Vilnius tightens security for Bush

  • 2002-11-14
  • Geoffrey Vasiliauskas

Now that it is almost certain that U.S. President George Bush's visit will take place, the Lithuanian government has hiked up expenditures to maximize security arrangements.

U.S. Secret Service agents were recently in Vilnius to draw up preliminary arrangements, and Lithuanian security services are engaged in planning for the visit to take place on Nov. 22 - 23.

Brent Barker, regional security officer for the U.S. Embassy, said that a team of Secret Service agents visited to make an initial assessment and would return.

"It is important to begin the preparations that are a part of any visit of the president. As a part of these preparations U.S. Secret Service agents will return soon to Vilnius to begin working with Lithuanian authorities," he said.

On Nov. 5 the government allocated an additional 250,000 litas ($74,000) to the National Police Department.

Last month the government disbursed 1 million litas for the Bush visit, giving 500,000 litas to the city of Vilnius, 250,000 litas to the police, 200,000 litas to Lithuania's VIP Protection Department, and 50,000 litas to firefighters.

The Lithuanian press reported in late October the VIP Protection Department and the Lithuanian State Security Department were watching people who might cause trouble during Bush's visit.

One local Internet site that provides news with an uncensored forum for comments came under scrutiny in early November after a posting about a sniper during the American president's visit. A Lithuanian comedy show used the item to perform a skit about a sniper on the Hill of the Three Crosses overlooking Vilnius.

Barker, who is responsible for coordinating security at the embassy and for visiting U.S. dignitaries, is aware of the website.

"The U.S. Embassy has heard about this indirect mention of a sniper. The Secret Service and Lithuanian authorities are investigating this," he said.

"All threats, no matter how unimportant they may seem, are taken seriously and investigated."

Regarding preparations in Vilnius, Barker said, "The security measures that are taken have nothing to do with particular country visited. Many people may ask why there is so much security for a visit to Lithuania, where there is no direct threat against the president and the vast majority of Lithuanians are happy about the visit. The president's security measures must take into account the many threatening situations taking place throughout the world."

Lithuanian sources said Bush would visit a site in Vilnius's Old Town that is a monument to the city's Jewish heritage. There are also tentative plans to deliver a speech at the Old Town Hall. Baltic News Service predicts that Bush will meet with the three Baltic presidents and, as the visit comes after the historic NATO summit, with Lithuanian soldiers in Vilnius.

"It is still being decided," Brent Barker said.

Barker warned city residents would experience disruptions and inconvenience because of the security. "Whenever possible, we will ask the Lithuanian authorities to publicize the actions that are to be taken so that people will know in advance. For security reasons we will not always be able to, but we will do everything we can."

No decision has been made yet on a sleep-over in Vilnius for President Bush, Barker said.

Barker said they knew of no protests being planned, but it was standard practice to have security measures in place to deal with any protests, "big or small, peaceful or disruptive."

Bush will reportedly fly on to Moscow after Vilnius.