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Lithuania: Protesters Oppose Privatization

Klaipeda, Lithuania; 9 March 1998 (RFE/RL) -- Klaipeda's main street was closed for about 45 minutes on Saturday (March 7) as more than 1,000 demonstrators marched to protest the privatization of state-owned companies.

The protest was organized by the Social Democrats, who have been vocal in opposing the sell-off of energy, oil and telecom companies. Last year, the party collected signatures to hold a referendum on privatization but failed to get the necessary 300,000 signatures to place the question before voters.

At the rally, the Social Democrats fired off a one-page resolution addressed to the president, the government and the parliament.

The resolution stated that there is "a real threat" to Lithuania's national interests in the way privatization is taking place. Capital belonging to "criminal groups" may participate in the privatization. It also warned of unemployment.

In addition, the resolution expressed alarm about parliament's efforts this week to curtail freedom of the press in Lithuania regarding court coverage.

"Courts should be open and press freedom will assure openness," the one-page resolution stated.

Pensioners and especially those on fixed incomes have been outraged by a plan to charge for local calls, which took effect last month. This is tied to dissatisfaction regarding privatization of the phone company, "Lietuvos Telekomas."

Demonstrations have been occurring weekly in the larger cities. On February 20, about 2,000 people protested the telephone rate surcharges at a demonstration in Klaipeda.

At Saturday's demonstration, banners called for the government to take their hands off "our property."

Many speakers at the rally expressed support for Lithuania's new president, Valdas Adamkus, who is against the telephone surcharge. Others criticized Premier Gediminas Vagnorius.

In an interview published on Saturday in the Lithuanian daily, "Lietuvos Rytas," Adamkus questioned whether the sale of the "Lietuvos Telekomas" is a wise move.

Parliament member and Social Democrat Aloyzas Sakalas has filed suit against Communications & Information Minister Rimantas Pleikys alleging that Pleikys failed to properly consult with the government before approving the telephone surcharges. No court date has been set.