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WHILE PRECAUTIONARY MEASURES INCREASE, OFFICIALS MOVE TO STEM PANIC

More soldiers on Slovak streets

AS THE war in Iraq continues, Slovaks are getting used to seeing more soldiers on the streets of their cities, the most visible sign of the government's efforts to achieve greater security.
"Based on an agreement between the Interior Ministry and the Defence Ministry, around 1,000 soldiers have been selected to work with the police," said Boris Ažaltovič, spokesperson for the Interior Ministry.
He added that of all Slovak cities, only Bratislava has asked for a greater military presence in the streets, although soldiers are also protecting a number of locations of special importance, many of which cannot be revealed.


EMBASSIES across the capital have soldiers standing guard.
photo: Ján Svrček

AS THE war in Iraq continues, Slovaks are getting used to seeing more soldiers on the streets of their cities, the most visible sign of the government's efforts to achieve greater security.

"Based on an agreement between the Interior Ministry and the Defence Ministry, around 1,000 soldiers have been selected to work with the police," said Boris Ažaltovič, spokesperson for the Interior Ministry.

He added that of all Slovak cities, only Bratislava has asked for a greater military presence in the streets, although soldiers are also protecting a number of locations of special importance, many of which cannot be revealed.

Among the places with the highest security throughout Europe are the US embassies, and the building in Bratislava is no exception. Slovak soldiers now patrol the area outside the embassy.

"We do not know of any specific threats against the embassy or Americans in Slovakia. However, because of the increased threat of terrorist violence everywhere in the world, we have taken additional security precautions," said Paul Oglesby, assistant public affairs officer with the US embassy in Bratislava.

Oglesby said the embassy appreciates the measures taken by Slovak authorities.

"We are very grateful to the Slovak government, in particular the Slovak police and the Interior Ministry. They have been doing an outstanding job of enhancing the security of the embassy," he said.

Ažaltovič said he expected the measures to stay in place until the end of the war in Iraq, although politicians were keen to stress that there is no specific threat to Slovakia.

"The situation is dramatic in Iraq. The situation is not dramatic in Slovakia," Interior Minister Vladimír Palko told journalists at a press conference on March 20, after the start of the military conflict.

"The operation centre of the Civil Protection Office has not reported any threats of a chemical, radioactive, or any other kind of attack," said Palko, himself an opponent of military action in Iraq.

Despite the lack of threats, the government says it is worth taking precautions, just in case.

"We will do everything necessary to protect the citizens, their property, and homes," said PM Mikuláš Dzurinda after the eruption of the conflict.

For his part, Health Minister Rudolf Zajac said that there were enough medical supplies to go round, if needed.

"We have a sufficient amount of everything we need, including vaccines, and we even have a backlog," he told journalists.

In addition, the newly established Central Crisis Headquarters has taken several preventative measures in connection with the Iraqi crisis.

"We have created information hotlines for citizens, we are ensuring the protection of locations where many people gather, such as schools or hospitals, and 95,000 copies of the booklet What You Should Know in the Case of a Threat are being distributed to citizens," Ažaltovič said.

Slovakia is also taking measures to reduce risks posed by foreigners.

"We are ensuring that everyone at all borders is thoroughly inspected, and we are monitoring the moods and opinions of foreigners placed in refugee and asylum camps. The Foreign Affairs Ministry has tightened the conditions for issuing visas to citizens of certain countries," said Ažaltovič.

Other steps include increased inspections of anthrax vaccines and equipment intended to measure radiation and chemical levels, and the protection of water sources.

The bill for all the security measures will be paid by taxpayers, Ažaltovič confirmed.

"The costs will be paid from the budgets of the ministries and other state authorities," he said.

But despite all the measures, they may not be enough to keep citizens in certain areas safe in the event of a terrorist attack. Bratislava's Petržalka district, which with some 180,000 flats is the largest housing estate in Slovakia, has no bunkers where people can seek protection.

"People are supposed to build their own bunkers in the cellars," said Milan Šišulák, director of the Civil Protection Office of the Interior Ministry in an interview with TV Markíza.

And the gas-mask situation is also far from comforting.

"I doubt that there would be enough time to hand out masks if terrorists attacked. It would probably take about a week for the masks to be distributed," Šišulák said.

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