Sat, Sep 04, 2004 - Page 6 News List

Two injured during Estonia protests against monument

CONTROVERSIAL PAST Clashes broke out in the Baltic state after the government took down a monument honoring Nazi allies in World War II

AFP , Lihula, Estonia

At least two people were injured in clashes overnight Thursday in Estonia when police removed a controversial war monument commemorating Estonians who fought in the German army in World War II.

The government ordered the removal of the monument in the western town of Lihula, unveiled on Aug. 20 to honor those who fought with Nazi forces against the Soviet Union, saying it damaged the Baltic state's image.

"Our standpoint is that the monument erected on state land is illegal and also damages Estonian reputation," government spokeswoman Kristi Liiva said.

Police used riot gear and pepper gas against about 500 people who gathered to protect the monument, which had been heavily criticized by Jewish groups and Russia.

At least two people got hurt in a skirmish between the police and stone-throwing locals, according to an AFP correspondent at the scene.

"They provoked us first, and then they used gas and truncheons against people, among whom there were many women and children," Tiina Lobja, member of local government told AFP.

Some 2,000 people had attended the ceremony to unveil the monument, which featured a sculpture depicting an Estonian soldier clad in a German uniform.

The monument had already been erected in Estonia's western city of Parnu two years ago but had been removed after then-prime minister Siim Kallas had said it would harm Estonia's international relations and reputation.

Critics had accused it of glorifying Nazi Germany's notorious SS units, which had Estonian volunteers.

Many in the Baltic states served in German forces against the Soviet Union, which had occupied Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania in 1940. Others fought in the Soviet army against the Nazis.

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