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Lithuania mourns death of former President Brazauskas

The Lithuanian government has begun mourning the death of the country's former president and prime minister, Algirdas Brazauskas, who played an integral role in Lithuania's transition from communism to democracy.

Former Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas

Brazauskas will be remembered for standing up to Moscow for independence

On Tuesday, a three-day official mourning period began for former Lithuanian President Algirdas Brazauskas, the country's last communist-era leader who died on Saturday after a long illness.

Lithuania's current president, Dalia Grybauskaite, said her country had lost "a warm person and a prominent politician who had been at the helm of the state during a challenging period in the history of Lithuania."

Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite

Grybauskaite said Brazauskas was integral to Lithuanian unity

European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso echoed those sentiments on Sunday, hailing Brazauskas' commitment to European integration.

"As president and prime minister, Algirdas Brazauskas made a critical contribution to his country's integration into the European Union," Barroso said after the G20 summit wrapped up in Toronto.

"I worked closely with him and have known him as a true statesman who was deeply committed to our European project and its values," Barroso added.

Key figure in Lithuanian independence

Brazauskas was born in the central Lithuanian town of Rokiskis in 1932 during Lithuania's first period of independence before it was annexed by the Soviet Union in 1940.

In 1988, he became the first secretary of the Communist Party of Lithuania and crucially backed the nascent independence movement. On March 11, 1990, he was among the signatories of the key Restoration of Independence Act.

An elderly man casts his ballot at a polling station

Lithuanians voted to join the European Union in 2003

Brazauskas became the first president of newly independent Lithuania after winning elections in 1993. He served as prime minister from 2000 until 2006, during which time the country joined both the EU and NATO.

Leaders of the other two Baltic states, Estonia and Latvia, were the first to honor Brazauskas for his stand against Moscow, with former Latvian President Guntis Ulmanis calling his death "a loss not only to the Lithuanian nation, but to all the Baltic states."

Estonian President Toomas Hendrik said "Lithuania has lost a great citizen, one who helped his country to break away from a totalitarian regime into democracy."

Lithuania will continue its period of mourning until Thursday, when Brazauskas' funeral is scheduled to take place in the capital Vilnius.

Author: Gabriel Borrud (AFP/dpa)
Editor: Chuck Penfold

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