Basketball is passionately followed in Lithuania
[GALLO/GETTY]
Lithuanian sports fans were up in arms after television stations cancelled live broadcasts of Euroleague basketball matches due to a new law banning prime-time advertising of alcohol.

The law, which took effect on Tuesday, bans all alcohol-related ads and symbols on television from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m.

Though it targets all forms of alcohol advertising, the law will have a dramatic impact on basketball, Lithuania's most popular sport, since many of the Baltic state's teams are sponsored by breweries.

The only consolation is that TV stations can show tapes of the games after 11 p.m.

"This is outrageous. Now they are taking basketball from us, and we will probably not be able to watch the Beijing Olympics because Budweiser is among the sponsors there,'' Jonas Junevicius, a 31-year-old banker in Vilnius, said.

Lithuania, a three-time European league champion, has two teams competing in the Euroleague tournament, Zalgiris and Lietuvos Rytas.

Loyal basketball fans have called for protest actions at the parliament building to press lawmakers to repeal the ban. Some 50,000 people have signed a petition to be handed to the parliament chairman this week.

However, advocates of the ban are standing firm, saying the legislature is a vital part of attempts to stop alcohol-related problems, which are rife in the country of 3.4 million.

"We will be watching television content closely for possible violations,'' said Vitas Usas, deputy head of the state-run Consumer Rights Protection Agency.

Lithuania leads the EU in road fatalities per resident.

Last year, nearly 760 people were killed in road accidents in Lithuania, many of which were due to drunk driving.

In November, the country's interior minister and police chief were forced to resign after a car driven by a police officer struck and killed three children, aged 10, on a rural road.

Source: Agencies