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Lithuania Celebrates Centenary Of Independence

Flags of Estonia, Lithuania, and Latvia during a flag-raising ceremony next to the Presidential Palace during the country's centenary celebration in Vilnius on February 16.

Lithuania celebrates the centenary of its independence on February 16 with European leaders and royals on hand for festivities in the small Baltic nation.

"At the start of the last century, we looked forward with great hope to any sign of support," President Dalia Grybauskaite said at a ceremony in the snowy capital, Vilnius.

"Today we know that we have true friends and allies, and their strong supportive shoulder," she added, speaking alongside top EU officials, presidents, and royalty.

The presidents of Germany, Poland, Ukraine, and Finland as well as Sweden's Crown Princess Victoria and European Union officials were due to attend celebrations marking the signing of the Independence Act on February 16, 1918.

"Lithuanians have made a long journey over the last century," European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said in a statement on the eve of the centenary.

"Thanks to them, Lithuania is now a modern, democratic state in its rightful place at the heart of our European Union."

The nation of nearly 3 million was part of the Russian Empire before declaring its independence in 1918. Lithuania was then independent until 1940, when it was occupied by the Soviet Union. It regained its freedom in 1991 and joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

Based on reporting by AP and AFP