A mass trial has started in Lithuania against 65 former Soviet officials charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity and other offenses for their roles in a violent crackdown on the Baltic country's quest for independence in 1991.

Only two of the defendants were present in the Vilnius court Wednesday, and pleaded not guilty. Many of the others are believed to be in Russia — which refuses to hand them over — and will be tried in absentia.

They include Soviet-era political leaders, KGB and military officers and others accused of orchestrating or taking part in a Jan. 13, 1991, crackdown on pro-independence protesters in Vilnius that left 14 people dead and hundreds injured.

Hundreds of witnesses are expected to be called to testify in the mass trial.