Viewing cable 09VILNIUS38
Title: VILNIUS QUIET AFTER LAST WEEK'S DEMONSTRATIONS

IdentifierCreatedReleasedClassificationOrigin
09VILNIUS382009-01-22 08:37:00 2011-08-30 01:44:00 CONFIDENTIAL Embassy Vilnius
VZCZCXYZ0005
PP RUEHWEB

DE RUEHVL #0038/01 0220837
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 220837Z JAN 09
FM AMEMBASSY VILNIUS
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 3216
INFO RUEHRA/AMEMBASSY RIGA PRIORITY 3545
RUEHTL/AMEMBASSY TALLINN PRIORITY 7167
RUEHWR/AMEMBASSY WARSAW PRIORITY 3751
C O N F I D E N T I A L VILNIUS 000038 
 
SIPDIS 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 01/21/2019 
TAGS: PGOV ECON LH
SUBJECT: VILNIUS QUIET AFTER LAST WEEK'S DEMONSTRATIONS 
 
REF: A. VILNIUS 30 
     ¶B. RIGA 29 
 
Classified By: Ambassador John A. Cloud for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d). 
 
¶1. (U) Summary: Although political leaders condemned the 
violence at the January 16 anti-government demonstration 
outside the parliament building in Vilnius, they also said 
they had perhaps moved too quickly to implement austerity 
measures and said some could be reviewed or withdrawn. 
Police, who used tear gas and fired rubber bullets at 
protesters, defended their response to the violent 
demonstrators as measured and appropriate.  An association of 
small-business owners has received permission to hold another 
large protest in two weeks, though they probably will not be 
allowed to do so in the same location.  End summary. 
 
¶2. (U) Dozens of broken windows await repair at the Seimas 
(parliament) building, drawing attention from occasional 
passersby, but little other evidence remains of the protest 
in front of the building on January 16.  Police detained 151 
persons at the demonstration, mostly for disorderly conduct 
or public drunkenness; 15 were still in custody on more 
serious charges as of January 21.  More than a dozen lawyers, 
reportedly unhappy with recent government actions including 
increased taxes that will impact them personally, have 
stepped forward to provide pro bono representation. Officials 
estimated demonstration-related damage in Vilnius at 80,000 
USD. 
 
¶3. (U) PM Andrius Kubilius and a key coalition partner, 
Seimas Speaker Arunas Valinskas, admitted publicly over the 
weekend that the short time frame in which the GOL's 
economic-reform package was drafted and enacted might have 
prevented the government from seeking or hearing adequate 
input from the public. "We are ready to remove certain 
shortcomings in the decisions we took in December," Kubilius 
said.  Indeed, he then said the GOL would look at ways to 
reduce the tax burden on small and medium businesses, even 
though the government faces a revenue shortfall of about 120 
million USD due to the president's veto of a proposed tax on 
cars.  Although opposition politicians have criticized the 
GOL for its economic plan, all parties condemned the violent 
protesters and no major party had endorsed or participated in 
the January 16 demonstration. 
 
¶4. (C) Kestutis Lancinskas, the Vilnius district police chief 
and on-site commander during the demonstration, told us that 
he was generally pleased with the police response.  This was 
the first time officers had ever used force against 
protesters since Lithuania regained its independence in 1991. 
 He said that, in firing rubber bullets, officers had aimed 
to avoid heads and torsos and no serious injuries were 
reported.  Lancinskas said it was clear that a large majority 
of the protesters were peaceful.  In sharp contrast to that 
crowd of mostly pensioners, he said, was a smaller group of 
young men, whom he called disgruntled young men, bent on 
violence.  The police chief said there was no evidence of 
foreign involvement, but that many of the violent protesters 
were Russian-speaking Lithuanians.  In all, about 500 police 
officers and 120 Ministry of Interior public-safety officers, 
who specialize in riot control, faced several thousand 
protesters, many of whom were throwing rocks, firing 
slingshots and tossing tear gas at the officers.  Lancinskas 
said he ordered the officers to use nonlethal force in order 
to dispel the crowd more quickly since he knew reinforcements 
from other cities would not arrive quickly and he wanted to 
avoid the escalation of violence that had occurred in 
neighboring Latvia days earlier. 
 
¶5. (C) Lancinskas said he had spoken with colleagues in 
Poland and elsewhere in order to draw on their experience so 
that he can plan for the next large demonstration in Vilnius 
expected on February 3.  He hopes to meet with organizers of 
that protest beforehand, and is looking for options to screen 
participants as they arrive in order to identify and perhaps 
exclude potential troublemakers.  Police also will warn 
non-participants to stay away from the area in case violence 
does ensue.  The location for that protest has not been 
identified. 
 
¶6. (U) Protests in other Lithuanian cities on January 16 
passed without violence, although media reported January 21 
that police in the port city of Klaipeda arrested two young 
men they said were attempting to carry smoke bombs to the 
site of an otherwise peaceful protest that drew up to 1,500 
people in that city. 
 
¶7. (C) Comment:  The use of force by police and public-safety 
officers may well have prevented the violence of January 16 
from becoming worse.  However, there were some troubling 
aspects about the GOL response to this event.  In advance of 
the protests, Interior Minister Palaitis made the decision to 
be out of the country to attend the January 16 EU Justice and 
Home Affairs informal ministerial despite the fact that 
protests in Riga had turned violent just a few days before. 
Defense Minister Rasa Jukneviciene told us January 20 that 
she had urged Palaitis not to travel but he told her that 
officials were not anticipating any violence.  (Note:  in 
Palaitis's absence, Jukneviciene became acting Interior 
Minister.)  Jukneviciene told us that nearly 2000 rubber 
bullets were fired at a demonstration with a total 
participation of only 7000 people, of which, by many 
accounts, a relatively small number of protesters seemed 
interested in causing trouble.  Asked to evaluate the 
performance of the police and security forces, Jukneviciene 
told us she thought they had "learned some lessons" from the 
incident.  How well they have learned these lessons will 
likely be tested over the coming days and weeks. 
CLOUD