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Lithuanian Parliament Begins Impeachment Action Against President - 2003-12-02

Lithuania's Parliament moved to begin impeachment proceedings against President Rolandas Paksas on Tuesday by approving a report which found he has links with organized crime. The action comes as senior leaders urge the president to resign voluntarily.

Parliament deputies adopted the report which sets in motion various steps that could lead to President Paksas' impeachment.

A group of deputies must now collect a certain number of signatures in order to initiate the formal process.

But President Paksas remains defiant, issuing a statement refusing to resign from office.

The former stunt pilot, 47, says his political enemies were trying to "annihilate him" politically. He insists that none of his actions have been illegal or violate the constitution.

The 10-page report issued on Monday says that criminal groups "exert influence over the president's office" and pose a threat to Lithuania's national security. Some groups are reported to have links with Russian secret services.

The report also focuses on the president's relationship with his chief financial backer, a Russian who is accused of illegal arms trading.

The report listed six areas in which Paksas or his office had links with criminal groups. It found that "people of dubious reputation" exerted influence over the president and sought to bring changes to state institutions.

The committee's head, Aloyazas Sakalas, said "that national security is threatened not only by tanks today. It can be threatened by influence on the government, economy and other areas of the state."

The scandal has rocked the small Baltic country just months before it is due to join the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

After the report was issued, the prime minister and other senior lawmakers called on the Mr. Paksas to step down voluntarily because of the crisis.

Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas, leader of the biggest party in parliament, had refrained from comment until the report was formally released.

But on Tuesday he urged the president to resign in order to spare the country from going through a lengthy legal process that could last for months.

Eighty-six deputies in the 141-seat parliament would need to vote for impeachment, and senior lawmakers say there would likely be enough votes to force Mr. Paksas from office.

The president won a surprise election victory last January.