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Close Race Seen in Lithuania

January 5, 1998

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) _ Two political neophytes with no significant ideological differences were virtually tied early Monday in Lithuania’s presidential runoff election.

As votes were counted after polls closed, the tally shifted repeatedly, sometimes showing Lithuanian-American Valdas Adamkus in the lead and at other times putting former prosecutor-general Arturas Paulauskas ahead.

With the count nearly complete for votes cast within the country, Adamkus had 49.95 percent and Paulauskas had 49.92 percent, the central elections commission said. Why the figures did not add up to 100 percent was not immediately explained.

The tally did not include votes cast by Lithuanians living abroad, who were expected to strongly favor Adamkus. Those votes were to be counted later Monday.

The results reflected the ambivalence many voters felt about the candidates.

``I do not see any tragedy if one or another candidate wins. They sound so similar to me,″ said voter Galina Meiziene. About one-third of the electorate didn’t vote at all.

Both Paulauskas, 44, and Adamkus, 72, share many views, including support for market reforms and Lithuanian membership in NATO and the European Union.

Paulauskas, well-regarded for fighting the organized crime that has soared since independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, won the most votes in the first round.

But his 45 percent fell short of the 50 percent needed for victory. That forced a runoff against Adamkus, a retired Chicago-area administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who came in second with 28 percent.

Adamkus’ prospects were buoyed when he won the endorsement of parliament speaker and third-place finisher Vytautas Landsbergis. Landsbergis wields considerable influence as the leader of Lithuania’s independence movement.

The presidency has relatively little power except in foreign policy issues. Domestic policies are controlled by Parliament.

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