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Estonia invites Russian MPs to celebrate VE Day

TALLINN, May 1 (RIA Novosti) - Estonia's Defense Ministry said Tuesday it had invited the visiting Russian lawmakers to attend the celebrations of the Allied Coalition's victory over Nazi Germany in the Baltic state May 8.

Defense Ministry Secretary General Lauri Almann received members of the Russian State Duma, the lower house of parliament, to brief them on progress in the exhumation of the remains of Soviet soldiers in the WW II memorial in central Tallinn.

The exhumation and the removal of a statue to Russian soldiers who fought against Nazis in 1941-1945 triggered violent protests largely among Russian-speakers and acts of vandalism in the Estonian capital last week. One man was killed, over 150 people were injured in clashes with police, and more than 1,000 were arrested.

Almann said excavation work at the memorial would be completed in June and the remains would be reburied at the military cemetery on the capital's outskirts, where the bronze statue was re-erected Monday, with military honors.

The Russian lawmakers said earlier Tuesday Estonian authorities had barred them from visiting the site, while on Monday the leader of the delegation demanded the government's resignation over failure to predict the consequences of the move.

People have flocked to the cemetery to lay flowers to the Bronze Soldier. Several dozen police are monitoring the situation.

Hundreds of people have gathered near the Russian Culture Center in Tallinn to demand Prime Minister Andrus Ansip's resignation despite an official ban on rallies in the capital and its environs until May 11. No incidents have been reported so far.

About 150 activists of Russia's pro-Kremlin Nashi (Ours) youth organization are continuing a picket of the Estonian embassy in Moscow.

The monument reminds many Estonians of what they call the Soviet occupation, but Moscow and ethnic Russians in Estonia revere it as memory of Russian liberators who died in the war with Nazis.

The dispute has strained relations between Moscow and Tallinn, with the former accusing the ex-Soviet state of encouraging Nazi sentiments and pursuing discriminatory policy against ethnic Russians.