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Slovakia: Former Premier Arrested, Released

Slovak police investigators this afternoon released former Prime Minister Vladmir Meciar, four hours after detaining him by force for questioning in connection with allegations of abuse of office, sabotage, and fraud. Police also sought to question Meciar about the 1995 abduction of Michal Kovac Jr., the son of Slovakia's president at the time. RFE/RL correspondent Jolyon Naegele examines the significance of the brief detention and reviews the career of Slovakia's most controversial politician.

Prague, 20 April 2000 (RFE/RL) -- Former prime minister Vladimir Meciar had resisted efforts by Slovak authorities to question him for months, repeatedly refusing to accept a subpoena.

This morning, members of a masked special police unit used explosives to gain entry to Meciar's villa in the western Slovak spa town of Trencianske Teplice.

Meciar, who was expecting the arrest, had invited Slovak TV reporters to record the event from inside the villa.

"The police, to violate my freedom, have to find some way of getting in here. It is for them to decide what means to use. As for me, I don't expect I'll attack the police, but if they try to take me away, I'll resist."

In the end, Meciar surrendered without a struggle and was taken in a convoy of 10 vehicles to Bratislava for questioning.

The chief investigator, Interior Ministry General Jaroslav Ivor, says Meciar has been charged with abuse of power and fraud for having made illegal payments to members of his cabinet despite repeated warnings by Slovakia's Supreme auditing office.

Meciar had not left his villa, a former trade union hotel, since March 26, when police tried but failed to serve him a summons after a television debate with Prime Minister Mikulas Dzurinda in Bratislava.

That summons was to answer questions in connection with the 1995 abduction to Austria of the son of then-president Michal Kovac.

Ivor says Meciar is also suspected of having committed "sabotage" in connection with a secret annual report in 1995 of the Slovak Intelligence Service, or SIS.

For his part, Dzurinda says police did not consult with him before picking up Meciar. He says the law must be applied equally to all regardless of position or party affiliation.

Meciar's populist party, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, or HZDS, has issued a statement saying Meciar's detention is an unprecedented, illegal act that, in the party's words, "confirms the Slovak Republic has become a police state with elements of state terror."

The deputy chairman of the Party of the Democratic Left, Peter Weiss, rejects the HZDS reaction as "inappropriate.

In recent days, Meciar has said that if he were detained he would not answer investigators' questions. He has insisted the investigation into the Kovac abduction is illegal and unconstitutional.

Meciar, while serving as interim head of state, amnestied those who were allegedly involved in the abduction. Dzurinda subsequently repealed those amnesties, a move that Meciar rejected. The Slovak constitutional court has also ruled that repealing amnesties is unconstitutional. Nevertheless, Slovak authorities have continued to investigate Meciar and his former secret police chief.

Meciar remains simultaneously the most popular and the most unpopular politician in Slovakia. Slovaks either love him or hate him. His populist opposition party HZDS continues to lead in the opinion polls.

Since losing parliamentary elections in September 1998 and presidential elections last year, Meciar has largely remained out of the public eye. However, in recent weeks, he has launched a petition campaign to force early elections, a move that does not guarantee him a fourth return to office but does put him back in the public eye. So does getting detained in one's own home.