Lithuania lawmakers vote to remove disputed artificial beach

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VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — Lithuanian lawmakers voted Monday to remove an artificial beach in downtown Vilnius with some hailing the sandy spot as a way to chill out while others were outraged by its location — it sits on a historic square in front of the former KGB headquarters where Lithuanians were detained, tortured and executed for decades.

The 141-seat Seimas, or assembly, passed the law 78-11, saying the Lukiskes square must be reserved for “representative purposes.” The remaining lawmakers either abstained or were absent.

The move overturned a decision by the municipality administration in Vilnius, the Baltic country’s capital, which created the temporary recreation spot, dubbed “Open beach.”

Last week, Vilnius used approximately 300 cubic meters (10,600 cubic feet) of sand to create the artificial beach nearly 300 kilometers (about 185 miles) from the Baltic Sea. The place was fitted with sunbeds, parasols and “Beware of sharks” warning signs.

Formally, the adopted law makes the central Lukiskes Square the main historic square in Vilnius and said it should reflect the fights for independence and the memory of freedom fighters who lost their lives. The square is also where Lithuanian insurgents were executed in 1863-1864 during Tsarist Russia’s occupation of the country.

The artificial beach was an instant hit with families sitting on beach chairs and children building sandcastles, while others enjoyed the sunny summer weather next to public fountains.

After the vote, the city’s mayor said that the beach would stay despite the new law.

“Everybody will be able to enjoy it until the end of summer” Remigijus Simasius posted of Facebook. The plan was to keep it in place until September. However, it was unclear what would happen to it now.

The beach was criticized by lawmakers, including President Gitanas Nauseda who condemned the choice of the square for the beach. Opponents said the initiative was disrespectful to the memory of freedom fighters.

The ruling bloc of Peasant and Green Union, with the support of smaller parties, rushed through the bill, which gave special status to the central square in response to Vilnius’ beach initiative. Even the opposition conservatives supported the vote too.

The secret police’s former headquarters now houses a court of law and museum on the Soviet occupation that ended in 1991. On its walls, the building features the names of those who died there.

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