Wednesday, May 02, 2007

A view of Tallinn, Estonia a few days ago

And the battle of words continues:

Estonia Cancels Russia Talks Over Statue


Estonia's foreign minister canceled a meeting with Russian lawmakers Tuesday, saying they were spreading lies about a Soviet war monument whose removal from a downtown square last week provoked riots in this Baltic country.

The two-day visit by the Moscow lawmakers was meant to defuse a diplomatic dispute over the transfer of the Bronze Soldier statue from the center of the Estonian capital, Tallinn, to a military cemetery. But it only appeared to have escalated the feud.

"I will not meet with a delegation that spreads only lies regarding events in Estonia and whose objective is not the accurate portrayal of the situation, but rather election campaigning," Foreign Minister Urmas Paet said in a statement.

Ethnic Russians protested and clashed with police in Tallinn last week, angry over the removal of the monument to Red Army soldiers who pushed the Nazis out of Estonia during World War II. One man was stabbed to death, more than 150 people were hurt and 1,100 detained in the worst riots since Estonia regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Many ethnic Estonians consider the monument a bitter reminder of five decades of Soviet occupation.

In the next step of its contentious plan, the government wants to move bodies believed to be Soviet soldiers buried next to the statue's original site. Archeologists excavating the grave said they had found 12 coffins by Monday, and opened six of them to examine the remains.

Estonian police banned public gatherings in the capital region starting Tuesday and extended a ban on alcohol retail sales through May 9, fearing unrest on the date when ethnic Russians traditionally celebrate the Red Army's 1945 defeat of Nazi Germany.

The delegation from Moscow, which has called on the Estonian government to resign, placed a wreath of flowers at the statue's new home in the cemetery Tuesday.

One of the lawmakers suggested the statue had been damaged in the move.

"We see marks - they are masked, of course, the statue has been restored - but one can see that it has been subjected to sawing," Nikolai Kovalyov, chairman of the veteran's affairs committee of Russia's lower house of parliament, told Russia's NTV television.

Estonia denied the statue had been damaged, saying that bronze statues are made in pieces that are joined together.

Paet said the visitors were "out of line" and accused them of spreading lies.

Russia is considering sanctions against Estonia, though Kovalyov said at a news conference that such measures were "not an efficient instrument" because they would also hit ethnic Russians in the Baltic country.

The dispute has highlighted long-standing complaints about the treatment of Russian-speaking minorities in Estonia and neighboring Latvia. While Russian speakers in the Baltic states enjoyed advantages under Soviet rule, many now struggle amid a resurgence of Estonian and Latvian and inroads by English in both countries.

Original article posted here

And the other:

Russian officials lambast Estonia

Duma delegation at Soviet war monument in Tallinn cemetery
The Russian MPs expressed outrage at Estonia's action
Russian MPs have paid their respects at the controversial monument of a Soviet soldier - moved to a new location after riots in the Estonian capital Tallinn.

The statue was re-erected on Monday at a military cemetery in Tallinn, away from the city centre.

But delegates from Russia's Duma said they were not allowed to visit the old site, where Estonia is unearthing coffins of Soviet war dead.

Estonia has protested over what it calls a blockade of its Moscow embassy.

The Estonian ambassador to Russia, Marina Kaljurand, told the BBC's Europe Today programme that up to 500 young people had been "shouting, committing vandalism, writing on the walls of the embassy, throwing stones".

She said their actions meant the embassy "is not secure". The embassies of fellow EU states had voiced support for the Estonian diplomats, she said.

In a separate interview she complained that Moscow police "shrug their shoulders and say that the situation is not under their control".

Emotional anniversary

Estonia's decision to remove the statue of a Red Army soldier sparked riots last week. One Russian died and 153 were injured in the unrest.

Young Russian activists protest outside Estonian embassy
1918: Estonia gained independence from Russia
1940: Forcibly incorporated into Soviet Union
1941-1944: Occupied by Nazi Germany
1944: Soviets return as Nazis retreat
1991: Gains independence as Soviet Union collapses
1994: Last Russian forces leave Estonia
Now: Ethnic Russians make up quarter of Estonia's 1.3m people

History at the heart of row

Estonians say the soldier symbolised Soviet occupation. Russians describe it as a tribute to those who fought the Nazis.

A member of the Duma delegation, Leonid Slutsky, said the Estonian foreign ministry had told the Russian MPs that "members of the public must not attend the exhumation of Soviet soldiers' remains".

"This really blasphemous, inexplicable behaviour by the Estonian authorities won't help the efforts to find mutual understanding," Interfax news agency quoted him as saying.

Tensions have escalated ahead of the World War II Victory Day anniversary on 9 May.

The anniversary is traditionally a day of patriotism and pride for many Russians.

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov called for "a boycott of all things connected with Estonia," at a May Day rally on Tuesday.

He said Estonia had dismantled the Soviet memorial "in the most barbaric way".

More than a quarter of Estonia's 1.3m people are ethnically Russian, and speak Russian.

However, half of them do not have Estonian citizenship.

During the years of Soviet occupation after the war tens of thousands of Estonians were killed. They say their country was effectively colonised, with many Russians being brought in as workers and military personnel.

Original article posted here

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