Lithuania recalls Austria envoy amid Soviet crackdown spat
Lithuania recalled its ambassador from Austria Monday amid blame-trading sparked by Vienna's release of a Russian wanted over a bloody 1991 Soviet crackdown on Vilnius's independence drive.
"The ambassador will be recalled for consultations," Asta Skaisgiryte Liauskiene, deputy foreign minister, told journalists after talks with President Dalia Grybauskaite.
In a statement, Grybauskaite slammed Austria's "rush" to free Mikhail Golovatov.
She called the decision by a fellow European Union member a "politically unjustifiable action that discredits European countries' cooperation in the legal field".
Lithuania sent a protest note Monday to Austria's embassy in Vilnius.
On Saturday, the Baltic state had demanded a "convincing explanation" from Austria for freeing Golovatov, suspected of crimes against humanity and war crimes and facing a life sentence if convicted in Lithuania.
Speculation has raged that Russian pressure led Austria to release Golovatov less than 24 hours after his arrest Thursday in Vienna on a European warrant issued by Lithuania.
On Monday, however, Austrian Foreign Minister Michael Spindelegger defended the decision.
"We are a state of law, with an independent justice system that makes its own decisions," Austria Press Agency quoted him as saying before an EU meeting in Brussels.
"A request was made by Lithuania, we issued a deadline for delivery of the documents with very concrete information. The deadline elapsed without the concrete information. The prosecution thus decided not to put out a detention order. That must be accepted," he added.
Lithuania dismissed Vienna's stance. Its prosecutor general claimed Austrian law allows 48 hours of detention and that Vilnius had taken immediate steps to provide case details in both German and English.
In 1991 Golovatov headed the Alpha Group, a Soviet special unit that stormed the TV tower in Vilnius, a hub of Lithuania's freedom drive.
At least 14 civilians died and hundreds were injured in the January 13, 1991 attack, part of failed attempts to smother the independence movement.
In 1990, after five decades of Kremlin rule, Lithuania had been the first Soviet republic to secede, setting off a wave that felled the entire bloc by December 1991.
Moscow recognised Lithuanian independence after a failed August 1991 coup by hardliners in the Soviet capital.
Six Lithuanian Soviet-era officials were convicted and jailed in the 1990s over the crackdown, but Vilnius has been unable to try other suspects believed to be in Russia and Belarus.
Ties between Lithuania, a nation of three million, and Russia have been rocky since independence, notably after Vilnius joined the EU and NATO in 2004.
© 2011 AFP