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 Sunday, 5 January, 2003, 23:35 GMT
Shock result in Lithuania poll
Voters in Vilnius
Turnout was low due to the cold weather
The challenger in Lithuania's presidential election, Rolandas Paksas, has scored a surprise victory over the incumbent, Valdas Adamkus.

With 99% of the votes counted, Lithuania's Central Election Commission said Mr Paksas had won 54.9%, compared with 45% for Mr Adamkus. Official results will be announced on 10 January.

Rolandas Paksas
Paksas, a part-time pilot, completed a stunt flight during his campaign

One report said Mr Adamkus, an independent candidate, had already conceded victory to his rival.

Mr Paksas, of the right-wing Liberal Democrats, was shown on television drinking champagne and toasting his supporters.

"I was always saying I would win," he told his jubilant supporters, adding: "I know the problems of this country and I know how to solve them".

Mr Adamkus, a 76-year-old former US citizen, emerged with a clear lead in the first round in December, and opinion polls had predicted an easy win for him in the run-off.

He has successfully guided the Baltic state towards entry into the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (Nato) and the European Union.

But Mr Paksas, aged 46, mounted an aggressive campaign, promising a better life for Lithuanians.

Turnout was estimated at just 51%, with voters braving freezing weather conditions, which dipped below -20C.

Changing allegiance

Mr Adamkus distinguished himself as one of the few senior Lithuanian politicians not to become embroiled in scandal.

Mr Adamkus
Mr Adamkus was widely tipped to win

His approval ratings reached a high of 80%, and he was voted Lithuania's person of the year for 2002.

He also guided the country into relative prosperity, boosting economic growth and keeping unemployment low.

But despite his tremendous popularity, some analysts felt Mr Adamkus did not do enough campaigning after the first round to guarantee him the presidency.

Mr Paksas fought a tough battle, campaigning on a platform of law and order.

He formed the Liberal Democrat party more than a year ago. He has already served twice as prime minister and twice as mayor of the capital Vilnius, where he won recognition for reviving the capital's historic centre, which fell into disrepair under Soviet rule.

The famously laidback Mr Paksas is also a part-time pilot, and his campaign even involved a daring stunt flight in formation with two other planes underneath a low bridge.

"I was flying while mayor of Vilnius and I did so as a prime minister," he told the Associated Press on Sunday. "And I will be a flying president."

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Nicolas Walton
"Mr Paskas was seen as running a far more vigorous election campaign"
See also:

23 Dec 02 | Europe
05 Jan 03 | Europe
23 Nov 02 | Europe
23 Nov 02 | Media reports
24 Jul 02 | Country profiles
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