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Last Updated: Friday, 12 January 2007, 10:49 GMT
Estonia to remove Soviet memorial
Memorial to Soviet soldiers in Tallinn, Estonia
The memorial has inspired violence between communities
The president of Estonia has signed into law a bill allowing the removal of a controversial Soviet war memorial from the centre of the capital Tallinn.

The bronze statue of a Soviet soldier, erected in 1947, is regarded by many as a symbol of Soviet occupation.

However, the large ethnic-Russian population in Estonia see it as a symbol of liberation from the Nazis.

The decision has angered Russia too. The Russian parliament is expected to adopt a statement denouncing the law.

The soldier has become a symbol of the divisions in Estonian society, says the BBC's Baltic correspondent Laura Sheeter.

Soviet troops arrived in Estonia in 1940 and it was absorbed into the Soviet Union. Nazi forces pushed the Soviets out in 1941 but the Red Army returned in 1944 and remained for half a century.

'Lack of respect'

After clashes at the monument between Estonian nationalists and ethnic Russian activists last year, the government decided that it should be taken down, and moved to a less controversial location.

To that end they proposed two bills - one which allows them to move monuments which glorify any occupying power, and the other, which was passed on Wednesday - which allows for the exhumation and reburial of soldiers' remains.

It is thought that several soldiers are buried underneath the monument, and the government argues that it is impossible for their graves to receive the proper respect, when protesters gather and fight at the site.

The statue and the remains of the buried Red Army soldiers will be moved to a cemetery.

Their plans have not just aroused local passions, however.

Russia, which does not agree that the Soviet Union occupied Estonia, has suggested that it is symptomatic of a rebirth of fascism in Estonia.

Moscow described plans in Estonia to criminalise Soviet symbols like the hammer and sickle - effectively equating them with the Nazi swastika - as "blasphemous".


SEE ALSO
Estonia removes SS monument
24 Jul 02 |  Europe
Country profile: Estonia
03 Jan 07 |  Country profiles
Timeline: Estonia
23 Sep 06 |  Country profiles

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