Second night of rioting hits Tallinn

  • 2007-04-29
  • From staff and wire reports
Estonia's capital was calm Saturday morning after a second night of rioting in which police detained about 600.

Groups of rioters, most of them ethnic Russian teenagers, roamed the streets of the city center and Old Town, sparring with police, smashing windows and looting shops.

An ethnic element to the rioting reared its head as the youth, who had been carrying Russian flags and chanting 'Rossiya, Rossiya' (Russia, Russia) and anti-fascist slogans at some points clashed with Estonian youngsters bearing their own flags.

Most clashes, however, were between the youth and police, who attempted to disburse crowds. Reports indicate that the more serious incidents occurred near Vabaduse square, in the area of the Parnu road, near the Estonian Drama Theater, and in the area near Viru square. BNS reports that an alcohol shop near the Viru center was looted.

BNS reports that 37 rioters were hospitalised and nine police were treated for injuries during Friday night's events.

Police managed to bring calm to the city at around 2 a.m., but are preparing for the possibility of further disturbances Saturday evening.

The event follows a more serious disturbance Thursday night, in which one man was stabbed and about 60 injured.

The riots were touched off Thursday by the start of what was to be exploratory excavation work at the site of the controversial Bronze Soldier monument in central Tallinn. There several hundred youth had gathered to protest the planned move of the Red Army memorial, and became violent after being pushed to side streets by police.

The Bronze Soldier monument, erected in 1947 as a memorial to Soviet soldiers, has been a source of controversy since the collapse of the USSR. Local veterans groups and many Russian-speakers view the monument as a tribute to those who liberated Europe from fascism, while many Estonians find it a highly offensive symbol of their nation's 50]year occupation by the Soviet Union.

Those against to the monument's move, who are mostly ethnic Russians, regularly paint anyone who supports the monument's relocation as "fascist," though most Estonians who object to the monument do so because it glorifies the repressive Stalinist regime that the Red Army brought with it.

Authorities have said the primary reason they want to move the monument out of the city center is that it has become a focal point of extremist activity for both Russian and Estonian nationalists.

Following an emergency meeting, authorities decided in what they said was the interest of public order to remove the monument early Friday morning. Plans are to relocate the monument, and the remains buried underneath it, to a war cemetery.

The move has been strongly criticized by Russia, who has also characterised the relocation as pro-Nazi in public statements.

On Friday evening rioting also broke out in the north eastern town of Johvi. Ago Gaskov, a correspondent for Estonian Radio said that a crowd of about 200 gathered in the city's center square at around 10 p.m., and during the next hour their rampaging had gained full force.

"Several windows of two different shopping centers were smashed and traffic signs were pulled out from the ground, one of which was thrown into a window of the local Uhispank office," Gaskov said.

He said police had subdued the Johvi rioting by midnight. The Eesti Pavaleht daily said that the rioters had poured a flammable liquid on the statue of General Aleksander Tonisson, one of the founders of the Estonian defence forces, and set it alight.