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11 Dec, 2009 07:28

Angry old men take to Lithuania’s streets

The harsh austerity budget plans of Lithuania’s government have brought anger onto the streets. Cuts in pensions, jobs and other social welfare benefits have been met with furious opposition from citizens.

The protesters say the poorest and most vulnerable are bearing the brunt of the country’s financial crisis. Many traveled hundreds of miles to protest, but will the government hear their voices, and in any case, what can it do to help them?

After years of credit and property-fuelled growth, Lithuania has suffered one of the world’s most severe economic recessions with people suffering from plunging living standards and unemployment.

The GDP has fallen by almost a sixth in a year.

The center-right government has voted for a bare-bones budget that prioritizes economic recovery over welfare. Even so, the deficit and recession are set to drag into 2010.

“Next year’s budget shows we can manage on our own. It means we won’t need a bailout from the International Monetary Fund,” Lithuanian President Dalia Gribauskaite has said.

For retiree Janina Keliauskiene, who is partially disabled from a recent car crash, this is little consolation.

With her pension of less than $200, she can already barely afford basic foodstuffs and medicine.

Speaking with RT in a dilapidated industrial district of the capital Vilnius, she blames the government for corruption and failure to anticipate the economic crisis.

“With our pensions, it is easier for me to kill myself than buy the medicine I need. People’s patience has run out, and that is why we had to take to the streets,” Keliaukiene says.

One year ago, the protests spilled over into violence, as demonstrators attacked the parliament building.

This has not been repeated so far, but with no prospect of immediate recovery, trouble seems likely to be brewing in the Baltics.