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Last Updated: Tuesday, 6 April, 2004, 14:31 GMT 15:31 UK
Parliament sacks Lithuania leader
Rolandas Paksas leaves parliament in Vilnius after being impeached
Paksas has vowed to run again for president
Lithuania's parliament has narrowly voted to impeach President Rolandas Paksas for violating the constitution.

Mr Paksas, 47, was accused of leaking classified material and giving citizenship to a Russian businessman in return for financial support.

Mr Paksas, who repeatedly denied any wrongdoing, has been immediately dismissed from office, the head of the Supreme Court announced.

The affair has embarrassed the Baltic state as it prepares to join the EU.

This is a vendetta for my efforts to fight corruption in this country
Rolandas Paksas

Mr Paksas's survival had seemed unlikely after the constitutional court ruled last week that he had grossly violated the constitution.

However, impeachment, which needed the votes of 85 members of the 141-seat parliament, was in the end only narrowly approved with 116 MPs taking part:

  • 86 MPs vote against him for unlawfully granting Lithuanian citizenship

  • 86 against him for leaking classified information

  • 89 against him for meddling in private business

In a speech to deputies before they voted, Mr Paksas insisted that his mistakes did not warrant impeachment.

"I do not feel guilty," he said, saying the vote was "not only my personal drama or tragedy but also a challenge for our country."

"This is all the system's revenge against me. This is a vendetta for my efforts to fight corruption in this country."

Russian donor

The scandal surfaced last October, when a state security report said some of the president's advisers had links to criminal gangs and the Russian secret service.

Although the president himself was not accused, a parliamentary inquiry said he was vulnerable to influence.

Supporters of Rolandas Paksas outside parliament
Paksas still has support among some Lithuanians

The charges centred on Russian businessman Yuri Borisov. After his election early last year, Mr Paksas gave Mr Borisov Lithuanian citizenship at his request.

The businessman, who denies any impropriety, was the largest financial donor to the president's election campaign.

The case has raised fears in some quarters in Lithuania of Russian influence in the ex-Soviet state's affairs.

Lithuania won independence from the USSR in 1991. The largest of the Baltic states in terms of population, it also has the smallest Russian-speaking minority, being more than 80% ethnic Lithuanian.

To stand again

Under the constitution, Mr Paksas is replaced by the parliamentary speaker, Arturas Paulauskas, his main political rival.

Mr Paulauskas would stand in as president for two months pending an election.

Mr Paksas served twice as mayor of Vilnius and twice as prime minister before becoming president in February last year after winning a surprise victory against incumbent Valdas Adamkus.

The BBC's Adam Easton in Vilnius says impeachment may not spell the end of Mr Paksas's political career.

The popular former stunt pilot had pledged to stand again for office if impeached - a provision contained in the constitution - and opinion polls suggest he has a chance of winning.


SEE ALSO:
Lithuania president loses ruling
31 Mar 04  |  Europe
Country profile: Lithuania
24 Feb 04  |  Country profiles


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