27 Jan 2021, 16:06 PM

STA, 27 January 2021 - The National Assembly determined on Wednesday in a 51:13 vote that changes to the foreigners act tightening up conditions for residence for foreign nationals in Slovenia as well as amendments to the international protection act aiming to prevent asylum law abuses are fit for further debate. Both bills were met with mixed reactions.

The first bill also transposes an EU directive that regulates the situation of foreign students and researchers in Slovenia and introduces a concept of a complex crisis, which has drawn criticism from the opposition.

Interior Minister Aleš Hojs told the MPs on Tuesday that the complex crisis concept was a way of enabling a special temporary regime on the border in the event of mass migration in line with the 2019 Constitutional Court decision.

In 2019, the court annulled part of the 2017 contentious amendments, specifically sections of clause 10b of the foreigners act, explaining that they violated Article 18 of the Constitution, which guarantees the principle of non-refoulement.

Based on the latest concept, the government would be able to declare a complex crisis and effectively suspend the implementation of the law under special circumstances such as those seen in 2015 and 2016.

The changes also set down return policy in case of foreigners who are residing in Slovenia illegally and the extension of the deadline for reuniting families up to two years.

Moreover, Slovenian language skills have been made the new requirement for asylum seekers - a foreigner who is entering the country for the first time should have a basic knowledge of the language, whereas the A2 level is a threshold set for a foreigner who has been residing in Slovenia for a number of years.

The complex crisis concept has drawn criticism from the opposition, who believes the regime would pave the way for returning refugees without giving them an option of seeking international protection.

The Left said the measure was contrary to the 2019 ruling and the constitution, whereas the Marjan Šarec Party (LMŠ) described it as even worse than the 2017 controversial changes. On the other hand, the National Party (SNS) believes that the concept heeds the Constitutional Court's ruling.

The coalition New Slovenia (NSi) thinks that integration efforts should be stepped up and the ruling Democrats (SDS) think it necessary to prevent any abuse of the system.

The Modern Centre Party (SMC) also believes that Slovenia has the right and duty to adopt measures that would enable smooth functioning of the country in the event of disproportionate pressure on the asylum system as long as there is no agreement on the EU migration pact.

Meanwhile, the second bill that has been deemed fit to continue its journey through parliament aims to streamline international protection procedures in case of those who actually need such protection and strives to prevent any abuse of asylum law, according to Hojs.

The proposal envisages sanctions for obstructing the implementation of such procedures and violations of or failure to comply with relevant rules.

Those with international protection would be encouraged to integrate and movement restrictions would be made more effective.

Certain parties, including the SDS and SNS, wanted the regulations to be made even stricter, however that would not be in line with EU law, said Hojs when presenting the bill in parliament.

The NSi considers the changes necessary due to an increasing number of asylum seekers. The party said that some 80% of asylum seekers had left Slovenia for other EU countries, describing the situation as a security and social risk in the EU.

The SMC also voted in favour of the bill to pass the first reading. However, at the next stage the party would like to hear the opinion of the parliamentary legal service.

The opposition DeSUS backed the bill, lauding the proposal for what the party sees as efforts to prevent any abuse. The rest of the opposition parties are critical of the bill though, saying it restricts access to international protection or even makes it impossible to get asylum status.

27 Jan 2021, 14:05 PM

STA, 27 January 2021 - Slovenia is marking International Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday with a series of events, including the laying of wreaths, exhibitions and the traditional reading of the names of Slovenian Holocaust victims. Top Slovenian officials labelled the Holocaust one of the bleakest moments in history, warned against its denial and urged tolerance.

Parliamentary Speaker Igor Zorčič stressed in his address at the outset of proceedings in parliament that WWII was also being remembered because of the Holocaust, one of the darkest crimes in the history of modern civilisation.

He said its memory must be preserved as a warning and reminder, arguing the causes leading to this tragedy were still not left entirely in the past.

"Nationalism, national myths, racial and religious discrimination ... have not yet become part of the past. Some are still reviving the menacing symbols of this dark period and regime."

Despite the promises and commitments to the contrary, humanity has not learned the lesson, said Zorčič, pointing to the genocides in Rwanda and Srebrenica.

The crises of the past decade have brought to the surface new forms of intolerance, racism, xenophobia and hostility, he said, adding the rising dissatisfaction and intolerance during the Covid-19 pandemic was worrying, as it gave rise to dangerous negative emotions.

The MPs also observed a minute of silence for the Holocaust victims.

The Foreign Ministry said it was our common responsibility to stand up against all attempts to deny or distort the horrors of the Holocaust.

It believes the remembrance day is an occasion to remember all victims of one of the worst genocides in history, but also those who helped save lives.

The ministry and the Slovenian delegation at the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) have supported and contributed to Holocaust remembrance, education and research for years, it added in a written statement.

Slovenian IHRA delegation head Marko Rakovec praised the many organisations and individuals in Slovenia raising awareness about the Holocaust, especially among the young.

A wreath was laid on behalf of Prime Minister Janez Janša at the Jewish section of the Žale cemetery already on Tuesday, while Boris Čerin, the president of the Slovenian Jewish Community, and Rabbi Ariel Haddad, will lay one later in the day.

President Borut Pahor meanwhile laid a wreath at a memorial at the Jewish cemetery in Dolga Vas, north-east, warning about hate speech, intolerance and incitement to violence having become an all too normal part of our life in recent years.

He said this was outrageous, and called for tolerance and the freedom of thought where everyone can express their view yet in a way that preserves dignity.

He said all people but especially public figures must refrain from words or actions that could be understood as offensive or hostile. "This is our moral and human duty of those who take part in public life, but also a political commitment."

Pahor also wished good health to the Nazi concentration camp survivors who had accompanied him to the Auschwitz liberation commemorations, including Erika Fürst, a Jew from the Slovenian region of Prekmurje.

Boris Hajdinjak, director of the Maribor Synagogue, the Centre of Jewish Culture, recalled 26 April 1944, "when for the majority of the Jews from Lendava a process leading to less than 10% surviving began".

When the survivors from Lendava, which had a thriving Jewish community before the Holocaust, realised the dead had no graves, they were allowed to erect a memorial at the cemetery in Dolga Vas, he said.

But he regretted there was no other point expect the Lendava Synagogue in Slovenia where these events could be most directly remembered. He also urged the government to make sure Slovenia finally got the long-overdue memorial point in Auschwitz for all Slovenian victims of that camp.

Later in the day the Jewish Cultural Centre will host the traditional name-reading ceremony at which the names of all Slovenian Holocaust victims will be read out loud. Due to the pandemic, it will be held online.

In Murska Sobota, the Pomurje Museum launched a virtual exhibition entitled Passports for Life, which is dedicated to Polish diplomats based in Bern who during WWII forged the passports of Latin American countries to rescue Jews.

And in Ljubljana, the National Museum of Contemporary History launched an online documentary exhibition on Slovenian victims of Auschwitz. In the evening an online debate will accompany the launch of the Slovenian translation of Sonja Borus's diary.

International Holocaust Remembrance Day is observed in memory of the day in 1945 when the Red Army liberated Auschwitz, the largest Nazi concentration and death camp.

27 Jan 2021, 12:58 PM

STA, 27 January 2021 - Revenue in retail in real terms in Slovenia was down last year by 9.7% compared to 2019, the Statistics Office reported on Wednesday. The largest drop, by 23.6%, was recorded by shops specialised in sale of motor fuels.

The Statistics Office noted that, after four months of decline on the monthly level, revenue in retail in real terms last December was up by 0.1% compared to the month before.

In December alone, revenue in retail was up by 0.8% compared to November, excluding motor fuel sales. In shops specialised in sale of motor fuels, revenue was up by 0.5% on the monthly level.

Revenue from retail sales of non-food products was up by 0.2% in December on the monthly basis, and revenue from retail sales of food was up by 0.3%.

Year-on-year, revenue in retail in real terms in December was down by 13.3% when sales of motor fuels are included. Without these sales, revenue in retail last month was down 8.6% year-on-year.

Compared to December 2019, revenue from retail sales of non-food products was down by 16.1%, while revenue from retail sales of food was up by 1.4%.

More on this data

27 Jan 2021, 04:03 AM

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This summary is provided by the STA

Nearly 130,000 children back to school, kindergarten

LJUBLJANA - After almost three months of remote learning, kindergartens and primary schools up to year three reopened in nine of Slovenia's twelve regions. No major disruption was reported. Education Minister Simona Kustec announced that 53,306 children returned to school and 74,630 to kindergartens, hopeful this is "the first sign of going back to normal". A total of 12,822 school staff and 12,844 kindergarten employees returned to the workplace after only a fraction tested positive yesterday.

1,652 infections in most massive coronavirus testing yet

LJUBLJANA - Slovenia recorded 1,652 new coronavirus infections on Monday as more than 35,000 tests were conducted amid mass rapid testing of teachers before schools in nine regions reopened today. Covid-19 hospitalisations fell by 16 from the day before to 1,157 with 192 remaining in intensive care. Government data also show that another 27 patients with Covid-19 died, for what Covid-19 tracker site data show is a death toll of 3,406. The 7-day average of new infections fell to 1,227.

Back testing shows two UK strain cases at Jesenice hospital

JESENICE - At least two patients at the Jesenice general hospital had been infected with a highly contagious new variant of coronavirus, first detected in the UK, as far back as two weeks ago, an examination of six random samples has shown. The cases are not linked to the first officially confirmed case of the new variant in a Kosovo national temporary residing in Slovenia who arrived in the country from Belgium on Saturday. The latter case is being looked into by police.

President urges joining forces against epidemic

LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor expressed hope in an interview with the public broadcaster RTV Slovenija on Monday that Slovenians would be able to celebrate the 30th anniversary of independence in June by also celebrating the end of the epidemic. "I do call (on everyone) in these final months, when the vaccination is actually giving us the chance to end this crisis, to join forces now and cross the finish line together, which awaits us somewhere in May, June of this year," Pahor said.

DeSUS MPs decide to stay together

LJUBLJANA - The five deputies of the Pensioners Party (DeSUS) decided at Tuesday's meeting they will continue to work as a single parliamentary faction, but they have not yet decided whether to be a part of the opposition or cooperate with the coalition. Deputy group leader Franc Jurša said there were a lot of open issues to be discussed with the party leadership and MP MP Branko Simonovič acknowledged there were three factions in the party.

New political movement emerges

LJUBLJANA - A new political movement called Povežimo Slovenijo (Unite Slovenia) has emerged. The initiative wants to bring together smaller parties, local initiatives and individuals to form a joint slate for the next general elections. The initiator, vice president of the Greens Nada Pavšer, believes the list could get at least 20% in the next election. The most visible members of the group include the People's Party (SLS) and local lists by the mayors of Celje and Koper.

Slovenia takes over its pavilion at Dubai Expo

DUBAI, UAE - Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek symbolically took over on behalf of Slovenia the management of the country's pavilion at the Expo 2020 in Dubai as part of his official visit to the United Arab Emirates. The minister said "Slovenia will show know-how, innovation and energy at the Expo". The largest such exposition yet will take place between 1 October 2021 and 31 March 2022. The minister expect it to boost business links and create investment opportunities.

Constitutional court stays extension of college accreditations

LJUBLJANA - The Constitutional Court stayed in an unanimous decision the implementation of a provision from one of the coronavirus stimulus packages that extends accreditations to higher education institutions until it comes up with its final ruling on the matter. The petitioner from Maribor argued the change had been made without proper justification and for reasons not connected with the mitigation of the consequences of the Covid-19 epidemic.

Ethnic Slovenian to run for Croatian county head

ZAGREB, Croatia - Barbara Antolić Vupora, the first ethnic Slovenian to be elected to the Croatian parliament, will run for the head of the Varaždin county in the local election in May. She will run on the list of the biggest opposition party, the Social Democrats (SDP). Born in Celje, Slovenia, Antolić Vupora has Croatian citizenship and lives in Varaždin in northern Croatia where she has been active both as a minority member and the head of the party's local committee.

Slovenia preparing to issue 60-year bond

LJUBLJANA - Slovenia plans to issue a 60-year bond subject to market conditions and has commissioned BNP Paribas, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs Bank Europe SE and HSBC to manage the issue, the Finance Ministry said. This would be the longest maturity for a bond Slovenia has ever issued. The treasury currently has a 30-year bond outstanding due in 2050, and a 24-year bond which is due in 2040.

Novartis invested EUR 204m in Slovenia in 2020

LJUBLJANA - The Swiss pharma giant Novartis continued to invest in its R&D and production capacities in Slovenia through its subsidiaries Lek, Sandoz and Novartis Pharma Services last year. Despite the Covid-19 pandemic, the company said it had invested EUR 204 million in the country as part of its efforts to expand its R&D and production facilities in line with its plan to transform from a generics to an innovative pharmaceutical company.

Workers reach deal on strike demands at A&E Europe

MARIBOR - Employees at A&E Europe, the American-owned Maribor sewing threads manufacturer, reached agreement on their demands, including better pay, following a one-day strike in January. The workers had been threatening to start an open-ended strike but since an agreement was reached the strike was cancelled. The KSS association of trade unions said an agreement had been reached on all demands after tough talks.

Public health insurance fund ends 2020 with EUR 87m deficit

LJUBLJANA - The Health Insurance Institute (ZZZS) finished last year with a EUR 87 million deficit. Director general Marjan Sušelj said revenue totalled EUR 3.25 billion or 4.9% more than in 2019. Expenditure amounted to EUR 3.34 billion, up 9.5%. Wage subsidies for sick leave grew at the fastest pace (16.4%), followed by spending on vaccination (16.3%) and medicines (15.3%).

Stories of Slovenians from Auschwitz presented at Museum of Contemporary History

LJUBLJANA - The National Museum of Contemporary History will launched an online documentary exhibition by the Maribor Synagogue on Slovenian victims of the Auschwitz death camp. Visitors to the museum's website will be able to take an online tour of the exhibition led by its author Boris Hajdinjak from the Maribor Synagogue. Of the 2,300 people from Slovenia who were taken to Auschwitz, only about a thousand returned home, while the rest died in Auschwitz.

Ljubljana cathedral fresco vandalised

LJUBLJANA - As yet unknown perpetrators have thrown a balloon filed with paint in one of the frescoes on the exterior of St Nicholas's Cathedral in Ljubljana, causing several thousand euro in damage on what is a listed cultural monument. The police are looking into the incident. The Slovenian Bishops' Conference labelled the attack as an expression of Christianophobia and vandalism, and resolutely rejected all forms of intolerance and defilement of churches.

Two Italian migrant smugglers get prison sentences

LJUBLJANA - The papers reported that two Italians who crashed their car packed with illegal migrants into a police vehicle in September last year had been sentenced to more than two years in prison, after which they will be expelled from the country for four years. Francesco Mandielo, 29, and Salvatore Mascolo, 23, both from Naples, were sentenced to two years and nine months and two years and one month, respectively, by the Ljubljana District Court in what is the mildest sentence for the crime.

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26 Jan 2021, 18:32 PM

STA, 26 January 2021 - A new political movement called Povežimo Slovenijo (Unite Slovenia) has emerged. The initiative is wants to bring together a number of smaller, non-parliamentary parties, groups, local initiatives and individuals of various values and political stances to form a joint slate for the next general elections.

The movement's programme and its cooperation strategy is based on Slovenia's constitution and has been modelled on such projects abroad, most notably in Austria and Switzerland where big-tent pre-election coalitions are frequent.

The initiator and coordinator of the movement is vice president of the Greens Nada Pavšer, who believes that the emerging list could get at least 20% in the next election.

The response so far has been very positive, she told today's press conference presenting the initiative. The Greens head Andrej Čuš thinks the movement will be a success story.

He highlighted that there had been enough negative stories and suggested that the movement would appeal to undecided voters by striving to overcome political polarisation. The movement is to nominate its own candidate for prime minister.

The initiative aims to give a voice to civil society and not only politicians, and back good proposals regardless of their source, he said.

The Greens executive committee and the People's Party (SLS) main committee have already confirmed their cooperation in the initiative, he added.

Marjan Podobnik of the SLS believes that such cooperation could be welcomed by voters who have not been casting their ballots in recent years.

Among a host of public figures and parties that are reportedly discussing cooperation with the movement are the New People's Party of former Maribor mayor Franc Kangler, the list of Celje Mayor Bojan Šrot, Koper Mayor Aleš Bržan's list as well as Zdravko Počivalšek, the leader of the coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC).

Počivalšek, whose party has been ranking low in opinion polls for months, said in the movement's presentational video that "every act of cooperation within the political centre is beneficial and necessary to reach equilibrium in our political arena".

"The SMC also works on bringing together the liberal centre," he said.

Among those who also featured in the video were the president's adviser and former Constitutional Court judge Ernest Petrič, Chamber of Craft and Small Business (OZS) head Branko Meh, the head of the Pensioners' Association (ZDUS) Janez Sušnik, head of an inter-municipal association of the blind and visually-impaired of Slovenia Luj Šprohar, musician Oto Pestner, and judoka Lucija Polavder.

The former head of the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) Aleksandra Pivec confirmed for RTV Slovenija yesterday that she had discussed potential cooperation with the initiative, however her primary plan remains to form her own party.

At this stage the emerging party is not entering any movement, she said, but it will be willing to cooperate.

26 Jan 2021, 15:28 PM

STA, 26 January 201 - Two Italians who crashed their car packed with illegal migrants into a police car in September last year have been sentenced to more than two years in prison, after which they will be expelled from the country.

The newspapers Delo, Dnevnik and Slovenske Novice report that Francesco Mandielo, 29, and Salvatore Mascolo, 23, both from Naples, were sentenced to two years and nine months and two years and one month, respectively, by the Ljubljana District Court.

They were both also given a fine of two thousand euro and a ban on re-entering the country for four years as judge Martin Jančar meted out the sentence as proposed by the prosecution, which was the mildest possible and took into account mitigating circumstances.

"The court accepts the defence counsel's argument that the defendants are the smallest wheels in the machinery of organised illegal migration, but it's these small wheels that allow the whole wheelwork to run," the judge was quoted as saying by Dnevnik. He said economic distress did not justify crime.

The pair pleaded guilty, asking for mercy. Their lawyers argued that the pair were but the final link in the chain of a criminal ring smuggling migrants from Bosnia-Herzegovina to Italy.

The pair picked up six migrants - five from Bangladesh and one from Pakistan - on the Slovenian-Croatian border, putting four of them on the back seats and two in the boot.

A police patrol tried to pull them over near Ivančna Gorica, but Mandielo, attempting to avoid the police first scraped the car against the guard rail on the exit from the motorway, and then after several sharp manoeuvres bumped into the police vehicle behind.

The impact left the police officers inside lightly injured.

According to the reports, the migrants paid EUR 4,000 each to be transported from Velika Kladuša in Bosnia-Herzegovina to Italy to the organiser, allegedly a Pakistani.

26 Jan 2021, 14:26 PM

STA, 25 January -2021 The programming council of public broadcaster RTV Slovenija has appointed Andrej Grah Whatmough the new director general. Currently the chair of the broadcaster's supervisory board, he will succeed Igor Kadunc, who was eliminated in the first round of voting.

Grah Whatmough received 14 votes in the first round of voting on Monday and was then endorsed by the majority on the programming council in the run-off against Natalija Gorščak, the director of the broadcaster's TV division.

The new director had been mentioned as candidate for director general in an unsuccessful attempt to oust Kadunc last year. He will start his four-year term at the end of April.

Having graduated in law in 2008, Grah Whatmough owns a translation and interpreting company and his LinkedIn bio says he works as an independent tax law specialist.

He has been on the broadcaster's supervisory board since 2015 and was originally nominated by the Modern Centre Party (SMC).

26 Jan 2021, 12:26 PM

STA, 26 January 2021 - Slovenia recorded another 1,652 new coronavirus infections on Monday, when more than 35,000 tests were conducted amid mass testing of teachers ahead of partial school reopening.

Currently, 1,157 people are in hospital, 16 fewer than the day before. The number of patients needing intensive care remained level at 190. 91 patients were discharged from hospital and 27 new deaths were reported.

Yesterday, 1,149 new cases were confirmed in 4,700 PCR tests (positivity rate of 24.4%). Because of testing of teachers ahead of partial reopening of schools and kindergartens, as many as 30,392 rapid tests were also conducted to detect 503 new infections for a positive rate of just 1.7%, said the government's Covid-19 spokesperson Maja Bratuša.

In 20,673 rapid tests among teachers, 278 infections were confirmed by 9pm last night, the Health Ministry said. The positivity rate was thus 1.3%.

Some teachers were tested this morning, as 53,306 pupils from the first three grades of primary school returned to school and 74,630 children returned to kindergartens, according to Education Minister Simona Kustec.

The latest data on Slovenia and coronavirus

26 Jan 2021, 12:21 PM

STA, 25 January 2020 - After another spray-painting of the Slovenian names on bilingual city limit signs in Austria's Carinthia, Slovenian minority organisations again condemned the incidents and called on the authorities to conduct a systematic and organised campaign to find the perpetrators. The Slovenian Foreign Ministry also expressed concern.

About a week ago, unknown perpetrators spray-painted the Slovenian names on bilingual city limit signs in the municipalities of Bleiburg (Pliberk in Slovenian) and Eberndorf (Dobrla Vas).

Another six signs were vandalised in the same way in Eberndorf last weekend.

Responding on Monday to the latest acts of vandalism, the National Council of Carinthian Slovenians (NSKS) said that these were systemic and well-organised acts are attempts to erase the Slovenian language in the public in Carinthia.

"It seems that we are returning to the past times," it said, adding that it expected from the relevant authorities to conduct an accordingly systematic and organised campaign to find the perpetrators.

The NSKS noted that such acts were inadmissible and subject to criminal prosecution under Austrian legislation. "What we need in Carinthia is a deep and lasting change of paradigm," it added.

The organisation thinks that the perpetrators want to create tension in southern Carinthia ahead of the upcoming local elections in February.

The acts have also been condemned by the Community of Carinthian Slovenians (SKS), whose president Bernard Sadovnik called on the locals to help the police find the perpetrators.

"Despite the acts having not been clarified yet, it is encouraging that the population and political representatives clearly reject such acts of vandalism," he said.

Carinthia Governor Peter Kaiser condemned the acts in a statement on Sunday. "Such behaviour is completely unacceptable for the open society into which we have developed in recent years," he said.

The Slovenian Foreign Ministry expressed concern today, noting it expected the Austrian authorities to find the perpetrators as soon as possible and protect the constitutional rights of the Slovenian community in Carinthia. It also said that diplomatic activities in relation to this were under way.

The acts from week ago have also been strongly condemned by Minister for Slovenians Abroad Helena Jaklitch, while Foreign minister Anže Logar told the Foreign Policy Committee last Wednesday that Slovenia regretted and condemned the incident.

26 Jan 2021, 03:56 AM

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This summary is provided by the STA

Decline in infection curve slows, new cases of UK strain confirmed

LJUBLJANA - A total of 293 people tested positive for coronavirus in Slovenia on Sunday as the daily increase fell on the week before for the second straight week, but the rate of decline slowed to 1.3%. A further 19 patients with Covid-19 died. The number of patients hospitalised with Covid-19 rose by 24 from the day before to 1,173, of whom 192 were in intensive care. The Microbiology Institute reported confirming the highly virulent UK variant of coronavirus in 3 of the 291 samples taken from positive tests performed in Slovenia between 1 and 14 January, evidence that the variant had been in Slovenia before the first official case was confirmed this weekend.

Teachers tested as final decision on return to school pending

LJUBLJANA - Mass testing of thousands of teachers and other personnel in education was carried out in what was the largest such testing operation yet, as kindergartens and the first three grades of primary school to reopen in nine of Slovenia's 12 regions on Tuesday. While no disruption was reported from testing, there was some uncertainty as to whether the reopening plan would be set in motion due to the confirmation of the UK strain of coronavirus. After clearance from the National Institute of Public Health and the Education Ministry, it was decided to proceed with the reopening.

Govt adopts new stimulus bill

LJUBLJANA - The government adopted a new stimulus bill, with the extension of the furlough scheme until 30 April and minimum wage subsidies as the key measures that are to help companies weather the epidemic. The state will provide minimum wage subsidies from January to June; in the second half of the year, employers will be exempt from paying a part of social security contributions. Income support for veterans, high school students over 18 and students studying abroad are also in the bill.

FM Logar presents EU presidency priorities in Belgium

BRUSSELS, Belgium - The priorities of Slovenia's EU presidency in the second half of this year and bilateral cooperation were in the focus as Foreign Minister Anže Logar held talks with his Belgian counterpart Sophie Wilmes. Logar stressed that Slovenia would place special emphasis on strengthening the EU's capacity to address health and other crises. The ministers agreed on the importance of respecting European values and the rule of law, which represent the foundation of the EU.

Ministers call for more cooperation between Slovenia, UAE

DUBAI, UAE - Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek met Emirati Minister of Industry and Advanced Technology Sultan Ahmed Al Jaber in Abud Dhabi on Monday as he started an official visit to the United Arab Emirates. The pair agreed that bilateral cooperation could improve and expressed support for such efforts, the Economy Ministry said. Slovenia is interested in strengthening ties in high-tech, green economy, pharmaceutical industry, artificial intelligence, logistic, health services and space technologies, Počivalšek said.

Slovenia eyeing EUR 150m for agriculture from recovery fund

BRUSSELS, Belgium - Slovenia would like to allocate EUR 150 million of the EU recovery funds for agriculture, Agriculture Minister Jože Podoršek said. Speaking to the press after an EU ministerial, Podgoršek said the main problem for agriculture was a lack of projects that could draw funds fast enough, which is why the focus will be on investment and "soft" projects".

Slovenia urges Brussels to help pork sector

BRUSSELS - Slovenia urged the European Commission to help EU pork producers, saying the situation is worrying, Agriculture Minister Jože Podgoršek said on the sidelines of an EU ministerial. Slovenian pork producers have suffered at least a 30% drop in revenue due extremely low prices, additional costs incurred because of African swine fever, and coronavirus-fuelled delays in some abattoirs, he said. The country's appeal has been backed by 15 member states.

Hojs urges EU efforts to protect children from online sexual abuse

LJUBLJANA - Interior Minister Aleš Hojs urged enhancing efforts to protect children from online sexual abuse, as he attended a virtual ministerial of the EU Internet Forum. "It is one of the most abominable and severest forms of crime, and it is especially worrying that globally, the largest amount of footage of child abuse on the internet is exchanged in the EU," he said.

Minority reps protest as bilingual signs vandalised again

KLAGENFURT, Austria - After another spray-painting of the Slovenian names on bilingual city limit signs in Austria's Carinthia, Slovenian minority organisations condemned the incidents once again. The National Council of Carinthian Slovenians (NSKS) said that these were systemic and well-organised acts are attempts to erase the Slovenian language in the public in Carinthia. Community of Carinthian Slovenians (SKS) president Bernard Sadovnik called on the locals to help the police find the perpetrators.

New director general appointed at public broadcaster

LJUBLJANA - The programming council of public broadcaster RTV Slovenija appointed Andrej Grah Whatmough the new director general. Currently the chair of the broadcaster's supervisory board, he will succeed Igor Kadunc at the end of April. Grah Whatmough owns a translation and interpreting company and his Linkedin bio says he works as an independent tax law specialist. He has been on the broadcaster's supervisory board since 2015 and was originally nominated by the Modern Centre Party (SMC).

SDS expands lead in POP TV poll

LJUBLJANA - The ruling Democratic Party (SDS) increased its lead to just shy of eight points in the latest poll commissioned by the commercial broadcaster POP TV. The SDS polled at 16.9%, down 0.3 percentage points from December, as the opposition SocDems lost 1.2 points to 7.9 to 9% in second, followed by the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), which gained 1.5 points to 8.8%. The voter approval rating for the government improved slightly. Almost one out of four respondents (23%) were undecided.

Some 2,600 beds at care home empty due to coronavirus

LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's 102 care homes admitted slightly more than 3,000 new elderly residents in 2020, whereas some 2,600 beds are currently empty due to the Covid-19 epidemic. None of the care homes are fully occupied because they have to have enough space to organise grey and red areas for suspected or confirmed coronavirus cases, which is why some 1,800 beds are empty. Another 900 remain unoccupied at care homes hit by a major outbreak of the virus and consequently by a lack of staff, the Association of Care Institutions said.

Business sentiment improves slightly in January

LJUBLJANA - Business sentiment in Slovenia improved in January compared to the month before by 2.2. percentage points to -7.1 percentage points, with all sub-indicators bar that measuring confidence in retail improving on the monthly basis, the Statistics Office reported. At the annual level, business sentiment was down by 11.1 percentage points, with only the sub-indicator measuring confidence in manufacturing increasing, by 2.5 points.

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25 Jan 2021, 17:34 PM

STA, 25 January 2020 - Kindergartens and the first three grades of primary school in Slovenia will open as planned on Tuesday despite additional confirmation that the highly virulent UK variant of coronavirus has been present in Slovenia since the start of the month.

After almost three months of closure, the partial reopening was decreed by the government last week, but the plan was thrown into doubt today when Prime Minister Janez Janša told parliament "we still don't know whether classes in schools will really be re-started on Tuesday."

After confirmation that the UK variant is in Slovenia, he solicited opinions from the Education Ministry and the National Public Health Institute (NIJZ), which both said the reopening may proceed. "Let's help teachers to make sure work is safe," Janša tweeted in the afternoon.

The Education Ministry said in its opinion schools were prepared and classes would be safe, while the NIJZ said its position remained unchanged and noted that it would carefully monitor the situation at educational institutions and "propose further measures at any sign of a deteriorating epidemiological situation".

All efforts now need to be invested in managing the epidemic at the national level and making sure the school environment is safe for children and staff. "If restrictions need to be tightened, other potential transmission locations should be closed first," the NIJZ said.

Slovenia conducted mass testing today of all teachers who will return to in-person teaching tomorrow.

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