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Last Updated: Monday, 11 October, 2004, 16:13 GMT 17:13 UK
Lithuania opposition secures lead
Viktor Uspaskich
Viktor Uspaskich says Lithuania's foreign policy won't change
The opposition Labour Party led by a Russian-born businessman has secured a clear lead in the first round of voting in Lithuania's general election.

The party won 29% of the vote and 23 of the 141 parliamentary seats, while the governing coalition won 20% (19 seats).

The second round of voting in the first polls since Lithuania joined the EU this year takes place on 24 October.

Analysts say Labour's success has raised fears of increased Russian influence in Lithuania.

Looking west

Lithuania gained independence from the former Soviet Union in 1991.

But Labour leader Viktor Uspaskich says the country's orientation towards the West, having just joined the EU and Nato, will not change.

I think I would not be the worst prime minister among those who have held this post over the past 14 years in Lithuania
Viktor Uspaskich,
Labour party
"Lithuanian foreign policy won't change - the European Union and Nato will remain our natural priorities," he said.

Mr Uspaskich said that, while he did not rule out being prime minister, it was not a goal of his.

After the vote he added: "It is for the Labour Party to decide, but I think I would not be the worst prime minister among those who have held this post over the past 14 years in Lithuania."

The chairman of Lithuania's Central Electoral Commission, Zenonas Vaigauskas said Mr Uspaskich's party could win an outright majority in the next round of elections, if it won every seat it was contesting.

"We can say that, at least in theory, the runoff might significantly alter the composition of the Seimas (parliament)," he said.

Turnout was a record low, with only 45% of registered voters going to the polls.

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President Valdas Adamkus said he was disappointed and hoped to encourage more people to turn out in the second round.

"It's very sad that so many people did not use their right to choose parliament, which will be guiding our country in future," he said. "We have come only halfway down the road."

Man voting on Sunday
Turnout was at a record low for the first round vote
The governing left-wing coalition of the Social Democrat and Social Liberal parties is led by Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas and parliamentary speaker Arturas Paulauskas.

Voting in the capital Vilnius on Sunday, Mr Brazauskas said he was willing to share power with Mr Uspaskich if his party signed up to the current government's programme.

But Mr Uspaskich said his aim was for his Labour Party, formed last year, to "govern without help from anyone".

Twenty parties are contesting the 141 seats in Lithuania's parliament, the Seimas - 70 will be allocated on a proportional basis to parties that crossed the 5% threshold of the vote on Sunday.

Final results will be known only after 24 October, when voting will be held in those of 71 individual constituencies where no candidate gets an overall majority.

Lithuania was admitted into Nato in March, and the European Union in May.




SEE ALSO:
New probe for Lithuania's Paksas
30 Apr 04  |  Europe
Paksas fall stirs mixed emotions
07 Apr 04  |  Europe
Country profile: Lithuania
01 May 04  |  Country profiles


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