15 May 2019, 22:54 PM

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A schedule of all the main events involving Slovenia this week can be found here

Visiting Ljubljana? Check out what's on this week, while all our stories on Slovenia, from newest to oldest, are here

This summary is provided by the STA:

Conference calls for job creation in Africa

LJUBLJANA - The 8th Africa Day conference got under way, focusing on relations between Africa and Europe, and economic and investment opportunities in Africa. The opening debate heard calls for creating jobs for young people in Africa. Foreign Minister Miro Cerar urged enhancing dialogue and cooperation between Europe and Africa, and between Slovenia and Africa. As part of the efforts, Slovenia signed an economic cooperation memorandum with Ghana on the sidelines of the event. The conference is featuring the foreign ministers of Cape Verde and Central African Republic, among others.

US curtails activities at military exercises in Slovenia

LJUBLJANA - The US army has decided to curtail ongoing military activities in Slovenia due to restrictions imposed at the Poček grounds near Postojna. "US Forces are awaiting concrete rules and guidelines, to be outlined by the Ministry of Defence in consultation with local municipalities, so that they can forecast, plan, and conduct future training within those rules and guidelines," the US Embassy told the STA on Wednesday.

Govt to help Slovenians get out of Venezuela

LJUBLJANA - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar told the parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee that the ministry would host consular days in Caracas this month to help Slovenians in Venezuela who want to leave the country get the necessary documents. Cerar said the situation in the country "is bad, and is getting worse, with no signs of a peace process whatsoever". Around 300 Slovenian citizens and a few hundred persons of Slovenian descent living in Venezuela are in need of help.

Slovenia considering pulling peacekeepers out of Mali, Lebanon

LJUBLJANA - The Defence Ministry is considering withdrawing Slovenian members from the peacekeeping missions in Mali and Lebanon. Foreign Minister Miro Cerar told the parliamentary Foreign Policy Committee that his and the Defence Ministry were considering the next course of action and the position would be presented to the government. Eight Slovenian force members are involved in the EUTM Mali EU mission and 15 in the the Unifil Lebanon UN peacekeeping mission, data as of April show.

EIB approves EUR 250m loan for Koper-Divača track

LJUBLJANA - The board of directors of the European Investment Bank (EIB) approved a EUR 250 million loan for the construction of a second rail track between rail hub Divača and Koper port. The approval is considered a significant step in securing the funds still missing for the project, estimated at just under EUR 1.2 billion. The state-guaranteed loan will be taken out by 2TDK, a company incorporated with the purpose of building and managing the new track.

Prince Edward advocates non-formal education

LJUBLJANA - Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, wrapped up his two-day visit to Slovenia by attending an event held as part of the international Duke of Edinburgh Award programme, and planting a tree of friendship between the UK and Slovenia in Ljubljana's Tivoli Park together with President Borut Pahor. He also took part in a debate hosted by the British-Slovenian Chamber of Commerce in which he talked about the importance of non-formal education. Apart from Pahpr, the prince also met PM Marjan Šarec.

New attempt to convert franc loans to euro

LJUBLJANA - The National Council, the upper chamber of parliament, adopted a bill to help several thousand people who took out mortgages in Swiss francs and ran into trouble when the Swiss central bank stopped protecting the value of the currency in 2015. The bill would make it obligatory for banks to convert all Swiss franc loans to euro at the exchange rate valid at the time the loan agreement was signed. A similar bill, filed in December 2017, was harshly criticised by banks and the ECB.

Unions threaten referendum if minimum wage law amended

LJUBLJANA - Trade unions announced they would fight with all means available what they believe are concealed attempts to change the law on minimum wage to gratify employers, as suggested by statements by government officials and debates held by employers. Representatives of the trade union confederations ZSSS and Pergam told the press they were ready to push for a referendum on the minimum wage law if it was changed. The Left said it would help them collect signatures for the vote. Meanwhile, the Labour Ministry said there was no reason to change the law.

Eastern region pushing for cohesion policy changes

MARIBOR - Mayors and representatives of regional development agencies in eastern Slovenia, gathered for a meeting in Maribor, called for a change of the cohesion policy concept and regional policy. They said that cohesion policy as implemented in the period 2007-2019 was not producing results as the gap between the more developed west and the less developed east is widening. Maribor Mayor Saša Arsenovič urged decentralisation, proposing Maribor get an office for the drawing of cohesion policy funds.

Triglav reports higher Q1 profit, premiums

LJUBLJANA - The insurance group Zavarovalnica Triglav posted a pre-tax profit of EUR 29.9 million in the first quarter of 2019, up 8% year-on-year, while also recording the same growth rate in consolidated gross premiums, which amounted to EUR 317 million. The company's unaudited quarterly report said that the group's premium growth on most of its markets exceeded the growth of the markets as a whole. The group collects 76% of consolidated premiums in Slovenia.

Cinkarna Celje revenue, profit down in Q1

CELJE - The chemical company Cinkarna Celje reported net sales revenue of EUR 45.5 million for the first quarter of the year, a drop 13% year-on-year. Net profit plummeted 64% to EUR 4.6 million and exports fell by 11% to EUR 40.6 million. The company blamed the poorer results on lower prices of titanium dioxide pigment, its main product, and uncertainty about future economic trends. It also said that the first quarter of the year was a low season for the company.

Average pay up in March

LJUBLJANA - Average monthly gross pay in Slovenia amounted to EUR 1,752 in March, a 2.2% increase on February in nominal terms and a 1.5% increase in real terms. Compared to March 2018, gross pay was up by 4.9% in nominal and by 3.2% in real terms, the Statistics Office reported. Average net pay amounted to EUR 1,12, a 2.6% year-in-year increase in real terms. Net pay in the public sector rose by 2.8% on the monthly basis in March. In the private sector it was up by 1.3%.

Ex-head of Serb Orthodox Church found guilty of embezzlement in retrial

LJUBLJANA - Peran Bošković, the former leader of the Ljubljana Serb Orthodox community, who was found guilty of embezzlement in July 2017, was convicted of the same offence in a retrial and again given a six-month suspended prison sentence by the Ljubljana District Court. The judge also ordered Bošković to return the illegally obtained assets. He is required to return EUR 33,689 during a one-year period.

Two Slovenian pro cyclists suspended for doping

AIGLE, Switzerland - The world body for sports cycling, UCI, provisionally suspended Slovenian riders Kristijan Koren and Borut Božič after receiving information about doping suspicions from the Austrian law enforcement authorities. The Slovenian riders were suspended along with Italian Alessandro Petacchi and Croat Kristijan Đurasek as part of blood doping investigation codenamed Aderlass. Their team, Bahrain-Merida, confirmed their suspension. The pair allegedly violated anti-doping rules in 2012-13.

Slovenian Book Days festival gets under way

LJUBLJANA - Slovenian Book Days got under way in Ljubljana, featuring a fair in front of the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Arts, as well as events at the National Gallery, the headquarters of the Slovenian Writers' Association, and the St Cyril and Methodius Church. The festival has been moved from April to the start of May to capitalise on the pre-summer book buying and warmer evenings, perfect for reading or hanging out.

15 May 2019, 18:43 PM

STA, 15 May 2019 - Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, wrapped up his two-day visit to Slovenia by attending a MEPI youth event and planting a tree of friendship between the UK and Slovenia in Ljubljana's Tivoli Park together with President Borut Pahor on Wednesday. He also took part in a debate on the importance of non-formal education.

Pahor and Prince Edward met with students involved in the international Duke of Edinburgh Award programme (known in Slovenia as MEPI), which supports the young in developing their interests and skills and prepares them for future life and work.

They also observed the participants' workshops and attended a students' performance celebrating the friendship.

The Earl of Wessex has been the chairman of the trustees of The Duke of Edinburgh's International Award Foundation since 2015, advocating the benefits of the programme in the UK and abroad as well as presenting the MEPI gold awards. Pahor is the honorary patron of Slovenia's MEPI programme.

UK Ambassador to Slovenia Sophie Honey said that the aim of the visit was to celebrate the countries' strong bilateral ties as well as historical ones and strengthen them in many areas, including security, business, education, science and culture.

"Brexit may change the institutional links between us but I don't think it changes the friendship, I don't think it changes the will and the drive to work together in all of these areas," said Honey.

Prince Edward later took part in a business event hosted by the British-Slovenian Chamber of Commerce and promoting the importance of non-formal education in the business world.

The Earl of Wessex shared his thoughts on how programmes like MEPI assist young people in preparing for the job market through active participation in a variety of activities.

He pointed out that besides teaching young people how to pass an exam, the education system should also prepare them for life and work afterwards.

"Knowledge is knowing that tomatoes are fruit, wisdom is knowing that you're not going to put tomatoes in a fruit salad," he quipped.

The prince believes the educational systems should take into account that the young are individuals with specific interests, who should be able to choose from a variety of opportunities and activities.

According to him, such programmes help the young develop confidence outside the classroom which then translates to other areas, improves their school results and prepares them for the challenges ahead.

"What happens outside the classroom could be more or at least equally important as what happens inside it," he pointed out.

Other participants agreed that skills acquired through the MEPI programme should be valued by employers as well.

Gregor Deleja, the head teacher of the Celje Center Secondary School, called for education reforms and stressed the importance of the inclusive leadership concept.

He also said that the MEPI programme enabled the young to develop an inclusive way of thinking and solidarity as well as perseverance in pursuing their goals.

NLB bank chairman Blaž Brodnjak said that in this instant-gratification culture, the educational system should focus on the importance of patience and effort in achieving long-term goals, promoting deeper feedbacks not just superficial and constant likes as seen on social networks.

The Earl of Wessex is visiting Slovenia at the invitation of the president to celebrate the first Slovenia-UK Friendship Day and promote the importance of non-formal education.

He and Pahor planted an alder tree symbolising the friendship in the city's most popular park. This particular type of alder tree is indigenous to Slovenia and thrives in wet soil.

15 May 2019, 16:08 PM

It’s the time of the Ice Saints, and in Slovenia this year Ledeni Možje have brought with them the coldest period in May for 15 years, and as I sit here now writing this, Polulana Zofka is truly pissing herself.

Confused? Let me explain.

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Rain clouds clearing over the Kamnik Alps after a day of heavy rain last week. On the higher ground they brought snow.

The Ice Saints

Ledeni Možje (the Ice Men) is a legend in Slovenia that derives from a wider legend throughout much of Europe, the legend of the Ice Saints. The three Ice Saints are Saint Boniface, Saint Pancras, and Saint Servatius. Their feast days are celebrated on May 11th, 12th and 13 across much of Southern Europe. In Slovenia however, the days are 12th, 13th and 14th. During this period in Central Europe it’s often believed there is a sharp drop in temperature. Farmers in many European countries will not plant their crops until after this period has passed; chiefly because it can also bring a late frost.

Pissing Sophia

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Rain over Lake Bohinj, Triglav National Park, Slovenia.

Today, May 15th, is the feast day of Saint Sophia of Rome, known here in Slovenia as Mokra Zofka (Wet Sophia) or under the more comical name of Polulana Zofka (Pissing Sophia). Traditionally on Saint Sophia’s Day it rains a lot.

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In Slovenia it’s easy to be confused about the weather this time of year. It can be sunny one minute, and rainy the next. Best to be prepared as this man with the umbrella was in Kongresni Square, Ljubljana, Slovenia.

So, in Slovenian Folklore if the Ice Men bring the cold weather, and Sophia pisses herself, then the belief is that this heralds a very hot and sunny summer.

Well over the last few days the temperatures have plummeted to mark the coldest May for 15 years. A couple of weeks ago it was over 20 degrees and sunny. Today it is 6 degrees and truly pissing down with rain. So if the legend is true, we are in for a very hot summer indeed.

As a Slovene who is used to hot summers, my wife is very happy about this. But as a wimpy Englishman who hates the heat and, as a landscape photographer who also hates hot, clear sunny days because clear skies are boring and heat produces humidity which reduces clarity, I feel a sense of foreboding.

Time to invest in that air conditioning unit, and a photography trip to cooler climates!

You can enjoy more of Ian's travel writing and photography elsewhere on Total Slovenia News, or on his website.
15 May 2019, 15:00 PM

Zala & Gašper are through to the finals of Eurovision, taking place in Tel Aviv this Saturday. While the focus of this year’s contest is likely to be political, due to the location of the event and Iceland’s entry, viewers in Slovenia will be playing close attention to the duo from Maribor and their song, “Sebi”, which forgoes the usual splashy pop and colourful, frenetic staging for a moody ballad, with the artists likely to perform, as usual, dressed in white, without dancers.

One version of the origin story has it that Zala Kralj and Gašper Šantl, a couple in real life, first began their collaboration in 2017, after Gašper, already a songwriter, found Zala singing covers on Instagram. Another claims that they were introduced by a mutual friend, Žiga Krajnac, who has directed all their videos.

The duo performing the song in English

The pair only started formally working together in 2018, and since then have been signed to Universal Music and released four singles, including last year’s winner of Slovenia’s Zlata Piščal (Golden Whistle) award, for the song “Valovi” (“Waves”).

Despite the low-sex, low colour image of the pair, they’re not without obvious humour, as seen in their frequent use of a fox mask, on display in the video shown above.

Instead of building an image around flashy costumes or brazen sexuality, a look at how Zala & Gašper present themselves shows a downtempo, moody aesthetic. It was perhaps this that caused many in Slovenia’s pop establishment to favour Raiven over the duo when it came time to choose the country’s entry for Eurovision. Indeed, Raiven was ahead in the official part of the selection process, and Zala & Gašper are only in Tel Aviv due to the use of a popular vote in the final round, which they won with 72.89%. This upset caused Lea Sirk, last year’s Eurovision entry (“Hvala, Ne”), to swear on live TV (f***, come on, I can’t f***ing believe this).

Lea Sirk explaining in backstage: Zdaj je cela senzacija okrog tega, zakaj sem jaz rekla, ozvočena, faking ne morem verjet. In ja, to sem faking mislila: ne morem verjet, ker sem bila prepričana, da bo zmagala Raiven. Ko jih jebe! (Now there’s a total sensation about why have I said, on a mic, I can’t f***ing believe this. And yes, this is what I f***ing meant: I can’t believe (this) cause I was certain Raiven would have won. F*** them!)

You can watch the finals on Saturday night, and cheer on Zala & Gašper or your own favourite from the usual Eurovision line-up of the strange and unexpected. One thing to note is that Leak Sirk will be relaying Slovenia’’s votes to Tel Aviv on Saturday night, and one wonders who she wants to win.

15 May 2019, 14:23 PM

STA, 15 May 2019 - The group around the insurance company Zavarovalnica Triglav posted a pre-tax profit of EUR 29.9 million in the first quarter of 2019, up 8% year-on-year, while also recording the same growth rate in consolidated gross premiums, which amounted to EUR 317 million, shows the unaudited quarterly report released on Wednesday.

The report says that the group's premium growth on most of its markets exceeded the growth of the markets as a whole.

In Slovenia, where the group collects 76% of consolidated premiums, the average premium growth stood at 6% (compared to the market growth of 5%) and 10% in the markets outside Slovenia.

In terms of individual insurance segments, premium growth was recorded in all non-life insurance classes, the company said.

In the life and pension insurance segments, premium declined by 2% compared with the same period last year, while health insurance premium increased by 20%.

Gross claims paid by the group totalled EUR 166 million, down by 3% compared to the first quarter of 2018, while net claims incurred were at the expected level, up by 6% compared to last year.

At the end of the first quarter, the group's financial investments totalled EUR 3.2 billion.

Commenting on the results, chairman Andrej Slapar said the company was pleased with the performance, adding that it "pursues the set strategy to become a modern, innovative and dynamic insurance and financial group".

15 May 2019, 12:16 PM

STA, 15 May 2019 - The world body for sports cycling, UCI, has suspended Slovenian riders Kristijan Koren and Borut Božič after being notified of doping suspicions by Austrian authorities.

The Slovenian riders were suspended along with Italian Alessandro Petacchi and Croat Kristijan Đurasek. Koren, Božič and Petacchi allegedly violated anti-doping rules in 2012-13, and Đurasek in 2017.

"The procedure is being handled by the UCI, which has made the announcement, so we cannot comment on the case," said Jani Dvoršak, director of the Slovenian Anti-Doping Agency.

A member of Bahrain-Merida, Koren has been part of the team at the ongoing Giro d'Italia, while Božič is the club's sports director having retired as rider after last year's season.

The UCI took the step based on information received from the law enforcement authorities of Austria.

The body said it was in close contact with the sport and state authorities involved in the Aderlass investigation, in particular with the World Anti-Doping Agency and Austrian law enforcement.

The UCI and the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation would not make any further comment at this stage.

Operation Aderlass culminated during this year's Cross-Country Skiing World Championships in Seefeld, Austria, as the police busted a blood doping ring headed by a German doctor and his three aides.

The doctor is suspected of helping athletes achieve better results by means of blood transfusions or blood doping between 2011 and 2019. Twenty-one athletes have been detected as his alleged clients.

Bahrain-Merida confirmed the suspension of Koren and Božič, saying it had a "zero-tolerance doping policy" and "always carries out a thorough medical checks (including biological passport check) of any new signed rider."

The team pointed out that "both cases relate to the 2012 and/or 2013 season" when Koren rode for the Liquigas-Cannondale and Cannondale teams, while Božič rode for Astana.

This is a second doping case involving Slovenian riders this year after it transpired in January that Jani Brajkovič failed a doping test during the Tour of Croatia last year.

Brajkovič, who claimed unintended intake of a banned substance by means of a food supplement, was given a ten-month suspension by the UCI.

15 May 2019, 09:00 AM

STA, 13 May 2019 - Small and medium-sized companies in Slovenia as well as those providing for up to 3,000 full-time jobs will be able to apply for EUR 100 million in funds offered by the Slovenian Equity Growth Investment Programme (SEGIP). The new scheme is to help attract private investors from abroad.

The European Investment Fund (EIF), and Slovenia's SID export and development bank each contributed EUR 50 million to the programme.

According to SID CEO Sibil Svilan, the initiative for the SEGIP had come from SID after the crisis revealed a major deficiency in private equities in Slovenia.

In November 2017, a deal to set up the EUR 100-million programme was signed with the EIF, with the European Fund for Strategic Investments (EFSI) providing for guarantees.

The goal of the programme is to provide equity financing to the small, medium-sized and mid-cap companies as well as attract foreign private investors and strengthen local capabilities by supporting the up-and-coming managers of Slovenia-based entities whose investments are focussed on Slovenia.

Gabriele Todesca of the EIF said at today's presentation that alternative finance still represented a small share among all financial sources available to local small and medium-sized companies, which slowed down the economic growth.

"The EIF is happy to contribute to the tackling of this issue through the SEGIP," he said.

The EIF has chosen KF Finance and KD Skladi to manage the private capital funds.

Tone Pekolj of the KF Finance funds noted that the first generation of Slovenian entrepreneurs were now passing their companies on to the next generation, and were willing to open the door to other investors.

Meanwhile, KD Skladi CEO Luka Podlogar stressed that small and medium-sized companies were the engine of the Slovenian economy and that because of the lack of private capital funds many of them failed to realise their potential.

According to the SID bank, the SEGIP is not intended for start-ups or companies in trouble. It will support investments aimed at strengthening or expanding companies in Slovenia, which also entails hiring and job creation.

15 May 2019, 08:00 AM

STA, 13 May 2019 – May 13 marked 40 years to the day since Andrej Štremfelj and Nejc Zaplotnik made history as the first Slovenians who reached the summit of the highest mountain in the world. On this occasion, the Slovenian Alpine Museum in Mojstrana (NW) honoured the anniversary with a ceremony and an exhibition about their conquest of Mount Everest.

Štremfelj and Zaplotnik were part of a Yugoslav expedition which featured 25 members, with 21 of them being Slovenians, and was led by Slovenian mountaineer Tone Škarja.

The two mountaineers achieved their goal after 45 days of climbing the mountain's western ridge in extreme weather conditions and struggling with oxygen deprivation.

The museum located under Triglav, Slovenia's highest mountain, started the ceremony exactly at 01:51pm, when, according to local time, Zaplotnik announced the exciting news to the base camp.

"Tone, we're at the top. We're sitting at the Chinese pyramid and don't know what to do," he famously said.

Books about Slovenia: Alpine Warriors, A History of Modern Slovenian Alpinism

Two days later the peak was also reached by Slovenian mountaineer Stane Belak - Šrauf and Stipe Božić, the first Croatian to summit Mount Everest, as well as Nepalese mountaineer Ang Phu.

A majority of the Slovenian members of the 1979 expedition and representatives of the Mountaineering Association were received today by President Borut Pahor, who congratulated them on the anniversary.

They also attended the ceremony in Mojstrana, with Škarja pointing out that a number of factors contributed to the accomplishment, including successful preparation, courage, experience, cooperation and pursuit of the common goal.

Štremfelj reminisced about the feat, saying that he and Zaplotnik congratulated themselves at the top and shed a few tears of joy.

"Resounding cheers from all camps told us everything we needed to know about the collective spirit. We reached the top on behalf of all of us and saved the exhibition from fears of failure so that all our efforts would not have been in vain," said Štremfelj, adding that their joy could not last since one of the members had a fatal accident.

The realisation of what they had achieved sank in later, when they were already back and celebrating in Slovenia. Nowadays, their route is considered the most difficult among eleven established routes. Only the 1984 Bulgarian expedition has succeeded in conquering it as well.

To mark the feat, the museum is also hosting an exhibition featuring items and archives about the expedition and Mount Everest in general, including a journal entry by US chronicler of Himalayan mountaineering expeditions Elizabeth Hawley, describing the 1979 expedition.

The 8,848-metre Mount Everest has been summited by 18 Slovenians, who climbed to the top using three different routes.

Slovenian mountaineers have made a name for themselves among the Himalayas' world records, succeeding in climbing a route that had never been attempted before, women's ascent and ascent without the use of supplemental oxygen as well as the first ski descent from the top of the mountain.

All our stories about mountaineering and Slovenia are here

14 May 2019, 21:16 PM

Bookmark this link and find the headlines faster each morning, or follow us on Facebook

A schedule of all the main events involving Slovenia this week can be found here

Visiting Ljubljana? Check out what's on this week, while all our stories on Slovenia, from newest to oldest, are here

This summary is provided by the STA:

President, Prince Edward mark first Slovenia-UK Friendship Day

VINICA - President Borut Pahor and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, marked the first Day of Slovenia-UK Friendship in Gornji Suhor, a village in south-eastern Slovenia where a British bomber crashed in 1945. After laying wreaths at the memorial plaque commemorating the crew, Pahor and Prince Edward addressed the ceremony to underline the importance of friendship between their countries in the past and in the future. "Today is an important day. A day to remember what connects us, both in the past and the present and more importantly in the future," Prince Edward said.

Pahor appeals for army modernisation

CERKLJE OB KRKI - President Borut Pahor addressed a ceremony on the eve of Slovenian Armed Forces Day at Cerklje pri Krki airfield, underscoring that Slovenia must modernise its Armed Forces so that they would be able to perform missions of greatest intensity with excellence. He said that Slovenia was a safe country and that its army was a pillar of security. Despite readiness shortcomings, he said the army performed its duties perfectly, at home and abroad. The ceremony was also addressed attended by Defence Minister Karl Erjavec and Chief of the General Staff, Major General Alenka Ermenc.

PM and defence minister say migration issues "overblown"

LJUBLJANA - PM Marjan Šarec and Defence Minister Karl Erjavec commented on topical developments in the country, arguing that the ouster motion against Erjavec, as well as "exaggeration" of problems related to illegal migration should be regarded in the context of the EU election campaign. Both Šarec and Erjavec said that the police and army were managing the situation on the south border, and they both argued that the problems in wake of the recent abduction incident were overblown. Šarec also proposed deploying Frontex to Croatia to prevent illegal migration.

Erjavec says US military has no reason to worry about Poček

LJUBLJANA - After TV Slovenija reported on Monday that the US military had been considering no longer participating in joint exercises in Slovenia in the current scope, Defence Minister Karl Erjavec said there was no reason for concern. The public broadcaster reported that the US military had considered scaling-down their military exercises in Slovenia following uncertainty and restrictions regarding the Poček training grounds. Erjavec said he had met US Chargé d'Affaires Gautam Rana to assure him that all scheduled military exercises would be carried out as planned.

Cerar meets Cape Verde minister to discuss development coop

LJUBLJANA - Foreign Minister Miro Cerar met Luis Filipe Tavares, the Cape Verde minister in charge of foreign affairs, cooperation and defence, to discuss development cooperation, an area in the focus of Slovenia's cooperation with the African country. They agreed that Slovenia and Cape Verde had established good and friendly relations, which had been marked by successful development aid projects in Cape Verde over the past few years. Tavares will address tomorrow the 8th Africa Day conference, which the Foreign Ministry and the African diaspora in Slovenia will host until Thursday.

Three new ambassadors present credentials

LJUBLJANA - President Borut Pahor received the credentials of three new ambassadors to Slovenia representing Bulgaria, Mauritania and Guinea. Pahor was presented with the credentials of the new Bulgarian Ambassador Mladen Petrov Chervenyakov, Mauritanian Ambassador Sidi Mohamed Hamed and Guinean Ambassador Mohamed Cherif Diallo. Chervenyakov will be based in Ljubljana, while the Mauritanian and Guinean ambassadors will be based in Rome.

Lebanese chemist found guilty of ordering murder of institute senior

LJUBLJANA - Lebanese chemist Michel Stephan was found guilty of soliciting to the murder of one of his former superiors at the National Institute of Chemistry, and sentenced to eight years in prison. The Ljubljana District Court found that Stephan hired an Iraqi asylum seeker in 2017 to kill Janez Plavec, the head of the institute's NMR Centre. The murder was not committed because the Iraqi alerted the police and helped them collect evidence to arrest Stephan. The defence announced an appeal.

Abanka planning high dividend payout before privatisation

LJUBLJANA - The state-owned Abanka plans to pay out EUR 66.7 million in dividends prior to being privatised, roughly 75% of the total distributable profit, according to the notice convening the annual general meeting of shareholders, which will be held on Thursday. The figure corresponds to the bank's entire profit for 2018 and is more than 50% higher than last year's dividend payout, which totalled EUR 42.6m. Three bidders have reportedly submitted binding bids: Slovenia's NKBM, Hungary's OTP bank and Serbia's AIK Banka, which already owns Gorenjska Banka.

Pipistrel's aircraft charging station introduced to the US

LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian aircraft company Pipistrel has gotten one of its aircraft charging stations installed by Los Angeles County Public Works at Compton/Woodley Airport. According to the department, Pipistrel has thus provided the first commercial electric aircraft docking station for the US. The county's infrastructure department has bought four Pipistrel SkyCharge chargers and two Alpha Electro electric aircraft.

Survey shows many immigrants overqualified for their jobs

LJUBLJANA - While the general belief in Slovenia is that most immigrants from the Western Balkans are unqualified workers, a survey presented by the charity Caritas suggests that most immigrants have secondary education and are often overqualified for the work they do in Slovenia. Meanwhile, Slovenia does not export only young educated people but also unqualified workers and the number of people leaving the county almost matches the number of those moving in, shows the survey, funded by the European Commission and the Foreign Ministry.

Beef, pork production down last year, honey output doubled

LJUBLJANA - Slovenia produced less beef and pork in 2018 compared to the year before but more poultry, lamb and goat meat, preliminary statistics show. Domestic production of beef dropped by 5% in annual comparison, while the live weight gain decreased by some 2%. The live weight gain for pork was level as in 2017 and so was pork production. The production of honey more than doubled to 1,700 tonnes, the Statistics Office said.

Cannes Film Market features four Slovenian films

CANNES, France - Slovenia will promote four feature films at the film market accompanying the Cannes Film Festival, while The Right One, a short by Slovenian director Urška Djukić and Greek-Danish director Gabriel Tzafka, will be screened at the opening of the Directors' Fortnight festival section. The first Slovenian feature to be be screened by the Slovenian Film Centre (SFC) at the Marche du Film market will be Don't Forget to Breathe by Martin Turk.

Photographer Tadej Vaukman wins OHO Group Award

LJUBLJANA - Tadej Vaukman, an artist and photographer focusing on documentary and street photography portraying subcultural and marginal phenomena, won the 2019 OHO Group Award for up-and-coming Slovenian artists. Named after the influential Slovenian avant-garde artist group OHO, which was active in the late 1960s and 1970s, the award is given out annually by the Ljubljana-based P.A.R.A.S.I.T.E. Institute in cooperation with the New York Foundation for a Civil Society and Trust for Mutual Understanding.

Skomina to referee Champions League final

LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's referee Damir Skomina will take charge of the UEFA Champions League final between Tottenham Hotspur and Liverpool in Madrid on 1 June, the UEFA Referees Committee announced. "Refereeing the Champions League final is a tremendous honour, and an even bigger responsibility," the 42-year-old said in his first response. This is the second final of a European football tournament for Skomina since the country's independence.

14 May 2019, 18:27 PM

STA, 14 May 2019 - President Borut Pahor and Prince Edward, Earl of Wessex, marked the first Day of Slovenia-UK Friendship on Tuesday in Gornji Suhor, a village in south-eastern Slovenia, where a British bomber crashed in 1945. They laid wreaths at the memorial plaque commemorating the crew, five of whom were taken to safety by local Partisans.

In their addresses, both Pahor and Prince Edward underlined the importance of friendship between their countries in the past and in the future.

Pahor expressed satisfaction that the first Slovenia-UK Friendship Day is marked in the presence of a member of the royal family after having discussed the initiative with Queen Elizabeth II earlier this year.

This year will be the 80th anniversary of the start of World War II, Pahor noted, adding that the two nations had been allies since then thanks to brave people. He hopes that the Slovenia-UK Friendship Day would become "a famous tradition".

Prince Edward thanked Pahor for choosing this location to mark the Slovenia-UK Friendship Day to "commemorate these airmen but also the families that supported them when the air plane crashed here".

"Today is an important day. A day to remember what connects us, both in the past and the present and more importantly in the future."

The B-24 Liberator bomber and its nine-member crew were a part of the allied attack on the transport infrastructure in Graz, Austria, on 31 March 1945, before crashing in Gornji Suhor.

The plane was hit by the German forces, suffering the fatal blow to the fuel tank somewhere over Celje. As the plane turned into a flying torch, only enough time was left for five crew members to parachute themselves before the plane crashed.

Of the five who managed to jump from the plane, one was seriously injured and was taken to a Partisan hospital, where he later died. The other four were taken to safety by the local Partisans and were flown back to their base two days later.

The five casualties received a Catholic funeral in Vojna Vas, a village whose name, interestingly, literally translates to war village.

14 May 2019, 16:13 PM

Note: This is a separate case to the one covering the murder of the institute's former director. You can find stories on that in our Institute of Chemistry archive

STA, 14 May 2019 - Lebanese chemist Michel Stephan has been found guilty of soliciting to the murder of one of his former superiors at the National Institute of Chemistry, and sentenced to eight years in prison on Tuesday.

The Ljubljana District Court found that Stephan hired an Iraqi asylum seeker in 2017 to kill Janez Plavec, the head of the institute's NMR Centre.

The murder was never committed because the Iraqi named Ali alerted the police of the plot and helped them collect wiretapping evidence to arrest Stephan.

The case is separate from the murder of the institute's director Janko Jamnik in December 2014. The man charged with the murder, Milko Novič, has recently been acquitted, but the verdict is not final yet.

The prosecution had sought nine years and a half in prison for Stephan and his deportation from the country, alleging solicitation to a second-degree murder of and illicit arms trafficking.

The court found the defendant guilty on both counts, giving him seven years and 10 months in jail on the first count and four months on the second count, and sentencing him to an aggregate of eight years.

The panel of judges remanded the defendant in prison until he starts serving his sentence. However, they did not order his deportation, for want of sufficient enough reasons.

The presiding judge Sinja Božičnik said the panel found both counts had been proved beyond reasonable doubt.

She said one of the proofs was that the defendant had handed Plavec's picture to Ali, told him his home address, gave him directions to the house and told him how to get away.

The judge said that the defendant also gave Ali part of the reward money promised for the act, got him a gun, took him to the woods to practice shooting. "This has been corroborated not only by Ali's testimony, but also the evidence taken," said the judge.

In his closing arguments on Monday, Stephan's defence counsel, Gorazd Fišer, argued the possibility of a different interpretation of the events from the one presented by the prosecution.

However, the judge said today that no other version had been even presented, and that all the evidence showed everything happened the way it had been presented by the prosecution.

The court rejected Stephan's claim that the transcripts of his conversations with Ali that were intercepted by the police had been trampled with and mistranslated from Arabic.

"The verdict is what it is. It will have to be appealed," said Stephan's lawyer, but could not say yet what arguments the appeal would be based on, because he needed to get the judgement in writing first.

Prosecutor Petra Vugrinec welcomed the guilty verdict, but said she was not persuaded by the court's reasoning against deportation, suggesting she might appeal on that.

Noting that Stephan was a citizen of France, an EU country, the judge found that under EU rules the "threat against the public peace and order is not enough for deportation in this case".

Plavec's lawyer announced yesterday that in case of Stephan's conviction, he would file a damages suit against him.

Under the indictment Stephan wanted Plavec dead out of revenge because he blamed him for losing his job at the institute and for being banned from the institute's premises.

Background to the case

STA, 14 May 2019 – The prosecution was seeking nine years and a half in prison for Stephan and his deportation from the country, alleging his solicitation to the second-degree murder of Janez Plavec, the head of the institute's NMR Centre, and illicit arms trafficking.

The murder was never committed because the man allegedly hired by Stephan, an Iraqi named as Ali, alerted the police of the plot and the police then wire-tapped him to record his meetings with the defendant before collecting enough evidence to arrest Stephan.

The indictment alleges Stephan's motive was revenge because he blamed Plavec for losing his job at the institute and for being banned from the institute's premises.

Shortly before the end of the trial, prosecutor Petra Vugrinec changed the charge from solicitation to first-degree murder, which carries up to 30 years in prison, to solicitation to a second-degree murder, which carries up to 15.

In his testimony, Plavec said he did not know why Stephan would wish him dead, but he did say that in 2010 he opposed extending Stephan's employment contract, after which Stephen had to leave the institute.

"He obviously saw me as someone who prevented his return to the Chemistry Institute," Plavec told the court about the defendant in March.

Plavec expressed his opposition to extending Stephan's contract in response to an informal question put to him by the institute's boss Janko Jamnik, who was murdered in December 2014.

The man charged with Jamnik's murder, Milko Novič, has recently been acquitted in a retrial but the verdict is not yet final.

As the reason he opposed keeping Stephan, Plavec told the court about warnings about Stephan's unsuitability, including dissatisfaction expressed by the pharmaceutical company Lek as a major partner of the institute.

Plavec also alleged that Phosphoenix, a French company co-owned by Stephan and his immediate boss Barbara Mohar, got money for compounds developed by the institute's lab for the pharmaceutical company Krka.

He said the late Jamnik had tried to get information about money transfers to Phosphoenix, but the French authorities would not yield it. He expressed the hope that the case would be investigated by law enforcement.

The trial, which started with a pre-trial hearing more than a year ago, heard that Stephan took Ali to the woods in Ljubljana in October 2017 in order to see how well he could handle a weapon.

Having already started collaborating with the police, Ali was bugged. Translated transcriptions of the wiretaps read to the court suggest Stephan instructed Ali how to eliminate a "civilian".

The defendant claimed mistranslation of police recordings of his conversations with Ali in Arabic, claiming he told Ali to aim the gun at the bag rather than the head, which claim the court-appointed translator denied.

The translated transcriptions also suggest that the pair talked about Ali riding a bike to the spot where he was supposed to kill Plavec and committing the act in rain and using a silencer.

At one point Ali was heard expressing concern whether he would get paid for the job, with Stephan assuring him not to worry because this "would not be the first time". He later added that he had not done yet something like that in Slovenia.

The pair were arrested the last time they were returning from the woods. Ali later told the court via a video link that realising he was an informant, Stephen told him they would meet again, which Ali understood as a threat.

Another witness, Alen Kraljević, a fellow prisoner of Stephan while in custody, told the court in January that Stephan had been looking for a person to murder Ali, which Stephan denied as an outright lie.

In her closing arguments on Monday, prosecutor Vugrinec said the defendant's guilt resulted from the fact that he had handed Plavec's picture to Ali, told him his home address, how to reach him and how to get away.

She alleged that Stephan also got him a gun, took him to the woods to practice shooting and gave him EUR 5,000 out of the EUR 25,000 promised as the payment for the act.

The prosecutor argued that Stephan had intentionally tried to use Ali in his vulnerable position as an asylum seeker with several children and in need of money.

Stephan allegedly also knew that Ali was a former member of the Iraqi army, something that was testified by Kraljević, a fellow prisoner.

The prosecution proposes deporting Stephen, a French citizen, and imposing a five-year ban on his re-entering the country, arguing his posing a serious threat to public peace and order.

Stephan's defence counsel Gorazd Fišer argued his client's innocence, questioning the prosecution's interpretation of the evidence presented.

He suggested that Ali, having turned himself to the police, instigated Stephan to criminal acts, and that Ali's motive could be related to his asylum application, while arguing his client had no motive.

Fišer labelled Kraljević an untrustworthy witness, because he had already been convicted and was subject of another criminal procedure for fraud and false criminal complaints.

Fišer described his client as a man who dedicated his life to chemical science, arguing there was no evidence had had threatened anyone and also had never had problems breaking the law.

In his closing, Stephan said that he and Plavec got along well and that they often went out for dinner or coffee. He repeated his claim that the recordings of his conversations with Ali were mistranslated and some had been rigged.

He said it was Ali rather than himself who wanted to arrange for Plavec's killing, while he said the money he gave him was not an advance payment but rather aid for his children.

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