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Estonian President Urges Russia To Remain 'Civilized'

Protesters outside the Estonian Embassy in Moscow on April 27 (RFE/RL) May 2, 2007 (RFE/RL) -- Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves has urged Russia to "remain civilized" in the spiraling dispute surrounding the removal last week of a Soviet war memorial in Tallinn.

"It is customary in Europe that differences...are solved by diplomats and politicians, not on the streets or by computer attacks," AP quoted Ilves as saying in a statement.

Relations between Russia and Estonia have fallen to new lows since the Bronze Soldier monument, and bodies of Soviet soldiers it honored, was removed from the center of Tallinn on April 27.

The monument's removal was preceded by two days of violent riots in Tallinn that left one ethnic Russian dead and more than 150 people wounded. Since April 27, Russian demonstrators have been holding rallies outside the Estonian Embassy in Moscow, while Estonian government websites have been attacked.

Violent Demonstrations

Today, both Sweden and Estonia protested separate attacks on their ambassadors in Moscow, while the continued demonstrations led to the closure of the Estonian Embassy's consular services.

"There are still demonstrations going on around the embassy," Franek Persidski, a spokesman for the Estonian Embassy, told RFE/RL today. "Inside the embassy everything is calm and under [the] control of Estonian police. The embassy is still working, [but] our consular section is closed, starting [from] this morning, since the security situation is such that we cannot give out visas, nor take in papers to proceed [with] visa applications."

Representatives of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi disrupted a news conference held by Estonian Ambassador to Russia Marina Kaljurand at the office of the newspaper "Argumenty i fakty" in Moscow.

After being escorted from the premises by security guards, the protesters stood outside the newspaper's offices, shouting: "To the [Russian] soldier -- Hurray! Hurray! Hurray! To Estonia -- Shame! Shame! Shame! No to fascism! No to fascism!"

Kaljurand said after her news conference resumed that Estonia is prepared to conduct dialogue to resolve the issue "as long as this dialogue is conducted in a civilized manner," adding that "we do not and will not talk to people who shout, scream, and attack."

She added that "Russian authorities have not taken the necessary steps to fulfill their international obligations under conventions on diplomatic and consular missions," and as a result "cannot guarantee the safety of the embassy or the safety of embassy staff."

'Unjustifiable' Actions

Estonia's Foreign Ministry denounced the disruption of the press conference as "absolutely unjustifiable." Ministry spokeswoman Ehtel Halliste was quoted by AFP as saying that the protestors attempted to physically attack Kaljurand before being repelled. The news agency reported that members of a second youth group, Mestnye, attempted to block Kaljurand's car and snapped the Estonian flag off its hood.

Ambassador Kaljuran's official car being escorted by Russian OMON officers today (ITAR-TASS)

The Swedish Foreign Ministry also today announced that it has sent a strong protest to Russia after the official vehicle of the Swedish ambassador was attacked in Moscow on May 1, dpa reported.
Prime Minister Andrus Ansip has called on the European Union to help protect his country against "Russia's coordinated attacks," while the Foreign Ministry has alleged that the Kremlin is behind attacks on Estonian government websites.

In calling for Russia to "remain civilized" today, Estonian President Ilves said, "It is not customary in Europe to use computers belonging to public institutions for cyber-attacks against another country's public institutions," AP reported. He added that "it is not customary in Europe to demand the resignation of the democratically elected government of another sovereign country."

European Response

The European Commission addressed the dispute during a news conference in Brussels today, calling on the Russian authorities to fulfill their obligations under the Vienna Convention and to allow EU embassies to function properly and EU representatives to be protected adequately."

The Bronze Soldier, which honors Red Army soldiers who died fighting in World War II, is seen by Estonians as a symbol of the Soviet occupation of Estonia. The country's large Russian-speaking minority, however, sees the monument as symbolic of the Soviet Union's role in defeating Nazi Germany.

It is to be relocated together with the remains of Soviet soldiers buried under it to a Tallinn military cemetery.

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