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Lithuania Incumbent is Front-Runner in Presidential Election - 2002-12-22

Lithuania's president is favored to be re-elected in a poll that comes at a pivotal moment in the small Baltic country's history.

Opinion polls show that Lithuanian President Valdas Adamkus is the favorite to win a second term.

Mr. Adamkus has won widespread support largely because the small Baltic nation's economy is strong.

But the president also had key foreign policy successes. In the past two months, Lithuania has been invited to enter both the European Union and the NATO military alliance.

Mr. Adamkus, 76, has spent most of his life in the United States.

Although he is the front-runner, the president is just one of 17 candidates running for the post. If no one gets an absolute majority of more than 50 percent, a runoff will be held on January 5.

His main rival is former prime minister Rolandas Paksas, who was trailing far behind in the latest opinion poll.

Apart from president, the 2.7 million eligible voters in Lithuania are also electing city and county councils throughout the country.

Lithuania has worked hard to build its economy and links with Western counties, after regaining its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, along with neighboring Latvia and Estonia.

The three Baltic states have long had difficult relations with Russia, which until recently strongly objected to their entering NATO.