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Lithuania: Thousands Hit The Streets To Protest Phone Rates

Vilnius, 24 February 1998 (RFE/RL) - Thousands of people, holding hands, ringed the parliament building in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius today in a new protest at an increase in telephone rates. The protest coincided with a debate in parliament about possibly rescinding the rate increase, which went into effect early this month.

Lithuanians previously did not pay for local calls, but the Communications and Information Ministry implemented a plan to begin charging for local calls. The decision caught many citizens unaware, and has sparked protests, especially among pensioners and elderly on a fixed income.

Every day this month, newspapers have been filled with articles and editorials on the local-call charges, and protests and demonstrations have been organized in larger cities. RFE/RL's bureau in Vilnius reports that today's protest, organized by local unions, involves far fewer people than rallies two weeks ago, which local media were calling the largest since Lithuania regained independence in 1991.

Today's rally also comes just two days before the inauguration of Lithuania's new president, Valdas Adamkus. Parliamentary deputies tell RFE/RL that they do not believe the new rate is likely to be rescinded.