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Russian Affairs Analyst, Stephen Dalziel
"The tragedy gave even greater impetus to calls for independence"
 real 28k

Saturday, 13 January, 2001, 15:25 GMT
Lithuania hero demands justice
Children pay their respects to the dead in Vilnius
Lithuanian independence leader Vytautas Landsbergis has called for ex-Soviet officials to be tried for the 1991 crackdown on the country's independence movement.

Vytautas Landsbergis: Aiming to track down 42 people
Fourteen Lithuanians died when Russian soldiers opened fire and tanks ran over protesters in the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, on 13 January 1991.

Marking the 10th anniversary of the bloody episode, which sealed the country's independence, Mr Landsbergis told a special session of parliament: "This is a topic for the Hague tribunal.

"The Soviet army was carrying out aggression and international crime."

That was a very emotional speech ... we cannot evaluate it

Russian Ambassador Yuri Zubakov
Russian Ambassador Yuri Zubakov, who attended Saturday's parliament session, declined to comment on Mr Landsbergis's calls.

He said: "That was not a statement by Landsbergis, that was a speech, a very emotional speech of a member of parliament. We cannot evaluate it."

Independence regained

Lithuania has asked Russia, Belarus and Ukraine to track down 42 people suspected of taking part in the crackdown.

Mr Landsbergis himself sponsored an appeal to Russia's lower house of parliament, the Duma, on Friday to remove what he called "hindrances" in that country's legal system to help bring participants in the attack to justice.

The Soviet military action against Lithuanian independence in 1991 backfired later that year.

Lithuania, along with neighbouring Baltic states Latvia and Estonia, regained independence in September after a failed coup by hardliners in Moscow against the then Russian President, Mikhail Gorbachev.

Supplies cut

The peoples of the Baltic States of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania had been calling for greater autonomy from Moscow as the policies of Mr Gorbachev, of openness and restructuring - glasnost and perestroika - gave then more confidence.

By the spring of 1990, this had become an open call for total independence and on 11 March 1990 Lithuania declared its independence.

Russian tanks moved in less than a year after the declaration of independence
But the Kremlin put pressure on the Baltic States, including cutting off gas and oil supplies.

On 9 January 1991, Soviet troops were deployed on the streets of Vilnius, ostensibly seeking out citizens who were avoiding the military call-up.

Two days later, the city's main press centre was attacked.

We were worthy of the historic victory and we achieved it

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus
On 12 January, Mr Gorbachev announced a suspension of military action in Lithuania.

But, as with previous incidents in Soviet history, such as the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968, this was to prove a mere smokescreen.

In the early hours of Sunday 13 January, troops attacked the television centre.

Soviet Interior Minister, Boris Pugo, claimed that the troops were responding to an appeal by the "National Salvation Committee", an unelected, and recently-formed pro-Soviet group, which had no legal foundation.

Pro-indpendence demonstration
Public support for independence stunned the Russians
Soviet troops seized the TV tower and the radio and television broadcasting centre, but failed to move on parliament, apparently stunned by the resistance.

Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus, also speaking to the Lithuanian parliament, thanked the crowds of Lithuanians who had gathered on that night 10 years ago to form human barriers at the TV tower, parliament and other key locations.

He said those who heeded the call to defend the pro-independence government and parliament after receiving word of imminent Soviet military action had made history.

"On that night love of homeland and love of freedom became a power bigger than the coercion of the empire.

"As never before were we strong, noble and beautiful. We were worthy of the historic victory and we achieved it."

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