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Estonia excavates graves despite violent response

By ASSOCIATED PRESS
Published April 29, 2007


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TALLINN, Estonia - Estonian officials exhumed remains believed to be those of Soviet soldiers from a Red Army memorial in the heart of the capital Saturday, pushing ahead with an operation that sparked widespread rioting by infuriated ethnic Russians.

Protesters gathered Saturday night in the largely ethnic Russian towns of Johvi and Narva, leading to dozens of arrests. But there was nothing like the violence that resulted in the death of a Russian citizen, more than 100 injuries and more than 840 arrests over the previous two nights.

The rioting has been the worst seen since the Baltic state won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

"I'm sure that the hooligans' attacks on everything we hold dear - our children's' safety, our memories, our homeland - will only further unite us, " Prime Minister Andrus Ansip said in a televised address to the nation.

He expressed regret and sympathy for those who suffered as a result of the riots, adding that the government would provide compensation for damages.

Some 50, 000 Soviet soldiers were killed by Nazi troops on Estonian territory. Estonia's Russians - less than one-third of the country's 1.3-million population - regard the Bronze Soldier monument as a shrine to the war effort, but ethnic Estonians consider it a painful reminder of the Soviet rule that followed World War II.

The Estonian Defense Ministry said it would rebury the remains in a military cemetery about 2 miles from the present location. The Bronze Soldier statue will also be moved to the cemetery.

[Last modified April 29, 2007, 01:22:36]


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