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Posts tagged ‘Vilnius’

Biden Arrives in Poland to Send Signal to Russia.

Stepping into a region on edge, Vice President Joe Biden came to Poland on Tuesday to reassure anxious allies that the U.S. will stand up to Russia’s aggression in neighboring Ukraine, even as Moscow brushes aside sanctions and stern warnings from the West.

Biden arrived in Warsaw on Tuesday morning for consultations with Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk and President Bronislaw Komorowski, a few hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin approved a draft bill for the annexation of Crimea, one of a flurry of steps to formally take over the Black Sea peninsula. Crimea on Sunday voted overwhelmingly to secede from Ukraine and try to join Russia.

On Monday, the U.S. and the European Union levied the toughest sanctions on Russia since the Cold War.

In further meetings in the Polish capital and later in Lithuania’s capital, Vilnius, Biden was to discuss the crisis with the leaders of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia — three Baltic nations that are deeply concerned about what Russia’s military intervention in Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula might portend for the region. All four countries share borders with Russia; Poland also borders Ukraine.

Biden’s two-day trip is part of a broader U.S. campaign to step up pressure on Putin after Sunday’s referendum, dismissed by the U.S. as illegal. In coordination with Europe, the Obama administration has frozen the U.S. assets of nearly a dozen Russian and Ukrainian officials, although critics contend that amounts to a slap on the wrist that Moscow will blithely overlook.

In Warsaw and Vilnius, Biden will affirm the U.S. commitment to defending its NATO allies, which includes Poland and the three Baltic states but not Ukraine. A senior administration official said the vice president will discuss ways to strengthen the alliance so NATO emerges even stronger from the crisis, and will echo Obama by insisting that if Russia continues to flout international law, the costs will only increase.

Biden will also discuss what additional steps the U.S. can take to shore up security for Poland and the Baltics, such as increased training, said the official, who wasn’t authorized to comment by name and demanded anonymity.

Also on the agenda: long-term energy security in Europe, a key factor that has confounded the West’s attempts to display a united front in punishing Russia. Much of Europe is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas, and European countries have major economic interests in Russia that could be in jeopardy if Moscow retaliates with sanctions of its own.

Biden plans to address energy diversification within Europe, but will also discuss how the U.S. can help, said the official, declining to offer more details

Republican lawmakers and a handful of European countries, including Poland, have urged the White House to accelerate approval of U.S. natural gas exports to help Europe wean itself off its dependence on Russia. The White House has insisted that would take too long to help the current crisis and says Russia is too dependent on gas revenues to cut off supplies to Europe.

One option that doesn’t appear to be on the table: rethinking the U.S. posture on missile defense in the region. Poland is still bruised from Obama’s 2009 decision to cancel the final phase of a defense system sorely desired by Poland as a hedge against Russian missiles. The official said Biden will reassure Poland that the smaller, phased-in system Obama chose instead is on schedule, but won’t be discussing potential changes.


© Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Lithuanians ditch government in verdict on austerity.

  • A woman leaves a ballot booth after casting her vote during general elections in Vilnius October 14, 2012. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

    Enlarge PhotoReuters/Reuters – A woman leaves a ballot booth after casting her vote during general elections in Vilnius October 14, 2012. REUTERS/Ints Kalnins

VILNIUS (Reuters) – Lithuania‘s opposition prepared to take power on Monday after voters rejected the austerity-minded government, a foretaste of what may await other European leaders forced to make unpopular cuts by the financial crisis.

An ex-Soviet state of about three million people, Lithuania crashed hard when the crisis hit four years ago. It slashed spending in response and is now returning to economic health – but too late for voters fed up with belt-tightening.

An exit poll after a parliamentary election on Sunday showed Lithuanians had thrown out centre-right Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius in favor of a coalition of left-leaning opposition parties who promise to soften the austerity.

The government of the Baltic nation lost out despite winning praise from big European powers and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for its thrift and discipline.

“If the IMF was voting then he (the prime minister) would be re-elected,” said Kestutis Girnius, who teaches at the Institute for International Relations and Political Science in Vilnius.

“But the IMF does not live in Lithuania, and they could not live on a Lithuanian salary.”

As one of the European Union states most severely hit by the crisis, and one of the fastest to implement austerity, Lithuania is a bellwether for governments in Greece, Spain, Ireland and elsewhere, who are being forced to make similar swinging cuts.

The RAIT/BNS exit poll gave the biggest share of the vote, 19.8 percent, to the Labor Party. The centre-left Social Democrats, likely coalition partner for Labor, were second with 17.8 percent and the prime minister’s Homeland Union was in third place on 16.7 percent.

Partial official results, based on the votes that have been counted so far, ranked the parties in the same order.

The final shape of the next government will not be clear until talks take place on forming a coalition. It may come down to a second round, to take place in two weeks, which will settle races in local districts where no candidate had a clear lead.


The prime minister said he would fight on into the run-off round, but it appeared unlikely he would be able to stay in power, after voters held him accountable for the tough decisions he took to drag Lithuania out of crisis.

“What kind of crisis management are we talking about?” asked Alfonsus Spudys, 78, on his way out of a polling station on Sunday in the capital, Vilnius. “They scythed people down … and now they are saying they handled the crisis really well.”

Before the financial crash in 2008, Lithuania was booming. Scandinavian banks provided cheap credit which let the country buy more than it sold and over-heated the real estate market.

When the crisis struck, the banks stopped lending. Economic output dropped by 15 percent in 2009. Unemployment shot up. Thousands of young Lithuanians went abroad to seek work.

Kubilius, elected after the crisis began, cut pensions and public sector wages. To save money, only every third street lamp in Vilnius was lit, and fuel for police cars was rationed.

This discipline helped the economy rebound. Gross domestic product grew 5.8 percent last year, one of the fastest rates of any EU economy. The budget deficit has been tamed. Yet most Lithuanians feel worse off than they did four years ago.

The opposition parties expected to form the governing coalition have said they will ease the pain of austerity by increasing the minimum wage, making the rich pay higher income tax than the poor and launching job creation schemes.

Economists say the country’s still-delicate finances dictate that whoever is in government will have to stick, for the most part, to the existing austerity program.

Labor Party leader Viktor Uspaskich said the budget deficit might under certain circumstances be allowed to rise above 3 percent of gross domestic product – a threshold which the EU uses to gauge countries’ fiscal discipline.

“How otherwise can you generate (growth in) the economy if you only borrow to cover regular expenditure? You need to borrow for generating (growth),” Uspaskich, a Russian-born businessman, told Reuters in an interview late on Sunday.

(Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Rosalind Russell)


By Andrius Sytas and Christian Lowe | Reuters

Lithuania’s Proof: ‘Miracles Can Happen’.

Lithuania outreach
Thousands responded to the altar call at a Franklin Graham meeting in the Baltic State. (BGEA)

Just on the outskirts of Vilnius, Lithuania, a line of cars stretched for miles, waiting to get into the cemetery for Sunday’s national holiday, All Souls Day.

Inside Siemens Arena, there was a different celebration of souls taking place Sunday night.

But first, Franklin Graham posed a simple question to the 8,500 in attendance.

“Tonight, I want to talk to you about your soul,” Franklin Graham began his message on the final night of the Lithuania Festival of Hope. “Is your soul secure in the hand of Almighty God?”

The direct line of questioning hit many like an artic blast of wind, walking off a Vilnius city bus in the middle of January.

“The way he said it,” said Jurate about Franklin Graham’s opening remarks. “First off, that was really shocking.”

But the question prompted the 23-year-old woman to start seriously thinking about her eternal life and by the time the invitation was given, “there was a great thought of getting redeemed and having Jesus in your life,” and she came forward and gave her life to Christ.

“The Bible says ‘What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses his own soul?’ ” Franklin Graham continued. “God loves you. He loves you. And your soul is valuable.”

And by the time “Just As I Am” was being sung by a massive 400-member white-and-blue-robed Lithuanian choir, hundreds had their soul stirred up, and like Jurate, came forward to settle things once and all, asking Jesus into their hearts.

After leading a packed stage area in a prayer to receive Christ, Graham told those making decisions: “Your soul is now secure.”

For many, this was Eternal Souls Day.

And several thanked Franklin Graham’s direct, no-nonsense approach.

“He preaches like he believes it. And that makes a difference,” a 21-year-old bio-chemistry student said. “He preaches with conviction, passion and power.”

Those three words could also be used to describe many of the musical performances Sunday, from Jamaica pianist Huntley Brown to a Belarus worship band to the Latvian Three Tenors.

But most notably charging up the audience was the Newsboys, which based on the post-Festival comments around the arena, may have a new legion and region of followers after a passionate and charismatic set in their first trip to Lithuania.

Lead singer Michael Tait, who mixed in a spirited acappella version of “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” was performing for the 24th time at a BGEA Festival or Crusade, dating back to his D.C. Talk days and his first 1994 Cleveland Crusade.

“We never get tired of seeing the altar call at the end of the message,” Tait said. “To watch the sheep come in, watch them come forward. It’s unbelievable.”

Renata Ramanauskaite would sum the weekend up the exact way. After working 15 years with Campus Crusade for Christ (Agape) in Lithuania, to see 28,000 people come out to hear the gospel message in one single weekend and then watch hundreds make commitments in three different services, she wonders if this is some sort of dream.

“Even for Christians, it’s hard to believe that God can work in this way,” Ramanauskaite said. “It’s hard to believe. You see the impact, but it’s hard to believe this is happening.”

Ramanauskaite is part of the microscopic percentage of evangelical Christians in Lithuania, a country of 3 million where only one-tenth of one percent are believers, an estimated 3,000 Christians. But after seeing nearly half that number come to Christ making first-time decisions, she can only imagine what might be ahead.

“I would hope for an explosion among Christianity,” she said. “I hope this is an inspiration to Christians that God can do miracles.”

Already, Ramanauskaite witnessed one work of God personally this weekend. On Sunday night, as she was counseling a 32-year-old Russian woman to accept Christ, she asked who invited her and she answered her sister.

Only later, did she realize that her sister, a 25-year-old named Arena, was a woman Ramanauskaite had led to the Lord two years ago and was now impacting her family.

“For me, it’s wonderful that Arena can have an influence and her family members can be changed,” Ramanauskaite said. “God can change hearts. Miracles can happen.”

Used with permission from the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

By Trevor Freeze.

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