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    WWII memorial protests continue in Estonia, police arrest 500

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    Protests over the removal of a World War II statue from central Tallinn have continued in the Estonian capital into early Saturday.

    TALLINN, April 28 (RIA Novosti) - Protests over the removal of a World War II statue from central Tallinn have continued in the Estonian capital into early Saturday.

    Protests against the removal of the Soviet Bronze Soldier statue have turned into clashes between protesters and police, as well as Estonian nationalists, which left one dead and 60 injured, including three seriously wounded police officers. About 500 people were arrested.

    Police used tear gas and water cannons to disperse protestors opposed to the government's decision to exhume the remains of 13 Soviet soldiers who died liberating Estonia from the Nazis in 1944 and to rebury them in a military cemetery on the outskirts of Tallinn.

    Windows in residential buildings and shops near the central square have been shattered, and bus stops and cars heavily damaged. Clashes were also reported in other towns in northeastern Estonia, where 42 people were arrested.

    Protests erupted late Thursday, when authorities cordoned off the area around the war memorial, barring access to the statue in the run-up to Victory Day May 9. Unrests prompted authorities to remove the statue despite earlier assurances that it would stay in place until the holiday. The statue's whereabouts have not been disclosed.

    Estonia has said the Bronze Statue and other Soviet monuments - rallying points for ethnic Russians - "divide society" spurring clashes with Estonian nationalists. Estonian Prime Minister Andrus Ansip has said the central square is not a proper burial place.

    The move is a breaking point in a long-standing dispute with Russia over monuments to Soviet soldiers, whom many in ex-Soviet Estonia, a nation of 1.3 million, consider to have been occupiers.

    Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov mentioned the scandal at a NATO forum in Oslo Friday, saying he was outraged by "such desecration and the methods used to disperse the protestors who tried to protect the shrine and memory of Europe's liberators from Nazism."

    Russia's parliamentary speaker said Moscow could respond by economic measures that would affect the Estonian economy, whereas the upper house chairman, Sergei Mironov, proposed severing diplomatic ties with the Baltic state.

    European bodies have made no comment on the dismantling of the monument, the scandal that has received extensive coverage in Russian media.

    Meetings against the demolition of the statue were held in many cities in Russia. Picketers near the Estonian Embassy in Moscow, mostly members of youth organizations, chanted "No to Nazism!" "Hitler is the hero of Estonia," and did not allow the ambassador's car to leave the compound Friday. About 300 of them stayed near the embassy overnight.

    Food stores in the Far Eastern Kamchatka Peninsula have reportedly withdrawn Estonian products from sale. And Russia's meat association has appealed to market players for halting imports from Estonia, Kommersant newspaper reported.

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