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Russia's Upper House Votes to Cut Ties With Estonia Over War Monument

Russia's upper house of parliament has voted overwhelmingly Friday to ask President Vladimir Putin to cut diplomatic ties with Estonia, after authorities there moved a Soviet-era war memorial from the capital, Tallinn, following violent clashes. VOA's Lisa McAdams in Moscow has the latest.

Russian lawmakers followed speaker Sergei Mironov's lead in overwhelmingly approving legislation to ask President Putin to sever diplomatic relations with Estonia, after its authorities dismantled the Soviet soldier monument overnight.

Many Estonians view the monument as a bitter reminder of nearly five decades of Soviet occupation. But to Estonia's Russian-speaking minority, which comprises roughly one-third of the population, the bronze soldier is a tribute to those who died fighting Nazi Germany.

Mironov told lawmakers there has already been enough mockery made of the memory of Soviet soldiers, referring to the months-long stand-off over the issue of moving the memorial out of downtown to a less public place.

Mironov's position was echoed by the head of the International Affairs Committee in Russia's lower house of parliament (Duma), Konstantin Kosachyov, who is also calling for tough measures to be taken against Estonia.

Kosachyov says the Estonian government's action to move the soldier in the cover-of-darkness overnight was, "barbarous and sacrilegious."

Estonian officials say they ordered the monument removed from the square to a new secret location, in order to safeguard it from further violence.

Late Thursday, one person died and more than 40 other protestors were injured in looting and clashes with police, who responded with tear gas. It is the worst violence the Baltic nation has seen since restoring independence from Moscow in 1991. More than 300 people were arrested.

Though Friday's Russian resolution is non-binding, it significantly aggravates already strained relations between the two countries right at the start of this, the traditional May Day holidays, marking the horrors enduring what Russia still calls the Great Patriotic War against Nazi Germany.

The Soviet death toll in the war is around 25 million, far more than any of the other countries pulled into the war.

Shortly after the Russian vote, Estonia's defense minister, Jaak Aaviksoo, announced that the beginning of the planned work to exhume the remains of Soviet soldiers underneath the monument has been postponed. He said new plans would soon be considered, without elaborating.

Meanwhile, officials in neighboring Latvia say security has been tightened at the Estonian and Russian embassies in the capital, Riga, in order to prevent any possible repeat of violence.