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Lithuania: Paksas Becomes First European President To Be Removed From Office

Rolandas Paksas Prague, 6 April 2004 (RFE/RL) -- The Lithuanian Parliament voted by a narrow margin today to remove President Rolandas Paksas from office, ending a nearly seven-month scandal in the tiny Baltic nation and making Paksas the first European president to be removed from office.

The chairman of the Lithuanian Supreme Court, Vytautas Greicius, presided over the parliamentary impeachment discussions and announced the results of today's vote.

"More than two-thirds of the parliamentarians have decided that citizen Rolandas Paksas, Lithuanian president, on 11 April 2003, through his decree Number 14 -- illegally granting Lithuanian citizenship to Yurii Borisov in exchange for financial and other important support -- has grossly violated the Constitution of the Lithuanian Republic and violated his oath," Greicius said.

"The president really made a nice speech and spoke very nicely. But neither the speeches of his lawyers, nor the president's speech could change our resolve."
That single count was enough to secure Paksas' removal from office. But the Lithuanian president was found guilty on three counts -- including breaching state secrets and influencing the outcome of a privatization.

In a 25-minute speech preceding today's vote, Paksas denied all claims against him. He also warned that the impeachment proceedings -- the first of their kind in Europe -- could do considerable damage to Lithuania's standing at a critical point in its history.

"[Impeachment] is an occurrence which has no precedent in European history. It will become a unique calling card for our country at a time when it is returning to its old European home. The impeachment is not only my personal drama or tragedy, but also a very serious challenge for the state, for its institutions, and also for the whole Lithuanian legal system. It is also, without any doubt, a test which will show the level of decency, honesty, and morality in our politicians," Paksas said.

Paksas -- whom politicians had also accused of maintaining links with Russian secret-service and criminal groups -- defended his decision to grant citizenship to Borisov, saying his presidential predecessors had done so numerous times.

"In fact, I am accused of acting in accordance with present Lithuanian laws and in fact, I continued a practice used by former presidents. Presidents Algirdas Brazauskas and Valdas Adamkus made exceptions and granted citizenship for 847 people. There are 200 among them who have no merits for the Lithuanian state," Paksas said.

Paksas also denied the accusation put forward by the Constitutional Court that he had leaked classified information to Borisov, by secretly warning him that he was under surveillance. He said Borisov knew long before Paksas's warning that his telephone conversations were being monitored by Lithuanian secret services.

Ties between Paksas and Borisov did not end there, however. Paksas last week named Borisov his public affairs aide. It was, the president admitted today, a mistake -- but not sufficiently grave to warrant an impeachment.

Paksas finished his speech by urging Lithuanian politicians to consider the interest of the country before casting their votes.

"Let's work for Lithuania. There is no higher purpose than working jointly for the Lithuanian people for the sake of democracy and justice. Thank you," Paksas said.

Few parliamentarians appeared convinced by the president's words. Vaclav Stankevic, a member of the Lithuanian Social Liberal party, said he was among those who voted for the president to go.

"The president really made a nice speech and spoke very nicely. But neither the speeches of his lawyers, nor the president's speech could change our resolve. We saw and we knew what work the commissions [investigating his activity] have done, and what results they reached. We were also well-informed about the conclusions of the Constitutional Court," Stankevic said.

However, former Prime Minister Kazimiera Prunskiene, now a lawmaker with the New Democracy Party, says she abstained from voting because the procedure was legally flawed and led to what she called "antagonism among the Lithuanian people."

But with Paksas now irreversibly out of office, the question is: what next? Arturas Paulauskas, the chairman of the Lithuanian parliament, will serve as acting president until elections are held in roughly two months.

Likely candidates for the presidency include Paulauskas, former President and current Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, and Paksas' predecessor, Adamkus. Paksas himself may also be a contender -- Lithuanian law does not prohibit an impeached leader from running for office.