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Cabinet shake-up deprives Šimko of post

PRESIDENT Rudolf Schuster recalled Defence Minister Ivan Šimko on September 24, appointing Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan to temporarily lead the department.
Juraj Líška, mayor of Trenčín, and member of the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), was picked by his party to be the new defence minister, but following traditional procedure when appointing new ministers, Schuster wants to take some time before officially naming Líška to the post.

PRESIDENT Rudolf Schuster recalled Defence Minister Ivan Šimko on September 24, appointing Foreign Minister Eduard Kukan to temporarily lead the department.

Juraj Líška, mayor of Trenčín, and member of the ruling Slovak Democratic and Christian Union (SDKÚ), was picked by his party to be the new defence minister, but following traditional procedure when appointing new ministers, Schuster wants to take some time before officially naming Líška to the post.

Schuster also named Pavol Rusko, head of the ruling New Citizen's Alliance (ANO) party, as the new economy minister. The seat became vacant weeks ago after former minister Robert Nemcsics was voted out of the post by his ANO party.

Nemcsics, along with another ANO official, Deputy Transport Minister Branislav Opaterný, lost the confidence of his mother party. Nemcsics and Opaterný criticised ANO leadership and the style of its politics, and Opaterný even compared Rusko to Stalin.

Opaterný will be replaced by Mikuláš Kačaljak after the ANO senior body decision on the nomination, on September 22. Transport Minister Pavol Prokopovič is expected to propose the new candidate at an upcoming cabinet meeting.

The shake-up of the defence ministry post came after Šimko, an SDKÚ senior member, failed to support PM Mikuláš Dzurinda's proposal to recall head of the national Security Office Ján Mojžiš.

Two weeks ago Dzurinda announced that he had "completely lost trust" in Mojžiš, and later suggested that Mojžiš had been defending unspecified political and economic interests that the PM considered unacceptable for a state official.

Šimko said that the change in the defence ministry top seat came at the "worst possible" time, as Slovakia, a future NATO member, started negotiations with the defence organisation over its future role in the Alliance.

Slovakia is scheduled to join NATO in May 2004.

At the same time, Slovakia's army is in the middle of a major reform that aims to build a fully professional armed forces by 2010,

Šimko said, however, that he was prepared to give advice to Líška and to make sure " that the new minister works well" in his post.

British Ambassador to Slovakia Damian Roderic Todd praised Šimko for his performance in the post, stating that under Šimko, and his predecessor Jozef Stank, who officially launched the major army reform under the previous cabinet, the country's military has made great progress.

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