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Last Updated: Wednesday, 18 October 2006, 00:28 GMT 01:28 UK
Queen visit brings excitement to Lithuania
By Laura Sheeter
BBC News, Vilnius

Queen Elizabeth II in Lithuania
The Queen is making a tour of the three Baltic states

The Queen has received an enthusiastic welcome as thousands of Lithuanians came to see her at the start of her tour of the three Baltic states.

In the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, a flag-waving crowd gathered in the city's Town Hall Square, cheering as the Queen went on "walkabout" meeting members of the public.

Many had arrived early to watch the Queen's speech to the Seimas, the Lithuanian parliament, which was broadcast on giant TV screens in the square.

Despite the fresh, cold weather, the excitement was palpable in Vilnius' Town Hall Square.

Several thousand people had gathered, waving the Union Jack and the red, gold and green Lithuanian flag.

Popular message

They had already seen the Queen, wearing pale grey, paying tribute to their country in her address to the Lithuanian parliament, which was broadcast live on national television.

The children were very moved to talk with her, though some of them weren't sure she was the Queen because she wasn't wearing a crown and a long dress
Arune Tornau

She praised Lithuania and the other Baltic states, Latvia and Estonia, for the progress they had made since leaving the Soviet Union just 15 years ago.

"You have emerged from the shadow of the Soviet Union and blossomed as sovereign states, taking up your rightful places in the international community and as respected members of the European Union and Nato. It is a transformation - political, economic and social - for which there are few parallels in the history of Europe" the Queen said.

It was a popular message for the people of a country which feels it is only now beginning to be recognised on the world stage.

Those who met her, however, were more impressed by the Queen herself, than the symbolism of her visit.

Arune Tornau, a teacher at the Vilnius Children's School of Art - whose pupils were involved in making an exhibition for the Queen, said the children were thrilled.

"One boy was so excited he couldn't sleep at all last night," she said.

"The children were very moved to talk with her, though some of them weren't sure she was the Queen because she wasn't wearing a crown and a long dress."

'Historic moment'

Another woman who spoke to the Queen described the visit as "a present for all Lithuania". She said, "I had butterflies in my stomach when she stopped in front of me, but she was so warm and friendly".

Queen Elizabeth II in Lithuania
The excitement was palpable in Vilnius' Town Hall Square

Earlier in the day the Queen laid a wreath at the Antakalnis Cemetery, in honour of those Lithuanians who were killed by Soviet troops in 1991 during popular demonstrations against Soviet power, and she met some of their relatives.

Galina Jankauskiene, whose son Rolandas was 22 when he died in 1991, had tears in her eyes.

"This is something unique," she said. "The Queen coming here is like the sun shining on our homeland. It's a historic moment."

The visit is also making headlines in all the local media. It's being broadcast live on Lithuanian radio and television, and the country's newspapers are full of articles about both the Queen herself and royalty more generally.

Most exciting of all, it seems, is the apparent discovery by Lithuanian and British historians, that Elizabeth II is a distant descendant of a medieval Lithuanian monarch.

A headline in the national daily "Lietuvos Rytas" reads: "A surprise from historians for the honoured guest - Queen Elizabeth will be told about blood ties with Lithuania."

The Queen travels on to Latvia on Wednesday morning, where they have no doubt, been watching her progress so far with great anticipation.

If the enthusiasm of the crowd in Vilnius is anything to go by - people in the Baltic states are reacting with warmth to the compliment they feel the Queen is paying them, by coming to visit their countries.


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