West voices fears for Slovak democracy

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The Independent Online

Central Europe Correspondent

The European Union and the United States yesterday took the unusual step of publicly sounding alarm bells about the state of democracy in Slovakia.

The ambassadors of four EU countries formally presented the Slovak Prime Minister, Vladimir Meciar, with a diplomatic note expressing concern.

The US embassy in Bratislava issued a statement also conveying President Bill Clinton's misgivings.

The warnings came after months of feuding between Mr Meciar and the Slovak President, Michal Kovac. They also followed recent allegations that the Prime Minister may have had a hand in the bizarre kidnapping two months ago of one of the President's sons.

Western officials said the statements only made public concerns expressed privately for some time. They strengthen the impression that Slovakia has fallen behind other Central European countries in the race to join Western institutions such as Nato and the EU.

In Slovakia, the statements will be seen as further evidence of what the government terms the "disinformation campaign" aimed at "pushing Slovakia towards international isolation".

The feud between the Prime Minister and President, one-time allies turned bitter rivals, has dominated Slovakia's political life since Mr Meciar returned to power following elections last September.

In addition to eroding the powers of the President, Mr Meciar has tried to persuade parliament to sack him, failing to secure the three-fifths majority required to achieve it.

In August one of Mr Kovacs' sons was kidnapped, dumped in the boot of his own car and driven to Austria, where he has been held ever since pending possible extradition to Germany on suspicion of fraud. The President believes the kidnapping was arranged by the Meciar-controlled Slovak Intelligence Service.