17 Jun 2020, 10:52 AM

STA, 15 June 2020 - Slovenia has co-launched the Global Partnership on Artificial Intelligence (GPAI) initiative, which strives to promote and guide the responsible use and development of AI. The initiative encourages investments and economic growth while respecting human rights and diversity. Nine Slovenian experts will take part in the project.

The international initiative will aim at closing the gap between theory and practice by supporting state-of-the-art research, pilot projects and top-priority AI efforts, said the Ministry of Education, Science and Sport on Monday.

The initiative will bring together experts from various fields in cooperation with international organisations and partners. The task forces will focus on four subjects; responsible AI, data management, the future of work, and innovations and commercialisation.

In the short run, the experts will try to come up with ways how to respond more effectively to the Covid-19 epidemic using AI and accelerate recovery. Nine Slovenian AI experts will participate in the efforts.

Being part of the project means that Slovenia will be able to present its know-how and AI research spanning 40 years, Foreign Minister Anže Logar commented on the developments today.

The partnership's secretariat will be hosted at the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) headquarters in Paris, whereas two research centres will be seated in Montreal and Paris.

The centres will support relevant projects and map out annual plenaries of the multi-stakeholder experts group - the first such meeting is to be held in Canada in December 2020.

Apart from Slovenia, the founding members are Australia, France, India, Italy, Japan, Canada, Mexico, Germany, New Zealand, South Korea, Singapore, the UK, the US and the EU. They have committed themselves to the responsible and human-centric development and use of AI.

17 Jun 2020, 10:46 AM

STA, 16 June 2020 - The National Assembly failed to appoint President Borut Pahor's nominee for a Constitutional Court judge in an unprecedented move on Tuesday. Falling four votes short in the secret ballot, Andraž Teršek was rejected in a 42:38 vote. Opposition parties, which mostly backed Teršek, say this shows how strong the coalition is.

Although initially the opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ), Social Democrats (SD), the Left, National Party (SNS), Alenka Bratušek Party (SAB), the coalition Modern Centre Party (SMC) and minority MP Felice Žiža all announced their support for Teršek, it turned out today that he only enjoyed the support of the LMŠ, SD, SAB, SMC and the Left.

SMC deputy head Janja Sluga said the party had voted in favour of Teršek as agreed despite pressure from Prime Minister Janez Janša.

The coalition Democrats (SDS) and New Slovenia (NSi) have been against Teršek since the start, while the Pensioners' Party (DeSUS) decided to vote freely. DeSUS deputy group head Franc Jurša would not reveal how he voted or say whether DeSUS had been influenced by Janša but he did stress that the coalition remained solid all along.

This was also the point made by the opposition, with the leader of SocDem MPs, Matjaž Han, noting that if all deputy groups had voted as they announced during talks with President Pahor, Teršek would have been elected.

Matej T. Vatovec of the Left said that "Janša has obviously succeeded with his pressure and showed that he has the first and last word in this coalition".

The head of the opposition LMŠ deputy group, Brane Golubović, said that a word given publicly used to matter but this was not the case any longer.

MP Andrej Rajh of the SAB said he was sad that deputy groups had not voted as they said they would.

He said the Constitutional Court had been more or less balanced so far. "I don't know which way it will lean in the future but there are some indications that it could lean to the right. In the face of the economic crisis, this could mean more aspirations for privatisation of healthcare, education, and this makes me concerned."

One issue that seems to have averted MPs from supporting Teršek was a statement he made at a round table debate in 2011, which recently appeared on Twitter.

Teršek said at the time that the influence of the civil society needed to be enhanced and that this would only be possible if representatives of the political elite left politics.

"If they themselves do not recognise this, and of course they will not recognise this as ethical and give up power themselves, then they need to be replaced by force, if necessary. This can also be done by coming into their offices, their chambers and carrying them to the street," Teršek said at the round table.

Today, he told the press that his statement had been taken out of the context and that it was an "extremely cynical metaphor without any kind of direct message".

16 Jun 2020, 10:59 AM

STA, 15 June 2020 - Foreign Minister Anže Logar said during questions and answers time in parliament on Monday that Slovenia is calling on Israel to "refrain from any unilateral decisions that would lead to the annexing of any of the occupied Palestinian territories and would as such run contrary to international law".

As Matej Tašner Vatovec of the opposition Left expressed concern over Israel's annexation plans and the US peace proposal that would back unilateral annexing, Logar said "Slovenia continues to support all efforts for a peaceful solution of the dispute and for a revival of a peace process" that should be based on a two-state solution.

"In relation to this we've called several times for a strengthening of the EU's dialogue with both key actors, Israel and Palestine, as well as with the US and the relevant Arab countries that have influence and power in this part of the world," Logar said. He moreover highlighted dialogue with Russia and the UN, part of the Quartet.

"Slovenia remains an ally of a two-state solution. We continue to support diplomatic activities and calls to avoid unilateral action and, as a representative, proponent of the rule of law, calls for the honouring of international law," he added.

According to Logar, "a unilateral annexation would mean a violation of international law and a threat to global order based on rules agreed in advance. Unilateral activities or unilateral annexation would also have a negative impact on security and stability in the region and wider".

"Thus Slovenia, also in the context of the EU, will continue with calls" against these plans becoming reality, the minister said, stressing he had also taken this position at the meeting of EU foreign ministers on 15 May.

He pointed out that the EU's High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs Josep Borrell had stressed in a special statement that the EU and its member states would not recognised any changes to the 1967 borders unless the changes were agreed between the Israelis and the Palestinians.

"A two-state solution with Jerusalem as the capital of both countries is the only way to secure sustainable peace and stability in the region," Logar said.

15 Jun 2020, 15:45 PM

STA, 15 June 2020 - The US Embassy in Ljubljana donated to Slovenia on Monday a second package of personal protective equipment along with a Slovenian-made device for the disinfecting of hospital premises.

A total of 294 protective suits, 320 pars of boots and 640 pairs of gloves, all resistant to chemicals, as well as the disinfection device were symbolically handed over at the UKC Ljubljana hospital by US Ambassador to Slovenia Lynda C. Blanchard to Health Ministry State Secretary Tina Bregant and Defence Ministry State Secretary Damijan Jaklin.

What is the second US Embassy donation of PPE after the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic will be used by health institutions in Slovenia as well as the Administration for Civil Protection and Disaster Relief.

Blanchard, who stressed the need for cooperation, said that the package had been put together in cooperation with representatives from the health and defence ministries, who helped identify the needs. They were purchased from Slovenian companies to help the country's economy.

The two state secretaries also welcomed the decision to pick a device made by Slovenian company. It uses ultraviolet light in the UV-C range, which destroys bacteria, viruses and microorganisms. Bregant said it would help not only with coronavirus but also with other hospital infections, 18,000 of which are recorded in Slovenia each year.

In May the US Embassy donated 1,660 protective face shields to the Labour Ministry, intended for use in care homes. The joint value of the two donations is US$60,000.

15 Jun 2020, 09:34 AM

STA, 13 June 2020 - A ceremony on Saturday marked the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the only concentration camp on Slovenian soil, the labour camp below Ljubelj Pass. Speakers highlighted the need to preserve the memory of the atrocities and drew parallels with the present.

Jana Babšek, the director of the Tržič Museum, stressed that around 2,000 internees of what was a branch of the notorious Mauthausen camp were forced to work in harsh conditions for 23 months to build the mountain pass.

"As we browse through the memories of the former inmates, who endured inhuman conditions and evil, two wishes transpire: never to forget what happened, and to prevent something similar from happening in the future," she said.

She said it was necessary to educate youths in particular and explain what had led to such extreme events, noting that the current circumstances were creating challenges that are in many ways very similar to those in the past.

Jani Alič, a senior official of the WWII Veterans' Association, likewise evoked the current global events when he said that "Our veterans say that if we defeated the enemy during the war, we will defeat the contemporary hidden enemy as well."

This year a series of large-scale events was supposed to be held around Europe to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Nazi concentration camps, but many had to be cancelled or scaled back due to to the coronavirus epidemic. The ceremony at Ljubelj was therefore smaller than usual.

Prior to the event, a wreath laying ceremony was held at the monument "J'accuse - Obtožujem" on the site of the camp. Delegations of several European countries laid wreaths, as did President Borut Pahor, who made special mention of the move by Germany and France to lay a wreath together.

"This is s nice symbolic event that invites everyone to remember the past in the spirit of reconciliation, and in particular to build Europe together," he said.

Ljubelj is the site of the remains of the only concentration camp in Slovenia, a branch of the notorious Mauthausen camp that served as a labour camp.

Around 1,800 internees, mostly political opponents of the Nazi regime and the majority of them French nationals, were forced to build a tunnel between Slovenia and Austria in very difficult conditions. At least 34 people died.

The camp was liberated on 8 May 1945.

13 Jun 2020, 21:59 PM

The covers and editorials from leading weeklies of the Left and Right for the work-week ending Friday, 12 June 2020. All our stories about coronavirus and Slovenia are here

Mladina: Army unlawfully patrolling border

STA, 12 June 2020 - The left-wing magazine Mladina asserts in its latest editorial that there is little surprise that suspicions have been confirmed that troops are patrolling the border in contravention of the law and the constitution, and that PM Janez Janša has got the better of Defence Minister Matej Tonin's ambition.

Under the headline Army on the Border, Grega Repovž writes that people from border areas have been reporting sightings of military patrols since April, even though the government denied that.

The government and Defence Minister Tonin also denied the army's involvement after a Trieste-based Slovenian newspaper reported about an Italian-Slovenian dual citizen being held at gunpoint by a soldier close to the border with Italy.

Repovž says the ministry had obviously known at that point already it was a Slovenian soldier who aimed his rifle at the hiker. A report by POP TV then revealed that the police learnt about the presence of the military patrol from security cameras.

Considering they showed the Italian-Slovenian citizen and his girlfriend "photographs of soldiers they could have only got from the army, it is clear the ministry has known for weeks what happened. Still, they have been misleading the public and lying to the Italian authorities".

Repovž goes on to say that Tonin must have counted on it the whole thing would not be made public, that "Interior Minister Aleš Hojs and the police commissioner appointed by the SDS would have taken care of it" had it not been for whistleblowers within the police force.

Unlike the Defence Ministry, Repovž says that the military has admitted unofficially its members are patrolling the south and western border, quoting an army officer as saying that they usually are part of mixed patrols but that it may happen a police officer has two or three patrol parties, each in its own section, but they always report back to the police officer.

"These are grave violations, but not unexpected (...) We knew this will happen when Janša named the ambitious Tonin as defence minister. We knew he will lead him into his 'wars'. Bypassing the law. The same way he 'enticed' Počivalšek to give him the list of companies that should supply protective equipment.

"We do not doubt Janša will protect Tonin. The same way he has Počivalšek - dirtied with his 'deals', he can only sit obediently now and nod in agreement. They knew what they are getting themselves into. Janša got the better of their ambition and he can do whatever he likes with them."

Demokracija: Protests in Slovenia and US as misguided

STA, 11 June 2020 - Looking at Black Lives Matter protests in the US, the right-wing weekly Demokracija argues in Thursday's commentary that the violent protest movement is unwarranted and the media depiction thereof biased. In that, the rallies are similar to Slovenian bicycle protests.

While rioters in the US looted and torched cars and buildings, "the media mainstream was not indignant at the mob, it reported that this was a logical reaction to 'systemic racism' of white cops and whites in general against blacks," Demokracija's editor-in-chief Jože Biščak says.

"And even though politically and ideologically motivated savages wrought destruction, we were seeing scenes that make normal people puke: white cops, Democratic politicians and stars were taking a knee before blacks asking for forgiveness.

"And what for? History? It's been a long time since whites were slave owners and blacks slaves. Because of white violence against blacks? The numbers tell a different story," Biščak says about police statistics showing there are more white victims of crime by blacks that black victims of crime by whites.

"Every victim, regardless of whether they are black or white, is a tragedy. But there is an important difference in society today. Every crime by a white against a black is designated as horrendous and the ensuing destruction as legitimate, while crimes by blacks against whites are overlooked and any peaceful protests designated as racist rallies."

Turning to the protests in Slovenia, Biščak says: "You be the judge is the situation is any different in Slovenia; the difference is that such widespread destruction has not occurred yet, but this does not mean it will not given that 'Death to Janšism' signs by Friday cyclists presage violence, they are an appeal to lynching."

"The method is the same - assertion of the law of the street. Elections are too tough, it is easier to bicycle and demand that the Janša government falls, just as it is more difficult to build and create than it is to destroy and pillage.

"Even though this has nothing to do with the rule of law and liberty, the media mainstream describes violent street methods as something good. This is scary," concludes the commentary What About Tessa Majors?

All our posts in this series are here

13 Jun 2020, 11:20 AM

What follows is a weekly review of events involving Slovenia, as prepared by the STA.

If you’d like to keep up on the daily headlines then follow those here, or get all our stories in your feed on Facebook.

FRIDAY, 5 June
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Seven EU members, the Visegrad four - Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia, and Estonia, Latvia and Slovenia, addressed a letter to the European Commission expressing their resolute opposition to compulsory relocation of migrants among EU countries. Slovenia joining the group is seen as a significant shift in policy.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Interior Minister Aleš Hojs argued at a videoconference of the EU's Justice and Home Affairs Council that the epidemiological situation of third countries and reciprocity must be taken into account to the largest possible extent when opening the EU's borders. Slovenia is keen to open borders to citizens from the Western Balkans.
        LJUBLJANA - A Jesenice primary school year-two class was placed under quarantine for two weeks after one of the pupils tested positive for the novel coronavirus. The pupil's mum, a nurse at the Jesenice general hospital, tested positive the day before. A small cluster of cases subsequently developed there, with at least one hospital patient contracting coronavirus.
        LJUBLJANA - Commenting on current mass protests and widespread unrest in the US, US Ambassador to Slovenia Lynda C. Blanchard said that those responsible for the death of George Floyd would be held accountable. "None are above the law, and those responsible for this tragedy will face justice," Blanchard was quoted as saying in a press release.
        LJUBLJANA - The Health Ministry ordered "extraordinary systemic oversight" at eleven care homes around the country to establish whether the elderly received adequate medical treatment during the Covid-19 epidemic. The oversight will be carried out by the Medical Chamber and the Chamber of Nurses and Midwives.
        LJUBLJANA - While the government has estimated that the third stimulus package to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus fallout will cost the budget around one billion euro, the Fiscal Council said its first estimate was only EUR 561 million or 1.2% of Slovenia's GDP. The central bank later estimated the stimulus effect of three legislative packages at 5% of GDP.

        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia will open its border with Italy very soon, Foreign Minister Anže Logar said as he hosted his Italian counterpart Luigi Di Maio for the first meeting in person after several video calls during the epidemic. Though not naming a date, Logar repeated several times that he looked forward to 15 June with optimism.
        KOČEVSKI ROG - Victims of summary executions conducted after WWII were remembered with a ceremony in Kočevski Rog, an area in south Slovenia where multiple mass graves have been discovered. Prime Minister Janez Janša and President Borut Pahor delivered keynote addresses.

SUNDAY, 7 June
        LJUBLJANA - A poll commissioned by the private broadcaster Nova24TV showed the ruling Democratic Party (SDS) topping the party ratings with a nine-percentage-point lead. The SDS polled at 23.6% and the Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) at 15%, followed by the fellow opposition Social Democrats (SD), at 9.2%.
        CELJE - The magazine Demokracija reported that the headquarters of the local committee of the ruling SDS in Celje had been defaced by insulting graffiti, reading 'Orban d.o.o.' (Orban Ltd), and 'We don't want Hungarian dictatorship'. The word 'Fascists' was written with chalk on the pavement in front of the building.

MONDAY, 8 June
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's central bank forecast that Slovenia's economy is to contract by 6.5% this year before it bounces back to 4.9% growth in 2021 and 3.6% in 2022. In line with the two alternative scenarios that factor in the gravity of the coronavirus crisis, the economy would contract by just 4% this year and expand by over 7% in the next two years; or contract by 10% this year, followed by stagnation in 2021 and a slow recovery in 2022.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia fully opened its borders to nationals of 14 more countries. Apart from neighbouring Austria, Croatia and Hungary, the list now also includes Bulgaria, Cyprus, Czechia, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Latvia, Lithuania, Liechtenstein, Norway, Slovakia and Switzerland. Citizens of other EU and Schengen zone countries are still subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine on arrival unless they fall under one of what are now 16 exemptions.
        LJUBLJANA - The opposition Social Democrats (SD) announced a motion of no confidence in Interior Minister Aleš Hojs after the ministry overturned a ban of a concert by Marko Perković Thompson, a Croatian singer glorifying the fascist Ustasha regime. The other three left-leaning opposition parties declared support for the ouster. The concert organiser decided against holding the concert in the near future, quoting the ban on gatherings of more than 200 people.
        LJUBLJANA - Foreign Minister Anže Logar held a virtual meeting with his North Macedonian counterpart Nikola Dimitrov to call for further enhancement of bilateral relations and discuss the current situation and efforts of both countries related to fighting the Covid-19 pandemic.
        LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian and Italian defence ministers, Matej Tonin and Lorenzo Guerini, praised bilateral cooperation in defence and explored the potential for its further strengthening in a video call. They also discussed close cooperation within NATO and shared a view the two countries cooperated successfully in international missions and operations.
        LJUBLJANA - Support for the ruling Democrats (SDS) grew by two percentage points and a half to 18.8% in the past month, whereas the opposition Marjan Šarec List (LMŠ) lost two percentage points to 11.8% in the latest Mediana poll for the newspaper Delo.
        LJUBLJANA - Three coalition parties filed legislative changes under which children who skipped mandatory vaccinations could not be enrolled in publicly-funded kindergartens and schools, and those without all mandatory shots could not work in healthcare or at care homes or study and train for these professions. The changes would allow exceptions for those who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.
        LJUBLJANA - Slovenia's exports dropped by 28.8% in April on the year before, the sharpest contraction since 2008, while imports plummeted by 41.2%, the Statistics Office said. The trend was driven by a decline in car trade, which shrank by about three-quarters compared to last April.
        LJUBLJANA - State secretaries from Slovenia, Portugal and Germany discussed the priorities of the countries' successive stints chairing the EU Council in a videoconference, agreeing those would be strongly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. PM Janez Janša also indicated this in his an address to a meeting of ambassadors of EU countries, Western Balkans and Turkey, held as part of Croatia's EU presidency.
        LJUBLJANA - The next summit of the Brdo-Brijuni Process of cooperation in the Western Balkans, marking the 10th anniversary of the initiative, will take place on 29 June at Brdo, the office of President Borut Pahor said, noting that chances were good that the leaders of all the participating countries - Slovenia, Croatia, Serbia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Bosnia-Herzegovina and Kosovo - would attend.
        LJUBLJANA - Chinese Ambassador to Slovenia Wang Shunqing told the STA a new opportunity to deepen the relations between Slovenia and China will be the 17+1 initiative summit in Beijing. Wang expects that the good bilateral relations, which were confirmed by the visit by Foreign Minister Wang Yi last December, will continue under the Janez Janša government. The ambassador also hopes Slovenia will be pragmatic in picking 5G technology.
        LJUBLJANA - The four left-leaning opposition parties filed an ouster motion against Interior Minister Aleš Hojs, their second against a minister since the Janez Janša government was sworn in in mid-March, over the ministry's decision to override a ban on a concert by controversial Croatian singer Marko Perković Thompson.
        BRUSSELS, Belgium - Finance Minister Andrej Šircelj assessed the estimate of funds Slovenia is to receive as part of the EU's anti-coronavirus measures - around EUR 5 billion - as "adequate" and expressed hope the European Commission will stick to these estimates.

        LJUBLJANA - The OECD presented its latest forecast for Slovenia, expecting a 7.8% drop in GDP this year, or as much as 9.1% in the event of a second wave of coronavirus infections. For 2021, the OECD expects that Slovenia's economy will grow by 4.5%, or by 1.5% in the event of another Covid-19 outbreak.
        BRDO PRI KRANJU - Coalition partners agreed that a bill on the establishment of a demographic fund is to be drafted in the coming weeks, and discussed in parliament no later than September. All state assets would be transferred onto the new fund.
        LJUBLJANA - Foreign Minister Anže Logar announced his Austrian counterpart Alexander Schallenberg would visit Slovenia on 22 June. Logar also told the Foreign Policy Committee that he believes there are no sound reasons for Austria to continue with border checks it introduced five years ago.
        LJUBLJANA - Infrastructure Minister Jernej Vrtovec called for a greater involvement of regional construction companies in the EUR 1 billion-plus project of the new Koper-Divača rail track after the state-run company managing the project, 2TDK, decided to enter negotiations with ten of the 15 bidders that responded to an international call to tender for the main construction work, including several Chinese and Turkish companies, aside from builders from Slovenia, Italy, Austria and Switzerland.
        LJUBLJANA - Alojz Kovšca was re-elected the president of the National Council, as members of the upper chamber of parliament met half way into their five-year term to elect its leadership. Kovšca, serving since December 2017, was the only candidate for the top job at the upper chamber.
        LJUBLJANA - Economy Minister Zdravko Počivalšek looked on track to surviving the ouster motion filed against him by four opposition parties over opaque ventilator and PPE purchases at a marathon debate. The coalition backed him, speaking of an unjustified political attack on a minister who did well in chaotic conditions, while the opposition spoke of war profiteering.
        LJUBLJANA - Prime Minister Janez Janša responded to an appeal by European Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni for explanation over the dismissal of the Statistics Office's director, by tweeting that the government had replaced a "political appointee as Statistics Office head with an expert with 30 years of experience in this Office" and that he hoped this was the last time the commissioner played a political game for Slovenian left. SocDems' leader and MEP Tanja Fajon said this damaged Slovenia's reputation.
        LJUBLJANA - Nearly two weeks before the first oral hearing is scheduled at the European Court of Justice in a lawsuit the European Commission has brought against Slovenia over a 2016 seizure of European Central Bank documents, PM Janez Janša moved to have the Commission withdraw the lawsuit. While media reported of his proposal for a settlement, Janša said he checked whether the Commission would drop the suit.
        LJUBLJANA - The Slovenian Armed Forces and Defence Minister Matej Tonin came under significant pressure over an incident that reportedly happened on the border with Italy in May in which a civilian was stopped at gunpoint by two Slovenian soldiers, who patrolled the area looking for illegal migrants. The army vowed to help investigate the case.
        LJUBLJANA - After a week and a half of no new Covid-19 fatality and only six patients still in hospital the government decided to further ease coronavirus restrictions, so public gatherings of up to 500 people, including at sports events, will be allowed as of 15 June, and international public road and railway transport will also resume soon.
        LJUBLJANA - The government decided Slovenia will accept four unaccompanied minors, under 10 years, seeking asylum to help divide the asylum burden between Greece and EU members.

All our posts in this series are here

13 Jun 2020, 10:35 AM

STA, 12 June 2020 - Protesters who have been voicing their displeasure with the government conduct Fridays for the past two months left their bicycles today and protested on foot, first filling up Prešeren Square and then continuing in front of parliament. They shouted and displayed slogans against fascism, militarisation and repression.

While protests were also held in other Slovenian cities, including Maribor, the biggest number gathered in the capital.

In addition to slogans aimed directly at the government, including "No to the Policy of Janšism" and direct calls for resignations, they also shouted in defence of worker rights, culture and the environment.

Before the protest, which started at 7pm, around a dozen protesters gathered in front of the US Embassy building in Ljubljana to express their opposition to police violence against African Americans.

When the rally moved in front of Parliament House around 8pm, a small group of protesters, some clad in all black, had an altercation with police when they tried to move the protective fence erected to keep them away from the parliament building.

There is no official information as yet about any arrests or injuries, but social media videos indicate the tensions quickly subsided.

The Friday demonstrations started as protests held on balconies during the coronavirus lockdown, and continued on bicycles in April as the government eased some of the measures. They are organised and coordinated by several on-line initiatives.

The protesters are also critical of the government due to the alleged irregularities in the purchase of personal protective equipment, staffing changes, increased police powers, plans to send additional soldiers to the border, attacks on journalists and limiting of the work of environmental NGOs.

One of the calls for today's protest reads that "being attacked are the hard-fought and significantly eroded worker rights, access to public health, nature and the environment and fundamental freedoms, including the right to protest."

The youth trade union Mladi Plus issued an open letter supporting the protest, pointing to "autocratic aspirations", which are incompatible with trade union work, corruption which puts workers in a precarious position and the "spreading of untruthful propaganda."

Last week some 4,000 people turned out for the protests, according to police estimates.

12 Jun 2020, 13:05 PM

STA, 11 June 2020 - Public gatherings of up to 500 people, including at sports events, will be allowed in Slovenia as of next Monday, while the government has also decided to lift restrictions on international public road and railway transport, the government's spokesperson for the coronavirus crisis Jelko Kacin said on Thursday.

Announcing the decision, Kacin told the press that the protective recommendations of the National Institute for public health would continue to apply.

Two new coronavirus cases confirmed out of 702 tests conducted in Slovenia yesterday

The government's press release speaks of a return of visitors to sports events and of public gatherings of up to 500 people, up from the current threshold of 200.

Kacin said that this number also included athletes, organisers, media representatives, support personnel etc., meaning the number of visitors allowed at sports events would be well below 500.

While this decision will become effective on 15 June, the government also announced a lifting of the ban on international public road and railway transport, effective a day after publication in the Official Gazette.

"This means we can expect bus transport, tourism transport starting, tourist groups can come," Kacin said. He added things would first need to be coordinated with other countries so that safety regimes are uniform.

12 Jun 2020, 10:46 AM

STA, 11 June 2020 - The Slovenian Armed Forces (SAF) and Defence Minister Matej Tonin came under significant pressure in Thursday, a day after it transpired that soldiers likely had been involved in an incident on the border with Italy despite initial indications to the contrary. Responding to demands for clarification, SAF vowed to help investigate the matter.

After initial reports that the incident happened on 8 May, the SAF said there had been no soldiers in the area that day, while Tonin labelled the report fake news.

In late May, the newspaper Primorski Dnevnik reported that a civilian was stopped at gunpoint by two Slovenian soldiers on the Slovenian-Italian border near Trieste the previous week.

SAF press officer Colonel Marjan Sirk told the press today that the SAF had looked into the movements of all patrols in the week specified but later also on 8 May, the date subsequently provided to the SAF by the journalist who wrote the piece.

Looking into the whereabouts of troops on 8 May, the SAF reported that no military patrols had been in the area that day.

But commercial broadcaster POP TV reported yesterday that the police investigation, which had been launched, had found the incident took place a day earlier and that the man who was stopped at gunpoint had identified the two men who stopped him in photographs.

According to unofficial sources, the police force had taken recorded soldiers when they reported for duty.

The investigation has since been picked up by the Defence Ministry's Intelligence and Security Service (OVS) because there had been Slovenian troops in the area on 7 May.

Before Sirk took questions from reporters, the Chief of the General Staff Brigadier General Robert Glavaš gave a statement ensuring that the military will cooperate in the investigation as it wants to determine what happened.

"It is in the interest of all of us, and above all in the interest of the military, that this event be investigated. We do not allow misuse of powers. Any anomaly must be sanctioned," said Glavaš.

Glavaš also expressed surprise that an inter-ministerial task force had not been formed in the wake of the incident. The relevant government decree on military's assistance to the police on the border stipulates that the ministries of interior and defence form a special task force in case of violations.

He also said that the military had been assisting the police in border controls since 2015, having carried out a total of 110,000 patrols along the border and this being the only such incident to date.

When asked why had soldiers been assisting the police on the Italian border, not the one with Croatia, where illegal migrants enter the country, Sirk said this was a question for the police, because the military only followed orders by police in this capacity.

He also said that soldiers were obligated to report on encounters to their superiors, but not on all encounters. He said no official report about such an incident had been made, and no information about this had reached the HQ in Ljubljana.

When asked about the use of weapons by the troops helping the police control the border, Sirk said that soldiers were allowed to use force and that this would have depended on their assessment of the situation. After all, civilians are allowed to use force in self-defence as well, he said.

The 32-year-old civilian told Primorski Dnevnik that he was stopped by two Slovenian soldiers while taking a walk with his girlfriend near the border in the woods above the Glinščiva Valley (Val Rosandra).

He also said that they let him go, when they realised he spoke Slovenian and had told him they were patrolling the area for illegal migrants.

Today, all parliamentary parties have expressed expectation that the incident be investigated and that Tonin provide clarifications.

While coalition parties expressed confidence that Tonin would be able to provide clarifications, the opposition was more critical, with the Left's MP Matej T. Vatovec that this was a "massive international incident without comparison".

The party also accused Tonin of trying to cover it up when he said that the Primorski Dnevnik report was fake news. Vatovec also indicated that Tonin may face an ouster motion over this.

Earlier today, Tonin met with President Borut Pahor, the supreme commander of the SAF, with the latter tweeting that he expected a thorough written report about the incident.

Last night, Tonin appeared in the late news show Odmevi. When asked whether he considered resigning, Tonin said that more than 6,000 people worked in defence. "If the minister would have to take responsibility for each mistake they make, we'd soon run out of ministers."

11 Jun 2020, 15:57 PM

STA, 11 June 2020 - Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Janša has hit back at European Economy Commissioner Paolo Gentiloni following his appeal for explanation over the dismissal of the Statistics Office's director by suggesting he was playing a political game for the Slovenian left.

 "I didn't receive your letter, but press did," Janša tweeted after the STA reported yesterday that Gentiloni sent a letter to Janša asking him to explain the replacement of the head of the Slovenia's Statistics Office.

"@govSlovenia replaced a political appointee as Statistics Office head with an expert with 30 y of experience in this Office. Hope this is the last time you play a political game for Slovenian left," Janša added in his tweet, which he also tagged to Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president.

Asked by the STA for its response to Janša's tweet, the European Commission's press service said Gentiloni's letter was transmitted by email to Slovenia's Permanent Representation to the EU at 17:52 on Tuesday, 9 June, for onward transmission to the prime minister.

"Addressing the letter to Prime Minister Janša via the Permanent Representation is in line with standard practice," said a commission spokesperson.

The Commission said yesterday that Gentiloni addressed a letter to Janša on Tuesday to request "some clarifications concerning the recent replacement of the Director-General of the State Statistical Office of the Republic of Slovenia".

Asked about what prompted the letter, the Commission said it "is committed to ensuring that the principles of impartiality and professional independence of national statistical authorities as laid down in EU legislation are fully respected".

Janša's tweet invited response from several Slovenian MEPs, including Tanja Fajon, the acting leader of the opposition Social Democrats (SD), who tweeted: "Janša's response is indecent: when there's no arguments, attack and denigration. This government has damaged Slovenia's reputation."

Tagging a retweet of her earlier tweet about Gentilioni's letter, Janša had also taken aim at SD staff: "Slobbering in Brussels, biting at home (...) bowing to those above, pressing those under".

Romana Tomc, a MEP for Janša's Democratic Party (EPP/SDS), joined the back and forth on Twitter by supporting the prime minister in a tweet saying that Gentiloni's move was obviously politically-motivated, and ignited by political players.

"It's utterly odd that the commissioner should have let the public learn about the letter sooner than the addressee. The government must in no way agree to such a mode of operation by the European Commission," Tomc tweeted.

MEP Irena Joveva (Renew/LMŠ) tweeted that Janša replaced the Statistics Office's director for the first time in Slovenia's history, adding that his accusing Gentiloni "sounds familiar".

Echoing the sentiment expressed by Fajon, Milan Brglez (S&D/SD) described Janša's tweet as indecent. "After a series of foreign policy 'mistakes' now indecent behaviour by Janez Janša. Following the principle 'what can they do about it anyway'. Quo vadis, Slovenia."

The government dismissed Bojan Nastav as director of the Statistics Office in late May, appointing Tomaž Smrekar as acting director for up to six months until a new director is named.

In response, the Statistics Council, an expert advisory body, has asked the Constitutional Court to review the dismissal after obtaining a legal opinion that found the government invoked a wrong piece of legislation for the dismissal.

Janša said in late May that Nastav's replacement was necessary "due to responsiveness". "This is about a body functioning in a professional fashion, being responsive, so that we can rely on getting data tomorrow if we need it."

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