anti-Estonian stickers and passing out "Wanted" posters with pictures of the Estonian ambassador.

Estonia's foreign ministry sent a letter of protest to the Russian government, saying "the lives and safety of the embassy staff and family members are directly endangered".

In Kiev, police used tear gas against about 50 Communist Party protesters after someone threw a small can of paint against the Estonian embassy, the Interfax news agency reported.

Police said no one was injured.

Statue’s removal ‘blasphemous’

While Russian speakers enjoyed advantages during the Soviet era, many ethnic Russians living in former Soviet republics now struggle in getting education, dealing with government offices and trying to get jobs amid a resurgence in native languages and inroads by English.

Russian officials called the statue's removal a "blasphemous" act against the memory of Red Army soldiers who helped defeat Nazi Germany.

Estonia accused Russian media of spreading lies about the situation.

"The Estonian government of Prime Minister Andrus Ansip, after these actions, it must resign.

That is the fundamental position of our delegation," said Leonid Slutsky, the leader of the Russian group of MPs visiting Tallinn.

In a separate news conference, Estonian legislator Kristiina Ojuland said she had urged the Russian group to "understand the seriousness of the situation" at the Estonian Embassy in Moscow.

Estonia's government has said the war memorial's location near a busy intersection was not a proper place for a war grave.

Ethnic Russians said the real reason was to pander to Estonian nationalists who wanted the monument removed.

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