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Lithuania wants EU to extend land ban on foreigners to 2014

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(VILNIUS) - EU member Lithuania said Wednesday it would ask Brussels to let it extend until 2014 a ban on farmland purchases by foreigners, saying it wanted to prevent speculation by richer outsiders.

"The government has decided to mandate the agriculture ministry to negotiate with the European Commission a three-year extension of the transitional period on land sales to foreign citizens," the centre-right government said in a statement.

Formerly communist Lithuania joined the European Union in 2004 and currently has the right until May this year to ban such deals.

An extension would need a green light from the European Commission, the 27-nation EU's executive body.

"Unfortunately, our farmers do not have as much money as foreigners," Agriculture Minister Kazys Starkevicius said after a cabinet meeting Wednesday.

In a separate statement, his ministry said that renewing the ban "would reduce the danger that agricultural land would be acquired for speculative purposes."

The issue has caused a government rift, with the dominant Conservatives having to fend off opposition to an extension from their Liberal junior coalition partners.

The ownership restrictions do not apply to foreigners who have been farming as tenants in Lithuania for the past three years or to foreign firms with agencies in the Baltic nation.

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