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LITHUANIA

Independence declared: 11 March 1990

Population: 3.7 million

Capital: Vilnius

President: Valdas Adamkus (since 26 February 1998)

 Country profile

VIEWPOINTS

Until 1991 I was an officer in the Soviet army, but I left after the bloody events at Vilnius TV tower. I couldnít remain in an army which killed innocent people. In the last 10 years, Iíve tried my hand at lots of different jobs. For the last three years Iíve worked as a builder, and strange to say, I like it. We now have a construction boom, and are building hundreds of new homes.

Gintaris Zhilinskas, 45, builder


In 1991 I unexpectedly lost my job and had to begin a new life. For a few years I used to travel to Turkey with large suitcases, buy cheap goods, and sell them here at the market. I remember how ashamed I was when I met people at the market who remembered me from my past life. But in time those exhausting trips raised enough capital for my friends and I to open a hairdressers.

Rasa Martsinkyavichnye, 53, hairdresser


Last year my childhood idols, The Pet Shop Boys, were on tour in Vilnius - an example of how much Lithuania has opened up to the world. Lithuanians can now travel throughout the whole of Europe without visas. My friends and I have been to various rock concerts in different European capitals. In Soviet times I never even dreamt of such opportunities.

Igoris Kofas, 26, rock singer

Introduction 4. Lithuania 8. Georgia 12. Uzbekistan
1. Russia 5. Belarus 9. Armenia 13. Tajikistan
2. Estonia 6. Ukraine 10. Azerbaijan 14. Kyrgyzstan
3. Latvia 7. Moldova 11. Turkmenistan 15. Kazakhstan


Pro-independence rally in Vilnius /AP
Lithuania was the first republic to declare independence /AP

Lithuania was the first of the republics to declare independence in March 1990, pre-empting the unravelling of the entire Soviet empire.

The authorities in Moscow first attempted to choke the spirit of rebellion with an economic blockade, but in January 1991 Soviet troops were sent to the capital, Vilnius. Fourteen people were killed and hundreds injured.

But the will of the Baltic people to break away proved unstoppable. In September 1991 Moscow finally recognized Lithuaniaís independence, along with the other Baltic states. The last Russian troops withdrew in 1993.

Lithuania has subsequently restructured its economy for eventual integration into Western European institutions. But its bid to join the EU has led to new challenges Ė such as how to tackle the increasing numbers of people being smuggled across its borders to the West.

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