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Slovakia: Opposition Organizes Nationwide Protest About Referendum

Bratislava, 2 June 1997 (RFE/RL) - Slovakia's opposition parties are organizing a nationwide, whistle-blowing, carhorn-blowing demonstration Tuesday to show dissatisfaction with last month's referendum.

Christian Democrat Party (KDH) official Juraj Kohutiar said the demonstration is to show discontent with the "spoiled" referendum on NATO membership and direct presidential elections.

Bratislava's demonstration is scheduled for 5 p.m. in front of the government building, and demonstrations are planned in many other cities as well.

Slovaks went to the polls May 23-24, but turnout was so low the referendum was declared invalid.

Opposition parties had appealed to voters to mark only valid ballots -- those which listed four questions: three on NATO membership, and a fourth on direct election of president.

Opposition party members blame Interior Minister Gustav Krajci for spoiling the referendum. The Minister did not adhere to a resolution by Slovakia's Central Referendum Commission, and failed to distribute ballot with all four questions.

The Christian Democrat's Kohutiar said that the demonstration tomorrow will be, in part, an effort to try to force Krajci's resignation.

Although there are also calls for Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar to resign -- most recently from ethnic Hungarian parties -- Meciar appears to be standing firm. In fact, the Prime Minister has blamed President Michal Kovac and the opposition for the referendum fiasco.

Meciar's ruling HZDS (Movement for a Democratic Slovakia) Party controls 83 of the 150 seats in Parliament. Our Bratislava correspondent reports defections of HZDS members, which have occurred in the past, are unlikely.

What is likely is that Parliament will meet in a special session in coming weeks to discuss the direct presidential referendum matter. There may be attempts to approve such a bill in Parliament.

Slovakia's President currently is elected by Parliament. The opposition fears that next year, if the Parliament is unable to agree on a candidate, Prime Minister Meciar would be empowered to assume executive powers.

Any attempt to remove Krajci by parliamentary vote is unlikely because opposition party members lack the needed votes.

But, not everyone was unhappy with the NATO referendum outcome. Referendum results were met with positive comment from Moscow. Last week, Russian State Duma Chairman Gennady Seleznev, on a three-day visit to Slovakia, said he was pleased with the low voter turnout.

European Union (EU) Commissioner Hans van den Broek, also visiting Bratislava last week, said Slovakia needs to take "practical steps" by year's end toward fulfilling EU political criteria, if it wants to be invited to EU expansion talks. Van den Broek also questioned the Government's handling of the referendum.

President Kovac said the failed referendum -- which was widely viewed as a test of democracy -- dooms Slovakia's chances for early EU or NATO membership.