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Jewish Groups Condemn Lithuanian Papers

March 3, 2004

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) _ Jewish groups on Wednesday condemned front-page articles in a leading Lithuanian newspaper that said Jews ``ruled the world,″ denouncing them as some of the worst examples of anti-Semitism in the country since independence from Moscow in 1991.

One of the articles in the popular Respublika daily _ written by editor Vytas Tomkus _ included a crude caricature of a Jewish figure holding up a globe. He was flanked by a man identified as homosexual. The articles were also critical of gays.

Under the headline ``Who Rules the World?″ Tomkus wrote that ``we should be especially careful with Americans, because America is ruled by Jews.″ He also wrote that Jews ``use the issue of the Holocaust to conceal their own crimes.″

The series ran over three days, starting Feb. 20.

``This is the worst attack on the Jewish community since Lithuania broke from the Soviet Union,″ Simonas Alperavicius, a leader of Lithuania’s 4,000-strong Jewish community said Wednesday. ``Respublika is openly promoting anti-Semitic hysteria.″

Although Tomkus hasn’t responded directly to the criticism, Respublika Deputy Editor Frederikas Jansonas denied the articles were anti-Semitic.

Jewish-Lithuanian relations have been strained for years over the role some Lithuanians played in killing Jews during the 1941-44 Nazi occupation. The Holocaust claimed the lives of more than 200,000 Lithuanian Jews _ or 90 percent of the prewar Jewish population in this Baltic state.

The Simon Wiesenthal Center, an international Jewish human rights organization based in Los Angeles, has accused Lithuania of not being aggressive enough in pursuing surviving war criminals and putting them on trial.

The Wiesenthal Center also denounced Respublika.

``That the baseless anti-Semitic canard that ‘the Jews’ control the world can be published on the first page of an ostensibly respectable Lithuanian newspaper in the year 2004 ... is simply outrageous,″ Efraim Zuroff, the center’s Jerusalem director, said in a letter to Lithuanian Ambassador to Israel Alfonsas Eidintas.

In response, Lithuania’s Foreign Ministry said it ``categorically condemns religious, anti-Semitic, racial and other kinds of manifestations of intolerance.″ Prime Minister Algirdas Brazauskas added that ``such provocations hurt Lithuania’s image as a democratic, tolerant society.″

Respublika has been a staunch defender of embattled Lithuanian President Rolandas Paksas, who faces impeachment over alleged links to organized crime. Rival media say Respublika is trying to deflect attention away from the president by publishing inflammatory articles.

A vote on whether to oust Paksas, who has denied wrongdoing, is expected next month.

The European Union _ which Lithuania will join on May 1 _ said recently that it would step up the fight against anti-Semitism, which officials said appeared to be on the rise in Europe.

``We don’t think there is a place for these kinds of articles in a mature society that is on its way to the EU,″ said Anthony Pahigian, a spokesman at the U.S. Embassy in Vilnius, the capital.