Lithuania Fires Energy Minister, Risks Upsetting Poland


VILNIUS, Aug 19 (Reuters) - Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite sacked her ethnic Polish energy minister on Tuesday in a row that could affect talks with Poland over the future of the Baltic state's only oil refinery.

The minister, Jaroslav Neverovic, was fired after reinstating his deputy, another ethnic Pole, who had been removed as part of a government reshuffle.

The departure of the two politicians from the Polish Electoral Action party raises the possibility it might quit the centre-left coalition. The government would still have a majority in parliament, but such a move could cloud Lithuania's cooperation with its much bigger neighbour, Poland.

Poles account for more than 6 percent of the Baltic state's population of 3 million, and Warsaw has previously criticized Vilnius for the treatment of its biggest minority.

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.

Neverovic and his party were not available for immediate comment.

Lithuania plans to start importing liquefied natural gas (LNG) in 2015, and seeks to build power links to Sweden and Poland by end-2015 to cut its energy dependence on its former Soviet master, Russia. Analysts said the minister's departure should not affect this strategy.

"There is a broad agreement among the country's top politicians to support all these projects, so the minister's removal should not impact their implementation much," said Ramunas Vilpisauskas, head of the Vilnius Institute of International Relations and Political Science.

Transport Minister Rimantas Sinkevicius will take over as acting energy minister, the president's office said.

(Reporting by Andrius Sytas, editing by Nerijus Adomaitis and Mark Trevelyan)


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