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Lithuania is the largest of the three Baltic states, covering an area of 65,300 square kilometres. It has a population of 3.2 million people (as of 1 July 2011). The capital of Lithuania is Vilnius. Lithuania celebrates its national day on 16 February (Independence Day).
Lithuania regained its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991. Lithuania adopted its constitution in 1992 and has since been a stable democratic state. It has a unicameral parliament (the Seimas) with 141 members elected for four years, and a presidential head of state elected directly for a five-year term.
On 17 May 2009, former European Union Budget Commissioner, Dalia Grybauskaite, was elected Lithuania’s first female President. Grybauskaite, who stood as an independent, won over 69 per cent of the vote; her nearest challenger came in second with only 12 per cent of the vote. As participation in the election was over 50 per cent, there was no need for a second round. Grybauskaite succeeded former President Valdas Adamkus on 12 July 2009.
Executive power is vested in the government of Lithuania headed by a Prime Minister, who is appointed by the President and approved by the Seimas.
In parliamentary elections held on 12 and 26 October 2008, the conservative Homeland Union party, led by Andrius Kubilius, won the largest share of the vote, securing 45 out of 141 seats. On 28 November 2008, the Homeland Union formed a coalition government with three other centre-right parties, and Prime Minister Kubilius replaced Social Democrat Prime Minister Gediminas Kirkilas. The next parliamentary election will be held in October 2012.
Lithuania was accepted as one of ten new members for accession to the EU at the Brussels summit in October 2002. In a referendum in May 2003, 91 per cent of voters supported EU accession. Lithuania became a full member of the EU on 1 May 2004.
Lithuania was invited to join NATO in November 2002, in NATO's single largest enlargement. Lithuania became a full member of the organisation on 2 April 2004. Lithuania joined the World Bank in 1992 and became a member of the World Trade Organisation (WTO) on 31 May 2001.
Lithuania’s GDP contracted 14.9 per cent in 2009 following the global financial crisis, but recovered with a 1.3 per cent increase in 2010. Further growth of 4.6 per cent is predicted for 2011. Unemployment stood at 13.8 per cent in 2009, rising to 18.1 per cent in 2010 and fell to 17.2 per cent in the first quarter of 2011, according to Statistics Lithuania.
Services have undergone rapid development since Lithuania's independence. According to official Lithuanian government sources, foreign direct investment (FDI) has grown relatively consistently over the past decade. Lithuania’s accession to the EU in 2002 is likely to have contributed to the growth in FDI, according to OECD. Lithuania Statistics indicate that FDI totalled LTL33.6 billion (approximately A$13 billion) in 2009 and LTL35 billion (approximately A$13.5 billion) in 2010.
In May 2006, Lithuania's application to join the Euro zone was rejected after narrowly missing an inflation target set by the European Commission. Lithuania is unlikely to be able to join the Euro zone before 2012.
Australia was among the first countries to recognise Lithuania's independence in August 1991.
The Lithuanian community in Australia, numbering some 17,000 (including second and third generation Australians of full and part-Lithuanian descent), has made an important contribution to strengthening bilateral ties.
There have been several high-level visits since Lithuania's independence. Then-President Adamkus, and his wife, Mrs Alma Adamkiene, visited Australia from 24–27 February 2006. The President also visited Australia for the Sydney Olympics in September 2000. Then-Foreign Minister, the Hon Gareth Evans, visited Lithuania in 1994 and also in 1999, and an Australian parliamentary delegation, led by the then-Speaker, the Hon Stephen Martin MP, visited in 1994. The then-Speaker of the NSW Parliament, the Hon John Murray, visited Lithuania in September-October 2002. A Lithuanian parliamentary delegation visited Australia in March 2008.
The Australian Ambassador in Stockholm is accredited to Lithuania. Australia has an Honorary Consul in Vilnius. Lithuania has Consulates-General in Sydney and Melbourne, headed by Honorary Consuls-General. As of October 2008, the Lithuanian Ambassador in Tokyo is also accredited to Australia.
Two-way merchandise trade between Australia and Lithuania was A$22 million in 2010. Exports to Lithuania totalled A$3 million in 2010 (mainly wool). Imports from Lithuania amounted to A$19 million over the same period (mainly rubber tyres and furniture). Lithuania ranks as Australia’s 116th largest trading partner.
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