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Last Updated: Friday, 27 February, 2004, 18:23 GMT
Lithuania expels Russian 'spies'
President Rolandas Paksas
President Rolandas Paksas denies wrongdoing
Lithuania has expelled three Russian diplomats on suspicion of espionage.

It said they had been illegally trying to influence privatisation and obtain information from parliament about allegations against the president.

The move comes as Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas faces impeachment over his alleged links with Russian criminals - claims he denies.

Correspondents say it is not clear if the deportations have any connection with the case against Mr Paksas.

"I can confirm with regret the fact that three people from the Russian embassy were sent home for activities which are not in line with the diplomatic service," Lithuania's Foreign Minister, Antanas Valionis, told a news conference.

"We regret that we were forced to take such an action."

He said the Russians had been expelled for "trying to illegally influence privatisation, and to illegally obtain information from the parliament related to the president's impeachment".

He did not elaborate and did not take questions.

'Unfriendly step'

Russian foreign ministry spokesman Alexander Yakovenko told the Interfax news agency that Russia "considers such a decision to be an unfriendly step by the Lithuanian side in relation to Russia".

He said: "The Russian side retains for itself the right to adequate steps in response."

Impeachment proceedings against President Paksas began late last year, and a vote is expected in April.

Mr Paksas says he is innocent and has refused repeated calls for him to resign.

Lithuania and the two other Baltic states, Latvia and Estonia, are preparing to join the European Union and the Nato military alliance later this year.




SEE ALSO:
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05 Jan 04  |  Europe
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01 Dec 03  |  Europe
Shock result in Lithuania poll
05 Jan 03  |  Europe
Country profile: Lithuania
02 Dec 03  |  Country profiles


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