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General strike cripples Slovenia amid political crisis



Ljubljana: A general strike by tens of thousands of public sector workers paralysed Slovenia on Wednesday, adding to Prime Minister Janez Jansa's woes as he struggles to stay in office. As thousands of people gathered for demonstrations in the capital Ljubljana and other cities, the public sector union confederation put the number of people striking at 100,000.

Kindergartens, schools and universities were closed around the country, while hospital and customs workers and the police performed only essential tasks. Lorries had to wait two to three hours to cross the border into Croatia. The main public sector unions want guarantees of no job cuts in 2013 or 2014 as the government seeks to slash spending in the public sector by five percent. Public sector wages were already cut by eight percent last year. Senko Plicanic, the government's top negotiator and justice minister, rejected on Tuesday the demands, urging unions to start "talks over the way the (five-percent) reduction can be carried out."

"We think that the reduction planned in this year and next year's budgets are rather modest considering the overall situation Slovenia is in. We will be pleased if that (reduction) turns to be sufficient," Plicanic said. Jansa is struggling to keep his shaky five-party coalition together following accusations of irregularities levelled against him by Slovenia's corruption watchdog on January 8.

This added to public anger at what a growing number of Slovenians see as a culture of graft among the rich and powerful in the country of two million people. State radio said that on January 11, 10,000 people took part in the latest in a series of demonstrations that in December forced the mayor of Slovenia's second city Maribor to step down.

Two of Jansa's coalition partners want him to resign. One of them, the Civil List, threated to withdraw from the coalition if Jansa did not quit by midnight on Tuesday. A break-up of the coalition could lead to Jansa trying to govern without a majority in parliament, the creation of a technocrat government or elections for the second time in 13 months.

Slovenia's economy, meanwhile, is in recession with unemployment at 12 percent. Major problems with its banks have raised fears it may become the next eurozone member to need a bailout. The corruption commission accused Jansa of repeatedly violating requirements to report his assets and failing to explain a 210,000-euro ($280,000) increase in assets from 2004 to 2012. Jansa, also on trial over alleged kickbacks in a 280-million-euro ($375-million) armoured vehicles contract in 2006, rejected the accusations. His Slovenian Democratic Party (SDS) declined his offer to resign as party chief. On Tuesday he told television channel Primorka that he hoped reason would prevail and that politicians will "be sensible and mature enough to enable the government to do what needs to be done without delays".

"If certain people had thought things through before making very serious statements, or had listened to the other side, the situation would not be so complicated now," he said. The corruption watchdog's accusations also forced Zoran Jankovic, the millionnaire former supermarket boss who is mayor of Ljubljana, to resign as head of the main opposition party Positive Slovenia.

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