Vilnius, 26 February 1998 (RFE/RL) - Valdas Adamkus was sworn in today as Lithuania's president, pledging to help integrate the country into western institutions. Adamkus, in an address before parliament in Vilnius, said Lithuania's main foreign policy goal is to gain membership in the European Union and the NATO military alliance "as soon as possible."
He also pledged to maintain friendly relations with neighboring states during his five-year term. One of them, Russia, has expressed strong opposition to NATO membership for any of the Baltic nations. Pledging to be a president of all the people, Adamkus said his domestic priorities include improvements in health care, education and law enforcement. He said law enforcement must be reformed so that anyone, regardless of social standing, will be punished for crimes they commit. He also vowed to bolster foreign trade and investment.
Adamkus, 71, recently gave up the U.S. citizenship he gained after fleeing Lithuania during World War II. He narrowly won election last month, defeating the candidate backed by former president and former Communist Party leader Algirdas Brazauskas.
Brazauskas told parliament he does not regret anything about his term, but added that many Lithuanians still face hardships which he said is a cause for alarm.
Under the constitution, the president is largely responsible for foreign and defense policy and helps in forming the government.
In remarks later to hundreds of people gathered in Vilnius' cathedral square, Adamkus called for the public's aid in helping him carry out his duties. Our correspondent says Adamkus speech was interrupted several times by cheers from the crowd.
Adamkus told citizens that he does not promise them an easy life. But he promised to focus his efforts on fighting crime, tackling environmental pollution, paying farmers on time for production, and looking for ways to help young families. He urged the media to join in his effort for what he called a "moral renewal program."