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Lithuania turns communist-era prison into Christmas yard

VILNIUS, Lithuania (AP) — The former Soviet republic of Lithuania is throwing a Christmas glow over a Russia-era prison that once was a gruesome place in the heart of the capital of Vilnius. Built in 1902 by occupying Russia, the downtown Lukiskes prison housed thousands of inmates, including those serving life sentences. It was closed in July, and inmates moved to other facilities. With the jail empty, it has been replaced by a project dubbed “the Alternative X-mas Yard” with light installations, interactive swings and a water fountain serving as a Christmas tree.

“The Christmas spirit will invade the zone that for so long was beyond the reach of most residents,” Mayor Remigijus Simasius said. The initiative, he said, symbolizes “transformation and search for a new identity.”

“Vilnius is an open, brave city, ready to face the gloomy parts of its history by transforming them into something completely different and unexpected,” said project coordinator Darius Kupliauskas. The prison gates in the former Soviet republic will be open to the public daily for six hours — from 4 p.m. to 10 p.m. starting Friday until Jan. 5, according to the municipality, which eventually plans to convert the former prison into a public space.

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