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Thousands rally for, and against, Slovenia's gov't

Source : AP
Last Updated: Fri, Feb 08, 2013 21:15 hrs

Thousands of people rallied for and against Slovenia's center-right government Friday, adding to the tensions in the small European Union country where authorities have turned to austerity measures to revive the economy.

About 5,000 flag-waving pro-government activists gathered at a central square in the capital, Ljubljana, Friday morning. Hours later, around 20,000 people protested against the leadership. It was the largest anti-government rally since the protests started about two months ago.

The pro-government rally was peaceful, but police used tear gas to prevent a group of anti-government protesters from removing metal barriers that separated them from the downtown parliament building.

Demonstrators hurled rocks, wooden sticks and bottles at the police and managed at one point to charge through the barriers, but the police cordon stopped them from reaching parliament.

Two people were arrested before the protest ended, police said.

Slovenia's government has been on the brink of collapse after two junior partners left the governing coalition over corruption allegations against Prime Minister Janez Jansa. An anti-graft watchdog has accused him of failing to declare more than €200,000 ($265,000) in private assets, which he has denied.

Jansa has refused to step down, saying an election now would hurt Slovenia's efforts to pull out of an economic and financial downturn linked to the EU debt crisis. Jansa's government has cut public spending, including for health care and education, moves it says will keep the country from needing an international bailout.

But Jansa's measures have been met with massive protests and strikes that have sometimes turned violent in the otherwise calm Alpine country of 2 million. The anti-government protesters insist that the cost-cutting is hurting the middle class and the poor, but not the "corrupt elite."

Friday's anti-government protesters chanted "Thieves!" as they marched through Ljubljana, and put a banner saying "Our property" on the Central Bank.

Earlier, in a video address broadcast during the pro-government rally, Jansa claimed he is the victim of "lies, deceit and propaganda" by unidentified left-leaning groups, which have "robbed our country" in the past.

His supporters unveiled a huge Slovenian flag and played national folk songs.

"We are here because we care about this country," said Franc Mihar, a 33-year-old supporter from the town of Kranj.

___

Jovana Gec in Belgrade, Serbia; Dusan Stojanovic, in Bled, Slovenia; and Amer Cohadzic in Ljubljana, contributed to this report.



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