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Monday, January 5, 1998 Published at 16:31 GMT


US citizen becomes Lithuanian president
image: [ Lithuania's new president Valdas Adamkus celebrates his victory with supporters ]
Lithuania's new president Valdas Adamkus celebrates his victory with supporters

An emigrant who returned to Lithuania just months ago, after spending nearly 50 years in the United States, has won a narrow victory in presidential elections in the Baltic state, the electoral commission said on Monday.

The commission said that with vote-counting completed, Valdas Adamkus won 49.87% while Arturas Paulauskas, who was backed by neo-communists and the outgoing president, won 49.31%.

[ image: Mr Adamkus won by the narrowest of margins]
Mr Adamkus won by the narrowest of margins
The remaining votes were spoiled ballots or ones cast against both candidates -- an option under Lithuanian election law.

Mr Adamkus said his victory was "an historic event not just for Lithuania but for all the countries of the former Soviet Union".

He added: "With this victory we have shown that Lithuania is moving toward the West."

In the first round, held on December 21, Mr Paulauskas finished first with 44.73 %, ahead of Mr Adamkus with 27.89 %.

But for the run-off, the five candidates who were eliminated in the first round switched their support to the eventual winner, whose most powerful backer was parliamentary speaker, Vytautas Landsbergis, 65. He is a driving force behind Lithuania's independence from the Soviet Union.

[ image: Valdas Adamkus:
Valdas Adamkus: "An historic event for Lithuania"
Mr Adamkus, 71 emigrated to the United States in 1949 to escape the Soviet occupation of his homeland. He came back in October last year after working for 27 years with the US Environmental Protection Agency in the Chicago area.

James Coomarasamy reports from Vilnius. (1' 24")
Between the two rounds of the election, Mr Paulauskas, 44, tried to portray his rival as someone who had been away so long he no longer knew his native country.

"Adamkus will be president, but a president who remains a foreigner to me," said Arvidas Juozaitis, head of Mr Paulauskas' campaign.

On Monday, Mr Adamkus said he was prepared to relinquish his US citizenship immediately. He said he would meet with the US ambassador straight away to begin the necessary proceedings.


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