VILNIUS - Although government officials have refrained from commenting on the violence in Tibet, many Lithuanians 's including famous artists, musicians and several politicians 's made their voice heard by joining the week-long protests in Vilnius last week in support of Tibetan freedom.
The demonstration, dubbed "For Freedom of Tibet," took place in Vilnius by the Chinese Embassy March 17 's 21 to speak out against repeated violations of human rights in Tibet and the use of force against its residents.
The first picket on March 17 involved about 50 participants. Famous artists and musicians held banners reading "Free Tibet," while others spread the Tibetan flag and burned candles. Parliament members Emanuelis Zingeris and Audronius Azubalis also took part.
"The fight that Tibetans face now and the one we had during the post-war period are exactly the same," said Zingeris.
Like Tibet, Lithuania was occupied by a communist regime for many decades and re-gained independence with the help of peaceful protests instead of violence.
Four members of parliament from the opposition Conservative Party 's Zingeris, Azubalis, Julius Dautartas and Egidijus Vareikis 's issued a resolution saying that China's actions in Tibet violated rights of self-expression and speech. The MPs urged the Chinese administration to cease violence in Tibet.
Meanwhile, the Foreign Affairs Ministry issued a low-key statement on March 17 declaring that Lithuania is worried about events in Tibet. "Lithuania and its partners in the European Union are concerned about the ongoing reports of unrest in Tibet and convey deepest condolences to the families of the victims," the ministry said.
A declaration on the unrest in Tibet was issued on behalf of the EU by the Slovenian European Union presidency on March 17 and as a member of the EU Lithuania must back up the stance.
In the declaration, the EU called for a substantive and constructive dialogue with a view to reach a sustainable solution and encouraged the Chinese authorities to refrain from using force against demonstrators, in accordance with internationally recognized democratic principles. In addition, the EU stressed the importance it attaches to the right of freedom of expression and peaceful protest and urged the Chinese government to address the concerns of Tibetans with regard to issues of human rights.
Meanwhile, a group for parliamentary support of Tibet that is presided by Vareikis expressed its support on March 19. In a statement, the group invited "people of good will" to support the expectations of the Tibetan people "to have a possibility of cultivating their ethnic traditions and culture and defend Tibetan Buddhist center 's an important piece of world's cultural heritage."
Zingeris, who is also a member of this parliamentary group, compared the upcoming Olympic Games to the ones that took place in Moscow in 1980 and warned that the Olympic Games would be used for propaganda.
Some international human rights organizations have also spoken for boycotting the Olympic Games as a form of protest against China's aggressive behavior.
However, Lithuanian athletes, as well as those in Estonia and Latvia, said they have no plans to boycott the upcoming Beijing Olympic Games.
Arturas Poviliunas, president of the National Olympic Committee of Lithuania, said that some athletes have been preparing for four years and longer and politics should not interfere at this point.
"We are not considering this possibility; however, we do follow current events. We believe that the participation of athletes of the world games forum in the Olympic Games would actually provide China with more prospects for democracy," he said.
"The Olympic Games, besides hosting 10,000 of athletes, receives plenty of their entourage and tourists from around the globe. This is a much greater impulse for developing democracy not only among authority figures but local residents as well," Poviliunas told the Baltic News Service on March 19.
On March 21, protesters commemorated the late writer Jurga Ivanauskaite, who was central to the free Tibet movement in Lithuania.
The pickets this year did not involve any disturbances or involvement of the police, who observed the demonstrations without interference.
By contrast, when Ivanauskaite organized a peaceful demonstration during the visit by Chinese President Jiang Zemin in 2002, she and four other protestors were apprehended without explanation.
Lithuanian officials have been trying to establish strong network of financial and diplomatic ties with China and growing ambitions that Lithuania will become a "gate to Europe" for China.
"The dynamic growth of China's economy and Lithuania's potential as a transit country 's a gate to Europe for China 's give a lot of space for the development of relations," Transport Minister Algirdas Butkevicius said last year.
Conservative Party MPs in their resolution on March 17 suggested that the world "stop admiring China's economic achievements and start a new critical evaluation of People's Republic of China foreign affairs policy and the situation in the field of human rights."
Protests against 57 years of Chinese rule in Tibet started on March 10 across the globe. Chinese officials have said that 99 persons died during the resulting clashes, but the Tibetan government in exile has claimed that the death-toll is more than 130.