Vladimir Radyuhin

Ethnic Russians riot in the capital of Baltic republic

MOSCOW: A major row has broken between Russia and its Baltic neighbour Estonia over the pulling down of a World War II memorial in the centre of Tallinn, capital of the former Soviet republic.

The removal of the 2-metre-high bronze statue of a Soviet soldier on Friday and plans to dig up the remains of 14 soldiers buried next to it provoked massive protests that led to Estonia's worst violence yet.

According to the Estonian police, one person died and 60 were injured as police fired rubber bullets and a water cannon at hundreds of protesters in Estonia's capital in a second night of rioting. Ethnic Russians smashed shop windows, looted stores and overturned cars. Police detained about 500 protesters. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov expressed Moscow's outrage at what he described as "blasphemy" and vowed to take "serious" retaliatory steps.

Russia's Federation Council (upper House) voted unanimously to call on the Government to sever diplomatic relations with Estonia. The lower House, State Duma, demanded that Moscow recall its envoy to Estonia and impose economic sanctions on the small Baltic state.

Estonia's Government decided to relocate the monument, regarded as a symbol of "Soviet occupation," to a military cemetery outside Tallinn.

The controversy over the Soviet monument has antagonised Estonia's large Russian minority, which constitutes roughly a third of the country's 1.3 million population and is viewed as Russia's "fifth column" in Estonia.

The Russian Foreign Minister also warned the monument row would reflect on Russia's relations with NATO and the European Union, where Estonia is a member. Russia's relations with Estonia and Latvia have been tense over alleged discrimination against ethnic Russians. Many Russians in the two Baltic states have the status of "non-citizens" who are denied the right to vote.