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Thousands Demand Lithuanian President's Resignation - 2003-11-22


In Lithuania, several thousand people turned out on Saturday to call for their president to resign.

The protesters say it is time for President Rolandas Paksas to step down, in order to end political turmoil, after a report alleged that several of his key aides had links with the Russian mafia.

The report by Lithuanian security services said that Mr. Paksas' main financial backer in his January election was involved in illegal arms trading with Sudan, and that some other presidential aides had links with organized crime rings.

The allegations have led to weeks of political uncertainty in Lithuania, just months before it is due to join both the European Union and the NATO military alliance.

It is this uncertainty that has now led many in the small Baltic republic to call on Mr. Paksas to step down.

But the conservative 47-year-old president has consistently refused to resign. He says the allegations are untrue.

Parliament members who are currently investigating the mafia report say, if it proves correct, they will vote on whether to begin impeachment proceedings against the president on December 1.

Many Lithuanians would prefer him to step down voluntarily, to avoid the lengthy proceedings, which would take place just as preparations are underway for EU and NATO entry in May.

Some of the alleged evidence against the president is in classified documents and private telephone conversations between officials, transcripts of which have appeared in local media.

Mr. Paksas won the presidency in January in a political upset, promising to raise living standards in a country that has gone through a decade of difficult economic reforms since regaining its independence.

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