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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Nearly 1,000 Stripped of Estonian Citizenship

TALLINN, Estonia -- The citizenship of nearly 1,000 residents, mainly Russians, has been canceled because they secured passports with faulty papers after Estonia regained independence from Moscow in 1991, officials said Friday.

The Citizenship and Migration Board issued the cancellations over the past several months though many of those affected are only now receiving letters notifying them, said Heikki Kirotan, the body's spokesman.

Out of 400,000 Russian speakers in the country of 1.4 million, only about 100,000 have Estonian citizenship -- with most of the rest remaining stateless, carrying residency passes as their main identification. Most Russians did not qualify for automatic citizenship, granted only to those born in Estonia during its 1920-40 period of independence, or to their descendants. Moscow says the rule disenfranchised later Russian settlers.

This is the first large-scale cancellation of citizenship and many Russians were angered.

"It's so offensive. I've been crying for three days since I got the letter," said Nadezhda Marks, an 81-year-old Russian who has lived in the capital Tallinn for 54 years, quoted Friday by a leading Estonian daily, Eesti Paevaleht.

Marks said she had received citizenship 10 years ago on the grounds her husband had citizenship. But she was told this week the passport was issued by mistake since her husband was a citizen by naturalization -- not birth.

Kirotan said the cancellations should not greatly change the lives of those affected, saying nearly all should be able to at least get permanent residency.

Permanent residents are entitled to virtually the same benefits as citizens, including pensions -- but cannot vote in national elections. Kirotan said those who lost their citizenship could try to become naturalized citizens, though some would not be able to pass a required Estonian-language exam.