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Slovenia protest adds pressure to crumbling government

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Fri, 8 Feb 2013 19:53 GMT
Author: Reuters
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* Some 20,000 people protest against government, corruption

* Conservative prime minister clings on as partners quit

* Early election likely if opposition can't agree new leader

By Marja Novak

LJUBLJANA, Feb 8 (Reuters) - Some 20,000 Slovenians took to the streets on Friday, adding pressure on a crumbling conservative government that is struggling to stay in power and avoid a bailout.

Prime Minister Janez Jansa is clinging to power despite the departure of two junior coalition partners which deprived him of a majority and which may force early elections in the troubled euro zone member.

Earlier on Friday, some 9,000 people took to the streets to support Jansa who was abandoned by his partners after an anti-corruption commission report said he was unable to explain the origin of some of his income.

But that demonstration was eclipsed by the march against him, the biggest anti-government gathering since protests against corruption and austerity started in November.

"This government and the previous ones are to blame for the misery of Slovenians. The politicians who have led the country so far are responsible for its financial failure," said Peter Razpet, a retired butcher on the rally.

"The whole political elite is corrupt, we need new politicians, we need a new election."

Jansa denies any wrongdoing.

When the pensioners' party Desus becomes the second group to quit the government over the corruption scandal on Feb. 22, his coalition will be reduced to just 36 out of 90 parliamentary seats.

The opposition is now trying to agree on a new prime minister but no candidate has been proposed so far and, unless they can agree one soon, the former Yugoslav republic is likely to hold an early election, the second in less than two years.

Export-oriented Slovenia was the first ex-communist country to join the euro zone, in 2007, but was badly hit by the global crisis two years later. It fell into a new recession in 2012 as export demand shrank and local spending remained subdued due to ongoing budget cuts.

The country is also burdened by rising bad loans at its banks, which are at the heart of speculation that it may be forced to ask for an international bailout later this year.

In October it managed to issue its first sovereign bond in 19 months, averting a bailout at least until June.

Only minor incidents were reported during Friday's protest although a few rallies in the past three months turned violent and police arrested several hundred protesters over the past few months. (Reporting By Marja Novak; Editing by Zoran Radosavljevic and Robin Pomeroy)

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