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Last Updated: Friday, 27 April 2007, 08:27 GMT 09:27 UK
Estonia removes Soviet memorial
Memorial to Soviet soldiers in Tallinn, Estonia
The memorial has inspired violence between communities
The Estonian authorities have removed a contentious Red Army war memorial in the capital, Tallinn, despite overnight protests that left one person dead.

More than 40 people were injured and 300 arrested during clashes at the site as police used tear gas to disperse mainly ethnic Russian demonstrators.

Russia says the memorial should not be removed, but many Estonians see it as a reminder of decades of Soviet rule.

The move provoked angry condemnation from Russian officials and lawmakers.

A foreign ministry spokesman described the decision as "blasphemous and inhumane". He said that Russia was formulating its response.

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

Sergei Mironov, leader of the Russian Senate, called for a vote on a non-binding resolution to cut ties with Estonia.

The memorial, a bronze statue of a Soviet soldier, was erected in 1947. The remains of Soviet soldiers are thought to be buried nearby.

Estonian officials said it had to be moved to a cemetery because the site attracted both Russian and Estonian nationalists.

'Not justified'

By Thursday evening, around 1,000 demonstrators gathered as police sealed off the site ahead of the removal.

Police face protesters in Tallinn
Crowds gathered to protest against the removal of the statue

There were reports of looting and vandalism, and police used tear gas and water cannon when a group tried to break through a cordon around the monument. Several police were among the injured, reports said.

The statue was now at an undisclosed location, government spokesman Martin Jasko said.

"The aim of the government move was to prevent further similar gross violations of public order, which pose a real threat to citizens' health and property," a government statement said.

Ethnic Russians, who make up more than a quarter of Estonia's 1.3 million population, say that the statue commemorates Red Army soldiers who died fighting Nazi Germany.

The statue was a symbol of occupation in Estonia and should have been removed in 1991
Kaarel, Tallinn

"The actions of the Estonian authorities are disappointing and cannot be justified", RIA Novosti news agency quoted Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Mikhail Kamynin as saying.

"International organisations should examine [the events in Tallinn] in all seriousness and take any necessary steps to cool the ardour of the Estonian authorities," he said.

But on Thursday, Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said the relocation of the memorial was a matter for Estonia alone.

"We don't consider it necessary to hold deep discussions with the Russian authorities over the internal affairs of Estonia," he said.

Police and demonstrators clash in Estonia

In pictures: Estonia clashes
27 Apr 07 |  In Pictures
Estonia removes SS monument
24 Jul 02 |  Europe
Country profile: Estonia
26 Apr 07 |  Country profiles

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