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Balkans

Slovenian public unions begin general strike

About 100,000 public employees have gone on strike over cuts in Slovenia. The government is simultaneously on the ropes over a corruption scandal that could strip the ruling coalition of its majority in parliament.

The protests have caused regular disruption and sometimes turned violent. The strikes come in response to a plan to lay off workers and cut wages by about 5 percent this year.

It adds to last year's 3 percent cut, as the government attempts to narrow its budget shortfall to around 3 percent of national output from 4.2 percent last year.

"We demand that the government retain the number of employees in the public sector and the quality of services the sector provides," said Tone Seliskar, a representative of the education trade union SVIZ. "We also believe that wages in the sector have been cut enough so far," he added.

The strike closed almost all schools, kindergartens and universities in the country of two million people. Hospitals are offering limited care with reduced staff.

About 14,000 employees in the metals and electronics industries also went on strike, demanding wage increases of up to 7.5 percent. Many get by on the monthly minimum wage of 784 euros (about $1,000).

Slovenia has struggled to stabilize its public finances and reassure markets so as not to become the latest eurozone member to seek a bailout. The economy, meanwhile, is in recession with unemployment at 12 percent.

Corruption scandal

The Civic List, a partner in the conservative coalition, has promised to quit the government unless Prime Minister Janez Jansa resigns. An anti-corruption commission named Jansa, of the Slovenian Democratic Party, in a report for not being able to explain the source of his income. The prime minister refuses to quit.

The commission accused Jansa of violating requirements to report his assets and failing to explain a 210,000-euro increase from 2004 to 2012. Jansa is also on trial over alleged kickbacks for a 2006 armored vehicles deal worth 280 million euros.

If the Civic List leaves the coalition, it would take Finance Minister Janez Sustersic with it. Jansa could continue as prime minister until the parliament nominates a new one or calls an early election.

Analysts say that a snap election, the second in just over a year, looks like the most likely outcome, which would further slow vital reforms and dent investor confidence.

mkg/jr (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)