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Lithuanian Lawmakers Consider Impeachment of President - 2004-02-19

Lithuania's political crisis has deepened, with a parliamentary panel's findings that there are grounds to remove President Rolandas Paksas from office for violating the constitution. A decision on whether to pursue impeachment could come as early as Friday.

If parliament accepts the panel's recommendation to impeach President Paksas, it will have to seek a ruling from the Constitutional Court before proceeding.

That will trigger further investigations and court rulings, before a decisive vote could be taken. Some analysts have said they do not expect a vote until April at the earliest.

The crisis has been brewing since last October, when a security services report linked President Paksas and his top aides to Russian criminal groups, prompting the special parliamentary investigation.

The parliamentary panel ruled late Wednesday that President Paksas should face impeachment on six counts, including violating the constitution and his presidential oath. Other charges center on his dealings with his chief financial backer, a Russian who is accused of illegal arms trading and ties to the Russian mafia.

President Paksas has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing and insists he will not step down.

Mr. Paksas could be removed from office if 85 deputies in Lithuania's 141 seat parliament vote for the measure. Senior lawmakers predict they have enough votes to oust him.

If President Paksas is dismissed, new presidential elections would have to be held within two months. Under terms of Lithuania's constitution, Mr. Paksas, would be eligible to run again.

Top political and religious leaders in the capital, Vilnius, have repeatedly urged him to resign and spare Lithuania a lengthy and potentially embarrassing impeachment process so close to the Baltic nation's long-sought admission into the European Union and NATO this May.