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Slovakia: Prominent Priest Issues Veiled Support For Meciar

Bratislava, 25 September 1998 (RFE/RL) -- On the eve of the first day of voting in parliamentary elections, Slovak state television broadcast an address by a well-known Roman Catholic priest which appeared to support Prime Minister Vladimir Meciar's governing party.

Father Anton Hlinka read out a series of questions which he said voters should ask themselves about the competing parties before casting ballots. He said that a party's program is more important than the personalities of its candidates and that voters should vote for the party with the best program rather than for parties with the best candidates.

Our correspondent says observers in Bratislava saw Hlinka's message as a veiled plea for voters to cast their ballots for Meciar's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia. Such a plea would violate the country's ban on campaigning in the media 48 hours prior to the elections. Hlinka has been an outspoken supporter of Meciar.

Recently passed legislation gives state-run TV and radio a monopoly in election coverage and campaign broadcasting.

Hlinka began his address, which lasted about a quarter of an hour, by noting that he had worked for RFE-RL for 20 years and that he had decided to address the public out of a feeling of "co-responsibility."

The Director of RFE/RL's Slovak service, Miroslav Neovesky, says Hlinka was a stringer for 20 years until he was fired five years ago after writing a letter to US President Bill Clinton in which he denounced RFE/RL's Slovak Service for being anti-Slovak and pro-Czechoslovak.

A leading member of the election observer mission of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), Stefan Krause, likened Hlinka's address to one delivered on Slovak TV last night by Slovak parliament speaker Ivan Gasparovic.

Krause says OSCE will probably not comment on either address until Sunday. Other election observers contacted by RFE/RL also said they would probably refrain from commenting until after the elections.