Charges dropped against former SIS officer
The prosecution of former Slovak Intelligence Service (SIS) deputy director Jaroslav Svěchota on charges of kidnapping the former president's son, Michal Kováč Jr., has been halted. Interior Ministry Chief Investigator Jaroslav Ivor said on January 10 that a recent decision by the Constitutional Court, which ruled that Svěchota's constitutional rights had been violated by the government, had forced the police to abandon their case against the former SIS officer. Svěchota may now only appear as a witness in the case.
The Court ruled on December 20 that an amnesty given almost two years ago by then-Prime Minister Vladimír Mečiar to all participants in the Kováč Jr. kidnapping had not been respected by the current Dzurinda government (Dzurinda actually cancelled the Mečiar amnesty on December 8, 1998).
Jaroslav Svěchota gave crucial testimony in the abduction case in June, 1999. In his testimony, Svěchota admitted to organising the kidnapping and described in detail the roles of the persons involved in it. Police say that Svěchota's testimony was the turning point in the inquiry into the abduction.
However, while the Constitutional Court verdict has forced the government to drop its kidnapping suit against Svěchota, the former SIS officer still faces four charges of abuse of powers and fraud regarding the theft of a precious church-owned picture as well as in the illegal handling of former SIS funds.
Wiersma: Slovakia has taken right path since 1998 elections
Dutch Member of the European Parliament Jan Wiersma said on the first day of an official January 10-11 visit to Košice and Bratislava that Slovakia had made solid improvements in politics and economy during the past year, and was now "on the right path."
Wiersma also said that Slovakia has to concentrate on solving its social problems and inequalities in regional development. He underscored that his visit to Košice, a region with 26% unemployment, should be seen as a sign of solidarity between the European Union's richer countries and economically weaker nations.
During his time in Košice, Wiersma visited the Lunik IX ghetto, mostly inhabited by Roma, as well as a center for the education of Roma children and youth. He stressed that people living in emergency situations need more help than other citizens, and explained that the Netherlands is facing similar problems with their own citizens of other ethnic origins.
At a press conference that followed his meetings with representatives of the Roma organizations and Košice City Hall, Wiersma said that Roma representatives had complained principally about the lack of jobs, the bad housing situation and the low education level of their people.
Opposition restless, demands more posts
The opposition Movement for a Democratic Slovakia (HZDS) called on the government to sign an agreement giving the opposition permanent representation in leading posts in parliament. The HZDS urges the ruling coalition to conclude the agreement by June 30 at the latest.
The HZDS proposes that the opposition should hold either the post of speaker of parliament, or should be given two of the four deputy speaker positions. The Movement also would like to hold the chair of the defense-security, finance, foreign and constitutional-judicial parliamentary committees, along with top posts in committees to oversee the activities of the intelligence service and military intelligence.
The HZDS says that the opposition should also retain its posts atop the Statistics Office and the Supreme Supervisory Bureau, along with one post in the National Property Fund (FNM) privatisation agency and the Foreign Ministry bodies that will be negotiating Slovakia's accession to the European Union.
Parliamentary Speaker Jozef Migaš commented ironically that only ministerial seats were missing from the HZDS wish-list, but the opposition Slovak National Party (SNS) announced on January 10 that it too was considering quitting all leading posts in parliament because the party was tired of the reluctance of the ruling coalition to discuss Slovakia's "serious internal political and economic problems."
Norway promises to toughen asylum law
A delegation of the Norwegian parliament's foreign affairs committee, led by its chair Haakon Blankenborg, met Slovak Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan on January 12 to discuss the problem of Romany citizens seeking asylum in Europe and Norway's visa requirement for Slovaks. Kukan appealed to the Norwegian side to make its asylum policy stricter, to reduce the interest of asylum seekers in refugee status in Norway.
Blankenborg said that Norway is working on shortening the asylum granting process and added that none of the asylum seekers from Slovakia meet the criteria for gaining political asylum. Oslo also is interested in canceling the visa duty towards Slovakia in the shortest possible time.
Blankenborg added that Norwegian representatives had received insight into the conditions under which the Roma live in Slovakia, but would welcome more information. Another Norwegian delegation plans to visit eastern Slovakia in March.
Slovakia-US open skies deal to boost economy
An Open Skies Agreement signed by representatives of the Slovak and US governments on January 7 brought a close to US-Slovak civil aviation negotiations, said Foreign Ministry spokesman Boris Gandel on January 10. When ratified, the agreement will replace the US-Czechoslovak agreement on aviation services from the year 1987.
The Open Skies Agreement is the first deal Slovakia and the United States have ever concluded in the sphere of civil aviation, and is expected to boost economic contacts and open new transport possibilities in both countries.
Compiled by Tom Nicholson from SITA and Reuters