VILNIUS Aug 25 The major parties of the Lithuanian ruling coalition agreed on Monday to eject a party of Poles from the government amid tensions over its criticism of the government's treatment of ethnic Poles and the party's siding with Russia during the Ukraine crisis.
Poles account for more than 6 percent of the Baltic state's population of 3 million. Though Poland has previously criticized Lithuania for the treatment of its biggest minority, Lithuania's prime minister said the move would not mar relations between the countries.
Leaders of the Social Democrats and the Labour party said Monday evening they did not want to have any minister from the Electoral Action of Poles in Lithuania in the government.
Last week, Lithuania's president, Dalia Grybauskaite, sacked Energy Minister Jaroslav Neverovic, the sole ethnic Pole serving as a government minister, after Neverovic reinstated his deputy, another ethnic Pole, against the wishes of Prime Minister Algirdas Butkevicius, a Social Democrat.
"We support the prime minister... who cannot work in such a government (with the Poles) any longer," Loreta Grauziniene, leader of Labour party and speaker of the parliament, told reporters on Monday.
The government of the Social Democrats, the Labour party and the Order and Justice party would still have a majority in parliament. The new energy minister will be nominated by the Labour party, Grauziniene and Butkevicius said.
Butkevicius said he did not believe that ejecting the party would cloud Lithuania's cooperation with its much bigger neighbour.
"There will be no impact on the relationship", he told reporters. "We are in contact with Poland's prime minister, Donald Tusk, and President Bronislaw Komorowski. We know their opinion and position."
Poland is the only European Union country with a land border with any of the Baltic States, and it is developing vital electricity and gas links to the region, which still largely depends on Russia for its energy.
Lithuanian refinery Orlen Lietuva is owned by Polish oil group PKN Orlen, which has said it wants to discuss a potential sale with the Lithuanian government.
The loss-making unit dragged its group results to a record net loss in the second quarter. (Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Leslie Adler)