4 Suspects Go on Trial Over Riots in Estonia

APFrom left, Reva, Linter and Sirok attending the trial in Tallinn on Monday.
TALLINN, Estonia -- Four ethnic Russians accused of organizing riots last year in response to the removal of a Soviet war monument in Estonia's capital went on trial on Monday.

Prosecutors accuse the four activists of planning and organizing the unrest in Tallinn that occurred over three days late in April.

The trial is expected to last several months. If convicted, the defendants face up to five years in prison.

The trial began with reading the indictment and hearing pleas from the accused, court spokeswoman Dagne Hanschmidt said. The suspects are Dmitry Linter, Maxim Reva, Dmitry Klensky and Mark Sirik. They pleaded not guilty.

The charges said the first three were leaders of a Russian activist group in Estonia, Night Watch, while the fourth is head of the Estonian chapter of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi.

The unrest in April coincided with attacks on Estonian web sites, some of which the authorities said they traced to Russian government servers. Russia has denied any involvement.

Estonian news providers reported renewed disruption to their services over the weekend before the opening of the trial.

Tonu Pedaru, editor-in-chief of the Delfi news portal, said the connection to servers abroad was cut on Friday. "From yesterday, Sunday afternoon, the connection has been restored," he said.

Estonia's computer emergency response team said the Friday incident was a denial of service attack from machines around the world. This involves repeated requests to a web site, forcing it to crash or become paralyzed. This was the method used in April.

The Estonian events raised the profile of the concept of a cyberwar, involving attacks on increasingly vital Internet infrastructure. Military alliance NATO also took up the issue.

April's unrest began after the government announced plans to relocate a Soviet World War II memorial from downtown Tallinn to a military graveyard three kilometers away.

In the ensuing melee, one person died and more than 100 were injured, including two dozen police. More than 1,000 people were arrested. The Finance Ministry estimated the damage at 25 million kroons ($2.4 million).

Prosecutors say the rioting was planned well in advance and was not a spontaneous reaction to the memorial's removal. They say the defendants began plotting in mid-2006, when the government first discussed the memorial. Prosecutors also accuse the Russian government of providing them with financial support, a charge that Russian authorities have denied.

Members of Estonia's Russian-speaking minority, as well as Moscow, said relocating the monument was an affront to the memory of Soviet soldiers who died fighting Nazi troops in Estonia. To many ethnic Estonians, however, the statue was a bitter reminder of the hardships they endured under five decades of Soviet occupation.

The Estonian government justified the move by saying the cemetery was a more appropriate location for a war memorial.

Ethnic Russians make up about 25 percent of Estonia's population of 1.3 million.

AP, Reuters