MOSCOW, JULY 5 -- Soviet paratroops have staged a show of force in an Estonian town to prevent a reunion of World War II veterans that Soviet authorities denounced as a rally by Estonians who fought in Nazi Germany's elite SS units.
Estonian government officials said 28 armored vehicles and 15 trucks full of paratroops occupied the center of Tori, a town of about 3,000, Wednesday night without warning local authorities. Most of the troops left today.
The Estonian government protested the display of military force, describing it as "unacceptable" and likely to "exacerbate the already tense situation" in the Soviet Baltic republic. Estonian government spokesman Sergei Chernov said the troops had ignored local traffic police and damaged asphalt roads.
Preparations for the reunion this weekend of Estonians who served in the German and Soviet armies during World War II had stirred controversy in Estonia and abroad. The Estonian government had criticized the rally, saying it could be used to discredit the republic's drive for independence from the Soviet Union, but had refused to ban it.
Estonia and the neighboring Baltic republics of Latvia and Lithuania were occupied by the Nazis between 1941 and 1945 after being incorporated into the Soviet Union in 1940. Initially, many Estonians welcomed the German invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, hoping it would enable them to reassert their prewar independence.
Exploiting anti-Soviet sentiment among the local population, the Germans formed an SS battlefield unit in Estonia that numbered about 11,000 men at its peak. While some of the Estonians who served with the SS were pro-Nazi, a majority appear to have been motivated by a wish to avenge the deportations and killings of their friends and relatives by the Soviets. A total of 70,000 Estonians joined the German army during the occupation.