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Lithuania recalls ambassador from Austria amid legal dispute

VILNIUS, Lithuania - Agence France-Presse | 7/18/2011 12:00:00 AM |

Lithuania recalled its ambassador to Austria for consultations after Vienna released a Russian wanted over a bloody 1991 Soviet crackdown.

Lithuania on Monday recalled its ambassador to Austria for consultations after Vienna released a Russian wanted over a bloody 1991 Soviet crackdown on the Baltic state's independence drive.

"The ambassador will be recalled for consultations," deputy Lithuanian foreign minister Asta Skaisgiryte Liauskiene told journalists after Monday talks with President Dalia Grybauskaite.

"Austria's rush in releasing the suspect in the January 13 case is a politically unjustifiable action that discredits European countries' cooperation in the legal field," Grybauskaite said in a separate Monday statement.

Lithuania forwarded a note of complaint Monday over the release to the Austrian embassy in Vilnius.

On Saturday it demanded a "convincing explanation" from Austria for freeing Russian Mikhail Golovatov suspected of crimes against humanity and war crimes and who could face up to life imprisonment if found guilty by a Lithuanian court.

Hinting at Russian involvement, Vilnius said it received confirmation from Vienna that Golovatov was freed less than 24-hours after he was arrested in the Austrian capital on Thursday on a European warrant issued at the request of Lithuanian authorities.

Austria's justice ministry said Golovatov was freed because the warrant was vague, a claim Vilnius has since vehemently denied.

In 1991 Golovatov headed the so-called Alpha Group, a special unit that stormed the main TV tower in Vilnius, a focal point of the anti-Soviet freedom movement.

At least 14 civilians died and hundreds were injured in the attack on the tower on January 13 that year.

The killings came after the state-controlled media had swung behind Sajudis, the freedom movement founded in 1988, two years before Lithuania declared independence.

Six Lithuanian Soviet-era officials were convicted and jailed in the 1990s for their role in the crackdown, but Lithuania has been unable to try a few dozen other suspects believed to be hiding in Russia and Belarus.

Ties between Lithuania, a nation of three million, and Russia have been rocky since independence, notably since Vilnius joined the European Union and NATO in 2004.

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