A cousin of a former president of Estonia has gone on trial on genocide charges in connection with the deaths of dozens of people deported from Estonia to Soviet prison camps in 1949.

Defendant Arnold Meri was a highly-decorated Soviet soldier and the cousin of former President Lennart Meri.  The 88-year-old defendant was charged last year with a role in the Stalinist deportation of 251 Estonians from a small island on the country's Baltic Sea coast. 

Meri denies the charges, which say 43 of the deportees died in Siberian labor and concentration camps.

Shortly after the trial began Tuesday, the court in Tallinn ordered it suspended to allow doctors to conduct medical tests on the defendant.

Meri told Estonian reporters last year that he is deaf and near blind and suffers from high blood pressure.

Historians say thousands of Estonian civilians were deported to the Soviet Union in 1949, where an estimated 3,000 died.  Others were allowed to return home after Stalin's death in 1953.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP, AP and Reuters.