Thousands strike amid gov't crisis in Slovenia

AP News
Posted: Jan 23, 2013 2:55 PM
Thousands strike amid gov't crisis in Slovenia

LJUBLJANA, Slovenia (AP) — Schools closed down, theaters cancelled shows, hospitals switched to weekend schedules and long lines formed at Slovenia's borders on Wednesday in a massive anti-austerity strike, as the main coalition partner walked out of the government over corruption allegations against the prime minister, bringing it to the brink of collapse.

Tens of thousands of teachers, university professors, doctors, customs officials and other state employees joined the strike, angry that the coalition government of Prime Minister Janez Jansa has cut their salaries by 5 percent to reduce debt and avoid needing an EU bailout.

Meanwhile, Jansa's main coalition partner, the Citizens' List, announced it is quitting the government, leaving it without the ministers of justice and finance, and a majority in the parliament. That does not mean the immediate collapse of Jansa's Cabinet, because he can continue to lead a minority government pending a no-confidence vote in the assembly.

Earlier Wednesday, several thousand flag-waving protesters rallied in central Ljubljana, the capital, demanding job security and accusing the government of corruption.

"Don't believe those who say the situation will improve if cleaners, policemen or nurses are fired!" a union leader, Branimir Strukelj, told the crowd.

Jansa's government has said that the austerity measures are necessary for Slovenia to restore public finances that, like the economy, have been hurt by the eurozone debt crisis. The measures also include a plan to overhaul the banking system and reform the labor market.

But the government has been shaken by corruption allegations against Jansa, who has been asked to step down by coalition partners. A report issued this month by an anti-graft watchdog accused him of failing to declare more than €200,000 ($266,000) in private assets, which he has denied.

Gregor Virant, the leader of the Citizens List, blamed Jansa for the political turmoil.

"The political crisis erupted the day that the Commission for the Prevention of Corruption presented its grave and damning findings," Virant said. He added that his party's walkout from the ruling coalition was "the first step in the resolution of the political crisis."

The priority for his party is an early election, he added, saying the report "has changed the situation in Slovenia so much that the citizens ought to be given the chance to make a new choice."

Virant also announced he will step down as Parliament speaker.

In an interview Tuesday with local Primorka TV, Jansa urged "sensibility and maturity to enable the government to do what needs to be done without delay."

The anti-graft report also accused Zoran Jankovic, the main opposition leader who is also the mayor of Ljubljana and one of the richest people in Slovenia, of failing to clarify where €2.4 million ($3.1 million) of his money came from.

Slovenia, once a star economy among EU newcomers, has seen its gross domestic product shrink by 3.3 percent in the third quarter compared with a year earlier — the third-biggest drop in the eurozone after Greece and Portugal.


Jovana Gec and Dusan Stojanovic contributed from Belgrade, Serbia.