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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 April, 2004, 14:42 GMT 15:42 UK
Profile: Rolandas Paksas
Rolandas Paksas in a plane outside Vilnius, March 2004
Paksas has continued his flying even as president
Rolandas Paksas is a flamboyant former aerobatics champion who came from a business background to become the surprise winner of Lithuania's February 2003 presidential election.

In less than seven years, he twice served as prime minister and twice as mayor of the capital Vilnius before taking the presidency.

And despite the manner of his ejection from power, opinion polls suggest he could stage a comeback in a future election.

On the eve of the impeachment vote against him, he went on national TV to make a passionate defence of his policies, insisting his administration was firmly anti-corruption and suggesting the allegations against him were part of a campaign to discredit him.

"I am paying dearly today for my attempts to challenge the system," he said.

"I was attacked from the very first day of my term in office for this."

His appeal to supporters to "stay calm and maintain a spirit of harmony" whatever the vote in parliament was also a reflection of his continuing popularity with the Lithuanian public.

Hard to pin down

Before the constitutional crisis emerged over alleged political funding and conflict-of-interest irregularities, Mr Paksas was seen by some correspondents as being vague in his political aims.

ROLANDAS PAKSAS
Born 10 June 1956 in Telsiai
Graduated in Vilnius as civil engineer in 1979
Graduated as pilot in Leningrad (now St Petersburg) in 1984
Former member of both Soviet and Lithuanian national aerobatic teams
Entered politics in 1997 as mayor of Vilnius
Married with two children

He has denied being a populist or a radical - and has backed Lithuania's course towards membership of Nato and the European Union.

His challenge to the incumbent President, Valdas Adamkus, came from the right - he proposed the death penalty for drug traffickers - and he once said his goal in politics was to give Lithuania its most radically market-oriented economy since it regained independence from the Soviet Union in 1991.

Yet tackling poverty remained a key plank in his platform, as he outlined in in his pre-impeachment TV address, saying he stood against "the growing gap between the rich and poor" and the "self-imposed exile of Lithuanians who go abroad as they try to escape unbearable poverty".

Popular touch

Mr Paksas conducted his 2003 campaign from the seat of a helicopter, flying himself from one meeting to the next.

Paksas supporters in Vilnius, December 2003
Paksas supporters have regularly taken to the streets

In one vote-winning stunt, he flew a small plane underneath a bridge.

He spent six years in the 1980s in the USSR national aerobatics team and is also a motorcycling enthusiast.

Before he became Vilnius mayor for the first time, in 1997, Mr Paksas was owner of a construction company.

His first stint as prime minister in 1999 lasted for five months - he resigned in opposition to the sale of the state-owned oil company, Mazheikiu Nafta, to a US giant.

He also resigned from his second stint the following year, after eight months in office, amid disagreements within the coalition.

According to the Reuters news agency he had walked out of a total of 17 posts by the time he became president of Lithuania.




SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Lithuania
24 Jul 02 |  Country profiles


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