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Lithuanian President upsets coalition plans

Lithuania's president has vetoed opposition plans to form a government coalition following the recent elections. It is the first time a president has made such a move in Lithuania's more than 20 years of independence.

President Dalia Grybauskaite rejected a proposed government coalition on Monday, saying that Labor is unfit to rule after allegations of vote buying and tax fraud against the party.

Lithuanians had voted against Prime Minister Andrius Kubilius' austerity-leaning government during Sunday's election, which set the stage for a more left-wing coalition.

The Labor party had been expected to join the center-left Social Democratic and the populist right-wing Order and Justice parties, after the three won 79 seats in Lithuania's 141-member parliament.

The coalition had promised to lessen the harsh effects of Kubilius' budget cuts, but Grybauskaite rejected the move.

Under investigation

"A party that during an election is suspected of being at the root of the largest number of cases of electoral fraud, which is suspected of tax fraud and the leaders of which have been charged in a criminal investigation cannot be involved in forming a government," Grybauskaite said.

"I will give support only to that political party which can form a majority without the Labor party, which is sitting on the bench of the accused," the president added.

Grybauskaite said police are looking into 27 election irregularities, 18 of which were alleged vote buying. The Labor party is suspected to be involved in most of the violations.

Labor party leader Viktor Uspaskich is also under investigation in a long-running funding probe by Lithuanian prosecutors and tax authorities. He made his fortune importing Russian gas and producing pickles.

Making history

Grybauskaite is the first president to refuse a proposed party coalition since Lithuania gained independence from Russia in 1990. A constitutional court decision 15 years ago ruled that the head of state should not ignore the will of a parliamentary majority.

Despite her stance on the Labor party, the president has said she is still supportive of a Social Democrat government.

"The Social Democrats came first in the election and won the most votes," she said.

Algirdas Butkevicious, leader of the Social Democrats and the man likely to become the country's next prime minister, said he was surprised by Grybauskaite's decision, adding that he and his colleagues will "be looking for the best outcome for Lithuania."

dr/jr (AFP, Reuters)