Archive for Thursday, April 1, 2004

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April 1, 2004

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Lithuania

Court rules president violated constitution

Lithuania's highest court ruled Wednesday that President Rolandas Paksas violated the country's constitution by arranging citizenship for a businessman with alleged ties to organized crime -- likely setting the stage for an impeachment vote.

The court found that Paksas flagrantly violated the constitution and his oath of office on three counts. The ruling had been sought by his opponents in the 141-seat Seimas, or parliament, who could call for an impeachment vote as early as next week.

The court said Paksas acted illegally when he arranged citizenship for businessman Yuri Borisov, a native Russian who police say has links to the Russian mafia.

Borisov, who has denied any wrongdoing, donated $400,000 to Paksas' election campaign in early 2003.

Switzerland

U.N. leader Annan completes Cyprus deal

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan presented his blueprint for the reunification of Cyprus on Wednesday and set an April 24 date for islanders to vote on the plan, saying "the time for decision and action has arrived."

Turkey's government quickly endorsed the proposal, but the Greek side was more cautious.

Annan's plan is a last-ditch attempt to reunify the Mediterranean island before it joins the European Union on May 1. Turkey, which wants to join the European Union itself, had hoped an agreement on Cyprus would help its cause.

"The hour is late, but the cause is urgent," Annan told the parties, gathered within minutes of the midnight deadline for completing four-way talks in Buergenstock.

Cyprus has been split into the Greek Cypriot-controlled south and the occupied north since Turkey invaded in 1974 in the wake of a short-lived coup by supporters of union with Greece. The breakaway state in the north is recognized only by Turkey, which maintains 40,000 troops there.

Paris

New leaders announced in France

Foreign Minister Dominique de Villepin, a relentless critic of the U.S. war in Iraq, becomes interior minister under a major French government shake-up announced Wednesday. The opposition quickly criticized the changes as cosmetic.

De Villepin, France's top diplomat since May 2002, will be replaced by European Commissioner Michel Barnier, the presidential Elysee Palace announced. Barnier has expressed concern about what France sees as American domination of Europe but has also called for strong U.S. ties with the continent.

The current interior minister, the highly popular Nicolas Sarkozy, becomes head of the Ministry of Economy, Finance and Industry and keeps his ranking as the top minister just under Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin.

The changes followed the governing right's massive defeat in Sunday regional elections in which the Socialist-led opposition won in all but one region of mainland France.

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