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Slovakia: Protests Continue Over Firings At Private TV Station

Bratislava, 16 September 1998 (RFE/RL) - Hundreds of demonstrators gathered today at Slovakia's only private television station to protest staff firings the opposition says is aimed at stilling criticism of the ruling party just 10 days before parliamentary elections.

Associated Press reports that rallies are also scheduled in seven other cities to protest the firings yesterday at private Markiza TV which included four key managers, among them the general director and news editor.

The new majority owner of Markiza, the Gamatex Corporation, dismissed the employees without giving a reason.

All opposition parties said today that the firings raise issues of freedom of the media and freedom of expression.

Slovak Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar told a rally of his supporters yesterday in Trnava, 50 kilometers from the capital, that, in his words, the government is not involved in what is happening at Markiza and that it is strictly a business problem.

Some 1,000 people rallied at the station yesterday immediately after the firings.

Gamatex, which owns 51 percent of Markiza, took control after a prolonged and murky legal battle. Under its former owners, Markiza's news programs had often been criticized by Meciar and his ministers for what they called their anti-government bias.

Meanwhile, an international human rights group said state television had a pro-government bias and has not provided balanced reports ahead of the September 25-26 vote.

Vienna-based International Helsinki Federaton also said Bratislava had failed to accredit domestic and international observers for the poll.