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Lithuanian President Faces Possible Impeachment - 2003-12-01


A parliamentary committee in Lithuania is set to release a report that could lead to the impeachment of President Rolandas Paksas because of a corruption scandal. The report stems from allegations made about mafia links involving officials in the president's office.

The head of the parliamentary committee says enough evidence has been collected to link key aides of President Paksas with Russian criminal groups.

The committee leader, Aloyzas Sakalas, says the evidence substantiates allegations that the president violated the constitution and is therefore subject to impeachment.

The allegations first surfaced in an earlier report by the Lithuanian security services, which claimed that the president's main financial backer in his election, Jurijus Borisovas, was involved in illegal arms trading with Sudan.

The report also said evidence was found linking some of Mr. Paksas's key aides with crime rings, and even that the small Baltic country served as a base for financing international terrorism.

President Paksas has consistently denied any wrongdoing. But the scandal has rocked Lithuania just months before it is to join the European Union and NATO.

Mr. Paksas claims he is the target of a conspiracy to unseat him less than a year after the 47-year-old former stunt pilot won a snap election last January.

However the committee chairman said Mr. Paksas had damaged his own case by refusing to appear before the parliamentary committee, although he did offer to respond to written questions.

Questions were also raised when the president arranged to grant Lithuanian citizenship to the man at the center of the scandal, Mr. Borisovas, who is Russian.

New allegations about the president have appeared in the Lithuanian media almost daily since the scandal broke, and demonstrators took to the streets again over the weekend to demand that the president resign.

The protesters carried signs saying "It's time to go" and "Paksas, out liar." They said the president should resign to spare Lithuania from having to go through a lengthy impeachment process.

Thirty-six votes in the 141-seat parliament are needed to start the impeachment procedure, and 86 lawmakers would have to vote against the president to oust him from office.

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