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Slovakia: Polls Open For Referendum Amid Ballot Confusion

Bratislava, 23 May 1997 (RFE/RL) - Polls have opened across Slovakia for a two-day referendum that the opposition accuses the government of having intentionally marred by distributing invalid ballot papers.

Some polling officials have refused to allow people to vote because of the total absence of valid ballots.

Voters had been due to be asked four questions, three referring to NATO membership and one on the direct election of the president.

But Interior Minister Gustav Krajci ordered that only ballots with the three NATO-related questions be distributed. Those ballots bear the stamp of the Central Electoral Commission for the Referendum. But the Commission says the stamp is a forgery since it never approved a three-question ballot, only a four question ballot. The government of Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar opposes the direct election of the president.

The leaders of eight opposition parties today issued a series of declarations, among other things telling voters not to accept invalid ballot papers with just three questions and a forged referendum commission stamp.

Another opposition declaration accuses Krajci of acting illegally, against the will of Slovakia's citizens, and of creating chaos. The opposition pledges to support the election commission in demanding a criminal investigation of the Interior Minister. The opposition brands the government's interference in the referendum the most serious violation of the constitution since its enactment five years ago.

Opposition leaders accuse the ruling coalition of acting against clear warnings by all NATO and EU members that such behavior would prevent Slovakia from being invited to join the EU and NATO. As a result they say the government coalition has betrayed its own program and the interests of Slovakia and its citizens.

There is no response from the government to the charges.