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Last Updated: Wednesday, 7 April, 2004, 09:31 GMT 10:31 UK
Paksas fall stirs mixed emotions
By Adam Easton
BBC correspondent in Vilnius

The impeachment and removal of Lithuania's President Rolandas Paksas on corruption charges aroused mixed feelings in the capital Vilnius.

His opponents heralded the impeachment process as a triumph for the Baltic state's young democracy as it prepares to join the European Union on 1 May.

Paksas supporter
Paksas supporters say parliament is corrupt
His supporters, many of them angry, accused the politicians who voted for impeachment of being corrupt themselves.

Mr Paksas, 47, was removed from office after parliament voted to impeach him on three counts of violating the constitution.

The president was accused of trying to influence a private business, arranging citizenship for a Russian businessman, Yuri Borisov, in return for financial support and leaking a state secret when he warned Mr Borisov his phones were being tapped.

In the evening, Mr Paksas's opponents held a party at the Forum Palace, Vilnius' luxury business and entertainment centre to celebrate. Many of Lithuania's pop stars and artists and politicians attended the bash.

"I'm really proud of our politicians who managed to overcome their own ambitions and show the electorate that anybody who breaches the constitution will be punished," said education manager Snieguole Matoniene.

Exhaustion

When Mr Paksas's predecessor, former Lithuanian president Valdus Adamkus arrived, he was welcomed with a standing ovation and chants of "We love you".

"Democracy is very young in Lithuania and it's to be expected we could make a lot of mistakes," Mr Adamkus told the BBC.

The people who removed him, the parliament, are those people who have hoarded all the wealth for themselves
Salomeja Pudak,
Paksas supporter
"But for the first time in Lithuania's political history a head of state has been impeached and removed from office. That proves that the country and the people are committed to live in a democracy and a free society, free of fear and able to decide it's own future."

He added he would run for president again if chosen as a consensus candidate.

As the party was going on Mr Paksas had checked into a cardiology unit at a Vilnius hospital. His adviser, Alvydas Medalinskas, said the former president was suffering from exhaustion and had gone in for tests. He said Mr Paksas's condition was not serious.

Under the country's constitution, Mr Paksas's main political rival, Parliamentary Speaker, Arturas Paulauskas, has been appointed acting head of state. New presidential elections must be held within 60 days. Some politicians have said they may be held on June 13 to coincide with Lithuania's first elections to the European Parliament.

Mr Paksas has said he may stand in those elections, as the constitution allows him to. In recent months he has been touring the countryside to bolster his support. An opinion poll carried out in February put Mr Paksas above all his presidential rivals, including Mr Adamkus.

'Set-up'

Analysts say he probably has 30% support, chiefly among those who are missing out on Lithuania's economic growth, the elderly, the unemployed and those who live in impoverished parts of rural Lithuania.

His support may have been dented by the impeachment. But one supporter who would vote for Mr Paksas again was Salomeja Pudak.

"The people who removed him, the parliament, are those people who have hoarded all the wealth for themselves," she said.

"I wanted to scream when I saw that he was going to be removed. Look at the pensions, I'm getting just 300 litas ($90 or 49) a month, how can I survive on this money?"

Another, a pensioner who did not want to be named, added: "I believe those people who voted against Paksas are corrupt themselves. It was all a set-up.

"They did it because Paksas is a young politician who wanted to deal a blow to them. I would definitely vote for him again, and not only myself I know many people who would do the same."

It seems the scandal may not have spelt the end of Mr Paksas's political career.




SEE ALSO:
Country profile: Lithuania
24 Feb 04  |  Country profiles


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