Lithuania shamed by skinhead march in capital, president says

European Jewish Press/March 20, 2008

Vilnius - A march by extreme-right skinheads who yelled racist slogans in the heart of the Lithuanian capital has brought shame on the entire country, President Valdas Adamkus said Thursday.

"Such incidents must not be tolerated. A state which honours the law and calls itself a democratic country must uphold rights," Adamkus told reporters.

"Such incidents shame the whole of Lithuania," he added.

Around 200 skinheads paraded in the centre of Vilnius on March 11, an annual holiday during which Lithuania marks its 1990 declaration of independence from the crumbling Soviet Union.

Adamkus was indignant about the "sluggish" reaction of the police, his spokeswoman Rita Grumadaite said.

Participants carried banners showing fascist symbols, and chanted anti-Semitic and anti-Russian slogans -- Lithuania is home to a sizable Russian-speaking minority.

Inciting hatred is a criminal offence in Lithuania, but police did not take action against the marchers, arguing that only some of them were hurling abuse.

Lithuanian and international Jewish groups, as well as broader-based anti-racism organizations, have slammed the way the march was handled.

Adamkus on Thursday met with Interior Minister Regimantas Ciupaila and warned him that there should be no repeat of such events in the future, Grumadaite said.

After meeting with Adamkus, Ciupaila claimed such incidents "had not been and will not be tolerated".

Ciupiala said that police had launched an investigation and that two individuals had already been identified as suspects.

Inciting racial hatred can carry a two-year prison sentence under Lithuanian law.

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