Russian mobs lash out at Estonia

Published May 3, 2007

MOSCOW - Young Russians staged raucous protests in Moscow on Wednesday to denounce neighboring Estonia for removing a Soviet war memorial from its capital, and the Estonian ambassador said pro-Kremlin activists tried to attack her as she arrived at a news conference.

Sweden said its ambassador also was assaulted as he left the Estonian Embassy after a meeting Wednesday, saying protesters kicked his car and tore off a Swedish flag.

The protests were the most disorderly in Russia since Estonian authorities took the bronze statue of a Red Army soldier from a downtown square Friday. The monument, which commemorates the Soviet victory over Nazi Germany, was put in an Estonian military cemetery this week.

Ethnic Russians also have rioted in Estonia over the removal, which they see as the latest discriminatory move by ethnic Estonians since the Baltic nation broke away from the Soviet Union. The action has worsened tensions between Estonia and Russia.

Estonian Ambassador Marina Kaljurand summoned journalists to the offices of a Moscow newspaper to demand that Russian authorities increase security at the Estonian Embassy, which has been besieged by activists since late last week.

She was met by a crowd of protesters, and she said her bodyguards had to use a pepper-style gas to protect her. The news conference was delayed for an hour while police dragged protesters from the building.

Protesters earlier tried to block Kaljurand as her car left the embassy compound, not far from the Kremlin, chanting "NATO lackeys, hands off the Russian soldier!"

After the rowdy protests, the European Union urged Moscow to honor its obligations under diplomatic treaties to protect the Estonian Embassy. European Commission spokeswoman Christiane Hohmann criticized violence at the embassy.

In Tallinn, Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves issued a statement urging Russia to calm the heat.

"I turn to Russia, Estonia's neighbor, with a clear message: Try to remain civilized!" he said.