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Russia has raised the issue of the removal of Soviet WWII memorials in countries freed from Nazi occupation with the UN
Russia has raised the issue of the removal of Soviet WWII memorials in countries freed from Nazi occupation with the UN, Russia's envoy to the UN said Wednesday. "Russia, which paid an enormous price for victory over Nazism, cannot and will not look on as certain countries launch campaigns to dismantle monuments to Soviet soldiers, who gave their lives for the freedom not only of their own people but also of the entire world," Boris Malakhov said. He said it is crucial to "avert any attempts to rehabilitate Nazi crimes and revive neo-Nazism in the world, such as by the removal of monuments to Soviet liberators in certain countries." The Russian statement comes amid the removal of a controversial Soviet-era WWII monument in central Tallinn. The memorial was removed from Tallinn's central square Thursday night and is a breaking point in a long-standing dispute with Russia over monuments to Soviet soldiers, whom many in Estonia consider to have been occupiers. The removal was met with protests, which later turned into riots. Clashes with police left one dead and over 150 injured, with more than 1,000 arrested. Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protestors opposed to the government's decision to exhume the remains of 13 Soviet soldiers who died liberating Estonia from the Nazis in 1944 and who were buried at the site three years later. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Moscow, which has vehemently opposed the monument's removal, was outraged by "such desecration and the methods used to disperse the protestors who tried to protect the shrine and memory of Europe's liberators from Nazism." The European Commission said it was sorry about Estonian police actions against protestors, but made no comment on the dismantling of the Soviet monument. Rene van der Linden, the chairman of the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe, expressed his concern over the situation in Tallinn and the Estonian authorities' decision to remove the statue. Russia's upper house of parliament called for breaking diplomatic ties with Estonia over the removal, while the lower house urged that economic sanctions be taken against the Baltic country. Legislators also called on Russian authorities to secure condemnation from international organizations such as the UN, the Council of Europe, the OSCE, the CIS and the Russia-NATO Council. A group of Russian MPs who visited Tallinn May 1 to study the situation on the ground, will submit their report to the State Duma May 10. Police reinforcements have been brought in to protect Estonian Embassies in Moscow and St. Petersburg. More than 50 protesters have gathered in front of the embassy building in Moscow, with 10 of them clad in WWII uniforms, but the Russian pro-Kremlin political youth movement Nashi (Ours) said later that some 1,500 people have already gathered. The protesters announced that their rally will last indefinitely or until Estonia apologizes for what it has done to the monument in Tallinn. Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet told his Russian counterpart in a telephone conversation that he was deeply concerned with the development of the situation in front of the Estonian Embassy in Moscow and asked him to reinforce security at the diplomatic mission. Estonian authorities said Tuesday the exhumation of the soldiers' remains had been completed, with 12 graves located at the site. They will later be reburied at a military cemetery in central Tallinn. The Estonian parliament recently passed laws allowing the removal of Soviet monuments and the exhumation of Soviet soldiers, claiming that monuments that encourage social divisions must be removed. The move followed clashes between ethnic Russians and Estonian nationalists at the Soviet-era monument. Russia has repeatedly drawn the European Union's attention to attempts by Estonia, which declared its independence from the Soviet Union in the early 1990s and joined NATO and the EU in 2004, to glorify Nazi Germany, including by allowing parades by former Nazi SS fighters. Moscow has also harshly criticized Estonia's discriminatory policies with respect to ethnic Russians and their descendents, who moved to the republic following its annexation by the Soviet Union in 1940. Many members of Estonia's Russian community are denied citizenship and employment rights, and cannot receive an education in their native language. The human rights group Amnesty International condemned the situation in the Baltic country, and called on its leadership to respect the rights of ethnic Russians
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