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Lithuania marks 30th anniversary of deadly Soviet assault, draws comparison with Belarus

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By Euronews
Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020.
Lithuania's President Gitanas Nauseda at the Presidential Palace in Vilnius, Lithuania, Monday, Sept. 28, 2020.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Mindaugas Kulbis
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Lithuania commemorated on Wednesday the 30th anniversary of a deadly Soviet crackdown against the small Baltic state's independence.

More than a dozen people lost their lives on January 13, 1991 when Soviet troops and tanks drove through crowds gathered in front of the television tower in Vilnius — seen as a symbol of independence.

Lithuania had declared its independence in 1990 but the Soviet Union tried to reimpose its constitution on the country. The bloodshed in Vilnius led to a referendum in which Lithuanians overwhelmingly backed independence from Moscow. The Soviet Union collapsed months later.

Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda led the commemorations on Wednesday — muted because of the pandemic — and drew a comparison between the event currently unfolding in Belarus and Freedom Defenders' Day, as it is known.

"OTD (on this day) 30 years ago, Lithuania defended its independence against Soviet military power. It was the beginning of the fall of the USSR," he wrote on Twitter.

"Today civil society in Belarus calls for support to gain their democratic rights. Stay strong, raise hope, believe in freedom! You are not alone!" he added.

Svetlana Tsikhanovskaya, the opposition leader who claims to have won the August 9, 2020 Belarusian presidential election against long-time ruler Alexander Lukashenko, has been in self-imposed exile in Lithuania since shortly after the ballot over fears for her safety.

The Seimas, Lithuania's parliament, awarded her its annual Freedom Prize on Wednesday.

Tsikhanovskaya said upon receiving the prize that "it is important to know that we are not alone in our fight for democracy."

"It belongs to all Belarusians who peacefully fight against violence and lawlessness. It is a big honour, but also a reminder for all of us. That we need to stay focused and united. And we will win," she added.