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Estonia Marks 100 Years Since Its Independence Declaration


People wave national flags in front of the Estonian parliament during a festive ceremony to celebrate 100 years since the Baltic state declared independence for the first time in 1918.

Estonia is celebrating the centenary of its independence declaration with festivities and a military parade in the Baltic state's capital, Tallinn.

The celebrations on February 24 started with Estonia's blue, black, and white flag being hoisted atop the same 45-metre-high Pikk Hermann (Tall Hermann) tower it was flown from in 1918.

The tower is part of the Toompea Castle in the medieval heart of the city. The castle is now home to the Estonian Parliament.

Like its Baltic neighbors Lithuania and Latvia, Estonia was part of the Russian Empire and briefly Soviet Russia before it declared independence 100 years ago.

The small country was occupied by the Soviet Union in 1940 and by Germany for three years during World War II.

It regained independence from the Soviet Union in August 1991 and joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

'Never Forget'

During the February 24 parade, President Kersti Kaljulaid reviewed troops, including a multinational NATO unit stationed in Estonia.

"The independence of Estonia is now better protected than ever before as we have friends and allies," parliamentary speaker Eiki Nestor said at the start of celebrations. "Estonia is part of the free world."

Prime Minister Juri Ratas urged citizens never to forget their predecessors who established the republic.

In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson congratulated Estonia and its people, saying the country “is a vital ally of the United States and our relationship is stronger than ever.”

During his visit to the country last year, the statement said, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence emphasized the United States' "unwavering support for Estonia and the region," and reiterated the United States' commitment to NATO and to the military alliance's Article 5 mutual defense clause.

On April 3, U.S. President Donald Trump is to host the presidents of Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania to "set the stage for another century of strong ties between the United States and these three important allies," the White House said this week.

The meeting will "focus on how best to strengthen our security, business, trade, energy, and cultural partnerships," a statement said.

The Baltic states have expressed concerns about Moscow's intentions in the region, especially since Russia's seizure and annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsula in March 2014.

With reporting by AP, dpa, and estonianworld.com

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