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Slovenia police clash with anti-graft protesters

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Mon, 3 Dec 2012 21:37 GMT
Author: Reuters
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(Updates numbers of injured and arrested)

By Marja Novak and Srdjan Zivulovic

LJUBLJANA/MARIBOR, Slovenia, Dec 3 (Reuters) - At least 12 people were injured when police clashed with protesters in Slovenia's second city Maribor on Monday, in the latest of a series of rallies against budget cuts and graft in the financially-troubled Alpine state.

officers said more than 40 people were arrested after some members of the crowd of around 6,000 threw firecrackers, fireworks and rocks. Protesters demanded the resignation of the Mayor Franc Kangler who has been accused of corruption.

Kangler was expelled from the Slovenian People's Party, a junior partner in Prime Minister Janez Jansa's conservative coalition, in November due to allegations of corruption, but has so far refused to resign as mayor.

Protests, organised via Facebook, passed off peacefully in five other cities after an outburst of violence at a protest in the capital Ljubljana on Friday, two days before the presidential election.

Demonstrators said Sunday's election of former centre-left prime minister, Borut Pahor, to the largely ceremonial post of president will not improve conditions in a country badly hit by the global downturn due to its dependency on exports.

"We want deep changes in society and not a change of the leaders' names. We need changes in the banking system, improvement of the system of democracy and of the social state," said Asja, a 21-year philosophy student protesting in Ljubljana.

Slovenia, which joined the euro zone in 2007, is now struggling to avoid a bailout amid recession, high unemployment and a rising number of bad loans in local banks.

The government plans to cut public sector wages, reduce most welfare benefits, raise the retirement age and cut spending on schools and health in order to reduce the budget deficit to some 3 percent of GDP next year from 4.2 percent expected in 2012.

"I'm here because I protest against the violence of Jansa's government towards the nation. I support the people of Maribor. I will keep coming back to protest until this government leaves," said retired policeman Zoran Rink.

Analysts said the protests were hurting the Slovenian economy as they were projecting an image of Slovenia as a potentially unstable country.

"Businessmen are telling us that their partners abroad are already raising their eyebrows because of the protests. I expect Kangler will have to resign soon which could calm the protesters," Borut Hocevar, an analyst at daily Finance, told Reuters. (Editing by Jon Hemming)

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