Violent mass protest continue in Slovenia

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 03, 2012 3:08 PM

By Marja Novak and Srdjan Zivulovic

LJUBLJANA/MARIBOR, Slovenia (Reuters) - Protesters clashed with police in Slovenia's second largest city Maribor on Monday in a demonstration against budget cuts in the financially troubled Alpine state.

Police said more than 20 people were arrested in Maribor and at least one policeman was injured after some from a crowd of around 6,000 protesters threw firecrackers, fireworks and rocks. Protesters were demanding the resignation of the Mayor Franc Kangler who has been accused of corruption.

Kangler was expelled from the Slovenian People's Party, a junior partner in Prime Minister Janez Jansa's conservative coalition, in November due to allegations of corruption, but has so far refused to resign as mayor.

Protests, organized via Facebook, passed off peacefully in five other cities after an outburst of violence at a protest in the capital Ljubljana on Friday, two days before the presidential election.

Demonstrators said Sunday's election of former centre-left prime minister, Borut Pahor, to the largely ceremonial post of president will not improve conditions in a country badly hit by the global downturn due to its dependency on exports.

"We want deep changes in society and not a change of the leaders' names. We need changes in the banking system, improvement of the system of democracy and of the social state," said Asja, a 21-year philosophy student protesting in Ljubljana.

Slovenia, which joined the euro zone in 2007, is now struggling to avoid a bailout amid recession, high unemployment and a rising number of bad loans in local banks.

The government plans to cut public sector wages, reduce most welfare benefits, raise the retirement age and cut spending on schools and health in order to reduce the budget deficit to some 3 percent of GDP next year from 4.2 percent expected in 2012.

"I'm here because I protest against the violence of Jansa's government towards the nation. I support the people of Maribor. I will keep coming back to protest until this government leaves," said retired policeman Zoran Rink.

Analysts said the protests were hurting the Slovenian economy as they were projecting an image of Slovenia as a potentially unstable country.

"Businessmen are telling us that their partners abroad are already raising their eyebrows because of the protests. I expect Kangler will have to resign soon which could calm the protesters," Borut Hocevar, an analyst at daily Finance, told Reuters.

(Editing by Jon Hemming)