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Lithuania is the largest and most southerly of the three Baltic republics.
Not much more than a decade after it regained its independence following the collapse of the USSR, Lithuania was welcomed as a Nato member in late March 2004.
The move came just weeks before a second historic shift for the country in establishing its place in the Western family of nations as it joined the EU in May 2004. These developments would have been extremely hard to imagine in not-so-distant Soviet times.
Russia, anxious about the implication of the eastward advance of the EU and Nato to include the three Baltic republics, has a particular eye on Lithuania which has an important border with the Russian exclave of Kaliningrad.
The history of Lithuania has close ties with that of Poland, its neighbour to the southwest. By the end of the 18th century most of the country came under the Russian empire. German occupation in the first world war was followed by two decades of independence, although Vilnius was occupied by Poland for most of that time.
Following a pact between Stalin and Hitler, Soviet troops arrived in 1940. They were pushed out by the Nazis the following year but returned in 1944.
For the subsequent half century of Soviet rule, Lithuanians relied on Catholic tradition and memories of independence to preserve their national identity, a skill mastered through centuries of foreign domination. Pagan traditions with roots stretching back centuries have been kept alive too.
Lithuania has embraced market reform since independence. In the run up to EU entry the republic saw strong growth and very low inflation.
Population: 3.4 million (UN, 2003)
Area: 65,300 sq km (25,212 sq miles)
Major languages Lithuanian, Russian
Major religion: Christianity
Life expectancy: 67 years (men), 78 years (women) (UN)
Monetary unit: 1 Lithuanian litas = 100 centas
Main exports: Textiles, clothing, fertilisers, industrial machinery
GNI per capita: US $3,670 (World Bank, 2002)
Internet domain: .lt
International dialling code: +370
Lithuania's television market has seen a mushrooming of commercial channels, which over the years have eroded the audience figures for public television.
The radio market is similarly competitive, with more than 30 stations competing for listeners and advertisers.
Public broadcaster Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT) operates one national TV channel and two national radio networks. In early 2003 LRT launched a cultural TV channel, initially available in Vilnius and Kaunas.
Lithuania's media are free and operate independently of the state, and there are no government-owned newspapers.
Nonetheless, the national broadcaster occasionally encounters attempts by politicians to influence its editorial policy.