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Lithuania's 'Iron Lady' claims victory for second presidential term

Lithuania's 'Iron Lady' Dalia Grybauskaite won an unprecedented second term Sunday in a presidential runoff held amid widespread apprehension over a resurgent Russia.

VILNIUS: Lithuania's 'Iron Lady' Dalia Grybauskaite won an unprecedented second term Sunday in a presidential runoff held amid widespread apprehension over a resurgent Russia.

Many here who remember Soviet times see the karate black belt -- who is nicknamed for her Thatcher-esque toughness -- as their best choice to steer the country through Europe's worst standoff with Moscow since the Cold War.

"No president has been elected twice in a row in Lithuania," she said as official results showed her capturing 58 per cent support in the runoff against leftist rival Zigmantas Balcytis.

"It will be a historic victory for all of you," she said, with over 80 per cent of the vote counted.

"Amid an increasing sense of insecurity and uncertainty, a majority of voters have a chosen reliable and tested person," Vilnius University analyst Tomas Janeliunas told AFP as the results rolled in.

Russia's annexation of Crimea and sabre-rattling in its Kaliningrad exclave have sparked palpable fear in neighbouring Lithuania, a country of three million people.

Remigijus Paplauskas, a prison warden who lives near Kaliningrad, worries that Moscow could try to destabilise the Baltic states, which shook off five decades under the Soviet yoke in 1990-91 before joining NATO and the EU in 2004.

"My 90-year-old aunt, whom the Soviets deported to Siberia believes something bad will happen," he told AFP, reflecting the widespread apprehension in the region.

Grybauskaite -- a 58-year-old former EU budget chief who ran as an independent -- focussed primarily on national security in her bid for a second term.

She urged and then welcomed the arrival of American troops last month as NATO stepped up its Baltic presence.

She also vowed to "take a gun myself to defend the country if that's what's needed for national security".

Russia "has chosen confrontation, aggression and a review of post-war peace structure, and we must react," she said ahead of the vote.

"Grybauskaite is the only one seriously prepared for the presidency," Vilnius civil servant Jurate Kiserauske told AFP as she emerged from a polling station.

"She has a clear position, opinion and morality. Balcytis has no backbone. And now, when we see strong winds blowing from Russia, it's worrying."

Balcytis, who served as a leftist lawmaker in the outgoing European Parliament, took a more cautious approach on Russia, advocating dialogue.

"I expected a better result... but the choice and will of the Lithuanian people today is very clear -- President Grybauskaite won these elections," the 60-year-old former transport and finance minister told local television.

Instead of national security, his campaign focussed on bread and butter issues as Lithuania gears up for eurozone entry in January.

Both candidates backed eurozone membership and a liquefied natural gas terminal intended to end the natural gas monopoly held by Russia's Gazprom.

Joblessness stands at 9.8 per cent, with the economy set to grow by 3.4 per cent this year, one of the fastest rates in the 28-member EU.

Turnout fell under the expected 50 per cent for the presidential ballot held in tandem with the EU vote.

In all, just 47 per cent of the country's 2.5 million eligible voters showed up at the ballot box.

Vilnius resident Vida Stankeviciene, 50, was one of the no-shows.

She said Grybauskaite's "dictatorial tone has become annoying" over the years, while Balcytis did not inspire confidence.

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