News Briefs

Pittner: "Yesterday too late" for Russia, Ukraine visas
Poll: HZDS and Smer lead voter preferences
Coalition advises voters to ignore HZDS referendum
Slovak river contaminated with cyanide

Pittner: "Yesterday too late" for Russia, Ukraine visas

Interior Minister Ladislav Pittner announced on February 9 that Slovakia would soon impose visa restrictions on the citizens of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus. "If we had done it yesterday it would already have been too late," he said.
Pittner said he had no doubt that Mafia bosses would still succeed in obtaining visas, but added that the visas would better allow the police to monitor the activities of suspected mobsters. He added that the Czech Republic, Poland and Hungary have used EU funds to buy dozens of thermo-vision cars that will help monitor the borders at night. Slovakia also plans to continue co-ordinating its visa policy within the Visegrad Four group, but would join the Czech Republic in imposing the visas even if Hungary and Poland opted not to.

Poll: HZDS and Smer lead voter preferences

According to a poll conducted between January 24 and 31, the Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) tops Slovak voter preference with 32.2%, up from a December, 1999 rating of 30.9%. Robert Fico's new Smer party placed second in the poll at 14.3%, almost doubling its December rating of 7.8%.
The poll, carried out by the Markant polling agency on 1081 respondents, indicated that Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda's newly established Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ) would take 13.6% support if elections were held today. The Hungarian Coalition (SMK) was fourth with 8%, followed by the far-right Slovak National Party (SNS) with 7.2%.
Government coalition parties such as the Party of the Democratic Left (SDĽ) and the Party of Civic Understanding (SOP) both lost significant support according to the poll. The SDĽ slipped from 9.7% in December to 5.3% while the SOP went from 7% to 4.4%. The Christian Democrats, the major platform in the now-defunct SDK party, recorded a record low of 2.7% support.

Coalition advises voters to ignore HZDS referendum

The parties of the current ruling coalition advised Slovak citizens on February 9 to ignore the attempts of the opposition HZDS to hold a referendum calling for early elections. Prime Minister Mikuláš Dzurinda said that the referendum was not being organised on behalf of the citizen's best interests, but rather to satisfy the self-interest of HZDS boss Vladimír Mečiar. Dzurinda added that by doing so, the HZDS was "trifling with the spirit of the constitution."
With his coalition mates from the SDĽ, SOP and SMK parties, Dzurinda said that holding the referendum would be a waste of money and would destabilise the country's political situation. He opined that the HZDS had decided to initiate the referendum because the present government has managed to stabilise the economy and ease Slovakia's international isolation. "And now, somebody wants to sit back behind the repaired table and pretend that he is a great magician," Dzurinda said.
The HZDS needs a minimum 350,000 petition signatures to hold the referendum. If a referendum occurs, at least 50% of all eligible voters must participate for the vote to be valid. While the result of a referendum would not force parliament to enact it, it would represent significant public pressure and could ultimately result in early elections.

Slovak river contaminated with cyanide

A waste water reservoir in the Romanian town of Baia Mare with a high concentration of potassium cyanide burst on January 30 and sent 100,000 cubic meters of contaminated water into the Szamos River in Hungary. Hungarian officials alerted authorities in the eastern Slovak city of Košice on February 3 that the contaminated water had made its way into the Tisza river in eastern Slovakia, and that the wave of contaminated water would pass through during the night of February 4.
However, the Hungarians reportedly gave the wrong time of arrival. According to water checks on the river, the cyanide arrived over 24 hours before the Hungarians said it would. Viliam Volos from the emergency service of river management authority Povodie Hornádu a Bodrogu said on February 4 that it had taken six to eight hours for the wave of contaminated water to pass the Slovak stretch of the river.
No dead fish or river fauna were reported. Volos added that ground water pollution was not likely either.

Compiled by Chris Togneri
from SITA and press reports

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