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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Estonia Accuses Duma of Meddling

ReutersState Duma deputies laying flowers Tuesday at the relocated Red Army monument in a Tallinn military cemetery.
Estonia on Tuesday accused a visiting State Duma delegation of meddling in internal matters as it banned rallies and alcohol following violent clashes over its relocation of a Soviet monument.

In Moscow, members of the pro-Kremlin youth group Nashi picketed the Estonian Embassy for a fifth straight day, and several were briefly detained for tearing down an Estonian flag.

President Vladimir Putin expressed his "most serious concern" about the memorial affair in a weekend telephone conversation with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country holds the European Union presidency.

Estonian goods, meanwhile, started disappearing from store shelves as Mayor Yury Luzhkov called for a boycott.

Although the rioting that swept Tallinn over three days, killing one, had died down by Tuesday, about 400 ethnic Russians defied a ban on rallies to demand Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip's resignation.

"There is a tense atmosphere in the city," an employee of the Russian Cultural Center in downtown Tallinn said by telephone.

"There are more policemen than people," said the woman, declining to give her name for fear of retribution.

The protesters were rallying outside her center, defying a government ban on gatherings of more than three people that came into force Tuesday, she said. The government earlier banned gatherings of more than five people.

All public gatherings have been banned from Monday through May 11, Interfax reported from Tallinn.

Authorities also have banned alcohol sales through May 9, the Victory Day holiday when Russia celebrates the defeat of Nazi Germany.

NTV television reported that more than 1,000 people remained in police custody after the violent protests from Thursday through Saturday, which saw Molotov cocktails and stones thrown at police officers and shops looted. Dozens of people were injured, including more than a dozen police officers.

A Russian delegation led by Leonid Slutsky, deputy head the Duma's International Affairs Committee, arrived Monday and laid flowers at the Soviet memorial in its new location, a military cemetery, on Tuesday.

Although the cemetery cannot be compared with the old site in central Tallinn, "the main thing is that the bronze soldier is whole — it hasn't been scratched; it hasn't been cut apart," Slutsky said, Interfax reported.

Contradicting him, Deputy Nikolai Kovalyov, who was also on the trip, said in comments broadcast on NTV that the statue had been cut in half at the waist. "And that scar will remain in our memory for a long time," he said.

Estonian officials have said the monument was never disassembled.

Estonian Foreign Minister Urmas Paet has refused to meet with the visiting delegation after it "intervened in internal Estonian matters by demanding the resignation of the democratically elected government," his ministry said in a statement.

"Election campaigning and slander, which have characterized the behavior of the State Duma delegates in Estonia, is utterly disgraceful," it said.

The delegation also did not show up for a joint news conference, ignored planned meetings in the Foreign Ministry, and made "absurd statements and unreasonable demands," it said.

The delegation was not allowed into the area of Tallinn where the memorial once stood and the remains of Red Army soldiers are being exhumed for reburial at a cemetery. Ehtel Halliste, a spokeswoman for the Estonian Foreign Ministry, said the deputies were barred because the visit was not on the program.

Twelve coffins had been unearthed by Monday, The Associated Press reported.

The Estonian government plans to lay wreaths at the monument on May 8 and has invited delegates from Russia, Britain, France and the United States to join the ceremony, the Estonian Defense Ministry said on its web site. The remains are to be reburied in June.

Putin, speaking to Merkel on Saturday, expressed "the most serious concern in connection to the dramatic developments of events in Tallinn after the actions undertaken by the Estonian authorities to dismantle the monument," the Kremlin said in a statement. Merkel called on the both sides to adopt a moderate stance, it said.

Germany promised to help normalize the situation around the Estonian Embassy in Moscow, after Estonia's Paet spoke to the German foreign minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Estonia's Foreign Ministry said.

Nashi activists continued to picket the embassy Tuesday and mourn Dmitry Ganin, who died after being stabbed in Tallinn clashes early Friday. Moscow police detained several Nashi activists after one of them, Alexander Salikov, tore an Estonian flag off an embassy mast. "Alexander could no longer see the flag of a fascist state flying in the capital of Russia, which conquered fascism," Nashi said in a statement.

Nashi and other pro-Kremlin groups are campaigning to have the Estonian Embassy building dismantled. They have support of 50,000 Russians, the Nashi statement said.

Russian television reported that stores across the country were removing Estonian-made goods such as sprats and chocolate from their shelves and that the organizers of the St. Petersburg Economic Forum next month had refused the services of Estonian companies, including an Estonian ship that was to host the forum's top guests.

A spokesman for the forum could not confirm the report Tuesday.