Two killed as statue to Soviet Union war dead is demolished

A WOMAN and her eight-year-old daughter have been killed during the contentious demolition of a war memorial in Georgia that sparked a furious response from Russia, and placed further strain on the relationship between the bitter regional rivals.

The two were killed and four others seriously injured when the explosion designed to level the huge 150ft monument to the Soviet Union's war dead hurled chunks of concrete into their block of flats.

While Georgian authorities have launched a criminal investigation into the accident, claiming security norms were violated, the dust from the political recriminations surrounding the demolition remains far from settled.

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Russia, with whom Georgia fought a brief war last year, condemned the monument's destruction as "sacrilege", and accused Georgia of pursuing a "manic drive to erase the historical memory of its own people".

Moscow's foreign ministry slammed the destruction as an "act of state vandalism which offends the feelings of every civilised person".

David Berdzenishvili, a Georgian opposition politician, echoed Russian anger, saying the government had "spat on the souls of all the war veterans, not only in Georgia".

But Mikheil Saakashvili, the Georgian president, said no disrespect to the 300,000 Georgians who died fighting for the Red Army in the Second World War was intended, explaining that the monument, located in Kutaisi, had to make way for a new parliament building.

Georgia's government said it wanted to revitalise Kutaisi by holding parliamentary sessions in the industrial city.

The anger in Russia reflects its concern that the memory of the sacrifices of the Red Army in its struggle with Nazi Germany is being eroded by growing nationalist sentiment in the plethora of states that once formed the Soviet Union, and once accepted a very Moscow-centric view of history.

A decision by Estonia, which regards Soviet rule as occupation, provoked indignation in Moscow in 2007 when it decided to relocate a statue of a Red Army soldier.

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