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Lithuania's President-Elect Gives Up U.S. Citizenship

Inauguration: Former EPA bureaucrat from Chicago is to be sworn in today as leader of his native land.

February 26, 1998|RICHARD C. PADDOCK | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MOSCOW — Valdas Adamkus, the federal bureaucrat from Chicago who was elected president of Lithuania, formally gave up his U.S. citizenship Wednesday, one day before his scheduled swearing-in.

Adamkus, 71, is to take the oath of office in Parliament today, then celebrate his inauguration at a rally in central Vilnius and a Mass in the capital's landmark cathedral.

With his victory in January, the former regional administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency became the first U.S. citizen to win election as president of a former Soviet Bloc nation--or, for that matter, any nation in Europe.

"He will be a president for all the people," a spokesman declared Wednesday. "He is not a member of any party. He will try to be a mediator between the different political groups. He will try to unify our nation."

A native of Lithuania, Adamkus fled his homeland as a teenager when the Soviet Union seized control of the small Baltic nation from Nazi Germany near the end of World War II. He lived in Germany briefly before moving to the United States, where he became a citizen and lived for 50 years.

He overcame Lithuania's residency requirement for presidential candidates by arguing that his frequent trips to his native land gave him sufficient time to qualify under the Lithuanian Constitution.

He narrowly won election, drawing support from voters who hoped he would bring American values and experience to Lithuania. For many, it was an asset that Adamkus was a political newcomer who did not live in the country during the nearly five decades of Soviet occupation and could bring fresh ideas.

His main challenge now will be reviving Lithuania's economy, which has lagged behind that of Baltic neighbor Estonia. Many Lithuanians, especially in rural areas, are worse off than they were during Soviet times. Among Lithuania's top priorities are joining the European Union and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

One of the thorniest diplomatic issues facing the new president will be Lithuania's slow pace in bringing to trial those accused of Nazi-era war crimes who have returned or been deported from the United States.

Of six alleged Nazis who have returned to Lithuania since 1992, none has been tried, although Aleksandras Lileikis, 91, the former head of the Lithuanian Security Police in Vilnius, who is accused of handing over Jews to be executed, could face trial as early as next month.

Because of an apparent loophole in the Lithuanian Constitution, Adamkus could have maintained both U.S. and Lithuanian citizenship while serving as president. But knowing it could be politically embarrassing to serve as president of one country while holding citizenship in another, he went to the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius, turned in his passport and renounced his citizenship.

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