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Russia outraged by Polish nationalist attack on its Warsaw embassy

Rising tensions between Poland and Russia flared into a fiery rampage on Polish Independence Day, when masked youths and right-wing radicals veered from a peaceful march to hurl bottles, trash and torches at the Russian Embassy in Warsaw.

Russia's Foreign Ministry on Tuesday summoned the Polish ambassador to Moscow, Wojciech Zajaczkowski, to demand an apology for the attack and compensation for damage inflicted on the embassy and a security checkpoint at its front gate, RIA Novosti reported.

"The attention of the ambassador has been drawn to the passivity and lateness of the police, which resulted in an unbridled rampage by roughnecks," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The embassy attack occurred Monday night, at the end of a march by tens of thousands of Poles to mark the anniversary of Poland's 1918 reunification after more than a century of division among Russia, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

News agencies in Warsaw reported that several cars near the embassy were set on fire, as was the guard post at the entrance to the diplomatic compound. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the mob from the embassy gates, the Reuters news agency reported. The scorched, glass-strewn embassy forecourt is just steps from the official residence of Polish President Bronislaw Komorowski.

Even before Zajaczkowski was called in to be handed a formal protest, the Polish government expressed its dismay over the Warsaw rampage that led to at least 72 arrests and 14 injuries, including to a dozen policemen.

"The events of this evening are very sad for Poland. This was an unacceptable act of aggression against police guarding the Russian Embassy and toward the embassy itself. I express my sympathies," Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk said in a statement late Monday.

"There is no justification for hooliganism," Polish Foreign Ministry spokesman Marcin Wojciechowski said via Twitter.

The outburst of violence and resentment toward the once-dominant force in Eastern Europe's Communist empire was the latest evidence of strain in the relationship between Moscow and Warsaw.

Poland is now a member of the European Union, which is set to begin talks with Ukraine later this month. Kiev's aspirations to join the 28-member European bloc represent the most significant loss of Moscow influence in the region that comprised the Soviet Union until 1991.

Russian commentators cast the violent outburst against the Warsaw embassy as evidence that nationalism is more of a problem in the West than in Russia, which often comes in for criticism of its human rights record by EU organizations.

"The events in Warsaw show: Nationalism is immeasurably stronger in several EU countries than it is in Russia," Alexei Pushkov, international affairs committee chief in Russia's lower house of parliament, said on his Twitter account. "The EU should not lecture us but deal with its own members."

The rioters in Warsaw were primarily from the All-Polish Youth and National Radical Camp, whose hyper-nationalist orientation has its roots in the soccer hooliganism that has plagued Eastern and Western Europe for decades.

Those who attacked the Russian Embassy had deviated from a police-approved march route traveled by tens of thousands marking the 95th anniversary of independence. They chanted anti-Russian slogans, reflecting the lingering resentment among many Poles -- even those too young to have known the Cold War era -- over Soviet domination that ended with the Solidarity uprising of the late 1980s.

Some protesters also shouted against Moscow for the 1940 massacre of Polish prisoners of war in the village of Katyn, Agence France Press reported. Others accused the Russian government of having a hand in the 2010 plane crash that killed Polish President Lech Kaczynski and 95 other Poles as the aircraft approached Smolensk airport in western Russia.

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Twitter: @cjwilliamslat

carol.williams@latimes.com

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