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Lithuania: Employees Protest Closing Of Nuclear Plant

Vilnius, 14 May 1999 (RFE/RL/) -- About 40 employees of Lithuania's Soviet-built Ignalina nuclear power plant today demonstrated in Vilnius against the possible closing of the installation, which is widely considered a dangerous facility. The protesters demanded social guarantees if the plant is shut down.

Holding placards and signs saying, "Work-Yes, Unemployment-No" and "Let Us Sell Part of Ignalina's Electric Energy," the demonstrators stood quietly outside government offices in the capital..

This was the first protest held by Ignalina employees in Vilnius. But a union official who organized today's demonstration said that there would be more in the future unless worker demands are met.

One of the plant workers, engineer Nikolai Aleksandr Kazlov, expressed concerned about the future, saying: "We are not sure about tomorrow." Kazlov, who has worked at Ignalina for some 20 years, said he had not take a vacation day to travel the 170 kilometers from Ignalina to Vilnius, but had a day off. Many of the other demonstrators said that they, too, had the day off.

The protest was organized by officials from Lithuanian's Workers Alliance. One of the union leaders met with a government official and handed over a list of demands. One of them asked for parliament to pass a law for Ignalina workers' social guarantees if. in the demand's words, "electric energy production is ended" at the plant.

In addition, the workers are asking for the right to sell electricity directly without having to go through the state utility, "Lietuvos Energija," which is now the case.

Another employee, Sergei Pankov, told RFE/RL that he came to Vilnius to call attention to the workers' plight at the plant. He said: "We want Lithuania's citizens to see, to understand, what the government is doing,"

Pankov also said that, if the Government does close Ignalina, every sixth Lithuanian will be out of work, The plant now employs some 5,000 workers.

The Government's schedule calls for Ignalina's first bloc to be shut down Monday (May 17). The bloc could stay closed for up to a month, according to officials at the plant. Ignalina's second bloc has not been working for the past month, but is due to resume operation next month.

Protesting workers said today they were concerned about the upcoming shutdown of Ignalina's first bloc because it could result in temporary lay-offs.