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Lithuania: Impeachment Proceedings Set To Start Against Defiant President

Lithuanian lawmakers have collected enough signatures to begin impeachment proceedings against President Rolandas Paksas. Eighty-six out of 141 deputies are supporting the move to impeach the president. The process of impeachment is to formally start tomorrow. A report adopted by parliament several weeks ago accused Paksas's office of links to organized crime and says the president is a threat to national security.

Prague, 17 December 2003 (RFE/RL) -- Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas, a former stunt pilot, is poised for a political crash landing.

Lithuanian lawmakers have collected 86 signatures backing a move to start impeachment proceedings over allegations linking him to organized crime. Lithuanian law requires the support of at least 36 lawmakers in the 141-seat parliament to start such a process. Eighty-five votes are required to eventually remove the president from office.

Paksas -- a two-time prime minister -- denies any wrongdoing. Yesterday, the head of the presidential press service, Jurate Overlingiene, told the Lithuanian news agency ELTA that Paksas will not resign. Overlingiene said Paksas will receive the leaders of the country's political parties only "to wish them happy Christmas and happy New Year."

This defiant stance is unlikely to avoid a harsh political reality, however.

The head of the ruling Social Democratic faction in the parliament, Irena Siauliene, who signed the petition, told RFE/RL there is little chance for Paksas to remain in power. "The situation that is evolving and the way the president is acting gives me little hope that [the president will remain in power]," she said. "From the very beginning, the president was not acting correctly. He was late to contact [parliamentary] factions, and I don't know what can still be discussed [with him] now, when the members of the parliament have already put their signatures [on the petition] and the process has actually started."

Siauliene confirmed that 31 of the faction's 53 members signed their names in support of impeachment.

The scandal began in late October after a report by the Lithuanian security service was leaked to the media. The report alleged that Paksas and his national security adviser had ties to international criminal groups. Paksas's top financial backer -- a Russian businessman named Jurijus Borisovas -- was alleged to have been involved in illegal arms trading with Sudan.

Paksas says the real cause of the scandal was his intention to replace the head of Lithuania's security service. He says he is the victim of a political witch hunt. "I think," Paksas said, "that by incriminating me, without proof, of nonexistent things, by the course of the investigation and by its conclusions, the temporary parliamentary investigation confirmed that only one goal has been pursued -- to remove me by any means."

Earlier this month, however, a parliamentary commission approved the report, concluding that Paksas posed a threat to national security.

During the impeachment proceedings, Paksas will have to defend himself against six allegations suggesting violations of both the constitution and the presidential oath. Politicians say the process of impeachment is likely to be lengthy.

Andrius Kubilius is a former Lithuanian prime minister who now heads the conservative Homeland Union party. Kubilius says parliament will begin talks tomorrow to determine the principles and structure of a commission that will investigate the allegations against Paksas.

"Nobody knows [how long the process of impeachment] will last. It will depend on many things. The next step will be setting up a commission and then, inevitably, an appeal to the Constitutional Court because the accusations are also about violations of the constitution. These accusations are to be investigated by the Constitutional Court," Kubilius said.

Kubilius says the best way out for Paksas would be to resign. "He should understand that 86 signatures is a political and moral signal for him to go," Kubilius said. "This number is more than enough to remove him from power. However, he remains calm and tries to create an impression that even if he is removed, he will be quickly re-elected."

Kubilius says Paksas is responsible for creating deep divisions within Lithuanian society and for tarnishing the country's image abroad. He says a period of calm is needed to heal the country's wounds. "[Lithuania] needs such a period and such a [future] candidate who would be able to stabilize the society and its emotions and to heal the wounds," he said, adding that it is too early to name such a politician.

If Paksas is removed, the speaker of the Lithuanian parliament, Arturas Paulauskas, will serve as acting president for two months until a general election can be called. Analysts say Paulauskas might put himself forward as a candidate.