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The speaker of the upper house of Russian parliament hailed
The speaker of the upper house of Russian parliament hailed on Tuesday the acquittal of activists charged with organizing mass riots during the dismantling of a Soviet-era statue in Estonia's capital Tallinn in April 2007.

"The acquittal in Estonia of the Bronze Soldier defenders... is an appropriate and just verdict," Sergei Mironov said.

The Harju district court in Estonia acquitted the monument defenders on Monday.

"We expected anything and were ready for everything," one of the acquitted, Dmitry Klensky, told RIA Novosti Monday. "However, the sentence was a nice surprise for us."

Tallinn was hit by mass protests in late April 2007 after the Estonian authorities ordered the removal of the Bronze Soldier monument, along with the graves of Soviet soldiers who fought in World War II, from the city center. In the ensuing riots, over 1,000 people were arrested, dozens injured and a Russian national died.

Estonian prosecutors said in January last year that Klensky, Dmitry Linter and Maxim Reva, aided by a member of Russia's Kremlin-backed youth group Nashi, Mark Siryk, organized riots that led to looting, arson and clashes with police.

The ethnic Russian activists set up a group called Night Watch, whose members guarded the monument.

Reva and Linter spent over six months in jail and were released on November 16 pending trial after their lawyers argued that, as holders of passports that give them permission to reside in Estonia but no citizenship, they could not flee the country.

Estonia's removal of the monument aggravated relations with Russia, which has long criticized Tallinn for discriminatory policies toward Russian speakers and leniency toward Estonian Waffen-SS veterans. Rallies were also held in Moscow, where Nashi activists picketed the Estonian Embassy, leading to its brief closure and diplomatic protests.

During the dispute, key Estonian government and banking websites were forced to shut down following a wave of hacker attacks that Tallinn said were perpetrated by Russians working under the Kremlin's orders.

The Estonian government considers the Soviet era a period of illegal occupation.

The remains of the 11 Red Army soldiers buried under the Bronze Soldier were reburied at their home towns at the requests of their relatives.

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