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Slovakia: Prime Minister Meciar Moves To Control Army

Bratislava, 20 August 1998 (RFE/RL) - The speaker of the Slovak parliament, Ivan Gasparovic, yesterday accepted the resignation of General Jozef Tuchyna, the army chief of staff, replacing him with Colonel Marian Miklus. Gasparovic, using the authority temporarily transferred to him in the ongoing absence of a president, rejected Defense Minister Jan Sitek's candidate for chief of staff and instead named Miklus, a candidate proposed by Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar. Our correspondent in Bratislava says Gasparovic's speedy replacement of Tuchyna indicates the Meciar government's strong interest in controlling the army.

Tuchyna, the outgoing chief of staff, had previously announced he would resign to enter politics as a candidate of the post-Communist Party of the Democratic Left (SDL) in next month's parliamentary elections.

Sitek, the defense minister, is a member of a junior coalition partner, the Slovak National Part (SNS) and is currently on vacation.

Critics say Gasparovic's appointment of Miklus is illegal since the law on the formation of the army stipulates that only the Defense Minister can propose the appointment of a chief of staff. The outgoing chief of staff, Tuchyna commenting on TV Markiza last night said "this just confirms that we are somewhere in the Congo."

Representatives of the Association of Slovak Soldiers say Sitek's candidate was fully qualified and would have guaranteed that the army would not be misused for political goals during or after the election campaign.

Gasparovic told RFE/RL last night he acted legally. "There is no point in discussing legal questions now," he said.

At a formal ceremony today with Meciar at his side, Gasparovic officially promoted Miklus, eight other professional officers and two army reservists to the rank of general.

Also today, Slovak public television terminated its weekly one-hour broadcast for the country's large Hungarian minority to replace it by a program focusing on all ethnic minorities living in the country.

A TV official said that in the new program, Hungarians will retain as much broadcasting time as in the original broadcast. About 600,000 ethnic Hungarians live in Slovakia, a country of 5.5 million.

The top candidate of the party of the Hungarian minority, Bela Bugar, sharply criticized the measures. He told the Austria Press Agency (APA) that Meciar's government was evidently determined to use all means to weaken the political opponents in the current election campaign.

Slovakia often has been criticized for its approach to the Hungarian minority. A language law passed by Meciar's ruling coalition in 1995 practically forbid the use of minority languages for public business.